Ric, Enric, Henry, old friend:
Such a life!
I want to address you directly here, to make sure you maintain your strong presence while we discuss you.
The time would be about now, 11 am, when we were staying together in Barcelona, the Gothic quarter, not too far from the university, at the Pension Australia indeed, when we would take the creaky lift to street level and a café, for a strong coffee with a shot of agardiente.
Then some excursions on the railway train, north to the Cerdanya and the Pyrenees, on which you would make conversation with folk who boarded, then off at a hillside platform, with maybe a hessian sack which moved of its own accord, chickens perhaps, or a small porker.
So, friendliness is a good part of your character; we should add tenacity, since the way you came to be nearly 86 years of age, despite a war, appalling car collisions, falling from ships’ rigging, and shipboard explosions, shows marvelous tenacity. Our gratitude goes out to all you relatives, who all contributed to your care from time to time, most recently Amparo and Maya.
And we’ll add rebellion to the list, for what else fits a young man for years of dangerous service for the Resistance, and what else fits a man for the assassination of a fascist Ambassador in Mexico?
Rebellion, too, has something to do with fieriness in arguments, sometimes with family, I notice, because looking after you could sometimes end in fiery argument.
But I want us to reboard that railway carriage again for a moment, the journey north, passing sidings labeled Ripoll, and Molina, long tunnels to the plains of the Cerdanya, then the foothills of the Pyrenees, to the end of the line, Puigcerda. Here together we climbed the steep roadway to the fort, and I came to understand something of being Catala, a history of a thousand year of invasions.
With that understanding I came to begin ‘To the Death, Amic’ with this. And the voice, old friend, is yours:
CERDANYA, THE PYRENEES
PUIGCERDA is a ridge; God help us, it is only a few hundred paces long, but every time I am here it seems to be taller than I remember, like a geological upheaval, where the ancient is lifted and the base makes space on demand for the times to come. Most recently it made space for the railway station. The streets take the only plausible form for the climb, which is fishbone, truly become fossils under the tars of this century, beyond the millet stores and the creaky warehouses to the first of the old village with its narrow lanes, and it is about here that the cobbles begin to show through, peerless because they are not so slick underfoot in the snows, over the packed rubble which onetime knew the passage of Arab litters, then the drays of Castilians, of marauding Charlemagne, of Aragon, up now to the high castle of which the tower still stands in the square, after every invasion rebuilt block by block from the stone with which the Romans made this pinnacle fort, to defend against the Goths.
You see? We have always been fighting some bastard.
Now, that book is a novel, some of the happenings I moved to you and your twin, George, from elsewhere, but the Enric in there is you, and many of these happenings were your happenings, your life. In those pages you are being digitized this moment, to inhabit the electronic novel, again available to the world, easily and forever. The fact that you are the first of us to become immortal will amuse you.
More immediately, the way the reading public will see you, anyway in this country, will be through the Obituary, hopefully in the national newspaper The Australian in the next few weeks.
Henry Torres, of the Catalan Resistance
1926 – 2012,
On May 16th, in a Melbourne hospital, died Enric Torres i Barbo, known in Australia as Henry, a housepainter, once a hero of the Spanish Civil War, then of the underground Resistance to Fascist occupation, a child courier for an anarchist cell while in his early teens, a smuggler of propaganda leaflets and arms from France, imprisoned and tortured by the Franco regime.As Generalissimo Franco invaded the young Republic of Spain with armies from Africa, and the armed forces within Spain came out in mutiny against democratic rule, Henry and his twin, George, were at school in Barcelona. Fascists and Republicans fought in the streets by day and murdered by night. Schools were closed. The twins were taken in by their father, who was a tailor and official of an Anarchist union, so could protect their Catholic mother from Republican anger.
Republicans soon secured Barcelona, as they did Madrid, but the surrounding warfare was yet to take years. An Anarchist cell recruited Henry to specialise in the safe routes from Barcelona north to Puigcerda in the Pyrenees, thence into the forests of French Catalonia, he sometimes guiding spies bound for intelligence-gathering in France. Henry said of these treks, “So cold, I tell you, I pee icicles.”
Hitler’s Luftwaffe and the tanks of Mussolini broke the Republicans. When the International Brigade boarded their ships for home, with Hemmingway, Gellhorn, Orwell, Henry was in the waving crowd. The Fascist armies marched into Barcelona to little resistance on January 26th 1939. For Henry the date now chosen as Australia Day was poignant.As the European War began, resistance to Franco continued underground. Henry’s cell had him deliver illegals over the French border and bring back explosives. After the Nazi invasion there, the effort turned to accepting crashed Allied flyers from the French Resistance at the border and smuggling them to Gibraltar.
The twins were arrested and interned, but their colleagues overpowered a guard and opened the cells. Henry and George jumped a ship for the USA, hiked to Mexico City, where Henry became a chicken farmer, married, settled down. But the evicted Republican government had moved funds to Mexico. Henry and other resistors were members of unions formed by exiled Republicans. Franco’s plenipotentiary Ambassador Jose Gallostro was said to be close to agreement with Mexico to return the funds to Spain. Henry and four others drew the short straws for the assassination, 8 am, foyer of a Pan-American Hotel. It went wrong. Bullets in the body, in the ceiling, blood everywhere. Henry realised he was the one in their band who was not drunk. He disarmed the shooter, and finished the job.
The killing made headlines all over Europe, the Spanish press attributing it to communists on orders from Stalin, quite wrongly. His sympathies were firmly elsewhere. He had known Trotsky’s assassin Ramon Mercader through boyhood in Barcelona and, while Mercader was in gaol in Mexico City, Henry considered a ruse to have him sprung, and shot. Henry could stomach Trotsky better than Stalin.
Henry’s life as a Mexican chicken farmer was over. He fled to the US, was arrested as an illegal, deported by ship to Spain. In the tradition of Ambassador Joe Kennedy’s support of Franco, the Americans notified the Spanish government he was on his way. When the ship docked in Barcelona he was met by his mother and by the Secret Police of Prime Minister the Duke Carrero Blanco, an enthusiastic torturer. Imprisoned in the Montjuich Castle where the window-slit of his cell looked out over the harbour, he was tortured but kept silent.
On his release he and George signed on as merchant mariners. They jumped ship in Sydney, hiked to Melbourne, joined other expatriate Catalans, set up in business as housepainters and riggers, happy to become unremarkable.In Melbourne during 1973 the twins disappeared. Family worried about them. They reappeared three days later, on a bender, still drunk. They had been buying their absent colleagues in Basque ETA many good brandies, but drinking it themselves. They showed me a newspaper with the photograph of a limousine lodged on the top of a city building, the result of a road bomb. “Over the god damn building,” they laughed, rolling about, “Over the top.” The victim was the torturer, the Duke Carrero Blanco.
Henry fought death in many of its guises, as should a fine and implacable opponent of oppression.