AUTHOR (1939 - Present)
AC: What most fascinates you about modern Spain?
IG: I’m very fascinated. I have to say I’m very glad to be here and not in a department of Spanish (somewhere), because I’m living it day by day and I’m fascinated by the return to Europe. Spain has been divorced from Europe for so long and is now back there at the centre and doing well. I love that aspect of modern Spain – that we’re back in Europe, that we’ve got this common currency. Frontiers are gone. Children are learning French much more easily than they did before because we’re in Paris learning foreign languages...
I think it’s terribly exciting to be in Europe. Europe is a fascinating space and I think the fact that Spain has returned to the fold – it’s terribly exciting, the fact that after the dictatorship – 40 wasted years, you might say – Spain is now democratic and within Europe. That, for me, is the great news.
AC: What most fascinates you about Spain’s past?
IG: What fascinates me most about the past is the submerged past that’s not recognised by official sort of Catholic historiography, that is to say the mixture of three religions, three cultures, the huge cultural mix that existed in Spain before the fateful day in 1492. I think it’s fateful. A lot of Spaniards think it’s the greatest day in Spanish history. It means the fall of Granada to the Christians, the last Muslim bastion. (It means) the so-called discovery (of America) – I say “so-called” because it was already there and hardly needed the Spaniards to arrive.
I love the Spain previous to 1492 as Lorca did. You know, Granada was a mix of languages. The culture of Spain was a civilised place in the 11th century when Europe was barbaric and all that was lost of course with the so-called re-conquest. That’s what’s got to be rediscovered. That is why Spain today should be a bridge between east and west because it’s got it in its own history. I remember someone from British television saying ‘I couldn’t believe it, on my honeymoon to Marbella I went to Granada and there was this thing that looked like a mosque’. And I said, ‘Well, it was a Mosque, wasn’t it?’ Why is there a Mosque the south of Spain? It’s part of Spanish culture.
And again, there’s richness in that. They don’t teach Arabic in the schools here, but there are 4,000 Arabic words in contemporary Spanish – not to mention the place names. There are thousands, beginning with Madrid. It’s Arabic. It means underground watering system. La Mancha is also Arabic. It means “high plane”. No Spaniard knows that and it’s in the very first sentence of their greatest novel, “Don Quijote”. La Mancha is in the first line of the most famous novel in the world but because Arabic isn’t taught no one (understands it). There’s amnesia on a massive level.
And that is rejected by official, Catholic-inspired history. That the true Spaniard has got to be Catholic and not any Jewish or Moorish blood in their veins – there’s been an obsession here with the blood over the centuries.
AC: And it’s still there, isn’t it?
IG: It’s still there… And yet, there hardly can be a Spaniard without some Jewish and Moorish blood, and why not? They say they’re Christians. Christ was oriental, not an occidental. I say to people, “Jesus was not born in Rome.” (laughs) He went further east, further east. Aramaic is not a romance language. People aren’t using their heads, aren’t thinking. I wouldn’t have the slightest problem about this.
AC: The Spanish Civil War has also been the object of your study. Why the Spanish Civil War?
IG: It all began with Lorca because they killed him and it was very difficult under the Franco regime. Can you imagine a young Irish guy arriving in Granada in 1965, asking questions about what happened there during the war when eight or nine people were executed? So, I got into it that way. When I arrived there I didn’t know anything about the Spanish Civil War. And it fascinated me because of the foreign involvement… the non-intervention pact. It was also an international war. And it’s got everything for the scholar, the destruction of a culture, the destruction of democracy. It’s something that has haunted me ever since I began.
Find links to works by Ian Gibson in the Andalucia.com book store.