Robert Capa e Gerda Taro
Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War, de Amanda Vaill
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (April 22, 2014)
Caballo Verde – Boadilla del Monte
,de Susana Fortes
Editorial Planeta (October 5, 2011)
NOTA DE LEITURA
Finda a leitura de “La ragazza con la Leica”, de Helena Janeczek, fiquei insatisfeito com o retrato que a autora faz de Gerda Taro e assim procurei mais três livros, que também se referiam a ela, embora junto com outros contemporâneos:
1 - Esperando a Robert Capa, de Susana Fortes – é um romance sobre Robert Capa e Gerda Taro, publicado também no Brasil com o título Esperando Robert Capa - Um Romance Sobre Amor, Guerra e Arte. Sendo um romance bastante prolixo, não me satisfaz o retrato que faz dos dois fotógrafos.
2- Tres mujeres olvidadas: Clara Campoamor, Gerda Taro e Angela Figuera Aymerich, onde a parte que me interessava tem o título Gerda Taro, pionera del fotoperiodismo moderno, e é da autoria der Raquel Barbero Hernández. Esta parte tem apenas 24 páginas. Embora esteja bem redigida, omite facetas importantes, como, por exemplo, a menção dos namorados que ela teve.
3 - Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War de Amanda Vaill – Este livro descreve a Guerra de Espanha a partir da actividade na guerra de Espanha de três “casais”, no sentido de três homens e suas companheiras: Ernest Hemingway e Martha Gellhorn, Robert Capa e Gerda Taro; e Arturo Barea, um jornalista nomeado pêlos republicanos como censor da imprensa e sua companheira, Ilsa Kulcsar, uma comunista austríaca, que casaram depois da guerra.
O meu interesse centra-se em Gerda Taro e Robert Capa. Ainda não estou satisfeito com os dados obtidos sobre Gerda Taro pelas muitas sombras que têm as referências sobre ela. Mas deixo aqui alguns apontamentos.
Gerda Taro chamava-se na realidade Gerta Pohorylle, nasceu em Stuttgart em 1 de Agosto de 1910 e morreu atropelada por um carro de combate em 26 de Julho de 1937. Namorou entre outros William Chardack, co-inventor do pace maker († 28-5-2006, com 91 anos) e Georg Kuritzkes (n. 1912 † 1990), médico que depois trabalhou na FAO.
Robert Capa nasceu 22 de Outubro de 1913, em Budapeste – Hungria com o nome de Endre Ernő Friedmann e faleceu no Vietnam em 25 de Maio de 1954. Usou em Paris o nome de André Friedmann e depois por interesse comercial mudou o nome para Robert Capa.
Amanda Vaill refere dois detalhes interessantes sobre Gerda Taro: a mãe de Robert Capa não podia com ela e Hemingway disse a um amigo que ela era uma “whore”.
Hotel Florida: Truth, Love and Death in the Spanish Civil War – review
Amanda Vaill beautifully portrays three love affairs – including that between Hemingway and Gellhorn – but her book is marred by its cold war tone
Fri 20 Jun 2014
In the intense and sometimes exhilarating context of wartime, with death constantly looming, romance often flourishes. This is certainly true of the home front in most wars; near the battlefront, it was usually confined to love affairs between soldiers and nurses or local women. The Spanish civil war was no exception: romances between doctors or frontline volunteers and nurses within the international brigades were numerous. But the war in Spain brought a new dimension: for the first time, there were also a substantial number of female writers and journalists. The American Kitty Bowler, for instance, had a lasting affair with commander of the British battalion Tom Wintringham, while her compatriot Milly Bennett formed a relationship with the Swedish volunteer Hans Amlie.
Of all the affairs, there are three which, because of the richness of available sources and their enduring resonance, constitute a temptation that Amanda Vaill has not resisted. The couples she has chosen are the Spaniard Arturo Barea and his future wife, the Austrian Ilsa Kulcsar; the Americans Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn; and two great photographers, the Hungarian Robert Capa and the German Gerda Taro, who died at the battle of Brunete. Barea's vivid autobiography, The Forging of a Rebel, translated into English by the multilingual Kulcsar, is one of a handful of indispensable books on the Spanish conflict. The contemporaneous articles and subsequent fictions of both Hemingway and Gellhorn also offer unique insight into many aspects of the war. The same, and more, is true of the photographs of Capa and Taro. The tenuous link between them all is the Hotel Florida, where correspondents, international brigaders and Russian pilots caroused and consorted with the prostitutes dubbed by Hemingway "whores de combat".
Vaill portrays them beautifully. A real delight of her book is the way she evokes the colours and smells both of starving, besieged Madrid and the well-fed opulence of Valencia on the distant Mediterranean coast. Best of all are her characterisations. The life of the sparkling and adventurous Gellhorn, before and after the Spanish civil war, is well drawn – although to describe her early writing as "chick-lit" strikes an incongruous note. Through her mother Edna, Gellhorn had become a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and a frequent visitor to the White House. She had been a close friend, and maybe the lover, of HG Wells. Gellhorn already idolised Hemingway the writer when she bumped into him in Sloppy Joe's bar in Key West. Over the next months, she was seduced by his talent and the fact that he shared her determination to be part of the anti-fascist struggle in Spain. He was turned on by the sexual allure of a leggy blonde with the highest political and social connections – as Vaill comments: "Martha always moved easily between picket line and the receiving line."
Their relationship – which dominates the book – comes across as rather empty. Having made his conquest and boasted about it like a teenager, Hemingway preferred drinking with his cronies, and she didn't like sex. Vaill portrays Hemingway as dishonest and insecure, obsessed with friendship and loyalty and truth, yet as untrustworthy as a rattlesnake. She notes how in his writing he would respond to perceived slights by making the person's "fictional avatar do something or say something that he could legitimately despise … leaving himself free to treat that person badly. Like a papal indulgence purchased in advance of the sin." Although some of the correspondents who travelled with Hemingway in the last months of the war regarded him as a brave and generous friend, here we have the pugnacious, malicious bully familiar from the classic biography by Carlos Baker. Vaill shows a Hemingway who liked to think of himself as a combatant. She might have relished the comment of the English brigadista Jason Gurney, who saw the writer as "full of hearty and bogus bonhomie. He sat himself down behind the bullet-proof shield of a machine-gun and loosed off a whole belt of ammunition in the general direction of the enemy. This provoked a mortar bombardment for which he did not stay."
Barea and Kulcsar met in the censorship office in Madrid, and played key roles in ensuring that truth prevailed over propaganda in the news about the struggle of the second republic against Franco and his Axis allies. Indeed, Barea was responsible for saving the photographs used in the posters immortalised by the slogan: "If you tolerate this, your children will be next." Vaill enriches Barea's autobiographical account with the backstory of Kulcsar's early life in the same Austrian communist cell as Stephen Spender and Kim Philby. This is all the more valuable since Kulcsar is the only one of the protagonists without a substantial biography.
Vaill is excellent throughout on her six protagonists, but elsewhere is undone by a lack of specialist knowledge. There is an underlying cold war tone about the book that echoes the oft-repeated myth that the Spanish Republic was the puppet of Moscow. Here it derives partly from her reliance on the false testimonies of two Soviet defectors: Alexander Orlov's The Secret History of Stalin's Crimes and Walter Krivitsky's I Was Stalin's Agent.
Vaill presents Krivitsky as former head of Soviet military intelligence in Spain, but recent research by Boris Volodarsky has revealed that Krivitsky was never in Spain and all the facts from his book were actually invented by his ghost writer, Isaac Don Levine. Orlov reinvented himself 18 years after his defection to justify his presence in the US, to fool the FBI and to write well-paid articles for Life magazine.
Accordingly, there is an excessively sinister light cast on the roles of Russians and on the Republic's security services. Inevitably, the Republic, like any wartime state, had an apparatus for counterespionage to root out saboteurs and fifth-columnists. In this context, Vaill makes much of the notorious case of José Robles, a friend of the novelist John Dos Passos. Robles was arrested, she tells us, by "extra-legal" police and later executed for allegedly passing information to his brother, a pro-Francoist army officer in the fifth column. Into the story comes the brother of the famous artist Luis Quintanilla. Vaill presents Pepe Quintanilla as "head of Madrid's secret police" and an executioner. She uses a series of sources – The Starched Blue Sky of Spain by the novelist Josephine Herbst, Hemingway's play The Fifth Column, Baker's biography of Hemingway – all of which, for different reasons, present an undeservedly hostile picture of him. Historical accuracy was not a priority for any of them. In her 1960 memoir, Herbst quoted Hemingway as telling her that Pepe was "head of the department of justice"; in act two of Hemingways's play, the character "Antonio" is presented as the "thin-lipped security chief". Then, assuming that "Antonio" was Pepe, Baker described him as "the thin-lipped executioner of Madrid".
Hemingway got this idea from a lunch with Pepe attended by himself, Herbst and the journalist Virginia Cowles. At that lunch, if we are to believe Cowles's account, Pepe gave a blood-curdling version of the fight against the fifth column, perhaps enjoying the impact he felt it was having on the two women. In fact, Pepe was head of neither the department of justice nor of republican counterespionage. He was not an executioner but an administrator. He certainly had access to inside information about the Robles case, but his real job was secretary to the real chief of the republican counterespionage services, who headed the so-called special brigades (not "extra-legal"), one of which arrested Robles.
There is an irony in Vaill's comment that "in her zeal to make a point, Martha made up facts to go with it". Vaill herself puts thoughts into her characters' heads and frequently "extrapolates" from fictional and other accounts as if they were documentary evidence. This leads to some striking insights but sends the curious reader to check the sources only to be driven back with heavy losses by the book's infuriating note system. More often than not it's a wild goose chase.
There are also many small factual mistakes such as placing Gibraltar 20 miles from Málaga (really more than 100) and presenting one of the most celebrated photographs of the war, by Agustí Centelles, as if it was taken in 1936. The photo was of a school bombed in Lleida on 2 November 1937 and portrays a woman weeping over the body of her dead husband. This book should be read for its sensitively told stories of three love affairs, but not for authoritative views on the Spanish civil war.
• Paul Preston's latest book is The Spanish Holocaust (HarperPress).
In 'Hotel Florida,' Three Couples Chronicle The Spanish Civil War
There's something romantic about biographer Amanda Vaill's device of making the Hotel Florida in Madrid the hub of her new book about the Spanish Civil War, called but, then again, there's always been something romantic about the Spanish Civil War itself. For the Spanish loyalists — who were supported by Russia and Mexico as well as the International Brigades of civilians from Europe and the Americas — the Spanish Civil War was a gallant stand against fascism. Of course, the on-the-ground reality wasn't always so black and white: Infighting on the left complicated matters, which is why countless historians have probed the contradictions of that war, which lasted from 1936 to 1939.
Vaill isn't after anything as quixotic as trying to "set the record straight" on the Spanish Civil War; instead, she delves deeply into the lives of three couples whose chronicling of the war shaped public perception. Some of her subjects — like Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn and war photographer Robert Capa — are famous; others, like photographer Gerda Taro and Spanish journalist Arturo Barea, should be better known. Their paths crossed in Spain and all six spent time in the Hotel Florida, "a ten-story marble-clad jewel box" in Madrid, where journalists, diplomats, prostitutes, pilots and spies drank together and dived for cover as bombs whistled over the city at night. Ultimately, what Vaill seems to be mulling over in this book is the age-old question of what war does to people: whether it brings out altruism or naked self-interest. Spoiler alert: In Vaill's account Hemingway fails the sniff test.
Group biography is a potentially cumbersome genre, but Vaill proved her chops at this sort of narrative with her 1998 best-seller, , an ensemble story that centered on Lost Generation artistic patrons Gerald and Sara Murphy. The Murphys pop up in as do a crowd of other, mostly left-leaning luminaries like Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, John Dos Passos and Errol Flynn. Vaill organizes this book in a kaleidoscopic month-by-month diary style, so that, for instance, in December 1936, we hear about Barea fighting censorship in Valencia at the same time that Hemingway first meets Gellhorn, who's destined to become his third wife, at Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West, Fla. It's a narrative technique that at first feels choppy, but comes to suit the sweeping confusion of the war. It also allows Vaill to splice in excerpts from her subjects' own diaries and letters that add to the lived texture of her book. Here, for instance, is Gellhorn making a snappy declaration in a 1936 letter to a friend: "Me, I am going to Spain with the boys. ... I don't know who the boys are, but I am going with them."
Despite the glamour of the Hemingway-Gellhorn pairing, the couple that steals the spotlight here is Robert Capa and his lover, Gerda Taro, and it's Taro who's the real revelation. She was an elfin girl who sported a boy's haircut and was described by an acquaintance as looking "like a fox that is going to play a trick on you." They were broke and in their 20s when they met in Paris in 1936, and, back then, they were both still using their birth names. It was Taro who came up with the idea of the pseudonym "Robert Capa," under which they would both take up-close-and-personal photographs of the fighting in Spain. Under fire, their idealism seemed to grow — so much so that, when Taro was killed in 1937, she was lauded as a kind of "Joan of Arc of the left." Taro was buried in Paris on her 27th birthday.
At the end of Vaill tells a brief story about the discovery of three cardboard valises in Mexico City in 2007. Inside were more than 165 rolls of film containing images of the Spanish Civil War — people lining up for food in refugee camps, cratered cityscapes and, most grimly, the inside of a morgue after a bombing raid. The photographs were taken by, among others, Capa and Taro. An exhibition of those long-lost photographs, called "The Mexican Suitcase," was held at New York's International Center of Photography in 2011 — you can . Like the discovery of the Mexican suitcases, Vaill's adds to the cold hard facts — as well as to the enduring mystique — of the Spanish Civil War.
An impressive study that unpicks the intricacies of the Spanish Civil War by following its writers
By Lewis Jones
19 May 2014
Hotel Florida is a rather unhelpful title for a book about the Spanish Civil War, especially as the hotel in question, which stood on Madrid’s Gran Via until 1964, hardly features in the narrative. It’s a good book, though, written with verve and passion, and full of drama, pathos and gossip.
Amanda Vaill, who has previously written about the Jazz Age socialites Gerald and Sara Murphy, portrays the war through the stories of three couples: the writers Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn; the photographers Robert Capa and Gerda Taro; Arturo Barea, who was the republic’s chief press censor, and his deputy Ilsa Kulcsar, an Austrian communist.
Vaill presents them through a kaleidoscope of datelined dispatches. In “July 1936: London/Paris”, for instance, she introduces Gellhorn, then aged 27 and living with HG Wells, aged 70, who used to send her letters decorated with “suggestive” drawings, such as one of him naked and about to be spanked by her.
Encouraged by Wells, she wrote an article titled “Justice at Night”, a first-hand account of the lynching of a young black man in Mississippi, which was published in The Spectator and Reader’s Digest. The only problem, as it later emerged when she was asked to testify before a Senate committee, was that she had made the whole thing up.
With their monstrous egos, Gellhorn and Hemingway – whom she met that December in Key West, and who eventually left his wife for her – tend to dominate the narrative, and he turns out to have been even more dishonest than her. Initially dismissive of the war, he seems to have gone to Madrid mainly to see more of Gellhorn, who spent much of her time there shopping.
When a Russian correspondent asked him in French if he sent his nouvelles (“news”) by cable, Hemingway thought he meant “novels” and that his reports were fiction, and took a swing at him. But they often were fiction. After a day spent observing a distant infantry action though binoculars, he reported that “as you flopped at a close one and heard the fragments sing over you on the rocky, dusty hillside, your mouth was full of dust”.
On his return home, having ignored the big story of the massacre at Guernica, he addressed the League of American Writers in typically chest-thumping style: “It is very dangerous to write the truth in war.” It was as well for him, then, that he didn’t.
More shameful still was his conduct in the matter of José Robles, the Spanish translator and old friend of the novelist John Dos Passos, who was also covering the war. Robles had disappeared – shot without trial by the Russians because he knew things that were inconvenient to them – and Dos Passos was making inquiries. Hemingway and Gellhorn told him to shut up: “People disappear every day.” Dos Passos asked Hemingway what was the point of fighting for civil liberties while simultaneously destroying them, and the fat fraud replied, “Civil liberties s---.”
The stories of Capa and Taro – a number of whose celebrated photographs are used as illustrations – are more edifying, though some of Capa’s pictures from the early stages of the fighting were posed, and Vaill has a horrifying story of his asking some soldiers to pretend to have been shot, only for one of them to be actually shot. Truth is, indeed, the first casualty of war, and life will imitate art. Taro was killed in 1937 when her car was hit by a tank, and she became a martyr to the cause of the Left, while Capa went on to found the Magnum photographic agency.
Surprisingly, it is the censors who emerge as the bravest couple, risking their lives by refusing to do their job, which was to slant the news to suit the Russians. Kulcsar was particularly lucky to survive, as Kim Philby was covering the war as a fascist sympathiser and, having associated with him in Vienna as a communist, she knew the truth about him.
Vaill has marshalled an impressive array of sources. She copes skilfully with a fascinating cast and gives a lucid account of a horribly confusing war. I had not realised, for example, that Stalin supported the republic only to rob it of its gold reserves, and having done so delivered it up to Franco.