Sunday, February 27

The Spanish Civil War was an extremely complex conflict that ravaged the country from 1936 to 1939 and devastated Spain and its inhabitants. The estimates of how many people were killed in the war run from 500,000 to 1,000,000. The war came about when the Spanish communist party came to power after defeating members of the monarch in elections. They decided that they wanted to bring about land reforms and exclude the church from the government. This was not popular among the Nationalists at the time. So the Spanish Army staged a military coup to overthrow the Second Spanish Republic. The attempt would prove successful, with the eventual installation of a dictatorship led by General Francisco Franco in 1939. The nationalists were made up of monarch supporters, religious groups, Falangists and Fascists. The communist or left wing side was made up of Socialists, Marxists, Anarchists, Communists, Basque and Catalan seperatists and a number of other extreme left wing groups and trade unions. War broke out when the right wing groups refused to accept the left wing as the government and the land reforms they were about to impose.
Before his victory, Franco’s forces met the resistance of republicans, socialists, communists and anarchists in a bitter battle for Spain.
During the war both sides accused each other of being puppet governments for other governments, The Nationalists, as the rebels were called, received aid from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. The Republicans received aid from the Soviet Union, as well as from International Brigades, composed of volunteers from Europe and the United States.
Politically their differences often found extreme and vehement expression in parties such as the Fascist-oriented Falange and the militant left-wing anarchists.

Among the many aspects of the war that continue to exert a particular fascination today is the wealth of astonishing propaganda posters produced by the various factions involved in the fighting. There was a high rate of illiteracy in the country, particularly among women, peasants and the working classes, so poster designers employed rousing imagery and succinct slogans to deliver their message.
Propaganda has played a vital part in the wars of the early 20th century it was used by Hitler in World War 2 by Mussolini in his control of Italy and of course by Stalin. Throughout the course of the Spanish civil war propaganda was used by all sides to communicate various messages, some of these messages were to encourage peace and to keep fighting for food and freedom whilst others were to convince people to leave the city or join the army. The messages varied, as did the posters. What it left us with in the end was catalogues of posters that are a poignant reminder of these dark times in Spanish history. However they are also pieces of art that serve to remind us of our not too distant past .
The war was much about ideas. Many political ideologies of the time were battling for power and recognition. Propaganda was a major part of convincing the Spanish civilians to side with various parties. Colourful and artistic posters were used to persuade civilians and spread messages as the majority of the population were illiterate and uneducated. These posters were designed by some of the best artists in Spain and the streets of all of Spain’s major cities were plastered with these posters. The Nationalists lead by Franco used the posters to win the support of the people after taking a city from the communists. The communists used the posters to win support from the peasants they were trying to help and to spread messages to the people whilst they were in power. The anarchists used their posters to introduce their new radical idea to the people in the hope of winning their hearts and minds.
These posters are perhaps the most prominent remains of the conflict that presented to the people of Europe and the world the tragedies of war and how the people of Spain were living through these tragedies. These posters are among the most important documents of the war remaining today and can be found in museums across Spain as well as other European countries.
Eyewitnesses accounts of the war attest that the posters were everywhere during the war. The cities walls were awash with the colour and creativity of propaganda. On almost every building there were party posters: posters against Fascism, posters about the defence of Madrid, posters appealing for recruits to the militia...and even posters for the emancipation of women and against venereal disease. Streets aflamed with posters of all parties for all causes, some of them put out by combinations of parties. In Republican territory, when a house was destroyed by the enemy bombs, propaganda agencies would fix posters on the ruins in order to denounce the enemy, hoping to turn aggression into rage. In Madrid, the capital of the Republic, shop owners were forced to fill their store fronts with posters: "Every space must be used to incite the spirit in its fight against the enemy," stated an article in the newspaper ABC on October 30, 1936. When a city was taken the streets of were plastered with posters to convince its citizens to change sides.
The Nationalist party produced a far lesser amount of posters than their rivals. This was primarily because they hadn’t as much inward struggle and because what they were promoting was familiar to the Spaniards. Their posters were primarily used after the taking of a city to encourage calm amongst its citizens. They also tried to encourage people to return to normality after the war.
The Communist or the Republican party were the most prolific producers and publishers of posters during the Spanish civil war. Their posters were used to garner the support of the people and often to spread messages to the rurally isolated peasants. These posters were important in communicating to an predominantly illiterate population and encouraging men to join the militia and support the communist movement. Some posters were co signed by the anarchists and communists during their coalition.

Over the course of the war thousands of posters were created and circulated throughout Spain. Many of these survived the war, however many didn’t survive the war and are lost forever.

This post is by no means to favour one side over another, that's why they are mixed up. It is merely the home and celebration of some important historical documents. I hope you enjoy them!

(Click on the link "propaganda posters to see some of them enlarged).

Wednesday, February 2

If someone were to ask “What is the significance of today’s date? I’m quite sure that all who were asked, came up with the same answer: “Feb. 2nd is Groundhog Day!”
These responses prove the point that Feb. 2nd is deeply rooted in Canadian and American folklore.
In the folklore of these countries, the groundhog’s activities are weather related. Simply put, when this animal comes out of his burrow on Feb. 2nd, if the sun is shining and he sees his shadow, he returns underground for six more weeks of winter. If, however, the day is overcast and he cannot see his shadow, an early spring is just around the corner.
It will not be a surprise to learn that this folkloric tale has its roots in mediaeval Europe. In the Christian calendar, Feb. 2nd marks the celebration of the Purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Candles are blessed on this day, giving rise to the name “Candlemas Day.” Since this date also marked the midpoint of winter, halfway between the winter soltice, and the spring equinox, the notion arose that the weather on Candlemas Day might foretell what would take place during the rest of the winter.
Thus a bright and sunny Candlemas Day suggested that there was more winter to come; while a cloudy overcast day meant that winter would soon be over.

The legend of Groundhog Day is based on the old Scottish couplet: "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year."
Every February 2, people gather at Gobbler's Knob, a wooded knoll just outside of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The first Groundhog Day, took place in this community, when the local newspaper reported: “At the time of going to press on Feb. 2nd, 1886, the groundhog has not seen its shadow.“ The groundhog was named: “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.” For the record, Phil’s first prediction was correct. In his debut performance there was “no shadow and an early spring followed.”
The ceremony in Punxsutawney was held in secret until 1966, and only Phil's prediction was revealed to the public. Since then, Phil's fearless forecast has been a national media event. The groundhog comes out of his electrically heated burrow, looks for his shadow and utters his prediction to a Groundhog Club representative in "groundhogese." The representative then translates the prediction for the general public.
If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, it means spring is just around the corner.
Approximately 90% of the time, Phil sees his shadow and residents contend that the groundhog has never been wrong.
Phil started making predictions in 1887 and has become an American institution.

Now only one question remains. Why has a folkloric tradition of this type survived so many centuries? There is no easy answer, for such traditions not only have deep roots; they have a habit of “adjusting” to fit changing circumstances.
While it can never be proven, one possibility for the recent surge of interest in Feb. 2nd might be the popularity of the American movie “Groundhog Day” released in 1993.
The actor Bill Murray, plays a weatherman for a television station. The story begins with his trek to Puxatawney, Pennsylvania for the appearance of the groundhog. He is reluctantly sent to cover a story about a weather forecasting "rat" (as he calls it). This is his fourth year on the story, and he makes no effort to hide his frustration.
On this occasion, due to a sudden storm, cast and crew must stay on location until the weather improves. But something strange happens when the weatherman awakens in the morning . . . it is Groundhog Day all over again! He makes several drastic attempts to leave town, but on every occasion, the next day is always Groundhog Day. . First he uses this to his advantage, then comes the realisation that he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in the same place, seeing the same people do the same thing EVERY day.

February 2, 2011 - around 7:25 am ET - Punxsutawney, PA
Phil did not see his shadow and thus spring is just around the corner!

Connected with Grounhog Day is the celebration of “La Chandeleur” in France.
La Chandeleur, celebrated on February 2, is originally a religious holiday, yet today it is known as the day of crêpes (“Fête de la Lumière, or jour des crêpes”).
La Chandeleur is the Catholic holiday of Candlemas, a feast to commemorate the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of the baby Jesus forty days after his birth.
The story is that Pope Gélase gave crêpes to the pilgrims who arrived in Rome. The crêpes with their rond shape and golden color, signified the sun and helped Spring to arrive. Even though most people don't know the history on why they celebrate La Chandeleur with crêpes, any reason is a good reason to eat crêpes in France!
For many French people La Chandeleur is a chance to enjoy a lot of crêpes, as well as do some fortune telling while making them.
The tradition is to hold a coin in your writing hand and a crêpe pan in the other; then toss the crêpe in the air. If you manage to catch the crêpe in the pan, your family will enjoy prosperity for the rest of the year.

You can try making your own crêpe.
Crêpe recipe for 8 - 10 people
Preparation time 10 minutes, cooking time 3 - 4 minutes
250g flour
4 eggs
1/2 litre milk
pinch of salt
50g butter
1 sachet vanilla sugar
soup spoon (5 cl) rum
variant - you can replace the milk with crème fraiche
Leave mixture for about an hour
Preheat a crêpe/frying pan , when hot add a little butter to grease the pan
Put half a ladle of crêpe mixture into the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes each side
Suggested accompaniments: sugar, Nutella, jam, honey, fruit or lemon
Traditionally to drink - cider

There are all kinds of French proverbs and sayings for Chandeleur; here are just a few. Note the similarities to the Groundhog Day predictions made in the US and Canada:
“If Candlemas be fair and bright, winter has another flight. If Candlemas is cloudy and grey, winter soon will pass away.”

À la Chandeleur, l'hiver cesse ou reprend vigueur
On Candlemas, winter ends or strengthens

À la Chandeleur, le jour croît de deux heures
On Candlemas, the day grows by two hours

Chandeleur couverte, quarante jours de perte
Candlemas covered (in snow), forty days lost

Rosée à la Chandeleur, hiver à sa dernière heure
Dew on Candlemas, winter at its final hour