To the lighthouse

Reham El-Adawi , Thursday 28 Nov 2019

While he was in Alexandria to open the Jaime Gil de Biedma Library, Reham El-Adawi met World Director of Cervantes Institutes Luis Garcia Montero

de Biedma

Responding to a growing demand to learn Spanish in Alexandria (registering a 64 per cent increase in gerenal and a notable peak in specialised courses), Cervantes Institutes World Director Luis Garcia Montero opened the institute library in Alexandria, named after the great Spanish poet Gil de Biedma (13 November 1929 - 8 January 1990), at the end of October. 

The library offers a collection of books, some rare, by Spanish-language writers.

Montero also seized the opportunity to sign an agreement with the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT), an Arab League affiliate based in Alexandria, accrediting it to give the Spanish Diploma DELE as a foreign language exams.

Born in Granada on 4 December, 1958, Montero is a poet, literary critic and professor of Spanish Literature at the University of Granada, where he started as an associate professor in 1981. He received the Premio Adonáis de Poesía in 1982 for El jardín extranjero, and became world director of Cervantes last year. 

“The opening of de Biedma’s library in Alexandria will help with the spread of Spanish language and culture among Egyptians. The Cervantes Institute is a worldwide non-profit organisation created by the Spanish government in 1991. It is the largest organisation in the world responsible for promoting the study and the teaching of Spanish language and culture. It is named after Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), the author of Don Quixote and perhaps the most important figure in the history of Spanish literature.” Cervantes has 87 centres in 44 countries. “Our current projects are the opening of a Cervantes Institute in Dakar, the first ever in West Africa, as well as a branch in Los Angeles, the United States.”

Montero and Albi

Montero commented on the event: “My first visit to Egypt as a poet was in 2014 and as a professor at Granada University, I met many Arabs and Egyptians and realized that the Arab universities are very much concerned with Spanish culture so we desire to reinforce our presence through cooperating with more universities and institutions to spread the DELE diploma as a foreign language, and to increase teacher-training courses.

In 1932, the School of Arabic Studies was founded in Granada under poet Federico Garcia Lorca. Since then, Arab presence has been defended as a crucial part in understanding Spanish history and culture. There are over seven thousand words in Spanish derived from Arabic. The establishment of the Arabic language departments in Granada’s different universities is very important and as a result we are planning to be a meeting point through the Cervantes institutes and Spanish diplomacy.”

As for de Biedma, Montero said, “As a professor in Granada 38 years ago I had the chance to meet de Biedma, who wrote a lot about Alexandria and Egypt. Born in Barcelona to a wealthy family that owned a tobacco company in the Philippines, he is one the most important 20th-century poets and his writing reflects the policy of the Cervantes institutes which defends dialogue between cultures. Because poetry is a human experience, de Biedma moved gradually from romantic poetry to political and onto popular or folk-street poetry after encountering poverty in the colonised countries, which changed him. He even started to revolt against Spain in the 1950s due to the social injustice then.”

De Biedma studied law at the University of Barcelona and his work was strongly influenced by French symbolism, especially Charles Baudelaire, as well as English and American poetry. His lifelong adherence to and assimilation of Anglo-American culture was consolidated by his studies at Oxford in 1953 where he read T.S. Eliot for the first time in English, thus beginning a lifelong fascination with the work of the Anglo-American poet.

He effectively led a double life as a secret homosexual who also worked as a businessman in conservative Barcelona. In 1959, he published Compañeros de viaje, which together with Moralidades (1966), comprise his most socially aware poetry with poems criticising bourgeois hypocrisy, the capitalist system, the repression of the Spanish people by the Franco regime and discrimination against women. In 1965, he published a collection of erotic poems A favor de Venus and in 1968, Poemas póstumos.

He stopped writing poetry ten years before his death, insisting that the character he had invented, the poet Jaime Gil de Biedma, as opposed to the respectable bourgeois businessman of the same name, had nothing left to say, and he refused to go on playing the role of a poet in literary society. He died of AIDS at 61.

Cervantes Institute in Alexandria

Following the official opening of the library, a series of seminars, round table discussions as well as concerts and exhibitions dedicated to the works of de Biedma started on 3 November and will continue until June 2020 at Cervantes Institute’s Cairo and Alexandria branches. It features such figures as actress, director and writer Ines Garcia Albi, the niece of de Biedma, and Styliani Vousta, Professor of Spanish language and its literature at Rhodes University, Greece.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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