Federico Garcia Lorca


June 5th 1898 to 1936 when he was executed by the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War because his pen was worth a regiment.  Happy Birthday Federico Garcia Lorca, feliz cumpleaños.

El Balcón; by Federico Garcia Lorca

Si muero
Dejad el balcón abierto

El niño come naranjas
(Desde mi balcón lo veo)

El segador siega el trigo
(Desde mi balcón lo siento)

Si muero
Dejad el balcón abierto


What’s in a name?

Portiuncula Chapel Assisi

Portiuncula Chapel Assisi

On this day in the year 1781 a group of Spaniards founded the settlement they called  El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula.  As the name of a small village it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.  It took longer to say the name of the village than it took to ride through it on a horse.

Over the years the village grew and the name got shorter.  It became the city of Los Angeles.  At this stage it is a huge metropolis and the name has contracted further so that most of us just call it L.A.

Portiuncula is the Italian for a small portion of land.  Such a small portion was given to the hermits of the Valley of Josaphat in the 4th century where they built a small chapel.  The chapel fell into disrepair but was renovated by St Francis of Assisi who had a vision from God telling him ” go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins”.  Francis sold his horse and some of his fathers cloth to pay for the repairs.

After a row with his father and the local bishop Francis cast off his finery and became a beggar.  He took the message from God to refer to the church in its entirety, rather than the small chapel of Portiuncula.  Because of this story there is a river in California, a  Basilica in Brazil and a Hospital in County Galway, Ireland named after the small chapel repaired by St Francis.

The Spanish name for LA translates as “The settlement of our lady the queen of angels of Portiuncula”

’tis but thy name that is my enemy;
thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? Tt is nor hand, nor foot,
nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet;
so Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
retain that dear perfection which he owes
without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
and for that name which is no part of thee
take all myself……………………Juliet, Act II Scene ii, Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare

Spanish Flu

Alfonso XIII

Alfonso XIII

What’s in a name?  Diseases are often named after places, and who wants to be remembered for a disease?  Early outbreaks of Syphilis in Europe for instance occured during a French invasion of Italy in 1494.  The French promptly called it the “Italian” disease and blamed it on Neapolitans.  The Neapolitans blamed it on the French soldiers and called it the “French” disease.  The truth is that the strain probably came from the New World, transmitted to Europe by the men who sailed with Christopher Columbus.  Which would make it the Spanish disease.  Or the “Indian” disease since Columbus thought he had found a Western route to India.

Spanish flu was confirmed in the USA in March 1918 in Fort Riley, Kansas.  There is much debate now about the origin of the flu.  What is certain is that it exploded all along the Western Front at the end of World War 1 in the crowded and unsanitary conditions in which troops commonly live.

One theory is that it migrated from the herds of pigs that were kept penned nearby to feed troops.  Another theory arises from a forgotten piece of war history.  Thousands of Chinese coolies were recruited by the allies to provide labour along the western front.  There was an outbreak of H1N1 virus in China around the same time.  Did it originate in Europe and spread to China or vice versa?

In France, England and Germany the wartime propaganda machine was in full swing.  There was no reporting of deaths from flu as this might encourage military action by the enemy.  However Spain was outside of the conflict.  When the Spanish king Alfonso XIII became ill with the flu the pandemic was reported widely, giving the impression that it was rampant in Spain.  As a result it became known as the Spanish Flu.

Now a truly international poet.  Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki.  Born in Italy to a Polish family he was wounded in WW1 fighting for France and died of the Spanish flu.  He coined the terms “Cubism” and “Surrealism”.

Le Pont Mirabeau; Guillaume Apollinaire

Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away
And lovers
Must I be reminded
Joy came always after pain

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

We’re face to face and hand in hand
While under the bridges
Of embrace expire
Eternal tired tidal eyes

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

Love elapses like the river
Love goes by
Poor life is indolent
And expectation always violent

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

The days and equally the weeks elapse
The past remains the past
Love remains lost
Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I