Birthplace of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
On Carrer d’en Botella a plaque at No.11 informs us this was the birthplace of the great Barcelonan Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, crime writer, political commentator and gourmet. Carvalho, the sleuth he created in his novels was describing these streets when he said “Something akin to the beauty of misery was etched on the faces of the houses”. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see what he meant today. Montalbán was born in June 1939 just a few months after the city fell to Franco. He grew up in El Raval in the terrible poverty of the 1940s, the worst years of the dictatorship. There were few men in the first years, they were dead, in prison or in exile. One day when he was five, he met a strange man on the stairs. It was his father returning from the camps.
El Raval was a district of the defeated and the most bombed area of the city. Michael Euede who is currently writing a book about Montalbán notes here
…it was a traditional stronghold of anarchism, 99 percent of the population was anti-Franco. Montalbán remembered women with children begging for scraps at their door, even though his mother had no income apart from what she earned by sewing. He remembered their fear of ‘fascist commandos with their heads shaved to the scalp who forced people to drink caster oil’ just for speaking Catalan. In a memorable phrase in The Pianist, a character says, ‘I know the neighbours, almost all of them have lost the war and they carry the post-war round on their backs like a dead body.’ Just to survive, the defeated and impoverished population needed basic solidarity with each other. This background, both an open wound and an ethical touchstone, pervades all Montalbán’s writing.
Michael Euede’s Barcelona, the City that reinvented itself – is a great read and contains more details on Montalbán from where I got some of the above details.
Montalbán and Carvallo are both intimately linked with some of the best restaurants in El Raval:
More to come.
Places in El Raval