Voyage of Dreams / Voyage of Nightmares

Carmen Lagos and Emilio Signes Visit Spain, 1936

Rev. 2008-08-12

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Carmen & Emilio in Barcelona

30 june 1936 – 15 august 1936


Letters from Carmen LAGOS BESTEIRO to her parents
Spain and France, Summer 1936

“Today we had so much fun!”  - Carmen LAGOS BESTEIRO, Spain, 18 July 1936

 Transcribed (in the original Spanish) with comments by Emil Signes, 1998
Translated into English by Emil Signes, 2005

Preface.  My father, Emilio SIGNES MONFORT, was born in Gata de Gorgos (Alicante) in 1903, and emigrated to the USA in 1920.  My mother, Carmen LAGOS BESTEIRO, was born in Havana  in 1910 of Spanish parents - Antonio LAGOS TOLEDO and Josefa BESTEIRO GRACCIANI - and the family emigrated to the US from Cuba in 1912. My parents were married on 26 December 1934 in the US.  On the evening of 30 June 1936 they boarded the S.S. Bremen and the next morning headed to Spain for a six-week visit. He, a citizen of Spain, hadn't been in Spain since his departure in 1920; she, citizen of the US, had never been there.

 Carmen & Emilio wedding
Carmen and Emilio's Wedding, 26 December 1934

First they were going to visit Emilio's family in Gata; then they were going to visit Madrid and meet some of Carmen's relatives for the first time.  Unfortunately we don't know which relatives they were going to see nor exactly which of them lived in Madrid. We know that they were going to visit Emilio and Jorge BESTEIRO GRACCIANI, brothers of my grandmother, the former in Madrid and the latter in Santa Olalla, Toledo.  Among the LAGOS that they were going to visit we know at least that one of them was Adolfo LAGOS MUÑOZ, Carmen's granduncle, and Paco NÚÑEZ MORENO and his wife Cristina LAGOS LLORENTE, both cousins of my grandfather.  They all lived in Madrid.

Among the relatives in Madrid were more grandchildren and great-grandchildren of my great-great-grandfather Salvador LAGOS ZAPATA (who would have been paternal 1st cousins once removed or 2nd cousins of Carmen, respectively).  Among the maternal relatives were granduncle and grandaunt Julián and Carmen BESTEIRO FERNÁNDEZ, and Beatriz LÓPEZ-OCAÑA BESTEIRO, first cousin and good friend of my grandmother, and her daughter Beatriz LÓPEZ-OCAÑA LÓPEZ-OCAÑA, my mother's second cousin.

There were also relatives of my grandfather in his hometown of Periana, Málaga, but I don't know if they were planning to travel there.

The following is my transcription of letters written by my mother to her parents, sometimes with a brief comment by my father, from their arrival in France on the German ship Bremen on the 6th of July until they arrived in Paris on the 6th of August after a dangerous and frightening exit from a Spain in a state of full Civil War.

They never got to Madrid, nor would they be able to return to Spain until July 1965, following my wedding in Germany.

I hope that this will be of interest not only for familial matters, but also for being a personal perspective on the first few days of the Spanish Civil War in a small Valencian town, and later Valencia.  How ironic that the first thing my mother wrote on July 18, the first day of the War, was "Today we had so much fun!"

Text in brackets indicates my comments.


It's hard to believe that we had such a wonderful crossing.  We didn't miss one single meal, not one evening of dancing, not one moment of fun.  May God be willing for our return to be as joyful.   -- Cherbourg, July 6, 1936

Here there are very curious customs:- When you pass someone on the street, they say "Adios." There are some that, instead of "Adios," say "Salud," and Papá [Emilio's father] says that they are the communists.  -- Gata de Gorgos, June 17, 1936 

Today we had so much fun!  -- Gata de Gorgos, July 18, 1936

Don't worry about us, because here everything is as calm as a millpond.  -- Gata de Gorgos, July 21, 1936

Speaking of the Holy Ghost, Spain is in need of His blessing!  Yesterday in Gata they wanted to burn the church, but in the end they decided to leave the church so that they could use it themselves, but to burn all the saints.  I think that very early they took out all the religious images and set them on fire - WITH THE CONSENT OF THE AUTHORITIES.  I don't know how they can have hearts so hard. More than half of Gata spent the day crying.  -- Javea, July 25, 1936

I guess Spain is well on its way to the RED . . . On the church there is a sign “For Rent” -- Javea, July 26, 1936

We're out of Spain! - Toulouse, August 2, 1936

We didn't say goodbye to anyone . . . , but I think everyone knew that it was our farewell, except for Papá, and he almost knew it but he didn't want it to be.  The poor man cried and said, "Tell the consul that in Gata you are fine, and then send a cable to your Papá and Mamá and come back.  Carmencita has to eat a lot of ripe grapes and I want her to see ["escaldar la pasa" - part of a very old process in the making of raisins].  You'll be back, won't you?"  It was sad.

The train arrived in Valencia at 9 in the morning and we found a Valencia that was completely paralyzed - the shops all closed, taxis, buses, trolleys - none of them were working.

We arrived at the government offices and they told us that in order to leave Valencia we would need to get a safe-conduct pass, but no one thought they would let Emilio leave.

The station was filled with indescribable excitement.  Those that had gathered in front of the train shouted with enthusiasm.     “¡Long Live the Republic!” shouted one, and together, making a deafening roar, everyone answered  “¡Viva!”
“¡Long Live the Communist Party!”
“¡Long Live the Anarchist Federation!"
“¡Death to Fascism!”                                           

¡It really angered me that I had been in Spain and hadn't got to see a single one of our uncles, aunts or cousins! - Paris, August 3, 1936

Written on board the “Bremen” of the company Norddeutscher Lloyd
D. “Bremen” 6 July [1936]
6 menos 10
1     “      10 (de N.Y.)

Norddeutscher Lloyd

Dearest Parents,

             We are reaching the end of a perfect crossing.  We have just finished breakfast (and a big one) and we are gathered in the social parlor so they can give us our landing cards.

      Since last night there's been a terrible fog.  I think we were stopped for quite a while because they didn't dare keep going.

      It's hard to believe that we had such a wonderful crossing.  We didn't miss one single meal, not one evening of dancing, not one moment of fun.  May God be willing for our return to be as joyful.  Well, they're coming to get us off, so, ADIOS.

      A thousand kisses and hugs from your children

                              Carmita and Emilio

On the Bremen
 S.S. Bremen: 1.Passenger List.  2.  On board


Hotel Peninsular

9 July 1936
Dearest Dad and Mother: -

It's 8:15 AM and I've already heard mass in 2 different churches and I'm back and writing you in the hotel.  We already have much to tell you.

The Bremen arrived at Cherbourg on the 6th at 6 AM; we got up at 5, and 5:30 we had breakfast; but though we were very close to the port, the Bremen couldn't get all the way to the dock because of a huge fog.  For that reason they took us in a little boat. 

The new dock at Cherbourg is truly a jewel; everything is extremely clean and very well organized.  The customs agents behaved very well; they hardly looked at anything.

Around 11:30 we took the train for Paris, and then we began to see how tiring it is to travel by train. We were on the train for five and a half hours - with a great desire to get to the end! But in the end this leg was short compared to the one we had to make on the next day.  We got to Paris around 6 and there we found a representative of "North German Lloyd"  who very courteously offered us his services.  When we told him we thought we'd like to spend the night in Paris he said that he himself would take us to a hotel.  We asked him if it would be possible to change the ticket we had so that instead of taking us to Vigo we could go to Barcelona and he immediately said yes, that he would take care of changing the ticket for us and check the  luggage there.  We then got into a bus from North German Lloyd and they took us to the Hotel Fournet.  The hotel wasn't pretty at all but it was very clean and we got a room with a bath.  Needless to say we immediately got into the bath to get rid of the coal dust which covered us from head to feet; and from bath to bed.

 Hotel Fournet - Paris
Hotel Fournet, Paris, where Carmen and Emilio stayed before and after their stay in Spain

[Written in the margin]:  Mommy, please do me the favor of saving me these letters, because I don't have the time to write any other impressions of the trip, and I'd like to write them later on.

In the morning we had breakfast in the same hotel and went for just a short walk, as we had arranged to go on a bus excursion at 10:30.  At 10:15 a taxi came to get us at the hotel and from there they took us to the office of the excursion company.  There we got on a bus and began an excursion that will always remain engraved in my mind.  It is impossible to describe the emotion on seeing so many things in person that I had only seen in the movies.   At times I thought, "No, I'm not really here.  Soon the alarm clock will ring and I'll roll over saying, 'Ay, Emilio - what a dream I've had!'"  But no, thanks be to God, it wasn't a dream.  The guide on the bus spoke I don't know how many languages perfectly.

 Carmen on the Champs Elysees
Carmen on the Champs Elysees

Everyone had told us that we would be greatly disillusioned when we saw Paris, and maybe because of that it was just the opposite.  They took us by the "Champs Elysees" and many other parts of the city, but the most impressive were the stops that we made.  The first was the church of the Madeleine.  The first impression one has on seeing this building is "This looks like anything but a church!"  and later we found out there was a reason for that.  It seems that Napoleon ordered the building constructed as a museum to commemorate his glorious battles: it is surrounded by enormous columns, and on the outside, in the walls, there are large niches where he was thinking of putting statues of his most valiant and renowned generals.  But as always, man proposes and God disposes and when Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo, the government decided to make a church out of the building.  The places Napoleon had destined for his generals now are occupied by celestial generals: angels and saints.

The interior of the church is very simple and that alone is greatly impressive.  The main altar represents Mary Magdalene carried to heaven by three beautiful angels.  It was when the guide was explaining some details of this altar that we heard a very refined voice ask in French "Can you please explain that in Spanish?"

We looked, and we saw that the voice belonged to a middle-aged lady dressed in that simple elegance that is the sign of true aristocracy, and as we left the church we spoke to her.

"Are you Spanish?" we asked.

"Yes,"  she answered us with eyes illuminated by having encountered compatriots in a foreign land, "are you as well?"

From then on we were inseparable during the rest of the excursion.  She told us that she was called "Candida del Fresno,"  that she is Asturian but when she is not traveling (which she does quite frequently), she lives either in Madrid or in Alicante.  She has been a week in Paris, but on Friday she left to take a trip through Germany, Switzerland, and Scandinavia.  She gave us her address in Madrid, Calle Montesquinza No. 6, and her telephone number, but we won't be able to see her, because she won't be back until October.  She is a very nice woman and must be well situated, not only because she travels, but also because she doesn't like either the socialists or any other parties of the left.  At the end of the excursion she said goodbye very affectionately; she gave me a kiss and promised to come see us when she comes to New York.

Well, I was telling you what we saw in Paris: - The Place de l"Etoile with its Arc de Triomphe, below which the Unknown Soldier was buried, also tugs at one's heart.  But the thing that impressed me the most, the thing which I will never forget is Napoleon's tomb.  It's a situation completely opposite to that of the Madeleine.  This building was built as a church, so it could become the Royal Chapel, and once it was built, they excavated the center and there they made Napoleon's tomb. His remains rest in a huge granite sarcophagus, surrounded by statues that represent his various victories, and flags that he used in his battles, faded by time.  The sarcophagus is sunk into the floor, and next to the tomb are engraved in marble these words of Napoleon: "I want my ashes to rest next to the river Seine, in the center of the French nation which I have loved so much."  In the vicinity are tombs of Napoleon's relatives and generals; among those that of "Pepe Botella" [the Spaniards' nickname for Joseph Bonaparte] and of Jerome Napoleon.  The tomb of this last-named person has a sad story.  Next to his sarcophagus is a very tiny sarcophagus.  In it is the heart of his wife, Catherine of Württemberg.  They say that she loved her husband very much but knew that when she died she would be buried in the pantheon of her own family, so she asked that when she died at least her heart be buried next to her husband.

Well I'm out of paper and I could still write "ad infinitum."

At 8 in the evening the agent from the steamship company came to find us at the hotel and took us in a taxi to the train station.  There we took a train at 10:05 - and - regarding the trip, the less I write the better.  How tiring!  We arrived at Port Bou at 1:30 (French time, in Spain, as they don't change the clock, 12:30).  There they reviewed our passports, checked our luggage very courteously and we left customs without having to pay a penny.  The train for Barcelona left at 2:40, so we had a very good and abundant meal in the station restaurant.  We left at 2:40 and arrived in Barcelona at 6:10.  You can't say these Catalans aren't good businessmen!  In the station there were representatives of the Hotel Roma and the Hotel Comercio, and both wanted to take us to their respective hotels, but we told them that we already had a hotel, and we headed to the travel agent of Marsans, which is the company that represents American Express and he recommended the Hotel España as a good but not too expensive hotel.  When we arrived they didn't have a room with a bath (the steamship Buenos Aires had arrived and therefore there were many tourists here), but they recommended the Hotel Peninsular, which they said was of the same category.  So here we are, on calle San Pablo. . . a street that appears part of some oriental country - because of its narrowness.  We have a balcony which stretches from floor to ceiling and it has green shutters.  The curtain is beautiful, made of Richelieu lace and mesh, with a very pretty fringe.  Our room is as large as the living room and dining room of your house.  Imagine, it has a gilded bed that shines like the sun, with a nightstand on each side; next to the window, a table in case you would like to eat in the room, and two chairs, one on each side, and in addition a sofa, 3 armchairs and an armoire,  and despite so much furniture there is still room to dance (and I'm not exaggerating).  The bathroom is also very beautiful.  The entrance to the hotel isn't pretty at all, but after entering, one is amazed that there can be that much beauty within such an ugly facade.  The entire interior is bathed in light which enters through the roof of the building, which is all glass.  In the center is a lounge, which if  it were in the open one would call a patio or garden, and when looking up, you see corridors surrounded by white iron railings - these are all corridors built around the lounge.  When you come to Barcelona you have to stop here, in room 44.

 Emil & Carmen in Barcelona
Carmen and Emilio in Barcelona, 9 July

I almost forgot the most important news! Last night we called Pepe, Emilio's brother, at the barracks of the Guardia Civil.  He was so surprised!  He says that Pepet was there, and when he called him to the telephone he said "This is Uncle Emilio," but he laughed thinking that it really wasn't so.

Pepe, Trini, Julián and Pepet en 1934

This afternoon we leave for Valencia.  We think we'll spend the night there.  (We leave here at 3 in the afternoon and we arrive at 11 at night.) Tomorrow we'll go to Gata.

I went to 2 churches this morning,, to San Agustín and Belén.  My God, what churches!

Well, Emilio would like to say a few words, so a thousand hugs for everyone from your Carmita.

[Emilio's writing]: We're getting closer to Gata.  Last night we were speaking with my brother Pepe.  Needless to say we are thinking of you very much.  Your son Emilio.


Hotel Victoria

10 July 1936

Dearest Dad and Mother:

We arrived last night and this afternoon we left for Gata, so we only have time to send you a lot of affection.

Your children,

Carmita and Emilio

 Hotel Victoria Bill
Bill from the Hotel Victoria, Valencia


11 July 1936

Dearest Dad, Mom, Manny, Vicky, Dee, Charlie, Jo, Lobina, Champy and Valencia,
[Lobina = the family dog (German shepherd); Champy = the family cat, Valencia = the Signes car.]

We have arrived in Gata! The night before last we arrived in Valencia around 11 at night.  We went to the Hotel Victoria on the recommendation of a lady who was with us on the train, but we regretted it, because it was an extremely expensive hotel. We spent the night there, and the next day we went out into the city.  After we had walked around a while, we went to the station to find out what time the trains left for Denia, and there we met an very entertaining gentleman.  We went to the office to which we had been directed, and there we saw a heavy man, half bald, with a wide mustache.  He had his jacket on, but his collar off.  We went to him and the first thing he said to us, speaking very fast and expressively, was "Please excuse the fact that I'm like this, but this heat is brutal, there should be a law prohibiting work in the summer.  In the winter work is a delight, a protection against the cold, but now!"

After that, when he was speaking of the street where a certain hotel in Denia was located, he said: "It is in the street of the Marquis ------; well actually, that's what they used to call it; now they'll call it the street of the President of the Republic or somebody or other, . . . but that's that.  At any rate you can pass the night there, with permission of the mosquitoes.

A little later he offered Emilio a cigarette, and when Emilio told him that he didn't smoke, he answered him "Well, that's your loss.  Vices are a delight; I'm sorry for the ones I don't have." Later, when we told him that we found Valencia a pretty city, he answered "It's all right.  If one can't live in the best city in the world, it's all right."

"And in your opinion, what is the best city in the world?" we asked him.

"Come on!" he answered, "do you have to ask that?  What city can it be, besides Madrid!  Madrid has the characteristic that you can have a good time there even without money!"

But I really didn't think I was going to dedicate this letter to a gentleman whose name we don't even know.

Yesterday we left Valencia at 6:40 and arrived in Denia around 9:30.  We were a bit worried because we didn't know what arrangements we could make to reach Gata, but we were lucky, because a gentleman on the train had a taxi awaiting him and he arranged for us to be brought here.  We arrived around 10:30.  It is impossible to describe the happiness that we brought to this house.  Emilio's father and mother immediately asked about you and we gave them your regards, as you sent them.  After greeting the entire family and chatting awhile, we went to bed and didn't get up until 11 in the morning.  We had breakfast, and we went to a little house outside the town called "El Pou de Pedreguer."

 Pou de Pedreguer in 1964
El Pou de Pedreguer in 1964.  It probably looked about the same in 1936.

Bar Pou in 2007
This is the same building, now "Bar al Pou", in 2007
Antonio (son of Emilio's brother Antonio),
2nd child from the left in the 1964 picture,
is the propietor (above right)

There we passed a good deal of time beneath a very high fig tree, with the little son of Anita, Pepet.  He is so nice!  Antonio brought your letters here, and when I mentioned that there was also a letter from Piti, Pepet said, "I know, she is the one on the end of the photograph."  We finally figured out that he has memorized all your names and where you are on the photograph.

 Carmen & Emilio Wedding Party
Carmen and Emilio's wedding photograph memorized by Pepet, the son of Anita:
Carlos, Manuel & Antonio Lagos, Emilio y Carmen, Pepita Besteiro, Victorina, Dolores and Jo [Piti] Lagos

Well, I'm going to finish because it's 7:50 and at 8 the last mail leaves.

Believe it or not, but we already feel like returning to see you.  Receive a thousand kisses and hugs from your children who at all times are thinking of you.

Carmita and Emilio

[Emilio's writing]:  We arrived last night. Imagine how happy everyone is.

My parents like the sweaters very much. A great big hug from your son.  Emilio

 Jose Signes García
José Signes García, Emilio's father

 Tio Anita & Tio Antonio
Anita and Antonio, Emilio's siblings

17 July 1936

Dearest Dad, Mother, etc. etc.

Forgive the fact that so many days have passed without writing.  The truth is there's no time for anything.  Besides, in our bedroom there's no electric light, and below there is always family and it is not so easy to write.

We are now passing the time having a lot of fun, although tell you the truth the first two days, both of us wished we could return earlier than planned, because it was a continuous hassle.  At all hours groups of people were coming and putting themselves in front of Emilio: "Che! Don't you know me?" 

 Gata in 1918
Gata de Gorgos c. 1918, near the  house of Emilio's father

To almost all  he said "No, I don't remember you," and then they, partly angry, left with "It's OK! Well we're family." Naturally, after 16 years he recognized very few, and as just about everyone in Gata is, or considers itself, family, well go figure.  Some said to Emilio's mother: "Your son now doesn't pay attention to us because we are poor, he went by our house and didn't say hello."  In the end it was all introductions.  Now everything is more tranquil, and we are more at peace.

Here there are very curious customs:- When you pass someone on the street, they say "Adios." There are some that, instead of "Adios," say "Salud," and Papá says that they are the communists.

Something's about to take place in Gata that made us laugh because it was identical to an incident that Papá [Lagos] recounts took place in Periana.  It seems as though a group of men from another town came and wanted to rent Papá's countryside chalet to have a "night club."  Papá said no, that this year he needed the chalet, and that anyway, he wouldn't rent it for that. Many people in the town refused to rent their houses to do what they wanted to do, but finally, one person gave his house.  Immediately the women got together and went to the town hall, but the mayor, certainly knowing what was going on, had gone.  Then they directed themselves at the person that had offered his house and they told him that if "those women" came into town, they would throw a gallon of gas on the house and set it on fire, and as for the women that didn't perish in the fire, they would chase them out with clubs.  I don't know what will happen but the women said that they should have learned their lesson, because this was attempted many years ago, and they destroyed the place and the women were chased out of town [a pedrada limpia]

Two days ago, Anita, a very nice and pretty cousin, and her husband Paco, a very educated young man, took us to Javea to see Pascual's chalet.  We went in a "carro," a vehicle like those you see in Western movies (a covered wagon).  Their servant came to get us and the two couples went together.  They had put chairs in the wagon, so we went relatively comfortably.  The scenery here is beautiful: there are mountains all around, and at their feet, fields that are a pleasure to see: all sown with vines and olive trees and carob trees, figs, and in some fields, orange trees.  It took us 2 hours to get to Javea which is 10 km. from Gata.  It is a very interesting town.  If they put you there without telling you where you were, you'd think you were in Morocco.  The streets are very narrow, and many are so steep that they've had to make stairs.  While Anita was shopping, Paco took us to the church and explained that it is a church-fortress.  At the top there's a little tower where they would station themselves to look out for approaching Moroccan pirates ships.  When they saw one, they would ring the bells and the entire town would go to the church and from there they would shoot at the enemy.  For its curiosity, we really enjoyed seeing the town of Javea.  Some of the wall that used to encircle the town still exists. - it is a relic of past times.  The beach is precious: the Mediterranean is blue,  not a deep blue like the ocean normally is, but a strong blue that is pleasant to see.  Pascual's chalet is where the best view of the sea is.  It's a very beautiful little house.

Drawing of House in Javea 


Outside it is white with two windows in the front and two in the back, all four with very ornate grates.  There are also doors both front and back.  Here is the plan of the interior:

 Plano del interior



 Family Houses in Javea
Javea c. 1950.  2 is Pascual's chalet; 1 is Anita y Paco's.

When they eat, they open the doors of the back and the front, and a wonderful breeze runs through. In front of the house they have a garden, but there are not yet many flowers.  If you could, I'd appreciate it if you would send some seeds: zinnias, delphiniums, hollyhocks, marigolds, and whatever other flower you have, because here there aren't many flowers.  In our little country house there is a very beautiful jasmine plant, so large that it's become a tree.  They've planted some small ones so that we can take them.  In Gata there is only one person that is crazy about plants and flowers.  The day after our arrival, tía Pascuala brought me a bouquet of flowers, saying "they've given me this for you," but I didn't have any idea who would have sent it to me, but yesterday, Pascual (our brother) told us that Señor Miguel would like us to go to his house for flowers, so we went, and he has a very pretty garden with some very curious plants.  He offered to give me some when I left, among them "claveles reventones [translation = bursting carnations]," which they say can't grow from seed.  But I'm mixing everything up. Let's go back to the beach in Javea.  It has some very pretty chalets, there is one called "Villa Madrid" which belongs to some madrileños who spend the summer there and another very pretty one called "Villa Pepita," but the prettiest one of all for being so exotic and gaudy is that which is to the right of Pascual's (to the left is one identical to his, which is Anita and Paco's).  It seems like something taken from "A Thousand and One Nights," and it is the idea of a half-crazy woman who lives there and is directing the work which still isn't finished.  The name of the house is "Happy View," but around there they call it "The House of the Mystery,"  because many don't know where Ursula gets the money which she is spending on the construction of the chalet.  It is made of a very shiny stone, cut into small pieces, and of tiles.  It is impossible to describe it, but we will photograph it.  On one wall, with tiles and stones cut into little pieces, there is an African landscape, on the other an automobile under a palm tree - in the end - we'll see if the photo shows the details.  The owner has a tragic and interesting story which we will tell you.  The day we spent on the beach was a lot of fun, we swam, ate, took a siesta, ate some more, and later we returned to Gata where we ate again.

The following day, Paco and Anita took us to Pedreguer to see the town fiesta.  We spent a very enjoyable day, because Paco's family, besides being the richest in the town is also the most educated.  They like me very much because they say I remind them of a sister that died.  We went to the house of the mother, a lady of the type that are very refined and dress in the old fashion, with a ribbon around her neck, and dressed very simply and in black.  From there we went to see Paco and Gloria's sister, and from there to see her tía Pepita.  You would really enjoy knowing them!  She is an older woman but full of energy which she can hardly utilize because the nerve which controls sight is much impaired and because of that she is blind.  It is enjoyable to hear her talk about any subject.  I think she is well loved throughout the town, because, speaking of Doña Pepita, everyone does what she wants.  As one would imagine, she is very much against the current government.  In Pedreguer the municipal government sends the land owners a number of workers, according to the contribution that the land owners pay, and Paco's family has to pay for 54 workers, although they say that many of the workers they send are lazy and don't even know how to tie their alpargatas [canvas rope-soled sandals].  Tía Pepita says:- "Let the poor be undeceived, because they'll never be rich, but we who have a little will end up with nothing." Well, I was going to tell you about the fiesta.  They built a pavilion in the town square where a  quite good orchestra was sitting.  Around the sidewalk they put chairs; we sat down there and saw part of the program. There were races of women, bicycles and mules.  The mule that delayed the most was the winner.  Later they gave the sash and a bouquet of flowers to a woman whom they had chosen "Miss Pedreguer."  "How much prettier is the title "Queen," said tía Pepita, "Miss is a leftover for the cats."  Later there was a dance, although Anita said that as there were so many Communists dancing the "good" women didn't want to dance.  Around 9 we returned to tía Pepita's house and listened to the radio, to the news that came from England.  When we were at Gloria's house, she sent a servant to order "leche merenguada"  [a kind of milk-based soft ice cream with cinnamon-lemon taste]They brought it all from the cafe, they served it, and later their employee returned to take it all away and clean the table.  Around 10 Paco called a taxi and we went home.  So we passed another day.

On the 15th I received a letter from Manny with 1 dollar for us to toast ourselves with a drink.  We thought about going to Denia to buy some finger food and a bottle of liquor, because here in Gata there is no shop of any kind, but we got up around 10, and we found out that the only train on which we could make a round trip left a 7 so we didn't do anything.  It didn't matter, because here they didn't realize it was my saint's day until Anita (the cousin who took us to Javea and Pedreguer) came at night to congratulate me because she had just seen the date on the calendar.  I spent the day thinking of you.  When we got up, Emilio congratulated me and we began to remember how you woke us last year when you all went to bring me the dress and the perfume and breakfast.  I put on the dress and . . . nothing, I spent the day thinking of you. I was a bit unhappy because until today I've only received 3 letters from you: one from Dad, one from Mommy and Jo, and one from Manny, but I know that you will have written, because yesterday I received a letter from Mother in which she didn't mention my saint's day, and which carried the number eight.

18 July 1936

Today won't pass without putting this letter in the mail.  Today we had so much fun!  We returned around one from taking a walk to the countryside chalet and there we found six letters from you, among them that of my saint's day along with your check.  Really, Mommy and Dad, you didn't have to send so much - it's too much - many, many thanks, we will use it well, we'll show you what we got as a present from you.  You must be praying a lot for us, because the way our voyage is turning out we don't have to worry about anything.  It seems that a long time ago Emilio lent his brother Pepe 200 duros [a duro = 5 pesetas and at that time the exchange would have been roughly one duro = one US dollar] and yesterday he came and paid him.  Isn't that a blessing?  He, his wife and their children are very nice.  They gave me a very pretty parasol as a souvenir of Valencia and of them.  Pepe said that he asked for one of silk but that they told him they weren't practical, because the sun would take away all the color and it would disintigrate.  It's dark green, and very strong.

So Charlie is taking good care of the Valencia? We probably won't recognize it.  I wish we had it here! We go everywhere either walking or in a wagon, once in a while in a taxi.

 Lagos Familiy in Emilio's Car

The Lagos family in the "Valencia" - Antonio, Carmen, Manny, Jo, Vicky

Train service is horrible. Did we tell you we bought a first-class "kilométrico" [train ticket with a maximum number of kilometers].  The people that traveled in 3rd class on the ship couldn't be nicer, but My God - on the trains of Spain!  We decided to travel less but better, and above all in better company, so we got one of 4000 kilometers.

 Ticket for 4000 km on Spanish Rail
The little used ticket of 4000 km in first class

We had a lot of fun, but there's not a day that we don't think of you and express our desire to see you soon.  It seems impossible that the time passes so quickly and so slowly at the same time.

We've gone to see I don't know how many of Papá's bancales or pieces of land, I don't think we've seen half of them yet.  Almost all are planted with vines laden with grapes. Almost all are still green, but yesterday Antonio came with a few grapevine leaves in which he'd placed several ripe grapes that he'd found.  In the afternoon, Vicente, the older son of Anita (our sister), also brought me some.  Besides grapevines, Papa has planted some pieces of land with olive trees, almond trees, carob trees, fig trees, lemons and wheat.  I've done many things these days that I've never done before - I went in the wagon holding the reins, I've climbed a carob tree, I've drawn water from a well - in the end, lots of things.

 Pascual, Carmen, Antonio en carro
Pascual, Carmen and Antonio in "carro"

Yesterday Anita took us to see some land of hers that was called "La Huerta" [vegetable garden]. It is very pretty.  They have it planted with orange trees and to irrigate it they have a big engine that raises the water from the well.  She also has a very pretty garden from which she cut me a beautiful bunch of flowers.

Well, I will finally get to your errands and soon I'll get back to writing you.  If we don't do it every day you'll know it's because it's not always easy to do it.

A thousand million thanks for what you shouldn't have sent and receive millions of hugs from your children for whom already the vacation seems long for not being able to see you.

Carmita and Emilio

[Emilio's writing]:  Dearest Dad and Mommy

Although we're very busy we don't stop thinking of you, all the time we're asking ourselves "What are they doing?  Are they talking about us?  Do they miss us?

Tomorrow after mass we're all going to Javea to spend a few days at the shore to swim and fish.

Thursday my brother Pascual gets married, and we'll tell you all about it.

Don't worry about Carmita, she is very well and she likes all this a lot.  She's always busy, and she really likes the Mediterranean Sea.  Tomorrow, God willing, we're going there for 2 or 3 [days], and Wednesday, we're thinking about going to visit Alicante to see everything there.  From here we're thinking of going to Madrid for two or three weeks, and later we'll return and pass some days here until mid-August to fix the luggage again, because we're thinking of spending a few days in Barcelona and Paris before embarking.

With nothing else to tell you, receive many regards from our family and from your son who loves you very much.


3 Photos-Carmen@Pou, Emilio as Guardia, Emilio, Carmen & Anita-prima 
1. Carmen in front of the Pou de Pedreguer; 2. Emilio in Pepe's Civil Guard uniform; 3. Emilio, Carmen and cousin Anita

Tuesday – [21] July 1936

Dearest Dad, Mommy, Manny, Vicky, Dee, Charlie and Jo:

We feel that you are worried about the political happenings in Spain.  Don't worry about us, because here everything is as calm as a millpond.  They say that the government will manage to control the situation, because they think that this coup of the right had been planned for later, but that it was precipitated by the Machadista death of Calvo Sotelo.  [On July 13 Calvo Sotelo was taken from his house by left-wing assassins and executed.  Carmen used the word Machadista to refer to similar actions taken under the Cuban dictator Gerardo Machado.]  I will tell you how we found out about the revolution:- We were seated at home, the two of us, the family of Anita, various cousins and some friends, when the mayor came and said:- "Ladies and gentlemen, kindly return, each of you, to your houses.  In Melilla and Seville a revolution has broken out, so that all meetings are forbidden.  Casinos and movie theatres are closed." We had thought to go for a few days to Pascual's chalet, so we decided to go to mass at 5:30 in order to leave early.  But we couldn't go to mass because in the morning the person that pronounces the edicts announced:-  "By order of the mayor all religious functions are categorically prohibited, and equally movie theatres and casinos will remain closed."

Around eight Antonio, Pepe, Trinidad, Pascual and little Julian left the house in one wagon, and Anita (our sister), Jaime (her husband), and her two sons (Vicente and Pedro), Pepe's son Pepet, a cousin (Teresa), and we, in another.  We met up with Paco, Anita, and her father, tío Bernardo.  We had a lot of fun.  We danced, had dinner, and later, music again.  At 10 in the evening we went with the music to see some friends who have a chalet a little further down the town.  Monday Anita and her family left in the morning, very, very early.  So those that remained were the family of Pepe, Pascual, and we.  We all like this very much.  Our bedroom is one of the ones in front, so at all hours we have a beautiful view.  By day the Mediterranean is precious, so blue, with the Cape San Antonio [Cabo de San Antonio] on one side and Cape Nao [Cabo de la Nao] on the other.  By night the light of the lighthouse of the Cabo de San Antonio is lit up and is reflected in the water.  Later, little by little, pairs of boats leave to fish and their lights form a garland of enormous stars.  Last night, after dinner we went to the Bar Estrella which is three houses from here.  Its very nice.  In the front it has a very wide platform for dancing.  When they want, they can also bring tables outside.  I had almond and tiger-nut horchata. [horchata = an almond and tiger-nut flavored milk]. We danced to the sound of a crank organ.  [?-pianillo de esos de la manivela]

We were thinking of going to Alicante tomorrow and to Valencia for the fiesta which is at the end of this month, but if things go the way they are, we won't leave here, because where one is best off is in the little towns.


Wednesday, 22 July

Yesterday afternoon Antonio brought your cable. We returned immediately and when we arrived (as it takes 3 hours from Javea to here), it was nine.  We went to the telegraph office to send you a cable but they told us that they closed at 7.  We returned this morning and they told us that they would expedite it as quickly as possible, but that there was only one line open so they couldn't guarantee when it would arrive.

We would willingly and gladly head for home, but while this is so mixed up better to be here in the pueblo than passing through big cities; besides surely they won't let us leave.

Yesterday we saw a warship pass very swiftly.  We have seen many ships pass and usually we could hardly tell they were moving, but this one was going at tremendous speed.

Tomorrow Pascual gets married at 3 in the morning.  We'll let you know how it all turns out.

Pray to Saint Jude that he fixes all this, because we want to go to Madrid, and above all, we want to be able to get home on time.

Keep writing.  Since your 6 letters arrived at the same time we haven't had any mail.  All together, we've received 8 letters.

Tell Dee and Charlie that they're the only ones that still haven't written, and see if they can do so quickly.

Receive a thousand kisses and hugs from your children that are anxious to see you,

Carmita and Emilio

 Pepe and Vicente Pedro
Pepe and Vicente, sons of Emilio's sister Anita

Thursday 23 July

Dearest Dad and Mommy:-

This morning at 3 Pascual got married.  It's a strange hour, isn't it?  Well here it's pretty common, because the train leaves at 5.  This is the custom:- the relatives and friends of the groom get together in his house, and from there they go to the bride's house where their relatives and friends have gathered.  Later, they all go in a procession to the church; the bride on the arm of the best man, and the groom with the maid of honor.  We left here at 2:30, went to Rosa's house, and from there to the church.  The ceremony was somewhat different from ours.  During mass, I think when it was time to raise the host, they put candles in the hands of the bride and groom, and during part of the ceremony, they put a cloth on top of Rosa's head, and over Pascual's shoulders.  After the wedding, the fiesta was celebrated in the groom's house.  Mother, Anita and several cousins brought I don't know how many finger foods and pastries for the wedding!  Everything was wonderful.  They set a very, very long table.  In the center there was a vase of flowers and on the table were the pastries and candies, and bottles of liquor, also some little cups for the chocolate and some very pretty paper napkins.  First they served the chocolate, with which we ate the finger foods  which were very good, and later we tasted the liquors.  How Charlie Temple [a family friend] would have liked to be here!  There was a box with several liquors, top-quality cognac, Kummel, creme de menthe, just about every type of liquor imaginable, there was even one called Perfecto Amor [Perfect Love].  Later the married couple went to the shore, because they didn't dare travel much what with the revolution, and we, with the many friends that there were here, continued eating, drinking, and talking until 6 or 7.  Then we went to bed for a little bit.  Everything was very nice. Pascual got a lot of pretty presents, we gave him a lamp for the bedroom.  Everyone liked it a lot.

This afternoon Pepe leaves.  We all are sad about it, because he's very good and very caring, and God only knows in what trouble they're going to put him.  [He was going to rejoin la Guardia Civil, the Civil Guard.]

With regards to the revolution, you without doubt know more than we.  Here the only newspaper printed is a single piece of paper and printed by the government, who says whatever it feels like.  What we want is for all this to end so we can leave. Here no one is very worried, they say that the revolution is a perennial plant that sprouts every 5 or 6 months. If Spain continues like this, I don't think we'll return.  There [in the US] at least one can go where one wants without danger of death.

One of these days we're going to spend a week or two at the beach.

Don't worry about us, because here nothing is happening.  Receive a thousand kisses from your children who every day miss you more.

Carmita and Emilio

Saturday 25 July

Dearest Mommy and Dad:-

Yesterday afternoon Emilio and I came here to Javea, to Pascual's chalet.  Rosa, Pascual, Emilio and I are here.

It's 5:30 AM; it's the first time I've gotten up so early, but there was such a wonderful panorama from the window that I have no other choice but to get up and sit in front of the sea to write you.  I don't know how many times I have already described this place, but it's because it's so beautiful that it's impossible to make a verbal portrait of it.  Now the sun seems to be playing with the clouds.  In this moment it seems to be inside of one ?? and only its rays, which  seem like a pond of light, can be seen.  It looks like the rays that one sees in paintings of the Holy Ghost.

-- re espiritu santo --

Speaking of the Holy Ghost, Spain is in need of His blessing!  Yesterday in Gata they wanted to burn the church, but in the end they decided to leave the church so that they could use it themselves, but to burn all the saints.  I think that very early they took out all the religious images and set them on fire - WITH THE CONSENT OF THE AUTHORITIES.  I don't know how they can have hearts so hard.  There were some precious images, above all a heart of Jesus which was a work of art.  After destroying all the statues, they went to a very picturesque chapel which is at the top of a hill which they call "el Calvario" [Calvary], and from there they took out the Holy Christ which is the patron of Gata, and I think that saying "You are so miraculous, well, make a miracle!" they broke it into pieces and burned the pieces.  More than half of Gata spent the day crying.

 Iglesia de Gata in 1998
Gata's Church in 1998

With regards to the political situation we're completely in the dark.  In Gata the only thing that circulates is an official piece of paper in which one reads that the government is in total control of the situation, nothing comes out of the radio except patriotic discourses, Viva la Republica! and the "Himno de Riego"  [the national anthem of the Republic] but there's a gentleman here that says that in the house of a friend of his they hear news from Seville, and that it says the complete opposite - that Spain is now in possession of the "Liberating Army," as the followers of Fascism call themselves.  What we want is for all this to end so we can go to Madrid.  Today, the feast of Saint James, is when we were going to go to Valencia, to the fair and the bullfights.  But until this is fixed, we will stay either in Gata or here in Javea, because here nothing is happening.

 ABC-July 20-Madrid and Seville editions
Two versions of the newspaper ABC of 20 July
On the left is the Madrid (Republican) version and on the right that of Seville (Franco's Rebel Version)

We still haven't received any more letters from you, we've only received 8 to date.  We really hope more arrive.

Rosa and Pascual send their regards and ask us to tell you that their desire is that you were here enjoying the happiness of the sea.  That you should come another year, because here you have "your house."

Please ask God to help us arrange our departure because we really want to see the Statue of Liberty and all of you.

A thousand kisses to all of you.

Carmita and


Sunday 26 July

Dearest Dad and Mother:-

We remain here in Javea enjoying the delights of the sea which don't worry about human disputes.

[The following paragraph was written in English - my mother said she feared government censorship per the "bando" described below.]  I guess Spain is well on its way to the RED.  Last night they took all the statues out of the church here (the one I  described to you in a previous letter), and took them to the sandy part of the beach and burned them.  We knew as little about the fire as we did about Gata’s, because here, too, it was done at night.  In Gata they published a “bando” last night saying that everyone should refrain from criticizing the government under pain of a jail sentence.  We managed to keep our mouths closed, so that you need not fear for us . . . we’re alright.

Burnt Record of Weddings
A fragment of a document (Index of Marriages) recovered by Carmen and Emilio from the burning of the church in Javea

Today I've written a letter to the American Consul in Valencia asking him to put us under his protection and to see what we can do.  We'll let you know what he says.

Pepe had to return to service on Friday. It's needless to say that we are very worried for him, because God only knows where they'll send him.

This week Paco and Anita came.  I think none of the rest came because they're disturbed by the burning of the statues and they're not in the mood for enjoyment.  [The next sentence was written in English]: On the church there is a sign "For Rent."

Still we have no letters beyond the 8 original ones.  Surely you are also without news from us.

We haven't been able to send cards except a few which we had of Valencia and Barcelona.

Write us via France to see if we receive any letters.

Receive thousands of hugs for everyone from your children that each day want more and more to see you.

Carmita and Emilio


[The following letter was written to her 16-year old sister Josephine, in English. Undated.]

Jo Jo, darling:-

How are you?  We have come to spend a week or two with the newlyweds.  You would love it here!  Our bungalow is right by the ocean, or rather the Mediterranean Sea:- on one end we see Cape San Antonio (I suppose they’ll be changing its name soon).  On the promontory there is a lighthouse.  It looks lovely at night as it turns shattering the darkness with its powerful beam. 

Pray a lot for us, for we can’t hear mass here.  Mommy will tell you all the mean things they have done against our Lord. 

Be as good as usual, tell Charlie to give you a kiss from us, and give yourself lots of love from your biggest sister and brother.

Carmen and Emil


[postcard to her parents from Toulouse, 2 August 1936]

We're out of Spain!  Tonight we will reach Paris, and we'll write from there.  Thousands of hugs from your children,

Carmita and Emilio

 Postcard from Toulouse-front


 Postcard from Toulouse - message


Paris, le 3 Aout, 1936
23, Bd des Batignolles (8e)

Dearest Dad and Mother, Manny, Vicky, Dee, Charlie, Jo, Lobina and little Valencia:-

We got out of Spain!

We say this with two or three strong sighs -- of happiness, to see ourselves away from the danger of staying there.  Our trip was very sudden.  Rosa, Pascual, Emilio and I were at the beach to spend a few days, when Anita, our sister, came with a telegram from the American Consul in Valencia asking how we were? We gave her a piece of paper to say "We are well, please advise what we should do." Anita took it, and the next day, Wednesday, the poor woman had to return to bring us a telegram from tío Emilio telling us that they were well and that you wanted us to telegraph you.  [Unknown thugs took this uncle, Emilio Besteiro, from his house, and shot him and killed him in the middle of the night on the 10th of August. Many people were "executed" in this manner in the early days of the Civil War.]  Anita also told us that the telegraph operator had told her that it was ridiculous to send the Consul a telegram because - how could he advise us?  We told Anita what to put in your cable, and  we told her that the telegraph operator could say what she liked, just send the telegram to the Consul.  So she did that, and the next day, Thursday, Jaime had to bring us a telegram from the Consul telling us that on Friday a warship would leave Valencia to take all American citizens out of Spain that wanted to leave.  We didn't know what to do. It was one in the afternoon and the last train would leave Gata at 4.  Later we thought that we might make the trip in vain, because it said "American citizens," and I would not have left without Emilio.  Finally we decided to go to the maritime office [?-maritinca], which was 2 miles from the chalet, the only way we could, which was on foot, to call the Consul by telephone, but we found out that it was impossible to call Valencia because the telephone lines had been cut.

Telegraph from Consul
Telegram from the Consul
"American Warship will leave from this port to take Americans that want to leave;
they should be in the Consulate tomorrow at 7 AM.
Spaniards will not be allowed to embark

Finally we decided to take a taxi: we went to the chalet, gathered our things, grabbed Jaime and went to Gata, leaving Pascual crying, and saying he'd never see us again.  [The next time they were to meet was 29 years later, in 1965.]  When we were about 15 minutes from Gata, we had a blowout, and 2 hours passed while we waited for it to be fixed (he had no spare).  Finally we started walking.  We reached the house around 4, too late to get the train, but they told us there was one that left Vergel at six.  As quickly as we could - running - we packed what we could.  Emilio had to get permission to leave the town (it's necessary to get a paper stamped by representatives of the Popular Front, i.e. "La Juventud Comunista [Communist Youth],"  "Casa del Pueblo [another communist group, literal translation = "House of the People," "Progreso U.G.T. [General Workers' Union],"  "Alcaldia Constitucional [Constitutional Mayoralty]," "Agrupación Socialista [Socialist Association]," and the "Unión Republicana [Republican Union Party]," which meant that after he'd gone to Town Hall for the paper and stamp of the mayor, he had to go to the premises of the 5 societies, after we had done this, we had to get a car, and the driver of the car had to get a "salvoconducto'" [safe conduct permit].  Well, the fact of the matter is that we arrived in Vergel 3 minutes after the train had left, and as the car didn't have a salvoconducto to go any further, we couldn't go on to the next station.

 Salvoconducto para salir de Gata
Salvoconducto [safe-conduct pass] necessary to go from Gata to Valencia

Imagine our situation. What were we going to do?  The first train left Vergel at 5:50 in the morning, but wouldn't get to Valencia till 9, and the Consul had arranged the meeting at 7.  We returned to Gata and Emilio went searching for a different driver that would take us to Valencia - no one wanted to dare take such a long trip - finally one said that for 75 pesetas he would take us.  The voyage usually takes 2 hours and a half, but because in every town the militia stops everyone, and examines their car, luggage and everything, we decided to leave at 3 in the morning.  So here we are, getting up at a quarter to 3, mamá already was up and had prepared our breakfast.  We had breakfast and later, we waited and waited, 4 came and then 5, and the taxi still hadn't come.  At 5 Emilio went to look for the taxi driver and he said he had fallen asleep!  I don't know if it was that or if, at the last minute he became afraid.  Because this is all very imposing.  At the entrance of each town, there is a barricade, made perhaps of sandbags, or tree trunks, or rocks, and when they see a car 4 or 5 militiamen get on each side, with their rifles pointed and ready to fire.  There are times when you're really afraid, and not just because you see yourself surrounded with loaded firearms, but the knowledge that a lot of the people carrying them have never handled firearms in their lives, and could very easily fire them without wanting to.  We finally decided to go to Vergel to take the train.  We didn't say goodbye to anyone, we said we were going to speak to the Consul, and within a few days we'd be back, but I think everyone knew that it was our farewell, except for Papá, and he almost knew it but he didn't want it to be.  The poor man cried and said, "Tell the consul that in Gata you are fine, and then send a cable to your Papá and Mamá and come back.  Carmencita has to eat a lot of ripe grapes and I want her to see ["escaldar la pasa" - this is part of a very old process in the making of raisins].  You will be back, won't you?"  It was sad.

The train arrived in Valencia in the morning at 9 and there we found a Valencia that was completely paralyzed - the shops all closed, taxis, buses, trolleys - none of them were working.  Fortunately in the station there were representatives of all the foreign consulates, but the American representative had already left.  We went up to a gentleman, and it was our salvation although we'll never know what the help he gave us cost the poor man.  It seems that in Valencia there is a very big company that builds roads and highways.  The head of the company is a Mr. Warren of Boston.  Well, this gentleman with whom we spoke was en employee of this company and he said that Mr. Warren had put all his employees at the disposition of any foreigner that needed help.  There are times when one is proud to be an American!  This gentleman was Spanish, born in Cuba and spoke both English and Spanish perfectly; I believe his last name was Casina.  [Emilito's note - she wrote both Casina and Cansina - I have transcribed the name, in what follows, as she wrote it.]  He began by accompanying us to the American Consulate, and there, as I had expected, the Consul very courteously said that they couldn't take Emilio; if he were another nationality, yes, but being Spanish it would be in violation of international law to take him. I thanked him, and I told him that in that case I wouldn't go to Marseilles in the warship.  Señor Casina told us that he thought they wouldn't let Emilio leave the country, but that he would take us to the "Civil Government," but first we went to the station to put our luggage in consignment, and right there our guide suggested that we have a cup of coffee and something more, because later perhaps there wouldn't be any food.  We ate and drank and headed to "Gobernacion [a government ministry]," with these words of Señor Cansina, "Don't let yourself get tired, señores, because we've got a long way to go."  We went walking, walking and chatting in English, but what a different Valencia from the one he had seen on our previous visit! The cars, which the government had seized to combat the revolution, had flags that were either the tricolor, or red, and all had large initials, F.A.I. (Federación Anarquica Ibérica, or Anarchist Federation of Iberia) or U.G.T.  (Unión General de Trabajadores or General Workers Union), or others representing leftist societies.  Few people were to be seen on the streets, only young boys with red shirts, or red ties or bands, and rifles on their shoulder.  We walked among them when one came up to us and said to Señor Casina, "Show me your documentation."  "I don't have any documentation to show you.  I'm accompanying these people to Gobernacion.  You're the first that has stopped me.  My documentation is home." "I don't care if I'm the first or not. I can see that these people are foreigners and they can go where they like, I personally will find them a guide, but I know where you come from, and because of that I insist on seeing your documentation."  Poor Señor Cansina turned to us and said "As you see, I can no longer walk with you.  I'm so sorry.  If you have to spend the night here, come to see me at the Hotel Londres, and I'll recommend you to the guest house where I live, because you'll pay little and live well." We thanked him as well as we could and later two militiamen took him away, and another accompanied us to Gobernación.  We never got to see our friend and good guide again!  We arrived at Gobernacion and they told us that to leave Valencia we would have to get a salvoconducto, but no one thought that they would let Emilio leave.  We got on line, a very long line and we stood there for more than two hours.  We thought that if they didn't let us leave Spain, we would return to Gata.  As I'm telling you, it was a very long line, it seemed that we would never reach the office.  Now and again one of the militia would come by, would "get on line" at the office, get in and come out right away with a salvoconducto for a friend.  A poor old peasant who was in front of us said, "They told us that we would all be equal, but now it seems that the same thing is happening as before, whoever has godparents gets baptized.  The only difference is now other people have them.  But there are always some of us that don't get baptized."   When we got to the office they said, yes, that having a passport they would let him leave, but before they would give us the salvoconducto the passport had to be stamped by another department, and we had to get the signature of the governor.  With a lot of joy and some fear in case they were wrong, we went down to the Passport department, and in fact, the two of us were allowed to leave!  "You are lucky you already have a passport, because now we can't make any new ones," they told us.  Once the passport was signed and sealed,  we went up for the salvoconducto. Fortunately we didn't have to go from society to society. They only put one stamp, from the "Frente Popular [Popular Front]" authorizing us to go to France.

  Salvoconducto para salir a Francia
Salvoconducto to leave for France

We left with the intention of going to the Hotel Londres to see what had happened to our guide, but, the truth, we were afraid.  Each time there were fewer people on the streets; on the other hand cars were going everywhere.  In several places they were raising barriers with sandbags, in fact it looked like Valencia was preparing for an invasion.  We let Fear triumph over Gratitude, and went only to the French Consulate to get a visa for our passports, which they didn't do because the Consul said that in this abnormal situation it wouldn't be necessary.  We went to the station where they told us that the first train to Barcelona left at 10:10 PM. It was only about 6, but we decided that the place were we were best off was at the station. We went to the small restaurant there, ordered the only thing they had - sandwiches - and waited patiently for the train to arrive.  When the hour for our departure was approaching, I saw the American Consul who was waiting for someone, and, as I had seen subjects of other countries wearing bracelets with their country's colors, I asked him if there were any with any American insignia.  He told me no then asked me what I was thinking of doing.  When I told him that we were thinking of going from Barcelona to Cerbère, he said emphatically, “Well, my dear lady, you do so at your own risk.  It is far better that you let us take you to Marseilles tomorrow.”  [Many years later Carmen told her children that the Consul also said to her "We can't do anything for your husband.  Furthermore, if anything should happen to him, we won't even be responsible for his body."] 

I thanked him but I told him that I didn't want to go alone and so we went, he to look for Americans, I to look for Emilio in the restaurant.  It would have been 9:30 when suddenly we heard the sound of many excited voices, and the sound of many feet marching, we stuck out our heads and saw that a regiment of soldiers, followed by very many militiamen, were entering the station.  They were carrying flags, not only that of Spain, but various red ones.  In a short time, we also went to the track and we got into our train; the one on the next track was full of the soldiers and militiamen we had seen. While we were there, another regiment arrived, also of very young men.  Among them there was one with his mother hanging around his neck.  The poor woman was crying her eyes out; at a certain point she had to separate herself from him, and some of the young women that formed part of the crowd that was gathered on the platform cheering on those that were leaving, said to her:- "Don't cry, he's going to serve the fatherland."

Even at night and in the darkness you could see how the eyes of the poor mother shone.  "And - you? - she answered them with grief and contempt, "how many sons do you have serving the fatherland?"  The young women went silent, and the mother kept shrieking to the heavens, but only God could hear her, because the station was filled with indescribable excitement.  Those that had gathered in front of the train shouted with enthusiasm:

“¡Long Live the Republic!” shouted one, and together, making a deafening roar, everyone answered  “¡Viva!”
“¡Long Live the Communist Party!”
“¡Long Live the Anarchist Federation!"
“¡Death to Fascism!”                                           

Poster for CNT-FAI 
Poster celebrating the CNT and FAI (anarchist organizations) fighting the Fascist revolution

Our train left to the sound of these shouts; we kept on looking at the train next to us - I don't know how many cars of young boys, some with fear badly hidden; others with the appearance of boys that don't know fear, and others, who went with the quixotic eyes of one that goes in defense of an ideal knowing that it can cost his life.  We couldn't count all the cannons which accompanied them - we got as far as 18. We asked where the train was heading, but no one knew.  The next day we read in the paper that at that time a train left for Guadarrama.  God only knows how many of those youngsters will return to see the sun of Valencia!

At 8:33 in the morning, 18 minutes late, we arrived in Barcelona - at 8:40 the train left for Cerbère - with a speed that seems impossible we got out the ticket and got into another train.  We arrived at Port Bou around one, we had to take everything out and we were subject to an extremely intense inspection.  They looked at every little thing.  When they started looking at a basket where she was bringing food, one woman exclaimed "My God, even the food!"  To which one of the carabineros [soldiers armed with rifles] answered, " If you only knew - yesterday we found 16,000 pesetas hidden in a roast chicken."  When they had finished inspecting the luggage, they put us in a room where they inspected us. Once they were convinced that we had no hidden money, they let us leave with what we had with us, even though it was more than the 500 pesetas that the law allowed.  It was after 8 in the afternoon when the officials finished and we could get on the train, "destination France."  We reached Cerbère shortly afterwards.  In customs, they only made us open one suitcase, which they hardly looked at.  The worst was that as they took so long to let us leave Port Bou, the train to Paris had to leave without us so there we were - exhausted and having to wait until the train arrived at 6:45.  We entered the station and ate a wonderful dinner and at 6:45 got on the train. It wasn't a direct train, because that one didn't leave till the next day, so we had to transfer in Narbonne and in Toulouse we had to get off at 1:30 at night and wait for the train to Paris which left at 7:30.  Finally, around 7 in the evening, we arrived in Paris and went directly to the Hotel Fournet - we bathed (which we were in need of), got dressed and went down to dinner, and from the table to bed.  Imagine how on the one hand we were absolutely exhausted, and on the other hand, very contented that we had left the danger which traveling through Spain presented us, but also extraordinarily disappointed for many reasons - first, we had to leave the family in Gata prematurely, when we would have liked to spend much more time with them, secondly, It really angered me that I had been in Spain and hadn't got to see a single one of our uncles, aunts or cousins!  We had other reasons to be unhappy:- we were left with more than half of our very expensive ticket intact, and we  had a  ton of pesetas which almost no one wanted, even as a gift.  When we arrived each peseta was worth 2 francs, and now in the only place that would take them, they wouldn't give us more than 1/2 franc for each peseta.  I don't have to tell you that we didn't change them, because one day or other they'll have to regain their value.  [They never regained their value.  Republican money wasn't worth anything at the end of the war, and many people fell into poverty.]  The good thing is we still have Travelers Cheques!

The next day, that is to say, today, Monday, after having passed an extremely tiring night, we had breakfast at the same hotel and went to the steamship company to see if they could change our passage to return on the 15th on the Bremen, but - no way! - It's full and with many on the waiting list.  Fortunately, there was a compartment on the Columbus which leaves on the 8th.  We took it although there's no doubt that it will be very inferior to that which we had on the Bremen on the way over.  But in the end, what were we to do?  The people at the company behaved like true gentlemen.  It's a pleasure to do business with people as serious as the Germans!

When we had finished our transaction with the North German Lloyd, we went to travel around Paris.  Every time we like it more!  We had lunch at an English restaurant which is above an English bookstore where we bought a guide to Paris.  In the afternoon, while we walked around, we went into 2 churches - la Madeleine and Saint Augustin -  to give thanks to God for how He had protected us.

Paris Book
The guide book Carmen & Emilio bought in Paris

Later we returned to the hotel around 7, we got dressed a went down for dinner.  The hotel is full, because it is housing 60 of the Canadians who came for the celebration in their honor last week.  All the employees are very affectionate: the owner, although he speaks perfect English, when I say something in English, tells me:- “Je ne comprende pas,” because he wants me to perfect my French.  He treats us very well.  Last night, at dinner, he gave me two very large and very pretty dahlias.  I took them up and put them in the vase which is in our room's fireplace.

So here you have us, in bed, finishing this letter which is almost a book of many volumes.

A thousand kisses and hugs to all, and tell Manny we'll be glad to be able to spend his birthday [August 15] with him.

       x x x millions      (I learned this
       o o o millions      from Jo)


       Carmita and Emilio


Ozean-Brief / Ocean Letter / Carta de alta mar / Von D. Columbus

                        10 august 1936

we arrive saturday 15 in the morning on board the columbus
we are very well

carmen emilio

Ozean Brief



The Gata relatives.

My father's parents.  José SIGNES GARCÍA, his father, died in 1941.  While my father was saving money to visit her in 1954, his mother, Josefa MONFORT DIEGO, died in 1953.  He didn't go.

Josefa Monfort & Trini, Rosa & Pascual
Josefa MONFORT DIEGO (1867-1953), Emilio's mother, en 1950. 
The others are, from left to right, Trini QUEROL (Pepe's wife),
and Rosa PEDRÓS y Pascual SIGNES (the two who were married on July 23, 1936)

My father's brothers.  Pepe spent many years in jail, first in a Communist jail, later one of Franco's, as a consequence of an experience in the Civil Guard during the War (a Civil War column, en route from Morella to Teruel, was taken over by some Franco supporters who murdered its leaders and many young volunteers of the left.  Pepe fled.  First the Reds jailed him for being part of that rebel column; later Franco's government jailed him for desertion).  Click here for a brief description of Pepe's travails.  Anita died in 1957.  My fathers got to see his other three siblings, Pepe, Pascual and Antonio, in 1965, after attending my wedding in Germany in 1965.

Anita and Paco.  They are major characters in the story of the Gata visit; I'm pretty sure they are Anita SIGNES BORONAT, my father's first cousin, daughter of my grandfather's brother Bernardo SIGNES GARCÍA, and her husband Francisco SALVADOR GILABERT.  I don't have any more information about them, other than that they had no children.

Anita Signes Boronat

My first cousins.  Vicente and Pepe, sons of my father's sister Anita, have died (Vicente en 1995, Pepe en 1998).  The other two - Pepe and Julian, sons of Pepe, are still alive (1998).  [Note of 2005:  Pepe died in 2000.]

The Madrid relatives.

Relatives of my grandmother: BESTEIRO.  We know that they were going to visit Emilio and Jorge BESTEIRO GRACCIANI, brothers of Carmen's mother.  There is a letter from Emilio Besteiro to my parents on 11 July that says "I don't have to tell you how happy we are that we will be able to hug you in person."  My grandmother wrote to my mother, "How lucky you are that you will be able to hug my two so very dear brothers!"

Had they traveled one month earlier they would have seen them both - and everyone else on their list - and gotten out before July 18th.  Funny how things work. . . .

Emilio BESTEIRO was taken out of his house late on the evening of August 9th (or more likely the wee small hours of the 10th) by a group of unknown people (a common practice in the beginning of the war) and found the next day, at "kilometer 10 of the road to Andalucia,"  assassinated for still-unknown reasons (also a common occurrence).

 Emilio & Jorge Besteiro
1. Emilio BESTEIRO (1886-1936) in 1935.  2. A young Jorge BESTEIRO (1889-1936); perhaps in 1912


 Letter from Emilio Besteiro
This is the letter my parents received from Emilio BESTEIRO
Emilio was shot and killed ("executed") by unknown assailants on August 10, 1936.


 Emilio Besteiro's Death Announcement
A mass card for Emilio (surely after the war):
"vilely assassinated by the red horde"

Jorge BESTEIRO died of cancer on September 2, 1936 in Santa Olalla (Toledo). His family had to flee the town precisely during his burial, as Franco's troops were entering, and they were politically compromised.

My parents probably wanted to visit my mother's granduncle, Julián BESTEIRO FERNÁNDEZ, one of the leaders of the Republic (he had been the leading vote-getter in the February 1936 parliamentary elections).  Julián was imprisoned after the war and died of untended blood poisoning in one of Franco's prisons in 1940.  Another grandaunt, Carmen BESTEIRO FERNÁNDEZ, Julián's sister was still alive at the time.  I believe she lived in Carpio de Tajo, Toledo at the time, but I'm not sure.

Julian Besteiro
Julián BESTEIRO FERNÁNDEZ (1870-1940)

I don't know if another sister, María, was still alive, but I do know that María's daughter, Beatriz LÓPEZ-OCAÑA BESTEIRO, a very good friend of my grandmother's, was alive, as was her daughter Beatriz LÓPEZ-OCAÑA  LÓPEZ-OCAÑA, who was about the same age as my mother.  Granddaughter Beatriz is still alive and lives in Madrid (1998).  [2005: María was in fact alive in 1936; she died in 1938 or 1939 of cancer.  I - Emilito - found this out from her daughter Beatriz LÓPEZ-OCAÑA  LÓPEZ-OCAÑA in 1999.  This latter Beatriz died in Madrid in 2001 at 92, shortly before my scheduled visit to interview her.]

Beatriz López-Ocaña Besteiro
Beatriz LÓPEZ-OCAÑA BESTEIRO (1881-1938 or 39)

Relatives of my grandfather: LAGOS.  Only one of my grandfather's uncles and aunts was still alive in 1936, and he lived in Madrid - Adolfo LAGOS MUÑOZ.  It is certain, from a note my grandmother sent to my mother, that they were going to visit him and his wife Margarita.  Adolfo died in 1950.

Adolfo Lagos Muñoz Family
Adolfo LAGOS MUÑOZ (1871-1950) and family c. 1909

The War changed all of Spain and its citizens.  Within the right-wing Lagos family,  Adolfo LAGOS ESCALONA  (the baby in the picture above and the son of Adolfo LAGOS MUÑOZ, became a communist commissar during the war and had to flee to the Soviet Union after the war.  He didn't return until 1976, the year after Franco died.

-Adolfo Lagos Muñoz, comisario
Adolfo LAGOS ESCALONA (1907-1980), commissar, in 1938

It is likely that they were going to visit several of my grandfather Lagos's cousins in Madrid.  Among them were Cristina and Manuel LAGOS LLORENTE, and Mariana and Manolita LAGOS PONCE DE LEON; among them they had more than 15 children.  We know that my grandfather Antonio was in contact with Paco NÚÑEZ MORENO, another cousin and husband of Cristina, during that time period; he had called Paco trying to find Carmen and Emilio during the July crisis.

Cristina Lagos and Paco Nuñez-Lagos
Cristina LAGOS LLORENTE (1879-1943) and her husband Paco NUÑEZ MORENO (1877-1952)

Gata de Gorgos.  Gata de Gorgos was lucky during the war; there were no battles in town nor was anyone executed on account of the war for political revenge.

Town in Andalucia occupied by Rebels
Gata was lucky.  Here is an Andalusian town occupied by the rebels in August 1936.

The last days: a chronology

Tuesday, 28 July 1936

o     While in Javea, they receive a telegram from the American Consul in Valencia asking them how they are.

Wednesday, 29 July 1936
o     While in Javea, they receive a telegram from Emilio Besteiro in Madrid, asking them to telegraph their parents in Paterson
o     The telegraph the American Consul asking him to advise them as to what to do

Thursday, 30 July 1936:
1300  In Javea, they receive a telegram from the American Consul in Valencia.  He advises Carmen that an American warship will leave the next morning.  She will have to be in Valencia at 7 AM.  "Spaniards will not be allowed to embark."
o     They walk 2 miles to call Valencia; when they arrive at the phone, they are told that the lines have been cut.
o     They take a taxi to Gata; the taxi gets a flat tire. The wait 2 hours and finally finish the trip on foot.
1600  They arrive in Gata too late to get the train to Valencia.
o     Emilio gets a salvoconducto, stamped by the 6 representatives of the Popular Front, good to Valencia.
o     they get a taxi to Vergel
1803  the taxi gets to Vergel 3 minutes too late for the 6 PM train.  They can't follow it, because the taxi driver only has a safe-conduct pass as far as Vergel.
o     The get a driver to agree to take them to Valencia at 3 AM.

Friday, 31 July 1936
0245  They get up.
0500  Emilio wakes up the taxi driver, who has slept in.  They decide to leave for Vergel.
0550  They leave Vergel for Valencia.
0900  They arrive in Valencia, the American Consul has left the station.
o     They go to the American Consulate; they won't help Emilio.
o     They return to the station to put the luggage in consignment.
o     They go to the government building.
o     They get in a line where they remain for more than 2 hours.
o     They will allow Emilio to leave, but it is necessary for him to get his passport stamped in another department.
o     They get safe-conduct passes for both.
1800  They arrive at the train station.
2210  They leave Valencia for Barcelona.. 

Saturday, 1 August 1936
0833  They arrive in Barcelona.
0840  They leave Barcelona for Cerbère.
1300  They arrive in Port Bou; they undergo an intense examination
1500  They are allowed to board a train, "destination France."
1845  They leave Cerbère for Paris. 

Sunday, 2 August 1936
0130  They arrive in Toulouse.
0700  They leave Toulouse.
1900  They arrive in Paris. 

Monday 3 August 1936
Carmen writes a long letter to her parents.

Epilogue: Spanish Civil War Songs

 As a result of their experiences in Spain at its start, the Spanish Civil War was always imprinted on Emilio & Carmen's memories.  Emilito and his siblings will always remember an ancient 78 rpm record with two songs about the Spanish Civil War.  Especially notable was a song called "¡No pasarán!"  Click here to read more.


Need to scan:

Bar Pou today
Emilio Besteiro telegram
All the letters from Maina to Carmen
Telegram from Consul
Alien note
Hinchliffe, etc – entire history in telegrams . . .
Think of more
Include front pages of newspaper,

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