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Posts Tagged ‘Barcelona’

The Weather Men

March 25, 2014 | by

The life, times, and meteorological theories of Josep Pla.

pla

Josep Pla at his house in Llofriu, 1975.

“I’ve attended the procession of my country with a match in hand. Not an altar candle, not a torch, not a candlestick, but a match.”

Josep Pla (1897–1981) is a controversial figure in Catalan letters, and a well-kept secret of twentieth century European literature. If Barça is more than just a football club, then Pla—a political and cultural journalist, travel writer, biographer, memoirist, essayist, novelist, and foodie, whose collected works clock in at more than thirty-thousand pages and thirty-eight volumes—was more than just a writer.

Now that his deceptively simple, earthy prose and mordant sense of humor are available to American readers, the best way to read Pla is to curl up with a crisp glass of cava and a few spears of white asparagus. It’s impossible to read Josep Pla and not fall in love with his Mediterranean landscape. His native Empordà, with its mushroom-laced winds and its hint of burnt cork, mesmerizes.

Pla’s most important work, The Gray Notebook, is out now in a graceful translation by Peter Bush; the Daily published an excerpt yesterday. In the spirit of a bildungsroman and the form of a diary, the narrative chronicles 1918 and 1919, two crucial years in young Pla’s life. It captures the raucous energy of a precocious country boy who falls on his feet in the city, full of the spit and vinegar of youth. These were ebullient years in turn-of-the-century Barcelona; the city saw the first roiling curls of the belligerence that would lead to the Spanish Civil War, giving The Gray Notebook a tang of dramatic irony. But Pla’s masterpiece wasn’t actually published until 1966, after he had rewritten and reworked the material from his earlier diaries—a process similar to that of Proust, who returned to material written during Swann’s Way to fashion Time Regained. Read More »

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A Vitreous Vault

March 24, 2014 | by

In 1918, when Josep Pla was in Barcelona studying law, the Spanish flu broke out, the university shut down, and Pla went home to his parents in coastal Palafrugell, Spain. Aspiring to be a writer, not a lawyer, he resolved to hone his style by keeping a journal. In it he wrote about his family, local characters, visits to cafés; the quips, quarrels, ambitions, and amours of his friends; writers he liked and writers he didn’t; and the long contemplative walks he would take in the countryside under magnificent skies. Nearly fifty years later, Pla published his youthful journal as The Gray Notebook, the first volume and capstone of the great Catalan writer’s collected works.

"Aigua Xelida (Palafrugell, Girona)" by Asier Sarasua Aranberri

Aigua Xelida (Palafrugell, Girona). Photo: Asier Sarasua Aranberri, via Flickr.

3 November 1918, Sunday. Spent with friends. Piera the tailor, Bonany, et cetera. I walk up to Sant Sebastià. A beautiful afternoon. The sinuous ribbon of road draws the loveliest afternoon light. I hear someone chopping wood in the distance. A donkey brays in a remote spot. A black-and-white magpie jumps over the green alfalfa. When I walk past Ros, I think, as I always do: I wish I owned Ros, the vineyard and the pinewood. By the hermitage, total solitude. Opposite Calella, boats—bobbing like walnuts—fish for squid. Two brigs appear on the Italian horizon, driven by a northeasterly wind. The sea is purple-edged beneath the hermitage terrace. Far out at sea, opposite Tamariu, another sailing ship is returning. A crabbing boat sails slowly by Cape Begur. An empty steamer passes arrogantly by, very close to land, spitting large mouthfuls of water overboard in fits and starts—like a dog barking. The water on the horizon turns deep violet; the water by the strip of land darkens. We circle the hermitage, marveling, awestruck. The afternoon seems in limbo, abstracted from time—a creation of the mind. If I could imagine or create another world, it would be a world like this.

We return at dusk. The road is thronged by the shadows of hunters and mushroom pickers; we hear the hum of invisible people conversing. As I stand on En Casaca bridge, I remember the frog that sang there in summer. The evening dissolves into a delicate gauze, a misty haze floating and shimmering above the land. The sky is very clear and the starlight cold and metallic. Read More »

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Death in the Afternoon

March 26, 2012 | by

On the fifteenth of June 2008, only a few minutes after stepping into the sand of Madrid’s bullring, the bullfighter José Tomás was covered in blood. Just ten days before, he had had his most glorious fight ever, a fight that turned even the usually skeptical aficionados ecstatic. That second afternoon the stakes were high, but the bullfight proved to be crude and epic. Tomás was gored three times. After each goring, he stubbornly stood up, planted himself on the ground, and fought on, never stepping back from the bull. His torso bent achingly slowly, inches from the animal, to subtly guide the charge. His calm was astounding. It didn’t matter that this time the bulls weren’t following his wrist but rather searching for his body—he  wanted to deliver the same smooth performance as he had ten days before.

Tomás had to undergo three operations as soon as he left the ring. One of the wounds ran twenty inches into his right thigh and tore his muscle. Some viewers accused him of being suicidal; others saw the consummate performance of Spain’s best bullfighter, one who was ready to fight steadily till the end. When a journalist asked the old former matador Esplá, “What is courage?” he answered, “It’s the spot where José Tomás stands.”Read More »

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‘Echo’ in Madison Square Park

September 29, 2011 | by

Jaume Plensa, Echo, 2011, white resin and marble dust. Installation view in Madison Square Park, New York. Photograph by James Ewing.

“A poem is never finished, it is abandoned,” said the sculptor Jaume Plensa, quoting Paul Valéry on a sunny September morning in New York City, as he watched Echo, his forty-four-foot sculpture of a female head, being dismantled piece by piece.

My husband Jonathan Wells and I are Flatiron residents. We had lived alongside Echo since she arrived in May and, for Jonathan, she had become an object of fascination and reverence. He had been working on a poem about her for months but found himself unable to conclude it. He had refamiliarized himself with the myth of Narcissus and Echo; he had learned all he could about Plensa and the nine-year-old neighbor in Barcelona who had inspired the piece, a child who had taken shape in the statue with the timelessness and serenity of a Buddha. On this, the statue’s last morning, Jonathan recognized the Catalan sculptor standing between the cranes and the crew.

“I always hoped my work would inspire other artists,” Plensa told my husband, as they discussed myth, marble dust, art collectors, and teaching schedules. “Please send me your poem.” After watching Echo come apart, Jonathan knew he had an ending. Here is what he sent to Plensa:

Echo

White as x ray bone she rises through
The trees in stone as if she were sublime,
As if she knew what this grace was
And she was only nine, framed
Between her errands and her games.
Her nymph’s body surges underground
Not knowing what this buried love
Is for.

Beneath her neighbors play Frisbee
On the grass and strangers take her
Photograph. The final sun pours
Into her sealed eyes and mouth as though
She were the saint of radiant stillness
Who says this marble flesh is a prison
Stone yet the mind flies with
The confetti of birds, soars into
The beliefs of summer.
Silence succumbs to air and the blossoms
Sail down, the clocktower’s fretted hands
Notched against her ribs.

Questions flood her blood
And darkness, flee and then she’s gone,
Taken from our vanquished arms but
She still speaks in the autumn leaves,
In the furrowed bark, in the singsong
Of the childrens’ swings.

Jonathan Wells’s collection, Train Dance, will be published by Four Way Books in October.

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Advice to Our Scottish Readers

August 19, 2011 | by

Late last Tuesday night, a crowd gathered in an antique circus tent, in Edinburghs Charlotte Square, to shelter from the rain, drink whiskey, and hear readings by Paris Review contributor Donald Antrim and Southern editor John Jeremiah Sullivan, both introduced by editor Lorin Stein. The program—The Paris Review Presents New American Writing at the Edinburgh Book Fair—received mixed reviews. One tweeter called itbloomin superb. A blogger asked, Why cant there be events like this in Edinburgh all the time? One young festival volunteer, less enthusiastically, described it as wordy. What did she expect? Last year when McSweeneys came, the editor got up on stage and shaved his head.

For some, head shaving is not an option. Instead, at the end of the night, the Paris Review delegates opened the floor to requests for advice, which were submitted on scraps of paper. Most were answered on the spot; others were tucked into a notebook and reviewed on the road, as editors Sullivan and Stein recuperated from the book fair triumph/fiasco.

Could you recommend a travel book about either Japan or Spain?
—Anon.

We are composing this response under deadline in the West Highlands—specifically, in the self-proclaimed “oldest pub in Scotland,” the Lachlann Inn, on the banks of Loch Lomond. As everyone knows, they didn’t have WiFi in 1734 (although they do appear to have had video poker). For this reason, we can’t answer your question in the kind of depth that American readers have come to expect from The Paris Review. We can only recommend, in Lorin’s case, Robert Hughes’s Barcelona and, in John’s case, Journey of a Thousand Miles, the famous series of travel haiku by Basho. (John would also like to recommend the Laura Veirs song “Rapture,” which is not strictly speaking a travelogue, but does include a tribute to “lovely Basho / his plunking ponds and toads.”)

Please recommend a good book for our book club. We are currently reading Jennifer Egans novel A Visit From the Goon Squad and have recently read such books as So Much for That, The Dice Man, Middlesex, Half of a Yellow Sun, Oryx and Crake, and Rebecca.
—Marion & Co.

When we see the title The Dice Man, we both think of the scandal-plagued comedian of our youth, the “Dice Man,” Andrew Dice Clay—and that can’t possibly be what you have in mind. Still, we are struck by the breadth of your reading. Your question has been on our minds. Yesterday we wandered into a small used bookstore at the foot of the Castle mound and both ogled a complete 1910 Robert Louis Stevenson in twenty volumes. John proposed that we donate it to your book club; Lorin found it “too rich” for The Paris Review’s “blood.” As a backup, John recommends Ghost Light, Joseph O’Connor’s fictional re-creation of John Millington Synge’s hopeless love affair with the Abbey Theatre actress Molly Allgood. And we both recommend—in the strongest possible terms—our colleague Donald Antrim’s short novel The Verficationist, about an academic meeting gone horribly wrong amid the hustle and bustle of an International House of Pancakes.

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