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Besoek die aktiewe LitNet-platform by www.litnet.co.za

This is the LitNet archive (2006–2012)
Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Reis | Travel > Local is lekker

Local is “guai”: Meritxell Arquer Prats on Barcelona and Catalonia

Imke van Heerden - 2009-12-03

Meritxell, tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in Barcelona in 1985 and have lived here my whole life. As a child, I went to a little school in my neighbourhood, then attended high school near the city centre and, later, went to the university. I have just finished a degree in biology and now share a flat near the centre with three other girls.

I feel quite proud of saying that I’m from Barcelona. I think it’s a very nice city to live in, especially if you’re young. I must say, I love my city!

You have an interesting name. Where does it come from?

I am named after a Romanesque wooden image (found in Andorra) of the Lady of Meritxell, who became the Patron Saint of that country.

What makes Barcelona special?

One of Barcelona’s best features is its location. It lies between the sea and some hills and has a wonderful Mediterranean climate! The entire city’s architecture, especially the modernist buildings of Gaudí, among others, makes it unique as well.

Which tourist traps in Barcelona are worth seeing and which should be avoided?

It all depends on your interests, but I think no one should leave Barcelona without visiting Parc Güell.

A very common tourist trap is the stadium of Futbol Club Barcelona, which is only impressive because it is huge. I don’t think it is worth a visit unless you go to a match.

What food and drink do tourists have to sample when they visit Barcelona?

Pa amb tomàquet (bread with tomato) is one of our most traditional and original foods. Typical coldcuts or omelettes with potatoes are delicious and affordable recommendations. There are, of course, more elaborate specialties – and olive oil is probably in all of these dishes! Catalonia also has good wines and “cava” to offer.

Are there specific museums, events, (music) concerts, etc, that should not be missed?

In Barcelona you can find all kinds of museums (from modern art to Romanesque) and concerts (from classical to jazz to electronic music festivals). Nevertheless, I always say that you can enjoy Barcelona just by walking its streets.

What do local young people do in their free time? Where do they hang out?

Besides partcipating in cultural or sport activities, people in Barcelona go out very often, especially during the summer. I like to spend time in Gracia, a neighbourhood with a lot of small squares where you can just sit down on the ground and chat with your friends.

There are also some nice clubs in the city centre. The most Catalan activity that you could do, though, is going to one of the neighbourhood festivals that take place during the summer and autumn. We call them “Festes Majors”!

What’s your favourite Catalan musician(s) or band(s)?

Catalan Rumba is quite popular nowadays. Click here to listen to La Troba Kung-Fú and here to listen to Manel, a very young group that became famous last spring. This is the original love song from a crazy Majorcan group, Antonia Font.

By chance I discovered this video. In 1992 the Olympic Games were celebrated here in Barcelona, and the Catalan opera singer Montserrat Caballé collaborated with Freddy Mercury. I find it very touching.

Are there any trends and traditions in Barcelona that those unfamiliar with the city will find interesting?

During the Festes Majors, you can see Catalans make castles in three minutes. Here, we also like to dance under fire.

What is Barcelona’s biggest problem at present?

Some areas of the city are considered dangerous because of high rates of thefts. Especially, absent-minded tourists are targeted. From my point of view, there are also too many cars which pollute the city.

Barcelona is a part of Catalonia. What distinguishes this region from the other parts of Spain?

Spain is a very heterogeneous country. However, after spending a semester in Amsterdam, I’ve come to realise that, even though everybody knows about Barcelona, only a few people know that, within Spain, there are different regions (I would call them “nations”), each with their own language, culture and traditions.

Barcelona is a part of Catalonia, a region in the east of Spain. We have very different traditions from, for example, those of the south, like flamenco dancing and bull-fighting.

During the Spanish Nationalist-Catholicist dictatorship of 36 years, the public use of the Catalan language was banned. Fortunately, from 1975 until now, Catalonia has recovered some cultural and political autonomy.

How would you describe the main differences between Catalan and Spanish?

Catalan is a Romance language with 7,7 million speakers. It is spoken in Spain (Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands) and also in France, Andorra and Italy.

For many Spanish speakers, it sounds like French (formatge instead of the Spanish word queso means “cheese”) or Portuguese (cadira instead of silla, meaning “chair”). For people who don’t speak a Latin language, Catalan could perhaps sound like Spanish.

Catalans take pride in their heritage. Where does this patriotism come from? Why is it so important to Catalans to be distinguished from other Spanish “nations”?

I can only give my personal opinion, since this is a very controversial topic. Besides, during the last century, a lot of people from the rest of Spain came to live in Catalonia. Not all of them see themselves as Catalan. Actually, some people have lived here their whole lives, but don’t understand a word of Catalan.

I do think that Catalonia has enough particularities to be considered a different nation from Spain. Because the Spanish army has always been the strongest, Spanish culture has been imposed on other regions. For some Catalans, it is important that we make sure that our culture, traditions and language won’t be forgotten in the future.

You are very passionate about protecting the environment, and Spain is known for its green initiative. What can we as individuals learn from Spain in this regard?

I wouldn’t say that Spain is that environmentally friendly. I think the country still has a lot of matters to work out, including the development of alternative energy sources. Nevertheless, when some areas suffered a very big drought two years ago, many people responded in a very positive way, reducing water consumption by subtly changing habits.

I think if we did the same, doing our part to save water and electricity, we would see that individual action can make a difference for the planet.

Please give us two Catalan phrases that a tourist cannot do without when touring Catalonia – and one that will greatly impress the locals.

“Bon dia”, “bona nit”, “bon profit” (“Good morning”, “goodnight” and “have a nice meal”) are the most basic phrases that you should know.

If you say “salut i força al canut” instead of “cheers” you will impress everybody for sure. It has a very positive meaning that is, unfortunately, not translatable.

Photos: Imke van Heerden

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