lunes, 12 de octubre de 2009

Memories of Alcalá 10: The Battalion and the Lorries

[Original Spanish]

That battalion of soldiers and twenty-odd lorries appeared in Alcalá as if by magic. It was a fleet of lorries painted the colour of straw, for camouflage. At that time in Alcalá there were only a couple of cars and a coal-truck. The kids decided that they were Russian lorries, which the Nationalists had requisitioned from the “Reds”, but the grown-ups assured us they were a gift from the Germans. They attracted attention and enthusiasm from everyone; strong,with thick protective covers, powerful engines and massive, hard wheels. Never before had such lorries been seen, perfectly parked in La Playa between the bullring and the Santo Domingo convent.

From time to time they disappeared and were gone for two or three days. People said they had gone to the Front to get food, arms and reinforcements. They returned to Alcalá and rested for a few days, making repairs, oiling the engines and filling the tanks with petrol. The young people went down to the Paseo de la Playa in the afternoons to watch the soldiers. The children, when they got out of school, went to look at the lorries. The battalion had a musical band and practised frequently. They played to celebrate some victory, a party, whatever. My memories of all this are blurred, lost in a hazy cloud of childhood.

One day it was announced that on Saturday night they would give a concert on the Alameda. Alcalá had about 12,000 inhabitants, and the Alameda was packed. The band arrived playing a military march, and stopped in the middle of the square. Such a spectacle had never been seen before in Alcalá. It was a beautiful summer evening. The conductor called the musicians to order and, with a wave of his baton, they began to play “El Sitio de Zaragoza”. That gave everyone goose-pimples. The women were crying, because many had husbands and sons fighting in the war. The men took refuge in the Cervecería and the Panaderos bar, Domenguito's, Vicente's, the Central, and the clubhouse.

Suddenly there appeared on the balcony of the Town Hall a soldier playing an electrifying trumpet solo. Another answered him from a balcony opposite. Then a third, playing in an ornamented fashion, from a balcony over the clubhouse. All this lasted more than an hour, but the adults did not move from the Alameda's benches, nor the children from the floor. When they had finished people applauded, captivated by the music, the enchantment of the night, thoughts of their young ones away in the war, and their nostalgic memories of the dead … And the young girls looked at the soldiers with a certain complicity.

One afternoon after school, some children said “A Russian lorry has fallen into the San Antonio stream”. Weighed down by our school satchels, we went down the Calle Real, la Plazuela, the Calle las Brozas, the hill of San Antonio and arrived at the stream. The soldiers were blocking everyone's way. From above we could see the stream and the lorry stuck in the bank. The soldier who had been driving the lorry was fine, but the lorry was a wreck. They tied it with steel cables to another lorry on the road, which pulled it out with a tremendous roaring noise. Not a single movement escaped us kids. We didn't leave until we could no longer see the lorry on the road.

One day without saying a word the soldiers started to pack their knapsacks, fold away their campaign tents, clear up their cooking pots and sling their rifles over their backs. The news ran through the town like an oil slick. It was like having cold water poured on us. The people had come to regard the soldiers as belonging to them; the kids lost their greatest source of entertainment, and the girls watched the petals fall from the roses given to them by the young soldiers. All that was left were a few old bits of scrap from the lorries. Gradually the memories faded and the town started off along the difficult path of the postwar years.


Traducido por Claire Lloyd

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