A “Madrileño” (Madrid) friend stared at me intently. “Seriously, Denise? I can NOT believe that you can be a fan of the Barcelona soccer team. If you knew their fans, those Catalans, you would change your mind in a heartbeat.”

And there it was — the raw truth of why we’re all a bit testy these days — and it has nothing at all to do with soccer.

My friend’s comments were like having a glass of ice water tossed in my face.  Something is going on here.  A growing sense of Us vs. Them, and it comes in lots of flavors.

It’s natural for us to seek out  connection, to be part of a group with people like us. The good side of that is that we can have strong family ties, and great friendships, and a network of fun and support.  But then one day some airhead says “We’re better than them.” And even worse, “They need to be just like us.”

I’ll admit that I’ve had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder towards Catalunya (the region around Barcelona), despite being an avid Barca soccer fan. I’ve had a few personal experiences that soured me a bit towards Catalans.

But this past weekend I had an unexpected opportunity to learn more about what’s going on in the Catalan push for independence from Spain.  I sat down for a glass of wine with a young Catalan man named Albert (“all beart”), who was eager to tell the story from his point of view.

For as far back as anyone in his family can remember, they’ve been Catalan. They have maintained their culture, traditions, and language, even through the wars and through the Franco years. During that time, languages other than traditional “Castellano” (Spanish) were forbidden, or at best frowned upon, by the government.  They even went so far as to forbid the use of traditional Catalan names for new babies, sometimes even changing official records.

Albert went into a fair amount of detail, explaining the history of Catalunya, but I knew we had reached the heart of the matter when his eyes narrowed, and he said “I’m not in favor of separation from Spain. But the current Spanish government actually tried to pass a law restricting the use of the Catalan language.  My family, from my great grandparents down to my nieces and nephews, all speak Catalan when we’re together. It’s who we are. Nobody messes with our language and our culture!!!”

How can you argue with that? The extremists, in any culture, are scary. But when you have the opportunity to talk to someone who is a part of the bigger picture, you often learn that there are valid reasons behind an issue. In my case, I also learned that strong connections are what hold the “normal” Catalans together, through thick and thin — and many are gentle, kind, and caring people.

In his eagerness to share the “real” Catalan culture with me, Albert took us to a Massia — a remote farm house  that has been converted into a restaurant. We spent a lazy afternoon in the middle of an olive grove, eating amazing local food, cooked over a wood fire, washed down with young, fruity, local wines.  Stay tuned for that story and more pictures.

In the meantime, here’s a super easy Catalan recipe for you to try: Tomato-Rubbed Crusty Bread with Ham or Cheese

Pa amb Tomaquet con Jamon -- Tomato-rubbed Crusty Bread with Cured Ham
Prep time
Total time
Super simple recipe to use as part of a tapas spread, or to accompany virtually any type of meal.
Cuisine: Catalan
  • 1 loaf crustry bread -- sliced
  • 1 head garlic
  • 2 - 3 very ripe tomatoes
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Jamon and Cheese
  1. Toast crusty bread slices (in Catalunya they use large round crusty loaves, but any type of rustic bread will work, even baguette).
  2. In a basket, place slices of bread. In a second basket, put tomatoes and whole garlic head. On a small plate, put slices of Jamon (Spanish cured ham, or you can substitute prosciutto), and slices of your favorite cheese.
  3. Instruct your friends and family:
  4. Cut the tomatoes in halves or quarters. Pull out a clove of garlic and slice it in half. Rub the raw edge of the garlic across the face of a piece of toasted bread. Keep the garlic on your plate to use again. Then rub the cut edge of the tomato over the toast, on top of where you rubbed the garlic. Squeeze the tomato as you go, so you have a think layer of tomato juice and seeds on the toast. Drizzle with good olive oil, and sprinkle with salt if you like.
  5. Now you can eat the toast as-is with any meal, or you can make a simple tapa by adding a slice of jamon and/or cheese on top. YUM!