'A Rose by Any Other Name.' in Spanish

By Barbara Wysocki Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 2005 | Go to article overview

'A Rose by Any Other Name.' in Spanish


Barbara Wysocki Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Every April 23 the streets of Barcelona fill with red roses and Shakespeare as the proud Catalans celebrate the feast of their patron, Sant Jordi. Why does the Mediterranean city that inspired Picasso and the celebrated Spanish architect Gaudi overflow with flowers and books?

When spring is at its full power, the Barcelonans and visitors head outside to celebrate a cultural festival that merges a noble dragon slayer with the deaths of two literary lions. The day also offers a potpourri of bookish events and the chance to dance like a Catalan.

Legend has it that Sant Jordi - Saint George - got the rose tradition started when blood splattered by one of his defeated fire- breathing foes sprouted into a rosebush. The story says that the chivalrous saint then bestowed a sanguine blossom on his recently rescued princess.

While many around the world give roses on Saint Valentine's Day, in Barcelona they've been exchanging them on April 23 since the 15th century. Today dragon rescue is rarely required, so 21st-century men retain their hero status by buying 6 million long-stemmed beauties in one day. It's a rare senora or senorita who strolls Barcelona's Las Ramblas or Passeig de Gracia without a bouquet.

Sant Jordi's Day isn't an official holiday, but the couples and families walking arm in arm on these wide avenues don't look as if they're headed for work.

Just steps from every flower stall are booksellers lining those famous shopping streets, hugging narrow passageways, and dotting city squares such as Placa de Catalonia and Placa Nova.

More than 300 bookstalls, festooned with the red and yellow of the Catalan flag, honor Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare. Both authors died on the same day, April 23, 1616. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of "Don Quixote," and portions of that classic are set in Barcelona.

For these ambling readers, choosing from overwhelming hardcover and paperback options may be the most strenuous challenge. Not every book on display is great literature, but since this vernal fiesta is also known as the Day of Lovers, women shop for the perfect books for the men they love.

UNESCO has designated April 23 as International Book Day, and 400,000 books will be purchased in Barcelona, according to local officials, so there's a lot for booksellers and book buyers to love. Mysteries, cooking, how-to, and fiction for young and old are among the carefully wrapped packages that are carried home before the petal-strewn streets are empty.

Especially prized are the Catalan-language volumes. The region's native tongue has undergone periods of neglect and suppression. From 1939 until the early 1950s, the Franco regime forbade the printing of books and periodicals in Catalan, according to Thomas Harrington of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

The people of Catalonia, located in the northeast corner of Spain, view themselves as a "cultural nation," adds the associate professor of modern languages and literature. It's ironic that in the 1920s, when Barcelona publisher Vincente Clavel proposed a day to honor books, he focused on Cervantes, a Castilian writer. It wasn't until 1926 that books were honored on the same day as Catalonia's patron saint.

During the decades when their language and customs were suppressed, Barcelonans embraced Sant Jordi's Day with extra vigor. Today, book browsers from all nations feel at home in the city that has declared 2005 its Book and Reading Year. Described by the local tourist office as "365 days to exchange experiences and acquire new knowledge," there are opportunities to do both on Sant Jordi's Day.

In addition to the open-air bookstalls, the city's publishers and bookstores will host 200 authors and illustrators, many of them available to autograph their work. …

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