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4: 1932: Barcelona

<< 3: 1931: Madrid: The Fall of the Monarchy and the Proclamation of the Republic || 5: 1934: The Real Spain >>

    At Oxford in those days French culture and language enjoyed a special place in the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, with German coming in second and Spanish a distant third. Provençal was a key ingredient in the study of French, and Catalan, which is related to it, was viewed as an extension of the French world. I chose it as my special subject. As for Portuguese, it was not in the curriculum; I studied it independently with Professor Entwistle. The Americas in general and Latin America in particular were beyond the cultural pale of the language departments. Even in the United States in those days the importance of Portuguese as the language of Brazil was not recognized. Typically, we had much later at Stanford a dean of humanities who thought that the Brazilians spoke Spanish. British interest in Catalonia derived from the historic trade ties between England and Barcelona, and also from dim memories of the War of the Spanish Succession, when Catalonia sided with Britain. So I decided in 1932 to go to Barcelona.

    As usual, we arranged an exchange. While I was in Barcelona, Jaime Pujol stayed with my family. The Pujol family lived in a big apartment on the Via Layetana, one of the main thoroughfares of Barcelona. It was an extended family, the grandparents staying there as well as a younger son Juan. It was also a lovely family. Whereas we lost contact with most of the families with which I had exchanges, we remained friends with the Pujols for years. My mother, always a good judge of character, took a great liking to Jaime and to other members of the Pujol family who visited us later. Tragically, Jaime drowned in a swimming accident when he was in his thirties.

    The Pujols were a very Catholic family. Every evening the father said vespers to the assembled family in the living room. In the darkness a few candles glimmered like stars. There was no sense of my being, as an Anglican, an alien in religion, and there was no suggestion that I attend the vespers. However, in Rome, do as the Romans do, so I asked the family if I might attend. They were touched and pleased, but my gesture was unfortunate. They sat me down on a prize chair, which broke under my weight, leaving me sprawling on the floor in the darkness. The ceremony was stopped, the lights went on, and I picked myself up. It was the last time I attended vespers, but the family never alluded to the mishap.

    Whereas Madrid is a modern city, Barcelona has roots deep in antiquity. The city claims to have been founded by Hercules; the name Barcelona is said, apparently erroneously, to derive from the name of the Carthaginian Hamilcar Barca. The city was originally overshadowed by the Greek settlement of Ampurias to the northeast and above all by the even older Tarragona to the southwest, which gave its name to the eastern section of Spain, Hispania Tarraconensis. Under the Romans, Barcelona grew around the site of the present cathedral, where there are important subterranean remains. After flourishing under the Visigoths and being briefly held by the Moors, it became important after 874 as the seat of the Counts of Barcelona. The center has important medieval monuments in the Gothic quarter, which is bounded on the southwest by the Ramblas (an old riverbed which has been transformed into the city’s most lively avenue), and on the northeast by the lower part of the Via Layertana. Most noteworthy are the cathedral and behind it, on either side of St. James’ Square, two key government buildings: the huge Palace of the Generalitat (the government of the four provinces which make up Catalonia) and city hall. The Institute of Catalan Studies, where I took courses, was in the Generalitat. After studying there in the morning, I would for exercise walk briskly to the end of the mole along the waterfront and then back to the Pujol home on the new section of the Via Layetana.

    The Pujol apartment was on the sixth floor. Rather than take the elevator I would run up the stairs, arriving out of breath. The maid would open the door and I would throw myself for a rest on a sofa in the lobby. One day I did that. When I opened my eyes, there was a strange man staring at me in a puzzled way. I had miscounted, and I was in the apartment below the Pujols. I apologized and left in a hurry. Such confusion is possible in a modern apartment block, but not in the older quarters.

    There are some interesting buildings in the new district, notably the huge basilica of the Sacred Family, the major work of Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), who was run over and killed by a streetcar before finishing it. He was obsessed with the idea of creating a church which would combine Catalan gothic architecture with modernist trends. Like all Gaudí’s work it is to me unconvincing. Three facades have four huge spires which look like cigars. The twelve spires symbolize the apostles. The three entrances between the spires on the main facade represent Hope, Faith and Charity. There is a central spire over the crossing, representing Christ, and around it are four spires representing the Evangelists. The saving grace of the building is Gaudí’s piety, but he has been unable to breathe it into his work.

    In 1992, the auxiliary bishop of Barcelona, Joan Carrera, backed a campaign to have Gaudí beatified. This judgment has been sustained in 1998 by a strange argument. The priest of the church staged a campaign to have Gaudí proclaimed a saint, which would obviously have been good for business In a pastoral letter, Richard María Cardinal Carles announced that he would campaign to have “the universal Catalan architect” beatified. An architect, José Manuel Almauzara, founded an Association for the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí. The Catholic author Rafael Alvarez Izquierdo retorted that Gaudí was demented, anti-Catholic, a Templar, a Mason, agnostic and Calvinist. This charge was supported by others who denounced Gaudí as insane, sexually deviant, and a drug addict, which would explain his strange architecture. All this makes him sound like other modernist Spanish artists I knew. However, unlike Picasso and co., he hated liberalism and represented the most reactionary brand of Catholicism.

    More recent Catalan artists have no grace, human or divine. The Catalan character is characterized by seny, which may roughly be translated by “good sense” This is the quality of a bourgeois trading community, and the aim of modern artists was to épater le bourgeois. Catalans think they are more European than other Spaniards, and modern artists rushed to Paris to pick up the latest artistic fashion of Art Nouveau. Some day we will come to our senses and realize that they are phony. The architects like Luis Domenech i Muntaner (1850-1923) and Josep Puig y Catafalch (1867- 1956) are tolerable. After all, a building has to stand up and serve a useful purpose. It is the painters and sculptors who can give free rein to their sick fantasy. The worst is Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973), an Andalusian who spent much of his life in Paris, but who was long associated with Barcelona. There is a Picasso Museum, incongruously housed in a beautiful ancient palace. Joan Miró (1893-1983) was a native of Barcelona. He is regarded as a leader of avant-garde art, and a collection of his scribbles is kept in a foundation named after him. The worst and yet most talented of the crowd was Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) who would have been a great painter had he not been a childish show-off.

    The greatest of modern Catalan painters was José María Sert, whose masterpiece was the collection of murals in the cathedral of Vich, half way between Barcelona and the Pyrenees. The Pujol family drove me there, and they made a deep impression on me. The murals, which were completed just before our visit, represent the mystery of the Redemption, beginning with Original Sin through Christ to the martyrs. The history of Catalonia is interpreted likewise as the triumph of good over evil. The see of Vich had been the spiritual center of Catalanism thanks to Bishop Morgades, who restored Catalan monasteries and advocated the use of Catalan in sermons, and his successor Bishop Torres y Bagés, who wrote theological works in defense of regionalism.

    Sert had not foreseen that evil would triumph. When the Franco forces under General Rafael García Valiño entered Vich in 1939 he found that the church had been burned early in the Civil War, ruining the murals. After the Civil War, Sert repainted them and had completed the task before he died in 1945. Spain chose to honor him when it selected him to paint (1934-35) the three murals entitled “The Solidarity of Peoples” in the Palais des Nations in Geneva, now a U.N. complex.

    My main purpose was to learn Catalan, which is so different from Castilian that most Spaniards have difficulty understanding it. The Pujol family always spoke it, and I became fluent in it. It was a different story when I visited them after the Civil War in which, as good Catholics, they took the side of Franco and escaped to Franco territory. Jaime was dead, but his younger brother Juan fought with Franco’s troops all the way back to Barcelona. I should have asked him for a detailed account of his experiences. Franco banned the use of Catalan and now the Pujol family spoke Castilian at home. The family was still Catholic, although in a less ceremonial way. There were no vespers after supper. Joan drove me to the famous monastery of Montserrat west of Barcelona, where there is a Black Madonna, the patron of Catalonia. It is in a niche above the high altar. Narrow steps behind the altar lead to the niche, and we joined the pilgrims going up and down the steps.

    Juan also drove me to Manresa, where there is a Jesuit convent near the grotto where Saint Ignatius, the founder of the Company, is said to have written his Spiritual Exercises. We were shown around by a young and pleasant Jesuit priest. He had to leave us to preach a sermon in the church. I was surprised when he said he would preach in Catalan. Priests are usually good speakers, so I did not want to miss the opportunity to hear Catalan well-spoken. Juan and I sat down in the church filled mostly with old women. The first part of the sermon was devoted to the finger of Saint Ignatius which the Pope had given the church as a holy relic. The old women listened devoutly to this praise of the finger, now separated by hundreds of miles from the saint’s body. Suddenly the priest changed his tone and said: “Now I will discuss a modern problem: birth control.” The poor old ladies listened in bewilderment.

    While deeply grateful for this renewed hospitality of the Pujol family, I was ill at ease since my timid attempts to discuss the political and religious situation were a blind alley from which I retreated. I later sent Juan a copy of Homage to Catalonia in which Orwell describes his experiences during the Civil War. Juan’s acknowledgment simply said “That’s not at all the way it was.” I do not know whether he simply detested Orwell’s ideology or whether indeed the book gives a false picture. Probably both explanations were correct. Since the death of Franco in 1975 the Catalan language has come back with a bang; attempts to impose it in all government operations and in education are being resisted firmly but tactfully by the Madrid government.

    Franco’s attempt to stamp out the Catalan language simply exacerbated the enthusiastic support the language enjoyed under the republic as the expression of Catalan nationalism. At the Institut d’Estudis Catalans I took a course on the Catalan language given by Pompeu Fabra (1868-1948), whose Catalan grammar went into many editions. He was a fervent nationalist, having prepared an edition of the 1892  Bases de Manresa, a constitutional plan drawn up in the aforementioned Manresa. He was a warm person, pleased, indeed flattered that an Oxford student had come to study Catalan with him. He took refuge in France during the Civil War. Now he is honored as one of the great figures of Catalan culture, and a Barcelona university has been named after him.

    Catalan bilingualism creates problems as far as names are concerned, since the Catalan form is somewhat different from the Castilian form. For example, the place name Vich is Vic in Catalan, and the same goes for personal first names. Catalans are sensitive about this. A Catalan reader of this chapter wanted me to change the names back and forth, even those of my friends, according to the exact year I was discussing. I decided this would be too confusing, even though I may incur the wrath of Catalan nationalists, to whom I apologize.

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    At the institute I also took courses on Catalan medieval history and literature with Jordí Rubio  Balaguer (1888-1961). His father, the more famous Antonio Rubio y Lluch (1856-1936) had taught the same subjects in the institute, but he had retired when I was in Barcelona; he died just as the Civil War broke out. Jordí’s lectures were dull, but, in post-Civil War exile, he wrote to me when I was in Stanford to express his appreciation of something I had written. I was touched and surprised at his alertness, and also sad that this scholar was now earning his living as a proof-reader in France.

    The Secretary of the Institute was the historian Luis Nicolau d’Olwer (1888-1961). The Institute was closed by Franco, and most of its faculty fled Spain. He kept it alive in exile, and every year he sent me and others a card indicating that it was still alive. He returned to Spain, but he died before the death of Franco allowed the Institute and other Catalan institutions to flourish again.

    The president of the University of Barcelona was the pre-historian Pedro Bosch Gimpera (1891-1974). He was an extraordinary scholar, writing extensively about human origins and especially of man in Spain. For this reason he was keenly interested in rock paintings. Like many Spanish intellectuals, he was forced into exile in Mexico, where he was received with great honor. The Instituto de Antropología and Historia organized a conference honoring him on his 70th birthday; the proceedings were published in 1963. While in Mexico he did extensive research in the pre-history of the New World. I saw him several times in Mexico, and he was extraordinarily hospitable. In 1971 he published in Barcelona a book on the Catalan university based on his experience as President of the University of Barcelona. After his death in 1974, the centennial of his birth in 1891 was marked with a symposium devoted to him in Andorra and Puigcerda. Presumably Andorra was chosen because Catalan is the official language and the Bishop of the Seu d’Urgell is co-regent. Catalans regard it, and also Roussillon, now French, as part of their world. The memoirs of Bosch-Gimpera, published posthumously in Barcelona in 1980, are a valuable source of information about the modern history of Catalonia.

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    The other great authority on pre-history was the German Adolf Schulten (1878-1960). He spent half of each year in Tarragona, the capital of Roman eastern Spain. I was fortunate to find him there. He was very friendly, and we discussed prehistory while strolling under the famous Roman walls with their Cyclopean bases. I believe he was a good friend of Bosch Gimpera. While they both wrote about prehistory in general, Schulten was especially interested in Numantia. He is famous for having identified the biblical Tartessos as Cadiz, claiming that it was the oldest city in Europe.

    The historian Ferrán Valls i Taberner (1888-1942), was immensely productive as a scholar, being a specialist in legal history. He was the author of a history of Catalonia which went into several editions. A liberal Catholic, he died just after the Civil War. He was a deputy in the Republican parliament in Madrid; I do not know how the Civil War treated him. He was an extraordinary, polite, friendly man. A university in Tarragona is now named after him.

    Another Tarragona university has been named after Antoni Rovira i Virgili (1882-1949), famous as an ardent nationalist historian. Among his many publications is a massive history of Catalonia, which he began in 1922. His lectures were too emphatic for me, but his hostility to Franco made him an idol of the extreme nationalists. After the fall of the Republic he traveled to the USSR, Curiously, his account of his trip there was published posthumously in Barcelona in 1968 while Franco was still alive. He settled in Buenos Aires where he established a review Catalunya. It published in 1940 his memoirs on the last days of the Catalan republic and the Catalan exodus. After both he and Franco were dead, two editions were published in Barcelona (1976, 1989). His articles denouncing Franco were collected and published in 1998, under the title The War Which They Provoked, by the Abbey of Montserrat (!). Apparently before death he became reconciled with the Catholic Church. I still think that he represents an extreme form of Catalan nationalism which makes me uneasy.

    In sum, I have warm feelings toward Catalonia and the Catalans. They are a reasonable and peaceful people. One way to judge the character of a people is through its dance. The Catalan dance is the slow, majestic sardana, which must be of ancient origin, although the origin of the word is uncertain. There is a long article on it in the monumental work of Joan Corominas, Diccionario crítico etimológico de la lengua castellana (1954). I shall always remember with emotion watching the circles in the old squares of Barcelona dancing solemnly in a round to the sound of a melancholy wind instrument. Most Spanish dances, like the fandango and the bolero, are wild and passionate, quite different from the sardana.

    The Barcelona violence which manifested itself in the Civil War came largely from outsiders, many foreigners. In Barcelona when I was there, the Valencians had the reputation of being violent, and that coincides with my impressions. The Catalan language does not have the clear, dramatic quality of Castilian, and the people are less theatrical, two characteristics which are both a blessing and a curse. Left by themselves the Catalans would be a peaceful crowd like the Portuguese. This brings us to the complex character of Catalan nationalism. Like Basque nationalism, it was originally conservative and Catholic.Now, while the conservative Partido Popular and the Socialist PSOE Party stress regions’ ties with Madrid, the extreme left-wing Izquierda Unida has just distanced itself from the Socialist Party by promoting a very loose federation which would apparently allow the regions to declare their independence.

   September 11, the Day of Catalonia, is a somber festival, since it commemorates the successful assault on Barcelona by Felipe V in 1714 in which the Catalan leader Rafael Casanova was killed. Catalonia lost its liberties, so the day is implicitly anti-Castilian, even anti-Spanish, and for this reason it was banned by Franco. When I was in Barcelona in 1932, the revolutionary spirit was expressed in the repeated playing of “Els Segadors” (“The Harvesters”), the song of the anti-Spanish country people, just as in Madrid we heard constantly the music of the Hymn of Riego. The refrain of “The harvesters” was “Bom colp de fals,” a good blow with a scythe to cut the Spaniards’ heads off. Obviously when their independence is threatened, the peaceful Spaniards can rise to the occasion.

    Much happier is the Day of St. George, Catalonia’s patron saint, April 23. The lively Ramblas avenue is the scene of a book fair, and the custom is to give books to friends, which is very good for the book industry, of which Barcelona is an important center. Women get a rose, so they and the flower industry are happy too. In general, life along the Catalan coast is very pleasant and modern. The hinterland around Barcelona is industrial, while the interior of Catalonia, albeit prosperous, reminds one of highland Spain. Barcelona has a reputation as a great European city, and city planners from all over Europe come to study it. It is indeed the most attractive city on the Mediterranean. Think of that!

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