On October 14, 1998, the novel was not presented The carpenter’s pencil at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid. The event was announced, and 500 people gathered there, but a keynote speaker, Quico Cadaval, appeared on stage, along with the guitarist César Carlos Morán, the accordionist Xurxo Fouto and a violinist, Francisco Comesaña. From time to time the author of the book, Manuel Rivas, spoke and interjected without warning, in his speech, fragments of the book. Morán touched Lorca, Fouto shouted into the accordion: “The poor don’t have, the rich don’t give.” And Comesaña, before getting on his violin, dedicated Ascensión to his mother Chonchiña Concheiro, a few words of emotion. She was sitting in the front row. Her husband, Paco Comesaña Rendo, had died a year earlier. His son, the violinist, died 13 years later from cancer. She did it in 2013, shortly after her 100th birthday.
His obituary in EL PAÍS was written by Rivas himself because he knew them well and treated them, he recalled “the way she and Paco managed to resist, to hold each other for so many years, in front of the heavy machinery of crime, when ‘Spain fell from the ground down ”, and at the end of his article Rivas told how, after Conchiña married Paco when he was in prison, a couple of civil guards released them for a few hours so that they could spend their wedding night in a pension in Vigo, an action that it could have cost them all the execution. This moment is the central, delicate and poetic fact of one of the greatest novels of Galician literature, the carpenter’s pencil, translated into Spanish as The carpenter’s pencil and presented in Madrid in an event in which the book was not discussed and in which the woman, Chonchiña Concheiro, was the inspiration for the protagonist, Marisa Mallo, and the widow of the exceptional man, imprisoned and sentenced to death, Paco Comesaña, that inspired the protagonist, Dr. Da Barca.
They met when the two were 18 years old in the Alameda de Santiago de Compostela. It was love at first sight, as well as a love for a novel and a movie (directed by Antón Reixa). Comesaña was back in Galicia after being born in Cuba, the son of immigrants from Tui (Pontevedra), and was studying Medicine; her, Magisterium. He was already affiliated with the Socialist Youth, and five years later, in 1936, he was general secretary of the Unified Socialist Youth (with the communists). He participated in the defense of Ordes and was captured in Compostela; On December 22, 1936, a court martial sentenced him to death along with 15 other companions; months before, Galicia had approved its first Statute of Autonomy. They were all shot on February 11, 1937; all except him, who was saved by his Cuban nationality and international pressure.
“The clock at the Coruña train station was always stopped at five minutes to ten. The boy newsboy sometimes had the impression that the minute hand, the longest, was shaking slightly until it gave up again helplessly with its weight, like a chicken wing. The boy thought that, deep down, the watch was right and that this eternal failure was a realistic determination ”, wrote Rivas in the carpenter’s pencil.
Comesaña then began a sentence through the Spanish prisons in which he never lacked her, from one prison to another to be close to him. They married in 1941, when he was transferred from Valencia to Vigo. After his process was reviewed, in 1943 his sentence was lowered to six years (which he had already served) and a year later he went into exile in America (Cuba and Mexico): in Havana his first son, Francisco, was born, who was sponsored by Julián Grimau, and then María Ángeles Comesaña Concheiro was born, the only member of the family who still lives. In Mexico, they lived for more than 30 years among colleagues in exceptional artistic and political adventures, such as Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera. The two, Paco and Chonchiña, settled in Tui in 1976.
After Paco passed away, Chonchiña Comesaña lived to be 100 years old among friends who cared for her and loved her. A journalist, Xabier R. Blanco, went to visit her in 2008 for a job in EL PAÍS. “Ah, the communist’s wife,” said a neighbor, who was asked by Blanco about her whereabouts. “Her man was a communist but a very good person,” he added. The woman, 95 years old at the time, left several statements. One of them was: “Living with a grudge is the worst thing that can happen to you. When we returned, in Tui they gave us a party. It was the day of Saint Bartholomew and when the procession passed in front the head of the Saint fell off. Everybody said: ‘He came down to greet the communist.’ She declared herself “very red and very Catholic” and told how, when her husband was commuted the death sentence, she ran to the church to thank God and tell the priest. The priest replied: “Well, I have prayed that they kill him,” and she, beside herself, replied: “Well, he must have listened more to me than to you.” Amen.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.