A dream of flying high

Edwin Winkels Each Wednesday at 7.10 pm, El Punt Avui TV airs the series of interviews, Catalan Connections. Marcela Topor talked to Edwin Winkels, a Dutch writer and journalist who is based in Sitges.
You've just published a book, El último vuelo (Edicions B), the story a young flight attendant named Maribel Sastre, who died tragically in a plane accident back in 1958. But first, what's your own story?
I'm from Holland and I've lived here more than in my own country. I was born in Ultrecht 53 years ago and I came here on holiday to Calafell with some friends, when I was 17. I met a girl there, we fell in love, we started writing to each other and finally she came to Holland to live when she was 20. But after four or five years of strong winters, heavy rain and clouds, we moved here when I was 25 and since then I've lived and worked in Catalonia.
When you came here, were you already working as a journalist?
Yes, I was a sports journalist in Rotterdam, and I quit my job to come here. My professional background helped me because when I arrived in Barcelona, they were organising the Olympics in '92 and I had a lot of work. I was on the committee for the Games, and then I received an offer from El Periódico de Catalunya. It was a good moment, and those were incredible times.
But you recently decided to drop journalism for writing.
After 21 years at the paper doing sports and then being a general reporter, when I got to 50, I decided I'd change my job. Any journalist wants to write books some time. So I quit the newspaper and I try to make my living from writing novels.
How did you discover the story of Maribel Sastre?
I was on Montjuïc at a friend's funeral and I noticed this grave where, instead of a cross or angel, there was the statue of a young girl with a flight attendant's hat on. There was a long inscription on the stone: “Your dream was to fly, and you flew so high you disappeared.” So, she died in service in 1958, when she was only 18 years old and she had been an air hostess for only half a year. On the flight towards Madrid, the plane crashed on a mountain called La Mujer muerta, a mountain peak of 2,000 metres. They only discovered the plane two days after.
What led you to write a book based on this story?
Something that caught my attention is that in the 1950s in Franco's Spain, when most women didn't work and didn't have many opportunities, Maribel started working, and wanted to be independent. Also the name of the mountain where the plane crashed –it looked like fate. On the whole, there were many details that interested me about this story.
So you started to investigate. Was it easy to find information about the case?
With the Internet everything is easier, and I immediately found information about her: the names of the people involved, where she lived, in Barcelona's Eixample. I also found out that two little girls of ten and nine years old also died in the accident. They were going from Vigo to Madrid to see their parents after four years of living with their grandparents, but the plane never arrived. So it's also a story about waiting to see your kids again, who never arrive, and what that does to you. Their mother Emilia is still alive, but can't talk about what happened; I talked to the older sister. It's been 58 years since the accident, but it's the tragedy of their lives.
Yet, there are three stories in the book.
First Maribel's story, told in first person, since the day of the accident. It's fiction, I tried to imagine how things went, from the moment the plane took off to the crash, and how she survived and died in the snow, also how she talked to the passengers on the plane. Then, there is the story of the two little girls told in the third person, and the story told by the mother of Maribel, 50 years after the plane crash.
Was it hard to become a female light attendant in Spain in those days?
During Franco's time women didn't have a lot of opportunities. It was a new profession and there were very few of them. Before she started, until 1945, there were only male stewards. It was a military society and women had to struggle hard to get accepted by men in the professional world. The book is also a chronicle of those times, especially of the situation of women and how they fought to work for a better social position.
It's also a story about loss, and how to deal with it during a lifetime.
I explained it more through the case of the mother, who lost her two small daughters. It's not only a sad book, it's about loss, how you manage it when your life has to go on. Of course, the pain of the mother caused by this loss is so great that she will never recover completely.
Any projects coming up?
My next book is in Dutch and will come out in April. It's the result of a month I spent in New Orleans last year in the Mississippi Delta, where 200 people from the Canary Islands moved 200 years ago and still live there.
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