A poet's life left behind shutters
José Ángel Valente's Almería residence is yet to be turned into a cultural center
The poet José Ángel Valente grew up among Ourense's hues of green, and matured amid Geneva's shades of grey. And when he chose to reconcile himself with Spain, he did not opt to live in verdant Galicia, but in fiery Almería. The place was providentially peripheral for an intellectual who was allergic to power - which, nonetheless, honored him with everything it had, from the Prince of Asturias Award to the National Literature Prize. He loved its light, and used it to examine the new country rising up over the skeleton of a dictatorship that court-martialed him in 1971 for his story El uniforme del general (The general's uniform).
In 1984 Valente chose to live in Almería, far from the red carpets and close to the land, and he remained loyal to it even as he contemplated his own death, asking that his home - which he'd restored with the devotion of a Carthusian monk - become a Casa del Poeta, a place where Almeria's people could rediscover him and his poetry.
This is why his widow, Coral Gutiérrez, sold the house and its contents to the city of Almería in 2003, three years after the death of the author of Material memoria, for 360,607 euros. "I had two offers that were financially more attractive, but it would have become a private home and José Ángel wanted it to be for the city," she recalls. "When I left this house I felt sad, yet happy to be fulfilling his wish. I left everything behind, from the letter opener in Mexican silver to an entire dining set. We also made a donation that included work by Chillida and Tàpies. He had already donated his library while still living, and gave his documents away to Santiago University."
Imbued with this same spirit of generosity, in October 2003 Mayor Luis Rogelio Rodríguez-Comendador of the Popular Party announced the creation of a foundation and a new literary award named after Valente, both to be in place by 2004, according to a story published in the regional newspaper Ideal.
The city of Almería bought the house from his widow back in 2003
Nothing more was ever heard of the literary competition. And a decade after its purchase, the home of the author of Fragmentos de un libro futuro remains shuttered. The few things that did happen in all this time, chiefly some construction work that altered the original state of the house - which is theoretically on the municipal list of protected landmarks - have incensed Coral Gutiérrez because she considers it a violation of Valente's express wish: "The fact that you purchased something does not give you the right to destroy it," she says. "I have been to many creators' homes, and nobody would dream of even moving a table. Things have to be kept the way he left them, especially since he spent all his time caring for that home. This is a dramatic situation for me, and I feel completely helpless."
Valente's widow did receive a proposal for a foundation from city hall, but she rejected it on the grounds that its mission was not lofty enough. "It was miserable for a poet like Valente that the only trustees of the foundation should be the mayor and a few other local government people. I didn't have voting rights. I would love to create a foundation with room for universities with ties to Valente, like Santiago or Salamanca, and other public institutions."
To her, the house can only be a museum that holds occasional poetry recitals.
But Ramón de Torres - the architect who restored the house for Valente, and then made the reforms that his widow so abhors - claims that the poet wanted his home to become an active center, not a museum-home. "He thought they were horrible," says de Torres.
It is this disparity of opinion that Almería's culture commissioner, Ramón Fernández Pacheco, is using as an excuse for government inaction. "In Almería there is a wide circle of friends of Valente. In the two years I've been doing this I've talked to all of them, and everyone has a different opinion on what should be done with the house," he says. Admitting that a decade is too long to wait, he says he hopes to carry out a museum project soon that "his widow and entire circle of friends can be proud of."