AFC 2004/004: MS 03.04.88

Carta de Alan Lomax a Elizabeth Lomax
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Pontevedra, Galicia,
Dec 3, 1952...

Dearest Elizabeth,

Here is your check for December... Here also is a Christmas check for you---buy somehting pretty with it, a dress or something that you need, wrap it up and put it under the tree for me and I'll imagine you unwrapping it Christmas morning. Here also is a check for presents for Anne---I wish it could buy here a bybycle---but make it something like that, something that I would buy her, not clothes, but something in the way of toys or paints or a puppy, if that's possible---but make it from Santa Claus... That is about all the Christmas I'm going to afford this year, since I can't be home with you and can't afford to invite you to Paris.

Moneywise things have perked up slightly for me. I just heard that repeats on my old shows for BBC have earned me 140 pounds which is $420. That pays for our living through December... Then I have just signed contracts selling htme first broadcast rights on the material I am recording here ammounting to 475 pounds---1500 dollars. That will last us until April or May if I am careful. By then I'll have finished something else.

I can't remember whether I told you how pleased I was to hear about your progress on your novel. It's wonderful that you're booming along at last and feeling good about your work. You know enough by now not to be disappointed if your work is not immediately understood and accepted by publishers, editors, etc.. These people are occupied only with the present day business of making money and keeping up with the Joneses. You are busy with eternal problems and handle fire. One day their sons will be glad to pubish all the early scraps of you they have rejected.... for all of it has been good. Maybe to you, close to the hot flame, some of the pages are not as hot and tough as come of the others... but that's because you are to close. To me, a little further away and seldom burnt by the fire, all has been good, because all has been filled with poetry, with beauty, with redblooded hot life, and with the authentic lovely thing that links all the great singers of all times and countries... Let me know how she rolls from time to time...

If I haven't written much lately, it's because I have been engrossed in this strange, beautiful, exasperating, exhausting, time consuming profession of mine---from which so many profit but which so few will perform, and no one will pay for but me... I left Madrid a month ago. Pip, my secreatry and companion, already exhausted and pale from the pace I have to set. I begged her to go home, but she wouldn't go and I hadn't the heart to send her, for her oen sake and for fear of the lonely miles of cold mountains stretching out ahead of me. North of Madrid you pass over the cordillera where the blood was shed into the clear mt rivers and then to Segovia where the ancient beast of rome left the aqueduct standing over the town like the skeleton of some horrid monster of the past, where now fifty convents and monasteries feed upon the town and she streets are full of beggars---up three hundred kilometers along a flat dusty already cold plain---mud houses wooden wheeled carts haystacks soldiers police people in rags on this most beautiful and magic plain in the owrld... Finally settled down in Astorgas, which is ringed with primitive villages, where tue people still make blankets by hand, where the men go off to work in Madrid and the women stay home and plow and handle the huge exen and watch each other and are fecundated (this was how one man put it) eachg fiesta whentheir husbands return for a visit. Poverty, hunger, cooking in kitchens where the smoke is kept in for heating and comes from a fire built in the center of the room--- and all the songs you want to hear, romances going back to the Middle Ages, dances older than that, work songs with the fire that kept man alive before machines were built---cries, shouts, whines, monotony, laughter---I took down two hours in all and we headed North again..

Now the mountains were ahead. A rib of mountains that runs from the pyrennes to the Atlantic side of Spain, isolating Vasconia, Santander, Asturias, parts of Galicia. It had finally penetrated my mudd walled mind that here in the North was the best folk material in Spain. And there were signs of snow already and I had nothing and in a day or a week or a month the roads would be blocked. Those mountais, my God, they're not so high, but they are majestic, difficult, strange, green pastures with grey crags rising into a pale blue sky and villages thay look as if they had come with the country and would never speak or sing. The people of this area all migrate out for the winter months and we missed them and spent two weeks hunting them in their even more inaccessible villiages in the lowlands where they stay for the winter. By now I had learned that I couldn't work without introductions in Spain, without some sort of official sponsorship, so I went straight to the Univ of Oviedo and found a local folklorist, who was like my father crossed with Burl Ives---and we whipped through ports and mining camps and mountain villages like crazy people recording two or three times a day, through mud and rain and pissmire streets and guardia civils with their vulture hats and their rifles--- by now I had the contract with BBC and if I didn't get this stuff in the north we wouldn't be eating the next few months and there was no tiemes left to talk with anybody, just time enough to keep the machine going and get the texts down... The same thing has gone on here in Galicia thogh the worst rains in twenty years, with people of a completely different temperament that the Asturians, complex, twiney minded, sensitive, irrascible, overfriendly hardworking non-nonsense Gallegos who have much the finest folkmusic in Spain and adore their bagpipers more than Jesus and always say come back in the summer when we all sing all day long. This is a country of tangled green hills, split into tiny patches by rock fences, purpled with vinyards, softened by eternal mists and fogs and rains, where every turn of the road hids a village and every village is really different from the next... The lads fight here with shileagleahgs. The girls are liberal with their favors. 40 percent of births illegitimate. People go barefoot all winter. The fishermen are starving because the sardines have moved off the Portuguese coast. At every crossroads is a grantite pillar with a beautiful weather won carving of Jesus on the Cross and the Holy mother back--each carving better than all the rows in the museums, all done by local unknowns. All the crafts here have their secret languages---and their songs---they are nearly gone but I've recorded some. The knifegrinders of the world all come from a certain mountain villiage. I have their language and their song and addresses in Texas where they live... Now for two days I'm out of tape. BBC is sending more on Friday. And I've still got parts of Leon and Santander and Vasconia to before I finish. And then God knows I'll have only a half ass collection---badly understood, most of it because I've worked so fast. Forty hours of songs---much of it repetition, much of it monotonous, almost all of it the maccoy, but what it's for I'm not sure yert. And to really be able to write about it well I'd have to spend another six months in Spain. And I can't figure ut why or what for. Maybe this collection can do a lot of harm and can spread a lot of bad ideas. I'm worried about it and about my role in it. I never intended to do it, but sort of fell into this trap of time and spent five months or six now and all my money and have to retrieve it or my work stops for good maybe.

Well, I've learned a lot about myself. Writing when I take time for it is much beter, for reasons I can't fathom but accept. For the first time I feel that's what I want to do. For the first time I know by the pains in my chest and the weariness in my bones and my personal daydrams that all I want to do is to go to Italy where it's warm and there's a lot of good food and sit down and live poor and write. That sleeping bag you gave me is the best bed in Europe. ETc.. But I doubt now that I've begun to find myself that there'll be time to realize the things I begin to feel in my bones. Time is running to a stop very fast I think. I've tossed away my tow years of vacation on a job others could have done as well. timidity and technical difficulties stillhold up my albums at Columbia. It will requiere another two months to get the first ten out and another month to get my BBC programs done. So I'm hitching in my britches and hoping I can manage to stand it.

Write me by return in Madrid. If you send me anything for Christmas (A fountain pen with a blunt point wouldn't be gad) send it airmail to American Express, Paris. I'll probably be there for Christmas, altho I don't relish the prospect since I know no one in the city. I'll work through and wait for next Christmas.

I think of you and all the time and wish I could see you. Wish you had the money to meet me in Italy when the weather gets warm, but I reckon that's a luxury we can't afford this year. The more I think about the more I would like to live in Houston for two years and write a novel about what goes on there. Now look who's talking about writin a novel. I can't even write a short story....

This leter is much much too long...

Please call harold Preece for me and tell him I can't do anything for his Negro singer friend at such a distance... I'd love to see his book. My address Musee des ATP, Paris, Trocodero... Delighted his work is going so well.

Much much love to you and Anne and Agnes...
[firma:] Alan

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How to cite

Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita, "AFC 2004/004: MS 03.04.88", Fondo de Música Tradicional IMF-CSIC, ed. E. Ros-Fábregas (accession date: 16 May 2021),