Published in Journal of Hispanic Philology, 12 (1987), 1-2.
by Daniel Eisenberg
Those who travel by train or road from Madrid to Andalucía go through the province of Jaén. One crosses the unmarked northern border of Andalucía at the desfiladero of Despeñaperros, where the train line narrows to a single track and the highway to two lanes, both carefully picking their ways around the tree-covered hills. The differences between the provinces of Ciudad Real to the north and Jaén to the south are larger than geography can explain. One leaves the wine country of Valdepeñas, which presumably once supplied neighboring Andalucía with a suspect beverage, and enters that of olives; pork, the Christian food, is replaced by pescaíto. Geometric tiles decorate the houses.
Yet Jaén, the provincial capital, is visited by few. One cannot even buy a ticket from Madrid to Jaén. At the small junction of Espeluy one must buy a second ticket for what RENFE, with its colorful terminology, calls a tranvía. And after four Talgos have passed, Madrid-Cádiz, Madrid-Málaga, Málaga-Madrid, and Cádiz-Madrid, and all those interested have alighted, they fire up the tranvía and off we go the final 25 kilometers to Jaén.
No tour buses stop in Jaén, the birthplace of Andrés Segovia and of Manuel Ángeles Ortiz, the painter of the generation of 1927. It has no monument of the size of the Alhambra or the Escorial, nothing but a single castle and the largest surviving Moorish baths in Spain, recently excavated from underneath a mansion and restored, though without the lost decoration. It also has the prettiest and largest Arabic medina left in Spain, more or less intact in its layout, with a combination of narrow, labyrinthine streets and small fountains in squares, one with a life-size stone alligator. Long views down the gentle hill reveal the valley and olive fields beyond the city. In the medina there are also numerous guitar makers and flamenco taverns, for the local rather than the tourist public. The flowers and birds in the windows, frequent anywhere in Andalucía, seem even more abundant.
As there are so few tourists a foreigner is an object of curiosity, a nostalgic experience in the Spain of 1988. The passer-by in the street, asked for directions, takes one by the arm and insists that you see something not in the guidebooks, a church with arcos de herradura in its tower, and an estanque inside, obviously using materials from a former mosque on the site, yet missing from the guides to Jaén and Turismo's Viaje a la España musulmana. The lagarto de Jaén immortalized in the fountain had been brought back from America.
On the main street in the new and lower part of town the striking prison employees drape hand-painted signs on butcher paper over the wall facing the street. The teachers, also on strike, march chanting "Ésta huélga / la vámos á ganár" and "Máraváll / dímisión." The parents on the sidewalk are supportive. A nun watches with a smile as wide as her face.
Jaén is also the only place I saw, in 1988, pictures of Franco and José Antonio for sale, along with swastika pins, from a vendor in the main square. And in a bookstore window, to my astonishment, a recent edition of Los protocolos de los sabios de Sión, a famous anti-semitic forgery of the late nineteenth century.*
South of Jaén the terrain is too steep for a train. Leaving in the morning, with sevillanas playing on the radio of the bus, the road goes by truck stops with such revealing names as Bar-Restaurante El Oasis and Bar-Restaurante-Hostal La Frontera. The frontier this time is the poorly-defined border of the mysterious former kingdom of Granada, protected by the now-ruined towers overlooking the narrow valley through which we must climb.
* These are discussed by Henry Ford, El judío internacional, 6th ed. (Barcelona, 1939). (On the anti-Semitism of Ford, the only American Hitler mentioned in Mein Kampf, see Albert Lee, Henry Ford and the Jews [New York: Stein and Day, 1980].) For the exposure of the forgery, Herman Bernstein, The Truth about the Protocols of Zion (1935; rpt. New York: Ktav, 1971).