The psychology of caring or being interested or empathetic is covered in University courses all over the world. But what makes me interested in the Catalan problem today? I have spent a week in Malaysia and a month in France and six months in England and any time there is a situation in those countries I am a little more interested than if the same situation had occurred in Austria or Germany. I have ancestors in Denmark and friends who came from Greece and the same thing applies. But Catalonia! – I spent four hours in Spain from Andorra to Barcelona and I feel a particular concern for what is happening there. Maybe it is because when I was at University I majored in my studies in the Cuban Revolution and I spent a lot of time researching the Spanish Civil War.
But I think the real reason is because I was shot at by a Guardia Civil on the Spanish/French border and it had a lasting impression on me. As it would.
It was 45 years ago so things were a bit different I suspect.
Although he was only eight months at the time Daniel says the following is his favourite story. But first a little history lesson.
The Spanish Civil War took place from 1936 to 1939 when Franco and the right-wing Fascist regime began. Hitler help Franco and used the Spanish War to test some of the weapons he would soon use in the 1939-45 World War. If you are even a little interested in art you should look at Pablo Picasso’s painting Guernica. Or read Hemingway’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” Franco died in November 1975 and Spain eventually returned to democracy. The little Aussie family were in Port Vendres, France in January 1974. Spain was still a Fascist Dictatorship. The Spanish border was 26 Kilometres to the south. Many of the people of Port Vendres knew the Spaniards from just south of the border, and vice versa. This is relevant background to the story.
We left Australia with the main objective of going to Spain. We had even done a brief Berlitz School of Languages course in Spanish. I could say “Pardon me, but I don’t speak Spanish.” (yo no hablo espanol) It never helped. When we left England we crossed to France and then headed South. We only stopped twice and we crossed into Spain about January 1st or 2nd. We got to Barcelona but it was closed. All hotels were being painted in readiness for the coming Spring and Summer tourist season and they didn’t really care all that much for a couple of Aussies with a baby.
Wattle we do? I said. Why don’t we go back to that lovely little French village we went through just the other side of the border? she said. Righto, I said. Righto, she said. So we did. She usually said more than me. Anyway she had at least done French at school which was good ‘cos she taught me how to say, “Sorry, I don’t Speak French” in French. One day after having set up house in France we decided to take a day trip to Andorra. Pete Seeger wrote a song about it
I want to go to Andorra, it’s a place I adore,
They spent four dollars and ninety cents
On armaments and their defense,
Did you ever hear of such confidence?
Andorra, hip hurrah!
It’s governed by a council,
All gentle souls and wise,
They’ve only five dollars for armaments
And the rest for cakes and pies;
They didn’t invest in a tommy gun
Or a plane to sweep the sky,
But they bought some blanks for their cap pistols
To shoot on their Fourth of July.
Andorra is only just a bit up the road from Port Vendres and like Pete, we wanted to go see for ourselves. So early next morning we set off in our soon to break down Bedford van with a broken back door handle and Daniel’s special lamb-skin sleeping whatsit. Some way before you hit the Pyrenees there is a long flat straight road and, way in the distance, up high in the mountains, Andorra perches. But on that day, still on the long flat road, and quite a way ahead we could see a hitch-hiker. And he was far enough away for us to have a reasonable argument about what to do about the hitch-hiker. Lets pick him up. No. Why not. Oh all right. Righto.
I wound down the window. He poked his head in and said in really horrible French “Vou ay travierre Andorre?” And I said “Oui”. I was getting good. My first real conversation in frog. I turned to my wife, “How do you say the back door handle is broken, I’ll have to crawl in the back and open it from the inside.”
And the hitch-hiker said, You bloody say it just like that, mate. Where you guys from?
We’re from Melbourne. ‘n’ you?
Me, I’m from Wangaratta.
So we picked him up and we all went off to Andorra. And when we got there it was nothing to see but a whole lot of duty-free shops and nothing else ‘cept for snow and skiers. And we didn’t like it and neither did the boy from Wang so we went over the mountain to see what we could see and all that we could see was more mountains and we were now well into Spain so we decided to go back to our nice little flat in France and we asked the boy from Wang if he wanted to stay for a few days on account of he was sick. And he said, Righto. Beaut.
Thank you for being patient. Now we’re getting to the good bit. We headed back to France as it had got dark and the cute little baby boy was asleep on his magic sheepskin and the boy from Wang was hungry as was we all.
Now if you drive along a road and the boom gates are up you naturally assume that there is no train coming so you drive through. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! One little Spanish Fascist frontier guard in a shiny black tricornio jumped out from a little Spanish Fascist border hut and fired a short burst from his little Spanish Fascist machine gun.( If you don’t know what it sounds like grab an empty cardboard box and) hold it up and hit the bottom rapidly with a stick. It goes bap bap bap bap until it stops and it is really quite a little bit scary.)
So I stopped. It wasn’t a railway crossing. It was the Bloody Spanish / French border and I’d just driven through it. So I put the soon to break down Bedford van into reverse – which didn’t work very well – and kangaroo hopped back to our Fascist mate with the gun. And She leaned over the back, picked the sleeping baby bundle up, sat him on her knee and when the Guardia Civil asked why we crossed without stopping, (we assumed that is what he said) the mother of the year said something in French or Spanish or Swahili to the effect that the baby was sick. She then gave said baby a smart little whack on the bum and said baby woke up and cried. This outburst obviously lent credence to the sickness story. We have to get him home. Again in Swahili or whatever. Where is home? That was the fascist. So we gave the address in Port Vendres and he knew people who lived there and we were smilingly sent on our way.
The boy from Wangaratta said, Geez. That was close.
A week later a German couple in a Volkswagen Combi van made the same mistake as I had. But they didn’t stop. And the nice Spanish Fascist border guard lowered his nice Spanish Fascist machine gun and fired a second burst through the back window and killed them both. Dead.