Mendoza: "Barcelona was a city of culture and I would like it to be so again"

He is not a devotee of Barcelona, ​​although he feels "curiosity, interest and affection" for it.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
21 March 2023 Tuesday 22:43
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Mendoza: "Barcelona was a city of culture and I would like it to be so again"

He is not a devotee of Barcelona, ​​although he feels "curiosity, interest and affection" for it. This affection, not passion, is inevitable, because Eduardo Mendoza was born in the Eixample in 1943 and, although he has lived in London, New York and wherever he could, a large part of his life has been spent in the Catalan capital, which is also protagonist of most of his novels.

The Cercle d'Economia invited the writer yesterday to give a conference about the city on the occasion of the municipal elections. After Mendoza, all the candidates for mayor will pass through the entity. Yesterday's was the most relaxed talk and, surely, the most entertaining. With his usual irony, Mendoza portrayed the city at the beginning of the 20th century, the protagonist of La verdad sobre el caso Savolta, the one about his childhood and youth and the pre-Olympic one up to the Barcelona of today.

His story started in the streets of the Eixample when he was a child. "My mother was Catalan and my father, from nowhere, because he was an official and was part of a small nomadic tribe that went from one place to another. That tradition was broken with me, but I kept the genetic drive and since I was not an official and nobody I was moving, I decided to move myself", explained the writer who lived in London in the 1960s and in New York in the 1970s.

When he left Barcelona to explore new cities, he left behind an Eixample "which was the same as it is now, but in which life was lived in a different way: there were shops, restaurants, bars, schools, pharmacies, professionals and many trades. It was an organic city in which the braying of the donkeys woke us up from the siesta". But over time the citizens no longer wanted to live in the Eixample. A decision that Mendoza attributes to the bathrooms, which "were insufficient on those floors and the new generations wanted more and better toilets, so they left the neighborhood in search of bathrooms."

Mendoza recalls that Franco's Barcelona was "the Sleeping Beauty, peaceful and lethargic. Those were bad times, but not that bad. There was oppression, although it was not very noticeable. Much was said about the War, but the city was peaceful and had no unemployment because there were few men left and the women were at home". So the writer grew up in a "quiet" city and faithful to its customs, "on Sundays he went to mass, bought a tortell and danced sardanas."

Before relocating to New York for himself, Mendoza began to investigate Barcelona's past, immersing himself in libraries and newspaper archives and soaking up history books until discovering to his surprise that the quiet city in which he had been born was nothing more than a mirage. . "I learned that Barcelona was a city made by gunfire, violent, very given to social unrest, one of the most aggressive in Europe, a refuge for gunmen, who lived in oblivion of its past."

Then he wrote The Truth About the Savolta Case to rescue Barcelona from oblivion and went to dangerous New York where he lived many adventures and acted as Cicerone for the few fearful travelers from Barcelona who at that time dared to cross the pond. He returned in the pre-Olympic stage already a successful author and witnessed the change that the Catalan capital experienced. A transformation that he attributes neither to great works nor to the Olympic Games but to foreign journalists.

"It seemed that there wasn't much to see in Barcelona. Modernism was not very interesting. There was even a movement asking for the demolition of the Palau de la Música, which seemed reasonable to me. But those journalists from Germany, the Netherlands, from Sweden. They let themselves fall in a cascade, they had not seen the sun for six months, they went to eat at Barceloneta and were impressed. The word spread that the city was essential and very cheap".

Thus began the Barcelona stage of tourism, of the current city that Mendoza does not deny. But they ask him if he would change something, if it can be improved and the writer makes his request: "That it return to being a city of culture as it already was, a city of music, art and with an open university", he says and remembers that " Picasso, Miró or Dalí were in the city, that there was a theater, writers from many countries..." "I wish there was a good orchestra," he adds, although he admits that he does not know how this cultural life can be recovered or who has to do it And put to ask, he also claims that "if they do the tram, it does not pass by my house."