Those years of the Latin American Boom in Barcelona
The statue of Columbus pointing to America is probably one of the most emblematic monuments of Barcelona. It is located at the end of the Ramblas, in front of the old port, from where today you can board Las Golondrinas, a popular touristic boat. In that same place, coming from the same direction to which the finger of Columbus is still pointing, the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa landed for the first time in Barcelona in 1958. On that occasion the author arrived from Lima and was going to Madrid to study at the Complutense.
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The statue of Columbus pointing to America is probably one of the most emblematic monuments of Barcelona. It is located at the end of the Ramblas, in front of the old port, from where today you can board Las Golondrinas, a popular touristic boat. In that same place, coming from the same direction to which the finger of Columbus is still pointing, the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa landed for the first time in Barcelona in 1958. On that occasion the author arrived from Lima and was going to Madrid to study at the Complutense. He was 29 years old and remembers that "he walked excited through the streets of Barcelona, holding the book he had been reading on the boat from Peru, Hommage to Catalonia, by George Orwell," according to the quotes compiled by Barcelona journalist Xavi Ayén in his book Those Years of the Boom (RBA , 2014).
Vargas Llosa spent one night in a humble pension in Barcelona's Gothic Quarter (Hostal Fernando, where he asked if they sold tickets to see bullfighting) and the next day a train took him to Madrid. But it was such the impact of that first encounter with Barcelona, that years later he decided to return and to stay a longer time in a city that, according to him, was "beautiful and educated, and the most amusing of the world".
"Mario Vargas Llosa was one of the first authors of the Boom to set foot in Barcelona," explains Marga Arnedo, a tour guide, who offers literary routes through Barcelona to explain the fascination that his city has awakened among Latin American writers in the 70's. It was also the time when Barcelona began to replace Buenos Aires as the capital of literary creation in Castilian, thanks to the push of Catalan publishers such as Carlos Barral or Ester Tusquets, and literary agent Carmen Balcells, all of them obsessed with discovering Latin American talent.
Among the authors of the Boom who chose to turn Barcelona into the epicenter of their literary production are not only Vargas Llosa, who settled here between 1970 and 1975. Also Colombian Gabriel García Márquez - Gabo - who arrived in 1967 driving himself from Madrid an old squeaky Seat, the Argentinian Julio Cortázar, who lived in Paris, but was frequently seen in Barcelona; the Chilean José Donoso, who arrived in 1969 from Mallorca; And the Mexicans Sergio Pitol and Carlos Fuentes, among others.
The Transgressive city
"For them, Barcelona at the time of the end of the Franco regime offered them a transgressive, counter-cultural and inspiring scenario to live," explains Marga, who knows by heart the favorite places of the Boom authors in her city. "Authors from all Latin America came to Barcelona with the dream of succeeding. In Barcelona we found publishers that allowed us to reach wider audiences, instead of the small publishing houses that existed in our countries of origin (...) Barcelona became the new cultural capital of Latin America (...) El Boom was born in Barcelona", recalls Vargas Llosa in the series of interviews collected in the book Those Years of the Boom. And he adds: "I remember those years with nostalgia and love, not because I miss the Franco regime, as one of my monotonous detractors said, but because they were really stimulating, full of illusions. We were young, weren't we? And Barcelona seemed not only beautiful and cultured, but, above all, the most fun city in the world. "
Instead of arriving by boat, Gabriel García Márquez arrived in Barcelona by car from Madrid, crossing the Monegros desert, and looking for a little anonymity after the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Her friend and literary agent, Carmen Balcells (who died a year ago), found him an apartment in Sarrià, a residential neighborhood in the upper side of Barcelona, where Vargas Llosa soon moved too. "They were door neighbors," recalls Marga. Sarriá, a quiet neighborhood, inhabited by families of the Catalan upper bourgeoisie, represented the antithesis of the barullo and the night life of the Ramblas and the Gothic quarter, where the Chilean José Donoso lived. "Neither Gabo nor Vargas Llosa were very party-goers. But of course, they loved good food, "explains Marga.
Neither Gabo nor Vargas Llosa were party-goes. But, of course, they loved good food
One of the Boom's favorite restaurants was the Amaya, a Basque restaurant at the end of Las Ramblas, whose owner enjoyed sharing jokes about Franco with Gabo. The Amaya adjoined a well-known jazz club - now a gym - frequented by the Gauche Divine, as the intellectual and libertarian elite of Barcelona called themselves.
The Boom authors and their friends also liked to eat at Los Caracoles, a restaurant that served grilled meat and traditional food, in the Gothic quarter, or at Fonda dels Ocellets, in Sarrià. In his diary, the wife of José Donoso, Maria Pilar Donoso, recalls an anecdote on Christmas in 1971, when the Donoso couple arrives in Barcelona to celebrate the Holidays with their writers friends: when they arrive, they sit down and they start talking and talking, without anyone thinking about ordering food, until the owner of the restaurant, tired of waiting, shows at the table and looks at them carefully. "Suddenly there was a guilty silence before the force of that look. Silence that the owner broke to ask, very seriously, but in his particular Catalan sense of humor: "Any of you know how to write ...?". Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Franqui and José Donoso looked at each other in bewilderment, seeming insecure and amused at the same time. And the silence grew heavier still. Gaba saved the situation. [...] "I, I know ..." Mercedes said. Then she picked up the menu, announced the dishes, wrote down the orders and delivered the result to the owner of the establishment [...] ".
Jose Donoso, it seems, was a tormented and neurotic writer, and ill with an ulcer. He also arrived in Barcelona by sea with his wife Maria Pilar Donoso and his daughter Pilarcita (adopted), who was only one and a half years old. She later wrote a devastating book about her father. Running the thick veil just before committing suicide, she portrayed José Donoso as a very jealous and frustrated man, due to the lack of commercial success of his works, compared to other authors of the Latin American Boom. However, he was in fact the only one who took seriously the job of talking about the "Boom" through his memoirs "A Personal History of the Boom" published in 1972.
¿Foodies, puritans or partygoers?
"The only one who did not care about food was Julio Cortázar, and the others laughed at him for that," Marga laughs. Cortázar did like bars, though, and when he could, he escaped from Paris to Barcelona to get lost among his favourites discos and bars. Among his favorites was the bar La Punyalada:
"He was a better fan of bars and cafés than of restaurants. Nevertheless, Cortázar especially appreciated this place named after a tango, where he was continually dragged by Peri Rossi, because to her, la Punyalada, with its large windows and curtains, reminded her of Montevideo. Peri Rossi also took his writer friend to bar Balmoral, where they both agreed it has a similar atmosphere to that of El conformista, the Bertolucci film, "writes Donoso's wife in her journal.
The Mexican Sergio Pitol was perhaps the most fond of the Barcelona nightlife and the cocktail bars of Plaza Reial. He arrived in Barcelona by train from Belgrade in 1969 to work as a translator for the publishers Planeta and Seix Barral. He stayed in a dump hostel on Calle Escudellers and always had financial problems. "I felt like the good savage and the bad savage at the same time. I was the only one who dictated my rules and imposed the challenges, "recalls the writer, who suffered alcohol problems. "Without all that bustle, without that stimulating Barcelona, so full of debates, I would not have become a writer."
Contrary to Pitol, García Márquez believed that "to be a good writer you have to be absolutely lucid in every moment of writing, and in good health. I am totally against the romantic idea that writing is a sacrifice, and that the worse your economic conditions or your emotional status, the better the writing. No. You have to be in a good emotional and physical state, "he wrote.
In the majority of photos that all the Boom authors appear together in Barcelona, there is always a table full of good food, and they are surrounded by their wives and friends, representatives of the Catalan intellectual elite, famous local publishers and writers. Boom authors are easily recognized for their beards, inspired by the Cuban revolution. "That's where the four B's of the Boom come:" Barral, Barcelona, Balcells, Barbudos "jokes Marga.
Cortázar was perhaps the one who took a more romantic view of Barcelona. The son of diplomats, the Argentinian author lived a brief season in Barcelona when he was two years old, before the family moved to Switzerland. And he remembers: "I have memories but they are not precise ... I asked my mother:" Look, there are times when I see strange shapes, colors, majolicas with colors. What can that be? "; And my mother said: "Well, that may correspond to what you saw as a child. In Barcelona, we would take you almost every day to play with other children at Park Güell." So, look, my immense admiration for Gaudí may begin unconsciously at two years old, "he writes.