I went back to Barcelona for a few weeks and I was pleased when I realised that without much planning on my side I was going to be there for Sant. Jordi. Sant Jordi (St George, in Catalan) is celebrated on the 23rd of April. Traditionally it is the day of the rose (from the blood of the slayed dragon was born a red rose that the knight gave the lady, as the legend goes, but check some of links at the bottom for more information) and the book. I think most places tend to adopt global traditions and nowadays St Valentine’s Day is celebrated nearly everywhere (at least Western countries, although I suspect with movies and advertisements it might be difficult to escape it even farther away), but when I was a child, in Catalonia is was more traditional to celebrate love and all its accoutrements for Sant Jordi. The day coincides with the anniversary of Cervante’s death (in 1616) and therefore it also became the day of the book. Women would get a rose (and I must tell you they are particularly expensive that day and you won’t be able to go anywhere and not find a stall trying to sell you a rose) and then you have the books. Stalls selling books also everywhere, famous (and less famous) authors doing book signings, and books at a discount. Oh, Sant Jordi is the patron saint of Catalonia (yes, I know it’s also patron saint of England and the same date also celebrates Shakespeare’s death, so many coincidences), and although it is not a bank holiday, many official buildings (like the Town Hall, la Generalitat…) will be open to the public that day.
I hadn’t been back in Barcelona for Sant Jordi for well over 20 years. I remember talking to a friend, Silvia, about it; she warned me that it gets very crowded that day and you have to be prepared. We ended up meeting on the day, and going to visit her son (Daniel, Dani) who was selling roses near la Sagrada Familia. I had gone for a walk in the morning, checked the stalls trying to see if some of my author friends were signing (some were, but not in Barcelona or in the area I visited). A bit windy but a sunny day, good for both roses and books. I saw the stall dedicated to reading El Quijote from beginning to end. A volunteer would step in and read a chapter, and so on. At that point in the morning they were reading chapter 5. A fair way to go.
I had received many messages from other authors in the city who were planning on meeting for lunch. Silvia and I joined them briefly and managed to have chat (about life, writing, being a superwoman and doing everything, Egypt, mayors, social media, selling, health and parents) and then Silvia suggested we could go and visit l’Ateneu Barcelonés, where her husband (Bernardo) is studying a course on novel writing. The building is normally only open to members, but it was Sant Jordi and they opened it to general public. It is a gorgeous building and I include some pictures. The library is truly amazing.
After our break at the Ateneu we ventured down Las Ramblas. If you’ve ever been to Barcelona, you’ll know Las Ramblas. It’s the Mecca for tourists, full of character, an avenue that walks you down to the port, with flowers, souvenirs, craft shops, street performers, the must-see Boquería (El Mercat de St Antoni) a market the likes of which you’ve probably never seen, with la Font de Canaletas at the top (legend has it that if you drink from it you’ll go back to Barcelona) and Colón (the monument to Christopher Columbus pointing towards America) at the bottom. I nearly forgot el Liceu, the Opera Theatre well-worth a visit, also in Las Ramblas. (And it has fabulous acoustics.) Silvia was right. It was crowded. But surprisingly enough, this being the most touristic avenue of the city, most people that day were locals. Roses, people signing books, buzz…
It got quite late and I left Silvia, who was going to meet with her husband and son and go back home (as they live outside in Terrassa) and I got back too. At that point the roses were selling much cheaper as there wasn’t much day left.
I loved being back in Barcelona for Sant Jordi. If you have a chance, I’d recommend it too. I leave you links to some information on the web, just in case you feel curious:
And an article in The Guardian by Matthew Tree, one of their correspondents, who seems to quite like it too!
Thanks for reading and if you’ve enjoyed it, like, share, comment and CLICK…and see if you can go and visit!