Lusting after a BB gun present as pictured in the beloved Christmas film, is not little Ralphie’s/Jeanie’s only story of getting and giving during Shepherd’s childhood years. His stories about gifting don’t always conclude as satisfyingly as BB-gun-gained.
No gift, given or gotten, is quite as perfect as it should have been, and no story about it is quite as simple and straightforward as it could have been. Shepherd is famous for insisting he’s a realist—remember that Ralphie almost does shoot out his eye. And he is famous for his sometimes extensive and diversionary story-telling strategies. As, in the middle of nine-year-old Jean deciding whether to buy a chrome-plated tie clip for his old man, who would have expected from adult Shepherd as narrator, an extensive, quasi-serious blitzkrieg-like rant on the inadvisability of bringing a child into this world while Hitler marches across Europe? Shepherd marches us straight forward through Hitler, “slob-art,” and concrete statuary—and back to tie clips. The fun is in letting Jean Shepherd lead us where he will because getting there can be more than half the fun.
SHEP’S GIFTING STORIES COMING UP!
Granada, I’m falling under your spell.
And if you could speak what a fascinating you would tell
Of an age the world has long forgotten
Of an age that weaves a silent magic in Granada today.
Give him alms, woman,
for there is nothing in life,
nothing, as painful as
being blind in Granada.
Since early adolescence I have been obsessed with Spain, so it’s no surprise that when I toured Spain in my twenties, I meet Maria, a young woman from Granada, and, less than two years later, we married in her church of Granada’s patron saint, La Senora de las Angustias, which I sardonically translate as The (Virgin Mary) of the Anguishes.
We were married for about four years, living in New York, during which I cried almost every day. This, in part can be explained by the fact that Maria was an innocent, brought up in a culture obsessed with the rigid and reactionary environment in which anything deviating from customs and one’s personal beliefs must, by definition, be evil and the devil incarnate. (This seems to explain why the Spanish Civil War was so cruel, so bloody.)
So, in our comfy little Tudor-style house in Queens, New York, one Sunday morning, as I was constructing my hand-made Spanish classical guitar in our finished basement, an event occurred causing me to begin writing my novel consisting of autobiographically true short descriptions interspersed with fictional chapters inspired by the true parts [Cover design and rendering by eb.]:
It should be noted that “Granada”
is not only the name of the city,
but is the term for “hand grenade,”
and is also the word for “pomegranate.”
Like Granada the city, the pomegranate has a tough outer shell. Inside, the sweet/tart fruit is walled off by white partitions–these are very bitter to taste. The luscious fruit is delicious, but the inner seeds are hard to eat, so must be spit out. The fruit’s beautiful red liquid itself must be carefully kept from touching one’s clothing, as it permanently stains.
This novel tells the story of Gordon Roberts, a young American rifle expert in Spain, who dreams of righting the wrongs of the Spanish Civil War, thirty years after its end.
The fictional story opens with him on a hillside, rifle in hand, aiming at Francisco Franco, Spain’s vicious conquerer and dictator, expecting to kill him quickly and easily. Gordon’s Spanish friends are just testing him—the rifle shells are blank—he faces the first of many frustrations. He must prove his worth to his urban guerilla associates from Granada, Catalonia, and the Basque provinces, or be killed by them himself. The true story, as prelude, begins:
This is a true story. I stand in my house in New York backed against a wall into a corner by my Spanish wife who holds a carving knife pointed at my chest….I protect myself with an aluminum folding chair in one hand and rolled up Arts Section of the Sunday New York Times in the other. Hemingway would insist on courage: grace under stress. Spain has been my dream, my paradise of the imagination for so many years and things like this don’t happen to people such as I, they only happen in novels and movies.
The plot alters because the Prime Minister under Franco, Carrero Blanco, is assassinated by Basque terrorists in a horrific-but-true explosion:
And Franco dies in bed. Prince Juan Carlos, soon to be head of state, is to attend a musical event in the Alhambra and Gordon’s Granada friends decide to kill Juan Carlos there with a deadly string of granadas strung in a hidden cover on the overhead balcony ledge where they know he will be sitting. [True inspiration for the scene: Maria and I had attended a musical event in the Alhambra–the Prince and his wife seated five rows behind us.] Gordon, begins the assassination process and then, transformed by a multitude of Spanish images and feelings, cannot go through with it–he is saved by memories of intense flamenco songs he heard the night before and memories of gruesome, nearly abstract-expressionist smears of blood in a corner of Goya’s painting of an execution that he cannot erase from his mind.
He escapes and returns to New York.
Epilog to The Pomegranate Conspiracy
…. I look through photos–books of Spain, of Granada. I grieve at my loss. I wish to return. There are parts I have not toured, things I do not know well enough. I wish to see the tomb of Franco in the Valley of the Fallen. Actually, it is a slab of floor tile with his name on it. I want to stand on it and stomp my foot on it. And Granada. I want to see again the red-walled Alhambra from the town below. I long to walk Granada’s streets on warm sunny afternoons, bathed in her ambiance, and amble through the calles and up the Cuesta de Gommerez, past the guitar and woodworking shops. I want to pass through the opening in the outer wall and ascend the wooded path. I want to enter again the innermost rooms of the Alhambra.
Washington Irving wrote in the terminating paragraph of his book, Tales of the Alhambra: “With these thoughts I pursued my way among the mountains. A little further and Granada, the Vega and the Alhambra, were shut from my view and thus ended one of the pleasantest dreams of a life which the reader perhaps may think has been but too much made up of dreams.”
(A memorial poem by eb)
[More truth: Love/hate, disillusion, bitterness, animosity, lingering love; the four-line verse above on a ceramic plaque–about Granada, with a pomegranate–is a well-known poem, replicated on many of the city’s streets–I still have the one I bought, and I see it every day on our bathroom wall; several years after writing about Franco’s floor tile inscription, beneath which he’s buried in the Valley of the Fallen, on a Museum business trip I detoured to Spain and visited that plaque.]
I twisted the ball of my foot on it, like squashing a bug.