Saturday, December 14, 2013

The 781-Year-Old Professor: Ramon Llull

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been fortunate in being entertained by political daftness and political cock-up. In the town of Porreres, the Més leftist grouping wanted to impose a charge on any householder who hung a Santa Claus up on the front of the house (it was a means of tackling what Més considered to be a "plague" of Santas in the town). Then there was the gift which keeps on giving, namely the estate agent education minister Joana Maria Camps, who gave us the international tread-on report into educational performance (the "trepitja", meaning tread on, versus PISA translation muddle). Now, and proving that daftness and ignorance aren't confined to Mallorca, we have the case of some advisor or other at the national education and culture ministry who has rung up the university in Palma to enquire about a salary.

The university, as is common with many universities, has a Chair, and a Chair, in university parlance, means a professorship. The university may have several Chairs for all I know, but it is one Chair in particular that has come to the attention of the national ministry. The Ramon Llull Chair.

Those of you who have followed my writings over the years may well remember my having mentioned Ramon Llull. He is a not unimportant person in Mallorca's history, but I have wondered about how important he is considered to be elsewhere. By which I have meant other countries. I have assumed that Llull would have been considered important and well known elsewhere in Spain, especially to someone who works for the national education and culture ministry.

Llull, in case you need reminding, was alive in mediaeval times. He was born in 1232 and died either in 1315 or 1316 (more on this below). As such therefore, it is unlikely - nay, impossible - for him to occupy the Chair at the university that is named after him. And this, the naming, gets us to the point of the story. The advisor at the ministry wanted to know what salary this Ramon Llull person was receiving. The Chair, or the director of it anyway, is in fact someone called Joan Antoni Mesquida who is also the director of Catalan philology at the university and so is not Ramon Llull, who died almost 700 years ago and who was born getting on for 800 years ago. The advisor was informed of the name of the director, and his interlocutor decided it wasn't worth spending the time trying to explain to him who Ramon Llull was. One trusts that the advisor doesn't now confuse this Joan Mesquida with the one who was once national secretary-general for tourism and national director-general for the National Police and Guardia Civil. For if he does, the hilarity factor will be raised higher.

Of course, this all been meat and drink to those of a Catalanist tendency (and even to those who aren't). It is indicative of a lack of appreciation of all things educationally and culturally Catalan by the anti-Catalanists in Madrid and those in particular in the department of national education minister José Ignacio Wert (though he, one rather suspects, would know who Ramon Llull was; or would he?).

It could be said it was a simple enough mistake, but then this could have been said of Joana Camps translating PISA into tread on. It was a mistake which shouldn't have been made, and political capital has been made out of it by the same political grouping, Més, which is bothered about the plague of Father Christmases in Porreres. Its spokesperson at the Council of Mallorca made a point of pointing out the mistake, accusing the national ministry and therefore the Partido Popular of being insensitive to Catalan cultural matters. This was done at a Council session to declare the years 2015 and 2016 as the years of Ramon Llull.

Years? Why should the old boy have more than one? Well, for a kick-off the Bishop of Mallorca had proposed some twelve months ago that there be more than one year, and it was a proposal, one imagines, to get round the arguments as to when Llull actually died. The Bishop suggested the "year" should cover two years - from November to November - which would mean from and to 27 November, which is Ramon's feast day. But the starting-point in November will be five months after when it is normally thought that Llull died. i.e. on 29 June, 1315. One says normally thought, but there is a good deal of evidence which suggests that he died quite a bit later; in 1316 in fact.

Anyway, whenever he died or didn't, he will be getting two years to his name, and one hopes that his name will become better known than it currently is, especially among advisors to the national education and culture ministry. "Hello, can I speak to Ramon Llull, please ..."

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