Interviews in Catalonia: Maria Rosa – Part 1

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What were your ideas of beauty when you were young?

I worried more than now, naturally. Unknown to my mother, I painted my lips since she did not let me. She said, no, you are too young. I was fifteen years old and still could not wear lipstick. But whenever I could, I (secretly) took Mama’s make-up. To be more beautiful, I pinched and put some oil on my cheeks because they looked better with a little oil. Things weren’t like they are now. Now you can use make-up and get dressed up. Then it was – well, not banned – but not looked well upon. They called a woman who was well-dressed and painted a woman of the world… a whore. It was completely censored. You couldn’t do it. Now you can use make-up and groom yourself, even use sun-screens at the beach . In my time, nothing. Only soap and water. Some girls looked good and others not as good because not everyone was equal. But we were happy.

Territories controlled by the Nacionals (Franco) & the Republicans (Reds) in 1938

Franco’s war (the Spanish Civil War) started when I was seven years old. It was very traumatic because they started bombing, destroying homes. I was little, but I realized what was happening. I got anxious when I heard planes passing. I’ve always experienced anxiety since that time. When something happens that is not normal, I get anxious, which goes back to the bombings we experienced.

 Franco arrived and he was The General! It was terrible – for forty years we lived in a police state. Everything was forbidden. We couldn’t speak our Catalan language. You had to speak Spanish. If not, you were thrown in jail. It was a terible dictatorship. He couldn’t stand Catalans. People of Madrid and other parts of Spain, fine. But the Catalan language, to him it seemed like dogs barking and howling. Fortunately, he died, but until then, we experienced so many changes.

(During the war) we couldn’t buy anything; we didn’t have money. For three years, we were completely wiped out. We barely ate because we couldn’t buy food. At this young age, I was eating banana peels, cut up small, because there was nothing else. We were hungry. We lived in Barcelona at the time. My father was taken away to a concentration camp (in a village near the Ebro) which they had to go to by boat. Later it was occupied by the nationals and the Reds. My father was Red and fought with the Nationalists against Franco.He had been in hiding, but they came to look for him at home and took him away. He was held in this concentration camp and when he came home after the captivity, and we hardly knew him. He had aged twenty years. He was completely emaciated, a disaster.

Maria Rosa & her younger sister

 The postwar period was also hard because everything was underground. My father was a baker and when he came home (from the camp), he started making pastries. Someone would come by asking do you have flour? Yes, but only if you give me eggs, he’d answer. We used to exchange food. It was the only way to eat well. Because if not, there was nothing. There was no bread, no rice, no oil, nothing. You had a notebook and you had to cut coupons, like in Russia. Today, this week you could get chickpeas. But really nothing, a bit of this, a little of that. Sometimes it is so painful, I don’t want to remember. It’s a shame.

 Franco’s people were rich. The generals’ women wore coats of cinchilla and bear fur. Those of us who couldn’t wear those things would admire them, what beauties. It was like that. The rest of us wore very simple dresses. No one wore pants. Everyone dressed up, and all women over forty had to wear black because they were old. Not now. I have a picture of my grandmother (at forty) and it seems that this woman is a hundred years old. You couldn’t go out unless your skirts were below the knees. The hair style was a tight bun. Beauty shop, not a chance.

 After the sixties, tourists started coming here to Catalonia, and Catalan women saw other women. And we thought great! These girls are wearing short pants. We said And what about us, silly us? They opened our eyes, these tourists. We saw a different, more open, relationship between men and women. Here, if you touched a man’s hand, it was sin. Here everything was sin. In contrast, the foreigners went to bed with each other and it was normal. An impossible thing. Then we smarted up and said, screw them. We’re also human beings like them. Now girls go to bed right away – it’s natural. Now, no more praying all day. Then everything was repressed. And all day Franco, Franco!, praising Franco. When he came to Catalonia, we all had to go to the school ground waving little flags. It was very nice. Very traumatic.

 The tourists were the blessing. There came a time when people were spending their money and restaurants started…and a completely different way of life. The best thing happened. Germans, British, tourists from around the world came. And we were still young women and thought oh, how beautiful! They looked like they came from another galaxy. I remember one day some friends invited me to come to Barcelona to see a bus of Russian girls. We all went to see them because we believed that the Russians were completely different from us because Franco said strange things, like Russians were terrible demons. Well, we went to see them and saw the most beautiful girls, all blond. We decided that it was all a lie. Our youth was completely wasted. Everything against the government was a sin.

 After that, women began to dress up. Renowned designers came here. When visitors came, Spain got money and began doing things well. It was great. The tourists’ money was the best thing that could happen. With them came well-being – cars that no one previously had. Seat started a car factory here in Spain. Before that nobody had cars. A family would be lucky to have a bicycle. A new, very different life began.

Grandmother at 40 (seated), with her six children

 In the beginning of the 1970s women began to open their eyes, for example, to use night and day creams. Things that are very normal now. Before that everything was looked down upon. To buy and wear cream for what? Women began to show more leg and chest; sometimes you saw pants. There weren’t many women in the city who were offended by this, but in rural areas, people said that women who wore these clothes were all whores. Now it’s not like this.

 At that time, a 40 year old woman was considered old. My grandmother had 6 children. One had to have children because taking birth control was forbidden. You had to have the children God sent you, as if God had something to do with it. Children came when the husband wanted sex. When the boss told you, “Upstairs!” that meant he wanted sex. Imagine! There wasn’t much room for subtlty or romance, nothing about love. When he was done, the woman could go back to the kitchen.

To be continued…

Maria Rosa, 82

Pla de l’Estany, Catalonia

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