IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CARLOS RUIZ ZAFÓN
A short time ago, I finished reading “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It’s probably now one of my favorite books, and, yes, it probably has something to do with the fact that I live in the city where it’s set. In addition, though, I credit Zafón and his incredible writing. I have never been 200-some pages (hard to tell how many exactly since I was reading it on my phone) away from finishing a book and decided to read the whole night through until 6 a.m. the following morning just to know how it would end. That’s what happened to me with this book, and, even though I was destroyed for that entire following day, I don’t regret it because it probably etched the experience of reading the story in my memory forever (and made it more special).
And that’s even before telling you about my day today.
When I was asked what I wanted to do earlier today, I had the idea of walking around Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter to visit the places depicted in the book. As soon as I said it, I was on the hunt for any sort of fan-made maps or whatever to help make the journey easier. Within minutes, I found that the author himself drafted a map of the important story landmarks for any fan who wanted to follow in the footsteps of the book’s protagonist, Daniel Sempere.
The first place we visited was Carrer de Santa Ana where Daniel and his father’s house and bookshop are located in the book. Now, of course, there’s no real world marker to figure out which of the apartments was his, but that was just part of the fun. We had to re-read some of the passages to try to figure out where it might be and let our imagination do the rest. We spent a good 10-15 minutes investigating the street until we decided on where we thought it was.
Already inspired, we set off to Carrer Canuda to check out the Ateneu Barcelonès, an 18th century palace that houses a library, restaurant, garden and lots of rooms and spaces that promote intellectual and cultural debates, and where Daniel meets Clara Barceló.
When we arrived, the man working at the information desk told us that the building was only accessible to paid members and only to the general public when there was an event which, of course, was not today. We clearly looked disappointed because the man looked around and told us that we could sneak up quickly while the security guard was off on a cigarette break and see as much of it as we wanted. He showed us to the elevator and, after thanking him, were on our way up to the library, giddy with excitement.
The moment we stepped into the library, my jaw hit the floor. It was the most beautiful library I had ever seen! The energy, on top of the fact that it clearly was an 18th century library, was so powerful and yet incredibly calming. We saw a few people sitting at these beautiful wooden desks in beautiful wooden chairs in a room with glass cases lining the walls from top to bottom containing books that I could clearly see were hundreds of years old. I was in total awe of the place!
We were already infused with energy and inspiration but knew we had to keep our cool because “Members Only” signs were posted all over the place, and we didn’t want to be too obvious. So, we calmly walked around, studying the books, desks, paintings, etc. and sneaking the occasional photo, which wasn’t allowed. We also envisioned the scenes from the book set in the building and decided that it more than surpassed what we had envisioned in our minds while reading them.
I think we were there for about an hour before we finally managed to scrape ourselves away from all of the intriguing things walled inside the massive building. I had already declared this place a hidden oasis and said I would renounce my gym membership in order to become a member, and I meant it. And, as far as I was concerned, our tour could have ended right then and there, and I would have been happy. But, it didn’t!
Once we were back on the crowded streets, we knew where we needed to go next: The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Being a fictional place like Daniel’s house was, all we had to go on was the name of the street, Carrer de l’Arc del Teatre, so we made for the Rambla and started the short walk down.
Upon arrival, I could already picture where I thought the entry to “the Cemetery” was and, without having much to photograph or save as a memory, we walked back to the Rambla and set off on a strategic route to hit three more locations before arriving to our final destination for the day.
The first two were only a block away. We went to Plaça Reial to visit where Barceló’s house was and to walk under the archway that acts as one of the exits from the plaza onto Carrer Ferran, and where Daniel meets Fermín Romero de Torres, one of my favorite characters, for the first time.
We then headed to the penultimate stop, and one we had already visited many times before: Plaça de Felip Sant Neri. This plaza is one of the most hauntingly beautiful and powerful places in Barcelona, and it featured as an important setting for a handful of scenes in the book, so this stop was a must. Visiting it again after having read the book made the experience of sitting in the small square all the more enchanting.
I sat on the ledge of the fountain that occupies the center of the square and looked around at the surroundings. Again, with the descriptions from the book, and knowing what this place meant to the story, I let myself picture the events from the plot play out in my imagination. There were a bunch of tourists there, taking their photos and chatting away, but it was as if they weren’t even there for me. It was such a cool moment!
Feeling that we had fulfilled more than what we had hoped for, it was time to head to the famous “Els Quatre Gats” where we would have vermouth and reflect on the tour and the book.
This cafe/bar/restaurant is most known for as the gathering place of Catalunya’s most famous artists during the “Modernisme” period, namely Pablo Picasso. Since then, it’s become a staple of the Barcelona scene and, naturally, it’s also referenced in the book. What better place to end the tour?
I haven’t started reading the next book in the series yet, but I imagine that, once I’ve finished, I’ll want to embark on another Zafón-inspired journey through the heart of Barcelona to feel closer to the characters, and, mainly, feel even closer to my city.
By EMILY BENSON