diumenge, 28 setembre de 2014

History in the making

So, at 10.35am on Saturday 27th September 2014, in a solemn act within the walls of the historic Catalan governmental palace in Barcelona, the 129th Catalan  President - Artur Mas - signed the decree calling the Catalan "independence referendum" for 9th November. And here he is:

Artur Mas speech in English por vilawebtv

divendres, 26 setembre de 2014

What happened on 11th September?

So, finally, what happened on the 11th September?
Well, firstly, why is Catalonia's "National Day" on the 11th ? A long story, better explained by Wikipedia or some of my previous posts but in a nutshell; in the War of The Spanish Succession, Catalonia backed the wrong guy, the guy from Austria - with the support of a variety of other European countries such as England and Holland. They lost. England do not come out of this very well, as seeing they were losing, they cashed in their chips with the Treaty of Utrecht, got some gains such as Gibraltar, and left the Catalans in the lurch. They held out alone before Barcelona finally fell, after an epic year-long siege, on 11th September 1714. This was effectively the end of the war and any kind of independence Catalonia had enjoyed within the confederation of the Spanish kingdoms. This day is now commemorated as Catalan National Day with a series of emotive acts during the day, and some kind of independence reivindication act in Barcelona. These events have got bigger and bigger over recent years, with over a million people in 2012, perhaps 1.5 million in 2013 (when they/we formed a 400km human chain), and this year....

.... police estimates say there were 1.8 million people there this year! That is one hell of a load of people (out of a population of 7 million) but who am I to argue with the police! Just looking at the pictures and maps it is clear that there were at least a million, probably a lot more.
To spice things up this year, the idea  was to occupy the two main avenues/boulevards/streets which go through the centre of Barcelona diagonally before intersecting. These roads are about 30 metres wide and we did 12km of them, thus occupying a minimum of 360,000 m2 - plus huge pavements and the many people spilling into side streets away from the crowd, and intense sun. As experts seem to think you get between 2 and 4 people in a square metre on a typical demo, then do the numbers. Anyway, perhaps between 10 and 20% of the population of Catalonia were there. Can you imagine something similar in another country? And the organization? 7000 volunteers got this organized, registering people, selling t-shirts, publicizing it, finding parking spots for 1000 coaches, ensuring the red/yellow effect came off, organizing concerts, stages, speeches, covering press needs etc... This was not a government or political party organized event, just one more example of how the independence movement here is the best example in 21st century Europe of a bottom-up movement pushing its "leaders" onward!
We each had to wear either a red or yellow t-shirt and find our allocated strips in the street so as to form a huge V shape in the colours of the Catalan flag.
Here are some news articles and videos on these links. What you will notice is that, much more important than the numbers are the smiles. A beautiful, emotional, peaceful time was had by all.

Excellent photos

More cool photos.

Videos and photos - aerial shots.

La diada de Catalunya from Alexandru Costin on Vimeo.

dijous, 18 setembre de 2014


Problemes amb internet tota la setmana m’ha impedit publicar un anàlisi calmat sobre lo que està passant avui a Escòcia, i així ara només faré aquestes 4 ratlles....

Comencem amb un contundent, Catalunya no és Escòcia i visa versa.

Parlant des de la distancia, i així potser m’equivoco, però tinc l’impressió que a Escòcia el tema de l’independéncia és top-down, o sigui un idea que bàsicament ve de “dalt” i després mou les masses. Crec que l’idea del referendum, encara que fos el somni per una minoria (?) de gent, rep la espenta gran bàsicament del partit SNP i sobretot del seu líder, el Alex Salmond. A les eleccions del 2011, el SNP va obtenir un 45% del vot però una majoria de diputats – 65 dels 129. Així van complir la seva promesa electoral i van posar en marxa el referendum – amb l’acord de Londres, ja que el govern britànic ha respectat la majoria democràtica. Des de llavors que han passat per mil debats civilitzats i la publicació de tot tipus d’informes sobre els pros i contres, i poc a poc, la gent s’ha anat sumant – fins arribar a avui, que ja deuen rondar el 50% a favor del Sí. 

També hi ha molt de motiu polític en la campanya del SNP. Pel que entenc, un dels arguments principals és que a Londres sovint surt un govern conservador (Tory) i ells mai voten conservador. Trobo que aquest argument fa aigües, perquè un cop independent, que pensen? Que Escocia mai tindrà politics de dretes ? Trobo que d’aquí xx anys els empresaris o conservadors escocesos muntaran el seu partit i serà un país “normal”, ple de dretes, d’esquerres, de gent bona i dolenta. No serà una utopia, sinó un país “normal”. 

A Catalunya està més que clar que és al reves. Un bottom-up moviment, on centenars de milers de persones, i entitats de base, han pressionat fins fer esclatar la política tradicional catalana i aconseguir que un grapat de partits, representant 2/3part del parlament han decidit organitzar un referendum. Però no està acceptat pel “Londres espanyol”, Madrid, ni s’ha pogut tenir cap mena de debat o campanya civilitzat. Una altra gran diferencia és que aquí els partits pro-referendum sí que son de dretes i esquerres i no passa res, ja que saben que tots cabran en el nou país.

Per que mirem a Escòcia, doncs? Crec que simplement per 2 motius; 1. enveja, que ells poden votar.  2. Si acaben votant Sí, obligarà la UE a pronunciar-se per fi sobre el futur de “nous” estats dins de la UE. Evidentment els acceptaran i així veurem més clar les mentides de Madrid.

Que votaria jo? Ni idea. No tinc prou informació ni he seguit el debat de prop, per saber com els anirà millor al futur. De vegades és millor poder portar endavant el teu país, però també sortir d’un gran (per mi) país com és el Regne Unit, pos, fa mal. Escocia no és Catalunya, però les diferencies entre Espanya i el Regne Unit encara són més grans. Catalunya no té res a pelar dins Espanya i hi ha mil motius per marxar, però és diferent allà, on la democracia encara funciona, relativament. Repeteixo, lo millor és que deciden els escocesos!
Well, I was going to write a couple of well-thought-out posts on the Scotland vote, but we’ve been without internet for almost a week and the voting is already on us. So here’s just a quicky before the celebrations (?) start.
Catalonia is not Scotland, and visa versa. Yes, I know half of Catalonia is in Edinburgh tonight and the other half is home praying but I just thought I’d point out a couple of differences. Or at least the way I see it, though I could be wrong, being more than 500 miles away....

The Scottish independence process is basically a top-down movement. Although many Scots have probably dreamt of the idea of independence for years, I think the whole idea of actually going for it now comes from one party (or even one person, according to a buddy of mine), the Scottish National Party. The SNP won the 2011 elections with 45% of the vote but a majority of MPs (65 out of 129). So they carried out their campaign promise to organize a referendum, and the British government went along with it. It’s called democracy and is, apparently, the least bad political system known to man. Over the last couple of years, Scotland has been able to hold civilized debates and carry out Yes and No campaigns to ensure everyone has enough information to be able to make a decision. Little by little the Scottish govt seems to be winning and bringing more and more doubters over to its side, to the point where it is something like a 50/50 Yes/No split now, with the results coming out in a few hours.

Besides this, another point I think I’ve picked up on is that the Scottish process is a very political one. A chief argument seems to be; if they go independent they won’t have to put up with any more conservative governments (and will live in a left-wing utopia forever?). Personally, I think this is a weak point as I’m pretty sure that once a few years have gone by, a right-wing Scottish party will appear of course. 99% of “normal” countries in the world have both left and right-wing politics and I don’t see why Scotland will be, or should be, any different.

The Catalan process is as different as chalk and cheese. It’s definitely a grass-roots bottom-up movement where it’s the consistent force of hundreds of thousands of citizens which has forced the politicians in power to make a move. To the point that in just 4 years, we now have a 2/3 majority of MPs in favour of independence, and organizing a referendum. The “Spanish London”, Madrid, though, refuses to allow it and so any hope of a calm and collected debate and campaign is out of the question. Basically if it goes ahead, it will be a unilateral referendum, whatever the consequences...  Another difference is that here the pro-indy parties are from across the political spectrum; right-wingers, radical left, greens, republicans, you name it, they’re included!

So, what’s with the Scottish obsessions this week? 1. Envy. All we wanna do is vote too!
2. If Scotland does vote Yes, this will force the EU to explain whether “new” states will be allowed in the EU or not. Obviously they’ll say yes (can you imagine EU wanting to get rid of economically stable democratic countries?), so Madrid will just have to take another slap in the face!

And yours truly? What would I vote? No idea, I haven’t followed the question closely enough to be able to judge what’s for the best. Obviously I know the benefits of small countries governing themselves, but I also know that the United Kingdom is still a comparatively great country to belong to. Catalonia is not Scotland, but an even bigger difference can be found between Spain and the UK. I can see a thousand reasons for Catalonia to get the hell out of Spain, but the UK is different - it's a country where basic ideas like respect and democracy are still, relatively, intact, and maybe they can still get on together.... who knows? Let the Scots decide, is the best option... and may the most convincing arguments win!

dimarts, 9 setembre de 2014

Big day on 11 September in Catalan independence process

So, you're wondering what's happening in Catalonia? 
Well, the Catalan government is still promising an independence referendum on 9 November. And the Spanish government is still saying this isn't going to happen. Meanwhile all eyes are on Scotland (more on that another day) and on this Thursday, 11 September. This day is Catalonia's National Day - when they remember losing their independence through the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714. Different activities are always organized and over the last few years a key component has been the huge gathering in Barcelona in favour of independence. This year, they hope for a million people to come together - and to complicate matters, position themselves in yellow or red shirts so as to make a 12km V-shape in the colours of the Catalan flag!! Watch this space to see if they can pull it off - or we, as we'll also be there !
They/we will be occupying the two principal roads crossing Barcelona which form a V-shape; that's V for voting, voluntat (will power), and victory as in Winston Churchill's famous gesture. In England we also give another meaning with a different V-shaped gesture which may actually be a clearer message to send to the Spanish government...

dilluns, 8 setembre de 2014

September gurls - Big Star

Encara mig de vacances - només treballo de tarde fins que comencen les classes el dia 15 - aprofitem per fer coses per casa i estar en els xiquets. Podriem estar recollint les garrofes que, encara que no hem de guanyar ni un euro, ens cauen al mig del jardi i algù les ha de netejar - però preferim anar en bici o anar a les festes de Tortosa o anar a la platja....
Still half on holiday, as I'm only working afternoon-evenings till the kids go back to school and our students start on the 15th. We should be doing the traditional activity in September - picking up our carob beans but... the thing is that this used to be an important task back when people had very little and everything counted. Carob beans provided a good source of food for livestock in the winter. When people stopped depending so much on the land, the next generation would still collect them to sell as apparently they are used for interesting processes. The seeds from the bean, correctly processed, provide an interesting thickening agent for ice cream and many medicines apparently. Nowadays, though, even this market has fallen through the floor and you'd be lucky to get a couple of €uros for a sackful of beans despite the back-breaking work it entails, in hot sticky September weather. I'd leave ours on the ground but the problem is they fall on our "nice neat gravelled" patch of the garden [see photo] so need collecting anyway, whether we sell them or not. Plus they attract rats. Rats just love to eat them.
However, given my back and leg problems, I'm gonna take it easy - in 15-minute sessions (probably still be after them when next year's harvest comes along!). Much prefer to go to the excellent secluded beaches we have around here...

dimarts, 2 setembre de 2014

Sort of back to work now...

Ok, ja tornem a estar aqui, almenys en cos. La ment encara està mig de vacances - i si afegim que fins el 15 de setembre els xiquets no comencen l'escola i jo només treballo de tarde-nit, pos, encara farem alguna cosa més; festes de Tortosa, platja, alguna piscina ....
Hem passat 3 setmanes a Anglaterra, i ara toca tornar a adaptar-nos als horaris/menjar/ritme de vida/temps aqui ja que 3 setmanes donen per molta desconexxio!
Finally back here again - back home? Who knows, as "home" is a tricky concept! After 3 weeks in England where we completely disconnected from our normal life, now it's the time to adapt once more to timetables/eating habits/work hours/weather etc here. Luckily it's a soft landing for me as, even though I started work yesterday, the kids are still off till the 15th and I am only working afternoon-evenings until then, so there'll be plenty of time for beaches and playing still... and maybe a bit of blogging as we have many things to mention regarding our holidays!

dimarts, 26 agost de 2014

Anything goes - Ella Fitzgerald

And finally, imagine adding the amazing songs of Cole Porter to the voice of Ella Fitzgerald - pure magic! While other 18 year olds were looking out for Bruce Springsteen or U2, there I was looking for special offer on Ella Fitzgerald jazz cassettes!

dilluns, 11 agost de 2014

T'ain't nobody's business if I do - Bessie Smith

From Billie Holiday, someone (probably my brother) said you should try Bessie Smith. So, off to Barnsley library we went...

divendres, 8 agost de 2014

Summertime - Billie Holiday

A l'estiu el blog se calma una mica, i habitualment fem uns quants apunts pausats i tranquils sobre un tema o grup de musica en concret. Aquest any, també. 
Quan tenia 15 o 16 anys, era una esponja amb ganes de saber-ne tot sobre tot tipus de musica, i ves per on, vaig acabar descobrint a la Billie Holiday - basicament per l'historia d'ella. 
As usual the blog will slow down over the next few summer weeks, with a few mono-themed songs to keep the heat at bay (which doesn't necessarily mean I have gone on holiday and am not sitting behind the front door with a loaded shotgun, Mr. Burglar).
This year, jazz/blues singers. When I was about 15 I had a huge thirst for music knowledge. Raiding my parents' collection, local libraries, friends' LPs, studying music magazine, I wanted to know and to hear everything. So as friends were listening to the latest 1982 hit, for some reason - basically for her tragic history - I stumbled across Billie Holiday.

diumenge, 3 agost de 2014

Looking back, and onwards...

Interrumpim aquesta serie d'apunts interessants per posar una mica de publicitat - encara que més que publicitat, són més ganes de compartir en vatros la nostra satisfacció a la feina ben feta que hem aconseguit fer aquests anys gràcies a la confiança de la gent que ha volgut treballar en nosaltres.
En fi, potser heu vist a la columna de la dreta que tenim un altre blog on intentem posar apunts sobre temes de llengua o alguna feina que hem fet? Bé, ara hem fet una pausa de l'estiu per mirar cap enrere i resumir aquests ultims 3 o 4 anys. Si us interessa, clikeja aqui. Si no, pos, igualment vaig a posar un exemple a continuació - vam tenir l'oportunitat de posar l'anglès a aquesta joia d'espot promocional de Tortosa.
Interrupting this run of interesting blog posts with a cheap plug for our work! Seriously, more than publicity for our humble little company, I just fancied sharing with you our satisfaction with the variety of work we've managed to do over the last few years thanks to the amazing clients who've taken on our services.
Some of you may have noticed that over here on the left I link another blog - the one I run with my partner (and wife), speaking (far too rarely) about language issues or highlighting some of our work. Well, the latest post is a sort-of summary of all we've done over recent years. If you're interested, click here. If not, you're still getting one example below - we wrote the English subtitles for this brilliant promo video of Tortosa (where we live).

dijous, 31 juliol de 2014

Bordo Sarkany at the Tortosa Renaissance Festival

Una de les coses que més m'agrada de la Festa del Reneixement, a banda dels 72 hores de desconectar totalment del segle 21 i la feina, i gaudir amb familia saludant la gent que no has vist en tot un any, i bevent cervesa i menjant pel carrer etc, és la possibilitat de veure grans musics pel carrer. Aquest any hem descobert aquest grup.
The Renaissance Festival in Tortosa is a great time - 72 hours disconnected from work and worries, just enjoying a grand time with family meeting all your friends out and about, eating and drinking, checking out all the activities - and for some, the "enjoyment" of staring at a telephone screen meanwhil to be able to inform other people what they are doing - but above all, for me, I love all the live music. This year we discovered this great group from Hungary. The videos are not from the Tortosa festival as I was too busy having a good time to get all my electronic devices out (as the actress said to the bishop)...

dimecres, 30 juliol de 2014

Tortosa Renaissance Festival

Com cada any des de fa 19, hem tornat a celebrar la Festa del Reneixement a Tortosa. Aquí unes paraules en anglès i unes fotos que intenten captar una mica la grandesa d'aquesta festa.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but that's only true if you're a good photographer with a good camera, and not taking photos of moving people in the middle of the night... so, to try and give some kind of idea of how amazing the Tortosa Renaissance Festival (click) is, I'll throw in a few words before the dodgy photos.
Four days of non-stop activities, re-living the 16th century splendour of Tortosa. Mornings are more for browsing the oldie-worldie street markets and checking out some amazing buildings, old universities, convents, palaces and the like, while listening to street musicians or joining in with activities for the kids or investigating interesting exhibitions of 16th C documents and objects. Middays, with the sun high and 30º in the shade, are for resting. On an evening, time to dress up in home-made Renaissance-style clothing and hit the streets of the old part of town. About 20 groups of street theatre, acrobats, musicians, are found in every public square all night, or parading the streets. Thousands throng the streets, enjoying the vibes, checking out great food, drinking beer, dancing, singing, or going to more formal open-air theatre shows until the early hours ... 2am, 3am, you name it! Just like the old days!

divendres, 25 juliol de 2014

Brian and Catalonia /or/ Catalonia and Brian

CATALÀ: Inspirat, o enganyat, per un company, aquí van 4 ratlles que intenten explicar molt personalment com em vaig convertir en catalanista! (la versió anglesa, a sota, té més detalls i anècdotes i és molt més recomanat!)
A l’estiu del 1987 vaig venir aquí per primer cop però no sabia que estava a Catalunya. Vam fer vacances a Salou, i em va semblar un paradís! Tant que, quan vaig acabar l’universitat amb ganes de fer un any sabàtic, vaig decidir venir a “Espanya” a ensenyar anglès. Vaig fer la formació adequada a l’estiu del 88 i al setembre ja tenia feina a Tortosa. A poca distancia de Salou, la meva primera sorpresa va ser que aquí la gent no viu en hotels ni veu sangria ni porta barrets mexicans. Però igualment la gent s’ho passa bé, i passar un any aquí de bar en bar, de platja en platja, ja em semblava bé.
Pensava que era Espanya i només remotament em sonava el nom de Catalunya per haver llegit el llibre de Orwell, Homenatge a Catalunya.
Tot seguit ens van donar classes d’espanyol gratis pels treballadors (anglesos i irlandesos) a l’acadèmia on treballava. A poc temps, però, ja em van explicar que la gent aquí parlava català – però em van convèncer de continuar amb l’espanyol “per si vols viure en un altre lloc.” Un argument estrany i el meu primer error! Si ja havia decidit venir aquí, ara per que pensaria en marxar a Salamanca o Peru? Lo primer any, em donava l’impressió que Catalunya deu ser com un comtat anglès i que val, semblava que tothom parlava català però no era problema perquè a mi em parlaven en espanyol. I poca cosa més sabia de tot plegat, ja que el primer any era bastant “de festa”!

El segon any ja vaig començar a conèixer gent de veritat i fer amics, i un o dos, amb qui tenia molt en comú, eren catalanistes dels bons – em van explicar tota l’historia i vam visitar alguns llocs junts i em van convèncer que Catalunya, més aviat o més tard, seria independent.
Al segon any aquí també vaig conèixer una catalana, el motiu perquè vaig quedar un tercer any i encara estic aquí.
Poc a poc, em vaig adonar que hauria d’aprendre català ja que és la llengua d’aquí i de la gent. Realment, ara crec que ningú és bilingüe del tot del tot - al fi i al cap tothom vol parlar la seva llengua principal, per molt bé que parlen espanyol, i mentre no em podien (o no volien) parlar-me en català, jo sempre seria l’estranger.
Però sóc tossut – i dropo – i em va costar fer el pas. Vaig fer molts amics, i vaig passar una temporada vivint amb la família de la meva novia, i vaig començar a entendre el català. Al final, potser pel 93 o 94, em vaig posar a estudiar en serio, vaig arribar al nivell C, i des de llavors que ja gairebé mai parlo l’espanyol – només quan vaig a Barcelona!

Entre els amics, estudiants i la família, em vaig reafirmar en l’idea de que Catalunya és diferent. Té una historia gloriós i un present que cal respectar. La gent és diferent; pensen, viuen, treballen, i fan cultura d’una manera diferent. Això no seria un motiu per l’independència en si, si Espanya fos un país que accepti les diferencies – però no ho és. Per sobreviure com a país, nació, un poble, ja pensava fa 20 anys que s’hauria de fer el pas que estem a punt de fer. I la majoria de gent amb qui parlava llavors també ho pensava. Lo que passa, crec, és que en aquells anys 90 ho somniaven però pocs imaginaven que es podria fer i pocs feien res concret per a aconseguir-ho – només els “radicals” com els meus amics. Ara, en una mena de “collective emergence”, és com si tots ens hem adonat al mateix moment que si fem lo que estem pensant tothom, pos, sí, ho aconseguirem. [Em consta que el sentiment pro-indy no estava tan clar a tota Catalunya, però és lo que jo respirava aquí].

Als 90, amb la novia, que s’esdevindria en la meva muller, i comprant una casa, i treballant, i gaudint, doncs, poca política vaig seguir (no teníem ni televisor) però només vivint aquí i mirant l’historia passat i recent, el tema estava més que clar. A partir del 2000, ens vam posar dins de la PDE i també vam començar a participar en altres activitats socials-catalans, i poc a poc, vaig anar agafant encara més motius per pensar que calia estirar de la corda.
Com molta gent, vam pensar que l’Estatut aconseguiria almenys més respecte i un millor tracte per Catalunya, i vam acabar anant a la mani del 2010. Allí ben poca gent cridava “volem l’estatut” - natros només vam sentir un milió de veus cridant “independència.” Al final, el PP havia aconseguit lo que el meu amic i companys feia 20 anys que intentaven....
Inspired, or duped into this, by a colleague into explaining how I became a Catalanist – here goes my story.
Wait – what’s a Catalanist? Well, given the nasty connotations the word “nationalist” has had over the years, a long long time ago Albert Einstein, upon offering his support for the Catalan cause, suggested that those in favour of independence should call themselves Catalanists rather than Catalan nationalists.
So, where to start? While at university I came on holiday here one summer in 1987 without ever realizing it was Catalonia. Salou, a kind of sunny Blackpool where everyone speaks English and drinks a lot. I loved it.
Back at university, in my last year (87-88) I realized I didn’t want to move into a degree-related job straight away, and I needed to do a gap year. I checked out all the options of going to faraway struggling nations in Africa and central America but eventually chickened out and decided to go for a nice safe European country. Hey, if Spain is all like Salou, it must be great – thought I. So I did my TOEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign language) course, went a few lunchtimes to the language lab at university in an attempt to learn some Spanish (didn’t), and/or meet some girls (didn’t), and in September 1988 I was offered a job in Tortosa (southern Catalonia) teaching English, a mere 60 miles from Salou. Party-time I thought!

I arrived here with a suitcase, Spanish dictionary, tennis racket and phone number of my new boss. I still didn’t know this was Catalonia. The only reference I had to Catalonia was having read Orwell’s Homage To Catalonia at university but I still hadn’t put two and two together. Yeah, Barcelona features heavily in the book (big clue), but I concentrated more on the political lessons to be learned – that is, I developed a healthy cynicism of left-wing politics. My healthy cynicism of right-wing politics had already come with my birth certificate, being born in South Yorkshire.
So, is Tortosa like Salou/Blackpool? No, it’s more like a kind of run-down York but without the tourists. That is, a historic city full of old buildings and a rich history, and people living a “normal” small-town life, not drinking gallons of sangria or wearing Mexican sombreros down the disco. Anyway, I like(d) it.

On my first day at work, September 1988, the school provided us with a Spanish teacher for free, and I started having 3 classes a week and got to a decent level within my first year. This teacher, and my students, were the ones who let me into the secret – hey, you’re in Catalonia and although you’re studying Spanish, the people speak Catalan first and foremost. But the Spanish teacher managed to convince us to stick with learning Spanish as that way you can “travel anywhere in the rest of Spain, or South America.” Big mistake. I didn’t want to go anywhere else. It’s a bit like going to live in Germany and they tell you to learn English so you can go somewhere else! Everyone around me, students, staff at the school, shop workers, bar owners, all spoke Catalan all the time, only changing into Spanish to speak to me – thus making me feel the odd one out, which I was! To tell the truth the mistake was also amplified by my stubbornness  - as the year went by and people started to suggest learning Catalan, I stuck it out with Spanish. The more they insisted, the more I did – especially as I’m not known as a great language learner. One extra language would have to be enough. I could see Catalan would help me, but I wasn’t going to give in that easily. Anyway, the rest of the year went by in a blur of good times, bars, tapas, drinking, beaches, student parties ... so I decided to stay a second year. 

In year 2 (1989-90) I made big friends with one of my classes full of unemployed students who were coming every day, all morning, for a free course. We had loads of time for chatting and I was starting to get interested in local events and to find out just where I was. I made big friends with a young guy my age who turned out to be a firm believer in Catalan independence and an expert on history. Having said that, even he was willing to switch to Spanish to talk to me so I still saw no rush to get into Catalan. Hey, I was only staying two years. Many weekends were spent meeting this guy and his friends, seeing local historically relevant spots (especially from the Civil War), going to watch Barça football club, and we even visited the Basque country and some very (to put it mildly) suspicious-looking bars and meeting places. I was swiftly swung over to the cause and could see that if my friend’s version of history, and the present, was true, then I too believed they should become independent. The following 25 years have only reaffirmed this.
Almost everybody I met in those two first years believed the same, that Catalonia was a different country and that it should become independent. For most, though, it was a kind of dream with no expectation of it ever coming true and, so, they were making no effort to make it come true. The committed campaigners, like my friend, were few – but, looking back, it’s clear that it would take very little for the other, traditionally cautious, Catalans to decide to go for it. Language-wise I stuck with Spanish, thinking, through my stubbornness and laziness, that if Catalans are bilingual surely they can speak Spanish to me and amongst themselves. Big mistake too. I now believe nobody is actually bilingual, in the pure sense. However well you speak different languages, there’s always going to be one that you feel is “your language”, and this is going to be the one you want to speak of course. 

During year two, I met a girl. This led to my decision to stay a third year. And a fourth. During year four, the only flats I could find to rent were dingy and in dodgy areas, so my girlfriend’s parents suggested I move into a spare room they had. Probably so as to keep their eye on me, but also as they were accustomed to a house full of lodgers as many cousins and nephews spent long periods of time with them, in Tortosa, the “capital city”, when they came up to Big School from their smaller villages. So I was now living and eating with a Catalan family. They would speak Spanish to me, but obviously Catalan amongst themselves. I could see I should be speaking Catalan or I would always be the mad foreigner in Tortosa. Also the odd snippets of the language I was managing to throw out (Good morning; I’ll have a beer etc) were getting great feedback as people love to see you trying to integrate.

In 92 or 93, I think, I managed to find a dingy flat in a reasonable area of town, so I moved out of the family’s home. A year later my girlfriend moved in with me – thus causing a certain degree of “coldness” in the relationship with her parents! I got a long-term permanent contract teaching English and she also got a job (she’d been studying on and off the first couple of years we were together) and I realized that Tortosa was to be my home for the foreseeable future. So, I set about learning Catalan seriously. Books, classes, work work work, and by about 1995 I’d reached and passed what they call “level C” (equivalent to level B2 in the EU level system), and could now speak Catalan fluently – and better than Spanish. Old students I’d known since 1988 still spoke to me in Spanish (some still do! Old habits die hard...), but I was now speaking Catalan all the time (outside of class of course). Virtually everybody in Tortosa speaks Catalan as their first language, and I only speak Spanish now on the odd occasion though I do watch Spanish films, TV, read the press, books etc.

The 90s went by in a blur – girlfriend, friends, good time, little money, no TV – and as such, I didn’t really follow local or national politics but thanks to my girlfriend’s (or wife after 1996) family, friends, and students, I never doubted that the Catalans would one day go for independence.
Historically, they seemed to be right. They have had a glorious history, and have been crushed down time and time again by the Spanish establishment only to rise again. Not rise in a nationalistic nasty way, but as a people with a different culture, a different language, a different mind-set and approach to life and work. It’s too long to go into here but socially and culturally the dividing line between Europe and Spain should not be the Pyrenees but rather the southern border of Catalonia. The more I lived here, the more I have come to realize there is a huge difference in many factors. So what, I hear you say? Can’t different people live together in peace and harmony? Yes, but only through mutual respect. In fact, Catalans have tried to get on with Spain for ages, only to find the Spanish establishment trying to do away with these differences time and time again, sometimes subtly, sometimes more blatantly, and even violently.

As our life stabilized and we got a house and a telly, and eventually kids, I became more interested in current affairs once more. Around the year 2000 we got heavily involved in a campaign group to protect the river Ebro and its natural Delta against some crazy plans designed by Mr Aznar’s right-wing Spanish government. Getting back into politics through this campaign, it seemed clear that Catalonia would only have a future as a “different entity” and its language would only survive, if they went for independence. But still, it was something talked a lot about but very little mainstream action was happening. My friend and his buddies were still publishing leaflets, selling flags, and going on demos but it wasn’t a mainstream movement yet.
But, through our time in the Ebro campaign group and my wife’s collaborations with groups promoting the Catalan language (even though every local person speaks it, there has been a huge influx of new-comers who need to be offered the chance to learn Catalan too), and social activities at the local library we were meeting more people, with more reasons, who believed Catalonia needed to move on.

So, the new (2004) socialist government in Madrid offered Catalans the chance to re-write their “statute” (a kind of constitution for the autonomous nations/regions in Spain). Catalans jumped at this and drew up a document which vastly improved their relationship with Spain. But, it was all too good to be true. The socialists themselves watered it down, and then the conservative party took the “statute” to court and managed to get all the new, improved, important parts eliminated. Big mistake. In response, over one million people demonstrated in Barcelona. And the cry we heard on the streets that day wasn’t “we want this improved relationship”, but rather “Independence” directly. Refusing their chance to offer Catalans a new deal, the Spanish political establishment had set a snowball rolling which they have no chance of stopping...
Ever since then, all those Catalanists in the closets have come out, and come out in numbers! There have been annual demonstrations, increasing in number, and increasing in the clearness of their demands. As you may know from previous posts, over 80% of Catalans believe they should hold an independence vote, and around 50-60% would go for independence.
Now, this is all out in the open, there are loads of books, articles, websites, debates explaining the reasons and advantages (and disadvantages) of independence, so, unsurprisingly, I am now more of a Catalanist than ever!
[re-reading this I can see that specific reasons for becoming a Catalanist as promised, are few and far between, but I have done the "objective" side before - here I just wanted to ramble and let my hair down...]

dimecres, 23 juliol de 2014

Update on Catalan Issue #CorreL'estiu #Pepetimarieta

By popular demand, the "monthly update on the Catalan Issue" for non-Catalan readers returns... what's new? Very little actually. First, re-read the last few posts on Catalonia I've written. OK, done that? 
Well, the 9 November referendum is still on the cards according to the Catalan govt and about 80% of the populace. Mr Rajoy and the main two political parties in Spain insist it isn't.
Catalonia is in the process of passing a Catalan law which will provide a framework for the referendum to be legal. Spain insists it's illegal according to their constitution.
Catalonia is already manufacturing the ballot boxes (out of eco-friendly card). Spanish "experts" say the police would be sent out to remove them. The Catalans have their own police force, though. What would happen?
Maybe Catalonia will do a clever swap, changing the (illegal?) referendum for a (legal) snap election with a coalition of parties proposing a Unilateral Declaration of Independence? External big-wigs like the EU and the US government don't like this route apparently - they want a negotiated settlement.

Meanwhile, the civil society pro-indy organizations are setting up another "over-one-million-people" activity in Barcelona on 11 September.
Watch this space....
UPDATE: I'm among the motley crew on the beach in this photo.

Meanwhile, a bit of summer fun....

dilluns, 21 juliol de 2014

Years may come (Hermans Hermits), blogs may go... on.

Bé, en aquests ultims mesos que no he penjat gaires apunts, m'ha passat per alt el 5é aniversari del blog! Vam fer 5 anys el 23 d'abril. En aquests 5 anys i 3 mesos hem arribat a penjar 848 apunts i cançons, i diu la maquina que hem rebut gairebé 60.000 visites. 
Les coses han canviat en aquests anys; al primer any vaig aconseguir complir amb l'objectiu de penjar una cosa cada dia, i durant dos anys més potser vam anar a 3 o 4 per setmana. Des de llavors ha anat baixant el ritme fins arribar al "lamentable" ritme del 2014 - 23 punts en 7 mesos! 
Al principi només escrivia en català, ara intento fer apunts bilingües. Els primers anys rebia més visitants i comentaris - cosa normal, ja que la gent no visita tant un blog mig mort com ara; i també crec que le gent hem canviat. Em consta que gent continua visitant (perque m'ho diuen en persona) pero ja no es paren tant  a escriure un comentari. Gràcies al gran augment en smartphones, facebooks, twitters, i whattsssups, ara tots tenim molt més acces a tot - i molt menys temps o paciencia per res. La gent tendeix a llegir moltes coses rapidament en diagonal i au, però prendre el temps i calma per escriure un bon apunt (el blogger) o pensar en lo que has llegit i comentar-ho (el lector), pos, cada cop semblen més habits del passat.
Aquests ultims mesos despres de sortir d'un problema de salut i caure en un pou de feina, a més a més que el meu estat d'anims, m'ha portat també a centrar-me molt menys en el blog - cosa que em fa rabia perque m'encanta escriure! Com és habitual quan no puc blogguejar, aquests mesos he pensat en deixar-ho correr, però com sempre he decidit continuar encara que sembla que cada cop em costa més...
Missed the 5th anniversary of this blog while I was busy making other plans. 5 years old on 23rd April! In these 5 years and 3 months it turns out I've written 848 posts and posted about 848 songs, and received almost 60,000 visits.
Things have changed over these years. The first year I almost achieved my "post a day" aim and in years 2 and 3 I managed about 3 or 4 per week. Since then things have slowed down dramatically, or even ground to a halt for most of 2014!
At first I only wrote in Catalan, imagining my audience would be basically people I know, but about 3 years ago I started writing in English and Catalan so as to please my international visitors. Visits and comments reached a high point around year 2 to 3, but have since fallen. One reason is obvious; if your blog is half-dead (case in point) people don't keep coming back. But I also believe the boom in smartphones (and social networks and the dreaded whassup thing) has led to a change in habits. The easier it is to surf, from anywhere, any time, the more we surf and the more we waffle and the less time we have to take anything seriously. Many people just skim straight through stuff all day without the time or patience to read it carefully or leave any kind of comment. (I'm not complaining for my blog as my aim isn't to be "famous", just I think this is a rather common problem looking at many sites I visit). I'm also guilty. I used to comment all the time on a local newsite, but no longer find the time for it. Back to my blog, I do have a couple of loyal commenting visitors - owe you a beer guys! - and also a few local friends still read me but no longer write anything (they just tell me in person "Oh, nice post"). 
Given my struggles to keep blogging - this year's excuses include recovering, physically and mentally, from a health problem, work overloads, family and friends, other ways to "waste" my time on the net etc - I have thought, for the umpteenth time, about giving it up. But, as usual, I've decided to carry on. There's life in this dodo yet...