Patrick O'Brian Discussion Forum

The christening of Pablo Picasso


I’ve been reading POB’s Pablo Ruiz Picasso: A Biography*, mainly for the pleasure of his unique prose style rather than a desire to learn about the artist. I recommend it to other forumites who feel the need for something meaty:
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‘ . . The Spaniards who reconquered Andalucia came from many different regions, each with its own way of speaking; and partly because of this and partly because of the large numbers of Arabic-speaking people, Christian, Jew, and Moslem, they evolved a fresh dialect of their own, a Spanish in which the s is often lost and the h often sounded, a brogue as distinct as that of Munster: one that perplexes the foreigner and that makes the Castilian laugh. In time the Moors and the Jews were more or less efficiently expelled or forcibly converted, and eventually many of the descendants of these converts, the "new Christians," were also driven from the country; but they left their genes behind, and many of their ways-their attitude towards women, for example. Then again there is a fierce democratic independence combined with an ability to live under a despotic regime that is reminiscent of the egalitarianism of Islam: no one could call the Spaniards as a whole a deferential nation, but this charac­teristic grows even more marked as one travels south, to reach its height in Andalucia. And as one travels south, so the physical evidence of these genes becomes more apparent; the Arab, the Berber, and the Jew peep out, to say nothing of the Phoenician; and the Castilian or the Catalan is apt to lump the Andalou in with the Gypsies, a great many of whom live in those parts. For the solid bourgeois of Madrid or Barcelona the An­dalou is something of an outsider; he is held in low esteem, as being wanting in gravity, assiduity, and respect for the establishment. Malaga itself had a solid reputation for being against the government, for being impatient of authority: it was a contentious city, in spite of its conforming bourgeoisie. In the very square in which Picasso was born there is a mon­ument to a general and forty-nine of his companions, including a Mr. Robert Boyd, who rose in favor of the Constitution and who were all shot in Malaga in 1831 and buried in the square; it also commemorates the hero of another rising, Riego, after whom the square was officially named, although it has now reverted to its traditional name of the Plaza de la Merced, from the church of Nuestra Senora de la Merced, which used to stand in its north-east corner. There were many other risings. insurrec­tions, and pronunciamientos in Malaga during the nineteenth century, in­cluding one against Espartero in 1843, another against Queen Isabella II in 1868 (this, of course, was part of the greater turmoil of the Revolu­tion), and another in favor of a republic only eight years before Picasso's birth. But although many of these risings, both in Malaga and the rest of Spain, had a strongly anticlerical element, with churches and monasteries going up in flames and monks, nuns, friars, and even hermits being ex­pelled and dispossessed, the Spaniards remained profoundly Catholic, and the Malaguenos continued to live their traditional religious life, cele­brating the major feasts of the Church with splendid bull-fights, making pilgrimages to local shrines, forming great processions in Holy Week, hating what few heretics they ever saw (until 1830 Protestants had to be buried on the foreshore, where heavy seas sometimes disinterred them), and of course baptizing their children. It would have been unthinkable for Picasso not to have been christened, and sixteen days after his birth he was taken to the parish church of Santiago el Mayor (whose tower was once a minaret), where the priest of La Merced gave him the names Pa­blo, Diego, Jose, Francisco de Paula, Juan Nepomuceno, Maria de los Remedios, and Cipriano de la Santisima Trinidad, together with some salt to expel the devil . . ’

* Collins, St James’s Place, London: 1976.

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