Archive for April, 2008

George Orwell aka Eric Blair the MI5 perspective.


File ref KV 2/2699

This slim Security Service file on journalist and author Eric Blair, alias George Orwell, shows that while his left-wing views attracted the Service’s attention, no action was taken against him. It is clear, however, that he continued to arouse suspicions, particularly with the police, that he might be a Communist. The file reveals that the Service took action to counter these views.

The file essentially consists of reports of Orwell’s activities between 1929 and his death in 1952. It gives some insight into Orwell’s financial position while in Paris and includes a 1929 MI6 report to the Special Branch on his activities there, and various subsequent Special Branch reports. One of these by police Sergeant Ewing, from January 1942 (serial 7a), asserts that: “This man has advanced Communist views, and several of his Indian friends say that they have often seen him at Communist meetings. He dresses in a bohemian fashion both at his office and in his leisure hours.” A Service officer rang Ewing’s Inspector to challenge this view (minute 9). Wartime enquiries as to Orwell and his wife’s suitability for employment as a journalist and with the Ministry of Food were all approved. It is of some interest to note the part Orwell’s answers to a published Left magazine survey had in convincing the Service that Orwell should not be considered a Communist. The file includes a copy of Orwell’s passport papers and original passport photographs.



Homage to Catalonia


I cannot recommend this book enough. Once again participatory anthropology/journalism of the highest order from an old Etonian Trotskyist perspective of the Spanish Civil war. The writing is that of a political ‘hack’, pacy and emotionally under stated in describing the boredom, horror and discomfort of war.

What I would suggest is, with the first bit of hot weather you have, prop the patio door open with Anthony Beevor’s ‘The Battle for Spain’, and sit in the sunshine and read ‘Homage to Catalonia’. If you don’t already have an incisive knowledge of this national disaster you will have by the time you finish it.

Maybe it’s me but I can’t help but admire the bravery and candor of a man who confesses to running through crossfire clutching his hand to his cheek for fear of being shot in the face. I cannot help but admire his wife too, who is only ever referred to as ‘my wife’, who endures months of him fighting at the front while she is in an hotel in Barcelona only to have him run off on his first leave to participate in the inter faction fighting in the streets for two weeks before returning to the front. He makes no reference to any disquiet she may have had.

It’s a twentieth century classic description of a civil war anywhere and it’s a classic description of Spain and the Spanish.



Maria 5 - 7 Velez Blanco


Forgive me but it is with no small amount of pride (considering that I was singularly useless at football) that Sollie came home with his first winner’s medal in a game of football against Maria, the pueblo up the mountain. Don’t let the score line deceive you either. This was a game involving a high level of ball skill and commitment.

Well done son.



Great Spotted Cuckoo


And we are still waiting. This was one of last years favourites and a very gregarious bird it is too. The Great Spotted Cuckoo, Clamator glandarius, is a member of the cuckoo order of birds, the Cuculiformes, which also includes the roadrunners, the anis, the coucals, and the hoatzin. It’s a shame we don’t have roadrunners here.


Alas we have had no sign of the cuckoo yet but we have seen our first Bee Eaters which is always a treat.




Dr Zhivago (made in Espana)


While I am on the subject of film making in Spain I should mention (for the sake of those who didn’t already know) that Dr Zhivago was also filmed here, or at least ninety five percent of it. Apparently David Lean couldn’t abide the cold so opted to film in warmer climes.

The Moscow set was built entirely from scratch outside Madrid and the mountains of Soria doubled for the Urals. The “ice-palace” at Varykino was filmed in Soria as well, they filled the house with frozen beeswax.

The charge of the Partisans across the frozen lake was filmed in Spain as well and I believe around Tabernas or Guadix; a cast iron sheet was placed over a dried river-bed, and fake snow (mostly marble dust) was added on top. Most of the winter scenes were filmed in warm temperatures, sometimes of up to ninety degrees Fahrenheit.

All that heat, no wonder passions were divided.



Morricone v Copland

OK, I’ve got it. The music from the previous blog is by Ennio Morricone from ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, although the arrangement is a bit different.

I spend a lot of time driving through the mountains here listening to Morricone (amongst others) and it’s not just that the ‘spaghetti’ westerns were filmed here, there is a genuine connection for this music to this landscape even though the films were meant to be set in Arizona or some such.

But I also spend a lot of time driving through the mountains here listening to Aaron Copland and there seems to be a genuine connection for his music to the landscape too. Now I’m not going to try and compare the two artists, that would just be silly. Morricone writes exclusively for the cinema and would, I am sure, be flattered to be compared to one of the 20th century’s greatest composers. So I am not going to make that comparison.


However both men have defined the American musical phyche. Copland (Kaplan) a Lithuanian Jew from Brooklyn (and also wrote the original film score for film of the book above) and Morricone a Roman from Italy. But how?

Now this is just my theory and please feel free to shoot it down. I feel Copland represents the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ all puritanical zeal taking the ‘folklore’ and music of the white man at toil on the land and wrapping it all up with some form of spiritual modernism. Whereas Morricone uses the ‘Pope’s’ authority to define black and white conceptions of good and bad (and ugly) and a Latin exuberance to stretch drama into a world of superlatives.

So who reigns supreme? On one side we have ‘Rodeo’, ‘Billy the Kid’ and ‘Appalachian Spring’ amongst others, and on the other, well we all know them don’t we, and we love this man’s music if for no other reason than that he employed his school mate Alejandro to whistle on many of his compositions because he was such a good whistler. Basically they fall on either side of a ‘TexMex’ border defined by their relative cultures.

But why is the music evocative for Andalucia? Well it’s not because we are trying to be Arizona. But like Arizona we have the heat and dust, the superlatives in climate and the sense of wilderness.



Guadix, city of troglodites

Just a short trip up the road from ‘Los Velez’ to Granada lies the wonderful city of Guadix famous for it’s cave dwelling residents. And here is another classic film from ‘Andalucia es de Cine’, but what is the music? I just can’t remember which ‘spaghetti’ it’s from.



Tales of the Old Sea


Having been ill for the past ten days at least I could take succour in this absolutely fantastic tome. Just after the second war the author moves to Spain and sets up on the Costa Brava in a tiny impoverished fishing village. The book is half anthropology half diary and is just a dream to read. He evokes the characters and customs of the place with such profound empathy and sensitivity whether their actions or beliefs are right or wrong. But essentially this is an account of the change that took place on the Spanish ‘Costas’ with the introduction of tourism. Tourism which brought wealth for the first time but smashed a lifestyle, culture and environment to smithereens. A must read whether you are interested in Spain or not.



Sierra del Oso or Bear Mountains


I love the changing hues of the earth here viewed from the north side of El Gabar. But bears? Who knows.