Saturday evening. La Plaça Nova Placita de la Seu in front of the Catedral de Barcelona is crowded with people listening to traditional Catalan music. Anne Mei and I are listening through a window in our hotel room that opens out onto the Plaça. We are resting after an all day bus trip north of Barcelona to the ancient city of Girona, the medieval town of Pals, and the seaside resort of Calella on the Costa Brava.
It is difficult for me to put into words the intensity of my feelings about visiting Girona. In 1957 when I was in 8th grade I picked up a book that my parents had read and were talking about–The Cypresses Believe in God (Los Cipreses Creen En Dios) by José María Gironella. This historical novel tracks the lives of the members of a family living in Girona over the five years leading to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. The story of a large Catholic family with a son heading towards the seminary, as was I, resonated with my family and my life. I read the book at least twice before graduating from high school, imagining their homes, schools, churches, places of work and the streets between them. Why I do not know, more than 50 years later the image that remains is of an upstairs apartment in a building on a sunny street leading down to a river, the mother of the family looking down that street from a window.
The old town really does crowd up to riu Onyar as I imagined, but this morning was overcast. The photo was taken from the Pont de St Feleu.
Sometime during the 1980s I read the two later volumes of Gironella’s trilogy taking the family through the Civil War and into the early years of Franco’s dictatorship. Neither was as good as this first one. I want to read it again now. The guide gave us a map of Girona, which I can use now to place these events among the sights we saw today.