Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Manel Cabanes Fernandez

Photo Copyright: Carmen Cabanes

The 70th anniversary of the March bombings
of Barcelona in 1938 seems a fitting time to get
back to the story of Air Raid Shelter 307.

Manel, to whom this blog is partly dedicated,
died on the night of the 17th March when a section
of the shelter collapsed. He was 5 years old.

He had always been terrified of the narrow, winding
tunnels of the shelter and never wanted to go
inside. But the intensity of the air raids which had
started the previous day was so frightening for his
mother, her sister and their four other children
that he was forcibly taken inside

There is no record of a direct hit on the shelter.
Lack of foresight, materials and manpower meant
that many shelters were being used while work was
still in progress. A section collapsed just where the
children were sleeping.

Manel's eight-year-old cousin Dolores died instantly.
Manel was still alive but bleeding from the eyes and
ears. There were no ambulances or cars available in the
chaos. So his mother ran, with her son in her arms, to the
central hospital.

It's about 40 minutes´walk, uphill, on a normal day.

They couldn't save him.

His mother, Angela, never really forgave herself for
making him go inside the shelter. She washed and kept
the jacket he was wearing the night he was killed. She
died in 1998 and was buried, as she had requested, with
the jacket in her arms.

I can think of others to blame.

Manel's sister Carmen, who was born after the war so never
knew him, told me the story. We cried, for the pity and the
horror of it all.

I look at his photo and imagine losing a child in this way.

I look at the photo.

Strange premonition, the doll's striped suit.

It looks so much like the ones issued to inmates of the
Nazi concentration camps.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Of flags and freedom and other messages

Flags are a difficult subject.

They have dubious military and patriotic associations.

But, sometimes, they are an easy and beautiful way to attract people's attention.

To the abuse and misuse of power.

There were lots of flags at the anti-war demonstration on Saturday.

The Tibetan flag.

The Palestinian.

"A World Without Wars"

There were many messsages.

Some were innocently hopeful.

"No to a Global Guantanamo"

Others angry about illegal, insidious incursions on basic human rights and freedom.

"Solidarity with Malalai Joya"

Some a celebration and solidarity with Afghani women who dare to be free.

At the end of the demonstration one of the speakers was a little
Pakistani girl.

Her father is one of the men arrested, violently, in Barcelona in
January accused of planning a terrorist attack on the city. She
begged for tolerance, for resistance to fear and criminalization
of Muslim people.

For presumption of innocence.

Her father may or may not be guilty. Spain suffered one of the
worst al-qaeda inspired terrorist attacks in Madrid in March
2004 which left 191 dead and 1755 injured.

But I remember a similar spate of arrests in Catalonia in 2003,
"Operation Estany" when 22 men of Arab origin were arrested
on suspicion of plotting a chemical warfare attack. They were
later freed without charges though some have since been re-arrested
and convicted. The sentence is still under appeal.

But one man, Youb Saoudi, not one of the convicted, was extradited
to Algeria in 2006 where he was put on trial accused of belonging to
a terrorist cell. He was found innocent.

The Spanish authorities are refusing to give him a visa to return to
Spain and his family.

The incriminating chemical substance found at the time of the
original arrests was washing powder.

Saturday, 15 March 2008


Josep Renau

On February 15 & 16 2003, with the invasion of Iraq imminent, unprecedented anti-war demonstrations were held all over the world. Estimated numbers vary, strangely, but in 800 cities in 60 countries, between 8 and 30 million people went out onto the streets to say no to war.

So what?

You just lie your way through when you want the petrol and the profits of war.

Bush´s recent visit to the Middle East, alone, resulted in arms deals of an estimated 20 billion dollars.

This man accuses Iran and Syria of fomenting violence.

If he can he will move the war to Iran.

This afternoon there will be demonstrations, for those who still rage and sorrow, to mark the 5th anniversary of the war.

In Barcelona: Pla├ža Universitat 17.00h

I do try to get back to the story of the air raid shelter.....

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

War Games. Are contagious.

Photo: EFE

It seems I was too quick to criticize the Americans for how they spend public funds.

Not to be outdone, last Monday Spain also launched a new battleship, the "Juan Carlos I".

Capable of transporting 1,200 troops, it will be equipped with the normal array of canons and machine guns plus its own anti-missile defence system. It will also double as an aircraft carrier. On the news I heard the Captain mumbling something about humanitarian missions.

Like saving Iraq perhaps.

It cost over 553 million dollars.

Ah yes, humanitarian missions.

The "Juan Carlos I" could be so useful.

Spain is only a few miles from the North African coast, such a terrible temptation for the hopelessly poor. The war-weary.

That dream of a better life.

So many die in the attempt.

The photo is from Boris Hoppek´s "86 Negritos" (86 Little Negroes) exhibition last summer in Cadiz.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Another Song for (Election) Sunday

Photo: Gerda Taro
Marines playing musical instruments on board the battleship Jaime I,
Almeria, Spain. February 1937.

I was looking for the song "Cabo de Palos" about
the Republican Navy but found this.

Somehow it seems more appropriate.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

How will it ever change?

Spanish children, especially working class children, didn't have many toys in the 1930s.

Life was hard.

For the poor.

The little cardboard boat in the picture, the old battleship Jaime I (which remained loyal to the Republican Government after the fascist uprising in 1936) was part of a series:


issued during the war.

It cost 25 cents or was available in exchange of 25 of the vouchers
given for each purchase of 5 pesetas or more in ALMACENES
ALEMANES (The German Store) (collectivized) in the centre of

It`s one of my prize possessions.

Last Sunday I read that the US Navy had just launched a new destroyer - the USS New York.

The bow contains 7.5 tons of steel salvaged from Ground Zero

In honour of those who died.

They think it will defend freedom and combat terrorism.

A war boat.

There is no National Health Service in the United States of America.

Life is hard for the poor, if they fall ill.

Perhaps a state hospital would have been a more fitting tribute.