Val d’Aran, era esséncia des Pirenèus

19. Oktober 2016 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

It was ultimately a good idea to take an ALSA bus to get across the Pyrenees watershed. The narrow road winds its way into the mountains and often perches on a ledge nauseatingly high above some emerald reservoir lake. There is no shoulder for the lone cyclist to escape to, and the comfort of the coach was thus ideal, and all of this at the rock-bottom price of €17, no charge for the bike.The evening before, at the Lleida tourist office, I had got engaged in a conversation with the woman in charge of informing the tourists about her city’s attractions. It turned out that pretty much everything was closed on a Monday, but she herself, when lured out, was quite open about her convictions. A Catalonian with a burning heart, she insisted on the uniqueness of the culture and the tragedy of history (the defeat at the hands of Castile and the suppression of Catalan under Franco).

I asked her to consider how odd it would be to introduce a new national border in such places as the lonely valley I had cycled through, where the stench of the pig farms (yes, they still abound) wafts across the inconspicuous dividing line between Aragon and Catalunya. „Just think of Andorra“, she said, „if they can be a country, why can’t we?“ But that’s ridiculous, I dared to say, and then she treated me to the killer argument that Catalunya was a net payer to the Spanish central state, and just did not get enough autonomy to be compensated for that. Well, I thought, would Barcelona rather pay net to Brussels direct?

Anyway, we agreed that it will be thrilling to see what pathway the Scots will be choosing in their Brexit quandary. It might influence the next Catalan vote on separation.

Later, at dinner in a small restaurant/bar with plastic chairs, I overheard three women talking in a lingo I was sure was neither Catalan nor Castilian. I suspected it might be Fabla, the variety spoken by some people in Aragon, particularly in the Barbastro area just a few dozen km out of Lleida. When I asked them (in English, to avoid any pitfalls), they said it surely was Catalan, but the kind they spoke in this area, which, admittedly, was a bit closer to Castilian. „And also Aragonese“, I ventured. „Well, no, Aragonese is no language, it’s just …, it’s not even a dialect“, the youngest said. And they agreed it was just a kind of accent. But Catalan, of course … adéu! And they left, while I wondered if the language patterns I had cycled through were not in fact a continuum just as the slowly changing agricultural texture, with more vineyards or less maize in some pockets of the landscape than the next, while people needed clear borderlines to keep the others out of their sociolinguistic virtual terrain.

Not of course in their families: I had talked to a baker in Barbastro this very morning, where I bought some Madeleines to keep me sugared, and she turned out to be interested in languages. She is Castilian, but married to a Catalan and had lived in Barcelona for a while. They each spoke their mother tongue, also when the children arrived, and even today, in Aragon, the father uses Catalan with them. So they are bilingual, and it doesn’t hurt. She knows of schools which reintroduce Aragonese, but she wouldn’t want her children to go for yet another one.


But now I’m north of the great divide, in the beautiful Aran valley, and the case is clear: Aranes is the language of the place, a variety of Occitan, so clearly leaning more toward French. The explanations in the amazing romanesque churches here are given, first, in Aranese, then in Catalan, third in Spanish, sometimes also in French, reflecting the close proximity, rarely in English. The children are schooled through this local language. And the Generalitat de Catalunya was obliged to recognise it as a regional minority language. I wonder if it would give the same value or status to Castilian Spanish in an independent state.

Would you like a taste of Aranese? „Era conselhèra de Torisme e Desvolopament Economic d’Aran, Anna Diaz, a hèt un balanç dera sason d’ostiu ena Val d’Aran a on a registrat un increment de 5 punts mès qu’er an 2015 e 13 punts mès qu’er an 2014 en çò que tanh a aucupacion otelèra.“

I note my subjective reaction: Aranese is cute and deserves all my sympathy, whereas I feel a bit queasy about Catalan and the way it’s being promoted at the expense of others. My friend Manuel, who I met together with his wife in Madrid as I was transferring by train, told me an anecdote of a conference in Barcelona, which was attended by delegates from all of Spain and speakers of Spanish as a foreign language from abroad. The locals addressed the plenum in Catalan without batting an eyelid, and it took Manuel’s intervention to get them to consider that this was perhaps not in the interest of comprehensibility (let alone ‚amistad’, my word).

Still, my attraction towards Aranese is not easy to explain, but perhaps it’s my own Swissness – don’t trample on the small as long as they don’t become too self-assertive. Also, the Val d’Aran is in all likelihood the 78th language region I’ve been cycling through, and thus I’m very close to fulfilling my mission.

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