divendres, 25 de 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....
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ENGLISH:
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...]

5 comentaris:

  1. Brian - I feel I "know" you a lot better after this post - how you stumbled in an unplanned way into your life in Catalonia and how you grew to understand the language, the issues and the people. Very interesting, now prepare for the barricades my lad!
    P.S. "a house and a telly, and eventually kids"...I am surprised about the rank order. Surely the telly should be number one!

    ResponElimina
    Respostes
    1. Thanks. I don't usually write so personally, but I hoped this would give some idea of why/how I get the Catalan issue, and that I've not been brainwashed (I think!). It's also given me the opportunity to think back and see where these last 25 years of my life have gone as I've spent the last few days thinking about this post and preparing it mentally!

      Elimina
    2. Maybe you should write more personally more often as you seem to be good at it.

      Elimina
  2. Thank you for telling us this story Brian ~ excellent!

    ResponElimina
    Respostes
    1. Thank you for reading! Much appreciated after the time and thinking I had to put into this - though, as I say to YP, it's been great for me too to spend a few days looking back. Where did those 25 years go to?!

      Elimina