Monday, November 26, 2007

Homage to Catalunya

Having just stepped off the plane in Paris from several days spent visiting my old reporting buddy Gerry Hadden and his family in Barcelona, I was yet again impressed by the artistic brilliance, creative energy and general welcoming friendliness that infuses both the Catalan and “foreign” population of this area of Spain. The city that was passionately Republican and so opposed to Franco’s fascist forces that it did not yield to the rightist onslaught until early 1939 during Spain's Civil War, also served as fertile ground for artistic and intellectual endeavor, a tradition that counties to this day.

Over the years, Catalunya nurtured such talents as that of the surrealist artists Salvador Dalí (born in Figueres in 1904) and Joan Miró (born in Barcelona eleven years earlier), and the experience of fighting there alongside the Republican forces (during which he was shot in the neck and nearly killed) proved deeply influential to the British author George Orwell, whose memoir of that time, Homage to Catalonia, is among his most moving works ( I opt for the traditional Catalan here, as opposed to Spanish, spelling, no disrespect to Orwell). And even the quintessentially modern Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, whose movies often seem to run on the pulse and throb of Madrid, chose Barcelona as the setting for what I think is his greatest film, Todo sobre mi madre.

It is a vibrancy that remains, in neighborhoods such as Gràcia and Poble Sec, and in institutions such as the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Barcelona, where I went to peruse an exhibition that included among its components, screenings of Jordi Colomer’s disorienting film Les Jumelles and the Italian Pier Paolo Pasolini’s deeply strange Che cose sono le nuvole? Something of the winding, narrow streets and bright plazas of the old city reminded one of similar spaces in the Americas, including Santo Domingo, the city in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean with which I am most familiar. If one wonders through them long enough, sooner or later one arrives at a place in the Barrio Gotico bearing the name Plaza George Orwell, in tribute to the author.

It was my second visit there, and I could easily get used to it.

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