"It was five in the afternoon – precisely five in the afternoon". Thus begins the saddest and most beautiful poem in the Spanish language, "Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías".
Five o'clock, for Spaniards, used to mean only one thing: it was the hour at which bullfights began. The verse is an elegy to a popular matador, gored to death in 1934. The author, Federico García Lorca, was his friend.
Like all aficionados, Lorca was keenly interested in death, and the morbidity of his verse was perhaps its most Spanish attribute. In one of his poems, he eerily foretold his own demise:
"Then I realised I had been murdered. They looked for me in cafes, in cemeteries, in churches, but they didn't find me. They never found me? No. They never found me."
Shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, when he was exactly my age , Lorca was shot by Nationalist sympathisers in Granada, and his body thrown into a mass grave. The reasons for his assassination have never been fully explained. It may have been his Leftist sympathies, or his homosexuality, or it may simply have been a grudge. Until recently, no one much wanted to raise the subject.
Now, though, Lorca's body is to be unearthed, and the story of its exhumation is the story of Spain's recent past. For a long time, the first rule of Spanish society was "Don't mention the war".
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