Friday, April 26, 2013

George And The Dragon: Sant Jordi in Mallorca

Saint George's Day has long been an exercise in commemorating indifference, forgetfulness or pure ignorance. England insists on having a national saint and a national saint's day that passes most people by with nary a semblance of recognition. Georgie boy only gets dragged into the English consciousness when his flag is waved at football matches, and even then, some of those doing the waving might actually have little idea that the flag is the Cross of St. George or who the saint was. It is curious indeed that, of the four saints of the British Isles, the English are far more familiar with Ireland's. St. Patrick is all about the Cheltenham festival, copious amounts of Guinness and shamrocks bursting out in pre-springtime greenness.

George is of course a saint elsewhere other than England. He pops up all over Christendom. In Spain he is San Jorge. In Aragon, Catalonia and Mallorca he is Sant Jordi. As in England, because 23 April is taken as the day that George copped for it, Sant Jordi is celebrated on 23 April, but Mallorca being Mallorca, and there being little excuse needed to extend a saint's celebration, Jordi can occupy more than his one traditional day. This year in Pollensa he pitched up first on 19 April and he doesn't disappear until 28 April.

Aragon is particularly important in all this. George was the patron saint of what once was the Crown of Aragon, and it was Aragon, rather than Catalonia, that gave Mallorca its Catalanism (though Catalonians might dispute this). Catalan tradition does, nevertheless, dictate that 23 April is also the day of the rose. Quite why or when the giving of a rose became associated with Sant Jordi isn't altogether clear, but it is commonly believed to date back to the fifteenth century. In more recent times, from 1923 to be precise, Sant Jordi also became the day of the book. There is a happy coincidence that 23 April is also the same day that Cervantes died (and Shakespeare come to that), though, as ever with such things, not even this is totally accurate as Cervantes in fact died on 22 April, but not to worry as he was buried the next day. UNESCO decided in 1995 that 23 April would be World Book Day and it still is.

It is the book part of the equation which partly explains why Pollensa has managed to spin Sant Jordi out over a ten-day period. There have been various book presentations (such as the one for the Canamunt and Canavall - and the whole celebration comes to an end on Sunday with a workshop dedicated to artistic bookbinding; not necessarily something that the good people of Pollensa will be doing on a spare dining table, but I guess it is of some practical interest.

The Pollensa Sant Jordi ten-day fest has largely been due to the efforts of the local branch of the Obra Cultural Balear. There is little more important than literature when it comes to asserting Catalan culture (which is one of the OCB's principal reason for being), and so the book end of Sant Jordi makes for as good an excuse as any for there being a Jordi orgy. Though not actually anything to do with books, or Sant Jordi come to that, tomorrow (Saturday) is when the local OCB-ists have arranged for the "correllengua" to make its flame-carrying, running entrance into Pollensa; all part of the promotion of Catalan (the OCB's other principal reason for existing). 

Alcúdia also got in on the Jordi book element, confining itself to 23 April and making clear that it was all in the spirit of World Book Day, thus giving less of a culturally Catalan correct complexion to the occasion than Pollensa. Appropriately enough, the commemoration was confined to the library, which meant that no one, other than diehard Mallorcan literary lovers, would have had a clue what was going on. Even if the British had, they wouldn't have been in attendance in any event. Catalan literature and books in Catalan don't really pull up any trees for the Brits, who would be otherwise about as unfamiliar with Sant Jordi as they are indifferent to Saint George.

There again, there is the odd Brit-style symbolism of St. George knocking around, such as the long-abandoned barn-like bar in Playa de Muro which went by the name of George and Dragon and which indeed still displays the name (no one having been prepared to take the place on). Brits should of course know all about George and the dragon, as in the legend, but I daresay that even this symbol will have a different connotation: Sid James and Peggy Mount. 

Any comments to please.

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