Miguel Delibes died on Friday. He has been the grand old man of Spanish letters for as long as I've lived here, which is over twenty years. His first novels, recognised as good, were written in the 1940's and he continued to publish until a few years before his death.
He had competition as the great Spanish writer, particularly from Camilo José Cela, but Cela, though undoubtedly a writer of genius, was also an irrascible old s***e, whereas Delibes wrote, then went off for a pint, or to the football, or to pot a few rabbits in the woods.
His place in the hearts and minds of Spain as a whole, and particularly Valladolid, which is in a genuine and unaffected state of mourning, was won largely by being an agreeable, intelligent man who liked people, was aware of those around him, placed enormous value on his family and friends, and told very good stories very well. He wrote because he enjoyed it and was good at it, not to publicise his sense of his own importance or to express simplistic political opinion. He rarely gave interviews, and he never got involved in the great self-appreciation movement that for many seems to be the main purpose of literature and the arts in general. His great loves were hunting and Real Valladolid football club. I should imagine the former gave him more unmixed pleasure than the latter.
A great man, has left us. And part of his greatness was that he himself would never have imagined that he was more than a normal chap.
Broadly on the same subject, Óscar Pujol is a Sanskrit scholar who spent 13 years preparing a Sanskrit-Catalán dictionary, said to be the first in a Peninsular language. This may well be true, I certainly know no other, not even in Spanish. I use Monier-Williams in theory, though in practice, Theodore Benfey's dictionary is easier to handle. (There's an on-line Monier-Williams, by the way, which is fiddly and often unhelpful, but can be a lot quicker. This one's useful, too.)
Pujol is now at the Casa Asia, and collaborates with the University of Valladolid, and I mention him here because he seems to have a deep love and knowledge of Sanskrit literature and the culture that created it, and to some extent still does. Also, a man who can spend 13 years of his life writing a dictionary to help speakers of one small minority language (nearly all of whom are bilingual in Spanish, so it reduces his possible readership very dramatically and quite unnecessarity) understand another language which, despite its beauty, and its historical, cultural and literary richness, is of interest to very few people indeed outside of India, has my respect and regard. (The only Sanskrit department I know of in Spain is at Salamanca.)
And so I raise my glass this evening to these two men. Without pretending to compare anything about them, I merely recognise that they have both made the world, as I understand it, a better place by being in it.
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