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Past Tenses in Spanish and the late 70’s in Barcelona: Los Mares del Sur

Los mares del sur

LOS MARES DEL SUR (Southern Seas) by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

At the B1 level Spanish intensive course we are working on the past tenses in Spanish and, because most students are interested in detective fiction and the Spanish culture, we decided learning them through a novel by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, a writer from Barcelona.

The novel is titled Los mares del sur (Southern Seas) (1979) and you can get to know the city at the time, from the high classes to the slums on the outskirts: a characters’ picture that reflect the personal and collective conflicts in the late 70’s Barcelona.


Book cover and the writer


Barcelona. 1979.

El Bocanegra, Loli, El Pecas and el Ternero were at a “galactic” nightclub. It was late at night in the city slums. They needed a car. Shall we steal it? Shall we not steal it? They decided to steal it. In front of Barcelona’s city hall, at Plaça Sant Jaume, a police car started the police persecution.

Bocanegra run away and he arrived at a waste ground. That’s where the dead man appeared.


Book cover


“We detectives are the stablished moral thermometers” said Pepe Carvalho -the detective- to his partner and excellent cook Biscuter, while entering the office “I tell you, this society is rotten. It doesn’t believe in anything”.

Pepe Carvalho’s office had green walls and was near the Ramblas. He decided  to have an ice-cold orujo (herb liquor). He got out the office and strolled down the Ramblas.

“We private detectives are as useless as ragpickers. We rescue among the garbage things that are not garbage yet. Or things that could stop being considered garbage”.


Pepe Carvalho in the movie adaptation of the book


When he was passing by Ferran Street he decided to go into a delishop. He had not much money on him but he bought marinated pork and “butifarras”, Cabrales cheese, Jabugo chorizos and Salamanca ham. Back to the office, he saw in a shop window a non purebred dog. He didn’t think it twice. He got in and bought her.

When we has getting into the office, the phone rang. A lawyer. A case.

It was someone from the high class of the city, Mr. Viladecans, a man with a gold tie pin and platinum cufflinks.

The dead man, Mr. Viladecans explained to him, was Stuart Pedrell, a builder from a noble family.

The newspaper headline: “The body of an unknown man was found in a waste ground in Trinidad (…) He had left his family a year ago with the pretext of a journey to Polynesia.”



Viladecans and Stuart were friends. Stuart, with the midlife crisis, at 40 or 50, thought of leaving everything behind and go to any island in Polynesia, following Gauguin’s steps.



But Stuart never got to Polynesia. 

Where was he? What did he do during this time?

Here is where our creativity starts… there we go!

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