Musings on Culture

Alejandra de Leiva's Blog

Category : Literature

Librería gratuita en Barcelona / Free bookstore in Barcelona

Associacio Llibres Lliures Catalunya

The Associació Llibres Lliures is a nonprofit association created in Barcelona, Spain, for the purpose of giving away books. It’s located in Cantabria, 72, 08020, Barcelona, and it’s worth a visit! The bookstore is entirely run by volunteers and is opened from Mondays to Saturdays (10am-2pm and 5pm-8pm). It’s a great service to the community and to literacy.

Hoy he estado en una librería gratuita, la Associació Llibres Lliures, situada en el número 72 de la calle Cantabria de Barcelona. Esta entidad sin ánimo de lucro nace con el propósito de garantizar el acceso a la cultura y fomentar el hábito de la lectura. Todos los libros llevan un sello con la leyenda “Este es un libro libre, no se compra ni se vende”. Además de disponer de una variada colección de libros que el visitante puede llevarse a casa de manera gratuita, la asociación organiza clubes de lectura, de marcapáginas, recitales de poesía, talleres de fotografía y pintura, etc. El impulsor de esta magnífica iniciativa es Óscar Boada, que se inspiró en el modelo iniciado por la asociación Libros Libres en Madrid.

Llibres Lliures se financia mediante las cuotas de los socios (12 €) y contribuciones voluntarias (libros, DVDs y aportaciones económicas).

A continuación podéis ver un reportaje que el canal BTV dedicó a la asociación:

Si queréis saber más sobre la iniciativa, visitad la página de Facebook o el Twitter de Llibres Lliures.

“Un libro abierto es un cerebro que habla; cerrado, un amigo que espera; olvidado, un alma que perdona; destruido, un corazón que llora.”
Proverbio hindú

“La lectura es al espíritu lo que la gimnasia al cuerpo.”
Sir Richard Steele


Animations of some of the greatest literary masterpieces of all time

Open Culture has compiled an amazing collection of animations that adapt some of the greatest literary masterpieces of all time:

18 Animations of Classic Literary Works: From Plato and Shakespeare, to Kafka, Hemingway and Gaiman.
Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, Animated in Two Minutes.

Below, the beautiful adaptation of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea:


A book and a rose for St.Jordi’s Day

Sant Jordi i el drac
Today is La Diada de Sant Jordi, a very special day in Catalonia. Cities and towns are filled with stands of roses and bookstalls, since tradition dictates that on this day men give their sweetheart a red rose, and ladies give their loved one a book -”a rose for love and a book forever”. Although it is not a public holiday, crowds of people take over the streets, which smell of roses and are dyed in red and yellow, the colors of the Catalan flag. It is a very picturesque sight.

The origins of this tradition date back to a medieval legend in which St. Jordi (St. George) slew a dragon to save a princess. From the dragon’s blood grew a rose bush. St. Jordi pulled out the prettiest rose and gave it to the princess. As an acknowledgement of his heroic deed, Catalonia commemorates Sant Jordi’s Day each April 23.

“Once upon a time a fearsome dragon was terrifying the inhabitants of a small town in Catalonia called Montblanc. It was wrecking havoc among the town’s populace and devouring the animals grazing in the fields. So, to calm the dragon down, the inhabitants decided they would sacrifice one person each day, chosen by lot, offering them as a sign of good will. One day, it was the turn of the king’s daughter to be sacrificed. But, just when the dragon was about to gobble her up, a handsome knight appeared and confronted the beast.  It was St George, known as Sant Jordi to the Catalans. He drove his lance into the dragon, out of whose blood a bush of red roses sprang up.
His was a bold and selfless gesture that changed the town’s course of history and gave birth to our legend.” (Source: The Tradition)

The episode of St. George and the Dragon is found in several legends around the world.  It achieved mass circulation when it was printed in a book called The Golden Legend, a collection of hagiographies written by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, in 1470, and translated from French to English in 1483. The Life of Saint George can be read here.

Roses have been associated with this St.Jordi’s legend since the Middle Ages, but the giving of books is a more recent tradition. St. Jordi’s Day coincides with the festivity of the Book Day established in Spain in the 1920s to commemorate the anniversary of Cervantes’ death, who had died on April 22, 1616 and was buried on April 23. This tradition inspired the UNESCO to declare the World Book Day on April 23 as a symbolic date for world literature, since April 23 was also the date of Shakespeare’s death.

It is worth noting that it is not strictly correct to assume that Cervantes and Shakespeare died on the same day. In the 17th century, England still used the Julian Calendar, so, whilst Shakespeare died on April 23 by the Julian calendar, according to the Gregorian calendar, he died eleven days after Cervantes, on May 3, 1616.

Approximately 80 nations celebrate World Book Day on this date.

Feliç Diada de St. Jordi!  Happy St. Jordi’s day! Happy World Book Day!

(Illustration by Alba Marina Rivera, reproduced with permission from the author)

Are you a book lover? Then you might be interested in these posts:


The Giant Poem project on World Poetry Day

Giant Poem on World Poetry Day

In 1999, UNESCO declared March 21 as World Poetry Day. According to UNESCO, “World Poetry Day is an invitation to reflect on the power of language and the full development of each person’s creative abilities”.

In 2007, Angel Arenas, a Spanish writer and anthropologist, launched The Giant Poem project. The initiative consists in writing a collective poem on a huge roll of paper in public spaces to celebrate cultural diversity and encourage dialogue, peace and creativity. This year, the event is taking place in Aranjuez, a town in central Spain. Previously, the initiative has developed in 51 cities from 22 countries, and has gained support from UNESCO and several other institutions around the world.

You can contribute to the project by sharing your favorite poems on the Facebook page, and organisers will add them to the Giant Poem.

For additional information and a gallery of pictures of the different Giant Poems worldwide, click HERE.

Happy World Poetry Day!

Here’s one of my favourite poems, Hope is the thing with feathers, by Emily Dickinson:



The Making of Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts

Matthew writing

Saint Matthew writing, manuscript at the Bilbiothèque Nationale de France

In our eBook era, it’s worth revisiting the craftsmanship of book-making, to understand and appreciate the effort it involved.

In ancient times, texts were written on papyrus, produced from the pith of the papyrus plant. From the fifth century, parchment made from animal skin became the main writing material.

This video from the J.Paul Getty Museum (6:20) provides an interesting overview of the process of making illuminated manuscripts, from parchment preparation to binding.  In illuminated manuscripts, text is supplemented by the addition of miniature illustrations and decorated initials, made with gold and silver leaf and pigments made from plants and minerals, and could take months or years to produce. Traditionally, these manuscripts were produced in monasteries. The majority of surviving manuscripts are from the Middle Ages.

Book illumination reamained a flourishing art until the sixteenth century.

In this other video (1:10:10), Dr. Sally Dormer explains in thorough detail the making of medieval manuscripts, in a lecture given at the Museum of London in 2012. Dr. Dormer is a specialist medieval art historian.

Furthermore, on the website Medieval Manuscripts on the Web you can find a list of manuscript digitization projects, ordered by country. Other resourceful websites are the Digital Scriptorium, a growing image database of medieval and renaissance manuscripts, and Europeana Regia, a corpus of digitised manuscripts from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, with a focus on the beginning of European culture in the Carolingian time: documents from the Bibliotheca Carolina (8th and 9th centuries), the Library of Charles V (14th century) and the Library of the Aragonese Kings of Naples (15th and 16th centuries).

If you want to know more about illuminated manuscripts, I recommend you the following two beautiful books:

A History of Illuminated Manuscripts and The Bible of Illuminated Letters: A Treasury of Decorative Calligraphy (Quarto Book).

For a more general history of writing systems, I recommend you the excellent book The Story of Writing.


Taller literario: el cuento

He impartido recientemente un taller literario en una escuela concertada de secundaria en Barcelona. He quedado muy satisfecha con la experiencia, sobre todo porque ha sido mi primera experiencia docente y los alumnos han respondido muy bien, mostrando mucho interés por la materia. Espero impaciente leer los cuentos escritos que me tienen que entregar mis alumnos después de Navidad, para comprobar hasta qué punto han interiorizado los conceptos trabajados.

Cuelgo el Power Point que elaboré para las clases por si le es útil a alguien interesado en la historia del cuento y la narratología.

Taller literario_El cuento




Canfranc, la estación fantasma y el oro nazi / Canfranc, the haunted railway station and Nazi gold

Ayer se celebró en Canfranc el centenario de los trabajos de perforación del túnel ferroviario de Canfranc.

Inspirada por la lectura del magnífico libro de Ramón J.Campo, El oro de Canfranc, que narra la historia de la estación, escenario del tráfico del “oro nazi”, estuve en Canfranc es dos ocasiones en 2006 y 2007. Recupero para esta ocasión un texto literario sobre la estación que publiqué en el blog Abandonalia (un sugerente blog sobre lugares abandonados).

Mi texto se puede leer AQUI; incluye algunas de las fotografías que tomé entonces. Por lo que he sabido, en 2011 se incendiaron dos vagones, lo cual no es de extrañar dado el estado de abandono en el que se encuentra la estación. A pesar de las reivindicaciones para reabrir el tráfico ferroviario entre Francia y España, de momento no hay fecha segura en el horizonte.

He empezado a leer Canfranc. El oro y los nazis, también de Ramón J.Campo. Promete ser tan evocador e informativo como El oro de Canfranc.

*     *     *     *     *

Canfranc, a village in the Spanish Pyrenees, celebrated yesterday the centenary of the boring of the Trans-Pyrenean railway tunnel, almost 8 km long, that joined Spain to France.

In 1928, at the inauguration of the Canfranc International Station, King Alfonso XII proudly claimed: “The Pyrenees do no longer exist!”. Lying at an altitude of 1190 m, the station was the result of more than 40 years of labour. It’s a huge construction in Modernist style, 240 m long, described in tourist brochures and other publications as “bigger than the Titanic”. Unfortunately, the station has been abandoned since 1970, when, after an accident, one of the bridges on the French side collapsed.

I visited Canfranc in 2006 and 2007, after reading a fascinating book by Ramón J.Campo about the history of the station. In 2000, Jonathan Díaz, a French bus driver, had found some documents scattered on the rails of the station that proved that Canfranc was the entry point for more than 86 tons of “Nazi gold” into Spain. Campo thoroughly researched the topic and published El oro de Canfranc (Canfranc’s gold) in 2002. He revealed that Nazis used gold to buy tungsten from Spain and Portugal. Tungsten, also known as wolfram, is a heavy metal used in the arms industry. It became a strategic metal during World War II because of its properties and resistance.

Furthermore, Campo revealed that Canfranc was also part of a spy network. The Chief of the French Customs, Albert Le Lay, acted as a spy for the French Resistance. He provided information for the Allies. Le Lay was discovered by the Gestapo in 1943, but he managed to escape.

Inspired by Campo’s well researched and informative book, I visited Canfranc and interviewed Campo and Díaz. The visit to the abandoned station was magic. Although it’s very deteriorated, the station still retains its majesty and mistery. I published a literary text in a blog about abandoned places. My text and a selection of pictures can be found HERE (in Spanish).

New revelations about Canfranc’s secrets have recently emerged. I am currently reading Campo’s newest book, Canfranc. El oro y los nazis (Canfranc. The gold and the nazis), that he presented in June 2012. The book promises to be as entertaining and evocative as Canfranc’s gold.





Literary London

Besides cinema, my other passion is literature. If you want to know more about the “literary soul” of London, check this article I’ve written for El Colectivo Londres Magazine (in Spanish).