THE OBSERVER

Homage to that Catalonia

Homage to that Catalonia / MARI FOUZ

They are the unschooled mothers and grandmothers who paid for our degree and used to kick us out of the kitchen, the ones who got their first job aged 13 and quit after meeting their sweetheart or their devil at Casinet d’Horta or at Cooperativa El Siglo XX, which used to be called Cooperativa Obrera i Popular until it was bombed in 1939, [at the end of the Spanish civil war].

They are the women who weren’t allowed a passport or a bank account of their own. The ones who used to pick tomatoes from the vegetable garden in their Breda home —which they built themselves at weekends and during holidays— and cooked for their nephews. They are women who listened to Antonio Machín’s Dos Gardenias in their last moments, after being married for 67 years, perhaps recalling that first time they danced entwined.

They are the working-class priests who swapped Latin for Catalan and brought themselves and the altars in line with the people. They are the ones who paved our roads and squares, who set up the local community groups and brought democracy to a sad, grey country that thought it could be clean and noble, cultured, rich, free, wide-awake and happy.

They are the ones who learnt Catalan and passed it on to their children, the ones who taught it while working in engineering jobs, singing in a choir, thinking we needed a great encyclopaedia and getting into politics to aid the arrival of democracy and its consolidation.

They are the ones who used to work at La Maquinista Terrestre y Marítima, at the Nuevo Vulcano shipyard, the ones who witnessed the transformation of La Barceloneta and, decades later, found the sea behind those sooty factory walls, on the other side of the railway tracks.

They are the single mothers for whom the joy of having a child was ruined by the unanimous social shaming and resentment of the hollow Catholic morality of an ancient time.

They are the mothers of three children who were not able to hold her hand as she exhaled her last breath at the peak of the pandemic. Her children will never forget that they weren’t able to bring her the sugary fritter balls she fancied so much when she was in the care home, just like they will never forget how she taught them “the value of stuff”.

They are the doctors who vaccinated us and never hesitated to pick up their bag and make a home visit which the parents of sickly working-class children in Santa Coloma de Gramenet and Sant Adrià de Besòs couldn’t always afford. They were decent people who were committed to the medical profession and to their families. They were able to face death, once the restrictions on patient visits were eased up, with their loved ones standing by them.

They are also family men who fought for 32 days in an ICU and lost one of the few matches ever in a sporting career that spanned 34 years playing handball for Barça.
All of them were elderly people who died during the pandemic. They fill the grisly official figures that we journalists wait for until half eleven every evening, before chalking up the day’s horrifying toll. Every day, for too many days. These are some of the lives behind the numbers on the line graphs which scientists and political leaders study to draw conclusions about how the damned curve is getting flatter at long last.

10,400 people, with names and surnames, have died in Catalonia to date, people whose life story deserves to be told and remembered.

Nearly 58 per cent of the COVID-19 fatalities died in hospital, but over 3,000 did so in care homes for the elderly, where the number of fresh cases is still on the rise. Up to 25 per cent of new patients who test positive are residents in care homes. More than likely this figure stems from wider testing, even though 26,700 residents remain in isolation, still waiting for their test. As a matter of fact, elderly people in nursing homes will be one of the last groups to regain a modicum of freedom. Loneliness compounds their medical conditions and physical limitations, although in many cases they are being cared for superbly by professional staff who also bring them happiness. Still, the elderly need to see their families, the sooner the better, and we need to see them. It will be a while before we can embrace and this wait is vitally urgent. Some have died alone and in an undignified manner. We owe them a collective homage and it is our duty to never let them down again.

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