On Myths and Landscapes of Catalonia

                                                                                                                 by Francesc Roma i Casanovas  
Continued from Previous Page  


The Moral Economy 

       The concept of “Moral Economics” is taken from the historian Edward P. Thompson. Thompson (1979) shows that popular classes continued to ask for taxed prices of the wheat and that, at the same time, they wanted  the grains to arrive to market even when authorities defended liberalism.  There is another Catalan example which, I think, further clarifies Thompson's ideas:

     According to a legend, the Bruel lake in North Catalonia was the scene of the death by drowning of a man who would store all the wheat crops of the county  in order to sell them at a higher price. From my point of view, this is an example of the kind of moral economics, in the narrow sense that Thompson intended for the concept. In general, within the context of this moral economics, usury was immoral. And for popular classes, poor people had to be helped by all at any moment (Roma, 2000). In order to advertise this obligation, some rural Catalan houses planted cypresses in their front side. The cypress meant that poor people could get some food for free or a bed in the houses having one, two or three of this trees planted in front of the house -in fact, the number of trees  was important, because it yielded additional information (Roma, 2000; 137-139).

          We know that there existed a kind of moral and legal obligation to help the poorest people of a community from various historical sources.  For instance, in 1832, a Catalan peasant wrote a document in which he stated that he had to provide bed and soup to all people who arrived at his home (Solà, 1933). Furthermore, we know that poor people could go to the monasteries during some days to eat and to pass the night. At the same time, during modern ages, the environment -some lakes, some stones, some trees, etc.- were considered as signs to remind people of  those obligations. In fact, in helping poor persons, agrarian people were protecting themselves. Hailstone falls in a very little area and ruins the crops of a family or neighborhood. Automatically this people had to earn their life through the public assistance or through their neighbor's benevolence. In the last years of the18th century, when Francisco de Zamora enquires in Catalan villages about the level of poverty of their inhabitants, a lot of answers explain that poor people are laborers, proletarian people that depend on the work provided by their neighbors. In consequence, "poor people" were not only the strangers, but it could be a number of persons that lived near their house. Here lies the importance of moral economics and it is a possible explanation of its perdurability and acceptance during centuries and by different social groups. Nature was construed with pieces or patches  of the social concerns  of those  groups.


The Saint's Footprints

    From this eco-symbolical point of view, apart from the Engolasters lake and the Maladeta mountain, there are other cases, as the Montcortès lake, the Lourdes lake, the Blue lake, and so on in Spain, France and Andorra.  At the same time, in Catalonia, the footprints of Saint Martin are taken to represent (Nature-wise) the abstract idea of the need to help needy people. The footprint in question is an indenture on a rock, in  form of a foot or a shoe. Normally they are supposed to be made by a Saint. And one of  the most important footprint-maker saints is Saint Martin, the Saint that better represents the obligation of helping poor people.


            According to a Catalan legend, Martin arrives at a rural house asking for a bed and something to eat. There, he is given shelter and the next morning he changes the bad weather into a sunny day to compensate the good hearted peasants. From this day on, the "Saint Martin Summer" always coincides with Saint Martin's Eve (November, 11). Catalan tradition states that this climatic change allows for poor people to be helped and, at the same time, reminds richer people that they had to help the poorer persons. If the Martin footprints are an example of the eco-symbolicity of natural reality, the changing weather contributes to emphasize this idea.


   Symbolically Martin represents one of the first Christian saints in which people had to see the idea or poverty: as you know, he shared his cape with a poor man shaking under the coldness at the village of Amiens  (France). In order to widespread the ideas that he represented, some of the objects that were associated to him were seen as magical artifacts. In Catalonia, his footprints, remembered his social role, a role that was proposed by the Churchas the way of being in the world and relating to other people. During the Middle Ages the Catalan Church tried to protect poor people from all kinds of violence. 

 A sacred space was created all around the churches and shrines in order to protect people's life; some days were not fighting times. As we can see, the same ideas that this kind of Church policy aimed to produce, passed to people through some saint's footprints.


         From the médiance point of view, this kind of footprints transforms Nature into Culture, and the environment is made a mythscape.  People can read those signs, and they had to remember their instructions. This way of representing Nature was shared by the two segments of culture, the popular one and the elitist one, both according to the idea that a gaze to the Nature in which people looked for an esthetical pleasure was not pertinent. At the same time, the body and the world were not yet separated and the landscape relationship was impossible (Gourevich, 1983)

Popular Etymologies


     Popular and elitist cultures shared another way of interpreting the world that is very important: the study of etymologies. The origins, the forms and the character of some facts, among them, the geographical facts, that were explained through the names of things. But here lies a very important question: the history of post-Latin dialects is a history of a social group that continues studying the Latin and making the Mass on this language, and, at the same time, the history of a larger social community that, with the passage of time, does not understand Latin any more. When, in the 19th century, the study of etymologies becomes a scientific discipline, a complete separation would have been accomplished. From this moment on, it may come to happen that low people would explain the origins of the name of a place through an etymological explanation that "high culture" will consider absolutely wrong.


         The study of popular etymologies is interesting because the popular etymology sometimes lies at the base of a legend. The case of Maladeta Mountain could be an example. It seems that the word mal derives from an Indo-European word meaning rock or mountain (Moreu-Rey, 1999; 177). But popular culture was incapable of knowing that, and the word led it to think about a malediction. I am sure that this confusion lies at the origins of the legend.


         Some other examples suggest that some names of places are at the origin of a legend. This is the case of the Roca de Pena (the sorrow rock). According to the legend, on the night it was possible to hear some souls crying around the stone. Today, we know that the name of the rock derives from pena or penya (crag, rock) and not from pena (sorrow, sadness). And surely it is the origin of the place's name. According to another legend, the name of the Engolasters, in Andorra, derives from a multiple comet falling down into the lake: the lake swallowed the comets ( engolfi estels), and so on. 


       But the change in studying etymologies was part of a larger process in which, from Renaissance to Illustration, western history sees the raising of a new rationality, and the separation of high and low culture (Mullett, 1990; 18-19). The perspective and the landscape in the arts, the positivist approaches in science, the new political ideas, even the new religious conceptions created the conditions to the emergence of modernity. Modernity supposes the separation of subject and object that is central not only to the landscape approach, but to conceptions in Science.

The Representation of Nature in Modern Times 


      In painting, some mathematical and optical ideas permitted the birth of the landscape picture. Perspective for instance, aids in separating the subject and the object. According to this new médiances, the unity between people and the world that Gourevich (1983) shows for medieval societies was no longer possible.


         In Catalan history, the birth of love for natural scenarios did not appear among peasant people until the 20th century, not even among those that were closer to the agrarian revolution (Roma, 2001). On the contrary, the appreciation of the environment is a relationship that appears in the context of the first tourists, the pioneers of modern science and some of the clergy. The popularization of the thermal baths, in the 19th century, was a very important factor. As in France (Briffaud, 1994), this new vogue brought Nature closer to the elitist social groups. As time went on, the environment and the landscape started being subjects of the bather's interest, supplanting the first interests in the water itself. The more important resorts started proposing to their clients the landscape as another product to attract them.  They started going out and climbing mountains for its own sake and for appraising the most interesting perspectives and landscapes. In their outlook peasants became almost a kind of decoration, a part of the landscape. The legends that, for the peasants, explained the names of some places became only beautiful stories, tales without relationship with economical or social life. Tourists approached   Nature with a special gaze, a gaze from the city, made of socially constructed interests.  New models to explain natural beauty arrived, and took the place of earlier paradise ideas. One of the most interesting models will be the Swiss model of mountain, the Alps. It was not only an aesthetical, but a political affaire too (Roma, 2001).


          The second group in which we encounter the new médiance relationship was that of the scientists. Although they went to high mountains mainly in order to study them, we have to consider the fact that some of them were religious people. This question is very important because it is the same aspect that we have already studied when we talked about the disenchantment process. In fact, scientists as Artur Bofill (1844-1929) or Jaume Almera (1848-1919), when they went out to make their studies, were embodied with a positivist gaze, but, at the same time, they were able of decoding the environment in a sublime way. The esthetical interpretation of Nature that they made was one of the most important ways of the birth of a new sentiment towards  Nature in Catalonia. In fact, science and landscape are very similar things, because they are part of the modern attitude that separates object from subject.

                                                                                                                                                                       from Patronat de Turisme
                                                                                                                                                                                  Pirineu de Girona


The Role of the Clergy 

           It is remarkable that one of the most important landscape gatekeepers in Catalonia were the clergymen (gatekeepers in journalistic jargon are the people that control the outlook of the public). There are a lot of examples on this question, as I

show in my study upon Montserrat mountain (Roma, 2000b). On this social group we can clearly see the disenchantment and re-enchantment process of spatial reality in Catalonia. At the 17th century, the history book of Núria (in Catalan Pyrenees) written by Francesc Marès (1700) -a clergyman- had noteworthy passages of landscape descriptions. One hundred years latter, at the middle of 18th century, the monks of Montserrat monastery went up to the mountain hermits in a mood of recreation, which caused some whaht of a problem because they interfered with the hermits vow of isolation (Zaragoza, 1974). About this question, Henry Swinburne wrote that "At la Trinidad, the next cell, the monks by turns go up to pass a few days in summer by way of recreation" (Swinburne, 1779; 59). A bit latter, in 19th century, a lot of historical books about Catalan shrines or churches, written by people linked to ecclesiastical groups, use a language of landscape descriptions and even includes sublime bits of texts (Roma, 2001). This new representation of Nature enables us to understand why a lot of clergymen entered into the first Catalan alpine institutions (Puigverd, 1997).


         The Catalan Church  took an important step in order to promote the new médiance. For these men, looking at mountains as a beautiful thing was not an impertinent fact, even when -centuries ago- the Church proposed the contemptus mundi 

(the world underrating). For this social group, the beauty of Nature was an example of God's magnificence and power. If the world was created in a perfect way, Catholic people could love it, and the Garden of Eden would be a sort of model to represent it. The place of landscape, at the beginning, was taken by the paradise ideas, and through this representation an early proto-landscape sentiment was born (Roma, 2000b). Paradise texts and discourses, constructed with biblical passages, permitted the entrance of a New World relationship.


       Besides the three groups that we have studied, others like those of the poets and writers, painters and photographers, and specially the mountaineers, played an important role in constructing the new images of Nature and in converting them into a tourist consumption product.



New Images of Catalan Mountains


     At the same time, 19th century in Catalonia is a historical period in which elites wanted to create a new society, a new social world, a self-governed country in social peace, a traditional society. This group will receive -sometimes create- and widespread the discourses talking about the beauty of mountains beauty and their natural influences in the well being of visitors. These novel ideas opened the way to transform some parts of Catalonia  -especially mountains- into texts praising the natural qualities of its inhabitants. The places will be seen as treasured spaces, sources of wealth: beautiful places with beautiful people... Physically, the world had not changed, but it became a different text, and a new text made possible new discourses. As a text, this new eco-symbolical reality will be invested with extraordinary positive powers that could attract new visitors.


      The new mountain images in Catalonia will be based on the Swiss model of the Alps. But this model was not only an esthetical leitmotif: at the same time, the Swiss model was a social idea that represented a democratic political world, a modern society, and so on (Roma, 2001; Schama, 1995).

                                                                         A view of one of Montserrat tops. (The Hermit of the Holy Trinity, depicted in the                                                                                                                         engraving of the previous page may be seen at middle right of the photo.)


                                                                        From: Album de Montserrat,amb text introdutori a sis llengues, {Barcelona, circa 1910}

Folklore Studies in Catalonia


  Folklore studies started in Catalonia in the 19th century. The first Catalan folklorists realized that in their time tradition was being lost and this was the confessed reason for their research. However, studying tradition in a context of positivism needed an special approach, a modern approach in which the researcher had to put himself outside the object of his/her investigations. At the same time, alongside the scientific approach lied another possible médiance that passed through the landscape sensibility; but the study of landscape was a non-scientific affaire. Then, to the first folklorists, the study of representations was less important than the study of texts, explicit discourses or artifacts: the researchers were not capable of putting together the scientific analysis and the landscape study -in the sense of representations. Landscape had to be an external question, living outside the subject, an independent being, without connection to human existence; perhaps a support for human existence, where it was confused with the environment. But existence  is to be out of oneself, as Heideger's philosophy shows.


    As perspective imposes in painting a certain way of seeing the world, the positivist analysis of the geographical facts, that centuries ago transmitted ethical and social information, proposed as natural  an outlook in which Nature and Society were  not two pertinent different things, and sometimes opposed ones. Through the folklorist eyes, the mythscape places lost their links with the social ideas, because places had nothing to explain. Studying the folk laws and studying the environment were, for them, two separate questions not related to each other; the academic divisions between geography and social sciences contributed to this status quo. As perspective constructs a world, positivist folklore analysis constructed a popular culture made by little pieces of reality without analogical links to other social spheres. Through this epistemological approach, the folklore study was able to catch the legends, but not the mythscape relationships that they tried to communicate. This approach had taken us into a non-popular Nature, because it was the result of a glance to the pre-modern world made from modernity. It was a scientific way of seeing (not a mythical gaze) in which the analogical relationships with the other spheres were not interesting. Beyond scientific ideas, if some kind of social projection to Nature was pertinent, it was only the landscape relationship that romantics proposed. The interpretation of Nature had to be a subjective fact. Only some socially constructed ideas, as the topics of Catalan mountain or the Swiss model could possibly be read on the environment, but they were to be seen as a metaphor not as an eco-symbolical reality that explained the needs of poor people.

   Under modernity, the world is a res extensa, an entity different from, and this modernizing process had different speeds according to the various social groups concerned. At the beginning of 20th century, Catalan popular classes continued thinking their world through a cosmovision closer to the medieval world than to modernity. But, for the social elite, modernity represented a way of thinking in which peasant culture had to be studied, but not defended as a future model. These are the bases of the folklorisation process that, as Bourdieu (1977) suggest, is the last step that brings peasants into expropriation of and exclusion from even heir own image. 

    Within this context, rural Catalan life was, at the end of 19th century, a social model. But this model was not a regression to the medieval institutions. On the contrary, the social elites were more or less for the laissez faire. In fact, landscape and liberalism partages the same epistemological bases: the separation between objects and outside the, subject. It is not a souvenir of a pre-liberal moral economics, because the only appropriated projection is the esthetical and non-political one.


Modernity and its consequences folklorized 


     The folklorisation process is the conversion of popular legendary discourses -that years ago expressed a moral economics- into popular or oral literature -tales, folktales, stories. A cosmological reality became only words, words not related with the world. Folklorists collected texts and discourses, but they forgot the practices and relationships that they were associated to him. When they faced saint's footprints, as Joan Amades did, they were not interested in doing field work to study it: the only important question was to catch the legend -the discourse- and to report it. They did not realize the analogical relationships between these textual and discursive elements and the other non-textual elements. From my point of view, the firsts Catalan folklore researchers caught the discourses and perceived the texts, but they were not able to realize that they were talking of a unique reality that put together the facts and the symbols related to it. Both, symbols and facts make of an unique discourse.

  Converting folklore into heritage, the first Catalan folklore studies lost the analogical relationships with the economic and political world that environment comported. And finally, doing this, they converted peasants into objects.


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