Audio: Matthew Tree on the best Literary Things to do in Barcelona

Literary Tourist in Barcelona

Matthew Tree is a British writer who has lived in Barcelona since 1984. In addition to publishing fiction and non-fiction in both English and Catalan, he contributes to various newspapers and magazines including Catalonia Today, The Times Literary Supplement, Barcelona INK, Altaïr, El Punt Avui and L’Esguard. He appears on Catalan language radio and TV, and in 2005 and 2006 scripted and presented two series of the infotainment programme Passatgers for TV3 (Catalan Public Television).

His novel Snug is about a small village in the Isle of Wight which finds itself under siege by Africans who have gone there for that very purpose.

I caught up with Matthew on a blustery afternoon to talk about cool literary things to do while in Barcelona. Books mentioned during our conversation include:

George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia
John Langdon Davis’s Behind the Spanish Barricades
Merce Rodoreda’s In Diamond Square

Speaking of Diamond Square, after our conversation I made straight for it to check out the statue that Matthew mentions.

Diamond Sq, Barcelona

This from Little Brown:

“First published in 1962 as ‘La Placa del Diamant’, this is considered the most important Catalan novel of all time.

Barcelona, early 1930s: Natalia, a pretty shop-girl from the working-class quarter of Gracia, is hesitant when a stranger asks her to dance at the fiesta in Diamond Square. But Joe is charming and forceful, and she takes his hand.

They marry and soon have two children; for Natalia it is an awakening, both good and bad. When Joe decides to breed pigeons, the birds delight his son and daughter – and infuriate his wife. Then the Spanish Civil War erupts, and lays waste to the city and to their simple existence. Natalia remains in Barcelona, struggling to feed her family, while Joe goes to fight the fascists, and one by one his beloved birds fly away.”

‘An extremely moving love story…which reveals much about the Spanish civil war as ordinary, non-political people had to live it’ says Diana Athill.

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There was another reason I wanted to go to the square.

Hibernia Books, the only secondhand English bookstore in Barcelona, is close by. It’s a fine establishment. I found a first edition of Power Politics, an early work of poetry by Margaret Atwood, signed! The shop is owned and operated by a pleasant Irish couple

Literary Houston

Christopher Hitchens died last December at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

I re-read his Letters to a Young Contrarian on the flight down here. The next day I took the light rail train from our hotel in to town. It passed by the Center. Just seeing the place for those fleeting seconds was a very moving, emotional experience.

The relationships we establish with writers can be pretty intense. Visiting places described in their works where births, childhoods, marriages and deaths – real or imagined – take place, helps us to ‘connect’ with our literary heroes. It’s hardly rational, but I know from experience that it can be very powerful.

Christopher Hitchens’s writing and debating touched and influenced many. It stimulated a lot of important public discussion. Though his ties with Houston may be limited – all he did here was die – he will always be associated with the place.

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So will Donald Barthelme. He’s probably the best

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