In his home in Valladolid, the small room in which Miguel Delibes died 10 years ago remains the same as that day: the monastic bed on one side and at the head, as if he were an evangelist, Walt Whitman with his beard full of butterflies in an engraving by Gregorio Prieto; on the bedside table, an alarm clock stopped at ten past three, a metal cross, a weathered pocket Gospel, books by Miguel Hernández, Francisco Umbral and Carmen Laforet and an old Sanyo tape recorder. In the next room – the office – there is only the table where he wrote and the portrait that García Benito made of his wife, Ángeles de Castro, and which gave the title to the book that the writer dedicated to him years after his premature death: Lady in red on gray background. Now they are, with the medal of the 1993 Cervantes Prize, in the National Library of Madrid, which on September 17 will open an exhibition for the author’s centenary, which is one month later.
In the cabinet that houses the mini-system, there is a CD with the showcase cover: music for ballet by Léo Delibes. “He uncle Léo ”, says ironically in italics Elisa, fourth of the seven children of the novelist and president of the foundation that bears her name. “My father was excited that we were family, albeit distant. Little thing. Now there are more Delibes in Spain than in France ”. A retired literature teacher, she has lived upstairs – a spiral staircase connects the two lobbies – since her father bought this house in 1977. Whether it’s a visit from the King or a neighbor, she tells it all with herself detached and talkative tone. She looks like the least fetishist foundation president in the world. “Once my house was flooded and this part got stuck,” she recalls pointing to the original furniture and the first editions. “60 pages of the manuscript of The heretic passed through water ”.
Dedicated “to Valladolid, my city”, The heretic is the last of the 20 novels of Delibes. It was a boom since it was published in 1998 —100,000 copies sold in a week—, it won the National Narrative Prize the following year and has its own route through the streets where the adventures of its protagonist, Cipriano Salcedo, a merchant, take place. that clandestinely embraces Lutheranism in the midst of the Counter-Reformation. Under the summer heat of the masks, Mara Castaño, guide of that route, indicates the plaques that mark the landmarks of the story in palaces and churches, set in the years when Valladolid was the seat of the Spanish Court and center of universal power: Felipe II and Felipe IV were born there. “Every so often I reread fragments of the book to verify that I am not inventing them or adding them from my harvest,” explains Castaño, who warns of the spoilers and he points out the brushstrokes of fiction that Delibes introduced between real characters and places. Sometimes, however, they end up getting confused: as a result of the novel’s success, the section of Angustias Street where the writer located the protagonist’s house was renamed with the name he uses: Corredera de San Pablo.
Despite the theological disputes and autos-da-fé that took place in the Plaza Mayor in 1559 have a leading role in its pages, The heretic it is not at all a rare bird in Delibes’s work. Under the guise of a historical novel in times of proto-capitalism, it takes up many of its concerns: concern for the countryside, social justice and childhood. Nothing new for a reader of The way.
What may be novel to any unaware reader are the landscapes that inspired the novel, which in 1950 earned him an advance of 3,000 pesetas and, later, hundreds of devoted readers (adults and schoolchildren). The “little village” in which he set the “little story” of Daniel el Mochuelo – an 11-year-old boy on the eve of leaving for the city to forge a future of “progress” – is not even in the Castilla that is so closely related with its author. It is in Cantabria, in a perpetually green place surrounded by mountains in the Besaya valley: Molledo. Frédéric Delibes Roux, nephew of the composer Léo Delibes and an expert in wooden structures, settled there in 1860. Hired to work on the route of the railroad between the Cantabrian and the Meseta, he ended up getting married in the town to settle later in Valladolid. On October 17, 1920, his grandson Miguel was born in that city, who spent summers in Molledo and set his third novel there: The way.
Carmen Múgica, a retired literature professor, was also born in the town. At the Puente del Rey, she waits for the noisy 11 o’clock train to exit the tunnel to resume her story about the Molledo recreated – and renamed – by Delibes: the Poza del Inglés, the Quino el Manco tavern, the Indiano farm. It also provides context to the graffiti that refuses to disappear on the parapet of another bridge, the one on the detour to Santian: “Unidaz [sic] worker 1997 ”. That year the main industry in the area was declared bankrupt: Hilatura de Portolín, which since 1902 has been manufacturing “the best linen in Europe, due to the quality of the water”, but it did not resist Chinese competition. Today its inhabitants —1,504 in the seven towns of the municipality according to the INE; a third of them in Molledo itself — have their eyes and their hands on Reinosa, Los Corrales de Buelna or Torrelavega.
Múgica carries in her bag a highly worked copy of The way and from time to time he recites a fragment: the ideal caption for what the group of teachers and fans who follow his explanations are contemplating at that moment. On the way, she points to the former home of the Delibes and greets each neighbor, the former mayor and the current one, Verónica Mantecón, who joins the group. She was a student of the guide and remembers her teacher’s enthusiasm when explaining the book. The coronavirus, she says, altered her plans for the writer’s centenary, but she hopes to resume them in 2021: “Delibes will always be in Mol Standing.”
The pandemic has also disrupted the plans of the novelist’s family. Every summer, since he died, they came to Molledo by bicycle from Sedano, in Burgos. One hundred kilometers with not bucolic slopes to remember the journey that, conversely, his father made on a bicycle when he was his mother’s boyfriend and she spent the summer in the town of Burgos. There they had a house built overlooking the valley to which they added a wooden cabin where the writer isolated himself to work. Like the apartment in Valladolid, it is preserved as the last day its owner occupied it: the round wooden table, the bookcase that separates the work area and the minimal bedroom, its characteristic caps hanging from the ceiling.
In 1972 they bought the neighboring stone house on the road. Delibes describes his wife’s worship of that place in Lady in red… “It was from Icona [el antiguo Instituto para la Conservación de la Naturaleza] and, since it was not possible to pay with money, they bought a meadow and exchanged it for the house. My mother couldn’t enjoy it: she died in ’74, ”says Juan, Delibes and De Castro’s fifth son and a biologist, like three of his brothers. He has coincided in Sedano with his sister Elisa, who arrived from Valladolid to escape the heat. On the stone bench on the façade, a gathering of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren is improvised that jumps from the plague of voles to the Vuelta a Burgos and from the correspondence between Delibes and Francisco Umbral -Destino will publish it in 2021- to the disappearance of the trout of the Rudrón River “due to the pollution and heating of the water.”
The best way to Cortiguera is also debated, 11 kilometers away, the town of The disputed vote of Señor Cayo. The one that runs through the Ebro canyon wins, crosses Pesquera and ends at an unpaved track that leads to a place fused with vegetation, with six registered inhabitants. In the rural house they point out the house of Cayo Fernández: “The one with a white hand on the lintel.” It has been occupied by Ignacio García for six years, who has been in the town “dedicated to agriculture” for two decades and, laconically, answers “with me” when asked if he lives alone.
“We all knew Mr. Cayo,” says Elisa. “I would go to Sedano and talk to my father. Now they say that he was a visionary of empty Spain, what is it! Not that she warned: it’s that in 1978, when the book came out, it was already empty. Two couples lived in Cortiguera and they did not speak to each other ”. What she did warn, her brother Juan, is the environmental disaster. The two attended, on May 25, 1975, their father’s admission to the RAE. “She did not want to do a literary discourse and spoke of the dangers of uncontrolled progress. The academics were not amused ”. “Well he was nervous and it was a bit long. My mother had died five months earlier ”, Elisa clarifies. “But, it’s true, they didn’t understand it.” That day Delibes vindicated the young people who demanded “a purer world”. Perhaps because it was, he said, “the first generation with DDT in their blood and strontium 90 in their bones.” If progress, he insisted, it must translate into “an increase in violence and isolation; of autocracy and mistrust; of the injustice and prostitution of Nature; […] of the exploitation of man by man and the exaltation of money, I would shout right now, with the protagonist of a well-known American song: ‘Stop the Earth, I want to get off! ”. He lived another 35 years and wrote eight more novels. At his death he was fired in Valladolid by a crowd.