A whole helluvah long time ago when I was in my first year here and still had a vision of Spain with the innocence of a virgin, I was in my host family’s home and lounging on my bed, which was one of those low-rise thingies that were still the standard back then. They were known as camas individuales and I have always been curious to know just who that individual was on whom they based the dimensions. What I can say is that safety concerns due to inordinate height from the top of the mattress was not an issue. If ever you were to roll over the edge and let gravity take over, your knee and elbow would break the fall before you actually initiated your descent.
Anyway, as I was saying. I was flipping through the International Herald Tribune, which was the only main source of news from abroad back then, when I stopped and stared at a startling full-page ad that read in big letters, “Today, even James Joyce would feel Catalan.”
I grimaced as I shifted my position in the bed and read on. “What the heck is this all about?”
It turned out that the whole deal was seemingly about San Jordi (the feast of St. George), which is on April 23, in case anyone is interested. San Jordi is the patron saint of Catalonia, which is why so many males from that region go by that name. April 23 is also International Book Day, the anniversary to the day and year of both William Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes. Yes, they both kicked the ink well on the very same day. Talk about your loss to literature. The Catalans have a very nice tradition of giving a book and a rose as a present on that day. No doubt it is a custom which counts on the fullest support of the florist and publishing guilds. It’s also so veeeery European chic. I happen to think it’s a very cool idea.
Anyway, that provides a little context. But that only solves part of the mystery. Why in an English-speaking language newspaper? And why all that money thrown into sharing a local but obscure custom? I’ll tell you why. Because it really wasn’t about San Jordi at all. You see, once the reader got past the eye-catching headline and the quaint story behind the day, the announcement got down to the meat of the matter. The pretext, the excuse, the real reason. The whole fuckin’ kit a caboodle. The rest of the information provided went something to the effect: Catalonia is a nation with its own language, its own history, its own traditions, etc…and so on, and so on. We’ve heard this all before. Does this all sound familiar?
This wasn’t an opportunity to share cultural diversity for the benefit of those who wish to know more about world; this was a piece of independence propaganda shrouded in a clever bit of publicity, which included the name of several well-known writers who, if we were to go by the claim, would also possess a special affinity for Catalonia that day. It was also posted and, presumably, paid for by the Generalitat, Catalonia’s regional government. The year was 1991. Way before the economic crisis, or the rampant political scandals or any other recent development the ill-informed reporter mentions. What was happening back then in that neck of the woods? Well, Barcelona was readying itself to host the summer games of 1992, an event so costly it obviously needed to look to numerous sources for financing. The central goverment was by far the biggest public investor, footing 37.7% of the bill, compared to 18% that the regional government chipped in. Then the Catalans showed their appreciation in one of the baffling ways possible…by trumpeting to the international community they have really nothing to do with Spain. What a bunch of sweethearts.
What does this show? Simple. It shows that back in the early 1990s, the campaign to sell the independence story to the world was on its way. The world wasn’t listening very much, but that didn’t matter. Maybe one day it would, and that was OK by the nationalists.
And what about Joyce? What would he have to say after all? Would he feel Catalan? Your guess is as good as mine. He probably would have wanted to have as little to do with the issue as possible. But there was little he could do about it because he was dead. For a long time. As were the rest of the referenced authors. The nationalists had cunningly chosen to tag opinions to people who could no longer give their own opinions.