NORTHERN CATALONIA

4. Butcher and Bookseller Jordi Pere Cerdà
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'People have defended their identity in their own way and by the means available to them'.

Premi d'Honor de les Lletres Catalanes 1996, Cerdà made his debut in the realm of literature at the start of the Second World War, as the author of a handful of one-act comedies in Catalan, which were performed in his native village in the Alta Cerdanya. He still recalls his surprise because people saw themselves represented in the characters, when his aim had been not so much to portray individuals as to portray the community. 'There are not many people who have grasped the Rossellonès reality,' he explains; a reality that manifests itself 'in the expressions it is known, it is said, but no one knows who knows it or who says it'.

In the early 60s, Cerdà, born in Sallagosa in 1920, went to Perpignan, where he made his living as a butcher and a bookseller up until 1976, and was involved in the setting up of the Grup Rossellonès d'Estudis Catalans (GREC), the point of departure for some kind of reconquest of Catalan as a written language. In doing so he found himself caught up in the conflicts between right-wing Catalanists ('if you can say such a thing') and left-wing Catalanists. He was a Communist. In fact, in talking with Cerdà, one becomes aware of the diversity of interests that combine to give value to the language Catalan. 'We have to act in a country on whatever level there is because it is quite a different thing to play with the future. Real life is always different from the projects we undertake. That is certainly not to say that we have no projects. The project is to move forward'.

Cerdà researches Catalan culture in Northern Catalonia -'it has held its ground, for exemple, in the field of popular song; throughout the 18th century we have popular Catalan, going along with traditional dance'. And its relations with the South? 'There have almost always been exchanges here. All through the 19th century, even before the major political impetus, there were exchanges'.

Cerdà has also lent constant support to Catalan initiatives, as with the publication of Sant Joan i Barres, or in his joint ventures with the crooner Jordi Barre, or his involvement in the founding of the Universitat Catalana d'Estiu (UCE - the Catalan Summer University) in Prada, brainchild of the North Catalan writer Pere Verdaguer, locating these right in the heart of the population. 'It was the first time that a work in Catalan appeared in the newspapers'.

'The Grec festival was not enough,' he continues. 'We made a lot of the fact that Verdaguer was in a daily paper, the Midi Libre, which was published in Montpellier and is still going, and had two or three intelligent people. Here we were dealing with a different readership, the sons and daughters of those who had come here as refugees, not many of whom take a clear stand. These are people for whom the move to a foreign country proved traumatic, creating a sense of inferiority, of denial'. And he concludes: 'There's a belief that it was all lost here quite deliberately, or from indifference. That is not true. People have defended their identity in their own way and by the means available to them'.









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