Civic spirit, emotion and very long queues rule in a face-masked Sant Jordi

The Day of the book and the rose is lived in the hope of recovering pre-pandemic sensations

4 min
Cues to access the Sant Jordi enclosure located in the Gràcia gardens

BarcelonaSant Jordi 2021 has started strong, with the power of a good fork breakfast with extra spice. This was the speech given by Pol Guasch, a fierce young star of Catalan literature and winner of the Llibres Anagrama Prize for his novel Napalm al cor. "I have been invited because I am young and embody something akin to diversity, but the system we live in doesn't work", said Guasch, who was one of the authors invited to the institutional event held at Barcelona City Hall, where Irene Vallejo was the Sant Jordi town crier. Guasch, unleashed, has done everything but bow his head in front of publishers, representatives of writers, the mayor Ada Colau and the deputy mayor Joan Subirats. "We have to stop addressing the political class to firmly address the people who make the words, who live the words and make literature exist. There are the forces that create and maintain the world and then there are the forces that expropriate creativity in favour of profit. Literature is not rhetoric, it is deviation. Institutional politics and literature are antonyms. In literature there are no pacts or concessions, in literature one does not negotiate with racism, with the persecution of languages, one does not sell the text to the highest bidder, one does not deceive in the name of one's own interest. Literature broadens, it doesn't squeeze", added the author from Tarragona before saying goodbye with an angry plea: "The text that does what we have been able to do, among other places, in Urquinaona, has yet to reach the world".

Colau, more in line with a breakfast of skimmed yogurt and orange juice, said that "this is another Sant Jordi full of hope and joy because of the need to meet again in the public space". And so it has been since at 10 am the perimeter enclosures scattered around Barcelona have begun to open. "What joy! People ask us if they can touch the books. Of course they can", said Núria Iceta, deputy director of the publishing house L'Avenç, in the Jardinets de Gràcia. "Everything is in our favour, even the good weather, because I remember that in 2019 it rained until 10 in the morning and it was very hard to set up the stands. And if on top of that we sell books, even better", Iceta added while the spring sun pampered the people who queued. This year, two queues: one to enter the enclosures and the other for the signatures. "It will be a strange Sant Jordi but perhaps more comfortable than other years. It's all very well organised", said Javier Cercas in a taxi shared with Jordi Nopca. For Dolores Redondo, it is a "Sant Jordi of starting over, the beginning of the game of the goose again". "It's a day to give thanks to readers", said the author of the Baztan Trilogy.

As Redondo says, it is the readers who deserve a monument. They already deserve it in a conventional crowded Sant Jordi, and even more in this Sant Jordi masked by very long queues, hydroalcoholic gel and holy patience. It's fair to say that some queues are more entertaining than others. On Passeig de Gràcia, for example, the wait could be enlivened by photographing the Casa Batlló, adorned with roses like the centrepiece of a vertical spa. You could also contemplate the manoeuvres of the photographers looking for the most original framing. And to get an idea of what it would be like once inside the perimeter enclosure: an oasis with capacity control and, therefore, more space to browse through the books. Be aware that next year we will miss this spaciousness. In any case, a round of applause to everyone who took to the streets to experience Sant Jordi in a face mask.

In general, there was a good atmosphere, a refreshing warmth and a desire to experience the exceptional nature of a festival with few stops for roses beyond the florists' shops. Francesc Serés, enjoying the success of La casa de foc, noted another exceptional element of this Sant Jordi: "We have to enjoy this Diada very much because it will be the first Sant Jordi in which we will have a Barcelona without tourists. Perhaps it's not great news for hotels, but for those of us who like a more civic and less intense city, it's great news". To complete the description of the landscape, and while preparing to sign a copy of El lunes nos querrán, Najat El Hachmi said: "I'm not very optimistic about life, but today is an exception. As there won't be so many people in the street, we authors will be on time for the first time in our lives". Xavier Bosch, with his wrist trained to dedicate La mujer de su vida, added a third element. "It's a historic day, because it's not so much the numbers that matter as the emotions", said one of the candidates to appear on the day's bestseller list.

"It's the first big party we've had in a long time, a transition party towards next year's Sant Jordi, when we'll already be immunised. Everyone is behaving in a civilised way and the authors are signing a lot. It's a day to be excited!", summarised Ester Pujol, editor of Enciclopèdia Catalana. Indeed, emotion, civility and order have dominated the morning of this Sant Jordi. What a contrast with other realities, as James Rhodes recalled: "What do readers say to me? That I'm a shitty writer, that I should go back to my damn country? Ah, no, that was on Twitter. Thank goodness I've already closed it down!"