The day the ‘beat’ Ferlinghetti stepped on the Café Gijón | Culture

In 1991, the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, creator of the legendary independent City Lights bookstore and publisher in San Francisco, visited the Prado Museum and wrote a poem inspired by the Goya statue on one of its doors. “He came in scribbling on his papers … then, when he left, after a couple of hours marveling, he wrote a little more, and he already had it,” recalls Eduardo Suárez-Galbán, who at the time was in charge of the Origen editorial brought to Madrid knowing that the beat I was visiting Barcelona.

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“A stone man sleeps or cries / just above the words / surrounded by vampires in flight”, say some verses of that text, which later Suárez-Galbán published in a small book, entitled Life as a real dream, today almost unfindable, which collects other Spanish pieces by Ferlinghetti. For example, a poem to the Plaza Real in Barcelona or a poetic prose that talks about Franco, junkies and transvestites; as well as other poems about Mexico or Nicaragua. “And suddenly / the film begins to roll again / the sun comes out after Franco / faces and figures / revive again.”

The American poet, who died on February 23 at the age of 101, was one of the most notorious figures of the generation beat, the first countercultural expression of the XX, among whose most prominent members are Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac or William S. Burroughs; although he was never one of the most widely read and known in Spain. “The publication of A Coney Island of The Mind [tal vez el libro más reconocido del poeta, de 1958] it was an atomic bomb for our generation ”, recalls Suárez-Galbán, 82, born in New York (although raised in the Canary Islands and Havana), who lived closely with that movement and remembers with precision the bohemian and cultural environment of which he was the pole beat from the East Coast, the New York neighborhood of Greenwich Village.

“The fifties had been very reactionary in the United States, under the Eisenhower government, a military man who only wanted to play golf,” recalls the editor, who was also a professor at New York University in those years, “the beats they brought rebellion, drugs, jazz, travel, other ways of living ”.

It was the poet’s fourth visit to Spain, from May 7 to 12, 1991, who had previously traveled to Mallorca, Nerja and Barcelona several times (one of them when he was studying in Paris), it was when he came into contact with the filmmaker Bigas Luna , who was preparing a film based on a story by Charles Bukowski. On this last visit he recited at the University of Barcelona, ​​the University of Alcalá de Henares and the Complutense University of Madrid. He was surprised that in the colloquia the students asked him so much about drugs, one of the most common topics in the writers of his current. “I think that, somehow, he idealized Spain, a place where it seemed to him that money was not everything and there were always people on the street, from breakfast time until late at night, because we ate dinner at ten thirty” recalls the editor, “he loved that.” He also liked being called Lorenzo, his Hispanicized name.

In the background, Ferlinghetti signed a copy of his work at the Café Gijón.  On the right, the editor Eugenio Suárez-Galbán and on the left Andrés García Madrid and Raúl García Bravo, in 1991. / JAMES DENZA
In the background, Ferlinghetti signed a copy of his work at the Café Gijón. On the right, the editor Eugenio Suárez-Galbán and on the left Andrés García Madrid and Raúl García Bravo, in 1991. / JAMES DENZA

If on his walks through Barcelona Ferlinghettii had a predilection for the Plaza Real, in Madrid he spent a lot of time in the Plaza de Santa Ana, around the statue of Lorca, which was close to the pension where he was staying (he was not very interested in staying in the Student Residence, he preferred something more street-style) and it was not yet full of tourists. “I kept writing,” explains Suárez-Galbán. He also visited the headquarters of the little later disappeared publishing house Or origins (“I did not live off the publishing house, the publishing house lived off me,” says the then owner), in the far from central Pilar neighborhood, northwest of the capital. “He told me it reminded him of City Lights when they started, because there were always children and dogs around. It was a very neighborhood place, very familiar, ”he says. So familiar and neighborhood that in Origins they edited children’s story books written by taxi drivers. And they had a table tennis table, long before the Google era hit the offices.

Ferlinghetti was very interested in Spanish forms of socialization and, therefore, in one of the most frequent forms in literature: the tertulia. So they took him to the Café Gijón. “He had a blast, spending so many hours chatting seemed unthinkable to him in the United States,” concludes Suárez-Galbán, “and there were some of those present who didn’t even know who Ferlinghetti was. But since he didn’t speak Spanish, luckily, he didn’t find out ”.

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