Postcard from Spain | Moment's Notice

By Maria Montalvo | Sep 28, 2017

Greetings from Barcelona – so this is actually a postcard from Catalonia.

People from Barcelona do not consider themselves Spanish, as they have been trying to be on their own for at least 800 years. They have their own language (they are quick to point out it is not a dialect of Spanish but a written and spoken language with grammatical rules), and several independent government agencies.

Although Barcelona is the most visited city by foreigners to Spain, the region sees itself as a place apart from its country.

Our first foray into Barcelona was on to avenues of Las Ramblas – the site of a terrorist attack last month that killed 13 people and injured 30 – and directly into a lively, peaceful, and well-organized protest for independence. All ages, although mostly young, wore capes of the Catalan independence flag, and cheered on leaders and each other.

The situation is explained very differently depending on who you ask, but one thing is agreed upon by all – the central government in Madrid wants this movement to go away, but Catalonians have been fighting this fight for a very long time.

The Catalan government scheduled an independence vote Oct. 1, but Madrid has preemptively ruled the election illegal, intermittently detained elected leaders and sent 3,000 national police officers to the region.

This may not sound like a typical postcard, but history is important here, and "recent" history is relative where evidence of human life goes back a few thousand years, and in a city legendarily founded by Hercules. Catalonia has been trying to be left alone by Spain since 1200. The region actively pursued alliance with France when Spain was being unified in the 15th century by a certain well-known royal couple.

Coincidentally, our American overlay with Spain begins at the same time. That same king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, sent Christopher Columbus to find the West Indies but instead he happened upon the Americas.

(This "discovery" has been the source of significant local news from the Edmonds City Council as of late, but that is another story.)

The couple united the country after Isabella's brother died unexpectedly of uncertain (and potentially scandalous) causes, and she negotiated to assume his rule over portions of Spain instead of his daughter (who may or may not have actually been a princess by birth).

Ferdinand had been ruling much of the rest of Spain, so Isabel's craftiness and their royal marriage meant that together, they were able to consolidate power.

Both historical and modern Barcelona seem to prove Mark Twain right: "Reality is stranger than fiction.” There is not much about this place and people that are anything less than remarkable, from the architecture to the art to the politics to the way of life. The genius of Gaudi’s architecture creates a mutually lighthearted and spiritual environment.

The art of Picasso and Dalí question all that normalcy and propriety suggest. Even the food breaks from the rest of the country, with spicy "brava" sauces and arroz instead of paella. There is a strength of conviction to being different here, perhaps rooted by centuries of being denied autonomy.

I suppose this is more of a love letter than a postcard, as I am a sucker for a rebel. Independence flags hang from many balconies and signs hang everywhere. Unlike Brexit or the Scottish vote to leave the U.K., this movement feels grounded in the Catalan soul. Reality can be rough at times, and certainly has been here in the distant and recent past. However, there is a beautiful hope in embracing what is difficult or strange as what is right or real.

A Spanish TV station recently produced a historic series called "Isabel," presented with actors but very accurate to the most agreed upon history. It demonstrated the complexities and drama of the Iberian Peninsula during Ferdinand and Isabella's reign. My mom watches it every night, so I get to catch it from time to time.

One episode tells of when Ferdinand survived an assassination attempt in Barcelona in 1492 at a Government building where he met with Columbus. The spot exists today exactly as it was more than 500 years ago, but I learned during this trip that the Barcelona city government would not allow the scene to be filmed there for purely political reasons.

Catalonia did not want anything to do with Ferdinand and Isabella, then or now, and used even this small and unique way to make the point.


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