Franco café and a fallen angel

Just driving home

What could be more Spanish than driving back from Granada; stopping in a no frills services station for a ‘Menu del Dia’ and then seeing one of the legendary black bull signs on the side of the motorway. Well, this was how my Sunday was going until my wife made a suggestion. We go to Casa Pepe, Ciudad Real.

She told me that it was famous in this journey back to Madrid. But, what makes it different from all the other no frills Spanish Cafeterías and service stations? This is one is stuck in the Spanish era of 1936- 1975, Francoist Spain.

Casa Pepe

On their website, it states that it was founded in 1923 and has since been owned by the same family. It says that it serves authentic Spanish food and has grown to be famous over the world. Yet, it is not famous for its jamon. It’s famous for its homage to Franco and all the nationalist memorabilia you can think of.

As we drove up to the junction we were met with a giant sign for Casa Pepe, this obviously was on a red and yellow background. Upon pulling up to the bar, you are greeted with the sign of an old military jeep with the years of the Civil war decorated across it, a giant spanish flag and a giant yellow building that has the types of food served splattered all over it. At this current time it felt a bit nationalist, but how bad could it be?

Nationalists watch football

Outside are the normal regular things you expect as a slightly nationalistic bar, flags galore. As we entered we realised the time, 16:00 hrs on the 1st July 2018, Spain we taking their last penalty against Russia. The front of the establishment has a huge rustic bar, cladded in dark flaking wood, decorated with various memorabilia from the nationalist and Francoist era. Still, it was what I was expecting. Sort of..

Then two things happened that took me by surprise, Spain lost on penalties to Russia exiting the World Cup. As this happened, the crowd dispersed; grumbling and obviously down hearted. Then, the second thing, a giant black eagle decorated with a Spanish emblem emerged, the sign of the dictatorship, with adjacent portraits of Francisco Franco and Jose-Antonio Primo de Rivera. The heroes of the nationalist movement.

In short, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, who was son of the first Spanish dictator following the first republic, established Falangism, in 1933, across Spain. It shared similarities to Italian fascism at the time. Primo de Rivera was sentenced to death via firing squad, following his arrest in Madrid for possession of fire arms. He called for the military to fight the government 2 months before his death.

Following Franco’s establishment of his dictatorship and Primo de Rivera’s death, Franco nurtured and forced a state of myth around Prime de Rivera, as a martyr like figure. He is now buried in the Vally of the fallen next to Franco.

Inside the den

The bar is set up like any other but this is where any comparisons stop. This is no normal Spanish bar. The wall that holds the entrance to the restaurant is covered in photos of Franco, army memorabilia and 2 large bull heads. Behind the bar is plastered with old newspaper cuttings and ‘comical’ cartoons.

In this small old crumbling house, that is held up with the money of extreme right supporters, a deli counter and shop are also here. The shop is several rows of every day Spanish delicacies which have been brandished with Franco’s face and the Spanish flag. Everything from wine to sweets and food, it all has something that screams Spain, more so than the overpriced shops in the airports.

Busts are 90 euros and nationalist spanish flags are sold as wrist bands. Just like you see many people wearing after the Cataluña crisis, which, if you will agree with me, is scary. The musky smell of jamon haunts this place, just as it does in the multiple markets in any spanish town, yet you only have to look at the yellow and red uniforms of the waiters to realise this is no normal establishment.

It’s not just a bar

As the crowd wandered around the shop, I couldn’t help but notice the strange differences in the bar, but also its clients. Rowdy men at the bar, despite their country losing, still seemed to ouse twenty times the amount of machism that anyone should possess. Then there was the men with polo tops that were lined with the spanish flag and slick black hair gelled into place, it made them look as if they had just walk off the set of Narcos.

However, the troubling and worrying part was the families. Yes, people brought four-year old girls here to play whilst they watched football and brought nationalist products. There were two bars before this one on the corner, so it was no mistake. No need to hide your true opinions here, unless you are not a fascist.

Is it normal? To them it is

My wife and I could take no more, we refused to part with money in this establishment. As we left we took one last look at the army hats that lined the wall as we left. I couldn’t help but imagine what it would look like on fire. As we left, we saw an ordinary watermelon stand, common for this time of year, outside the bar. I wonder if he knows the vicious depths of this place inside.

Whilst this may not be new, people have honoured Franco, Hitler et al for years, I have never seen it so open. The only other time was during my first visit to The Valley of the Fallen. The fact it is so open and ‘normal’ from the outside and treated as commonplace by its customers, it is intriguing from an observational point of view but unnerving as a human being.

More history?

As we left we continued on down the pass, my wife told me that before it was less nationalist and that she had stopped there as a child to buy sweets in the shape of a walking stick. It’s not obvious to the first time visitor, but it has upped its game to make money from a dreadful time in history, which makes it all the more disturbing.

As we continued on to Madrid, I was told of another local relic to explore. Little did I know until researching this piece, that it would cleanse away any bad feeling I had for visiting the Franco café.

In Valdepeñas, Castilla de La Mancha, lies the leftovers of a bomb attack and the shell of a misplaced angel.

The Misplaced Angel

Ángel de la Valdepeñas as it is now called by locals, or El Angel de la Victoria y La Paz (the angel of victory and peace) as it was first named, sits on top of a hill overlooking the town and fields underneath it.

Built in November 1964, it was built by the dictatorship as a tribute to the nationalist ‘martyrs’ of Castilla de La Mancha, from the war. The angel stood, 15 meters high, holding old a large sword in the shape of a cross, it was copper plated. It was supported by 2 large concrete pillars that are still visible from the motorway.

4 large metal touches surround the front of the statue, so that it could be lit at night and seen from the town and motorway.

The Angel Fell

Later in July, 1976, during the 40th anniversary celebrations of the out break of the Civil war, a FRAP group, Frente Revolucionario Antifacista y Patriota, an Anti Franco Marxist/Leninist group, bombed the angel and it still remains severely deformed from that attack today. Over the years, efforts were made to fund and fix it, but the statue fell into disrepair.

Now, the area has been utilised for telephone masts, graffiti and other possible activities in this remote area. Which is probably for the best.

It is now a sign of Spain’s brutal and divided past. Maybe, this statue is a reflection of how society in Spain feels today about the Civil war, the young have signalled this with their graffiti, maybe they are trying to say they feel ready and brave enough to move on.

We shall see in the coming months, if and when the PSOE government remove Franco from his grave.


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