The pine now blocks the view of Barcelona much more, but the city is still down there, trapped in its day-to-day life and alive in the books that Manuel Vázquez Montalbán wrote from this office in Vallvidrera.
The saga of detective Pepe Carvalho, the historical-political and gastronomic essays, the newspaper articles and the poems that make up the prolific bibliography of Vázquez Montalbán would not have existed without the physical and spiritual height of this refuge at the foot of Tibidabo.
For a child born and raised in the Raval after the war, Vallvidrera was another world. At the age of ten, Manolo went up the mountain on a school excursion and chance placed him right in the garden of the house that he would buy thirty years later.
Anna Sellés preserves Manolo’s office, today a museum of Montalbian memorabilia
It was a simple summer house, located at number 63 Alberes street and which belonged to the family of the publisher Fernando Canoggio.
Manolo took it over in 1978. The following year the Laras gave him the Planeta award, the best gifted in Spain. The money was used to build a modern house on top of the old one, a suspended structure that made it possible to gain a lot of space on the first floor. There she settled in the studio, a workplace that today is a museum of Montalbian memorabilia.
As soon as you enter, to the left, there is a woman with her breasts uncovered. It is a very delicate canvas, in black and white. She is in front and it is difficult to hold her gaze. I think of Charo, Carvalho’s lover, demanding a commitment that he will never accept.
The varnished wooden shelves are still full of books and memorabilia, objects that balance nostalgia with a sense of humor. There’s a bottle of wine with a picture of Franco on the label. Nearby smile Groucho Marx and Vladimir Lenin. A little above, a puppet of Manolo himself and an Osborne bull.
It is an office with good furniture, with parquet, a Persian carpet, an Egyptian scribe and the ship’s hull the rose of alexandria .
It is also the study of a tenacious writer, capable of writing at all hours and at full speed, x-raying Spain, with his head demanding strenuous typing from his fingers.
The IBM computer looks like an oracle without question. Next to him, the calendar sheet is still that of October 2003, when Manolo was struck down by a heart attack at the Bangkok airport. His wife, the historian Anna Sellés, did not want him to fall and stopped time keeps death at bay.
He fought against the Franco regime and was imprisoned. Detective Carvalho gave him fame. Galindez and El Pianista confirmed the great height of his literature. He portrayed the transition with journalistic rigor and the irony of the smart good guys. He was always a maverick committed to social justice.
Manolo’s memory is also preserved in the Library of Catalonia. There they keep his documents and among them has been found the manuscript of an unpublished novel that he wrote in 1960 and that Ernest Folch will publish in the autumn.
Vallvidrera’s house is full of books. In the corridor on the first floor are the recipe books and essays on gastronomy, one of his passions.
Anna doesn’t know what to do with them and everyone else. The new editions are stacked on top of the old ones. They form a very fertile offspring, the constant rejuvenation of Montalbian literature.
If Carvalho still finds readers, it is because his Barcelona continues to be the best defined. It is not a city of events and selfies but of free and authentic people despite adverse circumstances. She looks a lot like Juan Marsé’s.
The iron fireplace is in the room on the ground floor, in a spacious and bright room, overlooking a terrace surrounded by pine trees. When misanthropy consumed him, Carvalho burned books in it.
The complete works of Josep Pla, the red volumes that Destino published, have resisted. The Planet trophy shines next to him.
The kitchen is also very spacious. Manolo cooked daily. Above all, rice and stews. Tripe with chickpeas, meatballs, kidneys in sherry and rice with espardenyes his favorite.
Carvalho also liked to cook. He invited his neighbor Fuster, a man just as lonely. They smoked cigars, drank a lot and well. They complained about the course that Barcelona was taking, especially with the Olympic Games. They thought it was an unnecessary and rather wicked party. He anticipated what later meant dying of success.
Detective Pepe Carvalho’s Barcelona continues to be the best defined
Alberes street is no longer the same. Manolo could no longer park his Jaguar in front of the house. Now this pacified , with wider sidewalks and speed bumps. Tourists visit it stuffed in small buses that go up to Tibidabo.
Carvalho and Montalbán would be nervous seeing how their shelter has become overcrowded and trivialized.
Luckily they would still have the kitchen, with the leg of ham on the marble, the fireplace to burn the useless culture and the office to do justice; and luck, above all else, that Anna is still there, talking to them, keeping them up to date.
Artists’ homes: the other chapters of the series