Sant Jordi (Saint George) is the patron saint of Catalonia, and although his saint's day (April 23) isn't a public holiday, it's always a celebration. Don't expect saints clutching swords or dragons dripping blood: it's a day for lovers, authors, book-signings and rose stalls.
Tradition dictates a rose for her and a book for him. But nowadays the rules are more flexible - women like to read too! Getting your hands on a rose couldn't be easier. In fact it's hard to find a corner in the city that hasn't been invaded by impromptu stalls. There are clubs and associations, charities and professional florists, students raising money and people making a little extra cash. For book-givers, the prize is a spanking-new first edition signed by the author. It seems every writer in Spain - and a smattering of best-selling foreign authors - spends the day being herded round signing sessions in the temporary marquees that line the main streets.
A mass celebration
But there's more to the day than books and roses. Barcelona welcomes spring with a flurry of artistic expression. Balconies are draped with Catalan flags and crowds stroll the avenues, while restaurants are booked out by couples seeking a romantic table for two. La Rambla reaches full capacity. Plaça Catalunya becomes an open-air stage with a continuous programme of music and other acts. Literature comes alive, with poetry recitals and readings - this is also UNESCO's World Book Day, and the day chosen to celebrate the anniversary of the deaths of both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes. Theatre tickets are half price, as are roses at the end of the day - the ideal time for absent-minded lovers to make a last-minute purchase.
On the day of the Sant Jordi festival, La Rambla, the Rambla de Catalinya and Passieg de Gràcia are the three main streets in Barcelona that are filled every year with stalls of books and roses for one of the locals' favourite celebrations. They're also packed with people, so patience is key to enjoying this beautiful day filled with colour and literature.
Every year for the Sant Jordi festival, the Barcelona Ajuntament (City Hall) opens its doors so the public can visit the Escalera de Honor (Staircase of Honour), the Galería Gótica (Gothic Gallery) and the Saló de Cent (Hall of a Hundred) accompanied by characters from throughout history. Coinciding with the open house, the City Hall marks another year selling roses in its courtyard of City Hall, and donating the full amount of the proceeds to not-for-profit associations.
Technology has made its way into Sant Jordi this year. At the Mobile World Centre in Plaça Catalunya they've scheduled presentations, conferences, videos and performances, as well as book-signings and, the jewel in the crown, some very special roses. In collaboration with Fab Lab Barcelona, the public will have access to 3D printers throughout the day so you can make your own rose. Watch it bud and bloom in a half hour, and it's yours to take home, for free!
Sant Jordi in Gràcia
Gràcia is home to a whopping 37 bookshops, and from 9am to 9pm on the 23rd, the barrio's association of booksellers will set up stalls in the Plaça de la Vila, where you can buy books, look for rare editions, ask for advice and meet local authors. Shops featured include Le Nuvole, Pequod Llibres, Black Mask, Consumició Obligatòria, La Parada, La Memòria, and Hibernian Books, which specialises in new and second-hand books in English.
On the eve of the Sant Jordi festival, the Born Cultural Centre celebrates with a parade of the knight himself and his entourage. The delegation will consist of a hundred characters involved in the representation of the legend of Sant Jordi de Montblanc, with the royal family accompanied by nobles, soldiers and civilians. The parade sets off from the Santa María del Mar church at 6pm. At Fossar de les Moreres, Sant Jordi will leave a rose. Finally, the procession arrives at Plaça Comercial. Before the Born Cultural Centre, Sant Jordi will give the rose to the princess, greet the authorities, and they'll perform two dances. Then everyone will be escorted to the Sala Moragues (6.30pm), for the official presentation of the film 'La llegenda de Sant Jordi' ('The Legend of Sant Jordi', in Catalan). There will be a brief introduction to put the short film in context. The next day, on the day of the Sant Jordi festival itself, passes will be available to see the short every hour on the hour from 11am to 7pm in the Sala Moragues, and outside, in Plaça Comercial, they'll have stalls with books and roses.
Bread and roses
Here's a twist on the Sant Jordi rose theme. Artisan bakery L’Obrador has come up with 'Pa de la Rosa', a product that combines two ingredients of the festival. It's hand-made with wheat flour, sourdough, natural leaven of roses, rose petals and essential rose oil. You'll never know until you try.
The Antiga Fàbrica Estrella Damm brings us the biggest San Jordi celebration of music with a full day of bands, from noon to 8pm. There will be roundtable discussions and record- and book-signings, but the bulk of the day will be given over to live music from local bands taking over three stages at the Old Estrella Damm Factory. In the Sala de Màquines: Blaumut (noon), Caïm Riba (1pm), Gerard Quintana (2pm), Súper Gegant (4.30pm), Nico Roig (5.30pm), Joan Dausà (6.30pm) and Els Pets (7.30pm). On the patio: Cesk Freixas (noon), Andreu Rifé (1pm), Pau Alabajos (2pm), Joana Serrat (4.30pm), La Marta Rius (5.30pm), Joan Masdéu (6.30pm) and Dani Flaco (7.30pm). In the Sala de Bàscules: La Vella Dixieland (12.30pm), Achilifunk (2.30pm), Izah (5pm), Inspira (6pm) and The Free Fall Band (7pm).
Arts Libris 2014: Coach Station Reunion + Miss Carrussel + Joana Serrat + Hans Laguna + Toni Xuclà i Gemma Humet + 4hiverns + Èric Vinaixa + Ràdio Carbó
The International Book Fair and Art, Photography and Design Publishers in Barcelona, aka Arts Libris, is back at the Arts Santa Mònica gallery to dedicate its fifth edition to music. On the third floor of the centre you'll find the record stands, plus a stage for concerts, with performances stealing the spotlight on the first day and on the day of Sant Jordi itself (April 23). The concerts are brought to you by the Picap label and Rockdelux magazine, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Picap brings to the stage Toni Xuclà and Gemma Humet (1.15pm), 4hiverns (2pm), Èric Vinaixa (3pm) and Ràdio Carbó (4pm); and Coach Station Reunion (5pm), Miss Carrussel (6pm), Joana Serrat (7pm) and Hans Laguna (8pm) are courtesy of Rockdelux.
Book publisher Males Herbes is taking Sant Jordi's book-selling theme hostage and organising something a bit different, which, they say, is a real knees-up, the kind that sends you limping home with creaking ankles, a full bladder and in a state of slight disorientation. So when the bookshops close for the day, it's everyone to Sidecar to see Furguson, who will open the evening wreaking havoc a year after the release of their second album 'The Leap Year' (2013), with a live show somewhere between electronic post-punk and guitar experimentation. Next up is La Célula Durmiente, one of the most intriguing projects from the unstoppable Joan Colomo. It's been some years since te group's fourth album, 'Disco Póstumo', left us all speechless. These days their live shows are few and far between, so now's your chance to get out and see them perform songs like 'Deriva' and 'Carnaval'.
Among the activities scheduled to celebrate the day of books and roses, there's a free concert in the the Plaça del Palau de la Música Catalana, featuring two of the Orfeó Català children's choirs. Laia Armengol will accompany them on piano, and the conductos are Mercè Pi and Glòria Fernández. They will perform works by Marian Marquez, Jordi Domènech, Josep Vila Jover, Jaume Sala and Pep Puigdemont.
The British orchestra returns to Barcelona, this time at the Auditori, for a concert that features violinist Pinchas Zukerman as one of the main attractions. He'll be pulling double duty as both soloist and conductor in a programme that includes Beethoven's 'Concerto for Violin and Orchestra', and 'Symphony No. 4' by Johannes Brahms.
Jamboree celebrates the Sant Jordi literary festival with the live premiere of the album-book 'Els Fruits Saborosos', where musician Vicens Martín has brought the poetry of Josep Carner to big band territory accompanied by the voice of Gemma Abrié. A work that has been hailed as the best new jazz offering of the year by popular vote in the Enderrock awards, and also feature recitations by Mariona Blanch. A magnificent musical date to round out the Sant Jordi festival celebrations.