Sharp, witty, Julio Camba is the king of the chascarrillo. “What depth, what originality, what delicacy in the pages written by this indifferent and ironic man! Azorín said. He is a humorist who has an original philosophy and concept of things ». Born in Villanueva de Arosa, in 1884, this pontevedrés devoted his ingenuity to the column, to the light article, to a genre that although he did not invent it, he did purify it in a way that, in Pla’s opinion, “had no precedents in Spanish literature ».
In his attention to the apparently banal detail, in his simple, clear style, and therefore paradigm of the best of the scriptures, a great power is hidden to synthesize the true essence of things. And the adventures that he lived were not few. At just 16 years old, on the first of his five trips to America, he came to Argentina as a stowaway, from where he was expelled for his revolutionary activities.
Ascribed to anarchism during his youth, he eventually turned to more conservative positions, although in his articles he exhibited a rather apolitical attitude. Only with the arrival of the Second Republic was he really critical of the government, and then he settled in under Franco.
Consolidated as one of the highest-paid columnists, several heads raffled his signature to make a parliamentary report or send it to the correspondents of Constantinople, London, Paris or Rome, until in 1913 Torcuato Luca de Tena recruited him for ABC. “My name is Camba,” he appeared from Berlin in his first article for the house where he wrote his best lines. I need to know that the reader is going to read to me as you read to a friend and that many times, instead of getting angry at me, he is going to smile affectionately, saying: “But what nonsense this man comes up with …!”.
Camba published during his life two dozen books in which, column by column, he dissected the countries he visited, the art of eating, or the turmoil of the Republic years. “I think that journalism, even the lightest and most superficial, has a certain right to enter History,” he said, just like the hand that marks the seconds on a clock. But, perhaps because he did not write any novel with which to indicate the hours, after his death in 1962, several decades of oblivion followed.
In recent years, however, we have witnessed an extraordinary awakening of the Cambodian column. Not a single one of his books remains to be reissued, new anthologies have been published and newspapers have been populated with bad imitators. (There are those who have believed that Camba’s irony consists in chaining occurrences). The book that concerns us here brings together under the title “New York” the two works that he dedicated to the capital of the West: “A year in the other world”, after his stay as a correspondent for ABC in 1916, and “The automatic city », Written after his second American journey in the thirties.
Camba deforms the American way of life with genius: the noise dominates the city, turned into a “gigantic factory”. Restaurants are automatic. Literature is only if it is commercial. The mafia imitates large companies. Everything, he summarizes, responds to a single criterion, that of Fordism. Camba criticizes the standardization of thought, the reduction of man to a prototype, inane individuality.
What strange thing is this that happens to me with New York? –He wonders– I spend my life stalking the slightest opportunity to come here, I arrive, and I feel instantly possessed of a terrible indignation against everything. New York is a city that irritates me, but that attracts me in an irresistible way ».
Camba portrays New York by caricaturing it; he manipulates reality like an artist. Likelihood, he said, is always more important than truth, and that is why these pages have not lost freshness. It is surprising that the Kingdom of Cordelia, always admirable for the dedication it puts into its editions, has received so many misprints. These numerous oversights prevent the book from being enjoyed as it deserves.
Julio Camba. Kingdom of Cordelia, 2020. 464 pages. 22.95 euros. .