Sunday, 3 July 2016


A few weeks ago a friend sent me a link to a TED Talk given by Angela Lee Duckworth: The key to success? Grit. When Angela moved from management consulting  to a much more demanding job, teaching maths to seventh graders, she realised that contrary to common belief, the students with the highest IQ were not the most likely to succeed, but the ones who had real grit. 
What is grit? According to Angela, “ Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint.”

Angela would have loved this tale, the story of a 231-year-old promise fulfilled by the US Congress thanks to the unbreakable perseverance of a single woman: Teresa Valcarcel, known in Washington as The Portrait Lady.  I won’t give you all the details because there is an engaging article published in The Washington Post that describes the whole quest. I’ll just sat that Teresa moved from Malaga to Washington because of love. She started a family over there and made the US her new home. One day, her mother sent her a newspaper clipping about an American Revolution hero, Bernardo de Galvez, who had been born in Macharaviaya, a small village in the middle of the mountains in Malaga, in Southern Spain. A letter had been found saying that the American Congress had promised to hang Galvez’s portrait in The Capitol. Teresa, a secretary at the teachers’ trade union, naïvely thought that, as she worked just down the road, she could just go there and remind them that there was a picture to hang. This proved to be much more complicated than she expected. Teresa was no diplomat, scholar or politician, but she would not take a no as an answer. She wooed and cajoled lawyers, historians, congressmen, senators; she made the Daughters of the American Revolution her allies. And when she discovered that the portrait that was supposed to be hanging in one of the Congress rooms was nowhere to be found, she managed to get a new one painted.

Bernardo de Gálvez 1781

A couple of days ago, my friend Jose added more information to the story. He had seen a documentary about Bernardo de Galvez and learned that since 2009 the village of Macharaviaya celebrates de 4th of July with a re-enactment of the Battle of Pensacola, in which the British troops were defeated by Galvez’s grenadiers. This is the only village in Europe that commemorates the American Independence. Jose told me that the celebrations take place on the Saturday previous to Independence Day.
I immediately decided to go and have a look. I easily convinced Lorenzo, my daughter Carla (who likes anything American) and my two brothers and their children to join me. The promise of an all-American Independence Day bash with battle, barbecue and fireworks in the middle of Malaga’s mountains sounded really promising.

New Orleans Street in Macharaviaya-Southern Spain

I really did not know what to expect, and the first thing that surprised me was the sheer beauty of Macharaviaya, a village of white little houses and corners to discover. I found it exquisitely looked after but not touristy, something that pleased me immensely. We were early and the people greeted us with enthusiasm. We found a member of the British resistance lending his gun to a young couple of visitors and taking a picture. Fortunately, word has not spread too much and the event has not turned into a tourist theme park yet.

The battle re-enactment was announce for 21.30 and we were well in advance, so we had time to chat with the actors, the volunteers and the people in the village. I sat at the mini grandstand that had been built at the church square while Lorenzo started making pictures, moving around the actors during the battle rehearsal. I had time to kill, so I sent some pictures to my friend Julia in San Francisco. She was amazed at discovering that there was a bit of American history hidden in the heart of the province of Malaga.
We soon learned that the performers were members of the Galvez’s Grenadiers and Dames Association (Asociación de Granaderos y Damas de Gálvez), joined this year by the pupils of a primary school of one of the villages nearby, who have been involved in a year-long project focused on Bernardo de Galvez.  

Lorenzo took some pictures of the actor who was going to play the role of Bernardo de Galvez, a direct descendant whose resemblance to the eighteenth-century revolutionary was just stunning.

Bernardo de Galvez 2016

General Campbell get ready to defend Fort George
Night fell and the Spanish and  British troops arrived at the square after parading around the village. It was quite a sight, children and adults marching in their costumes, like a disciplined army.

The actors were not professionals, but they had put a lot of effort in the preparation of their roles. The costumes, especially the ladies’ and the girls’ had been exquisitely made. 

And when they finally reached the battle scene, the actors’ enthusiasm was enhanced by the clever use of lighting and smoke.

After the show I joined my brothers, who had found a bar at the back of the church square and were enjoying the night breeze sitting at the terrace. We watched the fireworks while having a hamburger. 

One of my brothers’ friends, with an exhausted child sleeping in his arms told me that he had heard one of the Spanish soldiers telling one of the American representative, who was carrying the US flag in the parade: “Next year you must come one week in advance… But this time you must stay in my house.”

This is the true spirit, isn’t it?

Macharaviaya by night