IMPRESSION OF A BRIT The funnier side of a not-so-funny war Today a model of civilised society with its aims set on peace and prosperity, Spain has lost some of the colourfulness of a past that goes back beyond the stifling era of Francoist conformity to the headier years of a Republic that foundered in a bloody Civil War. Richard Hill T he outcome of that war, in which both sides respected the hours of the afternoon siesta, put a temporary halt to the democratic aspirations and hopes of the Spanish masses and of many other Westerners. It also put a dead hand on the everyday street life of the times − and in the 1930s most Spanish life was lived in the streets. Spanish humour is at its best not so much in set pieces or jokes per se, but in the conversations, bantering and dialogues of everyday bar and café life − understandable for people who spend a large part of their spare time socialising and relaxing out of doors. In the words of British interculturalist John Mole, “Spanish humour is often bantering and personal but is not characteristically biting or sarcastic about other individuals and is not used as a weapon… It is important to be amusing and entertaining.” The violence of the Civil War and the eventual triumph of the rebel Fascists did not suppress the Spaniards’ ebullient and amiable personality. Even at the height of the war humour, deliberate or not, was often embodied in actions and statements. Though not intended to be humorous, even the Francoist rallying cry of ‘Long Live Death’ (‘Viva la Muerte’) strikes one as funny today. 48 BECI - Bruxelles métropole - mai 2016 On the republican side, roadside posters on the barricades outside many villages bore the words ‘Stop or Fire’, giving both friend and foe a decisive option. Anarchist villages, having burned all the official paper money and printed their own, announced their independence by flashing their torches, thereby inevitably drawing rebel fire… Spanish humour is often bantering and personal but is not characteristically biting or sarcastic about other individuals and is not used as a weapon… It is important to be amusing and entertaining. George Orwell, in his book ‘Homage to Catalonia’, wrote about the problem of knowing for sure who or what you were up against; “To prevent us from shooting each other in the darkness white armlets would be worn. At this moment a messenger arrived to say that there were no white armlets. Out of the darkness a plaintive voice suggested: ‘Couldn’t we arrange for the Fascists to wear white armlets instead.’” The historian Hugh Thomas cites a number of the more memorable moments in his book ‘The Spanish Civil War’. “The nationalists [Franco and his right-wing supporters] sought to point the contrast between the hungry republic and their own territory, by an air-raid of loaves of bread on Barcelona… The republicans replied with an air-raid of shorts and socks, to demonstrate their alleged superiority in manufactured goods.” In the absence of bread, the nationalists turned to other forms of aerial bombardment. “Nationalist pilots… trained specially in order to drop supplies into the small area which was being defended − a technique which they found to be similar to dive-bombing. … Delicate supplies (such as medical appliances) were dropped by turkey, a bird whose flight is heavy, majestic, and vertical.” The Spanish character blends the fantasy of Cervantes' Don Quixote with the down-to-earth practicality of his servant Sancho Panza. Indeed Spanish humour is characterised by a blend of simple wisdom, human awareness and subtlety that takes precedence over both satire and morbidity. It is evident at all levels of Spanish society, from university professors to the man and woman in the street. Despite the variety of Spain's regional cultures, this sense of humour is shared nationwide, even if the Galicians joke less… ●

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