Wild and common-sensical guys

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The idea that Catalan folk are even-keeled commonsensical types given to occasional bursts of wildness is expressed in the formula seny i rauxa. The words, so onomatopoeically ideal, describe just that: a balanced blend of goodsense (seny) and caprice (rauxa). Mixing them together, however, has never meant anything close to a 50-50 recipe. Like a favourite cocktail you want to keep drinking all night, seny i rauxa goes easy on the hard stuff (the latter) while drowning in sensible filler. The way it is put together, like an advertising jingle for Catalan identity, the base line of any successful arrangement will always be seny.

Truth is, for a long time the advocates of seny would have nothing to do with its opposite. Seny, for any upright Catalan way back when, was all or nothing. When Torres i Bages (that nineteenth century Bishop of Vic with a street in every Catalan town) set about to extol its virtues, encouraging others to do the same, he understood seny to be the secret to modest religious piety—and rauxa was never part of the mix.

Seny would have certainly won the day (and the Catalans would be Swiss) if it were not for someone, likely from the middle class, deciding to do something on a lark—and liking it. Upstanding shopkeepers and tradesmen began to get silly, every now and then. Soon every seny gal or guy was having the odd wild and crazy moment, and the reason was clear: seny i rauxa was how the middle classes flattered themselves into believing that despite hard work, long hours, frugal spending and emotional restraint, they were really not that dull and boring after all.

The Catalan moneyed classes soon learnt how to use the formula to their benefit. Fearful of what rauxa might mean if unleashed, they turned seny into a capitalist weapon. Done right, the masses in the factories and most everyone else would work themselves to the bone, as many hours as needed or more, as long as there was some cause for celebration—a saint, a carnival, a football trophy—where rauxa could round out the equation. Too much madness, well that would be anarchy, so the stuff had to be dished out carefully.

Politicians caught on to the trick as well, using the formula to wield their power. When former Catalan president Jordi Pujol used his famous phrase “això no toca” (“now’s not the time for that”), he was effectively claiming mastery over common sense. He was the one who decided when something was relevant or not. He set the agenda. Anyone with a bit too much rauxa was out of order, and rightly pushed to the side. Most voters thought this was cute and endearing until Pujol admitted smuggling undeclared millions off to Andorra.

Nowadays the terms appear in the Spanish press because commentators think the Catalans have lost it, referring to the push for sovereignty. For the defenders of a unified Spain, advocating an independent Catalonia is pure craziness, and they call for a return to common sense. What they essentially want is for things to be like they were before, when politicians made deals with Madrid and never threatened to leave. In Catalonia it is just the opposite: the idea is to convince people that independence makes perfect sense. And if anyone dare say the flag waving campaign is too tame, they call for a unilateral declaration—and seny i rauxa are back together again.

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