Have you heard of La Monyos?
I hadn’t until quite recently when my partner told me about the mysterious eccentric lady who used to live in Barcelona and was often seen walking on the Ramblas
Her name was Dolores Bonella i Alcazar and although not much is known about her life, there are many stories about who she was and what happened to turn her into a seemingly crazy street lady.
‘Ets més popular que La Monyos‘ is a famous Catalan expression meaning that you are more popular than the much beloved Dolores or Lolita as she was known.
In the early part of the 20th century La Monyos was a familiar and loved personality in Barcelona.
She wore elegant but shabby clothes and had her hair done in an elaborate bun. (A bun is a monyo or moño and La Monyos means the Lady with the Bun) She put flowers and other decorations in her hair and wore very theatrical makeup. She was often seen walking quickly up and down the Ramblas singing or calling out “Tinc pressa. Tinc pressa” She would talk with people and sometimes sing for them and they would give her money. Outwardly she was smiling and happy but she kept the secrets of her heart well guarded.
Lolita was born in 1851 and her family lived around the lively Ramblas area of central Barcelona. Later in life she worked as a seamstress in a shop making dresses and other clothes for wealthy clients. When at the home of one upper class family she met and fell in love with one of the sons. Their love affair produced a baby girl but then tragedy struck and here the stories start to multiply.
Was her child killed in a traffic accident?
Or according to some stories it was her lover who died in the accident and then his family came to steal the child and bring her up as their own.
Whatever happened it drove her out of her mind with grief and sadness and she lived her life alone, loved by many but intimate with few.
Many people remember her to this day and a man who grew up in the Raval area of Barcelona remembered seeing La Monyos many times and that she used to give sweets to the children.
The flower sellers on the Rambla de Flors used to give her flowers for her hair.
La Monyos died in hospital in November 1940 and it was said that someone paid for an expensive funeral – was it the same noble family or even perhaps her estranged child?
Other stories say that for years her tomb was never without flowers, given by the florists of the Ramblas.
In 1997 Mireia Ros made a film about the life of La Monyos which starred Julieta Serrano.
I watched the film, which is in Spanish, this evening. It is particularly moving at the end when Lolita, still young and beautiful, finds somewhere inside her the strength to come back out and face the world after the loss of her child. The pain had almost killed her but somehow she discovers it is possible to put on a brave and beautiful face, to adorn her hair, to dress herself in wonderful fabrics and colours and to go out onto the street smiling and singing. Lolita transforms herself into La Monyos and although she may appear crazy, she is a strong and brave survivor who choses life over despair.
To all who knew of her, she was a legendary figure and it was considered a privilege to have seen or met her.
1. ‘My grandmother was 10 years old when she used to see La Monyos walking around the Ramblas., but whenever she spoke about her it was as if she was seeing her that very moment. Because she was young she only knew what adults told her about the life of La Monyos but she told me that people used to exaggerate a lot and that no-one knew for certain the truth of her life and that those that did know it never told it. Everyone told the same story about the death of her daughter and so there must have been some truth in it’
‘La meva avia tenia uns 10 anys quan veia a La Monyos rondant per les Rambles, pero sempre que se´n parlava d´ella se´n enrecordaba com si la estigues veient al moment, al ser tant petita nomes sabia de la seva vida el que explicaven els grans, pero ella em deia que la gent exageraba molt i que ningu sabia del cert de la vida de La Monyos, i que qui ho sabia no ho va contar mai, tothom explicava la mateixa historia de la seva nena morta, aixi que jo suposso que algo de veritat hi deu haver-hi.’
2. ‘A real history. My great grandmother knew her personally and always said that she wasn’t as crazy as everyone thought’
‘Història real. La meva besàvia la va conèixer personalment, i sempre va dir d’ella que no era la boja que creien tots.’
Roser Martinez Casadevall