The fight to save the house of the poet Vicente Aleixandre in Madrid | Spain

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The pale yellow, cedar dwarf house at 3 Vicente Aleixandre Street in northwest Madrid wasn’t always the damp, quiet, neglected place it is today. Nor was it always 3, rue Vicente Aleixandre.

For almost half a century it was known as Velintonia, the semi-mythical house where the Nobel Prize-winning Spanish poet Vicente Aleixandre wrote and received poets and writers, including Federico García Lorca, who read there his works aloud and played the living there. room piano.

Today, however, Velintonia is a ramshackle echo of everything it once was, and could disappear completely if someone finds the 4.7 million euros that Aleixandre’s relatives are asking for the property.

Vicente Aleixandre in his library. Photo: Courtesy of the Association of Friends of Vicente Aleixandre

Although Madrid’s regional government declared the house a “place of heritage interest” in early June, activists who fought a long battle to save Velintonia and turn it into a museum say the designation offers limited protection.

“We are not just fighting to save a building or a space; we are fighting to save the spirit of this house and what it represents,” says Alejandro Sanz, president of the Association of Friends of Vicente Aleixandre (AAVA).

“If someone buys this house and decides to make it a French restaurant or a pub, they can – as long as they respect certain things. But the house and its spirit would be destroyed if you did that.

According to the AAVA, the status of heritage interest – which recognizes places or elements “without exceptional value, but which have a particular historical or artistic significance” – does not take into account the rich past of the house. For it to become a museum, they want to see the property benefit from this much more demanding status of “object of cultural interest”.

Few buildings in Spain, Europe or the rest of the world have such a remarkable literary pedigree as Velintonia. The nickname was coined by Aleixandre himself as a Hispanization of the street’s original name – Calle Wellingtonia – long before it was renamed in honor of the poet after his 1977 Nobel Prize.

Aleixandre and his family moved into the house in 1927, a year after it was built. Within months, it had become a meeting place for the poet’s friends in the avant-garde literary ensemble known as Generation 27, which was named after the year in which the group formed. is met.

In 1928 the poet Luis Cernuda met Aleixandre in the house. Two years later, Lorca – fresh from his travels in New York and Cuba – has settled on the poet’s doorstep.

“Lorca gives Aleixandre a signed copy of his poems, which reads: ‘At last in Velintonia, Federico’,” Sanz explains.

A room inside Velintonia
A room inside Velintonia. Photo: Courtesy of the Association of Friends of Vicente Aleixandre

“It shows how important Velintonia had become for the generation of 27. It was a symbol: you have there Rafael Alberti, and Manuel Altolaguirre, and Emilio Prados, and others. Fairs are organized there and interviews are given. Many of Lorca’s works were read aloud for the first time within these walls.

Lorca was murdered by a right-wing firing squad at the start of the Spanish Civil War, while fellow poet Miguel Hernández, another visitor to Velintonia, died in prison in 1942, his lungs destroyed by tuberculosis.

Unlike some members of the Generation of 27 – among them Cernuda, Alberti, Prados and Altolaguirre – Aleixandre did not go into exile after Franco’s coup, partly because he was too ill and partly because he he was devoted to his sister Conchita.

After the bomb damage in Velintonia was repaired and parts of the house were rebuilt, Aleixandre and Conchita returned to the house in 1940 and the poet planted a cedar of Lebanon in the garden to symbolize a new departure. The tree is still standing today, huge and in need of pruning.

From 1940 until his death in 1984, Aleixandre continued to receive writers from Spain, Latin America and elsewhere. Close friends were received in the garden in the morning or admitted to the room where the poet lay down on a chaise longue from 4:30 p.m. Less familiar visitors were granted a hearing from 7 p.m.

Spanish writer and director Vicente Molina Foix was 17 when he was introduced to Aleixandre by a friend. Although he belonged to one of the most revered groups in Spanish literary history, the Aleixandre he befriended was modest, courteous and deeply interested in the work of younger generations.

“You were going to visit him and he was like, ‘Federico was there that afternoon and he sat down on the chair you’re sitting on now’,” says Molina Foix, who quickly became a regular at Velintonia. .

“He had an intimate knowledge of this very important Spanish literary generation and he shared it without any trace of pride or vanity. But it was not only its literary value and importance; I had a lot of fun when I went to his house.

Sanz and his campaign comrades want the regional government of Madrid and the central government to act to save the house from its gradual decline. Although the structure is good, the humidity is spreading and intruders have escaped with Velintonia’s faucets and door handles.

“We don’t do this out of nostalgia, hero worship or mythomania: we do it because we believe that future generations should not be deprived of such an important creative space,” says Sanz.

“And besides, taking care of our heritage is common sense.”

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For Molina Foix too, the house – and everything it represents – is a treasure far too precious to be lost.

“It’s one of the few houses owned by a very important poet that is still as it was,” he says.

“The house has symbolic value because generations of writers from many different countries, not just Spain, have visited it. This house is somewhere between the historic and the symbolic. And it bears a name that Aleixandre himself gave it: Velintonia.

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