April 23 is World Book and Copyright Day, a time to promote reading and the preservation of intellectual property, and a very good day to show your local book shop some extra love. It’s also an important date for world literature, as Shakespeare, Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died on April 23 in 1616, and this is the date of birth or death of significant authors including Vladimir Nabokov and Maurice Druon.
For bibliophiles and romantics alike, there’s arguably no better place to celebrate World Book Day than Barcelona, where it is La Diada de Sant Jordi, or Saint George’s day – the patron saint of Catalonia, El dia de la Rosa, The Day of the Rose, and El dia del Llibre, The Day of the Book. On this day, tradition has it that men should give their novias a rose (red roses were said to spring from the shed blood of the dragon slain by Saint George) and women should give their novios a book. (And no, on this day e-books do not count.) Reportedly, over seven million roses were sold on this day and nearly half a million books, making it the biggest day in publishing for all of Spain. There are readings, author signings and lineups of enthusiastic book lovers buying new and used books of all kinds at stalls set up on streets throughout the city.
Today the scent of roses was on every corner, and every street was lined with stalls draped in Catalan flags and selling novels or flowers. Every woman had a rose, every man a book – and quite a few had both.
El dia del Llibre is surely Barcelona at its most beautiful. A bibliophile’s dream.
This is a tradition I would love to bring home.
PS In Plaça de Catalunya, above left, I came across books that were part of the library of the Spanish Occupy movement, who camped there for 40 days to protest, before the police disbanded them and seized their books. Today the books were given back and ‘returned to the people for free’ for El dia del Llibre.