Posts filed under ‘History’

History blog

I find myself wanting to get into the more technical details of research and teaching but don’t really want to do it here. This blog was created more as a place to keep in touch with friends & family, most of whom are not historians and are not all that interested in that sort of thing. I also wanted the posts related to that to be in a blog focused on that theme so all the links & categories could reflect the central theme. So I created a new blog for that: Peregrina Historiae. Drob by! Leave a comment!

February 4, 2007 at 7:21 pm Leave a comment

Monks, kings, markets & calçots

Yesterday was amazing! We drove through wine country, discovered a gorgeous thirteenth-century monastery, wandered through the market at Valls, and drove through half the region searching for calçots.

I can´t wait to tell you all about it but since I´m at work right now, I´ll direct you to Alan´s blog, where he talks about our day and shares some of the beautiful pictures he took.

January 29, 2007 at 5:28 pm 4 comments

Valls, Jan 28, 2007

In the province of Taragona in Catalonia is the small pueblo (village) of Valls which dates from before the 13th century. Alex had heard that they were having a big fiesta this weekend and it involved food. Calcots to be exact. These are calcots…..A sort of onion.

 

The calcots are roasted on an open fire.

While the visit was interesting it wasn’t the highlight of the day. Before I get into that I have to tell you how the day began. We had been planning for a few weeks and invited our friends to come along if they wanted to. Alex looked at transportation and we found out that the only train up to Valls left Barcelona at 7:00 AM with the return leaving Valls at 6:00 PM. I was not too sure about this as it meant that we’d be stuck there whether we liked it or not, but I was commited. We went to bed around 10:30 Saturday night to get up at 5:00 the next morning. At 1:30 I heard my phone. It was a message from Sebastian. He wanted to go to Valls but didn’t want to get up so early so he was offering to drive. We agreed and he came to pick us up in the morning. Alex sent text messages to people she thought might show up at the train station in the morning explaining the change of plans. By chance, Joy caught us before we left the city and we picked her up too.

Off we go. We pull off the highway and head towards MontBlanc on a secondary road. This is wine country and there were vineyards on both sides of the road. Beautiful scenery. On the way, we happen to see a sign for a monestary in Poblet. Alex had come across frequent documents from 1354 that came from there so we decided to go there. It was fate taking care of us again. Here’s some history on the monestary

The Cistercian order, initiated in 1098, founded Poblet in 1151, less than a hundred years later. Most of the rooms and buildings were completed in the 12th and 13th centuries. These facilities are virtually intact. They are today as they were back then. Other than normal upkeep and repair, no restoration has ever been done.

The history of the monks who, day after day, made the growth and continuity of the monastery possible has never been written and probably never will. The monks still live here and have not deviated from the original ideals of the founders of the Cistercians and, likewise, the founders of Poblet, who originated from Fontfroide.

Entering the monastery through the front gates gave us a small glimpse of what was to come.

This beautiful iron gate was made by blacksmiths. You could see the workings in the iron. Just gorgeous.

The dining room. We were there around lunch time and ours was the last tour through. You could see the tables set for the monks who would arrive soon.

From there we were taken to the place where the monks worship. To the side of the alter were the tombs of kings and queens. The tombs of Pere III (1319–1387) & his successor Joan I, both were rulers of the Crown of Aragon (Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia & Balearics) were here. Alex was so happy to find this out. She calls them “her kings”.

 

Out in the cloisters, the light was amazing. Even shadows on the walls hinted of the past with an air of mystery. You could almost feel the presence of those who passed before.

This area was so peaceful, I guess it was a place for contemplation.

The sound of trickling water made it even more tranquil. I was really in awe of this place.

The architecture and detail out here was gorgeous and it was all original. The craftmanship was awesome.

We left the cloisters to enter another part of the monastery. This was the dining area of the lay people who worked for the monks. As the population of the order diminished, the dining room was no longer needed and was converted to a wine cellar.

From there we climbed some steps to another part of the facility. Notice the hand rail, stunning work.

They were all waiting for me around the corner. Notice how cold they look, it was pretty chilly that day.

I didn’t think the day could get any better and from here we headed over to Valls. We were too late to get the calcots. They had run out of tickets. Apparently, you buy tickets and get a complete package of wine, bread, some sauce and roasted calcots, plus an apron. There were people standing at long tables with their aprons on and eating their calcots. We tried to find a restaurant to eat but they were way too expensive. We decided to drive a bit to see if it would get less expensive and it did. We stopped in one small place that had a castle on the hill. What a day.

This one will be hard to top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 29, 2007 at 3:06 pm 3 comments

The Great (Ecumenic) Mosque of Cordoba?

The Great Mosque of Cordoba can be seen as a symbol of the many layers of Spanish history and of all the peoples that carved this nation. After the Muslim conquest of the Spanish kingdoms, Abderraman I ordered the construction of a mosque on the site of a Visigothic church (which was itself built over a Roman temple). When Cordoba fell back into Christian possession in the thirteenth century, it was turned back into a church.

Earlier this week, the president of the Islamic Association of Spain, Mansur Escudero, wrote a letter to Pope Benedict XVI requesting that Muslims be allowed to pray in front of the mihrab* of the great mosque, alongside Catholics. Escudero alleged that the shared use of the building would help bridge relations between the two groups and would follow the example set by the recent visit by the pope to the Hagia Sophia in Turkey. The bishop of Cordoba quickly issued a press release denying the request saying it would only cause “confusion” among the faithful. His exact words are interesting: “sólo generaría confusión en los fieles, dando pie al indiferentismo religioso”.

What does he mean by “indiferentismo religioso”? That people wouldn’t be able to tell the two religions apart? Well, maybe stressing the things we have in common wouldn’t be so bad. But god-forbid we make a muslim seem less alien to a christian… That would be too revolutionary.
I think the Church lost a great PR moment here. The Great Mosque of Cordoba is mostly a tourist site these days. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit it every year. Catholics don’t find it a practical place in which to do their worship. That role is played by more local parish churches. Allowing the Mosque of Cordoba to be used as an ecumenic temple would be mostly a public-relations effort that would probably disturb few Catholics and fit well with all the efforts of interfaith dialogue pioneered by the late Pope John Paul II.

When I first moved to Canada, I was surprised to find that the local Catholic church shared the building with a Protestant church. One could go to mass at 9 AM or attend a Protestant service at 11:30. Martin Luther and Jean Calvin probably turned in their tombs, but I thought it was great. It shows respect towards each other and reminds us that we have more uniting us than we do separating us.

As a Spanish tourist said when asked if Muslims should be allowed to pray in the building, “Es de sentido común, es la mezquita de Córdoba”. A couple from Valencia added that after all, the Muslims also have the right to pray.

*a mihrab is a niche in the middle of a building that indicates the direction of Mecca

Mansur Escudero praying by the mosque of cordoba

photo © El Pais

January 1, 2007 at 5:26 pm 2 comments

Portugal

On Friday, December 8, Alex and I boarded a ClickAir flight to Lisbon. We had been planning a trip to Lisbon and Alex managed to buy 2 return tickets for 120 euros. It was my first experience on a low cost carrier and we were travelling with just carry on luggage. The flight was not full so there were no problems but I don’t think I’ll travel low cost again because of one thing, the open seating. If that flight were full, it would have stressed me out totally. I know, it shouldn’t but ……….. Besides, if you book further out, the prices are not that high on regular carriers. We’ll have to see.

Alex was planning our Lisbon activities even before we left Barcelona. What restaurants we’ll eat in, what sights we’ll see, if there’s anything extra special to visit, etc. She loves doing that when we go on a trip somewhere and really knows her way around once we get there.

After a 2 hour flight, we landed at Lisbon airport. It’s not far from downtown and we had no problems finding the aerobus to take us there. It cost 3 euros but that included all day access to trams and buses (not metros). We got off at Praca dos Restauradores, walked across the square and found our hotel without any trouble at all.

After dumping our bags, we headed out the door to do some exploring. We walked up to Bairro Alto and Chiado because Alex had found a restaurant she wanted to have lunch at. When we got there we found it closed so we did a random thing and found another one. After eating we walked over to the 1920’s café, Brasileira, in Chiado. Once the haunt of writers and intellectuals, it has maintained it’s look and feel from that era.

After a fine café, we jumped on the 28 tram and took it to the end of the line. This route is a must because it takes you from the crest of one hill, around the castle on the other hill and back down to the square.

The driver was very friendly and actually picked us up between stops. These trams are beautiful cars from an era where craftmanship dominated. The inside was beautiful wood and brass.

Lisbon is a city built on 7 hills and the streets in some areas are very narrow. The trams are perfect, small and powerful, they can get up the steepest streets and around the tightest corners. The regular trams and buses would not be able to go into the older parts of the city.

After wandering around all day, we went back for a siesta before heading to Walter’s and Detlef’s restaurant, Pano de Boca. Before that, though, we had to have a ginjinha. GinJinha has to be the most localised drink in the world. It is only found in certain neighbourhoods in Lisbon.

Ginjinha is a cherry liquer and it is the only thing sold in this bar.

This place had crowds outside, sipping their ginjinha. It was a great way to finish up the day.

After resting a bit we headed out for supper to Detlef’s restaurant.

He managed to talk me in to having a beer, a dark beer on top of that and I really enjoyed it. We finally met Walter, Sebastian has many tales about experiences working with Walter, and I was really glad to meet him at last.

We sat down to an amazing meal. I had wild boar that was excellent, VERY good. Detlef picked the wine and it went very well with my meal. Detlef, if you read this, send me the name of the wine in a comment. Alex and I want to thank you and Walter for an excellent evening, it was great.

The next morning we were out of the hotel by 8:30. We were going up to Castelo de Sao Jorge in Alfama. The oldest remains found here date back to the 6th century BC.

The castle itself has parts that date from the 10th – 11th centuries. It was here that Vasco da Gama was welcomed by King Manuel I after returning from India. It was declared a national monument in 1910 and sits up on the top of the highest hill in Lisbon. To get there we took the 28 tram and walked through the back streets at the top.

After wandering around medieval streets we finally came across the castle.

Walking in the castle grounds was very peaceful. It was hard to imagine that this was a building designed for war and I’m sure that many unpleasant things happened to people here.

The slope was very evident here, it would have been a difficult place to storm.

We walked all around the castle, up steps along the ramparts, lot’s of places to explore.

We left the castle and started walking in the general direction of our hotel. On the way dwon, Alex went into an artisan’s shop. She called me in and I was astonished. It had been a stable for horses and each display was in a stone water trough for the horses. This building predated the earthquake of 1756. They didn’t really know it’s age but the coat of arms over the door was dated around the 15th century. They were pretty sure that the coat of arms had been added to the building and was not part of the original building. Across the street was the cathedral Sé. It was started around 1150 but earthquakes and fires have taken it’s toll.

The cloisters was being excavated by archeologists. There were roman and moorish artifacts being found here. Even the outline of roman streets were here. The building is in rough shape but that just adds to it’s beauty.

We walked back to Bairro Alto and Chiado and went for lunch. You’ll have to read Alex’s blog about our meals, she’s the food expert and lover. After lunch we went to the ruins of Igreja do Carmo.

Founded in the late 14th century by Nuno Alvares, the church was at one time, the biggest in Lisbon. It was destryed in the earthquake of 1756 killing many as the roof and walls collapsed on those inside.

The chancellory survived the earthquake and now houses an archaeological museum. It’s very interesting. We walked around some more and found dedicated trams for the steep streets.

I must confess that my knee was killing me walking around. When we went back to the hotel I soaked it in hot water to ease the pain. It had swelled up a lot too. This is the first time ever that I noticed swelling in my knee.

The next day we were on the streets by 9:00. We were going to Belem to see a few things that Alex had noticed. We hopped on the bus that took us along the river and got off at the Torre de Belem. It seems that Sunday is the day that all museums are free so we went to both the Torre and Mosteir.

Commisioned by Manuel I in 1515 as a fortress in Tagus river. It’s in amazing condition and the stonework is amazing. It once stood in the middle of the river but now lies just offshore. Leaving the Torre we went across to the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos.

The entrance to the monastery is full of intricate detail, all carved in stone.

Building started in 1501 and was cared for by the Order of St Jerome until 1834 when all religious orders were disbanded. The cloisters in this monastery are stunning.

These are the halls around the central courtyard.

Time for coffee and an extra specila treat. Just around the corner from the monastery is Pasteis de Belem. This cafe has been here since 1837 and is world famous for its little pasteis.

We had a little lunch and then ordered the pasteis. Wow, we were not disappointed at all. We ordered 2 more becaue we noticed that everyone ordered 2 each and not wanting to be too different, we adapted. We actually went back the next day.

The rest of our visit was wandering in no particular fashion with no particular destination, just to take some photos like these……….

an HDR shot of a street showing how steep they can be

A water fountain at the end of tram # 28 route

Alex has a lot more to say about our food experiences and especially, thanks to Detlef’s tip, the surprise we had on our last evening in Lisbon. Go find out about it in her blog.

For more photos of Portugal, go here…….. or, for a slide show go here.

December 13, 2006 at 1:07 pm 4 comments

Girona

Today we got out of bed at 6:00 to catch the train to Girona. Alex and I have wanted to go there since the summer and since Christine was here we decided to take her there. Girona is a very old city with a well preserved medieval section.

It has been established that a settlement has been on the site of Girona since 500 BC. The Romans built a fort there, which was given the name Gerunda. The city was held Visigoths , Moors and finally, Charlemagne, who in 785 made it one of the fourteen original countships of Catalonia. The 12th century saw a flourishing of the Jewish community of Girona, with one of the most important Kabbalistic schools in Europe. The Rabbi of Girona, Moshe ben Nahman Gerondi was appointed Great Rabbi of Catalonia. Girona had a strong Arab presence for several hundred years following the Moorish conquest of the Iberian peninsula in 711. The first reference to Jews in Girona dates from 898, and they stayed until they were expelled with Muslims — or forced to convert — under the 1492 edict of expulsion. Today, the Jewish ghetto or Call is one of the best preserved in Europe and is a major tourist attraction.

On the north side of the old city is the Montjuïc (or hill of the Jews in medieval Catalan), where an important religious cemetery was located. Girona has undergone twenty-five sieges and been captured seven times. It was besieged by the French royal armies under Marshal Hocquisicourt in 1653, under Marshal Bellefonds in 1684, and twice in 1694 under de Noailles. In May, 1809, it was besieged by 35,000 French Napoleonic troops under Vergier, Augereau and St. Cyr, and held out obstinately under the leadership of Alvarez until disease and famine compelled it to capitulate, 12 December. Finally, the French conquered the city in 1809, after 7 months of siege.

Girona was left in a bad way after the Spanish Civil War with buildings destroyed by the Franco forces air attacks. Churches were looted by anti-clerics and priceless antiquities lost forever. The cruellest suffering was reserved for the people: deaths, executions by firing squads, families dispersed, accusations between neighbours …… it was obligatory to pass through Girona on the way to exile and the city’s inhabitants watched the painful march towards the French border. It was a period of brutal repression. In recent years, the remaining parts of the eastern city walls were reconstructed and now the Passeig de la Muralla forms a tourist’s walking route around the old city.
We caught the train at 7:50 and arrived in Girona at around 9:00. From the train station we walked to the tourist information kiosk on the other side of the river. Of course we stopped on the bridge to take in some sights.

After getting our maps we started out to the archives building. Alex was going to do some research there until 1:00 in the afternoon. Christine and I left her to her work and meandered throught the narrow streets towards the cathedral. At every turn was a photograph just waiting for us.

Christine and I just wandered aimlessly through the narrow streets taking photos.

Actually, we were making our way up towards the cathedral.

Just behind this intersection is a restaurant, La Bistro, where we stopped for lunch. Great food.

Still heading up along the narrow alleys…….

Looking into some of the alcoves along the way revealed another world. You could look behind and see the narrow alleys that are roads and in front, peaceful alcoves leading to interior living quarters.

We finaly arrived at the Cathedral. Going upo the last set of steps to the cathedral gave us this view.

The centerpiece of Girona is the vast Gothic cathedral with its Baroque facade poised above an imposing staircase. The site has long been an area of worship with a mosque and synagogue once occupying nearby ground.
Building was begun in 1292 and much of the structure dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. The belltower is Romanesque and the aisleless Gothic nave is one of the world’s widest at 75 feet.

But the cathedral is only one of the ancient churches. Sant Feliu is another and is close to the cathedral. Here is a view of it’s spire.

Looking at some of the homes in this area revealed just how old they were. This doorway was constructed in 1712. I wonder how many people have entered here.

This India curio store had a great window display………..

We had walked a fair amount and felt like stopping for a cortado. We found this little hideaway on C. del la Forca and it was a true mind massage, very, very peaceful.

It was a great day but I have to go back. I am not pleased with the photos I took given the opportunities and the potential that Girona has to offer.

November 16, 2006 at 6:13 pm 1 comment

Friday to Monday (Nov 10 to Nov 13)

The weekend started in high gear on Friday night. Quico, a waiter at the cafe we go to all the time, invited us to happy hour at a wine bar in our neighbourhood. We met him at 6:30 at the cafe and walked to the bar. It was a great night where we learned more about Quico and him of us. We had cava and jamon and great conversation. I tried to follow as well as I could and I did manage to get a lot out of it. The whole night was in castellano. At the end of the night, Quico grabbed the bill and would have none of our protests to pay part of it. This myth that the spanish/catalans are cold is so wrong. Read about more of their generosity at the end of this post.

Saturday morning we had to get over to the airport to meet Christine. She was arriving (or so we thought) at 9:55 from Canada via Frankfurt. The 9:55 Lufthansa flight arrived and there was no sign of Christine. We waited until we thought all the passengers had been through and Alex went over to the Lufthansa desk to see if she had missed the flight. Well, of course they couldn’t give out that information. There was another flight at 11:30 from Frankfurt and we waited for that one. Out she came. I was a bit worried because she didn’t have our address but everything worked out ok.

We dropped off her luggage and headed off to Raval for lunch at a restaurant across from Jackie and Sebastien’s place. Of course they joined us in a fine indian meal. Both of them were a bit slow since they had been out the night before but I must say they sure picked up quickly. We walked down to where most of the action was. Raval was having it’s fiesta weekend so there was a lot going on. Live jazz was playing and it was quite good.

We managed to get some tickets for museums so we had to decide where to go. As you can see it was a group effort.

Isa and Jackie looked to see what our options were and finally came up with a plan.

We started walking towards CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona) and I was taking photos as we walked. I came across this grafitti which I thought was quite moving.

This was another photo I took while walking. It was a behind the scenes view of the apartments. I found it funny with the white arrows pointing down and the black ones pointing up,

After viewing the photography exhibit we went into the square for a coffee. Everyone was getting tired by this point so after our coffee we started to make our way home

We got up late on Sunday morning and walked down towards Placa Catalunya. Christine was getting hungry so we were going to have some hot dogs at this place in the old city. By the time we got there we found it was closed. Geee, what other place can we go to….so off to Wushu’s we went. Had a great meal and chat with Bradley and Paula.

We left Wushu’s at around 3:30 and walked towards the water. We had free entrance to Museu Maritim Barcelona so we slowly made our way towards it. I have wanted to go there since we arrived in Barcelona and I was finally going to go. The museum itself is in the royal shipyards which were designed as an area in which ships were to be constructed, repaired and maintained, as well as to serve the war fleet of the Crown of Aragon. It was a location at which the galleys were built. It ceased to be a military facility in the year 1745 so you can imagine how old these buildings are. They had many different types of boats on display

and an amazing historical representation of the region’s maritime past. Note the massive arches and space. This is where they built ships. I was amazed.

Some of the boats were very old and extremely well preserved.

Highlights of the museum’s resources include its collections of model ships, nautical instruments, ex-votos, maritime paintings, figureheads, cartography (an extraordinary feature in many respects), the schooner Santa Eulàlia, a historical vessel from 1918 and the replica of the royal galley of Juan de Austria. This is a full blown gally and it is huge. This was the back of it. You can see the oars protruding from the sides.

xxx

You get a better view of the oars from the front.

At the end of the tour was a display of pirate history in the Mediterraenean.

We pretty well called it a day after this visit.

Monday morning Alex and I got up early. Alex to head off to work and I to get to the gym. When I wooke up I realized one of my caps had come loose. I always get extremely anxious when this happens and this morning was no excepetion. I was stressing so I went to the gym and pushed some weights. It helped but I was still preoccupied. I didn’t know whether I should wait until it fell out or get to a dentist before it fell out. Alex called and said she would be home early to go to the market to pick up some groceries and Christine and I went to the cafe for coffee. Kiko was working so I asked him about a dentist. He pointed across the street to the dental school and mentioned that the professors had an office on the first floor. He said to tell them that the cafe sent us. Alex walked by on her way home so we went over to see but they were closed until 4:30. Anyhow, we all went to the market and for sushi and at 4:30 Alex and I went to the dentists. I have to say once more that the people here are amazing. The receptionist had us sit for a bit and then called us into one of the dental rooms. I guess the decision to have it fixed now had been made. Anyhow, two dentists fixed my tooth and said if it happens again to just come back. They didn’t even charge me. Here I just show up out of nowhere with a problem and they took me in without an appointment, fixed me up and didn’t charge. Amazing.

I always maintain that the catalans and castillans are warm and considerate people and actions like this prove my point.

November 13, 2006 at 9:07 pm 2 comments

Gran Fiesta de Barcelona – Mercè

Norbert and Carole visited this week and we were really happy to see them. We spent the week wandering around the city and I had my first experience with pickpockets (see the previous post). We also discovered another little alcove in Bari Gotic. It was so relaxing and peaceful, almost zen like.

The sound of trickling water combined with the soft reflected light really made this alcove a place for reflection. What really added to the ambience was the sound of classical music filtering in from outside. There was a violinist and a cellist playing just outside the building.

I hope they enjoyed their week here as much as we enjoyed having them visit.

Well this weekend really was another kicker. Mercè started on Friday and it was a very wet day. It rained on and off for most of the day and a lot of events were either cancelled or postponed. It must be extremely disappointing for those who have dedicated so many hours of their time to organize, construct or practice for this major Barcelona event.

We had planned to attend a number of events on Friday but decided it was too wet. Besides, we had a party to go to that night. Tio Seb was having a surprise birthday party for Jackie at a club called Senses. We had a great time there and Jackie was completely caught off guard. They have a lot of friends and it seems like they all showed up. It goes to show how really great people those two are. We left the party around 2:00 and I heard it went on until about 7:00 the next day. Needless to say, all our plans for taking in the Mercè on Saturday were shelved. Saturday was a quiet day, a day to recharge my batteries.

Sunday we were up early and headed to Plaça de Sant Jaume to meet Francisca at 10:30. The square was packed.

The giants were performing when we arrived and because they were giants we could see them, at least the upper half of them. They are quite amazing and always come in pairs, man and woman. Some sport real hair and are very lifelike.

After the giants paraded around the square, Francisca discovered that the public was allowed in the Palau de la Generalitat. What a treat. The inside of this building is gorgeous and the few photos I took do not do it justice.

The marble floor is made of individual tiles of differnt coloured marble. You had to look very closely to see where they actually joined. From a distance they looked painted. The craftmanship put into this building was beyond words. On one wall, which is a modern addition and is actually a piece of art, is an inverted figure. The figure is a hollow in the wall. If you look at the bottom of the figure you can see what I mean.

From there we walked over to Ravel to eat. Alex and I had eaten in an Indian restaurant called Shalimar across from Jackie and Sebastian’s place and we really enjoyed it. Alex decided to call them so they came down and ate with us. Sebastian told me that he too had a quiet day yesterday (I wonder why). We visited with them for a while and then headed home. It was a full day.

Monday we wanted to go hiking but the trail we wanted to take was probably too muddy to be any fun. We were going to take the GR6 trail over to Sant Cugat. The beginning of the trail is very steep so we decided to do it some other time. Instead, we grabbed both of our cameras and headed to Bari Gotic (old Barcelona). We just walked around taking photos of anything that appealed to us. Here are some examples………

I saw this one when I was watching my feet.

This poster and reflection made me do a double take when I caught it out of the corner of my eye.

And then we needed an animal shot to round out the day, he was probably wondering what the heck we were doing……

We headed in the general direction of home and found Psseig de Gracia was closed to traffic and filled with kiosks. We browsed our way up the street and came across these wild hair dressers………..

The red dresser

and the gold dresser

So the long weekend comes to an end. It seems like we always chance upon the most interesting things because of wandering randomly around.

Hope you all have a great week.

September 25, 2006 at 5:36 pm Leave a comment

Catalan language and poetry

Sept 11th was an important holiday for Catalunya. While the rest of the world talked about terrorist attacks and the loss of liberties those entailed, Catalans remembered the date in 1714 when its armies surrendered to the Spanish forces led by Felipe V. Many foreigners laugh and shake their heads – “why commemorate a defeat?”, they ask. Because it wasn’t a simple defeat. The date marked the beginning of suppression of Catalan language, culture and institutions by a centralizing Spanish monarchy that wanted to punish Catalunya for picking the wrong side on the war of succession to the throne. So the date has become an important day to commemorate freedom (llibertat) and Catalan culture.

Young Catalan at Sant Cugat Flags at Saint Cugat

As Alan mentioned on his blog, when we took the train that day to go hiking nearby, we were given a little hardcover book of Catalan poetry. It is entitled Catalunya en vers: mil anys d’història a través de la poesia and it is basically a collection of poems that mention Catalunya as a nation. Since nationalism was the criteria, most of the poems hail back from the nineteenth century, that golden age of nationalism.

I have to say I was very disappointed. For a book that wants to talk about “a thousand years of history”, it completely ignores the middle ages. The oldest poem in the book is from the seventeenth century. As a medievalist, I cannot let that pass without saying something. There was no dearth of poets and writers writing in Catalan between the 13th and 15th centuries. Just think of Ramon Llull or Ausiàs March.

It always amazes people when I tell them that not only Catalan is a language in its own right (and not a dialect of Castilian as some assume), but it is also one of the oldest of the current languages spoken in Europe. Scholars hail about the early development of English citing the work of Geoffrey Chaucer and Shakespeare. Well, Ramon Llull was writing his mystical novels one hundred years before Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales just as Ausiàs March and his contemporaries were writing beautifully a hundred years before Shakespeare.

Here’s one of Ausias March love poems:
Així com cell qui en lo somni·s delita
e son delit de foll pensament ve,
ne pren a mi, que·l temps passat me té
l’imaginar, que altre bé no hi habita.
Sentint estar en aguait ma dolor,
sabent de cert que en ses mans he de jaure,
temps d’avenir en negun be’m pot caure:
aquell passat en mi és lo millor.

Del temps present no·m trobe amador,
mas del passat, que és no res e finit.
D’aquest pensar me sojorn e·m delit,
mas, quan lo perd, s’esforça ma dolor,
sí com aquell qui és jutjat a mort
e de llong temps la sap e s’aconhorta
e creure·l fan que li serà estorta
e·l fan morir sens un punt de record.

Plagués a Déu que mon pensar fos mort
e que passàs ma vida en dorment:
malament viu qui té lo pensament
per enemic, fent-li d’enuigs report,
e, com lo vol d’algun plaer servir,
li’n pren així com dona ab son infant,
que, si verí li demana plorant,
ha tan poc seny que no·l sap contradir.

Fóra millor ma dolor soferir
que no mesclar poca part de plaer
entre aquells mals, qui·m giten de saber
com del passar plaer me cové eixir.
Las! mon delit dolor se converteix,
dobla’s l’afany aprés d’un poc repòs,
sí co·l malalt qui, per un plasent mos,
tot son menjar en dolor se nodreix.

Com l’ermità qui enyorament no”l creix
d’aquells amics que tenia en lo món
e, essent llong temps que en lo poblat no fon,
per fortuit cas un d’ells li apareix
qui los passats plaers li renovella
sí que·l passat present li fa tornar;
mas, com se’n part, l’és forçat congoixar,
lo bé, com fuig, ab grans crits mal apella.

Plena de seny, quan amor és molt vella,
absença és lo verme que la guasta,
si fermetat durament no contrasta
e creure poc, si l’envejós consella.

September 14, 2006 at 8:51 pm Leave a comment

Vallfogona and Roca Guinart

It’s amazing the way we thread our way through various interests. Where one thing leads to another and another and another……… until we find ourselves in a place that has no common links to where we started from. In this sense, this post is probably an intermediate step.

Yesterday I posted some Catalan poetry I had picked from a booklet given to us on September 11 to celebrate a Catalan holiday. I understood the context of one of the poems but didn’t know the first one. Antoni, a phtographer from Sant Pol de Mar explained that the poem was about a famous Catalan bandit, Roca Guinart. Of course I had to look into this. It’s difficult to research because I do not speak Catalan and almost all of the references were in Catalan, after all he is part of Catalan folklore.

Well, I found reference to the author, Francesc Vicent Garcia (Rector of Vallfogona) and the town Vallfogona.

Vallfogona de Riucorb is a pueblo of 130 people. It’s roots go back before 1038 with the Queralt and Cervallo families (they have a history all to themselves) and it was known as Vallis Alfedi or Vall d’Aleu until the 12th century.

In 1193 the Knights Templar established a Templar castle there and, after the order was dissolved in 1312 it was taken over by the Hospitalers. In 1416 the castle was restored and in 1811 became the house of Vallfogona de Comalats. The town was surrounded by a fortress with towers and had a hospital that cared for pilgrims and the sick. There are still ruins from the chapel of Sant Pere dels Bigats dating back to the 13th century.

As I mentioned, one of the towns citizens was Francesc Garcia Torres ( Tortosa 1582-Vallfogona 1623,) and also known as Rector of Vallfogona. He studied in Lleida and Vic and, in 1607, he came to Vallfogona where he befriended Rocaguinarda and wrote the poem. In 1951, the town erected a monument in his memory.

The famous “bandoler” Perot Rocaguinarda (Roca Guinart) was born in December 18th 1582 in Oristà, Catalunya. He is also refered to as the gentleman bandit Roque Guinart in Don Quixote. The Castilian writer Miguel de Cervantes imagined the Catalans as being fearsome natives. He writes: “More than forty highwaymen suddenly surrounded them and told them in Catalan to stop and do not move until the captain had arrived.” The captain was Perot Rocaguinarda, and Don Quijote and his attendant spent three days and three nights with that Catalan highwayman, hiding themselves together through the woods around Barcelona. Just as a point of interest he was one of a a very few highwaymen who escaped the gallows. His house of birth can still be seen (at least the ruins) inOristà.

September 14, 2006 at 12:19 pm 2 comments

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