I recently finished watching Las Chicas del Cable and so I thought I would share some extracts from my poem on the topic that dominates the final series: the Spanish Civil War.
They greased their rifles with olive oil, with Vaseline, with cold cream, with bacon-fat: an opera, with the occasional death.
It was pneumonia they were fighting against, not men yet some of the voices that cried out in pain were still falsetto, soon to be broken by the war with thousands dead.
I wrote this at least five years ago after reading George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, which was recently in the news. You can see from the footnotes below, that the poem includes direct references to Orwell’s descriptions. Reading the book provoked me to have a conversation with my paternal grandfather, who lives just outside of Barcelona, after having lived as an immigrant for many years in London. Also a poet, there is tour about him, which the leaflets below are from.
I absolutely loved watching Las Chicas del Cable, and the parts that were about the Spanish Civil War touched me even more because of my familial connection. The ending was so moving and powerful, it brought me to tears. I highly recommend it.
A granddad I’ve never named as such, now through phone-lines brought closer, he tells me at the end of the conversation
how proud he is to have another poet in the family. I smile, as my bloodline extends back in time. My family, I think, with war wedged between them, yet in the end, they remained intact.
Another month in Spain, another review of what I have achieved. At times it doesn’t seem like much. But then there are are moments, where I have had a successful interaction, and it probably seems a bit silly how excited I get by it. I don’t get many interactions, because I don’t put myself out there a lot. But I successfully asked my doorman for another key (for visitors) and a few days later got a key. He is pretty much the only person I speak to in Spanish on a regular basis.
Case in point: I went on a hike with a massive group of mainly Spanish people, and only really spoke to other English teachers. It was a day that was amazing for so many reasons, but it was also painful for other reasons. At the end of the 17/18km we had a cheap paella as our reward. However, we were misinformed about the process, and not being able to access the language meant we had to queue up again, when we were so close to being served (I was hangry). A failed conversation with some Spanish people who couldn’t speak English made me feel embarrassed and reminded me of being in Vietnam, that kind of awkward laughter from everyone, not really knowing what was funny. Why did I find it so hard to speak when put on the spot?
One of the other teachers I met on the hike also unintentionally hit a nerve. When I asked how their Spanish was, they said they were half-Spanish. Like, obviously that means you can speak the language. It hit a nerve, because, okay, it’s only my grandfather who is Spanish, but my dad is half-Spanish and pretty much everyone on that side of the family has struggled with trying to learn Spanish – my dad, my uncle, my cousins. Wouldn’t it be so easy if the language had just been passed on? I know other people can relate to this frustration, from Latinx people in America, and one guy I heard about whose parents were both Spanish but brought up in the UK ended up not being able to speak it properly.
This is why I strongly believe that languages should be passed on. It seems especially silly for family members not to pass on Spanish, when it’s one of the most spoken languages in the UK. I mean, what were you thinking?! Both my paternal grandparents can speak Spanish, so it’s a continual frustration. In another life, I could have been bilingual. Instead, I have this strange hole I feel the desire to fill with Spanish. As if I am a fraud, as if my heritage is not in my blood if I cannot speak the language. At times I think my whole reasoning for wanting to learn is silly, but the motivations are something unexplainable to a degree. I must be repeating myself, but it’s especially embarrassing with my name.
It has been a lot harder to learn than I anticipated, and although I sometimes rush things, there are two things I can think of that I don’t rush: making new friends, and learning languages… All I know is that if I keep going forward and push myself every now and again, then I must be making some progress, however small. And I could spend more time on it, but I also want to do other things, like making friends, and writing, and reading and travelling! Oh, and I do have a job to do too! They tend to take up times.
So, for now, like on the hike, I started, so I will continue…
Throughout my life I have felt the influence of my dad being half-Spanish. The food we ate at home was always more Mediterranean than typically British dishes – my parents make fun of me complaining in my late teens that we never ate traditional food, having discovered I loved cottage pie and other such dishes that I hadn’t had in my youth. The only reason we started having Sunday roasts was because of my demands, and even then it comes with a salad.
My dad made me aware of our heritage, and told me about discrimination his dad faced in coming to England, as well as his own experiences at school, being called a “half-breed” and so on. We took regular holidays in Spain, but the language was something with which we all struggled. The problem was that my Spanish granddad, or abuelito, left the home when my dad was a child, and had never passed on the language. My Gran can speak Spanish, among many other languages, so it’s unfortunate as she too didn’t pass it on.
At school in London, obviously very multicultural, our varied backgrounds were something to be celebrated; I started writing poems about being Hispanic, and this part of my ancestry became a big part of my identity. My parents tried to complain when they put me on the “French side” of the school, and I wanted to learn Spanish so much that I actually cheated on a test so get put up a set, so that I could study both. I switched to Spanish at GCSE level, but I had an English French teacher, and was in a low-set with constant disruption, not to mention that I also got split up from my friend for talking too much, which was completely unlike my behaviour in other lessons.
I didn’t practise enough, and my confidence was low. I had the option to do the Higher paper, but I worried about the difficulty of the speaking exam, so instead I did the Foundation paper, where the most I could get was a C-grade, which I did. Looking back, I wish I’d taken the Higher paper, and gone on to study at A-level. Because when it comes to language learning, you have to put the effort in, and a language is such a good skill to have.
Now I’m in Spain, and whilst part of me hoped that I could simply absorb the language, it hasn’t taken me long to realise that if I really want to speak Spanish, it’s going to be hard work. If that is the reason I came here, I need to make it the number one priority and it needs to be what I spend most of my spare time doing. I’ve been looking up online tips for language learning, and I’m going to put them into action, and I can’t wait to get the internet in my apartment as then I can watch lots of Spanish TV and films, or at least have Spanish subtitles on English-language programmes.
Coming to Córdoba without being able to speak the language. On a night out with some other teachers, I joked about how funny it was that I couldn’t speak Spanish, and how I butcher my own name by Anglicising it, exaggerating this. My name, “Carmina” is a derivative of “Carmen”, and you’re meant to roll the r, but obviously, we don’t do that in the UK. My surname, “Masoliver” is also Catalan, and though technically double-barrelled with “Marlow”, I’ve gone through most of my life thinking it was just the former name, which makes it feel really odd when people cut it off and address me as “Ms Marlow”. Being in Spain and not being able to speak Spanish, whilst having the name “Carmina Masoliver” is just frankly embarrassing, and it makes introducing myself pretty painful.
Being here has made me question this part of my identity. In the UK, I have had some experiencing of “Othering”, simply because of my name, but now it feels like maybe I am “Ms Marlow”, rather than “Ms Masoliver”. Like I should be named “Jo” instead of “Carmina” – the name I strangely wrote in some books as a child in the “This book belongs to…” section. Joanne Marlow. How would I feel about this part of my identity if it wasn’t for my name?
Here, my dark curly hair means nothing. The people here kiss on both cheeks, and although something I have grown up with my paternal side of the family, nothing makes me feel so uncomfortable and foreign. I want so badly to be able to just try to speak, but most experiences start with “No habla Español”. And if they don’t speak English, I have only been able to muster words like “dos días” with hand gestures (I moved here two days ago), and “¿donde es… grande? and pointing at the bin (where is the large bin I put rubbish in?).
So, feeling this way, the only thing I can do is really try my best to learn this year, to immerse myself in the language in every way I can. My biggest obstacle will be my confidence. Even when I know what I’m saying, I speak too quietly and slowly to be understood. For example, I said “Tengo una bolsa” but the person didn’t hear, and instead of getting louder, I got quieter, until I retorted to English. I also live alone, so I will have to try extra hard than those with Spanish flatmates. That said, I’m sure my Gran won’t take much convincing to help me practise with her over Skype! If I can just learn to string a few sentences together beyond “hola” and “gracias”.