Mr. Fabián y Ms. Emilia

[On the book Welcome to El Cabanyal]

We are presented with a book that, like few others, can be described as a choral work in the strictest sense of the word.

Unlike other works, it is not a compilation of unrelated works brought together by a casual, temporary or stylistic nexus, something similar to the famous Mil mejores poesías de la lengua castellana (The Thousand Best Poems in the Spanish Language), or even a collection of those which used to be in fashion on Nobel Literature Prizes. It is more than that. It is a collection of stories, anecdotes, and drawings that Begoña and Vicente Ferrer have managed to harmonise without a single note going out of tune. From the book cover to the last page, the book exudes coherence and honesty. There is not an ounce of reproach in it. The directors’ baton has not let a single discordant note slip in.

But Welcome to El Cabanyal is not only the result of a job well done: it is something more than the sum of 99 illustrations and 99 narrations.

Campo Vidal, the moderator of a television debate from the other night between Rubalcaba and a certain individual, recalled at the end of the broadcast a quote by García Márquez: ‘the image can never replace the written word’.

I want to be optimistic and think he is right, but it should be added that, although it probably can —Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 comes to mind—, it is not necessary, as they can perfectly complement each other, demonstrated by the book we are now presenting. And it demonstrates this so perfectly that I would not know what to call it, if a set of 99 illustrated narrations or 99 narrated illustrations, or to what extent they compliment each other, despite being so different, ranging from schematism to minimalism or the pure lines of Art Deco to the clashing nature of Arcimboldi, as oil and vinegar complement each other. And, to make this marriage even more evident, the illustrators have been able to capture through their different styles (sometimes surprisingly different) the same diversity in their works as those demonstrated by the neighbours who have shed light on the reality of a lively neighbourhood which wants to keep on living.

From an argumentative point of view—although it is difficult to speak of an argument—, the reader will notice that the stories or narrations can be divided into a series of themes that are repeated throughout the work.

In fact, this division cannot be too strict because the narrations —and the illustrations— are very transversal, since they employ an educational vocabulary, and not only refer to the main story or anecdotes but also, more often than not, refer explicitly or subtly to historical circumstances, religious or political beliefs, and social changes the neighbourhood was going through.

However, we have dared to group them according to a selection that may seem arbitrary for some, but which we thought could aid the reader.

A first glance allows us to locate a large group —thirty-four— of heterogenous narrations that we could consider to be related to customs, events, and hard to classify personal experiences, ranging from touching anecdotes, scenes of family lives, social relationships, old customs, tragicomic anecdotes, to personal reflections. Although it appears diverse, this is the part of the book that best reveals the way of life in El Cabanyal and which, for many years to come, will interest any archeology/sociology researcher the most, a kind of Rosetta Stone that would fill any researcher with joy.

There is also a group of stories and anecdotes, around twenty —some dramatic, some serious, and a few seen from a humorous perspective—, which we could consider to be related to the historical periods the country was going through. These include the Second World War, the Civil War, and the changes that the people from El Cabanyal were experiencing with the technological innovations that, due to the country’s decline and shortage of economical resources, were slowly changing the physiognomy of the neighbourhood.

A third group of 14 narrations are connected to peculiar characters.

Along recognised members of what used to be called ‘the living forces’, such as Archpriest Gallart or Doctor Lluch, we find others who are much more popular and closer to us. It is true that some of them were marginalised, and, perhaps, even beyond the limits of intellectual capacity, but that did not necessarily play an important role in the everyday life of the neighbourhood. Although we have left them in inkwells, who does not remember neighbours like the carter ‘el Rullo’, who was ready to broadside every time someone brought up Valencia’s football team, the enemy of his Levante, or the kindhearted ‘Brillantina’, always with a smile on her face? This is because the presence of these people in the street, walking among us, talking to the walls, comically threatening vendors by pretending they were inspectors of some sort, singing at the top of their lungs, or arguing with invisible opponents, were and still are an indicator of the neighbourhood’s social health. The social composition of El Cabanyal has been until now what has allowed the integration of these highly vulnerable sectors with an efficiency that no law or institution would be able to improve. Never move into an area where you cannot see a single lunatic talking to themselves in the street and where neighbours do not greet or kindly reason with them as if they were another member of the family or community. You will not be happy.

The fourth group —twelve narrations— has to do with games. Readers will not find it hard to observe that games are characterised by the fact they are free and do not require toys. And when this was not as such, one only needed minimal skills to build them. They were games of long duration, in the sense that they could take up hours and hours of children’s time and, the only downside, they also needed space that the current urban plan does not offer today’s children.

Another group of thirteen stories —art, literature, science, or technology (knowing how to do things well, whether they are paintings, sculptures, books or machines)— has to do with a part of history that most residents of El Cabanyal are proud of: the presence among our parents and grandparents of true geniuses such as Blasco Ibáñez, Sorolla, or Mariano Benlliure. It is interesting to think that the men who have stood out most during the 20th century in literature, painting and sculpture are intimately related to our neighbourhood, one of the most modest —and back then even more so— in the city of Valencia. Often, when these coincidences happen, they are followed by this well-known expression: ‘There is something about water when it is blessed’.

Lastly, I would like to refer to the group of six stories that recall the positive influence some teachers had on their students, and which not even time has managed to erase, but also in the opposite sense, the bitterness others experienced by having been in classrooms which were not those of Martí Alpera or Ballester Fandos, and who recall moments they would not like to repeat. Those teachers had inspired six stories, for me, as a reader, was a pleasant surprise, especially due to the consideration and respect with which those who have written them speak of their school days. And here, at this point, I confess my unforgivable sin of not having dedicated a few lines to remembering my own Mr. Fabián and Ms. Emilia, whose memory I guard with the utmost respect and admiration, perfect examples of how the stupidity and resentment of an abominable political system can harm and ruin the educational abilities of two exceptional teachers. I would like to take this opportunity to pay a public homage to the work they did and that which they were unable to do because they were not allowed.

Marià Ferrer

Cabanyal, 10 November 2011

Text read at the presentation of the book Welcome to EL Cabanyal in the Rector Peset Hall of Residence. Image: Dani Sanchis putting his finishing touches to the ‘Votive Offering’ displayed in the Color Elefante exhibition room in Russafa (photograph by Daniel García-Sala).