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Mr Witt en el Cantón

Mr Witt is a local bar. It's a nice bar. I recommend it even though the service at table can be a bit slow. They also put too much ice in the cubatas - the mixed drinks -  like rum and coke or gin and tonic. Strange name for a bar though.

The penny dropped one day when I noticed a book on a shelf behind the counter, Mr Witt en el Cantón, written in 1936 by Ramón J Sender. The bar was named for the book and the book tells the story of an English engineer who was living in Cartagena at the time of a short lived Cantón proclaimed in the town in 1873.

The Cantons were a sort of city republic. Several sprang up in Spain as a response to the policies of the newly constituted central government of the First Spanish Republic. Most of the Cantons were very short lived but the one in Cartagena lasted longest. Cartagena has always been a military town because of its splendid harbour and good defensive position. The military sided with the uprising so the Canton had plenty of weapons and lots of trained men. Amongst other things the crews of four of the Navy's most powerful frigates happened to be in Cartagena and sided with the Canton. Even then the movement didn't last long; just six months.

On land the Canton tried to incite rebellions in the area around Hellín in Castilla la Mancha but the expeditions were a bit of a fiasco. At sea they did a lot better both in obtaining help from other towns and in engagements with the part of the Spanish Navy that had remained loyal to Madrid. The Canton also had some problems with the German Navy and the Royal Navy when a couple of the Canton's ships were arrested as pirates.

The city was besieged and shelled and starved into submission. Apparently 70% of the town was completely destroyed. The town was left to rot for the next twenty years but as money started to flow in from the new mining operations out La Unión way the newly rich families found they had plenty of space to build their grand modernist buildings which are still the trademark of the city.

I bought the book from a second hand book fair a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday I went to have a look at the street where Mr Witt lived and, when I was down to the final chapter, it seemed appropriate to finish Mr Witt in Mr Witt. So I did.


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