Juan Cruz Ruiz’s last book (Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, 1948) is an invitation to the literary calm of memory. In one thousand two hundred steps (Alfaguara), he returns to his origins to stand on the horizon of the transition from childhood to adolescence. One thousand two hundred steps is the route that separates the hero from the family home, where he remembers friendship and evil. Life is his and ours, after all.
Do we ever stop being the child we are?
No, that’s why we dream. We are always aware of something we have lost. We children were people who lost something.
The novel talks about childhood and adolescence. Do we come from where we went to high school like Max Aub said?
My high school was weird because when I discovered journalism, I stopped reading. I went to class whenever I had the chance, but I felt like I was somewhere else. And that other site was journalism. I started when I was thirteen.
He was the founder of “El País” and is now subordinate to the presidency of Prensa Ibérica.
At thirteen you fall in love with girls or boys or something you don’t know what it is and it’s called journalism. What I’m doing is not losing that love. Because you may lose love, but falling in love continues. I’m still in love with journalism.
Does your memory have blood?
Yeah, it’s funny because I remember when my mom started dying, so to speak, when I first learned she was mortal, it was because she fell into the living room at home and vomited blood. These are my memories that I will tell one day, because there are many memories that I do not dare to tell.
There’s a lot of blood in the novel, isn’t it?
Why are there so many memories?
Because there was so much evil. A relative of mine wanted to kill my father. I saw the knife in my bed. I do not forget the ordinary acts of life.
Is that why you write: “Time was a tangible and bastard thing”?
Memory goes with you, it is impossible to get rid of it and it comes with words. Now, with any question, you will bring me the words inside me that I may not remember but that suddenly popped out. Memory is like lost toys.
In another passage, he states that “the fears of childhood are never cured.”
No, actually, I have a tendency to remember fear as an inhabitant of parts of my body. Especially the sternum. Every time I say the word fear, there is a reason why I call the word fear a part of my life, but also a part of my childhood and my body.
Do we get more cowardly as we get older?
Because we are closer to the exit door.
How do we cover up fear?
Singing. i sing a lot When I was a very skinny kid, I had to lure men to play in my house. I can be sad, I can be quiet and suddenly someone calls and I try to shoot it like it’s my house.
Was it one of the hardest novels to write?
I usually write very fast, then revise a lot, but I wrote this as if I wanted to see each of the items I enumerated. Everything in the novel is about the neighborhood, the children, the clothes, the school, the teacher, the pyrotechnics where we work… I know all this, it’s not an invention. I saw it while typing. Specifically, I work in a basement in Tenerife, and when I went downstairs to type in the morning and sat down at the typewriter, he was one of those kids who told his story, not started typing. At that time, I did not grow old, I lived that story.
Why didn’t he write the story twenty years ago?
Because I was not tired, my brothers were alive, my father had just died, I felt that life would take longer. When someone close to you dies, your life falls into the abyss that the other fell into. There is one person to whom the book is dedicated, Rafael Cobiella, who was my friend for the rest of his life. When memory dies in that organizational chart, it is lost, it is not there. He filled in the blanks in this book because almost none of the men were there.
In the interview with the “April” supplement, he recalled Paco Candel’s novel “There’s a Youth Waiting”, one of the most uncompromising people I’ve ever met. Have we become more intransigent?
To think that memory shouldn’t be given so much attention is a more reckless society that allows memory to be cursed.
Is memory experience?
Memory is what you remember from experience. Experience is diluted like blood. Memory is the blood of life. Memory warns you. Without memory there is an abyss, don’t forget. And I forget the bad.
Childhood, adolescence and slander in the last chapter.
The slander was very specific to my neighborhood. It is very typical for poor places because there is too much doubt, too much blame. There were whistleblowers back then, people who wanted to please those responsible and betrayed those who might not have liked the regime at the time. Phalangeism wasn’t just about people, it was a way of treating people, kicking them out, pushing them against the wall. The wall is called that because they killed people against the wall, but the wall is also a way to harass the unaffected. Now the president of Madrid speaks of women as spoiled and drunken people. Spoiled was a bad word back then. If you said someone was spoiled, you were pointing with your finger. I’m surprised that insult is part of the definition. Insult is insult.
And finally a tribute to Lorca.
I remembered finishing the book when I discovered a quote by Lorca at the promotion of my book in Madrid with Julio Llamazares. [Coge el libro y lee] “I had the imprudence to copy the devotion that the teacher put in Lorca’s book that I knew by heart and want to say now, with a pen on the folding table on the airplanes, but this is where it is. I am here and they are dealing with those words that I will never forget and that did not belong to the teacher but are now mine. Everything fades when I say, “In this world of poverty and light, in which I live, and whose memory still protects me from the dangers, satisfaction, and resentment that threatens me…” Promise, I finally take on what’s left of the journey, these two hundred steps, I hope I reach, I hope. I wish.”
He says he is just a poet.
I’m just a poet, I have a job like journalism.
In his documentary Brines de Rosana Pastor, the poet explains that when he left Madrid, he was left vacant.
Did Brines fill that much space?
Paco had a courtesy rare in the literary world. He was mischievous and may have been ironic, but he always had an understanding of others. It almost always arrived at a certain time of the night when we ate. If it was winter, he would come in a nice navy blue coat and then I would ask him if he would let me touch him.
It was actually very nice to touch, but I think there was a boy here, touching things he used to be unable to reach. I’ve never envied those who dress better, but I’ve always wondered what the fabric is made of. I would be 25 when I went to Brines, Fernando Delgado, Ángel González and many more often, there was something about them that made me miss tactics I never had. I’ve never been jealous, not even my health.
What about literature?
I like books. How can I be jealous of good books?
He met good writers and worked as editors.
Sometimes I travel with books I’m jealous of.
One of them I’m traveling with today belongs to the great Argentine writer Tomás Eloy Martínez and I really like the account of his visit to Saint Tropez on the Côte d’Azur. This morning I read a paragraph, took a picture of it, and tweeted “This is journalism.” Journalism does not contradict literature, but unlike writing, it has an inseparable marriage with reality. You can explain better, but you can’t invent anything.
There are still people who are in love with journalism but call themselves journalists and brag about not reading newspapers.
This is impossible. You have to read the newspaper. But sometimes you just have to walk away, like at times like these. We need to move away from what we call journalism, because not everything we call journalism is journalism.
It is very well written in the pages of Culture and Sports.
It may be because it talks about results, but if we examine what the newspapers are saying in the last part of this month, we will be surprised that the newspapers do not pay attention to what is not said rather than what is said. We say everything.
The news of the honorary king to Sanxenxo on radio and television is an embarrassment to television and radio journalism. People do not realize the damage done to journalism by shouting questions at the king. Journalists don’t shout to ask questions. I remember Jesús Cintora was doing a television show and sending two or three journalists to yell soft questions at them. All you had to do was ask permission to interview these people. I was one of those who applauded Évole’s interview with a top Valencia official who might merit questions, but you can’t go as a journalist chasing one person in the park and asking questions the other hasn’t answered. Asking questions that the other cannot answer is a failure of journalism. The dignity of the office requires that you stop asking questions as soon as you realize they are not welcome.
What will happen to Juan Cruz with the numbers, the 1,200 paces, the 5802? I read that you do exercises with numbers.
I’ve always been a kid and the first thing a kid learns is numbers.
Does eternity always start on Mondays?
This is the title of a poem by Eliseo Alberto’s father Eliseo Diego called “Eternity finally begins on a Monday”, and years later the son wrote a book with that title. I don’t like Mondays. Most of the things I dislike happen on Mondays and I don’t know why. I have asthma, Monday was back to school day, that mother’s womb was going to end on Sunday.