Saturday, July 24, 2015 continued. Our bus parked across riu Onyar from the small square in front of the Basilica de St Feleu. We walked up the steep hill around the church to one of the last gates remaining from the wall surrounding the city in ancient/medieval times. Like the aqueduct in Segovia, Roman stones still lay placed with no mortar to hold them all these centuries. Enrique, our guide, is Catalan. Below this huge gate we received a short lecture on the history of Spain and of Catalonia, primarily of the long drive to push the Moors out of Spain, ending in 1492.
I was about to ask a question concerning another event in Spain in 1492 when Enrique stopped to tell us about the old Jewish quarter in Girona. Standing in the Plaça in front of the cathedral, he explained that Jews in the Middle Ages in Girona were protected a “property” of the king of Aragon. The community flourished economically and culturally, becoming a center for cabalistic mysticism, famous for the philosopher Nahmonides. When the Black Plague erupted, however, there were pogroms against the Jews In 1492 the Jews of Girona were expelled, along with all Jews throughout all the lands newly united under the Catholic monarchs Fernando and Isabella. I was impressed about the guide’s openness about this past crime. Nothing defensive. These were wrongs committed.
The guide left us on our own for an hour to explore Girona. Anne Mei and I climbed farther up the hill to Jardins des Alemanys, a walled oasis previously owned by a German family. Anne Mei made it all the way to the top of the Torre Gironella. We walked back down to the Patronat Call de Girona, the Museum of Jewish History. We only had time for a quick visit, but learned from the artifacts and old documents on display about the origins, growth and end of this vibrant community. There were also graphic displays of the campaigns of the Spanish Inquisition to torture and kill any remaining Jews and conversos.
Many traditional Catalan flags with their simple series of yellow and red stripes hung from the balconies above the streets. Some homes had the separatist flag with its added star. This flag appears beside the orchestra playing for the dancers the next morning in Barcelona. In Pals, Enrique noted the three flags hanging in front of La Casa de Vila, city hall—the local Pals flag, the traditional Catalan flag, and the European Union flag. He said that Pals was the first town in Catalonia to stop flying the Spanish flag.
As a Madrileño our friend Carlos was adamantly against Catalan independence. We had diner with a Catalan friend of his. They have many arguments over the Catalan language, which Carlos claims is just a variation on Spanish, like the difference between English as spoken in the U.S. and Australia. My impression now that we’ve been in Catalonia for a few days is that Catalan is a distinct Romance language almost as close to French as to Spanish. Good-bye for instance is “adeu” in Catalan, “adieu” in French, and “adios” in Spanish.
In any case, as a descendent of a nation whose language was deliberately exterminated by an imperial power I’m all for promoting the vitality of unique languages. Through global media and trade, English is becoming a universal language for communication among peoples. I do hope that many vibrant languages like Catalan never become hot-house flowers like Irish.
From Pals we drove to the seaside resort town of Calella where we were left to wander for a few hours. Anne Mei and I dawdled over lunch of chicken paella and macaroni bolognese, enjoying the shade as much as the food. In our walk afterwards, the Mediterranean rose before us in stunning blue waves under the hot sun. Anne Mei took many photos and dipped her feet in the water while I watched her stuff.