Ángel Ganivet, WRITER (1805 - 1875)
The Statue to Ángel Ganivet
If you walk up the Cuesta de Gomérez to the Alhambra, rather than take one of the shuttle buses, you will more than likely come across a curious statue set back from the road. Where the Calle Real de la Alhambra meets the Cuesta, which then turns to a gravelled path darting up hill, there is a rather ordinary fountain. To one side is a monument that appears to be a schizophrenic conjunction of two separate pieces. Bordered by a trimmed hedge, it nestles under the greenery of the Alhambra wood.
In keeping with the general atmosphere of the wood, the monument sports that essential Granadine element, water. A small square pool, surrounded by pebbled inlay, contains the startling figure of a naked man grappling with a goat. The goat’s mouth is tilted backwards, shooting a jet of water at an unfortunate angle back into the pool. On a plinth behind, peering down on the scene from an imperious position, is the bearded bust of Ángel Ganivet, seemingly aloof yet also engaged in the proceedings.
Who was Ganivet and why was he commemorated in such a curious manner? Ángel Ganivet lived something of a tragic life, dying at the age of 33 in that tumultuous year for Spain, 1898. He was a native of Granada, but died and is buried in the Latvian city of Riga. A sparkling university career saw him gain a doctorate with a thesis on Sanskrit, which then led him to take up a post in the country’s Archives, Libraries and Museums Service. After passing his entrance exams for the Consular Service, he started a diplomatic career, initially in Antwerp. On the face of it, this short biography is impressive, but would normally only rate a footnote in the annals of the city’s history.
What infuriated and endeared him to the Granadinos was his writing. In 1895 he was posted to Finland and it’s in the icy north that he penned much of his published work. The book that had most of an impact in his birthplace was the tract, Granada la bella (Granada the Beautiful). It’s clear from the first page that he had a love-hate relationship with the city: ‘My Granada is not the one you see today: it is the one it could be or should be, the one I am uncertain it will ever come to be’. We suspect that Ganivet would not have approved of the city it has turned into. In such a place, home to the best preserved Muslim palace in Western Europe, and to the Albaicín, that maze of whitewashed carmens with their tranquil gardens, it’s difficult to conceive of the issues that preoccupied Ángel.
The problem lies precisely in the Albaicín, or rather its diminution. Ganivet sees Granada’s beauty in the liveable, the small and the traditional. He makes the point that arming the forces of destruction before realising what is to replace the act of demolition makes for bad planning – something that many locations the world over would have done well to heed. Ganivet knows that cities must evolve, but he pleads for a natural pace with changes over time that the ordinary rhythms of life will barely perceive. This was, and certainly is today, an unrealistic expectation, but a nod towards these concepts in certain parts of Granada would have avoided the changes he calls ‘vulgar and mediocre’.
Today, we walk down the Gran Vía de Colón, built in 1895, and see an impressive boulevard sweeping to the heart of Granada, lined with ornate belle époque architecture. Ganivet, however, was horrified by the wholescale removal of that familiar Granada he felt was so capable of the gradual change he advocated. His thesis was set against the burgeoning bourgeoisie who were pursuing the fin de siècle aim of development, which they were sure would bring prosperity and work.
With hindsight, some of his ideas do feel a bit odd. He deviates into talking about the role of light, street lighting to be specific, making the pertinent point that we need to think about what we light before we decide how to light it. Conversely, when he takes a step inside the home and suggests that the stove and central light bulb are the first steps in contributing to the dissolution of the family, we have to draw the line.
To tar Ganivet with such an idiosyncratic brush, though, would be treating his thoughts in too flippant a manner. He was read and admired by none other than Federico García Lorca, who saw in Ganivet the epitome of the Granada he also loved, the city of the intimate carmen looking inward towards its gardens and courtyards, the kind of building Lorca knew well and one which is exemplified by the Casa-Museo of his friend, the composer Manuel de Falla. Falla’s house in Calle Antequeruela Alta, just below the auditorium that also bears his name, is open to the public for those who want to experience a slice of Ganivet’s Granada.
Granada la bella wasn’t the diplomat’s only work, he ventured still further into philosophical fields, being most renowned for his Idearium español, a jog-trot through the field of Spanish ideas, touching on religion, the law, politics, history and philosophy. His letters from Finland were published and, posthumously, his only drama, El escultor de su alma (The Sculptor of his Soul). He was clearly a man who grappled with the big questions, yet the biggest of all, life and death, posed him problems he was unable to answer.
Ganivet’s diplomatic career was always going to lead to a peripatetic existence; far from his remaining child and the child’s mother, his lover, Amelia Roldán Llanos, suffering from syphilis, weighed down by the state of the nation in the year Spain lost its last colonies and profoundly depressed, he took his own life by jumping in the river Daugava that runs through Latvia’s capital. Even that took two painful attempts, with the unfortunate Ángel being dragged from the waters after his first effort.
All of which brings us back to his monument in the Alhambra wood, erected in 1921 and the centre of much debate ever since. Does the goat represent nature and the man personify our struggle to find a degree of harmonious connection to the natural forces around us, a symbiotic connection leading to the tranquil evolution desired by the author, or is the goat Ganivet’s inner demon struggling with his more rationale self. Given his own opinions on the construction of monuments, we wonder what he would make of it: ‘We are little inclined to pay homage to our men; and when we decide to do it, we choose, due to lack of practice, the first thing that comes to hand.’
Andrew and Suzanne Edwards have written Andalucia - A Literary Guide for Travellers, published in September 2016 by I. B.Tauris. It may be purchased online directly from the publishers, Andalucia: A Literary Guide for Travellers or from Amazon. This compliments their previous work, Sicily: A Literary Guide for Travellers (Literary Guides for Travellers)