Sunday, February 26, 2023

Books, Roses, and Lies


I thought it would be a good idea to promote my book, No Regrets: A Life in Catalonia, by coupling it with the holiday of Sant Jordi. Saint George is the patron saint of Catalonia and his holiday, celebrated on 23 April, is the Day of the Book and the Rose.

It started out as a normal saint day and was celebrated with men giving women a red rose. That symbolized the red rose that grew where the dragon’s blood fell. If you are not fully versed on Catholic saints, it was George, a Roman soldier who was martyred for refusing to denounce his Christian faith and, more important to this story, who slew the dragon and saved the princess.

The idea of books came up hundreds of years later. In the 1920s, a book seller in Barcelona thought it would be a good idea to publicize and take advantage of the fact that both Shakespeare and Cervantes died on the same day – 23 April and thus promote reading and book sales.

This evolved to books becoming part of the Sant Jordi celebration. Now, each year on 23 April, every Catalan city, town, and village hauls out dozens, if not hundreds of stands full of books and roses.

Taking the cue from Catalonia, in 1995, UNESCO declared 23 April World Book Day. This has caught on pretty well in England where George is also the patron saint, and perhaps less so in other places. It seems to me that to promote this holiday in the U.S. would be a good thing, and of course it would be a good thing if any bookshop would highlight my book on that holiday, especially since one of the sections is devoted to explaining Sant Jordi.

In preparing my promotional letter to several Berkeley bookstores, I intended to include a link to the Wikipedia page on World Book Day. But to my horror, when I went to look at it, it cited Lisbon, Portugal as the place where the holiday originated. It said that George was Lisbon’s patron saint, which is not true. None of it was true.

So I contacted my friend Matthew Tree, a British/Catalan journalist (we’ve never actually met but we’ve been in contact for some years) thinking he would know how to correct the entry. I also contacted the Catalan Office of Foreign Affairs and one of the pro-independence political parties. Although Matthew didn’t correct the entry, someone did, he and I were left with suspicions. I had probably consulted that page sometime before. After all, I’ve written about Sant Jordi several times on my blog and in my book, and I know I looked for sources of information. So who would go in and make such a ridiculous change?

Today Matthew’s article in a Catalan newspaper appeared, informing Catalans of the misinformation that had appeared on Wikipedia. In it he says that I had contacted him about it a couple of weeks ago. He points out how in that article the Catalan origin of the UNESCO World Book Day holiday was erased from history. Lisbon has two patron saints, Vicente de Zaragoza and Santo Antonio de Lisboa, but no George. The holiday was never celebrated in Portugal until last year after the Catalan government proposed doing so to the Portuguese. He also says that he knows first hand that in London and many other places, booksellers refer to April 23 as “Saint Jordi’s Day.”

When I saw that article in February, I noticed that the last revision had been done in January. Matthew wonders (as do I), who could have had the time and desire to place that false information on the internet? He recalls a 2010 article by Màrius Serra in which he explained that someone had entered Google Translator only to get “I’m from Catalonia” translated as “I’m from Spain.”

Who? Why? Someone loaded with prejudice, intent on misrepresenting Catalan reality.

To see Matthew’s article in El Punt Avui (in Catalan) click here.

1 comment:

  1. I was in Barcelona about 15 years ago on that day. We passed a church where there were many people browsing bookstands and there were more roses than I had ever seen! I first understood what it was I had seen when I read your book!!