This summer I went to Barcelona for the first time. It’s an incredibly vibrant city, full of cafes, museums, stunning architecture and art, and the food is pretty good too. There is so much to see and do, not least is a stroll up and down the buzzing La Rambla.
La Rambla is characterised by its wide central walkway teeming with touristic stalls, painters and sketchers, dancers and diners. But every year on the 23rd of April there is a completely different type of buzz – a celebration of roses and books which stems from a tradition steeped in history, originating from the myths and lores of bygone centuries, of Sant Jordi, or St. George, the dragon-slayer and patron saint of love and culture. April 23rd was also the day two of the world’s most renowned writers, Cervantes and Shakespeare died. These, combined with the historic symbolism of the rose, representing love and respect, transforms La Rambla into a rose-and-book-lined promenade, with many bookshops and cafes across the city hosting readings by authors. There is even a 24 hour marathon reading of Cervantes’ Don Quixote! It has become a popular date to launch a book as well as to swap a book for a rose. But what a way of encouraging people to read!
Some four million roses have been sold by the end of the day, and eight hundred thousand books have been sold too. That’s a lot of roses, and quite a lot of books too.
In 1995 the UNESCO general convention adopted April 23rd as World Book and Copyright Day.
In the UK, so that schools can be involved, World Book Day will be celebrated on the 1st March 2012 this year. Thousands of events are being planned in schools, bookshops, libraries and other venues across the country. The Quick Reads are being written, and World Book Day £1 Book Tokens will be given out to every schoolchild. World Book Night, however, is on 23rd April 2012 this year. The first World Book Night was held last year in the UK, when a million books were given away all over the UK. This year a planned half a million books will be given away. They are both great events for writers and readers.
But while books are being given away in the UK, at the Books and Roses Festival the focus is on selling books. I wonder how much work it would take for something like the La Rambla festival to happen here and to take off in the way that it has in Barcelona? Covent Garden would be a great venue... Hundreds of writers and books and readers converging in one place for the day – who wouldn’t want to go to an annual event like that?
Perhaps I need to make another trip to Barcelona around the 23rd April, and make notes on how the experts do it...