Anything but indifference. There is no work by José Luis Alonso de Santos that comes out to the public, and that -if it is really read or seen directly on stage- does not provoke a movement of solidarity or rejection. This explains the recent award of the Max Honor Award for a professional career like his full of successes, and the result of intense and exclusive dedication. His latest work -'Los jamones de Stalin'- has just come out, awarded at the Villa del Libro de Urueña, and will leave no one indifferent because, in addition to being current, it is about high dramaturgy and art in its purest form. See.
What remains of the child and adolescent who was born and did his first studies in "deep Valladolid", as his countryman Jorge Guillén used to say?
Above all, a primal affirmation from which I cannot escape. When you are already old, which is my case, you remember the different moments of your life as a succession of stages. My first stage is the one lived in Valladolid. Then I have had others, but I have always maintained that primordial link with the place of my origins to which I constantly return. In one way or another, I have had a fixed residence in my city: the house of my parents, my siblings, friends, the places where I studied. Therefore, the feeling I have, every time I come from abroad, is not that I live abroad, but that I return to my house.
Have the public recognitions that all the Valladolid institutions have had with you contributed to this?
Definitely. Each award has been like a gratification and constant affection from the city where I was born. I have also had many recognitions of a provincial nature, which come to confirm that incessant affection, and which contradict - as my friend Zorrilla recalled - the old traditional adage that no one is a prophet in his land. That, the truth, is not valid with Valladolid. He in his time was, and a lot; and I have felt exactly the same in mine.
Speaking of stages, what determining elements have influenced your evolution as a person and a writer?
I have the feeling that life unfolds on two planes. The first marks the thread of continuity based on the substance in each individual. The second is marked by circumstances because, as my admired Gracián used to say, substance is not enough. Circumstance is also required. And these circumstances -historical, natural, environmental, family, political, philosophical, educational and emotional- are what have also marked these differences.
Could you point out any of those circumstances?
I will point out an important one. My first theatrical stage coincides with the historical circumstance of the Franco regime. This marked everything I did then, why I did it, and why I did it. All this can be perceived in my first play, which I signed directly with my name, entitled 'Long live the Duke, our owner!'. What things are, but the premiere of this work was made on the day and at the moment that Franco was dying. So I am, inevitably, the first author of democracy. This circumstance marks a path and guides destiny.
And what does it tell us about the substance?
Curiously, this central element in each individual is better known by those around you and those who study you, as is my case, than you are. So I'll be honest with you about what you're asking: I'm only speaking from hearsay. As far as my person and my writing are concerned -some even consider me a classic that has gone to better glory-, they usually point out, as characteristic factors, coherence, constant work, the search for perfection in what I do, and a certain degree of humility that comes from the knowledge I have of myself. I've heard this a thousand times, and I'm happy, of course. You will understand that you do not want to amend the plan to anyone.
For all these reasons did you just get the Max of Honor for a lifetime?
The truth is that I have little or nothing to add to your question. That is what they say and, apparently, according to the record, those would also be the underlying reasons why they have given me the Max of Honor.
What quality, however, would you highlight about yourself?
The main quality that I have tried to have all my life, and that has helped me a lot, is the constant search for a joy to bring to my mouth, to my heart and to my pen. In several of my notebooks, and in the heading of the first sentence, this recurrence is present: whatever happens and whatever you say, do nothing without joy. When I don't have joy, honestly, I don't work. I just watch TV, read a book or walk. But when I work, I repeat, my basic stimulant is always that joy of living and writing.
How do you achieve that mastery so characteristic of you that you go from the general to the particular, from the big to the small, and from the philosophical to the normal, sometimes with a single word?
I always work looking for the “between” that there is in those opposite terms that you indicate in your question, and that other “between” that is created based on very specific, very selected, very precise and defining words. This is my territory, and that's where I go alone. It is my basic material, my cut, my stone, my iron, my chisel, my soul, my song, my emotion, my destiny. It is not about just any word, but about finding that poetic word that, magically, relates everything. That word that, for example, Calderón used in his allegories, Lope in his love rounds, or Cervantes in his contagious and inclusive humanism.
Similar to a Rembrandt painting where the details fit with the artistic and scenic totality of the work?
Exact. That example is very good because for me a play is also a painting. There, within that painting, the smallest and the largest of our existence is selected, symbolized, shown, poetized, and dimensioned on a human level.
Let's talk about 'Stalin's hams', his latest work and prize from the Villa del Libro de Urueña. It comes out at the time that 'La cena de los generals', which was so successful in theater, will start shooting. Is there here a distribution of history with moral and ideological adjustments that have not been made in literature in relation to the Civil War?
Surely. The writer draws his experiences from what he lived, from what he dreamed, from what he read, from what he imagined. I was a child of postwar hunger, and I lived step by step, and dramatically, many moments of the transformation of our country. Before I was born I was told many times by my parents and grandparents, who lived through the entire war and the entire stage prior to the war. I am not a historian or a sociologist and not even a politician. So for the record: my vision is basically artistic, and both creations, first and foremost, are plays.
Just as Calderón spoke of the 'Great Theater of the World', which he knew, I speak here in these two works, which you quote, of the great theater of the world that I have known. Something that I have actually been doing systematically throughout my life as a writer. And of course, there come the ideologies, the events, the moralities, the havoc, the disparate historical accounts, and also the loves and heartbreaks. I tell the story, we could say, from the point of view that I want to do it. Which brings me back to the painting that you remembered earlier. The painter chooses the apples he paints, where he paints them from and, above all, what he paints them for. I am never an innocent bystander, of course, nor do I pretend to be. I give my reading of that great theater that I contemplate around me.
The action of Stalin's Hams takes place in a village tavern where many conflicting worlds fit. Does this complexity explain why it took twenty years to solve them?
There are works that spring up like an explosion and are written quickly. On the other hand, with others you are not satisfied with the result, and you keep changing and retouching them throughout your life. The same thing happens to composers with their symphonies. In 'Los jamones de Stalin' there is a mixture of styles and languages, of temporal and theatrical synthesis in very broad questions in historical time and in causality, which require a very specific stylistic work. Until I have been completely satisfied, I have not decided to remove the work. It has never been close to the trash can, as has happened with many other projects of mine, since I am the worst critic of my works. When I see that something is not improving, I break it and move on. Lope already said that one of the most important tasks of the writer is knowing how to break what he wrote when he passed it on to literature, theater or art, it is more than doubtful. Posting for posting doesn't make much sense.
'Stalin's hams' is a highly topical work. There is a key character who claims his Ukrainian nationality against Russia. Did you sense that the conflict would explode?
Well, yes, because before the general invasion now, the annexation of Crimea was already there as a fuse. And we go back to what we were talking about at the beginning of this interview: circumstances greatly organize our lives, our work, and even our intuitions. Suddenly 'Stalin's hams' take on a dramatic topicality. Stalin, for a long time, has been an untouchable character for many generations and people before and now. His spirit has been revived in Putin with the genocidal invasion of Ukraine. This forces us to rethink many prejudices, formulations, and false and outdated historical views on the subject of Russia and communism in the Spanish Civil War. This is my point of view in this work. Simply.
A controversial point of view, don't you think?
Surely yes, but life is this: controversy, conflicts, dialectical clashes, and real confrontations. And if not, read how the 'Celestina' begins, or the 'Iliad' to speak of something more universal. Silence, submission and bleating only when the boss or the tyrant on duty says so, is the condition of lambs. And I, forgive me, I don't like this type of silence. This is precisely why I write plays: to get my words and my opinions out, and spread them freely to the wind.
What would you have liked to be in life or do that you have not done?
Well, if I tell you the truth, and why should I lie to you, I wouldn't change a single day of my life, both in being and in doing. I would be what I am, I would do what I do, and his questions would be so richly answered. The truth is that I've always had a great time, I don't know why... Maybe it's because I've always settled for little. I'm going to be honest: I think that society, my country, and my city have always given me much more than I deserve.
If Aladdin appeared to him now, what would he ask of him?
Well, take advantage of the occasion and ask, ask…
You've convinced me, and put it there, please. I would like to make an extraordinary request to the genie: that he could eat as much as I want. He already sees what things are: as a child he couldn't do it because he was poor and living in the post-war period. Now as an adult neither because of the microbiota and the intestine. If you want to be healthy, you have to go through another post-war period and be on a rigorous and perpetual diet. How unlucky of me! But in life we cannot have it all. What can we do. Aladdin, you to your lamp.