My name is Elisenda Sola-Sole. I’m 52 years old, and I have been living in the United States, specifically in the state of Maryland, near Washington DC, since I was 2 years old.
My father was born and raised in Igualada, and my mother in Terrassa and Barcelona. I was born in Tubingen, Germany where my father was teaching at the time. We spent every Summer in Barcelona with my grandparents and relatives. My daughter lives there now and I try to visit as often as I can.
Catalan was my first language and the language we spoke at home. We have a famous family story about how one day when I was 5 or 6 years old the Ambassador of Spain came to our house. Bending down he asked me very sweetly “Hola niña, ¿Hablas español” and I replied very adamantly “No! Parlo Catala!” My father loved to tell that story!
I have been a bookseller for 20 years, and I’ve had my current bookshop in Kensington, Maryland for 10 years now. I sell used, out of print, and unusual books, vintage photographs, and such. I like to think of my shop as a community cultural center. I host poetry and author readings, book discussions, and many other groups. I’m not sure, though, about the future of books and bookselling. The internet, ebooks, and the economy have changed the business very much. But I’m not as pessimistic as most. I once heard someone say that they base their life on Unfounded Optimism. That’s my philosophy too.
Over 20 years ago my parents created a non-profit foundation, the Fundacio Pauli Bellet. The purpose of the foundation is to support and promote Catalan culture and literature in the United States, and specifically in the Washington DC area. The foundation maintains a library of books in Catalan on the second floor of my bookshop.
I’m always surprised how many Americans are familiar with the Catalan culture. Barcelona is a very popular travel destination. With the independence movement in the news laterly, people seem genuinely interested. Of course, I always have to explain that Catalan is not a dialect of Spanish! We have a beautiful paper model of the Sagrada Familia in the library and so many peple identify it right away. Except for the woman who asked me if it was a wedding cake.
Eight years ago, another bookseller and I decided to bring the “Dia del Llibre” to Kensington. Thus was created the Kensington Day of the Book Festival. The first year we had 11 local authors set up along the sidewalk. We gave out roses. It rained. The second year we were surprised when over 40 authors signed up! The Town allowed us to close one block of the street. We rented big tents and gave out roses. It was very disorganized, and no one understood the roses, but it was a success! Now in it’s 8th year, the festival has grown to cover three blocks and includes over 100 authors, poets, publishers, and community organizations. We have author and poetry readings, a children’s program, live music, and new this year, a food court with four food trucks. Unfortunately, we stopped giving out the roses a few years ago. People just couldn’t get it. One day I’ll figure out how to incorporate them.
I hope to bring the festival to you through Twitter, with a little bit about my shop and the Catalan Library, and, I hope, a sense of what it’s like to be a Catalana in the US. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity!