I came to El Putxet in July 1971. Since then, I have seen many changes in this friendly and silent neighbourhood, peppered with villas, large and small, with gardens where lilacs, bougainvillea, hydrangeas, jasmines, geraniums and wisterias blossom every year… and gift us with myriad fragrances.
My section of the street ends at a flight of steps that leads to Carrer de Manacor, just in front of El Putxet park. The street is therefore a no-go area for traffic; the only vehicles there belong to the residents who drive in and out of their garages. Just a stone’s throw away is the park, a grove that crowns the hill and nips a few degrees off the temperature compared to the plain of Barcelona. We have a milder summer, winter is a tad colder, and the air quality is unusually good. The park was expanded just over a year ago with the remains of some stately homes donated to the City Council which had become derelict years ago.
The perimeter marked by the streets Putxet, Monegal and Cadis is a magical triangle of villas withstanding change, true to the spirit of their construction.
Further down Carrer del Putxet, where it converges with what is currently Ronda del General Mitre, there is a private estate, the largest in El Putxet, totally surrounded by a wood, which the neighbourhood residents have always called “Bertran’s Wood”. It belongs to the Bertran i Musitu family, and was used by Woody Allen to film some sequences for Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
A bit further away, on the border created by Carrer de Balmes (the former dry river bed of Sant Gervasi de Cassoles), we encounter the writer Mercè Rodoreda and her age-old memory of the “garden of all gardens”. Standing just in front of Casal Gurguí, which provided the backdrop to the writer’s childhood and teenage years, the family villa led out onto the dry river bed and to what is now Monterols park. As the writer said in A Broken Mirror, “Behind the house, when I was a child, was the Sant Gervasi de Cassoles dry river bed, which is now Carrer de Balmes. The abandoned park of the Marquis of Can Brusi lay on the other side. Our dining room looked out onto its lush centennial trees. It was populated by nightingales, and the scream of peacocks permeated the summer nights. This park, idealised, is the park of the Valldaura villa. The garden of all gardens.”
I return to my bit of El Putxet to talk about what is a magic triangle for me: the perimeter formed by Carrer del Putxet, Carrer de Monegal (where the passage of Carrer de Felip Gil nestles) and Carrer de Cadis, streets that all converge on Carrer de Manacor. It is a web of villas that have held out against change, faithful to the spirit in which they were built. Walking up Carrer de Putxet you come upon the villa of Doctor Broggi (died recently), alongside another two that are also still hanging on. The passage of Carrer de Felip Gil was home to the son of the poet Pedro Salinas, Jaime Salinas, creator and promoter of the Alfa-guara publishing house, and where I used to see the poet Jaime Gil de Biedma walking up or down, probably on his way to or from the house of his friend Salinas. At the back there is a clutch of well-conserved estates overlooking the park. Taking a walk there is like taking a trip down memory lane.
Something really needs to be done with the huge property – all walled up – that lies between Carrer de Cadis, Carrer de Monegal and Carrer de Manacor, and which used to be Sant Josep clinic until it was closed a few years ago. This private facility, which was still run by nuns, was where King Juan Carlos regularly went for medical check-ups; the locals knew when he was there thanks to the discreet – or not-so-discreet – presence of his security staff.
Next to Sant Josep clinic is another estate standing on the corner of Carrer de Cadis and Carrer de Putxet, which also has a large garden: it is the family home of Elvira Farreras i Valentí, who was married to the art gallery owner Joan Gaspar and died in 2005.
Elvira was simple, open and approachable, and we had a “good neighbourly” relationship. One day she invited me in and, knowing that I was a writer, gifted me with her books which she signed for me. She died not long afterwards. Elvira Farreras was quite a woman and led a very interesting life. She was a chronicler of El Putxet and was secretary to the writer André Malraux when he came to Barcelona during the Civil War to film L’espoir. She was a housewife who brought up her children and worked in the Sala Gaspar and also travelled and still found time to write books.
Apart from my “magic triangle of El Putxet”, and by dint of a sort of osmosis, some of the people who live in the flats built in the seventies, perhaps by chance, or perhaps through word of mouth, were involved in the world of art or literature. My neighbours include the film-maker Gonzalo Herralde and the son of Rafael Tasis; former inhabitants were the painter Joan Artigau, the writer Miquel Obiols… The painter August Puig in the house below me and Norman Narotzky above me; the house in front of me was home to the actor Enrique Irazoqui, who played Christ in Pasolini’s Il vangelo secondo Matteo…
In other words, the fragrances of Rodoreda’s garden of all gardens linger on, even although many of the villas that were there when I arrived have been demolished and are no longer there. The soil or the air, wise carriers of the stories of men and women, must keep some kind of memory which makes the residents, newcomers and old-timers alike, love their neighbourhood so much.