Thursday, April 23, 2009

Roses and Books (La Diada de Sant Jordi)

So, Sant Jordi is a saint, the patron saint of Catalunya in fact. You may know him better as Saint George. You know, the one who slew the dragon. You must have heard about the dragon--the dragon that was menacing the village and demanding villager blood in return for not wreaking even more destruction (you know, not unlike the former Bush government). Each night, the villagers would decide by lottery who would offer him or herself to the dragon the next morning. The village's government was rather egalitarian and, one day, the lot fell on the village's princess. She went willingly to meet her fate; however, before the dragon could tear her to shreds, Saint George appeared on his firey steed and stuck a lance through the dragon's heart. Catalan legend has it that out of the dragon's blood a rose bush sprang.

Now, one might quibble about the fact that Saint George waited until the princess was in danger before he slew the dragon, letting countless hapless villagers go to their deaths, but that would simply show a flawed understanding of foreign policy--the central tenet of which appears to be don't get off your couch until there's something in it for you, whether that be simple glory or foreign oil.

Glory Saint George received. Catalans, for one, celebrate him on April 23 by giving roses and books to their beloveds. The roses, a symbol of passion, are accompanied by blades of wheat, a symbol of fertility, and the Catalan flag, a symbol of the still simmering Catalan nationalism; they are traditionally a gift for the ladies, though times are changing. The gentlemen, in turn, receive books. This appears to have more to do with the fact that April 23 is also the International Day of the Book and, coincidentally, the date on which both Shakespeare and Cervantes died. In any case, it's a charming custom.

In Barcelona, the streets are never more packed than on the Diada de Sant Jordi. Book and flower sellers are out in tents on Paseo de Gracia, Rambla Catalunya and Las Ramblas, selling wares to couples strolling by. Well, that's the public relations dream; the reality is that it's more a day of teeming throngs--lovely as the idea is, we had to narrowly escape suffocating crowds and exhausting line ups as we were strolling yesterday evening. Despite the challenges, I am today the proud owner of Exciting Barcelona: Festivals and traditions and Contemporary American Culture: An Anthropological View, not to mention a blood red rose.

To check out Barcelona hotels click here: Barcelona Hotels.

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