Memories of 1960s Spain

2016-06-09 08:00:00

International wanderer Thomas de la Cal launched his travelogue-cum-memoir ‘Spanish Son’ earlier this summer at Librería Luces in Malaga city centre. The journalist, film festival agent, explorer – a veritable jack-of-all-trades – tells of his exotic life hopping from Cuba to Spain, then to London and the US, and the extraordinary adventures of his love affair with Spain in his new book.
Tom de la Cal’s Spanish adventure began after his family’s hasty departure from their home in Cuba in 1960, when he was just six years old.
The young family of seven had no choice but to leave their idyllic life in the town of Mulgoba – where Thomas had been born to an American journalist mother and a Cuban-Spanish pilot father – after the former wrote an article criticising Fidel Castro in the Havana Times, and was warned her life could be in danger.
After a brief, wintry stint in Madrid, where a flurry of snow shocked the family into their first winter coats, they moved to the warmer Marbella, where a young Thomas first found his alternative paradise.
His parents rented one of six little houses right on the shoreline. The simple peasant town, which appeared to be lagging decades behind the rest of the world, had no plumbing, and fresh fish and goat’s milk was bought right to the doorstep every day.
The family spent eight lively and happy months during which the author recalls dancing flamenco on the beach with their colourful, gypsy friends.
It is clear from the book that this period profoundly resonated with the author, and it’s these years that fill the first few chapters.
Their time in Marbella ended when Tom’s mother was invited to start the American School of Madrid to cater for the growing US community in the capital city, and the family moved there in 1961.
Tom decided to write his book ‘Spanish Son’ in 2013, having already covered an array of Spanish topics such as politics, economics, travel and the country’s thriving flamenco tradition in journalistic works, documentaries and travel books.
But this was “not enough” for the author. “I wanted to do something more personal and intimate on the country I had grown to love and understand,” he says.
The general skeleton of the book was complete in a mere 18 days, but the memoir project would take a further two years to complete and polish.
“When I first decided to write the book, I looked around at the existing literature on the country and did not find any that covered the period, the character, the flavours… of the exciting, sun-blessed land,” he adds.
On arrival, Tom was too young to notice that his family had landed at the heart of fascist Spain. “I was not aware of much of the Franco regime as a child,” he explains, “though the Guardia Civil, in their dark capes and patent leather hats, did scare me a bit.”
He first got a “taste of fascism” on his seventh birthday, when, following a crowd celebrating Columbus Day, he witnessed a “full-blown military parade with all the fascist trappings, goose-stepping, chants and salutes.”
A custodian at the American School of Madrid would later confess to Tom that he had been a Republican soldier, recalls the writer, but would only talk about it when out of earshot of any other Spaniard.
In the 1980s, the author returned to Spain as a foreign correspondent to cover the country’s transition to democracy. Despite the continued threat from the Right, he says: “There was excitement in the air, and it was infectious.”
The Socialists won the general elections in 1982, and their leader, Felipe González, governed the country until 1996, “modernising the country, instituting liberal reforms, and … restructuring the economy”, explains Thomas.
“Spain’s cultural world also exploded with creativity. La Movida Madrileña, a counter-culture movement, tore down the walls and taboos of the former dictatorship and let down the country’s collective hair,” recalls the writer, who names filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar as one of the movement’s irreverent and incisive leaders.
All change
When Tom returned to Marbella in 1996 for a film festival, he found it had been “dramatically transformed” from the provincial waterside village of his childhood to a major international tourist resort.
The house his family had lived in had been demolished and replaced with high-rise hotels, apartment blocks and sunburnt tourists. “It looked like downtown Miami,” he says.
The author had mixed feelings about this new, cosmopolitan Marbella. “On the one hand, I pined for the town of my youth, but on the other, I also marvelled at how Marbella had grown and prospered,” he adds.
Through his Film Festival Agency, De la Cal now brings A-list Hollywood celebrities like Susan Sarandon and Arnold Schwarzenegger to this country. “Many of them have shot in Spain and have fallen under its spell,” he says.
“To Marbella I have accompanied Julia Ormond, Ben Gazarra, Bo Derek and the director, Stanley Donnen,” he adds.
The author returned to Malaga last month to launch ‘Spanish Son’. While he was here, he took the opportunity to enjoy tapas outside at El Pimpi, and stroll along the esplanade beside the port where “as a kid I watched my first Semana Santa procession”.source surinenglish