Following The Shadows
“Round and round and around we go, where the world’s headed, nobody knows.”
Remember those lyrics (Ball of Confusion, The Temptations)? Whoa! It’s time to get away. That’s what
my emotions are telling me. As flames have ignited everywhere in racial, economic and social protests;
as a pandemic has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands, globally, and there’s no chance for
goodbyes; as corporations are stymied and small businesses die; as the tally of the unemployed and
disenfranchised rises; and, as the political leadership crisis intensifies, my heart, like many others, aches.
We can’t escape the anguish. We must stand firm. But, just maybe, we can delve through memories and
dreams of faraway places and focus on the feeling of beauty, relaxation and a litttle intrigue for a
momentary diversion. When the New York Times suspended its travel section in April, 2020, the paper
asked its travel writers to write about a journey that changed them. Writing-that’s a sanctuary for me
and, similarly, here’s my story, Following the Shadows:
Every book, every volume you see here has a soul: The soul of the person who wrote it and those who
read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his
eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. –Carlos Ruiz Zafrón, The Shadow of the Wind
When someone recommends an “all-time favorite” book, you should know, immediately, that
it’s going to be a great one. “Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than a book that finds
its way into his heart.” Hence, that was the case for me with Carlos Ruiz Zafrón’s The Shadow
of the Wind. Come, follow me into the shadows and onto the fictitious path that weaves
through despair and trepidation.
Shadows and darkness and fear!!! El cuento es oscuro y espeluzante! Set in 1945-1956, Gothic
Barcelona proved to many to be a ghastly city of woe and gloom, having been decimated by the
1936 military uprising. This coup catalyzed the Spanish Civil War and brought vengeance,
repression and persecution to Catalonia in the most horrific ways. Amidst this backdrop,
someone heinous was seizing all books written by Julian Carax and burning them! But, why?
There is little joy in the pages of this mystery. Instead, the supreme tale grabs you with: history
and politics; a “velvety darkness” and ghostly shadows and characters; hopelessness and doom;
depravity and pain; passion and murder, unabated love and destiny. Wow, that’s a lot but, it’s
I’m not going to fully recount the entire story because you’ll certainly want to read it. Instead,
I’ll take you along the eerie Barcelonan route that my son and I explored, though in current day,
guided by the maps extracted from the novel and shown below:
With our mission intact, we’d arrived in Barcelona, on lay-over for a couple of days. Our explicit
aim was to explore each site notated on The Shadow of the Wind map- all else, for the time
being, was secondary. I had read the original story, followed by the prequel, Prisoner of Heaven,
and the sequel, Angel’s Game, during the previous couple of years and was captivated by the
continuing saga. Some places depicted on the diagram, I recognized from previous visits to this
wonderfully cosmopolitan city; however, on this jaunt, I yearned to see them again with
renewed interest and imagination!
Here goes! We were hanging out at the Mercado de la Boqueria nearby the opera house,
Licieo, on Las Ramblas, restlessly waiting for the walking tour to begin. You see, though I’d
initially planned this exploration on my own, by chance, I’d stumbled upon “The Shadow of the
Wind Tour” on arrival in this labyrinthine city. Fantabulous!!! So, sitting in the market’s El
Central Bar with anticipation, we were surrounded by butchers; lifeless beings-dead, dried and
smoked; newly departed fish; swiveled and dried fruits; and, plucked vegetables. A befitting
atmosphere while we devoured squid, flashed fried while still squirming and, the offering was
Time came to head in the direction of the marina to our meeting point, Centre d’Art Santa
Monica, once a 1626 Renaissance Period convent which, today, exhibits contemporary art.
Unlike the delineation on the map, our tour of the path of 10 year-old, Daniel Sempere (story’s
protagonist) began at site #4, the secretive entrance of “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books.”
This illusive portal was secluded under an archway in a cramped alleyway that immediately
gave way to intimidation. On this “scar of a street” called Calle del Teatro, plenty of shadows-
effected by the murkiness of early dusk- enveloped the supposed opening to this enigmatic library
where forgotten and arcane books were retired. Of course, this included the final copy of the book by
Julian Carax, The Shadow of the Wind. Right here, Daniel’s father and library guardian, Isaac Monfort,
allowed Daniel to choose a book to read and safeguard. Alas, the adventure began…
The marina (stop #5), where we’d dallied a bit prior to arriving at the meeting point, just to absorb the
spot where Daniel first encountered Villain Lain Coubert , was behind us. Now, we plodded along Las
Ramblas , to the picturesque square, Plaça Reial (Stop #6) in the Barri Gòtic and stood under the Gaudi
lamppost, taking in the celebratory and magical activities of the Festes de Santa Eulàlia. The elegant
residence of the book’s characters, Gustavo Barceló- owner of an immense bookstore, and his niece,
Clara -Daniel’s first love, overlooked the plaza’s restaurants, bars and night spots. In Plaça Reial, Daniel
had stumbled upon Fermín Romero de Torres, a homeless, but dramatic personality, soon to be Daniel’s
and his father’s best friend.
Stops #7 and #8 were along Calle de Ferran and Calle le Jaume. The route led us further into the barri,
past magnificently constructed buildings and into the plaza in front of Iglesia Santa María del Mar,
situated in the main center of Barri Gòtic economic activity. The Barceló housemaid, Bernadette, had
worshipped in the parish there. Behind the church, on Calle de Moncado, rests Santa Lucia Hospice,
today a museum; however, back when the mystery unfolded, the infirmary generally housed orphans
and the blind. Within these walls, the tragic love story of Julian Carax and Penelope Aldaya was
recounted to Daniel and Fermín by Penelope’s aged and devoted nurse, Jacinta. Also, the Picasso
Museo, where we ventured a day later, was only steps away.
For a writer, this would be monumental, if correct: Reputedly, the torpedo shaped Meisterstuck black
pen, said to be used by Victor Hugo to write Les Misérables, still sits in the window of the pen shop,
Papirvm, on the corner of Calle del Call and Calle Freneria (stop #9). This pen was the object of many of
Daniel’s fantasies and, through the course of the mystery, it was “bought, sold, and presented” and
changed hands several times, including into those of Daniel, Julian and Nuria Monfort- Isaac’s daughter
and Julian’s lover. With craftsmanship of more than 110 years, this pen remains a timeless symbol of
luxury and class.
Also along Calle del Call, though not depicted as an official stop on the trail, we paused at Sombrereria
Obach. This hat shop was the inspiration for the novel’s Fortuny Hat Shop on Rhonda de Sant Antonio,
owned by Daniel’s brawling father, Antoni Fortuny, “The Hatter”. At Fortuny’s, Daniel first encounters
his biological father, Industrialist Antoni Aldaya, both ruthless and wealthy, who redirects Daniel’s path.
Awed by the fact that Sombrereria Obach and the fictitious Fortuny Hat Shop have been referenced as
the best hat shops in Barcelona, my son returned to Sombrereria Obach before leaving and was fitted
at 2 Calle del Call for a hat, purchased solely to memorialize our adventure!
It was growing darker as we trudged along, stopping next at Plaça de Saint Felipe (#10), where the
Church and School of Saint Philip Neri are established. The façade of Nuria Monfort’s co-located
apartment building, dimly lit by a singular lamp, still shows evidence of pockmarks from the 1938
Spanish War bombings in which 30 people from the area, mostly Saint Neri school children, were killed.
Here, in Nuria’s shadowy and purported refuge, Julian Carax (aka: Villain Lain Coubert) found the
obscurity of a cheerless shelter. And, while lingering there, I could swear that I shivered from a brief
sinister gust accompanied by a slight fume of something charred. Could his spirit still be here?
On Calle Montsió near Plaça Santa Anna (#11), Els Quatre Gats has been situated since 1897 and, it is
frequently referenced in the saga as the chosen place for lunch, clandestine rendezvous and even
romantic encounters. In the past, a popular meeting spot for famous artists, like Picasso, Gaudi and
Casas, Els Quatre Gats swiftly became our coveted place for coffee and quick bites. As an interesting
tidbit, take note of this Catalonian translation: Els Quatre Gats= “The Four Cats” = “Only a few people or
people who are a bit strange or mysterious!
At last, we arrived at Calle Santa Anna (#2), only a few paces from our beloved El Quatre Gats and
Cathedral Santa Anna. The fictive Sempere & Sons Bookstore, which is a consistent site throughout The
Shadow of the Wind series, was supposedly located here. Specializing in rare and secondhand books,
the shop also housed the apartment of Daniel Sempere and his father. As a point in fact, the Ruiz Zafrón
inspiration for Sempere & Sons is a real Barcelona book shop, Libreria Antiquària Farré, specializing in
antique books. Not far at all from the location of the imaginary store, it advertises: “Our stock includes
rare and odd books in all fields, including bibliophilia, vanguards, first editions, history, Spanish Civil War,
local monographies, hunting, cooking, law, magazines, and etcetera.”
Rounding the corner, back on Las Ramblas(#3), we were again where we could ramble past the human
statutes, Cathedral Barcelona, Ana’s Flowers, street dancers and inviting merchandise stalls. Actually,
we’d ended the walking tour with indications provided for Plaça de Cataluña, the prominent Passeig de
Gràcia and, Casa Batlló (#1), designed by renowned Spanish Architect Antoni Gaudi in tribute to
modernism structural design. (Casa Batlló is illustrious, recognized as a magical place and noted as an
UNESCO World Heritage site.)
The second part of the map, encompassing stops #12 and #13, starts at Avendida del Tibidabo and ends at Mount Tibidabo, the peak of Barcelona, where a most impressive viewpoint of the city can be gleaned at 515 meters. Dawn was breaking, and a purple blade of light cut through the clouds, spraying its hue over the fronts of the mansions and stately homes that bordered Avenida del Tibidabo. A blue tram was climbing lazily uphill into the mist (Ruiz Zafrón ).The Funicular del Tibidabo completed the journey to the Catalonian summit of Mount Tibidabo. This was the backdrop of the imagined Adalya residence and environs. And oh, how its magnificence camouflaged the evil and malignancies behind the doors. Atrocities had shattered numerous lives hidden within these shadows.
Mysteries unfolded. Tragedies played out. Sad tales of cruelty, woe and loss rendered despair.
Somehow, through the darkness and gloom, rays of hope for a better tomorrow peered through. Angels
and demons; secrets and bravery; betrayal and triumph…they’re all there in these shadows. Come; step
into the perplexity of an enigmatic Barcelona.
Epilogue: “Ball of Confusion: Oh, yeah, that’s what the world is today” -The Temptations. Somehow, this
travel experience, derived from my archive of journeys, seems befitting for the times. It’s the breather-a
memory of a gripping adventure; while, being tied to a tragic story. A tale, that ends with similar hope
and anticipation, to what we covet, right now. By reliving it in a vicarious way, at this juncture, I feel
heartened. There’s a lot of gloom, fear and confusion out here. We are cycling through chaos, political
morass and an incredible sadness whose genesis is nearly as onerous as the historical realm of the
period in which this mystery is set. The future is never assured; however, even in the worst of times,
there has to be belief, persistent effort and vision to achieve victory. May you and I survive the times
we are living in and put confidence in prayers for a mended world; positive and focused intention; and,
destiny. What’s more, let’s not forget to find some levity- memories and dreams of intrigue and the
allure of distant places. Barcelona: I’ll be back!
Note: As I completed this post, Carlos Ruiz Zafrón, Shadow of the Wind author, succumbed to colon
cancer at age 55, on Friday June 19, 2020.