Catalonia: Living in the past

Catalonia, between France and Spain on the Mediterranean Sea, is a region with much to offer – especially the quality of its people and the adherence to old customs.

Catalans have a strong cultural identity and nationalist feeling. As school-teacher Eduard Comas explained: “in Catalonia when we talk about country we are talking about Catalonia not Spain.”

Pau Casals (1876-1973), a Catalan virtuoso cello player who was awarded the U.N. Peace Medal in 1971, began his acceptance speech by saying: “I am a Catalan. Catalonia has been the greatest nation in the world because it had the first democratic parliament, well before England did. And the first United Nations were in my country. At that time –XI Century– there was a meeting in Toluges –now France– to talk about peace, because in that time Catalans were already against war.”

Then Casals played a melody from Catalan folklore: El cant dels ocells, “This is a song that Bach, Beethoven and all the greatest would have admired and loved. What is more, it is born in the soul of my country, Catalonia,” he added.

The love for their region is palpable in every place, though harder to fully understand in Barcelona, which, as Catalonia’s largest city, is very diverse. Further inland, where it is still touristic but not as crowded, is where you begin to understand the people and the place. Families are very tight-knit; people are likely to live close to their parents and siblings, and have Sunday lunch together.

In the smaller towns, the “siesta” is still upheld: Everything closes from mid-day until 3pm – a luxury that the hurries of this century can’t afford, or at least that is what I thought until I went to Catalonia.

As you would expect from a region bordering the Mediterranean Sea, the food is exquisite: Abundant olives, olive oil, seafood, and excellent wine.

Catalonia suffered from dictator Franco, who banned their cultural identity and language. Children of those years had to study in Spanish. Such is the case of Mercé Rissech Ruscalleda, 77, who explained: “I was three years old when the war began so I did not have an education in Catalan; therefore I speak it but I cannot write it. We couldn’t speak Catalan in public, only at home.”

Mercedes lives with her husband in the town of Llagostera in front of the main square, Plaza Catalonia. She likes sitting by the window, watching the lively square outside. Wonderful people like her are the soul of Catalonia.