I used to joke that the only thing binding together Spain is the classic tortilla española, which in Catalonia we refer to as the tortilla de patatas – a neutral name. This potato omelet is one of the very few traditional dishes that is prepared the same way (and equally beloved) throughout Spain’s Autonomous Communities, the regions created after the Spanish Constitution of 1978, a necessary step towards building a democratic country after the end of Franco’s dictatorship.
The fact that this is one of the few dishes we all have in common highlights the significant regional differences of our traditional cuisine, despite our common Mediterranean culinary culture.
After this past weekend, it looks like this tortilla – a symbol of our fragile but deep connection – is partially destroyed and now difficult to digest. The gap in between Catalonia and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Spanish government has grown even wider, and the brutal police violence during the Catalan independence referendum has cast a dark shadow over the already tenuous relationship.
On Saturday, the day before the vote, bars and restaurants were packed. Everyone spent the weekend in the city, waiting for the big day. The owner of one of my favorite bodegas handed me a ballot when I was paying for my glass of cava. In the week leading up to the referendum, ballots had been printed all over the city – and in some of the most unexpected places – in an effort to thwart the police’s attempts at confiscating voting materials. By handing me the ballot, he was encouraging me to vote the next day, to participate in the process that, for independence supporters, is the only way to express their will.
It was cloudy and dark in Barcelona on Sunday, referendum day. The tension mixed with rain as the city streets filled with people – voters and non-voters, tourists, plus four different police units (two Spanish units that had arrived weeks earlier and two local units). Yet despite the crowds, the city almost felt empty. Painfully vacant. In that very moment, police were charging against peaceful voters, from teens to grandparents, at numerous polling stations in Catalonia.
Suddenly, the result of the vote didn’t matter any more. Many people who weren’t originally going to vote on Saturday decided to cast a ballot in protest of the police violence. The more violence that occurred, the more voters turned out.
“Tomorrow, we’ll strike to demonstrate that we’re still here, resisting.”
On Monday, the only topics of conversation in the city were the crackdown on the vote and the general strike scheduled for Tuesday. While ordering a couple glasses of vermouth and some marinated anchovies in one of the Gràcia neighborhood’s most classic bars, I was chatting with the waiters. One of them asked me the question of the day: “Were you able to vote?”
“Yes,” I told him. “My polling station was pretty calm, just a few city police. And you?”
“I voted behind a wall made by my neighbors,” he said. “They were protecting the building’s entryway from a possible police charge – all together in line. They had to move quickly to allow everyone who wanted to vote to pass through. When voters came out of the building, they were greeted by applause.”
He continued: “Tomorrow, we’ll strike to demonstrate that we’re still here, resisting – that will piss them off the most.”
All of the markets were closed on Tuesday. Bakers called their guilds to receive instructions; some ultimately remained open, but many were also closed. The same with restaurants, bars and bodegas – most were closed to protest the police’s use of force against peaceful voters on Sunday. Some of them even had signs in the doors saying “We close for dignity” or “We close to protest the excessive, indiscriminate and unjustified actions of the police… regardless of our political views on the referendum.” Surprisingly, some bars and restaurants with strong ties to Catalan culinary tradition or that had supported the vote remained open; they didn’t want to mix work and politics, as a few of them explained it to me.
But too much is already mixed. It’s like an omelet with everything thrown into it: emotions, politics, financial justice, economic need, family passions, an immature Spanish democracy, an insufficient Constitution, the dream of an independent Catalan republic, flags, borders, passports, kings, corruption, the ghost of fascism… everything except the neutral, loved and very democratic potatoes.
Editor’s Note: Our Barcelona bureau chief and walks guide Paula Mourenza, born in the Spanish city of Vigo, has been living in Barcelona since 2000.