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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part IV. North East

Championing Defeat

Steve Porter
Smaller text sizeDefault text sizeBigger text size Add to my bookshelf epub mobi Permalink Ebook MapOporto, Ponte Dom Luis
I would be in exile now, but everywhere’s the same.
Phil Ochs

The cloister door opens onto an elegant courtyard. Ubiquitous lizards scurry from the fountain to the hedgerows. A red and yellow flag is flying from the bell tower. The flag, according to legend, bears the blood of Guifré el Pilós or Wilfred the Hairy, so named because he was said to have hair on a part of his body where it should not have been. The ninth century count was fighting to remove the Saracens from Barcelona when he was wounded in battle. After the victory, Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, came to visit, dipped his fingers in Wilfrid’s blood and created four red stripes on the Count’s shield. Wilfrid, became patron of the monastery here in Ripoll, and later a symbol of Catalan independence.

Lodged in a wall, between arched pillars, is a simple sarcophagus casket containing the remains of the ‘Hairy One.’ The wooden shelf is cracked and looks as if it could collapse at any moment, giving his bones a nasty shake.

I leave the cloister and go to sign the visitors’ book. The woman behind the desk says, “Oh you are British, I thought maybe you were American. Wasn’t that a terrible tragedy? Our national day will never be the same. Maybe we will even have to change the date in case people think we are supporters of Bin Laden.”

The Catalans have been celebrating September the eleventh since 1714, when after the War of the Spanish Succession, stubborn resistance to Bourbon rule was finally crushed in Barcelona. It occurred to me that Catalonia was battling to maintain some sense of autonomy around the same time that the Scots were handing theirs over to London.

As a bell tolls outside the church, I think of some memorable dates in Scottish history: the battle of Flodden, on the ninth of September 1513, the rout of the Jacobites at Culloden in 1746, and in my own lifetime, the disastrous World Cup campaign of Argentina 1978. Why are the small nations of Europe so keen to recall heavy defeats?

The people of Ripoll have gathered for a funeral in the Plaça de l’Ajuntament—a plaque claims the Catalan nation was founded here. I leave them to their small personal tragedy and stroll down to the river Ter, where lazy trout slowly drift downstream towards my new home in Torelló.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationMay 2007
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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