by Michael Garry Smout
It was never The Barcelona Reviews
intention to enter the world of tourist information or even to draw too much attention to
the city unless, like Sant Jordi (World Book Day), it was literary oriented. The name,
like the Paris Review (long situated in New York) or Mississippi Review,
came about because this is where we live and where it began. But through much of our
e-mail - some from those who mistakenly surfed to the site looking for hard-to-find
tourist info, but most from readers and subscribers and even some contributors - we have
learned that there is a huge interest in the city, with one of the most frequently asked
March and April
March: The two-week long Carnival is usually in February and just touching March but this year it's pretty much all in March. It's a rather lacklustre affair. Children wander the streets and go to school in costume - teenagers too - but there seems to be little imagination, with a predictable turn-out of witches, vampires and zombies (Halloween is not a dressing-up day). The big Barcelona parade, punningly called Barnaval, is on the last Saturday of the festival and what it lacks in money it makes up for in eager supporters, oblivious, in their skimpy costumes, to the usually cold evening. Its run by the citys markets and, lets be frank here.....Rio, its not.
The sex, salsa and costumes of Rio are replaced by children, cheesy pop-techno and hand written placards. There are some good floats and some inventive costumes but one feels that Barcelona is just a bit too far north to really pull it off at this time of year. The story goes that under Franco the thing was banned and since then it has never really got back off the ground. A much better carnival happens down the road at Sitges, so-called gay capital of Europe. Sitges follows true tradition and it has the final parade on "Mardi Gras" (Shrove Tuesday). The town defied Franco and the spirit lives on but it can get pretty deadly and the centre is sealed off to prevent glass bottles, weapons and drugs from getting onto the street. If your bottle gets arrested, find a plastic water bottle and the police will fill it from your impounded criminal glass one. Not knowing the police hysteria, I turned up one year with the ashes of a cremated friend in an urn that was due to be flown to the States. Seeing my friend was now an off-white, cocaine-looking powder and the police were checking everything, I had terrible visions of what was about to come down. (Both friend and I made it through the checkpoint, but we got pulled aside and heavily grilled.). The next day - Ash Wednesday - is the burying of the sardine, something I had never seen until last year as it is mid-week. The event takes place in Barceloneta and not knowing what to expect I forgot my camera - an error Im still kicking myself for as it was some of the best street theatre I have ever seen and blew the parade away. This year, with camera in hand, I arrived to find a paultry gathering - no sardines on the grill, no street performers, no fireworks. A total let down.
March is one of those frustrating, fickle months when you think the weather should start to warm up but doesnt. But its still better than what misery is falling on England and Germany; hence, the lemming rush here to what tourists hope is fun in the sun, forgetting that Barcelona is on the same latitude as New York.
April: Aah! Now things start to happen. The canopy of trees down the Ramblas suddenly go leaf crazy, Mr. Sun puts his hat on and comes out to play, and spring is in the air. The 23rd is the day and seems to signal all sorts of things. The patron saint of Catalunya (and England) is Sant Jordi (Saint George) and the 23rd marks his saints day. It is also, in 1616, the day both Cervantes and Shakespeare shed their mortal coil. Back in the distant 20th Century the Catalans hijacked the Spanish Day of the Book held in February - and threw the party on this day, adding a spring - and therefore a lovers - touch by including the exchanging of books and roses, the roses having an added fertility symbol of a sprig or two of green wheat. (See photos from 1998s event and 2000). It has got pretty much out of control with everyone from the cats mother to Uncle Tom Cobbley and all selling books or roses, making the city a slow-moving sprawl of...well..niceness; it is, even with all the commercialism, a nice day. This year the usual 10% off books has been extended for a week and it is no joke when I say that a third, maybe more, of Catalunyas booksales are made on this one day. Exact figures later.
Go with the Catalans on this one, with the sonnets of Shakespeare and the misplaced love of Don Quixote, the worship of books and literature in general plus the first real sun of the year, this is the true lovers day. Let the rutting begin...er...I should also point out that after the success of the Olympic games the Catalans got cocky and pushed UNESCO for this day to become World Book Day and, bless their cotton socks, succeeded. This years event, as mentioned, is a bit marred by Easter and the fact that the UK and Ireland have decided to hold it on the 10th of March. The UKs emphasis for the day is getting children interested in reading and every UK schoolchild will receive a World Day Book token. There is also a lot of charity fundraising to get books to developing countries: check out www.bookaid.org. And just to round it off the 23rd is The Barcelona Reviews anniversary. Anyway, lovers around the world, get up, buy a book and a rose - eachswap and go back to bed to ...um ...read.
The complete history of World Book Day can be found in TBR but in Catalan.
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|navigation: barcelona review #17 March - April 2000|
|Fiction||Rachel Resnick The Meat-Eaters of
Josh Wardrip Death in the Third Person
Alden Jones Shelter
Matthew Tree Summer of Love
Marjorie Kanter Delgado The Skirt
|Article||March and April in Barcelona|
|Quiz||Jorge Luis Borges
Answers to Federico García Lorca quiz
|Regular Features||Book Reviews