Yellow knots

Yellow knots

Yellow is the colour of independence.

I’m sitting at a small desk in a Hostal in a little town in Catalonia. Painted in yellow on the street below my window are the open knot symbols of Catalan independence. Like the symbol of the Scottish Nationalists and the pink ribbon of the breast cancer campaign, you find them every few yards on every street in every town and village here. Then there are the thousands of yellow plastic ribbons tied to railings, bridges, balconies, where they flap in the breeze. They catch your eye, your ear, and any Catalan heart. The flag of Catalonia with its yellow and red stripes, blue half diamond and white star flutters above houses, drapes over windowsills and adorns walls. Makeshift messages painted on cloth or plastic shout: LLIBERTAT.

You’d think there was only one show in town. One voice drowning out any other. There is another voice, but it’s hushed. Listen hard. There’s barely a sound. No Spanish flags here; no messages shouting: UNIDAD.

This town is beside the Ebro. If I walk out of the Hostal door and turn left I come to a path that runs for miles along this huge river, Catalonia’s prize resource. It gives the would-be republic leverage in the battle with the nation, a nation being slowly parched as the climate changes. The Ebro flows here wide and full even after the hot summer months. The valley it’s carved out over millennia is massive and fertile. Olives, peaches, almonds, vines. Holm oak and Mediterranean pine are thick and lush on every slope. Mountains lie either side with extravagantly shaped ridges, as if moulded by some hidden hand rather than fashioned by nature and time.

In the Hostal and all throughout the town people speak Catalan. They switch happily to Spanish for me but it’s rumoured that many won’t speak it for Spaniards. The passion runs deep. You can understand why. During the Franco dictatorship, until his death in 1975, speaking Catalan was forbidden. Now they’ve repossessed their language with the voracious appetite of starved men and women.

It feels different to the independence movement in Scotland. I still feel an attachment to the Scottish independence story, though I don’t live there and have doubts about the wisdom of nationalism – there always seems to be such a lot of collateral damage. But I have a sense of it from many who do, both believers and non-believers. This feels angrier. It’s thrust in your face all the time. Is it that Scottish wounds are older? That the yearning for independence, where it exists, is less vengeful,  more pragmatic and measured? On balance, looks forward more than back? I’m typing with much trepidation now. I have friends in both camps back home. They’re bound to put me right.

I got up this morning wanting to write about this stuff. The sense of home and family is fierce in my consciousness. So many reasons, personal and political. Visiting my sister, reaching into our shared past with the person who’s known me longest, but whose ‘home’ now is in another country. It makes a muddle of notions of nations and home and where you belong. Another knot to unravel.

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