The Cannes train station was packed on Saturday morning as I made my way with a souvenir-stuffed suitcase and a veritable library on my back toward the train that would take me to Montpellier and on to Barcelona for my Richter Research Project. In Barcelona, my research examines the relationship between nationalized Catholicism, Catalan nationalism, and parish church architecture in the 1950s and early 1960s. Research, however, was far from my mind as the heat of the gare and my anti-pickpocket guard were both stifling my physical and mental agility.
Taking a seat on a bench, I exchanged an all at once miffed and yet unbelievably excited look with Drew, a friend and fellow train-traveller who was headed to Spain for a pilgrimage trip down the Camino de Santiago. It was then that a very elegant and indeed friendly elderly French dame, accompanied by her husband in his fauteil, begged my pardon so that she might sit down, insisting that we share the small seat rather than having me stand.
Although my mind was not yet reeling in the world of 1950’s Spain, my new French companion brought me back on track when she discovered that our destination was Barcelona. Madame proceeded to tell me of her own visit to Barcelone when she was but 20 years old. Without the slightest prompting, she told of her distaste for the Franco regime and the oppressiveness of nationalized Catholicism, remarking that when she had arrived in Spain many decades ago wearing capri pants she was made aware of her grave offense with a thrash on the ankles by an elderly Spaniard. What a perfect segue to my research project!
After passing twelve hours of Saturday traveling and most of Sunday starving (the supermercado is closed on the Sabbath), I headed out bright and early on Monday morning to the Biblioteca de Catalunya to begin my preliminary quest.
After presenting my passport and proof of research, I was granted my very own library card that allows me five years of access to the very well-guarded collections at the BC. All of which would have been perfect if I only knew what to do next.
There are a few things one learns when using a research library for the first time. Indeed, the only survival tool is that of imitation; that is, follow the other researchers and copy their movements and, when in doubt, seek out the most sympathetic-looking member of the staff and discreetly ask for help.
After two days of trial and error (don’t ever mark pages with sticky notes!), I had as good of control of the collections as any of the other grim-faced researchers and left the library Tuesday afternoon with a plan of action for Wednesday’s research. Little did I know that Spain had other plans in mind.
For those unfamiliar with Spanish culture, every year the Summer Solstice is celebrated with the Festival of San Juan, which is, for lack of a better description, a night of mayhem and superstition that culminates with thousands flocking to the beaches for merrymaking and experimental research the likes of which the Biblioteca de Catalunya has never seen. All of Barcelona can be found on the streets and beaches setting off fireworks, drinking to excess, and avoiding pick-pockets with full knowledge that the following day is a national holiday, perhaps the Spanish government’s way of easing those post-Sangria headaches experienced by locals and tourists alike.
In any event, even the librarians enjoy a good party now and then, so my third research day in Spain was spent away from the BC. Although I was discouraged at first, an impromptu metro trip to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia placated any lingering disappointment over the lost day. With Barcelona all around me, I admit I wasn’t too heartbroken to be out in the sunshine that afternoon.
With this entry stretching longer and longer and the smells from the street below becoming more and more enticing to my growing appetite, I leave this tale of bibliotecas and Barcelona to be finished another day. I leave you with a photo that provides an amusing taste of the ever-palatable Catalan nationalist movement for those who are interested!