Not long before the end of 2014, a Belgian acquaintance of mine died of a heart attack, aged 52, in his native Flanders. I say 'acquaintance', because we were never friends, but neither were we ever enemies. About a year before his death, I ran into him by chance in Barcelona, the city where he'd lived for the last quarter century. The economic crisis had left him, he explained, with no alternative but to head back home. To judge from his unusually distraught expression, he felt that both life and fate had teamed up to kick him in the teeth. He was an affable man, and I don't recall we ever argued, but do remember that I never felt too comfortable in his presence, there being little rapport. The reason might have been something to do with the fact that, for me, Catalonia had come to be the only place that really felt like home; whereas my Belgian acquaintance disliked Catalonia to the extent that one night on the streets of Barcelona, infuriated by the pro-Catalan slogans being shouted by all and sundry on the occasion of Barça winning the league, he bellowed, nay, roared 'FUCK CATALONIA!': a cri de coeur that really did come, unmistakably, from the heart. Why he hated Catalonia so - as opposed to not hating or even liking it -  I never understood. He was certainly far too smart to believe that everything Catalan was 'nationalistic' and therefore automatically condemnable (there are more than a few Northern European residents who have the idea that anyone who, say, habitually reads a newspaper in Catalan, is an embryonic ethnic cleanser). No, I suspect it was more that he preferred to live in a kind of imaginary Spain of his own Belgian making, in which irritating things like the Catalan language simply had no role to play. There were moments when this negativism emanated from him in almost tangible waves, indicative of some dark side to him which reminded me of a certain dark side of my own – about other subjects, and other places - that I was trying to keep at bay. Having said which, I feel sure his life could have worked out differently, had he somehow managed to tweak it a little. Among other things, for example, he was a gifted photographer, as is attested by a remarkable, indeed outstanding, portrait he took of me and my partner when we were both hitting 30. Whenever I look at it, I remind myself to mentally thank him. Especially now.

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, febrer de 2015


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