dimarts, 26 de maig del 2009

A beautiful landscape

Last Tuesday a new weekly TV programme began in TV3 -the public Catalan television channel. It is called "El paisatge favorit de Catalunya" (The favourite landscape of Catalonia).

It aims at letting users choose which is their favourite landscape by voting. In each programme, three famous public personalities who live in Catalonia talk about their favourite landscapes and encourage people to vote for it. Besides voting, people can also post their own pictures of Catalan landscapes in the programme's web.

I also see another aim as well: make people in Catalonia know their own land. And believe me, there is so much to see!

I was captivated, moved by the beauty of the images. We have a treasure: a land which offers us every kind of landscape: mountains up to 3140 metres, rocky coast, sandy coast, hills, rivers, pintoresque villages, medieval towns, a big city, volcanos (inactive...and hopefully extinct), plains... A bunch of possibilites and wonders!

I see one weak point in this programme: it is so hard to say which is my favourite landscape in Catalonia!

You can watch the programme in TV3's website. They will upload every week 's programme, so anyone can watch it after it is broadcasted. The only thing is that is narrated in Catalan, but landscapes speak no languages, so I invite you to enjoy it. I hope you like it.

dijous, 21 de maig del 2009

Sant Jordi - The real day

Legends are part of culture, as well as real life is. So, now that you know Sant Jordi's legend, let me talk about the real Sant Jordi's day every 23rd April.

It does not matter if it rains or not, for Sant Jordi, culture is on the streets. In every city, big or small, there are stalls full of books and stalls with buckets filled with roses. Boys (and fathers) buy their girls a rose and girls buy their boys a book. However, I should say I don't think this tradition is fair at all and I always ask for my book ;). And sure, I try to buy a rose (or make a paper rose myself) for my boy. Why not?

Kids at kindergarten are told about Sant Jordi and all school organise differentsactivities this day. We learn Sant Jordi is the patron saint of Catalonia and that he killed the dragon, saved the princess and gave her a rose which came out from the dragon's blood. We paint pictures and we read the legend over and over again. Until you realise it is a legend. But, still you think Sant Jordi is a very special day and up to now I've met no one who does not enjoy this day.

What might strike is, that despite the fact of being the day of the patron saint, Sant Jordi is not a bank holiday in Catalonia (but it is in Aragon, I think, where Jorge --Jordi in Spanish)--is also the patron saint). This, in my opinion makes this day even more peculiar and special: people try to go to the stalls anyway.

The stalls are usually located at the city centre, and if the city has what we call a "rambla" (which is nothing more than a sandy stream which has been paved), then the stalls are in the rambla. The most emblematic place with stalls in Catalonia is in Barcelona, where you have more than 1km of stalls on both sides in Rambla Catalunya and Les Rambles (by the way, now you know where the name of the famous "Rambles" comes from). Famous and media writers sign their books in the stalls. Catalan newspapers (and the edition for Catalonia of Spanish newspapers) edit a special supplement with book reviews and reccomendation which they give away in les Rambles for free. Political parties have their own stalls. Catalan radio stations make their programs near the stalls. The Catalan TV channel (TV3) makes some programmes from there (e.g. the news). And then some people try to attract other people's attention in different ways.

This year, as other years, there was a man wrapped in cardboard with a text in Catalan and Spanish (one language per side) "Regret your sins, the end is near" or something like this (the text was longer but I can't remember. And there was also a boy and a girl giving bookmarkers which advertised eggs produced in Catalonia. Actually, this couple was very funny. They were dressed with the typical Catalan costume and speaking like in the dialect of the countryside in my area, which attracted the "people from the city" attention. I kept looking at them and she said: "You know, maybe she doesn't know where we are from". I said: "well, yes, you speak like me, you are from the north, Girona". The boy said: "Even further in the north". I replied: "Yes, so am I". And they told us the story of the eggs. It was very funny indeed.

This Sant Jordi I did not buy any book. In fact, I rarely buy any book for Sant Jordi, despite you get a 10% discount --the stalls are very crowded! I just like to glance at books, stroll , linger in the stalls and enjoy the atmosphere.

As for the books, well, many stalls have similar books and there is always a list of best sellers. This year, the success has been for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (in Catalan: "Els homes que no estimaven les dones" -literally "The men who did not love women", which would call for a funny discussion on books' titles translation!) by Stieg Larsson, El silenci (The Silence) by Gaspar Hernández L'últim home que parlava català (The last man who spoke Catalan) by Carles Casajuana and then we have Stieg Larsson again with The Girl Who Played with Fire. There are some other Catalan authors and then there's Paolo Giordano with The Solitude of Prime Numbers and John Boyne with The boy in the striped Pyjamas.

As for roses, you find roses of any possible colour: rose, blue, yellow, black, multicoloured! (I don't know how do they grow them!), but I prefer the beautiful red rose which is always accompanied with a spike of wheat and usually wrapped in plastic with a Catalan flag (I don't mind the flag and the plastic, I like the rose).

Well, you can see that Sant Jordi is a very special day here. For me, it is the most beautiful day in Catalonia. And a good day for promoting the habit of reading, which we need so much in this country...

Here are some pictures I would like to share with you. They were taken in Barcelona so you will get the idea of how big this day is (maybe too many people in Barcelona!):

People crowding les Rambles

Me in les Rambles

Plaça Catalunya (in the right you can see TV3 stall -blue stall with number 3 on it at the background)

Books in a stall

Bookshop with people (you don't see this very often!)

Red rose. Have a guess: which one is the Catalan for "red rose"?

The dragon reader

Rosing (different reasons to buy a rose):
Jo sóc clàssic: per amor! --> I'm classic and do it for love!
Perquè després ja sé què passa --> Because I know what happens afterwards...
Perquè em preguntin qui me l'ha regalat! --> Because they will ask me who gave it to me!
Per amor propi! --> Self-love
Perquè és més barat que un llibre --> Because it's cheaper than a book!
Pot ser el primer pas per aconseguir el seu mòbil --> It might be the first step to get her mobile phone number!
Ho reconec! Sóc un pilota! --> I admit it! I'm a crawler!
Encara crec en la llegenda de Sant Jordi --> I still believe in Sant Jordi's legend!
Perquè són les més maques que he vist avui --> They are the most beautiful one I've seen today!


Rose & books

A rose for the Bicing bike too! (or Xavi, a bike and a rose)

diumenge, 10 de maig del 2009

Sant Jordi - The legend

Once upon a time, the dwellers of a small village were terrified by the menace of a dragon that lived in the nearby caverns. They had been afraid of the huge beast for lots of years, since it had once come down to the village asking for food. First, they gave it their chicken, but these were far too small to soothe the dragon's hunger, so it soon asked for more. The villagers thus decided to give away their sheep and goats. Still, these were not enough to fill the stomach of the beast. Desperate, the people gave away their cows, but they soon finished too. The dragon was never fulfilled and it was greedy for food. Some time passed in which the villagers could offer it nothing, so it went down to the village and made this dreary request:

-You shall give me one of your children everyday. Should you not fulfil my desires, this village will be swept away forever by my fury.

And to demonstrate its power, he set one of the village's houses in flames with the fire blowing from its nostrils.

There was nothing to do but to obey. However, who was to be given away? Sure enough everyone was scared and unwilling to be eaten by such a beast. Therefore, something was to be done.

Someone proposed that fortune should choose who was to be given to the dragon. The king of the village approved this solution. The names of all the young people of the village were written down and put into a bag. The king himself took one of the pieces of paper and went suddenly blank. He was to give away his very own daughter, the most beautiful lovely girl the world had ever seen.

When she knew the sad news, the princess cried desperately, but she bravely accepted her destiny. So she said goodbye to everyone and set for the dragon's den.

Soon after the princess had left, a handsome knight clad in a white costume with a red cross on it and armed with a sword and a white shield with a red cross (Catalan version: the shield has a Catalan flag), reached the village. When he saw the gloomy looks in the villagers' eyes, he quickly asked the reason they were so sad. The king, who was clearly the one that looked more depressed, told him about the beast and the terrible fate that was about to fall upon his beloved daughter. The knight did not hesitate a second about what he should do. He promised the king he would bring his daughter back safe and sound and rid the village of the dragon’s menace. He then galloped to encounter the beast in its lair.

And no sooner could he have arrived. The scene he saw as he approached the cavern was terrifying: the beast was slowly moving towards the princess, its eyes fixed in the beautiful girl as he imagined what a tasty meal she would be. Jordi -for this was the knight’s name-pushed his horse forward, as he drew out the sword that had served him so well in the right hand. With the sound of metal and Jordi’s war cry, the dragon’s attention was distracted. It swayed its head towards the knight and with an angry look, it blew a ball of fire towards him. Jordi had expected this, and his shield was ready to stop the first attack. Fear had now left him, and courage was the only guide of his acts. He was a fast and experienced swordsman, so he gave a quick blow that the dragon could hardly avoid. However, the beast quickly reacted and threw his mighty long tail towards our hero. His horse was badly hurt, and he fell down from it, but he immediately regained his position. The dragon was now looking him right in the eyes.

Jordi then took a risky decision, which was in fact his only possibility. He threw himself towards the dragon's mouth, as it prepared the definite fire blow. However, Jordi “quickly” moved to the right side and down under the beast's body and-with all the strength he was able to gather-stabbed the dragon right into its heart. The dragon screamed with all its might and collapsed. Jordi was only inches away from being killed by the enormous falling body.

The princess ran to aid his saviour and embraced him. And then, magic happened: from the pool of red thick blood coming from the dragon’s heart, a rose tree sprouted. Little by little, the tree drank the dragon's blood and brilliant wonderful red roses appeared. Jordi approached the tree and, carefully avoiding its spines, took the biggest and more sweetly-perfumed rose to give it to the king's daughter.

This is the reason why, from that day, the 23rd of April of every year, when spring bursts, Catalan men give their beloved princesses a red (sometimes multicolour) rose. As to why girls offer books to their knights in return that same day, there is no legend as far as we have been able to discover.

(Special war effects and boasting wording by cowriter Xavi V.)

*Authors' note: this legend is also in other places where Sant Jordi is a patron, ie: England (Saint George) and Aragón (San Jorge).