Whilst rooting around for more info on De Layens, I came across the following story which forms the preface to a book called 'The Beehive Metaphor' - a book written about how bees and the beehive have influenced the work of artists, academics, architects and social scientists.

But I won't spoil the story by telling you any more about it. Enjoy.


The Beehive Metaphor: From Gaudí to Le Corbusier

Preface and Acknowledgements

Although this is a brief and modest book, I am conscious of its novel character: it is an attempt to analyse a theme that, up to now, nobody anywhere has ever considered. Under the circumstances, I cannot rely on like-minded readers to follow me out of sympathy, so I intend to honour the conventions of 'academic rigour'. For this and other reasons which need not be explained here, I feel that I should say something about how I came to think of such an unusual study. 1 will begin, then, with some biographical details. Any reader who believes that personal questions are inappropriate in a scientific work should skip this preface and move directly on to chapter 1.

As far as I am aware, few of my fellow art historians spent their childhood surrounded by beehives as I did. My father, Lucio Ramirez de la Morena (1909-1988) studied apiculture at his own expense just after the Spanish Civil War, or possibly earlier. According to a family story (now denied by my mother, who never had much time for honey or bees), my father, held prisoner by one of the warring factions, chanced upon an old textbook on beekeeping. The book may have been written by Layens or Bonnier or by Langstroth and Dadant. (I shall speak of these and other books later on.)
Whatever the case, my father became a convert to movable frame or rational apiculture, devoting himself totally to dreams of indubitable wealth (the famous story of the milk-churn). He was never the same again.

The idea was, as my brothers and I heard him say many times, very simple. Each hive produced at least one swarm every spring, and if we caught the swarms and put them in modern hives, we could double the size of our apiary every year. As for the harvest, Father maintained that it could be increased considerably by using the most modern techniques, especially if the hives were moved from lower ground, where they spent the spring, to the mountains when the flowers were in bloom, remaining there for the summer months. Ideally, our apiary would be located in orchards in southern or eastern Spain (in Alicante, for example, the 'home of spring').

Lucio Ramirez de la Morena was convinced that the end of his financial problems was in sight - "in two years", he used to say. Or perhaps, in more pessimistic moments, "four years from now". When the said period of time had passed (never excessive, although for his family it seemed like an eternity), lasting prosperity failed to arrive. He dreamed of being the managing director of a large firm, with lorries transporting his beehives from the valleys to the mountains and then on to the flowery banks of the Mediterranean.

In reality, this is all a memory, as my father did once become rich overnight as the result of a very unusual venture into the world of economics and industry. The event seems so incredible today that I would not even refer to it had I not seen a mass of documents testifying to its having really happened. I am speaking of the late 1940's, when Spain was awash with dreamers and those who were bereft of all hope. In that context, the following apicultural fantasy seemed plausible to many: if you invested enough money in the National Beekeeping Service (the business concern founded by Lucio Ramirez) to buy yourself a hive, this would provide such and such a quantity of honey per annum or its equivalent in ready cash. We are dealing here with virtual hives (mere capital investment) which my father actually had to acquire and put to use. As the profit offered was far greater than that offered by any bank or investment company at the time, he was inundated by requests from people wanting to buy hives, and his bank account expanded overnight.

Anyone else would have made a beeline for Rio de Janeiro with his fortune, but not my father. Lucio Ramirez genuinely believed in an 'apicultural utopia', and he spent the rest of his days attributing the cause of his subsequent financial ruin to bad luck and the weather (unforeseen accidents and years when there were strong winds and few flowers). It is a miracle that he was not gaoled: perhaps the prisons were too full to take anyone else (postwar repression was at its height), or perhaps the (naive?) investors took pity on the eccentric beekeeper, seeing that he had five children (this figure was to double over the next ten years). It also seems obvious to me that the ambitious credulity of those who bought the hives puts them in the same group as the victims of the famous stampede swindle. I don't believe that any one individual was to blame.

Nevertheless, the lorries and vans my father had paid vast sums for and some property in the country (which produced nothing but wild flowers) were impounded along with his beehives. All of these were of the new, movable-frame type, since one of his occupations during his brief period of prosperity had been to acquire rustic beehives in the mountains and villages and convert them into modern ones. It was for this reason that he had gone with his family to Malaga for a while (which is why I was born in that beautiful city). The majority of these new beehives were of the Root type, which could have 'supers' or frame-boxes added to them. They were all painted white, numbered and marked with the initials of the National Beekeeping Service.

When the business failed, the beehives were scattered to the four winds. Who knows what befell them until Victor Erice made use of some of them for his 1973 film El espiritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive). I have absolutely no doubt that my father made a great contribution to the spread of movable-frame beekeeping in postwar Spain with his business venture. It was he who brought many modern beehives into service and trained many assistants who then became beekeepers in their own right. In their turn, they went on to train another generation of beekeepers, and so on up to the present day.

As I have already said, I grew up surrounded by the material and moral ruins of that apicultural empire. My mother, a primary school teacher, provided for the family, while my father, in the grip of his fantasies, attempted time and time again to achieve wealth by means of the geometrical multiplication of his never-more-than-modest apiary. Unfortunately, he maintained his unshakable belief in his theory of apiculture. My brothers and I helped him rather reluctantly, for we had learned very early in our lives to measure the distance that separates dreams from harsh reality. We also tried in vain to persuade him to abandon apiculture in favour of writing verse plays, another of his callings that life had frustrated (this occupation seemed to us equally irrelevant but less onerous). This is how we came to know a fair amount about apiculture and about the medicinal properties of pollen, honey and royal jelly.

End of preface ...


If anyone knows the "famous story of the milk-churn", I'd love to hear it.

LJ