Name: Bretton Rodriguez
Location of Study: Spain
Program of Study: Catalan
Sponsor(s): Robert Berner
Name: Bretton Rodriguez
Name: Bretton Rodriguez
Location of Study: Spain
Program of Study: Catalan
Sponsor(s): Robert Berner
Journal Entry 1:
Before I leave to study Catalan at the University of Barcelona, I want to set down a couple of my goals as well as a concern.
My primary goal is to improve my ability to read and work with texts in Catalan. While I have never taken a class in the language, I have tried to teach myself to read and to work with texts in Catalan, with mixed results. For instance, after reading Ramon Llull’s “Llibre d’amic e amat” (part of his larger “Blanquerna”) in a Spanish translation, I tried to read it in Catalan. Although I could translate parts, I was frustrated by my inability to really understand the text. I hope that this course will give me the linguistic knowledge I need to work more quickly and easily in Catalan.
I also intend to use this course as an introduction to the spoken language and as a means of better understanding Catalan culture. Catalonia has an incredibly rich history. As a political entity, for instance, it has existed for over a thousand years. However, it features not just a rich past – including an innovative literary tradition – but also a vibrant and exciting contemporary culture. Over the last century, Catalonia has given birth to such innovative thinkers as Antoni Gaudí, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dalí, amongst many others. It has also overcome the oppression it faced under Franco’s government.
One of my main concerns is how thoroughly I will be able to immerse myself in Catalan in Barcelona. Despite being the largest city in Catalonia, and one of the primary centers of Catalan culture, Barcelona is also a Spanish city and people generally are able to speak Spanish. I think it will be a challenge to put myself in situations where I will be forced to think and to live in Catalan.
Journal Entry 2:
One of the most important holidays in Catalonia is the “Nit de San Joan,” or the Night of St. John. Every year, Barcelona celebrates this holiday on June 23, the day before the official feast day. June 23 is also the Summer Solstice, the longest day and shortest night of the year.
Since my course at the university began on June 25, I decided to get to Barcelona the week before in order to acclimate myself to the city. I am very glad that I did as it gave me the chance to experience this wonderful holiday in person.
As soon as I arrived in Barcelona, I began hearing about the “Nit de San Joan” and seeing a number of signs and posters. Since I was curious, I asked in a tourist office for more information. They told me about the holiday’s supposed pagan roots and how the holiday was traditionally represented by three symbols: fire (purity), water (healing), and herbs (remedy). However, they told me that the most obvious and important of three was fire. For this reason, the “Nit of San Joan” was also referred to as the “Nit del Foc,” the Night of Fire.
I also spoke with my roommate – a graduate student at the University of Barcelona – about the holiday and the best way to celebrate it. She told me that it was traditional for people of all ages to head to the beaches where they would build huge bonfires and watch fireworks that were set off over the sea.
She also told me about a traditional dish that was associated with the holiday, “coque,” which is a type of cake. While these cakes are made in a variety of styles, can be either savory or sweet, the one thing that they all have in common is that they contain anise. This accounts for the distinctive flavor that they all have in common. Taking her advice, I made sure to try the cake during the day. While I enjoyed the coque, I still don’t understand why it is considered to be the traditional food of the “Nit de San Joan.”
Journal Entry 3:
One of the most important social issues facing Catalonia today is the question of independence. Many Catalans are very eager to break away from Spain and form their own, independent country. One of the ways that they imagine this happening is that, upon separating from Spain, they would immediately join the European Union.
In support of independence, between one and two million people took to the streets of Barcelona in 2012. While this rally was a strong show of support, it does not prove that a majority of the people in Catalonia supports independence. In fact, many people in Barcelona are strongly against any type of separation from Spain.
I spoke with a few different Catalan speakers about this topic, and their views were surprisingly similar. In short, the overwhelming opinion seemed to be that it was a complicated issue and that, whether or not Catalonia should become independent, many people are going to be unhappy.
My Catalan professor, despite having participated in the march last year, was quick to bring up the large number of immigrants who have flocked to Barcelona from all over the world. These people see Barcelona as their home, and they see it as a part of Spain. Most of these immigrants, particularly those who come from other parts of Spain, would be very unhappy if Catalonia was to break away.
A colleague of mine at the library, meanwhile, predicted that things will probably come to a head near year, 2014. For Catalans, the date September 11, 1714, is incredibly important. This is the day that Castilian and French forces, in support of placing a Borbon king on the Spanish throne, defeated Catalan forces and stormed Barcelona. This date also marked the end of Catalonia being governed separately from Castile under their own laws and customs. September 11, 2014, will be the 300th anniversary of that event.
Finally, a bartender that I spoke to near my apartment predicted that Spain would never let Catalonia break away. He believes that, if Catalonia goes, all of the different regions of Spain would want to break away as well. It would signify the end of Spain as we currently know it. Moreover, he cited the threat of Catalonia becoming independent as one of the principal reasons for the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939.
Journal Entry 4:
One of the interesting things about my Catalan class is that it is made up of people from a wide range of backgrounds (I am the only student from the United States). In particular, there are a number of students from South America who have immigrated to Barcelona to work and now want to learn Catalan in order to better assimilate into the community.
As one would expect in a class made up of a number of different nationalities, the topic of cultural stereotypes has come up on a number of occasions. It is always interesting to see what people think of the US. On one occasion, we were studying adjectives and the professor asked the class to think of what adjectives they associated with the nationalities of people in the class. I was able to anticipate many of the adjectives they assigned to people from the US: rich, proud, arrogant, isolationist, amongst others. However, one of my classmates from Argentina also proposed that people from the US liked to travel, which I had not expected. Since I know that a large percentage of people from the US never travel outside of the country, I tend not to think of people from the US as travelers. Yet, for someone from Buenos Aires – or Barcelona – who sees thousands upon thousands of tourists from the US every year, the perception is entirely different.
This same student also asked me what I thought about George Bush. It’s funny, even though many people are fascinated by President Obama, it seems as though an equal number are still fixated on George Bush and the decisions he made during his time in office, particularly the war in Iraq. When I expressed a negative view of President Bush, he agreed with me, but seemed a little disappointed that I hadn’t supported the former president.
I have also had a number of conversations about the role that “American” culture (culture from the US) plays in Europe. Speaking with my roommate, I recalled how disappointed I was the first time that I travelled to Spain when I kept hearing music from the US in all of the stores and restaurants. She told me how common it was for Spaniards to be heavily invested in music in English, especially from the US, even when they couldn’t understand any of what the artists were saying.
Another topic that seems to come up frequently is the role of movies from the US in the European marketplace, especially with France taking steps to try to protect and nurture its own cinematic tradition. I spoke with another student in my class who, although he had been born in Uruguay, grew up in Sweden, about this issue. He sees the issue in a slightly different way. While he is less worried about American movies replacing or blocking their European counterparts, he is interested in the role they play in the acquisition of English. For him, one of the major reasons that such a large percentage of the population in countries like Sweden can speak English is their refusal to dub any of the cultural products from the US – be they movies or tv – into Swedish. Therefore, unlike in Spain, where dubbing is incredibly common, Swedish youths are continually exposed to English from the time that they are quite young.
Journal Entry 5:
One of the things that attracted me to studying Catalan in Barcelona was the number of cultural activities that the city promotes to raise awareness and interest in the language. Along with these events, the University of Barcelona also promotes a number of events that celebrate the Catalan language and culture.
Possibly my favorite event was “els vespres de la UB,” the evenings of the University of Barcelona, in which the university hosted free concerns featuring a number of different Catalan musicians and performers throughout the month of July (http://www.ub.edu/vespres/). These shows were held in the gardens behind the main university building in the center of Barcelona. It was great to be able to sit outside in the evening and discover new groups who performed in the language that I was studying during the day. While I was not able to understand every word that the artists sang, I was able to understand more than I expected.
It was also a great opportunity to see how vibrant and alive Catalan culture is. One of my concerns in studying Catalan in Barcelona was whether or not I would be able to find situations in which I was forced to use the language and would not be able to substitute Spanish for Catalan. By attending events like “els vespres de la UB,” I was able to join native Catalan speakers in celebrating their culture and their language. I was also able to force myself to live and survive in Catalan.
Journal Entry 6:
Earlier today, I was asked, “d’on ets,” which means, “where are you from” in Catalan. It is an incredibly common question, but it resonated with me today for a number of reasons. First, it made me think about how important a role the U.S has played in my own identity. Being in Barcelona, I am frequently forced to confront how many of my views have been determined by growing up in the U.S.
The question also stayed with me because it is often so complicated to answer here in Barcelona, as well as throughout Catalonia. If you were born in Barcelona, or Girona, or Figueras; are you from Spain? Or, are you from Catalonia? What about if you were born outside of Catalonia, or even outside of Spain, but grew up here? Are you Spanish? Catalan? Other?
Now that I have finished my Catalan course at the University of Barcelona, and as I get ready to leave the city, I find myself thinking more and more about my time here. I really enjoyed my class, and am glad that I had a chance to study at the university rather than at a language school. I am amazed at the amount of Catalan that I managed to learn in a month. For instance, even the fact that I was able to immediately understand the question stated above, posed by a native Catalan speaker, and to respond seems to me to be an achievement. That said, I think there are ways that the course could have been better organized and taught.
One of the main things that stand out about my time here, however, is the deep complexity of so many of the issues faced here in Barcelona. Issues like identity and languages seem not only to be complicated, but also to create conflicts between different segments of the population. I have met native Catalan speakers whose families have lived here for generations who passionately want independence. I have also met all matter of immigrants who want nothing more than for things to stay the way that they are. Moreover, I have been addressed in public in Catalan, in Spanish, in French, and, on more than one occasion while in the center of the city, in English.
Barcelona is one of the most amazing and special places that I have ever had the privilege of getting to know personally. It has a rich history, a vibrant culture, and seems to be moving forward in a number of ways. However, it is also profoundly divided.
I am extremely grateful that I have had the chance to begin to study this language and its culture, and I plan to continue working with both throughout my career. I am also glad that I have had a glimpse of a very special, unique, and complicated part of the world.