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Page last updated at 06:14 GMT, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 07:14 UK
Feeling the weight of history

Federico Garcia Lorca

By Steve Kingstone
Granada, Spain

The poet Federico Garcia Lorca was executed in 1936 during the early days of the Spanish Civil War. A decision to search for his remains has created controversy in a country in which the scars of war remain near the surface.

Rarely does a story seven decades old retain such an emotional pull. But reporting on the murder of Federico Garcia Lorca for Today, I was struck by how much is still at stake for so many people.

Take his biographer, Ian Gibson, whose professional reputation was made by identifying the patch of dried-out mountain earth where Lorca is believed to have been buried, and where the search for his remains will begin.

In the poet's home village of Fuente Vaqueros, I listened to a crackly but enthralling audio recording of Gibson being shown the spot by the man who had dug Lorca's grave, under duress from the Francoists.

The interview was conducted in 1966, 30 years after the fact. Did the grave-digger, known as Manolo the Communist, remember correctly? Or could he have misled the Irish-born historian? We shall soon know the answer.

The site where archeologists will search for Lorca's remains
The site where archeologists will search for Lorca's remains

"I couldn't bear to see the remains," Gibson confessed, from the safe distance of his apartment in Madrid. "I've studied Lorca for going on half a century. And if I saw him, I fear I would have a heart attack and fall into the grave myself."

The barely-contained emotion was similarly evident in Laura Garcia Lorca, whose father, Francisco, was the poet's brother.

Until recently, her family had stood firm against an exhumation, arguing that bones would add nothing to Lorca's living legacy.

Critics had ascribed numerous ulterior motives to the Lorcas: for example, that they had secretly moved the body in a deal with Franco, or that they were embarrassed by the media focus on Lorca's homosexuality.

Confidentiality agreement

"Ridiculous," was Laura's blunt retort. She said it was "impossible" that the body could have been moved by an elder generation of her family, because had that been the case, someone would surely have said something.

She sounded convincing and sincere, but until the grave is opened she can be no more certain than anyone else.

Neither the painstaking scholarship of Gibson nor the proud blood ties of the Lorca family offer any guarantee that the poet's body is there.

Lorca's birthplace in Fuente Vaqueros
Lorca's birthplace in Fuente Vaqueros

For the regional and provincial authorities who will organise the dig, hard practicalities outweigh emotion.

"The fact that Lorca is buried in our part of Spain means we have to be extremely careful about how we do this," explained Antonio Martinez Caler, the head of Granada's provincial council.

He outlined plans to erect a tent-like cover, similar to those used in crime scene investigations, to protect the site from the elements and the watching eyes of journalists.

The small team of archaeologists have signed a confidentiality agreement and will be stripped of mobile phones, to ensure that no one can sneak out pictures of unearthed remains.

Identification

The Lorca family have voiced fears that footage of his bones will become a most-hit item on You Tube.

Antonio Martinez confessed to being "fifty-fifty" as to whether Lorca really is buried at the site, where up to five other victims are also thought to lie.

So far, georadar scanners have detected six potential graves. "No one can say for certain whether he is there or not," Martinez mused. "Logic dictates yes, but logic doesn't always coincide with reality."

Lorca's bust at his birthplace in Fuente Vaqueros
Lorca's family has opposed bids to find his remains

Intriguingly, one other scenario remains alive: that Lorca's body will be discovered but not formally identified. The Spanish authorities have indicated that any remains found at the site can, potentially, be reburied at the spot where they are discovered: in effect, reclassifying the mountain-side as a cemetery.

That appears to fit with the Lorca family's long-standing preference to leave their celebrated ancestor untouched and unidentified.

So, even as relatives of other victims provide DNA samples to be cross-checked with any recovered bodies, the Lorcas may yet decide not to. And then all hell would break loose.

"If the earth is put back and those remains are still there unidentified, I would have to think very carefully about whether I stay in Spain," rues Lorca's biographer, Ian Gibson. "Because this has been my life, and I think it's their absolute duty to find him. If they don't I will be disgusted."




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