La Colometa (The Little Dove) by Xavier Medina Campeny
Taking a coffee in the Placa del Diamant in Gracia, a neighborhood of Barcelona that used to be a separate village, I am struck by how palpably present the Spanish Civil War is. First, this square is one of the few places that has preserved its bomb shelter. I went there with my students a few weeks ago and a guide talked to us about the history of the bombings, mostly from Italian planes it seems, and the way the community pitched in to build these bomb shelters in a matter of months. Then we walked down the steps of one of the entrances (there are always two, so that if a bomb falls down one, people can escape through the other). Just a simple bench along one side of the walls. We sat there only for a few minutes, as opposed to the hours (or once, when the bombing went on for days, then days) underground.
On the square, there is also a bronze sculpture by Xavier Medina Campeny called La Colometa (The Little Dove) of a woman crying out in desperation, frozen halfway through a wall and attempting to flee, a file of doves on her right. It's in commemoration of the main character from a book by Merce Rodoreda, Placa del Diamant, translated into English as The Time of the Doves (1962), which takes place during the years leading up to and during the Civil War.
As I have said before, it seems impossible to separate politics and literature here. To write in Catalan is to commit a political act. And there is still a resentment here of the increasing power of the central government in Madrid (as I eavesdrop on more than one conversation). A referendum will take place in Catalonia (Catalunya) in November to vote on whether the citizens want to become an autonomous state. The Catalonian flag (with red and yellow stripes) is draped over many balconies with the message "9N Votar es normal" (9 November Voting is normal). Initially I thought it said "Volar es normal" (Flying is normal). When you recall the particular fierceness of Franco towards Barcelona, the last stronghold of the Republic, history feels very close. So even as I sit on this beautiful square in the shade of an umbrella in an outdoor cafe, I hear the echoes of the sirens warning the women and children, mostly, to take cover underground.
I don't know how it will change/is changing my poetry. My relation to language. I speak and write, after all, the still hegemonic global language. (The other day in Palau Guell I was surprised to hear the woman working there tell a Chinese couple that there was no audio-guide in Chinese; they had to take the English language one.) But to write poetry in this language is to transform an instrument of power into something else. Something that doesn't need to be censored, alas, because it is drowned out by the Google carnival available to all.
The most important gift poetry can give the world: the importance of silence. And to speak where others have remained silent. What other art form can gesture so profoundly toward loss, toward desire, toward the noumenal—toward what lies beyond language.
I am about to attend two days of the international electronic music festival here in Barcelona called SONAR. I'll be curious to hear what lies underneath all the noise. What music there is inside/outside the music.