At age 17, Federico García Lorca travelled around Spain with his university professor and accompanying students. This trip proved a turning point for Lorca, who, at 19, published Impresiones y Paisajes (Impressions and Landscapes 1918), an account of how he saw his homeland. Lorca wrote this book while in Granada, before he moved to Madrid in 1919 to produce many of his well-known works. Sketches of Spain is a fine chance to read Impressions and Landscapes in English, and hear him find his own voice as an artist.
From the prologue, you can hear and understand Lorca’s prose – ‘Friend and reader: if you read the whole of this book, you will recognise a rather vague melancholy. You will see things that fade and pass on, and things portrayed always bitter, if not sadly”. Clearly, Lorca finds beauty in all things, even in the less-than pristine places that he visits. It feels like less of a story, and more of a poem, or of reading out the words to a song. Lorca finds feeling in everything he discovers on his journeys.
In each chapter as Lorca drifts from town to town, the physical is described, along with the depth of feeling and symbolism he finds in the everyday. Each description is poetic, and delivers on the promises of melancholy, along with flashes of solitude and wanting. Each place is explained until the reader can ‘feel’ them, understand them, and have moments in their own minds triggered by sounds, smells and ideas. Lorca visits places of religion – monasteries, churches and convents, and sees the beauty in the buildings, but not the nature of them. Lorca seems to feel as if these structures are burdens on towns and people. He clearly finds no solace in religion, nor the people he meets on his visits. He feels that prayers are never answered, and that penitence has no purpose, that instead charity would be a more suitable aspiration.
The poverty of Spain during this time (1916/17) is highlighted, along with the cruelty it inflicts on the populace, yet Lorca finds moments of light within it, showing how this poor lifestyle means people can easily appreciate simple pleasures, such as the smell of their food, or the sunshine on their skin. Galicia is filled with rain, poor children and social injustice; Granada with flamenco and austerity; Castile is a wide open existence of fine scenery but harsh reality. He reflects on death in Burgos when looking through empty tombs. It’s as if Lorca travelled through Spain with his eyes sometimes closed, but the rest of his senses dramatically heightened.
Of Castile, Lorca writes – ‘Eternal death will lock you into the gentle, honeyed sound of your rivers, and hues of tawny gold will always kiss you when the fiery sun beats down… You grant the sweetest consolation to romantic souls that our century scorns, you are so romantic, so bygone, and they find tranquillity and blissful exhaustion beneath your curved ceilings…’
Given Lorca’s young age when he made this trip, it is easy to feel a soul which is still learning of who it will one day become. While you get a real insight into Lorca’s style, he himself is hidden behind the words. The book has been translated into English by Peter Bush, and it rare to find a translation that comes out feeling so smooth and comfortable. The illustrations for the book are done by Julian Bell, and easily reflect the desperate sights where Lorca once tread.
This book would go well with a chair in the sunshine, and a glass of wine in hand. (Sadly, I had access to neither of these things, so have a sip for me!) This book is perfect for escaping reality and to discover how a genius once saw the world.