If there is one thing that distinguishes Catalonia it is an enormous ability to continually turn out special personalities who are hugely talented in their professions. Sometimes they are almost unique, appearing out of nowhere and achieving an almost impossible leadership in their discipline, be it business, the arts, sport, culture, gastronomy or some other option. Joan Planes, who comes from Estamariu, a small town in the Alt Urgell, businessperson, president for many years of the company Fluidra, world leader in swimming pools, which a few months ago launched on the Ibex 35 share index. And Santi Santamaria, chef, self-taught, owner for a decade of a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Sant Celoni, who began in 1981 in a small premises that quickly transformed into an essential temple of gastronomy and, sadly, died before his time in 2011, in Singapore, at the age of 54 and for whom a well-deserved tribute was paid at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) on Wednesday, the tenth anniversary of his death. Two individuals who achieved success and recognition in very different ways.
They would have got on, if they had met, because the phrase "Those who lose their origins lose their identity", which Planes repeated several times on Wednesday in the presentation of his almost autobiographical book Camí de castanyes ("Chestnut path") at Barcelona's Llotja de Mar to justify returning to the Estamariu of his childhood, was part of Santamaria's almost automatic answer when asked why he didn't move his celebrated restaurant to Barcelona or why he didn't expand the menu of his restaurant with dishes beyond what was then modern Catalan cuisine. Santamaria, who in addition to being a cook was a frustrated journalist, collaborated with me on projects in which he was able to develop his literary vein, and a man deeply rooted in the land that made him famous, always responded, with a mantra that was almost automatic, that he could only imagine his restaurant in Sant Celoni, at the foot of Montseny, in the Vallés Oriental.
Origins, roots, love of the country and the language. Just at the moment when the Spanish state is carrying out its latest attack on the Catalan language, from which it will be difficult to emerge, it is worth being clear about this. Planes and Santamaria were clear about where they wanted to go, which was to reach excellence, seduction and leadership. Who is capable of imagining from a small swimming pool company, which aspired to become a world leader and, to do so, would have to buy an American company, the incredible period of 27 years before carrying out the acquisition? Or, when the fashion was the deconstruction of Ferran Adrià, a universal chef, to seek and keep on seeking a culinary project that would transcend him?
These are, arguably, leaderships. Something that is so lacking in these grey times when statements, words without importance but with pretensions of transcendence dominate the public sphere. Words that seek to cover up a response that is non-existent, whether due to a lack of imagination, exhaustion or political expediency. It is to be expected that people are disconcerted. It would be impossible for them not to be. Language is the backbone of the nation and the political class does not know how to defend it. And, before them, Madrid and justice, a wall that is becoming ever higher.