The best thing about slow travel is how random encounters can send you off in new, interesting directions. It so happened we were talking Me Too stuff at a waterside cafe in Barcelona, and I was explaining to Alan about Bill Cosby and his quaaludes when a British voice from the next table asked, “You wouldn’t happen to have a few of those tablets on you now, would you?” Ha ha. But long story short, this nice British couple said they were doing a Spanish Civil War walking tour the next day, I said that sounds interesting, and they dropped an easy-to-remember name: Nick Lloyd. Just google it with Spanish Civil War, he said, and he’d come up.
And so he did. I booked us for one a few days later. What a great recommendation.
Going in, I confess my Spanish Civil War knowledge was sketchy. Franco and his fascist nationalists on one side, Republicans on the other. Franco won, stayed in power for decades and became a Saturday Night Live one-liner. Guernica. That was about it. On my seventh-grade trip to Spain with my mom, I remember soldiers on every other corner, well-armed and scary-looking. This would have been in the early ’70s, before Franco died.
So much I didn’t know, so our three-hour walking tour with Nick and about a dozen others was a revelation and unsettling. Unsettling why? Let’s start with the roots of the conflict, when King Alphonso XIII abdicated in the global depression of the early ’30s. The second Spanish Republic formed and adopted a constitution with a lot of crazy progressive ideas, including: Spain should not have a state religion. Women should have the vote. And so on. The moving forces behind it were left-oriented — communists, anarchists, labor unions, republicans. A loose coalition of nationalists, monarchists, the Catholic Church (of course) and other right-wing groups decided this was too much, and a coup began in July 1936. Strip out the objections in Spain and replace them with the trans menace and critical race theory and about a dozen other hand-wringing topics Fox News likes to get on about, and, well, it starts to sound uncomfortably familiar. The Spanish war had no Mason-Dixon Line; it tore apart towns, neighbors, families. The scars remain today, and sometimes it seems they’ve barely closed. Sound familiar?
I won’t run through the whole tour, but it was fascinating. Yes, Atrocities Were Committed on Both Sides, but I’m still giving the edge to the fascists who allied with none other than Adolf Hitler. Here are children playing in a square in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. See the pitted walls at the far end? Those are scars from a bomb attack carried out by none other than the Luftwaffe, supporting the fascists. The death toll in this strike was something like 169, all civilians:
(God, Spanish children are so cute. You see them out and about, and they’re playing like you expect kids to play, with soccer balls and jump ropes. They must get phones at some point, but I didn’t see any carried by younger kids.)
And then there was Guernica. Hitler: “Hey Frankie, I got a new idea for carpet-bombing a civilian population. Mind if I practice in your neck of the woods? Maybe on a market day, for maximum casualties?” Franco: “Sure, be my guest. There’s this pain-in-the-ass Basque town I’m thinking of.”
We saw the painting in Madrid. When was the last time a work of art got people talking like Picasso’s “Guernica?” Maybe “Piss Christ,” or Robert Mapplethorpe with a bullwhip up his ass.
Nick had a lot of ephemera from the period. This was an ID case or dues record or something from the workers’ union, which included a fair number of anarchists.
They never did get their shit entirely together, but they produced some nice graphic design.
Military footwear. Imagine marching miles in these:
Anyway, without deep-diving into George Orwell, etc., here’s one story that’s in most of the guidebooks to Toledo, which we visited during our Madrid stay: A nationalist commander, Col. Moscardo, was under siege at the Alcazar of Toledo in the earliest days of the war. The Alcazar was a fortification at the highest point in town; it started as a castle, then bumped through the centuries as this and that, and in 1936 was a military base, and the Republicans wanted the munitions it held. Col. Moscardo was holding them off when a Republican commander telephoned Moscardo’s office and told him they were holding his son, Luis. If he didn’t surrender in 10 minutes, Luis would be shot. Moscardo asked to speak to his son, and is said to have told him, “Commend your soul to God and die like a hero.” Luis handed the phone to whoever was holding him, and Moscardo said, “I don’t need 10 minutes. I will never surrender the Alcazar.”
It was a long siege, but Moscardo was as good as his word. (Luis was not shot immediately, contrary to newspaper accounts at the time, but was disposed of a month later with some other hostages.) For some reason, this struck me as the most Spanish Civil War story ever. Half a million people died. Moscardo’s office is preserved as a museum exhibit now. Here’s where it happened:
Anyway, while we’re on the subject, a pivot to some bloggage, Fiona Hill interviewed in Politico about the Ukrainian situation. Elon Musk is the Henry Ford of the 21st century, very smart in some areas, criminally dumb in others:
Reynolds: We’ve recently had Elon Musk step into this conflict trying to promote discussion of peace settlements. What do you make of the role that he’s playing?
Hill: It’s very clear that Elon Musk is transmitting a message for Putin. There was a conference in Aspen in late September when Musk offered a version of what was in his tweet — including the recognition of Crimea as Russian because it’s been mostly Russian since the 1780s — and the suggestion that the Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia should be up for negotiation, because there should be guaranteed water supplies to Crimea. He made this suggestion before Putin’s annexation of those two territories on September 30. It was a very specific reference. Kherson and Zaporizhzhia essentially control all the water supplies to Crimea. Crimea is a dry peninsula. It has aquifers, but it doesn’t have rivers. It’s dependent on water from the Dnipro River that flows through a canal from Kherson. It’s unlikely Elon Musk knows about this himself. The reference to water is so specific that this clearly is a message from Putin.
Now, there are several reasons why Musk’s intervention is interesting and significant. First of all, Putin does this frequently. He uses prominent people as intermediaries to feel out the general political environment, to basically test how people are going to react to ideas. Henry Kissinger, for example, has had interactions with Putin directly and relayed messages. Putin often uses various trusted intermediaries including all kinds of businesspeople. I had intermediaries sent to discuss things with me while I was in government.
This is a classic Putin play. It’s just fascinating, of course, that it’s Elon Musk in this instance, because obviously Elon Musk has a huge Twitter following. He’s got a longstanding reputation in Russia through Tesla, the SpaceX space programs and also through Starlink. He’s one of the most popular men in opinion polls in Russia. At the same time, he’s played a very important part in supporting Ukraine by providing Starlink internet systems to Ukraine, and kept telecommunications going in Ukraine, paid for in part by the U.S. government. Elon Musk has enormous leverage as well as incredible prominence. Putin plays the egos of big men, gives them a sense that they can play a role. But in reality, they’re just direct transmitters of messages from Vladimir Putin.
Dexter Friend said on October 19, 2022 at 3:48 am
nance’s topic inspired you for more? https://www.thelocal.es/20180718/spanish-civil-war-books-must-read-best/
Alan Stamm said on October 19, 2022 at 7:33 am
Haunting, unsettling then-now parallels.
And less weightily, always delightful to catch Romance languages’ Latin root similarities. One country’s espadrilles are its southern neighbor’s espardenyes.
Travel dividends never end.
Bruce Fields said on October 19, 2022 at 8:36 am
“Elon Musk is the Henry Ford of the 21st century, very smart in some areas,…”
Is he? I mean, I’d always assumed he must be to have gotten to where he is. But the more I hear about the guy the more I start to think he’s just an all-around idiot who lucked into the right spot during the dot-com boom.
LAMary said on October 19, 2022 at 8:44 am
I was in Spain in the summer of ’71 and those soldiers were everywhere in Madrid.
Suzanne said on October 19, 2022 at 10:29 am
I don’t think Musk is a genius at all. I think he’s a guy who entered life very rich and got in on the electric car boom at the right time, hired a few people who designed a cool looking car, but that’s about it. He has the gift of being rich which too many equate with talent. If I have learned nothing else in the era of Trump, it is that there are a large percentage of our population that will do anything for money.
I ran across this article this morning with this telling quote: “ Ten of the deaths involved vehicles made by Tesla…”
nancy said on October 19, 2022 at 10:46 am
OK, I take it back: Elon Musk is not smart. But he has succeeded at convincing millions of people he is, so I guess that requires some talent. Honestly, I was trying to live by a new rule that you shouldn’t assume people are stupid until they directly demonstrate that they’re not. Intelligence comes in many forms.
ROGirl said on October 19, 2022 at 11:14 am
But he also has a company that builds and sends rockets into space and some really smart and dedicated people are involved in that. The company I work for makes parts for SpaceX and Blue Origin, and we deal with the employees who do the work. He may be an asshole, but he’s a successful asshole.
Dave said on October 19, 2022 at 11:22 am
All you have to do is convince people you’re a great success and genius, even if you aren’t. Ummm, the last occupant who defiled the White House is my number one example. I place some blame on the producers of that TV show, Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, for all of it.
Deborah said on October 19, 2022 at 12:32 pm
We are back in Paris. My right shoulder will never be the same after trying to get my 2 bags up to our seats on the train. My husband couldn’t help because he had 3 bags. We had to buy an extra bag for all the stuff we accumulated like we knew we would.
The Spanish civil war info is fascinating. I wish we had known about that kind of a tour when we were in Spain. That’s what I love about traveling, you learn so much. For me being in the actual places where things happened makes it so much more interesting. If only I could have traveled more when I was a child.
We leave Paris on Sunday so we’ve got a lot to squeeze in.
Heather said on October 19, 2022 at 12:35 pm
The memories of soldiers in the street in Spain reminded me of an interview I read recently with the creator of the TV series Derry Girls, which is set in Ireland near the end of the Troubles. When she started writing, she asked people to send her their pictures and memories of this time, and one photo she received was of a couple of girls posing in their First Communion finery–and a British soldier, complete with machine gun, in the background.
Jeff Gill said on October 19, 2022 at 2:07 pm
Not sure what his personal role was in coding and such, but Elon Musk made a bundle with Zip2 in the early WWW days creating the site then selling it for an obscene amount of money, then with the proceeds got involved with Peter Thiel (Ohio’s newest profanity) to launch PayPal, which was sold making both of them a ridiculous pile of cash each. Thiel went on to develop a line of robotic life model decoy Senate candidates, while Musk invested in electric cars, rocketships, and trolling a series of girlfriends along with the American public as a whole.
Is either of them smart? I got no room to talk. Between them and Scott Adams they represent a certain type of “guy,” with a snide obsessive ability to focus which is impressive even if it isn’t entirely admirable.
Suzanne said on October 19, 2022 at 2:26 pm
The thing is that Musk started out life very rich. When you start out rich, you can afford to invest in new companies. He apparently knows how to code, but so do lots of other people who are not nearly as rich because they can’t afford to start a new company like Musk did back in the day and then sell it for a bejeesus ton of money. Then rinse & repeat. Once in a while, a mere mortal like the rest of us manages to come up with something truly groundbreaking and get rich from it, but it’s rare. Most of the upper echelons start out in the upper echelons and build from there. Does that take some skill? Of course. But it’s not a path most of us can follow because we know if we fail, we won’t land softly.
Jeff Gill said on October 19, 2022 at 3:36 pm
Apparently starting out rich is a real advantage. Yet another mistake I made . . .
Jeff Borden said on October 19, 2022 at 5:24 pm
In the late ’80s/early ’90s, there were men –always, they were men– who referred to themselves as Masters of the Universe. (Tom Wolfe popularized the term in “Bonfire of the Vanities.”) They were the guys who made and broke markets on Wall Street, who bought and strip-mined companies for the parts, who celebrated their success and wealth with wretched excesses in women, houses, yachts, private jets, etc. Gordon Gekko was the patron saint and his “greed is good” speech in “Wall Street” was their battle cry.
They’ve been replaced by the Silicon Valley guys, who may be even worse. Peter Thiel is particularly frightening as he seems intent on installing as many authoritarian wing nuts as possible into our government and he has the money to do it. How else could a fauxbilly investment banker like J.D. Vance be winning a race? The man is devoid of principles or convictions. He’s just Thiel’s marionette.
I was hammered at the time for saying the SCOTUS decision on “Citizens United” would someday be mentioned in the same breath as the Dred Scott decision for its horrible impact on our country. Overly dramatic? You tell me.
In Illinois, two billionaires between them have dumped close to $100 million into the gubernatorial campaign. Ken Griffin, a venture capitalist who had been the richest man in Illinois before he picked up his toys and moved to Florida, spent tens of millions to elevate the black mayor of Aurora, Illinois, but he lost in the primary. Richard Uihlien, a multi-billionaire supply company owner from Lake Forest, is dumping $50 million to back a goober from downstate named Darren Bailey, who is 100% against abortion including for the health of the mother and has called Chicago, the largest economic engine in the Midwest, a hell hole. He’s also compared abortion to the Holocaust, but insists abortion is worst. He’s a dick.
Our political institutions are choking to death on billionaire money. It may yet kill us.
Brandon said on October 19, 2022 at 6:14 pm
Re: Masters of the Universe. Tom Wolfe was inspired by He-Man and the whole “set of lurid, rapacious plastic dolls.”
alex said on October 19, 2022 at 6:29 pm
I knew very little about the Spanish Civil War, but have marveled how within my lifetime it went from being a fascist state to one that seems to be a whole lot more progressive than ours.
Elon Musk is an idiot savant, as those on the spectrum are sometimes called, and even though he might build a spaceship he’s certainly no rocket scientist when it comes to politics.
beb said on October 19, 2022 at 7:22 pm
I tend to think of Musk as the Howard Hughes of our time, A great engineer turned bat-shit crazy. He changed the world with SpaceX and Tesla. Autopilot, though — POS. His talk about Ukraine — garbage.
Sherri said on October 19, 2022 at 8:11 pm
Though he tries to obscure it as much as possible, Musk was not the founder of Tesla. He was the first VC investor, and eventually took over. There was a lawsuit that allows him to call himself a founder.
Thiel is not a coder, never has been. He had already raised a VC fund before PayPal existed. (He was an asshole way before then.)
There’s a threshold level of smart someone has to be in order to build a successful company, but to build a wildly successful company that turns you into a billionaire is a lot about luck. It does not mean you are a genius, capable of solving problems in any arena. Musk has a mixed track record, depending on how you define success. PayPal was a success, and made him rich. Tesla is hard to characterize; its balance sheet has been propped up for years by selling government pollution credits, its factories are a mess, its cars are great unless you need to repair them (and ignoring the whole full self-driving nonsense.) SpaceX can successfully launch rockets, cool, but if the goal is really Mars, well, I ain’t holding my breath. StarLink has polluted the sky. The Boring Company hasn’t done much of anything notable.
The hype to substance ratio has always been pretty high with Musk, and it’s trending worse. He’s increasingly Trump-like. I’m just glad that he’s not constitutionally eligible to run for President.
jim said on October 19, 2022 at 9:56 pm
As Nancy noted, Musk has significant business interests in both Ukraine and Russia. In this instance he just wants the conflict to stop so they’ll both have more money to pay him.
Dexter Friend said on October 20, 2022 at 2:06 am
I may be in the top 1% of viewers of streaming content, and of all the great and awful series I have seen, Derry Girls is my favorite, and I wish it would have lasted longer. It’s still streaming on Netflix; there were 3 seasons of 7 episodes each. Great stuff. Heather mentioned it above in comments.
alex said on October 20, 2022 at 8:06 am
On this date in NN.C history, the world was abuzz about Ginni Thomas drunk-dialing Anita Hill.
Who would have imagined then that a decade later she’d be part of an attempted right-wing coup against the government and that half the country wouldn’t give a shit?
basset said on October 20, 2022 at 9:00 am
Been hitting up my friends and associates for donations to Parkinson’s Disease research this week; never done a “go to my site and donate” mass email before but it’s going well. Have brought in enough to get the cool-kids wicking t-shirt along with the plain cotton one, anyway, and the gathering and walk in the park are coming up Saturday.
Sherri said on October 20, 2022 at 1:43 pm
Calvin Trillin tells the story that when one of his daughters was young, she would always have an emergency carrot to eat in case the food provided was a little too adventurous for her taste, so the phrase “better than a carrot” became part of the family lexicon.
Well, Liz Truss was not better than a head of lettuce, the head of lettuce having lasted longer than she did, and the lettuce likely wouldn’t have trashed the British pound and needed a bailout from the Bank of England, either.
FDChief said on October 20, 2022 at 7:41 pm
I know less than I should about the Civil War of the Thirties…but my understanding is that some historians kind of lump it as the last of the Carlist Wars that tore up Spain beginning in the 1830s. Ostensibly about the succession to the throne it sounds like a similar cast; “traditionalists”/the aristocracy and clergy/capital versus “liberals”/labor. As you note, the bloody mess is still a background note to Spanish politics.
And sport; supposedly the soccer club Real Madrid is a hotbed of latter-day Francoism and falange wanna-bes…