Dita Parker

Monday, April 23, 2012

Once upon a time in Al-Àndalus

The dragon is about to devour the princess. Enter St. George, who slays the dragon. From the beast's spilled blood a rose bush rises, prompting our knight in shining armor to pluck the most beautiful stem and present it to the princess.

Patronages of St. George include various cities, counties, countries, crafts, clubs and causes around the world. In England, St. George's Day is also Shakespeare Day. In world literature, this 23rd of April is a symbolic date, the date of birth or death of several prominent authors, most notably Cervantes, Shakespeare and El Inca who, incidentally, all died in 1616.

Catalonia has celebrated St. George since 1436, and roses have been a part and a symbol of this day since medieval times. Inspired by the legend and in memory of Cervantes, in 1923 a business-savvy bookseller started the custom of a man offering a woman a rose in exchange for a book. In Barcelona, La Diada de Sant Jordi is a love fest, flower fest and book fair all in one. Hundreds of flower stands and bookstalls pop up for the occasion all over the city. It's a popular release day and a good day for promoting your work, so authors hold book readings in cafés and book stores. And of course there's a marathon reading of Don Quixote. But you don't have to have a date or a passion for reading to enjoy the day. You can go see the sardana dancers in the Plaça Sant Juane, the rose displays in the Palau do Generalitat, or enjoy the performances of street musicians on just about every plaça in town.

Poor inundated 23rd of April, in 1995 this Catalan tradition officially became a worldwide one. UNESCO chose the date to pay tribute to books and authors and created the World Book and Copyright Day. Since 2012 also marks the 80th anniversary of the Index Translationum (an international bibliography of translation), this year's theme is Books and Translation.

I'm all for encouraging people to read, promoting love, literacy and literature, furthering cultural exchange and progress, and good translations. So I'm sorry, the 23rd of April, but you will just have to grin and bear it. St. George, Shakespeare, Cervantes, books, authors, roses, the UN, literature, copyrights...I know it's a lot. But we're here to share your burden, and have some fun while at it.

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