Terrorists on Aug. 17 drove a van into a crowd of pedestrians on Las Ramblas, the principal thoroughfare of Barcelona, killing 15 people and wounding at least 130.
The attacks provoked revulsion and sympathy throughout the world.
Several area residents with ties to the Catalan region were particularly shaken by the news.
Elisenda Sola-Sole, a Spanish native, has for a dozen years recreated Las Ramblas on Howard Avenue in Kensington.
Sola-Sole is the proprietor of the Kensington Row bookshop and founder of the Day of the Book Festival, which is held every year on April 23, the International Day of the Book, or on the Sunday closest to that date. Like the Spanish Dia de Libre festival held annually on Las Ramblas, upon which it is based, the Day of the Book Festival provides a venue for authors to read from and sell their works.
“My family is from Barcelona, we were just there in July for my daughter's wedding, and the whole family went,” Sola-Sole said. “We have a family apartment there where my mother lives in the summer and winter, and I usually go once a year. Besides my daughter and her new husband, we have so much family right in Barcelona. My mother is the oldest of 15, so you can imagine how many aunts, uncles, and cousins I have there. I did notice on this trip that there was more police presence. I think there has been a sense for a while now that something could happen.”
Sola-Sole said she hurried to get in touch with family in the area on the day of the attacks.
“On the morning of the attacks we were so worried,” Sola-Sole said. “I couldn't get in touch with my daughter, and although she works outside of the city, I was anxious until I finally was able to talk to her. My mother was able to talk to most of her sisters. One of my aunts was in the area but not on Las Ramblas, and another aunt lives nearby, but everyone was safe.”
Sola-Sole expressed confidence that the attacks would not shake the resolve of the Catalan people.
“The Catalan people are very tough and very stubborn,” Sola-Sole said. “The older generations lived through the civil war and then under the Franco dictatorship. They lived through years of terrorism from the Basque separatists and now are wanting their own independence through political and peaceful means. I have seen videos of people gathering and chanting ‘We will not be afraid!’”
In addition to her work with Kensington Row and the Day of the Book Festival, Sola-Sole is active with the Pauli Ballet Foundation, which was established by her father, Joseph, in 1987. The foundation’s mission is to support the local Catalan community and promote Catalan language, literature and culture. Roser Caminals-Heath, an author and professor of Spanish at Hood University, is a Barcelona native and an active participant in the Foundation’s events and activities.
“I travel to Barcelona often for reasons related to my books; in fact, I was there last month,” Caminals-Heath said. “My husband and I always stay at the Hotel Sant Agusti, the oldest in the city, just off Las Ramblas, on the very street that became an escape route for the driver of the van. Most of my novels are set in this part of town, where I was born and grew up and where my mother's family ran a little grocery store. Las Ramblas was my grandfather's favorite spot to take me for a walk after a day's work; now, when we go back, Bill and I always have a bite at the Café de l'Opera, across from the opera house, and then take a stroll in the evening. To me, Las Ramblas is a living proof of human diversity and tolerance in action. That it should be used as the stage of such carnage is beyond unthinkable. Shame on the brutal reapers of human lives on both sides of the Atlantic, both in my native and adoptive countries. Shame.”
Gonzalo Palacios, a retired philosophy professor at Prince George’s Community College in Largo, said he was deeply shaken by the news of the attacks.
“I was born in Venezuela almost 80 years ago and was raised in a family totally imbued in the Spanish culture,” Palacios said. “When I first heard of the terrorist attacks on peoples from all over the world in Las Ramblas, images of the cruelty and destruction of hundreds of years of war flashed in my mind. Images not limited by the Spanish/Catalonian geography or history but depicted by artists like Goya in his ‘The Horrors of War’ series. It seems all we have left to eradicate mutual hatred and cruelty is to replace it with mutual love and kindness.”