A re(construction) of the visual memory of author´s family and of their relations with the territory they all come from, with the history of Spain and the history of Photography as backdrops.

Softcover (double book)
64 + 64 pages
215 x 155 mm.

Edition, photos and words: Juan Valbuena
Diseño: Jaime Narváez
Preimpresión: Eduardo Nave + AG Palermo
Impresión: AG Palermo
Encuadernación: Ramos

PHREE, 2020

Visible & Available at:
PHREE/book-uldlm

30 €

My grandparents called their own village el lugar [‘the place’], so I learned that the famous words En un lugar de La Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme… [‘In a certain village of La Mancha, the name whereof I purposely omit…’] do not contain even half of the mystery they seem to.
  • The only time Grandfather Román left the village was to do his military service in Africa. Before crossing the Strait of Gibraltar he sent a letter to Grandmother Orosia in which he told her he spent his days washing, sewing, and doing other work more suited to women than to the Spanish army.
  • My grandmother Sole used to laugh when she told how, from the time she was a girl, my grandfather Paulino had wanted to be with her. They didn’t get married until he returned from his three years of military service in Madrid. They lived for eight years at the Morales home, dividing up the work: my grandfather contributed his labor and a black mule, small but very clever, which he had purchased to cross with the Spanish mule of his father-in-law, Grandfather Román. Apart from his vines, they say he had sown thirty acres of wheat, fifteen of barley, and had left fifty to lie fallow.
  • In a wicker-covered album we used to keep half a photo that showed my grandfather Darío with some other children. They used to say that, on the other half, which was lost, sitting in the lap of one of the neighbors, was his dead brother Patricio, whom we had never seen.
  • The other half of the photo reappeared one spring day in the china cupboard of my grandmother Morena, torn and spotted with fly poop. My aunt Mari found out that the little boy wasn’t Patricio after all, but that the other Valbuena was the one we already knew from the first half-photo, being held by the arm of an unseen elder.
  • Uncle Ruperto was a good day laborer who didn’t even need to go out to the village square to get offers of work from the landowners. He did his military service in the artillery in Melilla, the same place where his brother Juan Manuel had died, in mysterious circumstances.
  • In 1936, when the Civil War began, he decided to volunteer in the militia. Grandmother Isabel, his mother, asked him why he was doing that, since he had enough to make a living. He answered that he was going to fight for those who had nothing. He died at the front. They say he let himself be killed, feeling guilty about having been one of those who, on the night of 4 September 1936, dragged the village priest and some prominent men in the village from their homes, took them in a truck to the Emes de Belinchón, and murdered them there.
  • Grandfather Juan never had a horse that wasn’t made of cardboard, he lisped when he spoke, and he got upset easily. They say he drank to drown his sorrows and that that killed him young. When he divorced Grandmother Isabel, the only one of his daughters that stayed with him was my grandmother Morena, who was still a little girl at the time.
  • My grandfather Darío was sentenced to twenty years in prison for “lending assistance to the rebellion.” He served his sentence first in the Monastery of Uclés and then in Ocaña, until he was granted amnesty at Christmas 1943. My father was born a year later in the foundling hospital of Lavapiés, in Madrid. When my grandfather went to see them, he asked what name they had given him. “Darío, like you,” my grandmother replied. “Well no, we will call him Luis, like you,” he answered. Since then my father has had two names: at home and in the village we call him Luis, but in the bank, at work, and on his passport they have always insisted on Darío.
  • My father has two siblings: my aunt Mari and my uncle Rafa. He was separated from them through most of the 1950s. First he was sent to Madrid with Aunt Seve and later to Burgos with his cousin Juanma. He went to school and studied music and shorthand, but what he really liked to do was read comic books, go to the movies, and play the trumpet like Louis Armstrong. When he told his father he didn’t want to be in a military band, they didn’t let him go to high school and he returned to the village when he was sixteen years old. He remembers feeling like an outlaw and spending the winters without doing much: just throwing stones at dogs, as they used to say in the village.
  • My mother quit school when my uncle Román was born and had to stay home to look after him. Later, when she was a teenager, she convinced her parents to let her prepare on her own for the fourth year examination. She passed that exam and ended up studying at a teachers’ college in Madrid. She went on to get three more degrees when we were young and over the years she has taught hundreds of children to read.
  • My maternal grandparents had four children: Julio, Matilde, Román, and Sole. They were always very proud that all of them were able to go to university, in spite of the sacrifices, solitude, and distance it involved. All four became teachers and professors.
  • When my grandfather Darío got out of prison he had to begin a new life: he started to bake bread in his father’s oven, from the dough the women still kneaded at home. In the course of time he obtained permission to buy flour and the Valbuenas became a family of bakers.
  • My father was the first number 10 of the Unión Deportiva Fontense, when some young men from the village formed the soccer team. After playing for a while on a patch of land, they made a real playing field on a piece of land borrowed from the Silvas family.
  • My aunt Mari was married wearing black. She was pregnant by uncle Saturio and eight months later my cousin Saturín was born. Once she wrote a caption for another photo of that same event: “The –––est day of my life.”
  • They met by chance on the bus on the way back from Tarancón. My father was coming back from getting some ID photos taken. My mother asked him for one. Shortly thereafter they began to take walks together along the road to El Acebrón. They got married in 1971.
  • My uncle Julio was the first one in the family to go to university. He was the star pupil of Don Castor, the Falangist teacher in the village. He did his high school as a boarder in Cuenca and earned a scholarship for “poor young Catholics” to study philosophy and literature in Valencia. Later on he went to Germany to do a master’s in sociology. Every Christmas he came back, hitchhiking all across Europe.
  • My grandmother Sole used to slaughter rabbits on the porch: she would hang them from a ladder stained with quicklime, with a bucket underneath for the blood to drip into. Then a blow to the neck, one precise slash of the knife, skinning them entirely, and another vertical slash to pull their entrails out
  • We were living in Madrid by then, but I used to spend summers in the village of my childhood: in a bathing suit and shoes for flat feet, in the street all day, playing soccer and lying to both my grandmothers, telling each one of them that I had already had dinner at the other’s house.
  • We used to spend Christmas Eve going from one family to the other. We would have a dinner of grilled lamb at my grandmother Morena’s and then cross the empty village in the cold, with the smell of burning firewood in the air, to have nougat and casquijo [mixed nuts] at my grandmother Sole’s.
  • My father took only one photo of my grandparents together. In the village, the men and women lived in separate worlds. On Sundays occasionally, after taking a nap, they would go out to see the livestock in La Cañá and, depending on the season, flush rabbits out of their holes, gather mushrooms, or look for snails.
  • My aunt Mari has transformed the bakery of my grandfather Darío into her own private museum. The house without a courtyard, with the most beautiful light in the village, is a cozy space where she keeps our memories, safeguards our objects, and worships our ghosts.
  • Everything remains the same at my grandmother Morena’s: the fridge full of food, the dishes clean, the photos in their frames, the stove ready to use in the dining room, and the silence, with only the tick-tock of the clock. It seems as if my grandparents were taking their afternoon nap.
  • My father never liked to go back to the place where he grew up. Now and then he would show up by surprise, but it’s been twenty years since he stayed there overnight. One Christmas he wrote me a text, which I cannot find, in which he recalled his childhood in six short chapters: “Smells,” “Tastes,” “Fears,” “Joys,” “Dreams,” and “Happenings.”
  • My mother always liked to go back to the place where she was born. She knew everybody and everybody knew her. For years, she often used to go alone to the village on weekends to spend time with her parents: she would take care of them, clean the house, do the shopping, cook, and just listen to them. In the late afternoon she needed to go out into the countryside, look at the sky, and feel the wind on her face, whenever she stopped pedaling.
  • On my grandparents’ sixty-third wedding anniversary I took the wedding picture of them that they had never had. As I snapped the shutter, my mother was weeping behind me. It was the last summer that they were able to stand up. Shortly thereafter, my grandmother Sole broke her hip and a series of strokes left my grandfather Paulino unable to speak. They ended up dying one year apart. From one winter to the next, we never told our grandmother what had happened to our grandfather.

    For a year she would ask about him: we told her that he had gone out into the fields to take a walk with his friends or that he had an errand to run.
  • Things my sister Julia remembers:

    … the pear tomatoes on the porch, almost hot to the touch, her grandmother Sole making her breakfast, the cold, damp bed when we used to go in winter, the porras and the El Alicantino chocolate, the grapes turning into raisins, the vine shoots (for the fire) on the range, the vine shoots (for the fire) under the table, the gloria, our grandfather Paulino explaining to us, in all seriousness, that the wheels of the tractor were full of water, Eulalio’s Fanta and Elgorriaga chocolates, our grandfather Darío’s paunch, the tick-tock of the clock when our grandparents were napping, going anca her grandmother (that is, to her grandmother’s place), the smell of her grandfather Darío’s beret, her grandmother Morena doing her hair in the courtyard, “What is the prettiest thing in Spain?,” the clouded vision of flour and light from the office and the bakery, the day I taught her to ride a bicycle (on my own copper-colored one), the brine at the bottom of the jars of diced tomatoes and cucumbers, “And what family do you belong to?,” the pantry (which our grandmothers had another word for), narrow and fragrant, with its smell of aniseed, at both of their homes, the morning she caught her finger in the porch door, throwing the leftover soup to the cats and the peelings to the chickens, the steelyard, our grandmother Sole skinning rabbits, our mother whitewashing the walls, the spring on the pruning shears…

    Things my sister María remembers:

    … Aunt Juanita’s corner, the smell of fodder in the rabbit pen, the curtains in our grandmother Morena’s kitchen and the needlework mesh of the pitcher, the red door on the porch with its studs and Julia’s finger caught there, the pajamas of Marco, who threw sparks under the sheets, a horrible blue pillow with the Christ Child and a zipper, the hot-water bottles to warm the beds, Ernie and Bert, the tale of The Little Ant, the milk biscuits for breakfast, her grandfather Paulino’s tow truck and the little knife they gave her to harvest grapes, the basin in which her grandfather Paulino washed his hands when he came in from the fields, with the powdered detergent and the way the water turned black, the stove in her grandmother Morena’s house and her padded dressing-gown, which used to get scorched, the green wheelbarrow and her grandfather Darío’s Renault 4L…
  • There is no album in my grandmother Sole’s house. The visual memory of my mother’s family was kept in a tin for quince jelly that my mother remembers having purchased, after a great deal of insistence, in Aunt Genoveva’s store.
  • For years we closed things up. We removed the vines. We said goodbye in silence. Only my daughters, first Duna and then Noa, formed new memories. The rest of us clung to the old rituals: we did the same things we had always done and in the same places, thinking that every summer might be the last.
  • In the last portrait I made of my mother she was reclining against a bale of hay on our secret path, wearing the grape cluster pendant my father had given her. The time was past when she had answered better or even not bad when asked how she was doing. Cancer had left her body emaciated, but she was smiling at being able to spend another summer’s end with her grandchildren. She never returned to the village again.

    My father decided to spare us the funeral in the village, the walk to the cemetery behind the car, the obligatory mass, and the line of people offering condolences at the church door. He said they had never talked about what to do and he wanted the same thing for our mother as for himself: he preferred to have her cremated in Madrid and to keep her ashes at home.

    It didn’t stop snowing for two days. I went to the village alone. I stopped the car at the turnoff. I took a photo and wrote a terrible text that also started by saying: “Today my mother died. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know…”