There’s something in Catalonian sun on winter. It don’t seem to wear out as day progresses. Going out in late afternoon it feels just as fresh as when you first left in the morning. December weather is mellow. On a sunny day noon one can go about without a jacket.
I’ve arrived for my first trip to Barcelona and spend a new year in the city, and coincidentally chose apt book for travel reading: In 1937 city had a visitor, an author who’s pen name would later be known by the world. He wasn’t a normal tourist, but in Catalonia on a personal crusade against Fascism. Explaining the importance of defending the Republican side:
“Moreover, there was the question of the international prestige of Fascism, which for a year or two past had been haunting me like a nightmare. Since 1930 the Fascists had won all the victories; it was time they got a beating, it hardly mattered from whom.”
Harbor seen from Mount Montjuic.
Streets at night.
He arrived some months after anarchist and leftist militia had wrested control from old autocratic and clerical establishment in the city. This militia would then be part of bigger game of Spanish civil war, Republican side (supported by Soviet Union and Mexico), fighting against Fascist side (Germany and Italy as its main backers).
The cathedral was constructed from the 13th to 15th centuries, with the principal work done in the 14th century.
Column of Columbus.
From the pages of Homage to Catalonia, opens up a view of anxiety, uncertainty, political scheming and propaganda. But also small moments that matter more than they might, little joys of life. Authors winter in the Zaragoza front (see progress of front lines in Wikipedia) is chilling and hostile place. Daily routines include fighting the hunger, collecting firewood and killing louses that find their way everywhere. Barcelona 80 years later couldn’t be more different: wealth, welfare, civility, and exodus of tourists.
Despite the polar opposites of then and now, couldn’t help to notice some parallels as well. Catalanian sense of independence is still strong, and has again surprised the ruling elite in Madrid. Independence movement has been on the news as central government has tried to quell the peaceful demonstrations and even elections. At the time of writing this, one leader of the movement has fled to Belgium, another one thrown to prison in Madrid (recent story in The Guardian).
Democracy is all nice and dandy, until people vote wrong.
The author in question was of course George Orwell. The book, Homage to Catalonia, was about his experiences in Spanish Civil War soon after returning from the revolution and a half year trench life. I both admire and envy Orwell’s literary style: compressed, yet far aiming and accurate though. Comparing to his better known classics, to me Homage to Catalonia feels most honest. It feels like unpolished blog post, written soon after the strong personal experience. At parts, Orwell is duelling with contemporary journalists, whom he thought had reported false information to English audience. Like his other books, Homage to Catalonia was hard pill to swallow by the authorities because of the criticism towards establishment.
La Rambla. Main promenades at the center of the city.
Book was published at the time when the outcome of the war was still hanging in the air. By the time of Orwells death in 1950, it had sold just under 1000 copies. Today it’s well worth reading, from historical aspect, from getting some insights about the Catalonia, and, well, because Orwell is Orwell 🙂
Old man and the sea.
Little green parrots can be seen everywhere in the city, often screeching from the trees.
Personal impressions about the visit: Bitter sweet stench of marijuana hovers by every now and then. City is very international, and not only the tourist crowds. Chinese seem to own and operate many bars in downtown. Indian and Pakistani have specialised as grocery store owners. Some streets and metro stations have been occupied by Africans selling t-shirts, sneakers and fake Ray Bans. Architecture is mix of tradition, La Rambla has the vibe of Champs-Élysées of Paris. And modern skyscrapers by seaside make you feel like in gulf countries such as Dubai or Bahrain. Mediterranean water is bright green, sandy beach is nice and long. Popular spot even now in January.
Relaxing at National Art Museum.
- Earlier posts about George Orwell: Burmese Days. Mandalay and Maymyo. Seasons of South East Asia.
- This Telegraph.co.uk article from 2013 gives insight of places in Barcelona visitor can go and see themselves, as well as Orwell tours that are arranged in the city.
Placa de George Orwell, Barcelona downtown.