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ANDREU AVEL.LÍ ARTIS, ALIAS
SEMPRONIO, THE CITY'S GENTLEMAN
by N˙ria Escur

(...) A chronicler of Barcelona par excellence, Andreu Avel.lí Artís (1909) is officially working as such since 1972. His career as a journalist started under Primo de Rivera's dictatorship and, from that time until today, the range and diversity of his uninterrupted journalistic activities have materialized in the form of thousands of articles. He was the first editor of "Tele/eXpres" and of the first weekly magazine published in Catalan, "Tele/estel".
A pedigree journalist, a playwright, a commentator on life in the different districts of Barcelona, a painter, a sharp conversationalist at the "Ateneu" gatherings, a good talker on the radio and the director of the "Mare Nostrum" programme on TVE (Spanish National Televi-sion Channel), all in one, he has been writing a daily column on currents events in the city of Barcelona for almost forty years now. He has quite an extensive list of books and novels to his credit and may pride himself on his collaboration in numerous journalistic projects such as: "L'opinió", "Mirador", "Revista de Catalunya", "Destino", "Diari de Barelona" (for which he wrote a column called "Las cosas como son", i.e. Things as they are). He won both the "Eugeni d'Ors" prize and the "City of Barcelona" journalistic award (1960). "In my times, there were two kinds of journalists: those who work on Paseo de Gracia, and those who work in the V district. Maybe it should not have been that way", he states.
Now he is the one who starts the interview with a question. He asks me about what I want to know. And he starts putting me off the track in such a subtle and clever way that he succeeds in leading me up to his own ground with astonishing easiness.
His physical appearance, from his new slimmer looks - he has lost a few kilogrammes lately - to his snow-white beard and the meticulously ironed collar of his shirt, seems to defy the passage of time. A neat image which naturally suits that 92-year-old gentleman who takes leave of the ladies by bending down and kissing their hands and roguishly asks them "against" whom they are married.


Let's see. Ask me concrete questions.

What do you like less about today's journalism?
I am a bit hard of hearing, you know ...

Could it be because you don't feel like answering this question?
Well, maybe you're right.

In our society, do we talk a lot just for the sake of talking?
When, on television, I see all those old men at ministerial meetings, It occurs to me that some of them must be wearing one of those devilish devices like mine so that they can hear better. The truth is that these things don't work neither for me nor for my wife. Legend has it that the King has got hold of a good one, but I would like to talk to him about it in person and ask for his honest opinion. I'm sure that he is dissatisfied with it too.

All right, but I was asking you about what you do not like about today's newspapers.
Then I'll give you an example: the excessive fuss which is being made of football. So many commentaries by players, coachs and some of my fellow journalists really get on my nerves. Neither do I understand why, on television, they should show the same so-called best pieces of play so many times over, forwards, backwards and again ..., this does not make sense really. I am not even slightly interested in it. The only thing I watch with interest is the match itself. When it's over, I switch off the television. Now I would tell you something were it not for that thingumajig ...

What do you mean, the tape recorder? Don't worry about it.
Then I'll tell you that I'm quite happy that "Barça" did not win the football championship this year. That spared me having to witness all those clownish celebrations at the Mercè church and on Plaça Sant Jaume. It's a contemptible spectacle.
(...)

But you have not said anything about today's journalists yet. Do you consider that, generally speaking, they don't write very well?
I do indeed. The fact is that, years ago, people started to work as journalists to earn their living, but they each still had the soul of a writer, or of a poet, or of whatever they felt like being deep down. So, in my times, we worked as journalists to make some money, but we all also had a few unpublished texts, some books of poems, a play that still had to be performed or an allegedly fabulous novel kept in a drawer... I doubt that this is still the case with today's journalists. Nowadays, they mainly complain that they are underpaid.

And you? Do you consider that you are well paid?
Now I have no idea, I don't even know exactly how much money I am making. But I have always been able to make a decent living, even if at times it was as a result of working in several places at the same time. I have been working for the "Diari de Barcelona", writing about my things which are "things which have been lived and things which have been asked". I never asked myself which issues were of greatest concern to the world at large when I chose to express any of my "a posteriori" reflections, what they call nowadays an "analysis" or an "opinion" piece. It is a laudable approach, but it's very different from what I used to do, because I had to think of a subject matter and then do some research on it, develop it and transmit it all by myself. My tasks ranged widely, from commenting the construction works being carried out on the Moll, to arranging an interview with Elizabeth Taylor who had just flied to Barcelona. (...) Would you like to know what was my trick of the trade as a journalist?... Well, to do just what I felt like doing. And to get other people to become accustomed to my determination. I chose not to pay attention to those who felt antipathy or indifference towards me. Look, I wrote a daily column for almost ten years in a row. And the editor, Enrique del Castillo, never, and I mean never, had to advise me about the people I should or should not interview.

They say that, during the time when Gaziel was editor of the "Vanguardia", the newspaper used to allot its first page to the obituary notices, because they actually were of greater interest to the readers than the news.
Some things bring in money. And there are jobs people do for money. In earlier times, you were not a journalist, you worked as a journalist, mainly to support your family. But the scope of your interests extended well beyond the mere criteria of newsworthiness, productivity, business or advertising ... We were people with intellectal ambitions whose daily instrument was journalism.

Among all the personages you wrote profiles of, which one made the strongest impression on you?
Well, It's rather strange, because I never wrote music reviews and I don't really know anything at all about that world. Nevertheless, the personages who made the strongest impression on me were all musicians. They are passionate, solid-minded, upright people.

And what about your work as a chronicler of the city?
There's nothing to it. Nothing at all. There are people who still believe that I get paid to be the city's chronicler. But it's is an absolutely symbolic title. It's as if I had been made a marquis or something like that. In Madrid, the body we call Ministry of the Interior has established certain rules that one has to adhere to in order to be a chronicler of the city. The prime requirement for applying for that title is to have written at least one article about the city per year. For heaven's sake ! I used to write three or four articles every day. In Madrid, I think that they have eight or nine such official chroniclers and that, once a year, the mayor arranges for them to get together.

Are there professionals who could be considered to be your successors?
There are some who have taken that task even more seriously than I have. I'm thinking of Lluís Permanyer, for instance. When I read his articles, I feel admiration for him and I think, well, my god ! he must have spent quite a few hours researching to get such and such piece of information, or to know about such and such date, or to find that particular photograph of Barcelona. My style of rendering consisted in getting the feel of the city's human climate. I did not bother that much about exact data.
(...)

What is your opinion of the Barcelona that has developed after the Olympic Games?
I have almost no interest in that post-Olympics Barcelona. My Barcelona is a city that remains anchored to urbanscapes that no longer exist. (...) For me, Barcelona was a passion. But I was never interested in the professions, social status or categories of its inhabitants. I was interested in what they told me and how they told it. Nowadays, when you watch television or read the newspapers, you realize that very few people seem to be able to hold an intelligent debate; they merely discuss the same issues over and over and round and round without ever coming up with any really original idea. I watch those debates, of course, but nothing ever comes as a surprise to me.
(...)