Velintonia, shadow of paradise

A couple of years ago, there was the disturbing news of the appearance in some garbage containers of a good part of the personal objects that belonged to Santiago Ramón y Cajal. The discovery took place at number 64 Calle Alfonso XII, where the scientist had ordered the construction of a mansion in which he would live with his family from 1912 to 1934. He also had his laboratory there. Currently, this beautiful building that could have served as a house museum for this eminent figure of Spanish science has ended up cut up and converted into luxury homes. This is yet another lost opportunity in safeguarding our historical and cultural heritage, a palpable demonstration of our inability to preserve those assets that, in another country, would represent priority elements to protect. It was not even a compelling reason that that place and its belongings came from one of our Nobel Prize winners. Specifically, the award given in 1906 rewarded the Navarrese for the discovery of the individual entities that made up the nervous system. This is unfortunately not an isolated case. Without going any further, the house in Tortosa of the father of Spanish musical nationalism, Felipe Pedrell, was demolished in 2010.

Currently, beyond the fields of science and music, we are suffering from an equally bloody case: the state of abandonment of the Madrid home of Vicente Aleixandre, Nobel Prize winner like Cajal, in this case for Literature in 1977. The “little hotel” It was built in 1927 on land that belonged to the poet’s father and still stands today at number 3 of the street that bears the name of this writer —placed in 1978, on the occasion of being awarded the Nobel Prize— and which was once called with the arboreal name of “Wellingtonia” —hence the house received the Spanishized name of “Velintonia”—.

Last 2018, the nearest metro station changed its name from “Metropolitano” —because the so-called “Stadium Metropolitano” was located there, the first grass field of Atlético de Madrid— to “Vicente Aleixandre”, remembering that it was in that neighborhood where The distinguished poet spent much of his life. However, his house, the most important element that reminds us of his (paraphrasing Neruda’s work) “residence on earth”—forty years as a tenant, nothing more and nothing less—shows the wound of its abandonment since 1986, at the sister of the Sevillian writer died and two years after his death, when he was taken out of there in a coffin carried —among others— by Claudio Rodríguez, Francisco Nieva or Leopoldo de Luis.

Fortunately, Aleixandre’s legacy is not forgotten and he has someone to protect him. Currently, the Association of Friends of Vicente Aleixandre (AAVA) fights for the protection of this property and for the vindication of this important figure of the Generation of 27. A journey that began in 1995, when its president Alejandro Sanz and the poet and critic José Luis Cano —who knew Aleixandre very well, having maintained an epistolary relationship with him for almost half a century— started a protest campaign with a group of people against the state of abandonment of Velintonia 3. Since then, many have been the achievements of this foundation, but also great disappointments. On one side of the scale, the multitude of signatures collected from intellectuals expressing their support for the cause —including that of another Nobel laureate, the Irish poet Seamus Heaney—, the interest of different media outlets and the declaration by the Community of Madrid de la casa as an Asset of Patrimonial Interest for its symbolic value; in another, the institutional abandonment, the laziness of the political leaders that allowed the house to be put up for public auction last summer. Its expropriation seems to be behind for the time being to become the House of Poetry, as this association intended. That is: its conversion into the headquarters of the future Vicente Aleixandre Foundation, a living center for documentation and study of Spanish poetry of the s. XX.

The walls of Velintonia are saddened, stripped of the belongings that Aleixandre treasured for so many years of his life —his books, his furniture, the portrait made by the Cuban painter John Ulbricht that presided over the hall and to which the writer dedicated his poem huge head—; the same feeling is also aroused by the garden converted into a “jungle of weeds and garbage”, where the Lebanese cedar survives, which the author himself planted in 1940. Friends, disciples and admirers passed through there, such as Federico García Lorca —who, between those walls, gave him a copy of songs (with the dedication: “Finally in Velintonia”), played the piano of Aleixandre’s mother or read her poems dark love sonnets—; the house also welcomed other companions of the author of the Gypsy romance like Miguel Hernández, Gerardo Diego, María Zambrano, Jorge Guillén, Dámaso Alonso, Maruja Mallo or Rafael Alberti—; Already in the second half of the 20th century, other intellectuals continued this tradition: José Hierro, Medardo Fraile, Carmen Conde, Carlos Bousoño, Jaime Gil de Biedma, Concha Lagos or the members belonging to the Novísimos—with Luis Antonio de Villena standing out from this group. and Vicente Molina Foix.

Suffering from poor health —since in 1925 he suffered from tuberculous nephritis that led to the removal of a kidney—, Aleixandre enjoyed feeling accompanied, keeping his homosexuality to his privacy and enjoying the company of his three “Sirios” —his dogs. which he called “Sirius I”, “Sirius II” and “Sirius III”. His blue eyes, the center of his elegant appearance, seemed to make him a foreigner within Spain—so perhaps he must have felt during his internal exile. In the same way, his verses represent him, so often dark because they are cryptic but always lyrical —something that does not fail to remind us of the difficult Góngora whom his generation honored—: swords like lips (1932)Destruction or love (1935) or history of the heart (1954) are testimony to this. Today, the “shadow of paradise” that it inhabited awaits its recovery, so that new visitors can enter it, giving it back the warmth that it once gave off. The yellow facade, the green railing and bars, its brick balcony and gazebo or the external custodian walls continue to watch time pass, waiting (perhaps) for their last chance.

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Velintonia, shadow of paradise