8.45am Legend has it that in days of yore in Montblanc, Tarragona, there was a dragon who had to be kept happy each year with the sacrifice of a young woman. One year the daughter of an important nobleman was chosen, but San Jordi (the Catalan version of St. George) saved her by killing the dragon with his sword, sending a jet of blood in the shape of a rose spurting from the creature’s body. From there comes the Catalan tradition of men giving roses to their girlfriends and wives, as well as female friends and relatives, on San Jordi’s Day. That is also why April 23 is a day for lovers. First thing in the morning, Barcelona’s bakeries are full of pastries in the shape of dragons: big, small, filled with cream, marzipan, spinach, sausage — these are the main dishes of the day.
9am In return, meanwhile, the women give gifts of books to their male nearest and dearest. So, as well as flower stands, the city is also filled with book stalls. Catalan booksellers expect to make at least seven percent of their annual sales today. At 9am in the main Plaza de Catalunya, everything is about to begin: the FNAC and El Corte Inglés department stores have erected enormous marquees and the media are poised to observe the action.
9.31am Around 300 authors will be signing books in Barcelona today, among them international names including Jaime Bayly, Sarah Lark, Chuck Palahnuik, Christopher Paolini, John Verdon, Andrea Molesini, Maurizio di Giovanni and Susanna Tamaro.
11.37am Big queues are forming at the FNAC marquee, especially for actress and socialite Ana Obregón, who is signing copies of her book Así soy yo. “It is the first time I’ve come to Barcelona for San Jordi to do a book-signing,” she says. “It is a really fun festival. [...] There are people who have traveled from Málaga, Seville and Tarragona to have me sign copies for them. It’s incredible.”
12.17pm The novelist Almudena Grandes is one of the queens of San Jordi, always occupying the same place in the central El Corte Inglés marquee. Today she hasn’t stopped signing copies of her latest book El lector de Julio Verne. Nearby, star chef Ferran Adrià barely has time to breathe as he signs copies of his book The Family Meal. But those who are really attracting the crowds are Mario Vaquerizo — husband of pop singer Alaska — and Italian romance author Federico Moccia with Esta noche dime que me quieres.
12.56pm La Rambla, the epicenter of the festival, has been closed off for hours and people haven’t stopped browsing. One of those getting on best with the public is ex-bank robber Dani El Rojo, author of the bestselling Confesiones de un gángster de Barcelona (or, Confessions of a Barcelona gangster): “What I like the most is getting to know the public and talking with all kinds of different people, that’s why I’m having such a brilliant time.”
1.44pm Barcelona writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón, author of the bestselling The Shadow of the Wind, has his own marquee on Gran Vía—Paseo de Gracìa, where he’s signing copies of his latest book, The Prisoner of Heaven, of which publisher Planeta has created a special version with a new story for San Jordi. The line is so long that Planeta has started giving out free copies to avoid trouble.
5.37pm By the afternoon the roses that cost three euros this morning are now at two euros and dropping. Today 40 percent of Catalonia’s rose sales for the year will be made — around six million.