One of the rivers that Barcelona lies between on the coastal plain, as opposed to having a river flowing through the city. You know those three tall chimneys you can see as you look up the coast in the direction of the Fòrum? They belong to the old Sant Adrià de Besòs power station – a monument to the industrial past of the area – and that’s where the River Besòs hits the sea.
But first let’s clear up a misconception: Besòs has nothing to do with kisses (Castilian besos). It has a written accent on the last syllable and is pronounced ‘beZOSS’. The most widely accepted etymology is the name Bissaucio, found in a document dating to 990, and meaning two willows, presumably referring to the vegetation on the river banks.
The Besòs flows through the industrial-belt towns of Mollet, La Llagosta, Montcada i Reixac, Sant Andreu (Barcelona) and Santa Coloma de Gramanet, originally providing irrigation for Barcelona’s crops. But with industrialisation, by the 1970s and 80s it had won the distinction of being the most polluted river in Europe.
It was cleaned up in the 1990s and and finally the Parc Fluvial del Besòs along the last nine kilometres of the river was created. Since then, abundant wildlife has returned to the area – otters, for example, which hadn’t been seen for 60 years. As a headline in La Vanguardia newspaper proclaimed in April 2013: ‘El Besòs, de cloaca a camino fluvial’ (The Besòs, from sewer to riverside walk).
Bon profit (BON prooFEET)
What you must say if you see people eating. And eating is an extremely serious business here. Like you pop round to the mechanic mid-morning to ask them when they can check out your dodgy brakes. All is silent. You step over bits of engine on the pavement, sidle in past all the cars with their guts out… no one around. Right in the back, they’re sitting round a folding table in their greasy overalls, they have a red and white checked tablecloth and napkins, and pa amb tomàquet and ham and sausages, and steaming tall glasses of coffee. You’ve intruded on a sacred ritual: l’esmorzar (breakfast). “Bon profit!” you say and sidle out again.
For many years I believed that the Campionat de Botifarra held in the mountain village where we used to spend our summers was a botifarra – i.e. sausage – eating competition. Honest! We lived outside the village and rarely took part in the activities, but I have to confess a sort of morbid interest in trying to imagine how many sausages you would have to stuff down and in what space of time. And why was it a separate event from the costellada – the lamb cutlets barbecue – which took place in the special barbecue area by the river? Years later I found out that botifarra was a popular card game – el joc de la botifarra. The botifarra group cooking and eating bash is called a botifarrada.
Whatever, botifarra (pronounced bootiFARRa) is the blanket term for sausages, both fresh (fresca) and cured (cuita or curada), all made with finely minced lean pork and seasoned in different ways: botifarra blanca, botifarra catalana, botifarra negra and bisbe (these two are a kind of black pudding).
By the way, una botifarra is also a rude – well, obscene, says Diccionari.cat – gesture raising the arm and bending it. In a word: ‘up yours’.
Do share your anecdotes, stories and questions in the Comments.