My beautiful city: Valencia

The book we are presenting this afternoon is titled Valencia, like the city that welcomes us. It is published by Media Vaca, a small Valencian publishing house some of you may know, and its authors are the poet Bartolomé Ferrando and the photographer Rafael de Luis.

Valencia is the third in a collection of books about cities that we have titled My Beautiful City. It is presented as an alphabet, so it will be a closed series of 25 or 26 titles, each one dedicated to a city whose name begins with a different letter.

So far, we have published three titles: Tokyo, Zaragoza, and Valencia, a recent addition.

This alphabetical constriction forces the book on Tokyo to disqualify others on Toledo, Timbuktu or Tuscaloosa. The one on Zaragoza, which claims the letter Z, rules out the hopes of some fervent supporters of Zacatecas, Zurich, Zagreb and Zamora. Valencia has imposed itself over Valladolid, Vilnius, Vienna, or Vladivostok, very interesting cities which no doubt deserve special attention.

Why Valencia and not Venice? Why a collection about cities?

It is not hard to find an answer to the second question: cities are nowadays where people’s lives mainly unfold, where things happen. Even countryside life is regulated and decided in cities and according to the ideas and interests of those who live in cities.

There are many books about cities and for all tastes. We must say that, in general, the majority are aimed at tourists, trying to attract the visitor. These are books that evidently speak well of cities: they describe nice scenery and fill them with a catalogue of monuments and bars.

Our intention, however, was not to occupy the space that already covers this type of book, and we have made an effort to flee from complacent books and trivial guides that are easily accessible to almost everyone in the world. This effort has led us to make several decisions. Firstly, the authors of My Beautiful City are artists and writers who live and work in the selected city. This difference is essential. People usually talk about their city as a place they naturally love but also naturally despise. Those who love, hate, as we all know, since deep down this is an identical passion. We have verified that this circumstance complicates things when it comes to defining projects, but makes them all the more interesting.

We do not want to speak of the city exclusively from a stereotypical point of view either. Paris is not the Eiffel Tower, and one can live in Buenos Aires without hearing tangos. The city is not only what the city dresses up in but, especially, the people who live in it. It is true that citizens resemble their cities, but it is no less true that cities can end up resembling those who live in them when their inhabitants have the will to change things.

The three titles of My Beautiful City resemble their authors and are very different books. They could have been so many other things but have ended up becoming what they are for a variety of reasons. Tokyo takes the form of a children’s book and talks about the animals that live in the city. Many readers will be surprised to discover that in our cities, and especially in a metropolis such as Tokyo, there is an interesting animal life outside of zoos. A second and more thorough reading of the book will reveal that it also talks about money, because money is also an important matter in Tokyo.

Zaragoza does not speak of animals, or money, and does not look like a children’s book. It is a gallery of portraits and an anthology of short stories. Eighty very brief portraits of people who lived or passed through the city, sorted by theme rather than chronology. The series is opened by Our Lady of the Pilar, who visited Zaragoza on 2 January 40 A.D., followed by Miguel Pellicer, a carter that lost a leg in an accident and, thanks to the Our Lady’s intervention, grew back again; he is succeeded by Leonardo Buñuel, a rich man from Calanda who played the drums with sticks taken from Pellicer’s crutches, and Leonardo is succeeded, in life and in this book, by his son Luis, a film director. And so on.

And Valencia? Why a book about Valencia? When we started to think about this collection, I knew there would be a book about Valencia. It is quite possible that we invented the collection just so we could make this book. To the whim of the authors we must add the whim of the editors. Whatever the case, I must confess we have given it much thought and have considered many possibilities. Perhaps it would have been preferable and more in tune with Valencian ingenuity to dedicate the letter V to the city of Vannes, where Saint Vicente Ferrer is buried, and talk about Valencia from that sensible distance. Since we do not know the city or any of its 60,000 citizens, but we do know authors from Valencia whose work we admire, and would like to help promote, it was an easy decision, and also the simplest and most reasonable.

This is why we are publishing this project by Bartolomé Ferrando and Rafael de Luis. It does not stem from a Media Vaca commission like the two previous books, but it fits perfectly with the spirit of the collection. The authors will talk in greater detail about the project and the book, but I would like to take this opportunity to express our satisfaction at having been able to publish it and our joy at being able to present it here today, and to thank Bartolomé and Rafael for making the work so pleasant.

I mentioned the title My Beautiful City had a story, and I would like to recount it briefly. It is an invention of José Cardona El Persa who, in the fourth issue of his publication La beca del artista (The Artist’s Grant), dedicated a particular homage to the city in this short text I will now read, as a nod to El Persa, the book Valencia, its authors, and all those present today.

The city that welcomes us is bewitching and prodigious; its pavements are itineraries of salvation; its atmosphere, inevitable life force.

The city that welcomes us travels with our eyes, inside our hearts; its light intertwines with the skies from all the cities we may know.

The elevations of the city that welcomes us are the guide to the peaks of every city, its abysses the guides to the depths of every city.

The city that welcomes us is the daughter of the sum of our hopes, mother of our uncertain tomorrow.

A part of us faces the mosaic that would reflect the image of the city that welcomes us; in trying to arrange the tassels, its profound contradiction becomes evident.

But our love for the beautiful city that welcomes us is immeasurable; its most portentous wonder is our capacity to imagine it as it is: coherent in its declared impossibility.

Vicente Ferrer

Text read during the presentation of the book Valencia at the MuVIM on 30 October 2009.