This year, May 30 marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of one of the most important philologists, linguists, and grammarians of the Catalan language: Antoni Maria Badia i Margarit (1920-2014).
He understood research as more than the pursuit of knowledge but as an important force in nurturing and feeding a wide range of social activities. The scientific work he carried out for more than seventy years is a legacy for all to cherish, but here we will hear from the people of St. Privat in the Vall d’en Bas who came to know him over the years in his summer stays there. We learned that Badia i Margarit even had a say in the name of the Vall d’en Bas!
In addition to being a tenured professor, the rector of the University of Barcelona from 1978 to 1986, member of the Institute for Catalan Studies and of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and honorary doctorate recipient from various national and international universities, Badia i Margarit was a husband and father of a large family and a passionate hiker. He was also absolutely in love with St. Privat d’en Bas.
His appreciation for this little town was such that he left his house, Cal Monjo, located right in the main plaza of St. Privat, to the municipality upon his death—sixty-five summers later. In 2018, the town council opened the Cal Monjo Coworking space, where cultural, environmental, and social initiatives are developed, thus further extending Badia i Margarit’s legacy.
“He used to stroll by my house,” explained Joanet of Can Branques. “I would come out, and he would say, ‘Come on over! Let’s talk.’ I was taken aback because he was a renowned professor. I would say, ‘But why bother talking to me?’
“He’d say, ‘You [farmers] are not dumb. We [city people] have a lot to learn from you, because you are able to figure things out without having studied them.’ After all these years, this has stuck with me.” Joanet got emotional when he remembered how the rector recognized his worth.
Badia i Margarit was like this: firm, simple, and easy to follow; discreet but communicative; a man who loved a job well done; but, above all, a professor.
Although many residents of St. Privat remember him fondly, we interviewed four neighbors who met him in different moments of their lives to pay homage to this distinguished man who dedicated his life to the study of language.
Vicenta Casamitjana was born in St. Privat. Although she moved away years ago, she remembers eagerly awaiting the arrival of Badia i Margarit’s five children and sharing adventures with them each summer. Until they arrived, there was no summer to be enjoyed.
Pau Ginebreda and his wife Rosa Ventura, who now live in El Mallol, were active in the community and often invited the professor to give lectures and talks on various topics related to Catalan language and culture.
Josep Maria Francino was born in Terrassa but now is a resident of Puigpardines. He first encountered Badia i Margarit while working as a journalist and radio broadcaster, but their paths crossed again in summer evening strolls in St. Privat.
How did you meet Badia i Margarit?
Vicenta: How did I meet him? I honestly can’t remember because it’s like he was always there. Even if he only was there in the summers, he was part of the landscape of St. Privat.
Do you remember what he liked doing? Was he always busy?
Vicenta: He spent most of his time locked up working on his research. He would go out for a stroll every evening, around seven. He walked around, sometimes found somebody to talk to, and then returned home. But we all knew that he was a remarkably busy person. Mr. Badia was always engaged in something or with someone.
Rosa: His house was noticeably big, and he would go upstairs to write his books and articles. It was his space. That’s how he liked it—there, by himself, he was able to focus the best. But he was always willing to collaborate with our cultural ventures when we founded the “Els Saberuts” (the Wise Association). He also wrote articles for another cultural magazine called Olot Misión because we asked him. And whenever we needed a keynote speaker for our talks and conferences, he always was willing.
I remember he came to talk to us about place names from the Vall d’en Bas, as well as other topics relating to linguistics. He also collaborated with the Verntallat Magazine.
Pau: He also really enjoyed hiking. The entire family were amazing hikers. I recall that hiking brought them all together; the five kids and two parents would often hike up to the Sanctuary of Olletes. He was forthcoming to locals but also rather quiet. He was social but rather collected. He was a creature of habit, though he also sought to establish meaningful connections. Every day he would go to fetch milk from a farmhouse that was up there. He loved doing this.
Vicenta: Yes, he valued Feast Day—Festa Major, as it was done then: on that day, he always dressed accordingly and joined the town to dance sardanes—a round dance—in the town plaza in front of his house. He always respected this holiday. He very much had it in mind as a day for rest and community.
Where would you meet him? In the town plaza, on strolls, on hikes?
Vicenta: I mainly spent time with his children: Toni, Montserrat, Oriol, Xevi, and Joan. His two youngest were closest to me in age, so I played with them the most. I recall that a couple of times I went to the beach with them! Imagine [tiny] cars then, and their five kids plus those of us who may have joined them for the day. Sometimes we played at my place, others we hung out at theirs. We also went into the woods to build huts or to swim in the swimming holes.
Now, there was a sacred hour: five o’clock. Snack time. A slice of bread and a piece of chocolate. Imagine us running around in the town plaza with our bikes, and then at five someone peeking through the window, and we knew it was time for some bread and chocolate. We’d run to get some.
We were neighbors. Come to think of it, besides the five Badia i Margarit children and me, there were no other kids living around the town plaza. So, for me when they arrived, it was a celebration. It really was the best! “I’ve smelled the smell,” I would tell my grandmother. Cal Monjo, their house, had a special smell, I suppose from being locked up all winter. So, when the door was first opened as they arrived, I could smell it from the square. My grandmother had their key and opened the door every Sunday to make sure the house breathed, but even so it retained a smell.
Josep Maria: I used to see him in the square, right in front of his house. We talked right there. We talked a little bit about everything: about how the valley had changed, about the future of Catalan culture, about the evolution of the Catalan language, about Catalan dialects and particularly those of the Garrotxa. But most of all, we talked about rural life and how these ancestral ways were rapidly being lost.
These were brief conversations and had no script. It felt awesome to talk to him, although he knew so much that I felt small. But he wasn’t trying to make anyone around him feel small. It’s just that he spoke so well, and it seemed so easy for him. I admired how much he knew and how he managed to make it so easy to understand.
Badia i Margarit spent many summers in St. Privat. What do you think attracted him to this place?
Josep Maria:I’ve always just assumed that he was attracted by the landscape and the peace and quiet.
Pau: Yes, he did come for many years. I think he was mostly looking for a quiet spot surrounded by beautiful landscape. Once he told us that he and his wife looked for a place to spend their summers for a while, and St. Privat had everything they were looking for. It was quiet, and the landscape was outstanding. It seems he found the surroundings of St. Privat d’en Bas attractive.
How do you remember Badia i Margarit?
Pau: He was a wonderful man, a good one, a good fellow. He was always willing to help people. For example, if someone had to run errands in Barcelona, or if someone needed help with paperwork, he was there. If it was appropriate, he was prepared to help. He was dutiful and upright.
Rosa: He was a humble man, but also when it came to speaking, he was very strict. He was didactic when he explained complex ideas. He always managed to make himself understood: a teacher in the most profound meaning of the word. Before saying something, he carefully weighed the meaning of his words. During his appointment as rector of the University of Barcelona, he used to share some of his dilemmas with us: “Gee, how can I tell him this without causing offense, but so that he understands my position?” And, with his publications, he was the same. He edited again and again before he sent them to the publishers.
Vicenta: I would say he was kind, a good fellow. Very discreet—very, as one ought to be. I always had the impression that I had the privilege of being around a particularly important person, even though I was little, and I wouldn’t have been able to explain why I felt this way. I suppose because he didn’t act as an important person, he wasn’t full of himself. He was discreet. In fact, the whole family was, and is.
Josep Maria: From those unscripted chats, I remember mostly his distinct and calm voice. What I value the most is that our paths crossed. I learned a lot from those informal conversations.
What would you say is Badia i Margarit’s legacy for St. Privat or the Vall d’en Bas?
Josep Maria: The fact that this was his refuge and that he returned every year for years is already a legacy. Everybody appreciates the luck of having met him, I believe.
Vicenta: I really don’t know how to single out some legacy for St. Privat or the Vall d’en Bas. But I am so grateful to have met him and his family. You know, my passion from reading comes from them. Yes, I used to read, though it wasn’t very common at the time. But Xevi and Joan often lent me their Tintin comic books. We spent hours looking through books with them. And whenever they returned for the summer, I got a book. I believe their love for books and stories made me love books and stories.
Pau: His collaboration in changing the name of the municipality comes to mind and is rather important, I think. Of course, there was plenty of controversy and all. But this is one of the things I worked most closely with him on and remember well.
The “Vall d’en Bas” [Valley of Bas]—before it was called “Vall de Bas” [Valley belonging to the Bas Viscount]. We decided to consult with experts in toponyms, and, of course, he was our closest expert. We asked him for his expert opinion on what the most appropriate name was, because while the municipality was formally called Vall de Bas, everyone called it Vall d’en Bas. So he wrote a linguist’s report with examples, precedents, reasons, and concluding remarks. We took it to the city hall. Based on his report and conclusions, the Institute for Catalan Studies decided upon Vall d’en Bas.
Griselda Ballester i Tataret is an inventory intern for the SomVallBas project. She holds a degree in social and cultural anthropology from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and is currently working toward a master’s degree in gender studies at the University of Lund in Sweden.
Meritxell Martín i Pardo is the lead researcher of SomVallBas project and research associate at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She has a degree in philosophy from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and a doctorate in religious studies from the University of Virginia.
Júlia Albos i Iscla is an inventory intern for the SomVallBas project. She is currently completing her degree in social and cultural anthropology from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. In her spare time, she draws.