November 8, 2016

Interview with Hecheres Beltrán

Here in we appreciate the honesty displayed by the author of Billete de ira y vuelta, Hecheres Beltrán (Santa Cruz de Tenerife, 1978). Considering his words, writing the novel must have been a way to exorcise demons from the past. We hope that the reader who is suffering or has suffered from bullying pays close attention to this interview, as it is the speech of someone who was a victim and is now recovered from all that emotional pain. In sum, an inspiring story.

SPANISH GAY FICTION: Up to what point can you say that Billete de ira y vuelta is an autobiographical novel?

HECHERES BELTRÁN: This novel is full of autobiographical elements, but not entirely. I was a bullying victim myself, hence my need to tell a story connected to this subject. In my case, and in the time that I had to suffer from bullying, it was shame that made me conceal from my people what was happening to me.

SGF: Do you feel that there is much contemporary LGBT literature on school bullying, or is your novel one of the few examples?

HB: School bullying is a social issue rather recently regarded. In the past, bullying was disguised by adults responsible as things that kids come up with. Not until the people who have undergone it could tell the consequences that this abuse causes has society become aware of the magnitude of the problem. From my point of view, the visibility that has come from the popularization of the internet, where every kind of cases and experiences has been shown and/or denounced, has played an essential role as well.
It is also necessary to make clear that bullying is a problem that affects us all, since it can come from any given circumstance: race, gender, physique, sexual orientation, etc. I do believe that there is much literature on several of these circumstances, but literature on gay bullying may be scarce due to the fact that LGBT visibility is a rather new thing too. There have always been different sexual orientations, but their integration and normalization in society are still in progress, therefore it is reasonable that there are not many books on this subject.

SGF: How much do you understand Javier’s outlook and reactions?

HB: I totally understand his outlook because his experiences are based on my own ones, and his feelings are taken from what I was feeling in those days. The only thing that distances me from the character is his anger, since some time ago I left it behind and forgave everyone who hurt me. It is not healthy to keep all those hard feelings inside yourself. Hate will never let you be happy; I understood it once, and carried out an amazing acceptance exercise that made me get rid of negative feelings which did not lead to anything good.

SGF: What role does Billete de ira y vuelta play in your work?

HB: For the moment I can say that every one of my books is a world. They are dissimilar to one another, and largely due to my constant attitude to learn new things. I like getting into different genres, learning their ins and outs in order to produce, with varying degrees of success, the stories that strike me later. None of them is my number one; they all are important parts of my life and witnesses to my internal process (maturing), and external process (style polishing).

SGF: What does Madrid mean to a Spanish young gay small town boy?

HB: Freedom. Eclecticism. Diversity. Learning.

SGF: After witnessing the father’s homophobic attack against Javier, the mother asks her husband whether he must be hiding something. What did you mean by that?

HB: Fear is a very difficult thing to explain, as it is a very primeval instinct which has helped us keep alive for a long time. But homophobia is not the only fear, there are many others, such as, in this case, the need to give an explanation to the mistreatment that a father metes out to his own son before a frightened mother’s very eyes; the demand for an answer to such behavior towards the one who is supposed to be your main, absolute priority. That is what I meant.

SGF: When the novel seems to lean towards the romantic genre, it suddenly takes a turn and dives into the thriller chasm. I would even dare to say the horror chasm. Would you say that your novel affirms the idea that violence only begets violence? Could it be said that Javier is a monster created by abusers such as Rayco, Alejandro, or his own father?

HB: While I was writing, I bore in mind references such as the film PacificHeights (1990); those stories seeming to lead one direction and then turning the whole thing around. Also Psycho (1960), for instance: a movie about a theft at first, and then a psychopath shows up in an astonishing twist which everybody knows. I wanted to produce something like that; that is the germ of the plot structure in Billete de ira y vuelta.
From my viewpoint, violence does only beget violence. And resentment, hatred and every kind of worthless, unwholesome feelings. But above all, the novel intends to reflect the avenging feeling, which beats inside us even though we are not aware (or we do not want to be), and blows up with certain triggers. That is why the protagonist eventually behaves like his attackers.

SGF: If you were in Javier’s shoes, would you accept the mother’s invitation, or would you flatly refuse to set foot in there again?

HB: I have been in Javier’s shoes [Laughs]. I gave life to him and suffered a lot with him. This novel was the beginning of a cathartic process in which I gave up negative feelings, as I have already said. You need to be at peace with the past, and it may take a long time to achieve this. You must accept invitations when you are ready to face what may happen when you stir up the past. Although you never can tell what is going to happen, feel up to find out at least; otherwise the situation can get worse. In answer to your question, regarding the way that Javier is presented in the novel, no, I would not.

SGF: It is understandable that Javier distrusts Manuel at first. Do you think that it is possible to fall in love with someone who took part in your humiliations? Can you come to forgive so much?

HB: You can forgive even more than that. Fortunately, love is mightier than any other feeling. I believe that this can truly happen, otherwise I would have not written it.

SGF: When he was a child, Javier explained his teacher the abuse that he was suffering and she tried to play it down. I feel that many teachers have acted and go on acting like this. Why do you think that they act this way?

HB: The answer is similar to the one that I have given before: there was no bullying awareness in the past. “There have always been bullies; they will get over it when they grow up,” this is what people used to think. But nobody spoke about the consequences that you could suffer after being bullied. Until today. In my opinion, teachers must pay attention to this kind of things and act accordingly. An attitude of looking the other way and downplaying is not only a mistake: it is similar to non-assistance to a person in danger.

SGF: What is your opinion about the current situation? Do you think that they are really applying zero-tolerance policy in Spanish primary and secondary schools?

HB: I feel that we still do not give it the importance that it deserves; not only in Spain, but worldwide. If we did, there would be no bullied children’s suicides, for example. But I think that now we are aware of the fact that it is a problem and it must be main objective in the country’s education policy.

SGF: Regarding the quote by Balzac which you end the novel with (“In revenge, the weakest one is always the fiercest”),[1] would you say that Javier was the weakest one in the story? His revenge is dreadful—

HB: Exactly. Javier was the weakest among his classmates, who did not act individually but as a group. And the weaker you feel in humiliation and under threat, the more destructive your revenge will be.

SGF: The Canary Islands mean to many gay people, both Spanish and foreign, a vacation spot or even a place of residence. How true is this image of a gay-friendly place?

HB: The Canaries (just as the rest of Spain) has changed too much in this sense in the last 30 years. The novel is written upon the memories that I have from what I lived when I went to school, at the end of 1980s and the beginning of 1990s. But the current situation is the same; they publicize gay-friendly tourism not only for economic reasons, but also because the islanders have become more tolerant. Even in big cities such as Madrid there are homophobic assaults these days, therefore it is not a problem localized in a community, but globally.

SGF: What are you working on now? What are your next projects about?

HB: I keep writing, of course; it is a basic need for me. However, I am a kind of superstitious and never like talking about unfinished projects. Call it a writer’s habit.

[1] This is the original French version: “Dans la vengeance, le plus faible est toujours le plus féroce.”

November 1, 2016

Pay Back in Anger

On Hecheres Beltrán’s Billete de ira y vuelta (“Rage Trip Ticket”)[1]

The protagonist of this 2008 novel is Javier, a young gay man from the Canary Islands living in Madrid for the last ten years who accepts his mother’s invitation to visit hometown for some days. At first blush, you may think that it will be a lovely personal event for the sonny. Well. . .nothing further from the truth: Javier is actually scared about going back home. Why? Just keep reading—

When he flew to Madrid, Javier left behind a history of abuse by his classmates. In primary school, he had to suffer Rayco’s cruel mistreatment; in secondary education, it was Alejandro the source of all evil. (Things have been developed as expected for these two scummy bullies: at present Rayco is involved in an issue about minors used as drug dealers, and behind Alejandro’s dazzling façade—he got married for money—the perfect example of an inveterate cheater is hiding.)

In addition to this, Javier’s family was not particularly empathetic towards him. His siblings hardly paid attention to him; when they did, it was hell. Moreover, his father used to hit him and insult him, calling Javier fag all the time, and griping that his son did not act as a regular boy.

Since Javier’s memories are full of abuse situations, both physical and psychological, he currently undergoes hard consequences: Javier is claustrophobic (a pretty bad feeling when taking a plane, or even the subway; that is to say, when trying to pop out with total freedom); besides, he distrusts people, what prevents him from socializing naturally.

But not everything goes wrong for Javier. Dancing and swimming meant a new lease on his life in Madrid, and now Javier has become a good-looking man, far from the image of fatty campy nerd from his past.

For his surprise, revisiting the island helps Javier live three awesome meetings:
·       First, his joyful reunion with Muriel, a good-natured Argentinean woman settled in the Canaries who had (unsuccessfully) tried to become Javier’s close friend: for the record, she was the first person who took him into a gay bar;
·       Secondly, his brother Sebastián, now grown into a gay-friendly straight man under his girlfriend’s decisive influence (she has a gay brother herself);
·       And last but not least, Manuel, a former classmate who made Javier sing the blues in primary school, but now he has become a hot surfer mad about Javier the very moment that he takes a look on our visiting hero.

Nonetheless, evil boils over in the sizzling festive atmosphere on the black-sanded beaches of the Fortunate Isles, and so Javier himself will check out that homophobia is a tightly rooted concept in not only town residents’ minds, but also a few of his own relatives’—some things are painfully impossible to change.

Javier’s response to the sudden end of what might have supposed a beautiful love story turns into another pretty darker thing. Whether Javier acts fairly or not, justifiably or not—it is up to the reader’s view. I just want to say that I find hard to remember any other novel’s grim, sore, harrowing conclusion such as this.

This disconcerting narration by Hecheres Beltrán means an impressive depiction about the tragic effects of one of the most dangerous plagues of our time. Sadly, bullying is not new: there have been lots of LGBT people enduring abuse and humiliation (in school, at home, etc.) throughout history. Nobody should turn a blind eye on this social problem, and reading Beltráns book is an excellent means of consciousness-raising.

[1] The original Spanish title is a play on words: the author puns on the terms ira (“anger”) and ida (“departure”), altering the usual expression billete de ida y vuelta (“round-trip ticket”) for just one consonant. Thus, we could not find any other translation better than the one proposed.

August 8, 2016

Interview with José Carlos Andrés

Please join us to celebrate a party where the center of attention is not the birthday child this time, but the clown: José Carlos Andrés (Madrid, 1969) has talked to us about his book Mi papá es un payaso / My Dad Is a Clown, as well as his experience as a clown and storyteller, his social vindications, the new kinds of families, or the importance of education for children.

SPANISH GAY FICTION: Is Mi papá es un payaso / My Dad Is a Clown your first experience in LGBT literature? Where does the project come from? How familiar are you with the LGBT universe?

JOSÉ CARLOS ANDRÉS: In my view, the story Mi papá es un payaso / My Dad Is a Clown can be labeled (labeling is so exhausting!) as children’s literature. However, there is a potential audience that I would like to aim at: the grown-ups, since the children—if not swayed by their adults—do not question same-sex parenting families.
The story came from the need to introduce to every audience the existence of other types of families, and there are only a few key things about them: love, affection and respect.
That is why the story begins with something that I have been claiming for years: a polite use of vocabulary in our society. Why is clown pejorative, and not lawyer? Are some professions more respectable than others? And, are traditional families more respectable than the others? I want the readers, no matter their age, to enjoy my stories, but also question things at the same time.
Regarding my familiarity with the LGBT universe, I must say that this is part of my life and my culture.

SGF: Why is it published as a bilingual book? Did you intend to cross borders with this book? If that is the case, do you know how it has been accepted abroad?

JCA: Publishing the text in English and Spanish was a decision of Nube Ocho, a publishing house very committed to diversity themes. When same-sex marriage was legalized in Chile, its administration purchased a big amount of Mi papá es un payaso / My Dad Is a Clown books, interested in the portrait of a same-sex parenting family. It is also selling pretty well in Mexican bookstores. Yes, the text is bilingual, but it is actually succeeding in Spanish-speaking countries.

SGF: And what about Spain? Is Mi papá es un payaso / My Dad Is a Clown highly-regarded? Did you expect more of it?

JCA: I know, and the publishing house also knew, that this is not the kind of book that conquers the market. But it was necessary, and the fact that we are right now talking about the story is a sign of this. You could hear good reviews on the story even on a very conservative radio station! This is not a best seller, but the people who have read it say good things about it.

SGF: The story depicts a same-sex parenting family. As far as I know, you use to dramatize your books, so you can see the audience reaction before your very eyes. How does this story use to be accepted? Is there any difference when it is an adult audience instead of children?

JCA: This is a very good question! When I have told this tale I have found a wide range of responses in adults—“Not suitable for children!!”—. From satisfied faces to expressions denoting: “What am I doing here?”
But this is our society. I am not surprised, that is true; I knew what was going to follow after telling this story: for children, this is a nice story, with some funny situations, but for some parents—phew! They had some trouble.
The best thing that happens many times is that, after finishing the storytelling, lots of people come to me and give thanks for it: mothers, fathers. . .EVEN GRANNIES AND GRANDPAS! Something is changing. We are doing something well.

SGF: Is children’s LGBT literature important to you? Do you think that we give importance enough to LGBT education for children in Spain?

JCA: Literature is the most important thing to me: it is my job, my vice and my vocation.
I think that we must not use the LGBT literature for children label. It is literature for children dealing about certain issues—Normal issues such as death, divorce or same-sex parenting families. These issues are still all taboo for many people. However, these issues do exist, and children need that we talk about them.

SGF: Would you highlight any LGBT work for children that you like, or even used as a reference in Mi papá es un payaso / My Dad Is a Clown?

JCA: There are two wonderful illustrated books in which two women fall in love, or there are families of two fathers and two mothers: La princesa Li / Princess Li and El lapicero mágico / The Magic Pencil, by Luis Amavisca.[1]

SGF: Do you believe, as you say in the book, that doctors and clowns are “the most necessary professions in the world”?

JCA: Of course I do! “One heals the body and the other heals the soul.” Although there is another group left: teachers.
In this little story there are many vindications: love in the family, love between two men, opposition to the use of certain words with offensive purposes, dignifying and valuing a profession that our society considers minor (or even worse!), love for a vocation that is your job—I have gone overboard!! [Laughs]
My father was born in 1920; my mother, in 1925. They did not understand that I could proudly say that I was a clown. For them, I was a teacher (that is also true), but a clown—
Saving lives and making people laugh, along with educating children, that is what our society needs. We all know people who have lots of money, but no education. And without health or happiness, what is the use of money?

SGF: There is an intention to dignify the profession of clown throughout the story. To what extent do you think that this occupation, your occupation, is still denigrated? In your case, have you ever felt the need to defend your vocation against contempt or criticism?

JCA: In the story I explain how hard being a clown is. Day after day you need to study, rehearse, shape up. . .Like a doctor. Like a teacher. Like an aeronautical engineer. Why are some more highly regarded than others? Is it a question of salary?
A first team soccer player works hard physically for twenty years in his lifetime, more or less. Then he retires. The best clowns reach their peak in their forties (wonderful exceptions aside).
And of course I have had to stand up for being a clown against many people, but that is because not everybody knows my profession or is sensitive enough or wants to understand the huge effort behind being a clown.

SGF: Is there any autobiographical note in the story, beyond the fact that one of the characters is a clown?

JCA: Unfortunately not. It is just fiction.

SGF: The boy’s final decision (becoming a doctor wearing a clown nose when he grows up) reminded me of the true story reflected in the film Patch Adams,[2] starring the late Robin Williams. Did the film or the story it was based on have any influence when writing the book?

JCA: I love Robin. I say it in present tense, since he will always be alive, but I do not think that his film had any direct influence on me, apart from the fact that, when you are writing, every single thing that you have lived, read, seen or heard leaves a trace that you use in the creative moment.
I wrote the story because I wanted to talk about a boy living with two fathers who are in love. That is all. The rest just came up.

SGF: And what about the illustrations by Natalia Hernández? Did you two previously discuss the style, or did she work freely? For instance, why the exclusive use of colors red, black and white throughout the book, or the fact that the three main characters are bald?

JCA: Natalia’s work was coordinated by Nube Ocho, I had nothing to do with it. But when they sent me the sketching—I LOVED IT ALL!!
There is a very nice story about the colors: In 2007 I set up my clown & theater company, El Clan del Clown, and my friend Joseph Sylvestre, from designed its awesome website (he also designed my own website). He chose the company colors—a marketing issue that I was ignorant of—: white (from the whiteface clown), red (the most typical color of the clown), and black (usual to outline contours and the clown’s eyes). And then I found that Mi papá es un payaso / Mi Dad Is a Clown shared the same colors. THAT WAS MAGIC.
I guess that the fact that both dads are bald is because baldness is sexy, natural and sweet, isn’t it? Or just most boys’ fate! [Laughs]

SGF: What are you working on now? What are your next projects?

JCA: I can tell you, secretly and exclusively, that I am focused on creating stories for illustrated books. Two new books will be released this year. And for next year there are two more projects.
Not big deal, but I tell you for sure that it makes me happy. Really happy. Like a clown in a party balloon store.

[1] Both bilingual books are also published by Nube Ocho.
[2] Patch Adams (1998), directed by Tom Shadyac. Based on the real story of Hunter “Patch” Adams, a revolutionary doctor who founded the Gesundheit! Institute, a project of reforming health care system by complementary therapies, in which the concept of “humanitarian clowning” plays a key role. The film was an astounding box-office success in its time.

August 1, 2016

My Funny Medicine Man

On José Carlos Andrés & Natalia Hernández’s Mi papá es un payaso / My Dad Is a Clown

This time in we are happy to take into consideration a range of audience that we have disregarded so far: the children.

This delicious bilingual book published in 2013 tells the story of a little boy and his two fathers. The one is a doctor, and the other is a clown. They have explained the child that they two are really important to society: the one heals the body, and the other heals the soul.

The boy is still too young to be sure of what he wants to be when he grows up. He first ponders on becoming a spy, and persuades his Daddy Doctor to tail Daddy Clown just for one day. This way, the boy will find out the huge effort that Daddy Clown needs to make so as to result in an excellent work. He spends a lot of time working out in the gym, and that is just for starters; later in the theater, hours of rehearsal to tweak his performing arts. Andrés highlights a professional clown’s hard training: long sessions of practicing to make his gags perfect and get the audience’s loudest guffaw.

Enthusiastic about Daddy Clown’s job, the little boy has resolved that when he grows up he will be a doctor wearing a red sponge clown nose, making doctor visits fun so that kids may get rid of their usual apprehension. This final choice, the blending between medicine and comedy, can just be taken as a fine example of the 1st class moral, human, altruistic values that parents—whether straight or gay—could use to raise their children.

José Carlos Andrés portrays an affectionate same-sex parenting family with no particular trouble regarding social inclusion; also the boy—or any of his classmates—does not feel odd at all about having two fathers instead of the traditional father-and-mother pattern. We certainly know that we are dealing with a book for children: straightforwardness is supposed to be the name of the game, and things must be presented in a mild, agreeable way—that would be a simple reading to us. In fact, we believe that this book is the perfect illustration of one of the greatest achievements of our time: a homosexual couple raising a child is not viewed as a problem in an urban society in a developed country, so there is no need to demonstrate, persuade, convince, or argue about. Things seem definitely okay.

As is often the case with children’s literature, this charming story is illustrated, with sweet, rare, loving cartoonish pictures by artist Natalia Hernández.

July 11, 2016

The Private Parts of a Private Eye

On Iván Babiano’s La Serpiente Arco Iris (“The Rainbow Serpent”)

Felisa Karr, the private detective that author Iván Babiano introduced to the readers in this 2007 novel, has a different story. Quite a girly beauty, no particular tough appearance, pretty meticulous in respect of her wardrobe, having a soft spot for the color white (a feature that makes her the most dazzling, glamorous PI in Madrid)—Felisa’s female perceptive touch makes her unbeatable in her job.

A series of helpers support Miss Karr in her investigations. Among them, an old bookstore owner, aged Hindu Yhajaira, stands out in this adventure as the cultivated interpreter of the ‘rainbow serpent’ symbol. Felisa also enjoys the assistance of the usual detective’s secretary—a kind of gossipy in this case.

So. . .What makes Felisa’s story so exceptional? Let me tell you her biggest secret. Please lend your ear—: Felisa is actually a transgender detective.

In La Serpiente Arco Iris, the author focuses on the investigation revolving around the murder of Leandro, Lean, the partner of Felisa’s Irish client, Robert Mitch (a nod to the male lead in Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past, and Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter?).[1] Mr. Mitch found Lean’s body home. The corpse signs suggested that the poor fellow had been brutally attacked and raped by several men. Karr finds suspicious the presence of several tattoos throughout Lean’s skin representing a rainbow snake eating itself, a clue about something that even her client himself is hiding. . .Later Felisa will find out that Lean and Robert had an open relationship, and the two of them were regular patrons in La Serpiente Arco Iris.

La Serpiente Arco Iris is a night club chain spread all around the world, with a clear target audience: committed gay men. Committed to—what, you ask? Committed to the society’s own rules. In fact, this is the cover for a cult consisting of a close circle of homosexuals that have bareback sex among their members only in order to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. They found out that Lean had broken the rule the moment he fell in love with someone unconnected with the society, so they decided to eliminate him.[2]

During her inquiries, Felisa will unfortunately need the help of the police. I say unfortunately, as she should meet again some former colleagues from her not so distant young years as a policeman, from inveterate homophobe, unpleasant sexist Lt. Ramón Díaz, to a more delightful reunion: Ángel (the name fits like a glove), an attractive workmate who was always nice to her.

Given that passing herself off as a man is the only means to enter the society and solve the mystery, Felisa will get her long blonde hair cut, and hide her oversized breast. This way, our classy heroine will have to face her old times’ hardest facet: the memory of Felipe Carrillo—her previous self before she decided to look like a woman on the outside.

At the end of the book, Felisa Karr not only seems to have overcome her unhappiest, most traumatic episodes after making peace with her past, but you can also have the feeling that she has made the ultimate resolution on sex reassignment surgery.

The most interesting aspect in Babiano’s book may be the portrait of the sleuth rather than the plot, extremely typical and weak in terms of suspense. A key point in this kind of literary genre is the surprising final twist; here, the villain’s identity is obvious from their very first appearance. Anyway, it is nice to walk hand in hand throughout the narration with Miss Felisa Karr, probably the sweetest, most charming private investigator in Spanish fiction. Anyone would be pleased to be a friend of hers—or take a spicier step forward!

[1] This is not the only cinematographic reference in the book: when Felisa ran into her transgender prostitute friend, its depiction is quite similar to the moment when Manuela (Cecilia Roth) met La Agrado (Antonia San Juan) again after many years in Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother (original title: Todo sobre mi madre). Also the atmosphere in the night club reminds of the mysterious private party that Dr. William Harford (Tom Cruise) attended in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.
[2] Regarding the fact that we are dealing with an organization aimed to protect their members from sexual diseases, it is hard to understand why they condomlessly rape the individual who has had sex with someone outside the society. . .

March 23, 2016

I Sing the Body Terrific

On Luis Cernuda’s Poemas para un cuerpo (“Poems for a Body”)

In we think it is high time for Poetry, and the occasion calls for one of the best 20th century Spanish poets.

Portrait of Luis Cernuda
Luis Cernuda (Seville, 1902 - Mexico City, 1963) was not only a poet but also a literary critic who belonged to the so-called Generation of ’27.[1] Although not so universally popular as his acclaimed friend Federico García Lorca,[2] his work is also interesting in the study of Spanish LBGT literature. In 1936 he published his collected poetry so far in the book La realidad y el deseo (“Reality and Desire”).[3] This work was much praised by Lorca himself, and was supposed to establish the beginning of a brilliant career—but the cultural impact of La realidad y el deseo was collapsed by the upcoming outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Society was definitely not in the mood for Erato’s stuff in those days.

Since 1938, Cernuda starts a never ending exile: from Europe (London, Glasgow, Cambridge, Paris) to America (Mount Holyoke, Los Angeles, San Francisco). In most of these places he works as a lecturer of Spanish for a living, but Luis never feels easy at all—until 1951. This year he will travel to Mexico for holidays and there he meets Salvador Alighieri, the young bodybuilder who inadvertently inspired Poemas para un cuerpo.

Our author had already sung young beautiful men’s praises, in the ways of the Surrealist aesthetics, in 1931 in the book Los placeres prohibidos (“Forbidden Pleasures”. . .quite a telling title). However, in the case of Poemas para un cuerpo, we cannot say its tone is particularly carnal or sexual, no matter what the use of the term cuerpo (“body”) may suggest—Apparently, Cernuda and Alighieri’s relationship did not surpass the boundaries of a male proper regular friendship.[4]

Then, what do we find in these poems? Lots of things: From the traditional poem in which the Poet puns on the meaning of his Beloved’s name (I . “Salvador”, meaning savior), or recalls the very moment that the Beloved got away from him (II. “Despedida”: “Farewell”), to a surprisingly deep reflection on love as the distinguishing nature of Fiction. In IX. “De dónde vienes” (“Where Do You Come From”), the Poet rejects the assumption that his Beloved may have parents, but he is Cernuda’s own creation. The last line of this poem, meaningfully apart from the general stanza, as a maxim, says: Un puro conocer te dio la vida. (“Just a pure knowledge gave birth to you”). The same as the title of his whole work, La realidad y el deseo, you can well deduce two Platonist existential planes from Poemas para un cuerpo: Reality, in which the Beloved was his parents’ son; and Desire, where the Beloved is an idea in Cernuda’s mind.

Additionally, Cernuda reflects on the concept that the Beloved has also created him. This is in XIII. “Fin de la apariencia” (“End of the Appearance”), where the Poet expresses that the Beloved has somehow deconstructed him, tearing his past life apart, but making him a brand new, innocent man who has to cope with life away from the Beloved. The Poet also adds that the only purpose of his existence is to love, though he knows that the Beloved does not seem to need or care about this affection. This bitter note, in which the Poet shows this awareness, is also repeated in other poems throughout the whole series. The Poet is sensitive about this situation. His love is a one way road: his feelings are not returned, and he has elevated the Beloved.

This way, creation and creator form a vicious circle: The Beloved needs the Poet to be created, to be alive; and the Poet needs the Beloved to love, to go on living. Instead of clay, the poet works with the hermosa materia (“beautiful material”), that hot sleeping body at which Cernuda stares, the same way a God stares at his creation (in the last poem of the series, XVI. “Un hombre con su amor”: “A Man with His Love”). And all this is expressed in words. After all, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

This creator topic pushes the limits of blasphemy. In XV. “Divinidad celosa” (“Jealous God”), the Poet claims that God pushes lovers apart as he is jealous of them: A man can get together with his equals, but God, being an only entity, cannot. Also in V. “El amante espera” (“The Lover Awaits”), the Poet begs God to make his Beloved come back, as he feels that God is the only helping friend that he can count on and his Beloved is his ultimate reason to live, though he admits that what he is pleading for is a sin. . .Finally, in XI. “El amante divaga” (“The Lover Digresses”), the Poet wonders if Heaven and Hell are nothing but earthly inventions by human beings with no other purpose than making life spicier.

In general terms, Poemas para un cuerpo is Cernuda’s continuous conversation with himself (an evident symptom of solitude: Cernuda is typically described as a dandy-like man in tweed, smoking a pipe, absorbed in his work—a sort of mild, silent, unsociable loner). He uses several person voices in his clear, unadorned, almost conversational style: sometimes 1st person (e.g., he even names himself in III. “Para ti, para nadie”: “For You, For Nobody”); 3rd person (in I. “Salvador”, when the Poet asks the Beloved to save him or condemn him); and even 2nd person (for instance, in VI. “Después de hablar”: “After Speaking”, where he disapproves himself for telling his love out loud).

Despite this sorrowful picture of a lonely man recalling a past, unrequited love, Cernuda does not want our pity: He shows proud that, even after long years of lonesomeness, and though in his fifties, he has eventually experienced love—non corresponding, okay, but love indeed—, and he comes to the conclusion that the memory of this feeling is the high power that keeps him alive: now, he knows himself better than ever. In this fast, material, superficial, egotistical world. . .who else has loved as much as this profound, Platonic, fascinating, one-of-a-kind author?

[1] In Spanish, Generación del 27: a group of writers and intellectuals who gathered in Seville in 1927 to pay homage to the Spanish Golden Age poet Luis de Góngora for the 300th anniversary of his death. Besides Cernuda, you can find amongst them: Federico Gª. Lorca, Rafael Alberti, Dámaso Alonso, and Nobel Prize-winning Vicente Aleixandre.
[2] After Lorca’s execution, Cernuda produced the elegy “A un poeta muerto (F. G. L.)” (“To a Dead Poet”), whose sixth stanza was considered not for publication and thus removed. Here it is:
Aquí la primavera luce ahora.
Mira los radiantes mancebos
Que vivo tanto amaste
Efímeros pasar junto al fulgor del mar.
Desnudos cuerpos bellos que se llevan
Tras de sí los deseos
Con su exquisita forma, solo encierran
Amargo zumo, que no alberga su espíritu
Un destello de amor ni de alto pensamiento.
In these lines Cernuda describes splendid, seductive (though unkind and low-minded) boys walking naked on the beach in spring, and states Lorca loved them so when alive. The elegy was eventually published complete in Las nubes (“The Clouds”), a book that became the 7th section of La realidad y el deseo.
[3] As a matter of fact (and as it was pointed out in the previous footnote), most of his following works will also be collected as sections of this book in later publications. Poemas para un cuerpo was first published in Málaga in 1957; however, they are now usually found as a short independent series of 16 poems inside the book Con las horas contadas (“Hours Are Numbered”), which happens to be the 10th section of La realidad y el deseo.
[4] Regarding that Salvador Alighieri himself stated that gay men usually tried to score him, that he used to visit Cernuda in his apartment many times, that they both went on holidays together, and Cernuda always paid the bills, a twisted mind could think that Alighieri knew Cernuda’s feelings towards him and took advantage. . .Anyway, as I said before, this is typical of twisted minds—not our minds, so sweet and gentle and well-meaning. 

February 29, 2016

Interview with Nazario

One of the greatest honors since the opening of this blog: ground-breaking LGBT artist Nazario (Castilleja del Campo, Seville, 1944) has discussed with us his comic book Alí Babá y los 40 maricones, as well as his long lasting career, unforgettable friends such as one-of-a-kind Ocaña, sexual behavior, open relationships, censorship at present and in the Franco regime, other experiences in the world of art. . .Extremely touching is his remembrance of the love of his life: late artist Alejandro Molina.
Definitely not for prudes. . .Do not hesitate and enjoy the speech of this contumaciously bold, hopelessly square peg and terribly cuddly human being.

SPANISH GAY FICTION: Do you remember your early years in the comic tagged as underground? How was the comic book universe when you began? How different was your style from the type of Spanish mainstream comic then?

NAZARIO: In the 60’s/70’s the trend was sci-fi comic for adults, and adventure stories by French authors were translated. In Italy they were interested in Crepax’s Valentina or Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese, though I preferred comics such as Lucifera or Belzeba. Anyway, my biggest interest was French comics (e.g., Barbarella, Jodelle.) When I discovered American magazine MAD, I found a wide field of possibilities which would have influence in my dedication to comic. Then Zap Comix showed up, and everything changed. Crumb’s sassy scripts, and Clay Wilson’s messy, baroque drawings, plenty of sex and violence, started to define the way that I was going to lead as an illustrator.
The press started to use the term underground to classify us in the American trend, though our situation was a way really different under the strict censorship of the Franco regime. This censorship rules were applied to our comics, so I had to publish my most salacious stories in France; and in Spain I had to publish my own editing La Piraña Divina (“The Divine Piranha”) secretly.

SGF: You are usually considered the father of the Spanish underground comic in general terms, and the Spanish gay comic in particular. What do you feel about these labels? Do you think that they are fair, or excessive? Were there no Spanish underground or gay comic authors before you started to work in comics?

N: When I met the young illustrators in Barcelona, people who would take part in our publications later, I was coming from Seville with a portfolio full of drawings. I was a bit elder than my colleagues, and a kind of mature artist. From the very beginning I got interested in comics as an instrument to denounce the repression that women were suffering first, and later the repression that gays had suffered and were still suffering due to the religious, patriarchal education.
By those days, the only openly gay illustrations that I knew were by Tom of Finland.

SGF: Do you feel recognized in Spain? If not, which do you think the reasons are?

N: My work as an illustrator committed to freedom of speech and homosexual liberation, as well as the usual scandals with my publications and exhibitions, make average educated people know my work. Curiously, it may be the comic world—an atmosphere where I never felt fully identified with—where my work is not very much appreciated. I have never received an invitation to give a lecture about my work in any of the hundreds of comic book conventions held throughout the country. However, universities and museums have really got interested in my work.[1]

SGF: And beyond the Spanish boundaries? Are you a renowned author abroad?

N: Just Anarcoma was edited in English (in USA it was sold in sex shops only), French, Italian, German and Swedish. The rest of my work has not packed quite a punch internationally at all—except for the serial publication of Alí Babá y los 40 maricones in France.

SGF: The concept of Alí Babá y los 40 maricones reminds of Francisco Ibáñez’s 13, Rue del Percebe. Curiously, though you and Ibáñez are two legends in Spanish comic, your styles are really different. Ibáñez is a mainstream author for all audiences, while you are a cult author for a much more specific reader. Did you conceive Alí Babá y los 40 maricones as a way to deprave Ibáñez’s work? Did you get the inspiration from a real neighborhood—yours, for instance?

N: In 1977 I published three series of two pages each in Por Favor magazine[2] under the name Sábado, sabadete en los Apartamentos La Nave (“La Nave Apartments when Saturday”.)[3] It was the first time that I used the room scheme created by Ibáñez. It consisted of eight rooms where I portrayed the ordinary life of different groups: lefties, gays, lesbians, dopers, a young married couple, a traditional family, a young loner and a boarding house room. Years went by, and in 1990 I got around to repeating the room scheme to represent a variety of gay types: the young student in the attic who still has not accepted his homosexuality; the usual couple in which the one is promiscuous and the other is faithful; three friends sharing a room: the swishy, the Tom of Finland-type, and the office boy; and besides, the pub run by a kind of madam, where some neighbors meet a motley group.

SGF: Lola, the Alí Babá pub owner, is surrounded by gay men that she wants and tries to seduce, but they obviously reject her for being a woman. Is she inspired in anyone that you have ever known?

N: She works as a counterpoint among so much campy. If I had chosen a man, he would have been a problem in the relationships issue; a woman avoided problems for me instead, as there would be no rivalry with other fags to see who scores a misled good-looking man, or a hunky drunk.

SGF: What happened in 2007 when a government website considered Alí Babá y los 40 maricones as a recommended reading? Could you please explain it to the current reader? What did you feel about it?

N: One day someone suggested me to search on the web Alí Babá y los 40 maricones. I was not aware at all, and I just could not believe what I was reading. The socialist administration recommended the teachers to read it and keep up to date about what homosexual relationships are, and the Right Wing distorted it all, accusing the Ministry of Culture of corrupting school boys when making them read it. Bishops, journalists, radio stations and the whole right-winged mass media, from Castile to the Argentinean Pampas, asked for excommunicating each and every single member of the depraved socialist administration. I was all confused, as nobody from any of the two sides got in touch with me to ask my opinion.

SGF: Alí Babá y los 40 maricones is dedicated to Ocaña. Could you please explain the reader who Ocaña was and what he meant in the society of that time?

N: Ocaña meant a wake-up call in Barcelona 1970s. He was a stirrer and a revolutionist who, endowed with superb dramatic qualities, knew how to connect with his audience, striking a chord with them. Wherever he was (Las Ramblas,[4] a political meeting, the premiere of his films, a party or La Modelo),[5] Ocaña was never gone unnoticed; as striking as provoking, he proclaimed boisterously his sexual orientation and everybody’s right to live their lives freely and enjoy their own bodies as the most beautiful gift that Nature has given to us.[6]

SGF: Do you miss Ocaña? Do you think that we are in a time of political correctness that shouts out loud the need of many other Ocañas?

N: My life consists in giving up, healing my wounds and burying friends. With every dead friend, some places in my memory and irretrievable feelings are cut off inside me. Fortunately, I am easy going and try to accept getting older—something that never worried me much—and loneliness, a new situation in my life, something that I always tried to avoid by living with friends, in communes or as a couple. Today censorship is something unavoidable; repression wears new masks and crouches on the net or social networks, or is disguised as counter-terrorism. Today Ocaña would hold parties campaigning for revolutionary political groups, asking out loud through Las Ramblas for the support of immigrants, street vendors, neglected elderly, alcoholics frozen to death on the streets, or prostitutes’ free use right of their own bodies. . .Gays have been discriminated for centuries, and now we need to support every weak, vulnerable minor group.

SGF: Continuing with the political correctness issue, in Alí Babá y los 40 maricones you quote Kavafis, Mario Mieli and Marquis de Sade, three authors related to homosexuality, and (especially the latter two) polemical and controversial. Why did you choose these authors? Do you feel somehow identified with them, beyond the homosexuality topic?

N: Since its appearance in 1973, I treasure Recherches magazine number 12, “Trois Milliards de Pervers: Grande Encyclopédie des Homosexualités,” on which Deleuze, Foucault, Genet or Guattari collaborated, among others. Since it was published in 1979 in Spanish, Mario Mieli’s Homosexuality and Liberation: Elements of a Gay Critique (original title: Elementi di critica omosessuale) shines close to Tom of Finland’s complete works in my library; and, since my tender years, the books by Marquis de Sade has given pleasure to both my imagination and my cock. Kavafis, who is not my favorite poet, has been lying on my bedside table for long. As my creations are somehow a part of me, the logical thing is that they read and discuss authors closer to me.

SGF: I deduce from your description of Ernesto, the college boy in the attic, a certain criticism on the romantic, chaste homo saving himself for Prince Charming. Is he a type of homosexual that you dislike? Do you defend promiscuity against this attitude?

N: I had a friend who was the victim of a terrible disquisition: he could never have sex with someone he was not deeply in love with, since sex and love are two separate things for him. The boy in the attic suffers from immaturity, and a terrible repression above all. He refuses to have sex with a man that he likes, but he later masturbates while thinking of this man. As far as I have named my autobiography Un pacto con el placer (“An Agreement with Pleasure”), you can easily understand that, in the question of men, I consider myself greatly fond of at least—if not addicted to.

SGF: Tom and Tito are portrayed as an open relationship, whether Tito likes it or not. Tom cheats on him whenever he can, and Tito finally finds out and accepts it, though not his pleasure. Do you think that every homosexual couple will always fail in monogamy? According to you, is Tito submissive or permissive? Is Tom a morally guilty man, or just hopeless?

N: I fell in love with Alejandro[7] the very moment I met him, and, after a 36-year-long relationship, and more than a year since he died, I am still in love with him. I found too hard to overcome jealousy, dependence and exclusiveness. He was even more sexually active than me, and, if we had sex three times a day and later I discovered him having sex with another guy, then I pondered, if he was able to fuck for a fourth time, why should I stop him? Little by little we were meeting other men who occasionally came home to fuck with us both. We had sex with the same boyfriends for 15 or 20 years. We had an open relationship and, after some years, when any of these men finally chose me or Alejandro, we both still welcomed them home without incident. With the couple Tom and Tito I somehow tried to mock the concept of ordinary couple as a copy of the straight marriage.

SGF: To what extent do you think that the gay universe portrayed in Alí Babá y los 40 maricones is still present? Do you think that some changes have happened, and for better?

N: After the big shake-up which the discovery of AIDS meant, the increase in the rate of homosexual couples and the legalization of same sex marriage and adoption, I feel that the gays portrayed in this book are still archetypes and have not evolved at all. Today I should increase the number of apartments to try to picture other types who push the boundaries somehow: activists, agitators, crusaders committed to breaking the rules imposed and copied from stereotyped heterosexual relationships.

SGF: There is a noteworthy evolution in the comic; in the first strips you depict bareback sex, though in the last ones you highlight the use of condom in order to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Was it an imposition by the publishing house? Was it a personal choice in regards to raise awareness among your readers?

N: I always tried to leave my creations free to fuck the way they wished. But there was a time in which I collaborated in “Póntelo, pónselo”[8] campaign first, and the campaign for HIV positive gays later, and it made sense to me that I could use my creations to support. There is a chapter in which La Borrega discovers that he is HIV positive, and I made the other characters show support for him.

SGF: What is your opinion on the current Spanish gay comic? Would you highlight any author or work in particular? Do you know any author who considers Nazario as an example?

N: Since I stopped illustrating comics to work in painting, I left the comic book world. I got interested in just a few graphic novels, and critics announced that these have made comic books achieve artistic maturity (putting comic on the same level than literature, just to depreciate the artistic interest of comic itself); they seem to me short-sighted and vague.

SGF: What are you working on now? What are your next projects?

N: I spent more than a year building my website, and three years writing my autobiography—one of its chapters, La vida cotidiana del dibujante underground (“The Ordinary Life of an Underground Illustrator”), will be published in May—; I have spent a lot of time scanning most of my comics to share freely on a hosting service, but I have eventually got censored. (Later, I created the blog, where I host them now.) I finished the 3rd part of Anarcoma, whose script I had sketched for years—1st and 2nd part had been summed up to be published in one book; La Cúpula publishing house is prolonging the project to edit both parts together—. I dream of being able to post in a blog the book La Barcelona de los 70 vista por Nazario y sus amigos (“Barcelona in the 70’s Seen by Nazario & Friends”), adding more pics and videos. After last year’s exhibitions of Turandot in the University of Seville, and another one about Censorship in Bilbao, a photography exhibition about Plaza Real,[9] and another one of works by me and Alejandro, I am preparing an audiovisual event about my pictures, photomontages and videos on Plaza Real through the years. I also need time to work on a script for a film on the atmosphere of Plaza Real and surrounding areas in the 70’s/80’s. This continuous frenzy lightens the grieving, traumatic absence of Alejandro, my boyfriend for 36 years and husband for five days.

[1] Nowadays Nazario’s work is exhibited in several Spanish museums, such as Reina Sofía in Madrid, or Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Seville. He has also been awarded with Pablo Picasso Prize or Ministry of Culture’s Medalla de Oro de las Bellas Artes (“Fine Arts Golden Medal”), high honors in the Spanish cultural world.
[2] A humor magazine published from 1974 to 1978. It was considered a politically committed publication during the last period of the Franco dictatorship and the early years of the Transición Española.
[3] From Sábado, sabadete, camisa nueva y polvete (When Saturday, a clean shirt and a quickie): Popular sassy saying about the old days Spanish custom of changing clothes and having sex once a week on Saturdays.
[4] Iconic street in the city of Barcelona.
[5] Penitentiary center located in Barcelona.
[6] In addition to Nazario’s brilliant description, you can also see Spanish filmmaker Ventura Pons’s extraordinary documentary Ocaña, retrato intermitente (1978)—highly praised by Academy Award winner Fernando Trueba—for further information on José Pérez Ocaña (Cantillana, Seville, 1947 – 1983).
[7] Alejandro Molina (1951 – 2014). He was an artist, particularly devoted to sculpture. Although he was from Andalucía, his work is much more related to the city of Barcelona, where he designed the festivities decoration in Plaza Real for several years. Nazario and Alejandro met in 1978, and from that moment on they lived a beautiful story, unusual according to the traditional love relationship pattern, such as Nazario pictures it in this interview.
[8] Use it, make your partner use it: Motto of a popular media campaign for the use of condom to prevent sexual transmitted diseases among teenagers in Spain in the early 1990s, quite controversial due to the Catholic Church protest.
[9] An outstanding square in Barcelona, adjoining Las Ramblas, located in the tourist Gothic Quarter.