Ancient mikveh in Girona
This will be my last post from Barcelona. I had wanted to translate something else. Or to speak about the shadow of Judaism that shows itself in unexpected places. Such as in the Mercat de Born, a huge market that is an archaeological site from the 18th century, when Barcelona was defeated by the Bourbons and the Catalans lost many of their rights. There was an exhibition of photographs by a contemporary artist and poems influenced by the Kabbalah by Salvador Espriu, still the most famous Catalan modern poet. And a critic's new book who writes that the "secret" to Espriu is the structure of Kabbalah in his poems.
Or I could tell you about the traditional music I went to hear in the neighborhood. And they played Sephardic songs. By way of introduction, the singer asked, "Does anyone know what a mikveh is?" "I do," I said and everyone turned around to look at me like I was a ghost from Catalunya's Jewish past.
Or I could talk about the Jewish museum in Girona I went to that was mostly filled with tombstones. And finally, just last year, they figured out that what seemed like a cistern was the last remaining synagogue's women's mikveh (ritual bath).
Instead, I'll leave you with a painting by Merce Rodoreda, the most important novelist of the 20th century in Catalunya. She wrote poetry but my Catalan is too meager to translate any.
Watercolor by Merce Rodoreda
I leave for New York tomorrow. Last days are always saddest for me anyplace. When I went to the Miro museum here, I chanced upon a certain Castilian poet whom Miro quoted and admired. So I bought his book of aphorisms, a posthumously published collection. His name is Jose Bergamin and the book is Aforismos de la Cabeza Parlante (Aphorisms of the Speaking Head). I have translated from Spanish one of his aphorisms and turned it into lineated verse:
The soul is memory;
the body, forgetting.
If memory, through words,
is the soul of history,
will history also contain
through the word, a body
I have spent most days here writing a memoir, in prose. I am more aware, as I attempt to write about what I remember, how much I have forgotten. How much remembering is an exercise in creating a fictive body that has some connection to the felt truth of a life lived. All histories, especially personal histories, contain a body of forgetting and remembering. Bergamin was right about that.
It's been a pleasure to send you notes and musings from a city I have grown to love.