Tina Charles loves to love

…but her baby just loves to dance, he wants to dance, he loves to dance, he’s got to dance…

I was in Salamanca in Spain in 2006 during the Feria de Salamanca and I heard this song a few times. I’d never heard it before. It sounded 70s-ish but you can’t necessarily tell the age of a song by how old it sounds – Hey Ya! (2003) by OutKast sounds decades older than it is while Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean (1983) is ageless.

I tried to work out what the song was but hadn’t pinned down the lyrics well enough to do an online search. There are search engines to match your singing if you can sing in tune but that’s a talent I don’t have. So it remained a mystery to me. I even tried searching for hit songs in Spain in 2006. It appeared nowhere on any list.

After a subsequent and longer stay in Spain in 2011 I discovered the wonderful RTVE.es website. One tv series I discovered on it was “La huella del crimen.” I didn’t know at the time that each episode is about a famous real-life case that occurred in Spain.

The third and final series featured the episode “El Secuestro de Anabel” and was about the horrific 1993 abduction and murder of Spanish woman Anabel Segura. She was kidnapped off the street by a pair of opportunists who decided to abduct someone from a rich neighbourhood and hold them for ransom. They hadn’t prepared in any way and had no measures to keep the unfortunate woman alive while they plotted for a ransom, so they murdered her the same night. Her body was not found till the case was solved two years later.

At the end of the television episode, when the case is solved but it’s clear that her family will never be the same again, Anabel’s mother picks up her dead daughter’s walkman, puts on the headphones and presses the play button. I Love to Love starts playing. I recognised it immediately as the mystery song from 2006. Had it been a hit that year, or in the year of the abduction? No. But by playing the scene a few times I was able to decipher the lyrics. One internet search later and a quick listen to the YouTube video and I had identified the song.

It actually dates from 1976. Why was it popular in Spain in 2006? I have no idea. I do know that in some European countries, English-language songs become popular in ways that foreign-language songs rarely do in English-speaking countries.

Anyway, I like the song and Tina Charles can definitely sing.

As an interesting extra detail, YouTube comments under some of the videos of the song mention a BBC program called “River”. This was a television series from 2015 that only ran for six episodes. In the last one, towards the end, there’s a scene that features the song very prominently. I never watched the show and don’t know what it’s about but that scene seems to have made some new fans of the song.

The Melancholy Roman


El chupinazo, or what little I could see of it.

I arrived in Pamplona and scoped out the entire length of the bull run, and quickly concluded that whatever I may have thought before going there, there was no way I was going to run with the bulls. It’s one thing to watch it on tv from home. Actually being there and thinking about it focusses and sobers the mind.

That evening I asked at my hotel’s reception how I could at least watch the run in person. “You can’t,” I was told. It was too late to rent a balcony and all the good vantage points would be taken by locals in the early hours of the morning.

The receptionist recommended I instead head to Plaza de Toros, the bullring. Tickets would be on sale before 7am for people to pay €6 to sit in the stands. We could watch the action from the streets on the big screens when the run started at 8am, then see the runners and the bulls enter the bullring at the end of the run.

My hour sitting in Plaza de Toros turned out to be not very pleasant. “Bored drunks chain smoking” would be an accurate description of many of my fellow spectators. Time passed very slowly indeed.

Now, if you enter a Pamplona bull run you can’t get out. There are no exits from the course. Sure, you can quit before it starts, but once it begins you’re officially in it till the bulls are safely away, come what may.

Turns out there’s an exit clause, and I discovered it like this:

About a minute before 8am, and before the bulls were even released, a dozen supposed runners entered the bullring through the tunnel where the bulls come in. They received sarcastic cheers from the crowd.

The run itself started, and about a minute later hundreds of runners, dressed in the characteristic white and red, surged into the ring. We could still see the action on the screens. Shortly afterwards, the bulls themselves ran into the ring, crossed it and were safely secured out of sight in the pens on the other side.

And you see the exit clause? If you enter as a runner but hang out near the entrance to the bullring, you get to participate in the run in the technical sense, without actually putting yourself in any danger.

Since I was going to be in Pamplona for one more morning, didn’t want to sit in the stands of Plaza de Toros again, and couldn’t watch the run from anywhere else, entering the run while avoiding danger seemed like the best thing to do.

And it turned out that there was entertainment in the ring itself, once the run was over. The local breed of cows have horns. To entertain both the audience and the runners after the run has finished, young cows are released into the ring, one or two at a time. The tips of their horns are padded so they can’t do serious injuries but they still run about in the ring. People get knocked over and occasionally flipped in the air. It is quite the game for runners to avoid the charging animals. I watched one runner successfully attempt to somersault cleanly over one of the cows.

This spectacle was well worth seeing. I figured it would look even better if I was at ground level, just behind the wooden barrier that ran around the ring. If I came in as a runner I could be right down there, rather than up in the stands. And I wouldn’t even have to pay for an entry ticket.

The next morning I caught the same bus into Pamplona as the runners from my hotel. I told them, as I had the previous morning, that I couldn’t face running with the bulls. I then explained my sneaky plan to technically enter the run but sneak into the ring before the bulls arrived.

“That’s called the chicken run,” one of them said.

“That suits me perfectly,” I replied.

Everybody enters the run near the town hall. You are corralled into a relatively small area and you have to be there before 7:15am. Even though I was going to do the chicken run I still felt nervous. God knows how everyone else felt.

About ten minutes after we entered, police kettled everyone in. It got quite hot from so many bodies packed into such a small space. Some people smoked, but it was still better than being in Plaza de Toros. And nobody was drunk. You’re not allowed to run drunk.

Most of the balconies overlooking the small plaza were already filled with people watching. And almost everybody, runners and spectators alike, was wearing the white and red of San Fermin.

At 7:45am the police relaxed the cordon. We were now free to walk to wherever we wanted on the course.

I passed the infamous Curve of Death and into Calle Estafeta (Estafeta Street). I will never forget that walk. It’s a long, straight, narrow street lined with tall buildings, and every balcony was filled with people looking down at the runners – looking at us. They didn’t know that I wasn’t really a runner.

Every shop front in the street was barricaded. Indeed, the only thing that wasn’t barricaded was the ATM on the corner. But what doesn’t show up on tv is that all the barricades have viewing slots cut into them. At every viewing slot there were faces looking out, ready to watch the action.

I saw three men clinging to the outside of an ornate window grill, about two metres off the ground. I saw another man try to shimmy up a drainpipe, only to discover that he couldn’t get any kind of foothold at all.

There was a further police cordon up the street and we were held back for several minutes, then we were allowed to go forward again.

Between the end of Calle Estafeta and the entrance tunnel to the bullring there were a series of wooden barricades. These would be the perfect place to execute my chicken-run plan.

But the barricades curved around to the left. I stopped just past the curve and a new plan occurred to me. The bulls would probably shoot past it. More to the point, in case of danger I could drop to the ground and slide under the wooden planks, out of the way. It seemed like a good idea. So I changed my plans and decided to participate in the run after all.

There’s a great quote about planning and preparation, which is often attributed to Mike Tyson but goes back at least to Joe Louis. The quote is this:

“Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the face.”

Some of the other runners had gone past, closer to the bullring. An official on the other side of the barricades tried to tell me and two others to move further down, but we ignored him. And I remember looking across to the barricades on the other side, and seeing the line of photographers and spectators perched on a second series of barricades.

I looked at my watch, and noticed to my astonishment that it was 8 o’clock and 15 seconds. Then I heard the bang of the first rocket exploding, indicating that the gates to the corral had been opened. A few seconds later I heard a second bang indicating that the bulls were in the streets.

The bulls can do the entire run in less than two minutes, but I knew that there was no way they could do it in under about 90 seconds, so for the next minute I stood and watched as the seconds ticked away on my watch.

And then people started pushing and shoving, trying to get past and I found myself literally being pushed, forcefully, towards the bullring.

Now, one of my reasons for not wanting to take part in the bull run proper is that I’m not a very fast runner. A Spanish fighting bull can run at a top speed of 24km/h. That’s 100 metres every 15 seconds and I simply can’t run that fast. If a bull sprinted after me, in other words, I wouldn’t be able to get away.

This turned out to be completely irrelevant.

I was repeatedly pushed from behind and from the side as well, and bounced along the barricade a few times. But I couldn’t run because there was a guy in front of me, and a guy in front of him, and frankly, I was just trying my hardest not to fall over. People were jostling and shoving to get past, to get away from the bulls, wherever they were. We none of us seemed to be moving very fast at all.

What I hadn’t realised in advance is that nobody on the ground knows where the bulls are. Bulls are not as tall as most adults, so even if you look behind you, if there are people between you and the bulls you won’t see them. More to the point, you couldn’t possibly look behind you because if you did you’d trip over for sure, with all the jostling.

So we weren’t moving very fast, we knew the bulls were somewhere behind us and we couldn’t look back. If that sounds like a recipe for chaos it really was, and I’ve never known anything like it.

I stopped trying to stay close to the barricade, a space in front of me opened up, and I executed my chicken run. I ran for the tunnel. I saw one person to my right, just ahead of me, trip and fall in the tunnel itself. Normally you’d stop and help someone in a situation like that but in the running of the bulls, if you’ve ever watched the footage, that’s exactly how the pile-ups start. The only sensible thing to do was to run clear, to the left. Which is exactly what I did.

The bull ring is surrounded by a wooden barrier that I mentioned earlier. If I could get over the barrier, which is maybe 1.4m high, I would be safe. Alternatively, there are two small alcoves where bullfighters enter and leave the ring. My plan the entire time had been to use either of these options to get out of the ring proper.

It simply hadn’t occurred to me that other people would have exactly the same plan, and that hundreds of people had already raced past me and beaten me into the ring. I simply could not so much as get to the barrier.

I headed for one of the alcoves. But these are only about 50cm wide and I could not get in, because again, too many other people were trying to do the same thing.

All I could do was what other people were doing, which was standing to the side of the ring, near the barrier, hoping that when the bulls entered they wouldn’t come in our direction.

I was still there, at the side of the ring, when I saw three bulls enter. Luckily they ran straight across the ring and into the little tunnel on the other side, to the pens.

The above description probably sounds chaotic. I would probably have been willing to swear testimony, under oath, that from when I first got shoved and started to move, to when I saw the three bulls, fully five or six minutes had passed. I would have sworn it.

In actual fact, I was able to work out later with a fair degree of certainty that all that action took place in about 60 seconds.

Still standing near the barrier inside the ring, it occurred to me that I could watch what was happening in the streets outside, on the big screens. Other people around me started doing the same and I heard someone say “faltan dos” ie there were still two bulls out in the streets.

My cunning plan, to slide under the barricade to escape a bull? We watched on the screen as a guy tried it. Turns out that bulls won’t wait for you to execute your cunning plans. Last I heard, the guy had sustained injuries from the bull that, let’s just say, might interfere with his ability to become a father.

The bulls were eventually all brought in. Along with hundreds of other people, I must’ve been in the ring when they came in, yet I only saw four in total and I know for a fact that there were six.

The final injury count for the run was 14 hospitalised, 6 having been gored.

And the bulls themselves? It’s the ongoing tragedy of Pamplona, and other such events in Spain that the bulls are still killed in the afternoon bullfights. This is wrong. If human beings want to do silly things for entertainment like taking part in a bull run, or engaging in sports like boxing or cage fighting, as far as I’m concerned they’re fair game. After all, they give their consent. The bulls don’t.

The Melancholy Roman

Echo de menos Salamanca

Plaza Mayor

One of my favourite phrases in Spanish is echo de menos. It’s short, easy to understand and pronounce, yet it sounds nothing like its English translation. It means “to miss” in the nostalgic sense. “Echo de menos Salamanca” means “I miss Salamanca.” I stayed there for twenty weeks in 2011.

The city is the second largest in Castilla y León and around 200km west of Madrid. It used to be 2½ hours away by coach or train but the line from Madrid to Segovia has been upgraded and you can now get there in a little over 90 minutes.

And it’s worth it. In Spain, only San Sebastián in País Vasco rivals it for beauty. The jewel in its crown is Plaza Mayor, the finest town square in all the world. I visited again last week and the image at the top of this post shows how it looked on Thursday evening.

You may think it’s a pretty bold claim to say it’s the finest town square in all the world. I don’t. Not only is it beautiful, it’s the best used civic space I have ever seen. The plaza really is the centre of civic life in Salamanca.

Salamanca has other attractions, big and small. I photographed the astronaut in the stonework of the new cathedral:

El astronauta
Apparently controversial at the time, it’s now a firm favourite

And the victor symbols on the interior walls of the Palace of Anaya. Each symbol represents a Ph.D.

Victor symbols, Salamanca
The idea is of victory over the studies themselves

I also noticed more tourists in the streets than ever before. Maybe it’s because the weather was fine and unusually warm for October, and the old town has plenty of good places for outside dining. Or maybe it’s because the traveling time to and from Madrid has decreased.

Street dining
Diners and drinkers in Calle Rúa Mayor

Salamanca is also one of the most popular places in Spain for foreigners to study Spanish. The consequence is that you’ll hear more English spoken here than in most regional cities, it being the first or second language of a lot of language students. Still, the majority of the tourists on Thursday evening were clearly Spaniards.

Lastly, behold the façade of the university.

Part of the facade
Or part of it, anyway

The Spanish word for silver is plata. This style of stonework in the facade is called plateresque, the idea being that the stone is so finely carved that it looks like silverwork.

One popular pastime is to try to spot the small frog hidden in the detail. That’s not in the picture above. On the other hand, look at the writing around the medallion.

Medallion of the facade
The medallion of the facade, from a different photograph

The figures depicted are the famous Reyes Católicos. But what strikes me, even more than the inscription in Greek, is that Fernando’s name is given here as Ferdinand and Isabel’s as Elisabetha. They’re not known by these names in Spain and so I wonder why they’re inscribed as such here. I do not know the answer.

The Melancholy Roman

The murders on the Andalucía Express

This image is from the page http://criminalia.es/asesino/el-crimen-del-expreso-de-andalucia/

I’ve already written a blog post about the Cathedral-Mosque of Córdoba. Time, then, to write about a crime that was discovered in that city: “El Crimen del Expreso de Andalucía.” That is, the Crime of the Andalucía Express.

It was 1924. The Andalucía Express was a train service that ran from Madrid, in the centre of Spain, to Andalucía in the south. Some of the route is now covered by the high-speed AVE service but in 1924 things were vastly different. The train service was slow but important.

The mail car of the train was important in its own right. Spain’s post office had a banking branch and the mail car carried cash and valuables in addition to letters. At each stop of the train’s journey, one of the workers in the carriage would open a door to exchange sacks with a colleague on the platform. This would continue all the way to Córdoba. There, one worker would change trains and continue to Málaga. The other would stay on the original train and finish in Cádiz.

On the evening of 11 April, train 92 left Madrid’s Atocha Station at about 8:20pm. In addition to the mail car there was a locomotive, passenger carriages and a dining car. The mail car was off-limits to everyone but the two postal workers.

It is recorded that on this trip, after Aranjuez Station there was no response at each stop when officials tried knocking on the door of the mail car. Nor were any lights on inside.

Were the men inside drunk? It wouldn’t be the first time. But just in case, at least one of the stations telegrammed ahead to Córdoba remarking on the fact that no response had been received.

The train arrived in Córdoba at 6am. There was again no response to repeated shouting and knocking but action was now unavoidable. Someone broke a window to access the carriage to find out what was going on. And that’s when they discovered that the train had been robbed and both workers murdered.

So what had happened after Aranjuez Station?

The planning and botched execution of a robbery

The idea of robbing the Andalucía Express was the brainchild of 36 year old José María Sánchez Navarrete, an employee of the banking arm of the post office. The son of a lieutenant colonel in the Civil Guard, he was nonetheless something of a black sheep. In the past he’d worked the Andalucía Express and other routes but had taken the opportunity to become involved in tobacco smuggling.

He was also gay, circulated in high society and loved gambling. And he was deeply in debt, owing money to a man named Honorio Sánchez Molina.

Molina likewise circulated in high society and was fond of gambling, but unlike Navarrete he was wealthy in his own right. He owned several properties including a boarding house.

In order to pay off his gambling debts, Navarrete made Molina a suggestion. The mail car of the Andalucía Express would carry cash and jewellery worth 250,000 to 500,000 pesetas. With Molina’s assistance and that of a friend, José Donday, he would rob the train.

The plan was simple. Thanks to his position he had access to the details of all the trains and the personnel working on them. He also knew the security protocols for accessing the mail car. Because it was off limits and there were two civil guards protecting every train, it was widely believed that a robbery was impossible.

However this belief was probably based on a scenario where a train is forced to stop and is then assaulted. The presence of the two civil guards meant that such an attempt would indeed be difficult.

Navarette had a different plan. He knew that the civil guards would ride in a different part of the train. He also knew that any postal worker with a valid permit was allowed to access and ride in the mail car. He was confident that he could get himself and his accomplices inside.

Here he would make use of his friend Donday’s expertise. José Donday was probably his lover, but was also an expert in drugs. He could prepare a bottle of cognac laced with sedative to make both workers fall asleep. Once they were unconscious a robbery would be easy. They could get down at the next stop and make a clean getaway. There would be no need for violence.

Molina agreed to the robbery but soon realised they would need assistance. Donday in particular was a weak link. He was a well-travelled, highly cultured man who spoke English, French and German, and like Molina and Navarrete he mixed in high society. But he was a timid man and no one’s idea of a natural train robber.

As the owner of a boarding house, Molina knew people from all sections of society. To get assistance he therefore invited a career criminal, Antonio Teruel López, aged 35, to participate in the robbery. Teruel in turn recruited Francisco de Dios Piqueras, aged 34. Teruel and Piqueras became the fourth and fifth members of the gang.

Their final, agreed-upon plan was that Teruel, Piqueras and Navarrete would travel to Aranjuez to wait for the train. Navarrate, having full access to crew details, would ensure that one of the postal workers would be someone he recognised. He would ask to be invited in. After gaining entry to the mail car and drugging the workers they would steal all the money and valuables and leave the train when it arrived at the next station, Alcázar de San Juan. There Donday would meet them with a car and they would return to Madrid. Molina, meanwhile, would remain in Madrid and ensure that he had an alibi.

The peculiar stupidity of Navarrete’s plan was that it involved him being recognised and invited into the mail car. How he thought he could get away with it remains a mystery.

The other detail that should be mentioned is that it was left to Donday to provide the car that would pick them up.

The plan having been agreed, Navarrete selected the night of 11/12 April for the robbery.

The mail car that night was staffed by Santos Lozano León, aged 45, and Ángel Ors Pérez, aged 30. The initial part of the plan at Aranjuez Station went as anticipated. Ors recognised Navarrate and was persuaded that he and his companions had permits to travel. They were allowed to enter the mail car and carried with them a suitcase.

One of the men produced the cognac from the suitcase and invited Lozano and Ors to have a drink. Both did so quite readily. Lozano then retreated to his office at the back of the carriage and resumed sorting the mail, his back turned to the office door.

What nobody knew was that Donday had made a mistake in preparing the cognac. It contained morphine, codeine and heroin. Each of these is a painkiller but none induces drowsiness. In other words, there was nothing in it to make Ors or Lozano fall asleep. Donday had never thought to check that his mixture actually worked.

Unaware of this, Navarrete engaged Ors in conversation. Were they carrying much of value?

Ors replied that they weren’t. On this trip they had only 12,000 pesetas.

Hearing this, Navarrete wanted to abort the plan. The amount was hardly worth the effort. However Teruel and Piqueras were both poor men to whom 12,000 pesetas was a lot of money.

Time passed. Neither Ors nor Lozano seemed the slightest bit drowsy. Navarrete’s plan had been that the robbery should not involve violence but it is unclear if this had ever been communicated to Teruel. Growing impatient, Teruel seized a pair of bolt cutters, entered Lozano’s office and struck him on the head. Lozano died almost instantly.

Teruel then turned on Ors. Ors was younger and more athletic than Lozano and had an unusually thick skull, a fact later discovered at post mortem. Repeated blows to his head did not disable him and of course he had been inadvertently given painkillers. He was actually getting the better of the fight with Teruel until Piqueras and Navarrete intervened. Teruel then pulled out a gun and shot him twice, fatally.

To make sure both men were dead, Teruel wrapped ligatures around their necks.

Their plan having gone so catastrophically wrong, the men did not carry out the rest of the robbery efficiently and left some of the more valuable items behind. However they left the train at Alcázar de San Juan Station as planned and remembered to climb down on the side away from the platform. They also had the presence of mind to extinguish the lamps in the carriage as they left.

What they hadn’t counted on was the sheer stupidity of José Donday. It seemingly hadn’t occurred to him to tell his accomplices that he couldn’t drive. Charged with the task of meeting them with a car and getting them back to Madrid, he’d hired a taxi for the purpose. Even more incredibly, his companions got into the taxi with him and none of them made any attempt to harm the driver.

When the crime was discovered it was publicised throughout Spain. Among the people who came forward as witnesses was the taxi driver. How could he forget the four strange men, two clearly wealthy and two clearly not, who’d caught a taxi together from Alcázar de San Juan to Madrid in the early hours of the morning?

It took police six days to visit Teruel’s address. He hid. They arrested his wife and he must have realised that he couldn’t get away with it.

Two days later he shot himself. He left a suicide note confessing to the crime and naming his accomplices.

The remaining four were soon arrested. Navarrete’s father pleaded for his son’s life but this was the era of the dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera and there would be no mercy. Navarrete, Piqueras and Molina were all executed less than a month after the crime had taken place.

And Donday? A month after the crime he was the sole survivor. He was spared execution but sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment. During his time in prison he dedicated himself to translation and it’s still possible to buy his translation of Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost”. After his release it is believed that he migrated to a South American country where he died in obscurity.

And that is the story of the murders on the Andalucía Express.

Links about the case (all in Spanish):

The Melancholy Roman

The cathedral-mosque of Córdoba

The cathedral-mosque of Córdoba is one of the most famous buildings in all of Spain. It is quite literally a large former mosque with a cathedral built in the middle of it.

There’s a famous quote associated with the building. Carlos, the king of Spain, was the person who ordered the construction of the cathedral. On seeing the result he is said to have remarked,

‘Habéis destruido lo que era único en el mundo, y habéis puesto en su lugar lo que se puede ver en todas partes.’

You have destroyed something that was unique in the world, and have put in its place something you can see anywhere.

Whether or not the quote is accurate we can agree with the sentiment. However the cathedral’s builders were only obeying his orders. Moreover, if you actually visit the building it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they did the best possible job under the circumstances. The architecture of the mosque remains intact around the cathedral and the cathedral itself is magnificent.

I must confess, though, that I only recently realised how ignorant I was about Spanish history. I have been to Córdoba twice and always assumed that Carlos gave the order for the cathedral’s construction once the city had been captured from its Muslim rulers. It isn’t so.

In fact Córdoba was captured by Fernando III in 1236. And thanks to the two excellent RTVE series Isabel, and Carlos, I now know that Carlos was the grandson of the Catholic monarchs Isabel and Fernando. These were the same Isabel and Fernando who completed the Reconquista of Spain in 1492 and who financed Cristóbal Colón’s* first expedition the same year. Grandson Carlos came to power in 1516. In other words, the partial destruction of the mosque came about 300 years after the capture of Córdoba. That’s right: 300 years.

There are other points that are worth tidying up: the Fernando who captured Córdoba was Fernando III of Castilla; the Fernando who completed the Reconquista was Fernando II of Aragón. They were very different men: Fernando III of Castilla was considered a saint and has literally been canonised; Fernando II of Aragon was so cunning, devious and ruthless that he was one of Machiavelli’s inspirations for “The Prince.”

But back to the cathedral-mosque. Why did Córdoba have such a large mosque in the first place? The answer is that in 1000AD the city was one of the largest in the world. Its population has been estimated at 500,000. A large mosque was entirely warranted.

By the time Carlos ordered the cathedral’s construction the city’s glory had long vanished. Spain’s, on the other hand, was just beginning. Carlos wasn’t just the king of Spain; he was also Charles V, The Holy Roman Emperor. His was the first empire on which the sun did not set.

Still, he wasn’t very good at preserving the architectural legacy he inherited. The cathedral-mosque is only the second-best surviving example of Islamic architecture in Spain. The best is the Nasrid Palaces, part of the Alhambra complex in Granada. To get to them you have to walk past a not-especially interesting palace – one built on Carlos’ orders.

*Christopher Columbus is known as Cristóbal Colón in Spain.

The Melancholy Roman