“RAMBLE [ram-buh l] v. – To wander around in a leisurely, aimless manner.”
Being no linguist, I would merely have to hazard a guess that this English word and the Spanish Rambla come from the same source. Even if I am wrong, this definition of ‘ramble’ seems to resonate perfectly with my most recent translation ‘Rambla de Catalunya‘, capturing the essence of M.C. Ferreres’ Catalonia – leisurely, aimless, wandering…
In trying my hand at interpreting this poem, the first image I meet is the broad and bustling avenue, the ‘rambla’. This is the main artery of the city, where you experience the flow of its life-force. I immediately assumed the city in reference was Barcelona, and mention of ‘Tibidabo’ (line 6) – a mountain just on the outskirts of Barcelona – confirms this. Barcelona is undoubtedly the beating heart of Catalonia, and so by extension, we can see Ferreres’ Rambla as an image of Catalonia itself, as the flow of life that sustains it.
Yet this beating heart is not a healthy one, but one whose tubes have become greasy through years of inert indulgence, clogged with the trappings of modern high society (‘lordly decay’ in my translation). ‘Modern’ here refers to the time when Catalan culture was experiencing a glorious and powerful resurgence, be that in the modernist buildings of Antoni Gaudí, the surrealist paintings of Joan Miró or the noucentist poetry of Josep Carner.
So, while from within, Catalonia appears to be at the height of progress – a burgeoning, fashionable city full of art, culture and riches – Ferreres takes a step back and what meets his eye is much less agreeable…
The fashionable hat (I assume!) worn by the well-to-do says “good day” – yes, a good day for you wearing it perhaps. But a ‘good day’ for the workers in your factory, the servants in your house, or the beggars you walk past on your Sunday ramble? Then there are Barcelona’s cultured class, sitting in cafés that line La Rambla. But from their lips comes no stimulating or incisive social comment. Instead, you might hear something more along the lines of ‘Eh Joan, did your hear of young Pere? What a scandal!’ And finally, passing by these gossips sipping their ‘Orxata’ (a creamy drink made from tiger-nuts, milk and water) are the nannies with their master’s children. No longer do families spend their time together; parental duties are delegated – even for something as simple as a Sunday stroll – to the nanny.
To me, Ferreres paints a picture of a society in the thralls of decadence, unaware, unable, perhaps even unwilling to stir itself from its luxurious slumber. The ‘lordly decay’ is emphasised by all these acts taking place on a Sunday, the traditional holy day for Christians (the Catalan word ‘diumengera’ roughly translates as “of or pertaining to Sunday”).
Dismay is not all Ferreres expresses though, for there is undoubtedly a note of threat in the last line of the poem:
Al fons, el Tibidabo t’espia.
This literally translates as: “In the background, Tibidabo watches you.”
This unholy frivolity – Ferreres warns – is not going unnoticed. Tibidabo is a mountain on the outskirts of Barcelona, visible from practically anywhere within the city. Upon its summit stands the Sagrat Cor, the ‘Sacred Heart’ Temple, and upon this stands a sculpture of Christ. This makes me wonder whether Ferreres (continuing with the thought of desecrating the holy day) felt that Catalans were bringing righteous judgement on themselves.
Interestingly (well, I think so anyway!) the name ‘Tibidabo’ means ‘I will give to you’ and comes from the Latin translation of Matthew 4:9: “All this I will give you,” he [the devil] said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” This is where Satan took Jesus, during his period of temptation, to a high mountain and showed him the kingdoms of the earth (Matt 4:8) and promised to give them to Jesus if Jesus would worship the devil. Tibidabo, according to Catalan folklore, is that very mountain. Has Catalonia sold its soul in order to reap earthly reward?
Away from religious imagery, another thought I had is that Tibidabo represents the watchful eye of Spain, jealous of Catalonia’s success, irate at its confident self-expression, and ever-ready to break both. It’s just a tentative thought, but nonetheless interesting to note that by the mid-1920s Catalonia was under a temporary military dictatorship and would soon become a victim to one of the bloodiest conflicts of the 20th century – the Spanish Civil War. The times of Sunday walks along the Rambla would not return for a long, long time…