The People of Gibraltar
1943 - Journey to Gibraltar - Robert Henry - La Línea


The Rock from La Línea
The people of Algeciras do not particularly like the inhabitants of La Linea, and are condescending about the newer city, which is poorer and without any architectural gems. The main street has a few second-rate shops, for nearly all the male population, and quite a lot of the women, work by day in Gibraltar, leaving early in the morning, and returning late at night. But during the fair the bullfights are amongst the best in Spain, and even the people of Algeciras are obliged to concede this point, however much it may hurt their pride.
Up to the 1950s at any rate, the town of La Linea was known in Algeciras as "La Piojera" - the flea house. The name has fallen into disuse but by contrast the people of Algeciras liked to call themselves "Los Especiales" and still do. 
The slim, dark-moustached, good-looking Captain Gomez had invited, besides myself, the Doña lnocencia, who had taken me to visit Antonio’s farm some time before. We lunched at El Vincentino, over which Manuel Vedolla, a stout and jovial host behind a zinc bar, presides. It is known as the restaurant with only one table, because behind the bar is a small cubby-hole, where there is enough room for four or five people to partake of Manuel’s omelettes, which are superb, his stuffed olives, flavoured with garlic, and his veal and fried potatoes, the whole helped down with a bottle or two of Antonio de la Riva from Jerez. 
This limited accommodation has become the talk of the town, so that the single table must be ordered many days ahead, especially at fiesta time, when the place is crowded for the bullfight. The room was whitewashed, with only a poster opposite the door to give a semblance of decoration. It was half-way along a narrow passage leading from the tavern to a courtyard, at the far end of which was the kitchen where a wizened Spanish woman was generally to be seen bending over her pans. 
The poster was a reproduction in photography of a famous picture by the artist born at La Linea, José Cruz Herrera, showing three matronly Spanish omen with wide skirts, ample bodices, mantillas, Spanish combs, and fans. It was called ‘Mujeres Linenses. The central figure with the pearl necklace was the artist’s wife, and the two others were his sisters.
In the background and to the right, one could see the church and the square. The poster, an advertisement for the fiesta, was a charming piece ef work, and led me to make inquiries about the artist. I was told that he lived in Casablanca, but would doubtless he here for the fair.

Mujeres Linenses by José Cruz Herrera - used on yearly fair posters more than once
‘Did you by any chance,‘ asked Inocencia, ‘notice a man standing up against a pillar at mass this morning wearing an alpaca coat and a green shirt . . . .  That is his brother. I am sure that we shall come up against José Cruz Herrera later in the day” . . . .   
‘Yes, of course,‘ said Captain Gomez. ‘Perhaps you remember that I pointed the mayor out to you as we were leaving church? He is a friend of mine, and he may talk us round, but I warn you to be very careful of what conversation you make with him because he is a leading Falangist and therefore entirely pro-German. You may think it curious that a pro-German should be appointed mayor of a city that depends for its existence on the British in Gibraltar, and where the population is anti-Falangist, but this shows how the Nazi influence strikes right down to the shores of Algeciras Bay.'  
We went round to the city hall after lunch. It is a low building situated in the middle of a perfectly lovely garden guarded at the entrance by an elderly attendant wearing the Falangist insignia of the five arrows on his uniform, and who was lolling on an old kitchen chair in the heat of the sun. He led us across the garden to the main door of the city hall which was opened from within at our approach by a young man. It was cool once we had passed the threshold, and in the hall hung a picture which I guessed immediately to be by José Cruz Herrera.   
It showed a young woman reclining on a couch, while a man crouching beside her was holding up for her benefit a basket of luscious fruit. In the background was the mighty Rock of Gibraltar, against which the artist had painted a rainbow. 

"Ofrenda a La Línea"    (1926 - José Cruz Herrera - with acknowledgements to Ildefonso Herrera Martos)

This allegorical painting has been intepreted as a representation of La Línea as a relining woman. The young man represents “labour”, offering her the fruits of his work. The Rock of Gibraltar is simply part of the scenery and the rainbow is a promise of a better future. In 1981, 17 pictures by Cruz Herrera were stolen from the municipal building in La Línea’s among them the "Ofrenda". Sixteen were recovered but not this one. So far it is still missing and the suspicion is that it was burned. My guess is that whoever destroyed it did so because they thought that the lady represented Gibraltar and the young man is La Línea offering her his labour. 


José Cruz Herrera   (1949 - Self Portrait)
We were shown into the mayor’s office, which was beautifully furnished and where the ‘Mujeres Linenses ’ hung in perfect light, and which I thought even more lovely than I had guessed from the reproduction. The mayor’s desk was a model of tidiness and comfort, with an incongruous American touch, for he had placed a notice beside him which read: ‘Keep it short.’ The inevitable photograph of General Franco hung in the place of honour, and opposite hung that of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Falangist movement, who was killed during the civil war, and who would doubtless have been dictator of Spain had he lived. 

El Generalissimo Francisco Franco - He was in power during the entire time in which I lived in Gibraltar. 


José Antonio Primo de Rivera - He was also more or less responsible for the creation of the Spanish fascist political party with a Guinness Book of Records title as regards length - La Falange Española de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional Sindicalista
His name now haunts one wherever one goes. Outside every church is a cross to his memory, and his enemies say: ‘One would think he was the only man to have been killed in the civil war.’ But they say so in a hushed whisper, not to he overheard by the secret police. 
On our return to the high street we carne across a great crowd outside the Hotel Iberia, where the famous matador, Martial Lalanda, was stepping out of an antiquated taxi-cab filled with his luggage, his hackers, and his attendants. Lalanda was making his farewell appearance in La Liam that evening, and his fans had gathered to welcome him. It was rumoured that he was receiving a purse of fifty thousand pesetas for killing two bulls in the ring, and in normal times he would have driven up the street in regal splendour in an expensive limousine, but petrol is short even for the matadors. 
Captain Gomez declared we must he thirsty, and invited us to drink something cool in a cafe where a white-haired, close-cropped barman was chewing a wooden toothpick behind his zinc counter. Already -the town was filling up, not only with picturesque crowds who had just disembarked from the ships arriving specially from Ceuta and Tangier, but a great stream of people was arriving from the frontier post at the end of the causeway leading from Gibraltar.  
The Gibraltarians came in their thousands, each having changed the legal ten-shilling note at the rhinitis, but it was rumoured that detectives in all sorts of disguises were going to search these visitors to see whether they had any Gibraltar currency upon their persons.

Main plaza in La Línea near the Spanish aduana entrance which can be seen just behind the bus
It was obvious that ten shillings would hardly pay for a seat in the sun at the bullfight, without taking into account the drinks and supper, so that many people would obviously be tempted to patronize the black market, where a pound would fetch sixty pesetas. The Gibraltarians, because of these rumours, were in careful mood, being unwilling to spend a night in jail, but there is no law against borrowing money from a Spanish friend, and from time to time there arrived at the counter some individual who would exchange a sly wink with the barman, who thereupon delved into a large biscuit tin, in which were stacked a great quantity of small rolls of paper, each with a name upon it.  
These rolls contained bank notes to the amount that the Gibraltarians had agreed beforehand to ‘borrow’ - the equivalent in English money being placed at the disposal of the barman in Gibraltar, which funds he would doubtless use in due course to buy tobacco for smuggling across to Spain, where it could be resold at a great profit. 

Spanish Gentleman being searched for contraband at the La Línea aduana
We had watched this side-play with amusement, though in silence, for a few moments. I was about to say something when lnocencia cut us short and changed the subject abruptly by calling my attention to the effectiveness of a huge poster showing a bullfighter doing the butterfly turn, which decorated the wall beside us. She went into a long description about this supreme art of the matador, which surprised me, because I knew that her knowledge of bullfighting was only a trifle more expert than my own. 
 A few moments later I became aware that a man who had been seated at an adjoining table was leaving the bar. When he had passed into the street Inocencia said to me: ‘That man was a German agent, and he was listening. ‘How on earth was I to know?’ ‘To begin with you should be suspicious of everybody, and in this case you might have noticed that he was hiding behind a copy of Adler, which nobody but a German or a pro-German reads.’ I felt the rebuff keenly, for Inocencia was annoyed.  
Doubtless she thought I might have made things awkward, not only for ourselves but for Captain Gomez, whose superiors must necessarily be well inclined to the Nazis. Indeed Spanish officers now enter the presence of their chief of staff cap in hand, clicking their heels together Prussian fashion.  
Captain Gomez, leaning across the table, said to me with a reassuring smile: ‘You will get into the continental habit. Things are never quite what they seem here. 'Do you see that man with the high forehead sitting by himself in the far corner? Until a few days ago he was a wealthy man, but his name was found on a list of Freemasons, the penalty for which is twelve years and one day’s imprisonment. The extra day is tantamount to a further twelve years’ imprisonment without trial.'
The phrase “diez años y un dia” was something of a cliché not just in Spain but in Gibraltar. The punch line, of course, was “y el dia nunca llega”.
'The unfortunate man was faced with dying in jail or using his entire fortune to bribe the authorities. He chose to live, and I think most other men would have done the same thing, but very few former Freemasons are rich enough to save themselves in this way’ Captain Gomez looked at his watch. ‘Come,’ he said, ‘politics are not for you, and if you’ve never been “backstage” in a bullring, I think you would find it interesting. I happen to be known here, and I think they will show us round.’ 
I was thrilled at the idea, for the only knowledge I had of these things was from a coloured film I had seen once in London. I knew that there was a chapel where the matadors, dressed in all their finery, prayed before going into the ring . . .  
There was no carriage to take us to the other end of the town, so we made our way through the crowds. There were a few shops, but they were very poor, and the food shortage was apparent. Some of the stalls in the market had only the hind legs of a rabbit for sale; others had a wing of chicken covered with flies. There was no meat, and very little fruit. Pumpkins were plentiful, but expensive, and men stood in the middle of the narrow market street selling tiny dried fish strung on threads between the prongs of a fork. 
A donkey stood placidly beside a dozen trusses of newly bound hay outside an inn, from the interior of which came the gay sounds of Spanish music from a Pianola. The houses were dazzlingly white, and mostly of two stories, though there was a new block of Flats overlooking the fan ground which looked pleasant. 

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