La Rosa de Alejandria (Barcelona)

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Barcelona is in the north of Spain and in the south of Europe. North and South have been more than just points of the compass ever since the technocratic language of the United Nations and UNESCO euphemised international relations by expressing inequality between rich and poor countries in these geographical terms. Barcelona is a northern capital vis-à-vis Spain. It is wealthy, industrial, hard-working, pragmatic and rather po-faced. Nevertheless, according to experts in nuanced sociological interpretations of geography, Barcelona is one of the “southernmost” European cities thanks to the mellowing influence of the Mediterranean on strictly capitalist relations of production. Much has been written on the effect that the moon has on tide but there are very few books about the influence exerted by the sea on modes of production and the societies they create.

For whatever reason, Barcelona, in so far as it can be considered a collective human subject, obeys Eliot’s directive to ‘read much of the night and go south in the winter’. This temptation to flee towards paradise compromises the Barcelonins’ commitment to hard work, creating a permanent longing for leisure.

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“The Catalans do things their own way”, is a remark heard throughout the rest of the Spanish state. And it is true. The Catalans seem programmed by their own past, as if history were an essential ingredient in defining their self-identity and hopes for the future. If this goes some way to explaining the Catalan character, it is borne out even more decisively in Barcelona, not only by the behavior of its citizens but in the very shape of the city. Contemporary Barcelona is a museum of spiritual and material archaeology, which, whether it takes the form of an architectural façade or a pearl of conventional wisdom, makes up the living history of the city while retaining its relevance to the present. The Catalans and, more specifically, the Barcelonins preserve whatever helps them to feel that history has been worthwhile. A walk through the city shows that the conservation has been rigorously selective. Roman Barcelona barely figures either in the city’s collective memory or in its physical archaeology. The same can be said for the Visigoth Barcelona. But great efforts have been made to ensure that the Mediterranean capital that flourished between the 13th and 15th centuries is preserved. There is barely a fleeting recollection of the decadent years when Catalonia was subjugated to Castille, with the exception of the defeats of 1650 and 1714. These are recalled obsessively, partly because masochism is the victim’s prerogative but also because analysing defeat spurs the loser on to future victory. The Catalonia which emerged when capitalism and the industrial revolution burst on the scene in the 19th century, on the other hand, is now prized archaeology. It can be found in the regular blocks of Cerda’s Eixample or in the final apotheosis of the modernism and nouventisme, styles from a golden age for the Catalan bourgeoisie which was reborn and self-affirmed at the of the century.

Excerpt from Manuel Vasquez Montalban, Barcelonas, 1992.

You have to listen to Jim Hall’s interpretation of Aranjuez (Rodrigo’s Concerto).

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