The man with the lynx waistcoat
13/12/2006 An enjoyable morning in the Delta del Llobregat today with Juan Carlos Fernandez of Grupo de Aves Exóticas de Catalonia. There was too much water and so not much variety birdwise, though I’d never seen a short-toed eagle there before.
Juan Carlos told me about his grandfather who lived in the Sierra Tejeda in Granada. When the Civil War ended, Juan José Fernández alias José Patillas (José Sideburns) and thousands others in the defeated Republican Army had to walk back home. It took him months. Life in post-war Andalusia was harsh, and hunger rife. As everywhere, the cats in his village were soon eaten – herein, I think, the Spanish expression dar gato por liebre (literally to give a cat for hare: to take somebody in). José kept his family of seven children alive by trapping in the hills with nets, snares and gin traps. He carried a wicker sack (capacho), with the catch stuffed inside, and a bunch of grapes on top to fool the Guardia Civil, for game was only for the rich. Most of the birds and rabbits he sold to buy oil, pulses and bread. Sometimes he’d trap a beech marten or a badger. The fur was sold and the meat eaten. One day he caught a lynx. After hanging it out in the moonlight, just as you have to do with a village cat, the family ate the animal they called gato clavo (clavo – sharp/nail – after its pointy ears). He took the skin to a fur merchant who offered him a good price -some 500 lynx skins were sold every year in Madrid until the 1940s- and said if he had two he could have made a waistcoat. Although poor and in need of money, a lynx-fur waistcoat was too much to resist, and why should only the rich have the best! He declined the offer and a few months later, he trapped another lynx, and wore the coat until he came to Catalonia in 1965. At first, the family lived in a shack along a railtrack in Barcelona. There were many other Andalusians, and also Hungarians. He worked as a bricklayer and when he had enough time and money he built a house in Terrassa. Old habits died hard. He used to take a young Juan Carlos, today a fervent defender of birdlife and an expert ornithologist, out netting for songbirds for the pot. One day they caught a badger. They ate badger stew that night and after they made shaving brushes from its hairs. Other times. Juan Carlos still nets birds, but as a ringer for ICO.See Iberian Lynx