Barespagnol by Pablo Casino!

Valencia based photographer Pablo Casino came in 2013 to Brussels to document the local community of retired migrants from Spain.  In 2016 he self-published this work in the form of a small but solid photobook and judging by its title, he does not let us doubt about where the community’s heart is beating. It is beating in the “barespagnol“.


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The spiral binding of the book invites us to go through the pages over and over, allowing us to recognize here and there a guy that is shown more than once, allowing us to acquaint ourselves too with the particularities of this Spanish microcosm in Belgium’s only big city.


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We immediately get the feeling that the heart of the community is beating rather slowly today. The book is showing us a number of businesses that are completely worn-out: the walls have never been repainted, letters on the façade have come down, curtains are not opened any more in the morning.


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It is made clear that the dough is not to be found in these pubs, has never been there. But it is also clear that there is something else and that is what Mr. Casino ‘s book is about! Barespagnol is about regulars sitting at their personal table and eating whatever traditional dish the owner’s lady will serve them (again). It is about living this special condition of being an émigré, a condition where “when I go back home” or “when I was a child” have unfathomable meanings to the outsider. And it is about living this special condition – silently-  together with only those who can understand: the compañeros, the community.


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During the fifties and sixties of the last century, more than 30.000 Spaniards had embarked on trains that would bring them from the hilly, chilly and wet Spanish province of Asturias to the Brussels railway station “Gare du Midi“, that legendary terminus for so many migrants from the South.


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Some of the Asturians were young peasants, who were made (economically speaking) redundant by the introduction of agricultural machinery; others were merely on the run for the Franco authoritarianism. For the Belgian mining consortiums, this distinction did not really matter: as long as they were happy to risk their lives underground.

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After Franco’s death (1975), many Spaniards took the train back home, implying that they had been real refugees. But many others opted to continue their tough job in the mines to support their children born in Belgium.

And how are they doing now, after they have since long reached the age of retirement? Barespagnol sheds a light on a section of society that has never been put in the spotlight. And it is to be feared that many of these ex-workers quiet literally, have bitten the dust. They seem to be as worn-out as the sidreria‘s where they spend the day (the metonymy of the worn-out pub works perfectly), sometimes alone or waiting for a friend who might come by.


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They are sitting in the “Picos de Europa” close to the same Gare du Midi where they have arrived half a century ago. It’s ten in the morning and they order a first cerveza. They take a first sip from it and they enjoy the alleviating effect in the mind. They can start a new day trying to remember what they are trying to forget. They know that far away from Brussels, in the hilly and chilly Picos de Europa of Asturias, “their old world has rapidly changed, the losers have eventually won, the past order has ultimately faded, the slow ones have become fast.”

But don’t let me be misunderstood. The fellows that we are seeing don’t seem to be broken or unhappy at all. Throughout the book, you can feel the warm bond that they share with each other; that bond that helps them to protect a kind of happiness deep down inside against all those who are indifferent to their merits and plight.

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The book also offers some really beautiful and well chosen excerpts from literary texts by Julián Ayesta, Julia Faure and Ángel Álvarez. The last excerpt for instance is gradually growing on you while you are turning the pages.  It’s an observation about the color of the smoke that is changing according to the sunlight. Until the moment of its disappearance. Again the image is working perfectly. It reminds us of that one certainty we all share in the big city (foreigners and locals alike) and it allows us to read Barespagnol as a powerful memento mori.


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