Cesar Grana (1919-1986), professor of sociology at UCSD, was killed in a car accident near Cadiz on Aug. 22, 1986. These are Guenther Rothâ’s memories, made at a memorial meeting on Nov. 7, 1986 in La Jolla.
Many years ago Cesar and I resolved to meet one day in Sevilla. We became friends thirty years ago in Berkeley, where we were both foreign students and working on European nineteenth-century themes. We shared the troubles of writing a dissertation and also our women troubles; one day he asked me to help him meet the elusive Marigay, who was to become his wife. Cesar and I were highly ambivalent about our cultural backgrounds. When Cesar went back to his native Peru in 1967 for the first time since leaving it in the early forties, he was badly shaken up and felt the urge to flee from all things Spanish. He flew to my German hometown and holed up for a few days to recover his balance. When I took him to a well-preseved Cistercian monastery, he was upset because it turned out that the little railroad bus was loaded with several dozen Spanish women who worked as Gastarbeiter in a nearby factory. But around 1970 he made his peace with the southern Spanish culture and joined a Gypsy brotherhood, in whose cemetery he was to be buried. In 1986 the constellation was finally right for our Spanish meeting. The previous year my wife Caroline Bynum and I had taken our daughter Antonia Walker through Cesar's decaying birthplace Lima to her own native Andean highlands. On July 4 Cesar met the three of us at the Madrid airport, where we rented a car together. Skilfully maneuvering through the traffic jams of Madrid, Cesar explained the Spanish notion of space which left only inches between cars, assertive egos jostling one another. That evening he showed us the quarters around the Plaza Mayor, beginning with a bar full of fading photographs of bullfighters. His enthusiasm about bullfighting was boundless. He liked to talk to waiters about the heroes of today and yesterday. The next day we headed south in 100 degree weather. Taking the wheel, I quickly discovered that the main road from Madrid to Sevilla and Cadiz was not a freeway. Without any speed limit thousands of cars hurtled through a landscape full of sunflowers and grapevine but empty of villages, castles and monasteries. Cesar was amused about the spectacle of hundreds of Moroccan Gastarbeiter driving their grotesquely overloaded Mercedes cars to Cadiz for the crossing of the Straits. Toward evening we reached Cordoba and a swimming pool in which we could recover from the day’s terrible heat. After nightfall the two of us made a preliminary exploration of the old quarters, the Juderia, past the synagoue and the monument of Maimonides to the enormous Mudeja Pardon Door of the closed Mesquita Cathedral. Cesar rediscovered an ancient bar where old timers used to talk about the bullfights, but it had turned into a noisy discotheque for young people. The next day we visited one of the great wonders of the world, the Mosque-Cathedral. In the Court of Orange Trees, at the old Moorish basins for ritual ablution, we cooled our hands and quenched our thirst. In front of the fountain Caroline Bynum took a picture of Cesar squinting into the sunlight. Having just written about Islam, she had come to see its great architectural survivals, not to study the culture of bull-fighting. To Cesar’s dismay she always took the side of the bull in our conversations.
Leaving the city-driving to Cesar, I drove next to Granada, six or seven hours of winding roads, trusting no driver and surviving a few hair-raising situations. Cesar had not been in Granada for many years and wanted to see it once more in his lifetime. The Alhambra was the high point of our journey together, one of the most beautiful sights in the world. Cesar showed me the plaster decorations and tiles that had changed Marigay’s life; he talked much about her and his two sons and his grandson full of pride.
Granada turned out to be the early termination of our journey together. The heat was too great for driving in a little car. Antonia had become car-sick. The prospect of another six or seven hours on winding roads to Sevilla appeared too daunting, the traffic dangers too great. It seemed better to take the family back by air-conditioned train to Madrid and air-conditioned sightseeing of Segovia, Toledo and Avila. We spent a relaxed morning together visiting the cathedral and the burial site of the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel, who had taken Granada in 1492. It turned out that Cesar had long ago formed a picture of me as a northern Lutheran agnostic, who would chafe at Catholic culture high and low. He was, in truth, not quite prepared to find me married to a historian of medieval spirituality and with a daughter who liked to light candles at altars. Finally, it became time to say good-bye at the railroad station. We were, after all, never to consummate that trip to Sevilla, the place which he wanted to make his home in his remaining years and where he wanted to finish his sprawling manuscript on Spanish culture. We also had to give up the idea of driving down from Sevilla to the sherry wineries of Cadiz. So he made that trip alone and never returned.
Cesar and I were very different from one another, but I considered him one of the few close friends I made in the United States and felt much affection for him in spite of our rare meetings over the years. Ignorant of the future, we had a few very intense and beautiful days together. I shall not forget them!