A few years ago, José María Caparrós Lera wrote a critical review about a play by playwright Alfonso Paso that incensed the author. Such was his ire that, the next day, the playwright in question responded in an angry article that included the phrase: “Como Caparrós, no hay dos” [There’s no one like Caparrós].
Today, José María Caparrós, emeritus professor of Contemporary History and Film at the University of Barcelona, left us after a long illness that gradually ate him away. And I write this with a heavy heart, because he was loved, by me and by many. He had a way of always making you feel important. No matter what you were talking about, to him it was everything, and he made you feel like, at that precise moment, nothing else mattered. When I spoke to him about my projects, he would look at me, listen, smile and encourage me to forge ahead. I don’t think I will ever forget his distinctive way of speaking, with that guttural French “r” that made him truly genuine. “Good job, Jaume!”, he would often say; or, out of the blue, I would get a WhatsApp saying: “Congratulations, doctor, on your excellent analysis of the new Blade Runner! Kind regards.” Just like that. And I would think to myself: “I don’t deserve such esteem”.
But that’s how he was: genuine in his actions –so simple, so humble– and in the way he worked: loyal to his convictions and beliefs, loyal to his friends and “colleagues”, as he would call all of us who, in one way or another, were involved in his “field of action”: film. He was the first person to take me in, fresh out of my degree programme. And who provided me invaluable help with my first articles about film, and in my journey towards becoming a doctor: not so much in terms of subject matter –my interests have always been in cinematic narrative, and his in contemporary history–, but in his encouragement to do this or that, talk to so-and-so, introducing me to a friend or mentioning a book, a film…; all the while staying in the background, not wanting to be a “nuisance”, with affection. And while saying: “Good job, Jaume!”, which he did say often. Or smiling that contagious smile. And he did so honestly, earnestly, not to keep up appearances. And everything his friends told him –and I consider myself lucky to be one of them– to him was a big deal. No matter how small a matter it really was.
The day before I was due to defend my thesis I celebrated my name day. One of the first messages I received was from him: “Congratulations, Jaume! Doctor, tomorrow. A big hug, and don’t worry, you’ll be great”. As I re-read it now I can hear his voice, and my heart swells. To him –and to me– being his colleague was not a relationship marked by distance, but by intimacy. He would have liked to have attended my defence, but he had recently finished a round of chemotherapy and didn’t feel up to it. A few days before, I gave him a dedicated copy of my thesis. “I don’t deserve this!”, he exclaimed. “You do”, I replied. “Thank you for the lovely dedication, Jaume”. He deserved it, and much more…
I had the opportunity to see him a couple more times. Once, when he invited me round to his house for lunch; and another, chatting in his small office near Plaça Lesseps. And it was there, surrounded by books, films, a fantastic pencil portrait somebody had drew of him, where he told me how he was and how cancer was eating him away. Literally. Yet not in cold blood, but as to say, “it’s time to start closing doors, and that’s okay”. Or, better yet, as he declared in the letter he had sent to friends and colleagues following his death, that he was busy preparing for his “journey, through death, to the next stage in life”. In this very letter, he apologised to us all, saying that “if I have ever been a nuisance during our time together, it was never out of ill will, but out of weakness or a failure to measure up. My aim in life has been –and will hopefully continue to be– to serve God and humanity in all situations, particularly in terms of professional work, in which I have been repaid time and time again with your cooperation, trust and patience”.
Yes, indeed, “There’s no one like Caparrós”. No one. Though I don’t say this in the same critical sense as Alfonso Paso, but with the awareness that it won’t be easy to find someone like him. A great man has left us. I know he will be there waiting for us with open arms, and while he does, as another friend of mine said, he’ll be watching the greatest film he’s ever seen.
Rest in peace, my friend. And thank you.