Judge Garzón

In 1975, Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco finally died. All of the decent people in the country had been waiting with bated breath for the dictator to draw his last breath and to leave Spain free to explore life without fascism.

Just like many other countries who suffered from bloody dictatorships, Spain decided that the only way to go forward with its transition to democracy was to pretend that the Civil War of 1936-1939 and the dictatorship that the war put in place never really happened. There were no investigations of the crimes committed by the dictatorship, there was no restitution, no public apologies extended to the victims by people who tortured and killed them and their family members. Everybody was expected to get over it, forget everything that happened and just move on.

"In support of Judge Garzon"

Of course, this strategy never works. I hasn’t worked in Argentina, in Chile, in the countries of the Former Soviet Union. And it hasn’t worked in Spain either. You can’t heal such deep wounds by pretending to forget.

Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón understood that. He was the only judge who accepted the case against the Chilean dictator Pinochet on his docket. Of course, Judge Garzón wasn’t a judge in Chile, but what else could he do if nobody else in the world was willing to listen to Pinochet’s victims?

And then Judge Garzón also started investigating the atrocities committed by the Spanish fascists during Franco’s dictatorship. Since there was no real transfer of either political or economic power in Spain during the so-called Transition to democracy, many powerful people got terrified. They are not prepared to open the discussion about the Civil War and the post-war era. They want to keep pretending that nothing happened in Spain between 1936 and 1975.

So Judge Garzón was accused of being a promoter of totalitarianism because he investigated the corruption of the ruling party in Spain and was reopening the cases of crimes committed during the dictatorship. Yesterday, the Supreme Court unanimously condemned the Judge and ruled that he will be barred from practicing law for 11 years.

This is a sad moment for Spain because the last hope that the legacy of Spanish fascism would finally be addressed has now been extinguished.

Teresa Pla Meseguer, Part II

A group of policemen (called Civil Guards) stopped Teresa once and forced her to strip naked. They had heard that her genitals were “weird” and wanted to see for themselves. It is needless to say that Teresa was traumatized by this horrible violation. She had been trying so hard to fit into what a woman was supposed to be like. She had even bought a red dress, curled her hair, and started attending dancing fetes. And now, she was forced to undress and reveal her body to drunken Civil Guards.


This was when Teresa decided to stop pretending. She joined the Republican guerrilla fighters and started living her life as a man, Florencio. The guerrilla fighters were more open-minded than the villagers. They easily accepted Florencio as a man and never questioned his identity. They helped him to achieve his greatest dream, which was learning to read.

Unfortunately, the Republican guerrilla movement was administered by the Soviets. Stalin was the person who decided what they were supposed to do, when, and how. For Stalin, purges were an integral part of ruling the Communist allies all over the world. Florencio’s closest friend among the guerrilla fighters, Francisco, was accused by a Stalin’s emissary of treason. Francisco decided to escape in order to avoid being killed by his own comrades. As a good friend, Florencio joined him and the two men formed a rogue guerrilla unit.

Florencio and Francisco survived for a while in the forest until Francisco was killed. After that, Florencio remained hiding in the forest on his own. He knew the terrain so well that he managed to avoid capture for years.

At that time, the Republican guerrilleros had already withdrawn from Spain on Stalin’s orders. Florencio was left completely alone. The Civil Guards hunted him and the newspapers published articles describing Florencio as “a wild beast,” “a woman with entrails of stone” (yes, they were shitty writers, what can I say?), “a blood-thirsty hyena”, etc. The authorities were especially bothered by rumors that Florencio was living his life as a man. This gender-switching made him even more suspect in their eyes.

In 1960, Florencio was captured by the Civil Guards. He was given the capital penalty for 29 murders that were erroneously attributed to him. Florencio, however, always denied killing anybody and the authorities never managed to prove that he was guilty of murder.

At first, the authorities tried to place Florencio in a women’s jail. They dressed him in a mini-skirt and a blouse that was so tight he could barely breathe. Florencio was a man, however, and nobody could pretend he wasn’t. In the first part of the post, you have a photo of how Florencio looked right after he was captured. It soon became obvious that keeping him in a jail for female prisoners would not do.

A group of military doctors studied Florencio for a while and arrived at a unanimous conclusion that he was a man. From then on, he was placed in a men’s jail and his gender was never again disputed.

In 1977, Florencio was released from jail. In 1980, he finally managed to get the authorities to recognize him legally as a man. Florencio Pla Meseguer died in 2004 at the age of 87. He had survived the dictator Francisco Franco by 29 years and had witnessed Spain’s transition to democracy.



If you don’t read in Spanish, there are no good sources for this information. At least, not until my article is finished and comes out. 🙂

If you do read in Spanish, I recommend the following books:

Calvo Segarra, José. La Pastora. Del monte al mito. Vinarós: Antinea, 2009.

Giménez Bartlett, Alicia. Donde nadie te encuentre. Barcelona: Destino, 2011.

And Now Let Me Bore You With My Research: Teresa Pla Meseguer, Part I

I never do this, folks, so I think I can be excused for discussing my research just this once. Especially because you will not find this information on English-language websites and I think it’s fascinating.

Florencio, 1960

Teresa Pla Meseguer was born in a small village of Vallibona in Spain in 1917. Today, we would call Teresa intersex because her gender could not be determined at birth. In her tiny village of shepherds and poor farmers, however, nobody knew this word. Teresa’s parents registered her as a woman because being female would have allowed her to avoid being drafted into the army.

Teresa never performed femininity very convincingly, though. People ridiculed her and taunted her for looking like a guy and her elder sisters beat her mercilessly. Teresa grew up to be very tall and strong, which made people afraid of laughing at her in her face. When the Civil War started in 1936, Teresa didn’t join either of the warring sides. She was considered a woman, which gave her the right to stay in Vallibona. She could do hard physical labor as well as a man and men were scarce. This allowed Teresa to make good money and even start saving.

As we all know, the progressive Republican forces lost the Civil War in Spain. The fascists, led by the General Francisco Franco (or, as I refer to him in my lectures, vile cockroach*), won. The defeated Republican forces withdrew to France. The Republicans** fought heroically against Hitler in Europe because they believed that once the Nazis were defeated, the Allies would proceed to remove Franco and his fascists from power.

This never happened. The Allies allowed the fascist dictatorship of Franco to remain in power until 1975.

The Republican fighters decided to take matters into their own hands. They organized guerrilla units, crossed the border between France and Spain, and started engaging in subversive activities against the regime. Teresa was one of the many people in the area who helped the guerrilla  fighters by providing them with food and helping them pass messages to their families.

One day, however, a really horrible thing happened to Teresa.

[To be continued. . .]

* And I always follow this with a disclaimer that the students should feel free to form a different opinion about Franco but that this is a subject where it makes me feel better to say that he is a vile cockroach.

** These, of course, are very different from the American Republicans. The Spanish Republicans were people who defended the democratically elected legitimate government of the 2nd Republic against the military uprising of fascists between 1936-9.

Nepotism: A Scourge of Higher Education

Nepotism is a huge problem in Spanish universities. Everything is about being connected to the right people, kissing ass, networking, and placing your relatives and friends in key positions. The damage this does to the system of higher education is enormous.

Italy, it seems, has the same problem:

One reason for the poor performance of Italian institutions in world league tables may be nepotism, it has been suggested. The practice has been blamed for a “brain drain” that has seen many of the country’s best researchers move to the US or the UK after failing to progress at home because of their lack of connections.

This is an open secret in Italy. The news magazine l’Espresso and newspaper La Repubblica have reported that in Rome’s La Sapienza University, a third of teaching staff are closely related. Questions were raised after the wife, son and daughter of Luigi Frati, La Sapienza’s chancellor, were hired by its medical faculty. At the University of Bari in the southern region of Puglia, Lanfranco Massari, a professor of economics, has three sons and five grandchildren who are colleagues in the same department. And at the University of Palermo, Angelo Milone, a professor in the architectural faculty, works alongside his brother, son and daughter.

Of course, a system of higher education that is structured this way will never produce valuable research or good teaching.

Efforts are being made to infect the American academia with the same kind of nepotistic practices. The system of “spousal hiring” destroys entire departments. The most offensive thing about this kind of unfair hiring practices is that nobody even thinks of informing the students that some of their professors did not get hired competitively and are only there because they happen to sleep with the right person.

The only thing that stands between us and nepotism is our own personal integrity. This year, for example, I chaired a panel that reviewed research proposals and decided which ones to fund. One of the proposals was by a person I really adore. Nobody at the panel knew about my feelings, so I could have easily done something nice for my friend and gotten their proposal funded. However, I couldn’t act in this dishonest manner. Which is why I declared my conflict of interest to the panel members and removed myself from the discussions of my friend’s proposal.

I’ve seen what nepotism does to individuals, departments, and universities, and I’ll be damned if I ever get tempted to become part of a nepotistic culture.

Spanish Garlic Soup (Sopa de Ajo): A Recipe

“What kind of a Hispanist am I if I never tried Spanish sopa de ajo(garlic soup)?” I asked myself recently. So I decided to make my first garlic soup ever. Even though it didn’t

Sopas de ajo

look, feel, or taste like what we call “soup” in my culture (no potatoes! no carrots! no cabbage!), it was still very good and hearty, which was especially appropriate for the first cold spell this Fall.

Here are the ingredients I used:

    • Half a loaf of stale bread (please don’t get that weird kind that never goes stale).
    • 10-12 cloves of garlic (I wimped out and only added 8, which was a mistake).
    • several strips of bacon and some bacon bits (this is what I used to substitute for Spanish amazing jamon serrano which I obviously don’t have here)
    • 6 eggs
    • some stock that I substituted with water
    • olive oil
    • a little paprika (substitute with cayenne paper if you don’t mind hotness.)

In some olive oil, fry bacon strips cut into pieces until they become golden. Cut garlic cloves into smallish pieces and add them to the pan. Make sure the garlic becomes golden but doesn’t burn.

Garlic and Bacon

Cut your stale loaf into crouton-sized cubes and add them to the frying-pan. When all ingredients are pleasantly golden, remove the pan from the fire and add 1/3 of a teaspoon of paprika. It is supposed to cover your ingredients with nice reddish color. Make sure paprika doesn’t burn, though!

In the meanwhile, heat up your stock (or water) in a pan. Add some more crouton-sized pieces of stale bread. Some people just add big slices of bread but that’s too exotic for me. When the ingredients in the frying pan are ready, add them to the stock. Now, let everything simmer for 20 minutes. I didn’t add any salt because my bacon was salty enough for my preferences. This is up to you, of course.

IMPORTANT: At no point should you allow your soup to boil. So keep an eye on it at all times. It boils, it’s ruined.

When the soup is almost done, beat the eggs into it. I also left two yolks out and added them to the plate after the soup was served. When you break up the yolk in the plate, it spreads around, and the soup becomes even more delicious.

Here is what the garlic soup ended up looking like:

Sopas de ajo

I obviously need to get a new camera soon because I don’t think that on this cell phone photo you can really see that the soup ended up looking like a flower in the plate. It was very tasty, too.

The People of Spain Persecuted for Questioning the Pope’s Visit

Spain has been hit very severely by the global economic crisis. The unemployment is high and the social services are suffering huge cuts. The people of Spain have been protesting in the streets against their government’s austerity measures since May.

In the midst of this already very painful situation, the Spanish government decided it would be a good idea to shell out 50 million euros to bring the Pope on a 4-day-long visit to the country. It also decided it would be swell to send out the police forces to engage in brutal assaults on the protesters who came into the streets to demonstrate their peaceful disagreement with the Pope’s visit. Spain’s Catholic Church had collaborated with the fascist dictatorship that brutalized the country between 1939 and 1975. Since then, the younger generations of Spaniards have moved away from religion. These are the same people who are being hit very hard by unemployment and who don’t understand why their money – which is scarce as it is – should be given out to a bunch of religious fanatics who have done untold damage to the country already.

Through the blog What? I discovered this video of police officers beating a 17-year-old female protester. I warn you that it is very brutal.

In your experience, what town has the most friendly people?

WordPress asked me this question, and I couldn’t resist answering.

Even though it can hardly be described as a “town”, the friendliest place I’ve ever been to is Seville, Spain. I only went there once but the experience was very memorable. On my first day there, I went out for a stroll and immediately got lost in the maze of tiny little streets.

“Excuse me, how do you get to street such and such?” I asked a passerby.

“Ah, you must be a tourist! Where are you from? Canada? You will love our beautiful city. Let’s go, I’ll take you to the street you need. Ah, here is the coffee-shop of my friend Francis. He makes the best coffee in Sevilla. Hey, Francis, come here. This is my friend from Canada, give her some coffee. And bring churros, too. Have you tried the real Spanish churros? You’ll love them. Hey, Francis, don’t be stingy, bring her some more to take back to the hotel with her. Have you seen a bullfight yet? No? You need to see one! Look, here is a ticket for tonight. I was going to use it myself but you need it more. Take it, and here is an invitation to another cool place. Money? What are you talking about? We are friends, aren’t we? Hey, Maria! Look, this is my friend from Canada!”

“Ah, you are from Canada! What have you got here? Churros? From Francis’s place? Nah, these are no good. Let’s go to Pepe’s cafe and you’ll taste real churros there. Hey, Pepe, this is our friend from Canada. Give her some churros. No, give her more to take to the hotel with her. What’s your name? Clarissa? We have a party tonight, Clarissa. I’ll pick you up at your hotel at eleven. Hey, Jose Miguel, look, this is our Canadian friend Clarissa!”

At the end of the outing, I returned to my hotel with my hands and bag full of tickets, invitations, souvenirs, and churros.

What’s the friendliest place you ever visited?

Daniel Innerarity on Human Dignity

Please remember the name of Daniel Innerarity, one of Spain’s leading philosophers of our time. I am preparing a conference talk based on his work and will be sharing some of Innerarity’s ideas (as well as my ideas on his ideas) with you on my blog. Spanish philosophers (artists, scientists, writers, etc.) find it quite difficult to make themselves known outside of their country even when their work is definitely worthy of being widely known. Innerarity is a philosopher who definitely deserves being read but it is hard to find his books in North America even in the original, let alone in an English translation.

The translations of all the quotes will be mine. I warn you that I don’t translate word for word. My translations always sacrifice the similarity of the form to the original text in favor of remaining faithful to the content.

So here is what Innerarity has to say about chance and human dignity in his book Ethics of Hospitality:

The fact that all of us get born as a result of actions whose outcome is more or less uncertain serves as a guarantee of our human dignity. It is as if not being intentionally created by anybody gave us the right to escape anybody’s absolute domination in the course of our lives.

It is very impressive that Innerarity is not afraid of talking about chance and eventuality in his work. Fatalism is one of the qualities that, in the mythology of national character, has been associated with the Spaniards. Consequently, anybody from Spain who wanted to pass for a serious thinker had to be very careful not to play into this myth. However, after a while, trying studiously not to be what your national mythology expects you to be becomes quite limiting. Innerarity overcomes the fear of appearing old-fashioned and nationalistic in order to take his ideas in the direction he needs.

José Penalva’s Corruption in the University (Corrupción en la Universidad): A Review

As much as I was looking forward to reading José Penalva’s Corruption in the University, I have to admit that the author chose the worst possible manner to address the important issues of nepotism, corruption and harassment that exist in the system of higher education in Spain. For one, Penalva chose to write a novel (or something approximating it.) He might be a brilliant researcher in his field (which is Pedagogy), but a writer he is not. The first person present-tense narrative by a fictional young scholar José Montag alternates between short, choppy statements and long convoluted sentences where Latin expressions exist side by side with Sancho Panza-style proverbs. The author’s writing style relies on repetitions to the extent where the reader begins to wonder how much of the text was simply copy-pasted. To give an example, the narrator mentions that he “didn’t want to take off his pants” (meaning he didn’t want to be humiliated by his colleagues) so many times that I was practically ready to howl every time I encountered this phrase yet again.

Penalva makes the book even less endearing to the reader by his insistent references to Don Quijote. The novel’s narrator obviously sees himself as some kind of a Quixotic figure and even uses the famous opening sentence of Cervantes’s masterpiece as the first sentence of his story. An author whose writing is so poor from the aesthetic point of view and who lacks a realistic vision of himself to the degree where he would compare himself to Cervantes is not to be trusted in terms of the message he is trying to communicate about the system of higher ed.

Penalva’s protagonist is as lacking in social skills as he is in being capable of seeing his own actions with any degree of self-criticism. I’m not extremely good at interpersonal communication myself, but even I know enough not to tell my dissertation committee during the process of my defense that the committee members are to blame for Franco’s dictatorship since they lived under Franco and did nothing to fight him. It is also pretty clear to everybody but Penalva’s character that it might not be the best idea in the world to tell the scholar you want to be your thesis advisor that all you want from him is his signature on the dissertation form and that you have no interest in being directed by him in any way.

The book’s protagonist dislikes absolutely everybody he encounters. Colleagues, administrators, undergrads, graduate students, union members, judges, lawyers, journalists, politicians, and secretaries are all profoundly evil creatures who conspire to persecute this brilliant young academic.

The protagonist insists that he is the only one who actually does any work at the entire department of Pedagogy. He is also the only faculty member ever to visit the library, which he does while the evil colleagues meet in secret to conspire against him. Even a former professor who works for a different university and his own lawyers betray José.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt that corruption is rampant in the Spanish system of higher ed. However, I find it extremely hard to believe that every single person at a university – except for one persecuted academic – can really be an irredeemable villain. As my professor used to say, “If it seems to you that everybody else in the room is a complete idiot, there is probably just one idiot in that room. And that’s you.”

In the Prologue that Penalva writes under his own name, he indicates that the reason why he was subjected to harassment at his university in Spain is that his vision of his field is so innovative that other academics find it difficult to accept it. He fails, however, to explain what it is that his approach to Pedagogy entails. I am not completely alien to this discipline and I believe that I would have been able to understand Penalva’s insights into Pedagogy had he managed to transmit them with any degree of clarity. His failure to do so makes his claims of professional and scholarly superiority suspect.

When I first heard of this book, I was hoping that finally somebody had written a fact-based study of corruption in Spanish system of higher ed. We all know that such book is sorely needed. Unfortunately, Penalva’s Corrupción en la Universidad is so poorly structured and badly written that it sounds like a 200-page rant of a person who is so rigid, unbending and lacking in self-awareness that he manages to make enemies wherever he goes.

My heart goes out to a fellow academic who obviously endured some pretty vicious harassment at his university. (Even though I find it difficult to believe that academics who want to get you out of their department are truly likely to resort to death threats.) However, the way he chose to denounce the injustices done to him is simply counter-productive. Penalva’s alter ego José Montag keeps repeating that there will be a sequel to this book. In that sequel, we will supposedly find factual proof of the harassment he suffered. It remains unclear whose harassment the narrator means: the fictional one he experienced in the novel or the real one suffered by Penalva. I don’t think that the readers of the first book in what promises to be a series will care enough to want to find out.