Friday, September 8, 2017

Catalans Want To Vote

Wednesday, 6 Sept, the Catalan Parliament approved a bill calling for a referendum on independence to be held 1 October.  This has been in the making for a few years, and many Catalans never thought it would happen – some still don’t.  Because during all those years, despite the millions of Catalans demonstrating each 11 September that they want to vote, the Spanish government has refused to talk to Catalan leaders on the subject.  They say it goes against the constitution (something many people contest) and that a referendum is illegal.  That voting should be illegal reminds me of the places where the law once said that women were not allowed to vote.  Those laws were changed.

The Catalan parliament was elected two years ago with the majority pro-independence coalition winning on the platform of organizing a referendum on independence.  And ever since that election, with that majority, the parliament has been moving forward, always asking that Spain negotiate with them so that it could be an agreed upon referendum such as Quebec held a few years ago, and that Scotland also held recently (in both cases, the independence option lost).  It has never been a case of negotiations where no agreement could be reached.  Spain has always simply refused to talk at all.

In response to the referendum bill being approved on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría condemned the Catalan leadership for carrying out what she called "an act of force" and for acting more like "dictatorial regimes than a democracy".

Not being a journalist and this being my blog, I am free to comment.  A duly elected parliament that is carrying out its electoral platform, presenting a bill for debate and vote, is hardly performing “an act of force.”  It is carrying out a democratic act.  This is what parliaments that serve their public do.  As for acting more like a dictatorial regime than a democracy, that could only be said by someone who hasn’t the slightest idea of how democracy functions.  What is dictatorial is for government to take no heed of people who want their voices to be heard.

If in fact holding a referendum goes against the Spanish constitution, maybe the constitution should be amended.  The American constitution, for example, has been amended 27 times.  The Spanish government, having little experience with democracy, doesn’t see that as an option.

The same day that the Catalan Parliament approved the law calling for the referendum on independence to be held 1 October, the Spanish Guardia Civil installed itself at the entrance to the premises of a small printing company near Tarragona. They had no court order so they couldn't enter and search. But it seems they didn't need a court order to stay there and stop and search every car and van and truck that came and went: employees, suppliers, delivery companies, everyone had to stop and have their vehicle searched.  They did this for 48 hours.

Today a court order was issued and seven agents of the Guardia Civil entered the printing company building. They were supposedly looking for up to 7,000 papers that pertain to the referendum. Everyone assumes they were looking for the paper ballots.   It turned out finally, after they searched for three hours, that they didn’t find anything and left with their cardboard box empty.

Last night, before this comedy act played out, Josep Maria Piqué, who has a small printing company, was inspired.  He figured that the Guardia Civil was about to confiscate all the ballots for 1 October.  But there are samples of them on the internet, therefore, he decided that if they were going to confiscate ballots that had been printed at the other company, he would just go and print some more. So he printed 45,000 ballots, enough for his own and the few surrounding rural counties.

Although I believe it is supposed to, Spain does not seem to have separation of powers between the government and the judiciary.  The judiciary clearly takes its instruction from the government and acts accordingly.  Thus, the Spanish government and the attorney general have been busy little bees, filing complaints with the Supreme and Constitutional Courts for every act the Catalan government has taken.  Most recently, this includes the referendum bill, the regulations pertaining to it, the transitory law that, if the Yes vote wins, would provide an interim constitution until a real constitution could be formulated and voted on by the public.  The original referendum bill was already declared illegal when the parliament attempted to debate it several months ago.  And charges have been brought against several people in the government accused of disobeying the Constitutional Court in doing whatever they have done to make the referendum a reality.  There are almost as many complaints connected to the referendum filed by the government with the courts as there are criminal corruption cases before the courts (with hundreds of people from that same government implicated).   

Because the referendum vote has been declared illegal, the Spanish government, district attorneys, and courts are going after anyone and everyone who is in any way enabling the event. People are being threatened with criminal charges and the possible loss of their personal property (including their homes). Today over 1040 warrants have been issued to a variety of Catalans: public officials and private individuals, including everyone in the Catalan government who has supported holding the referendum.

In the midst of this legal flurry, and at some personal risk, as of yesterday (Thursday) evening, 560 mayors had signed a confirmation that their town will participate in the referendum and provide polling places.

The person who perhaps runs the greatest risk is Carme Forcadell, the President of the Catalan Parliament. The Spanish government has already made public statements that they will go after her with criminal charges for disobeying the law in allowing the bill to come before the parliament to be voted on.  They call that violence and a coup d’etat.  Forcadell is already facing charges by the Spanish judicial system for having done the same thing with a similar bill several months ago.  At that time, that bill was blocked by the court and shelved.  The one this week was left to the last minute and processed on a fast track – not the usual procedure, but the only way to get around the Spanish government blocking it before it could be voted. 

Forcadell is not a professional politician. She's an educator who was the president of the Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC), a grassroots independence organization (the organization that organized "We want to vote" demonstrations attended by 2 million people each year for the last five years) and was elected to Parliament at the last elections on a coalition ticket of mixed political groups plus independents such as herself.  She is one of the great heroes of the moment.  Carles Puigdemont is another.  President of the Generalitat, he is by profession a journalist.  Oriol Junqueras, Vice President of the Generalitat, is a history professor.

Although Spain is ripe with corruption, the Catalans are lucky to have people like Carme Forcadell, Carles Puigdemont, Oriol Junqueras, dozens of members of the Catalan parliament, hundreds of mayors, and countless other people in the Catalan and local governments.  These are people who are committed enough to the public will to organize a plan, at personal risk, that hopefully will evade all the maneuvering of the Spanish government, Spanish puppet courts, and Spanish police, and set up polls where any citizen who wants to can check Yes or No and drop their ballot into a ballot box.  And they are doing it with no sure knowledge of whether the Yes or the No will win.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Chez Panisse

Reading a chapter of Alice Water's new book (Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook) in The New Yorker brought back memories.  Chez Panisse, the famous bastion of California cuisine, opened in Berkeley in August 1971.  This was just about the time that I moved to Berkeley with Uri, my first husband, as he was about to enter the Ph.D. program at the university.  We lived two blocks from Chez Panisse, the Cheeseboard Cooperative, and Lenny’s Meats.  Soon there was also Peet’s Coffee, Pig-by-the-Tail charcuterie, Poulet, the café at the French Hotel, and the Cheeseboard’s pizza shop – the best pizza in the whole world.  We lived in the Gourmet Ghetto.

President Bill Clinton ate at Chez Panisse once.  I ate there several times.  I ate at the more formal downstairs restaurant two or three times.  You would be seated and served.  There was no ordering of food, everyone was served the same meal.  You chose your wine.  And whereas the chapter I just read says something about the meal costing $3.50, I only remember that it was expensive.  And worth it.

Subsequently, Alice Waters opened a café upstairs and I went there often.  It wasn’t as formal and it wasn’t as expensive.  You chose from a menu where I always found so many good things that it was hard to choose, although I remember a goat cheese calzone that I was especially fond of.  The walls were decorated with posters of Raimu, the French actor who starred in Marcel Pagnol’s films, The Marseille (Fanny) trilogy.  One of the characters in those films is Panisse.

The café was where I usually went with my friend Judy.  She was one of my best friends for many years until one day when for some reason that she never explained, she didn’t want to speak to me anymore.  But when I think of Chez Panisse I usually think of the café and when I think of the café I think of those posters and of Judy.

My last meal at Chez Panisse was downstairs, on my birthday, with Manel.  Two days later we left California to go live in Catalonia.  We didn’t know what the menu would be that night and were presented with the serendipitous surprise of Catalan food.  Chicken (or was it duck?) with prunes was the main dish.  I don't remember, but surely Crema Catalana must have been the dessert.  What else could it have been?  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Digging Up Dalí

Today, here in Figueres, everyone is talking about it.  Out on the street, at the market, even the tourists are aware that this evening they are going to dig up Savador Dalí.

The Dalí Museum in Figueres, a former theater that was in ruins, was completely rebuilt and designed by the artist to make his museum.  When he died, he was buried under the floor in the great hall, covered by a huge tombstone slab.  This evening that slab will be lifted, his remains will be exposed, and DNA samples will be taken.  This radical operation will be done by court order in response to a suit filed by a woman who lives in Figueres and who says that Salvador Dalí is her illegitimate father.

Pilar Abel has been saying this for 10 years and has gone all the way in her legal battle to win this case.  Today´s news report on the subject said there were opinions on both sides of the debate and showed one shop owner who didn´t think it was true. 

But I think, why in the world would she battle so hard for so many years and at such expense (she doesn´t seem to be particularly well off) and subject herself to possible world-wide ridicule if she wasn't pretty certain it is true?  So my money is on Pilar.

Since Dalí left his properties and fortune to the Salvador Dalí Foundation and the state, surely they are hoping she will lose her bet.  If she wins, under Spanish law, she will entitled to a quarter of his estate.  This should be interesting.  Almost surreal.

Here's The Guardian's article for more:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Catalan Funeral

Sunday I unexpectedly attended a funeral. I had only found out the day before that Pere had died.  In fact, the Whatsapp came at 11:45 am, and he had died that same day at seven in the morning.  One of the people from the dog park heard it from another person, also from the park and who knew Pere better than any of the rest of us.  It’s a good thing that news spreads fast, because the Catalans waste no time in having the funeral.  One day you’ve died; the next day you’re interred.

Pere liked to tell to people at the park that he was younger than me.  This was true, but did not strike me as being particularly polite.  He was about three months younger, but he seemed much older.  It all fell apart for him months ago when he suffered a stroke from which he never fully recovered.  I’m not sure if he lived alone or with a roommate, but he was never able to return home and spent his last months unhappily in a nursing home.

Pere was a grumpy old man.  He wasn’t particularly jolly to speak with at the park, but he did have his good points:  He was a passionate supporter of the Barcelona Futbol Club and a passionate lover of animals -- or at least, dogs and cats.

He and his dog Chester were a fixture at the park -- always among the first to arrive in the evenings.  His love of animals was evident at the park where he would always come with a bag of treats for all the dogs – never mind that some of the owners did not want their dogs to be given treats.  For those he would wait until the owner wasn’t looking and sneak it.


Pere giving treats to his doggy friends

 Less evident was his ongoing feeding and caring for homeless street cats.  He took care of many of them, finding them homes if possible, and feeding the rest.  He didn’t have a lot of money – I believe he lived on a modest pension.  But he would be sure the cats had enough to eat, even if it meant that he didn’t.

When someone here dies, the music that is played most often at funerals is Pau Casals’ “El Cant dels Ocells,” (The Song of the Birds).  But there is a second song that also sometimes accompanies those who die, and it is “El Vall del Riu Vermell” (The Red River Valley) and that is what was played on Sunday.  Translated to Catalan, it is no longer the love song I remember about the cowboy lamenting his girl who is leaving the valley.  In Catalan it is about someone beloved who has left this earth (the YouTube video is sung in Catalan but the text is in Spanish).

R.I.P., Pere

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sant Jordi

Every year on 23 April, Catalonia celebrates the festival of Sant Jordi. Sant Jordi (Saint George) is the patron saint of many places, including England and Catalonia. George is the one who slew the dragon.  Here in Catalonia his feast day is celebrated as the Day of the Book and the Rose.
The rose represents the blood of the dragon that Sant Jordi slew. Where his blood fell, a red rose grew.
The business about the book is more recent. In the early 20th century, a Barcelona bookseller introduced the idea of the day of the book because Miguel de Cervantes died on 22 April 1616 and William Shakespeare died one day later on 23 April 1616 (which also happened to be his birthday). The idea of the book caught on and the festival has evolved to be one of the nicest holidays of the year.
This is the Catalan version of Valentine's Day in that it is friends and lovers who exchange these gifts -- traditionally, a book for the man and a rose for the woman. But the holiday isn’t just for lovers – the whole family is included and there are almost as many books for children for sale as there are for adults.
The Rambla in Figueres

Les Rambles in Barcelona
photo by Manolo Garcia

In every city, town, and village there is a street or square devoted to the selling of books and roses. In Barcelona you'll find the biggest stretch anywhere, all along the Rambles. Figueres also has a Rambla, even if it is much shorter, and that is where our celebration is held. And as always, on Sant Jordi it was packed from one end to the other.  (No Catalan festival is for the claustrophobic.)

Les Rambles in Barcelona
Photo by Pere Virgili

La Rambla in Figueres
The following day, one newspaper showed a photo of an elderly man, sitting by a window giving a red rose to an elderly woman who was in a wheelchair.  This was the husband of more than 50 years paying his daily visit to his wife who has Alzheimer’s and is in a nursing home and doesn’t remember him or the holiday.   
For about a week before the day, my supermarket always prints out a poem, the winner of a contest, with your receipt. This year’s was:
The streets fill with roses.
And you,
and that book,
are waiting for me on any corner.

(By Cristina Company)

Photo by Pere Virgili

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Old French Cars

Walking through the Place de l’Horloge on my way to take photos of the famous Avignon bridge, I happened upon a vintage car show that was being held in front of the city hall.  It was part of a week-long celebration of seniors – evidently all kinds of seniors.  Small as the show was, it had some interesting relics.  I have an abiding love of classic cars.  I’ve been to classic car shows and museums, if I’ve got my camera with me, I always photograph an interesting old car on the street, and I used to drive a classic car myself – a 1964 Volvo P1800.

There is more to French cars than old Citroens as I quickly found out walking through the small display.   I am most familiar with the Citroen 2cv which, I just discovered, was made from 1948 until 1990 – 42 years!    It is the icon of French motoring, and is probably the image that comes to mind when any of us think of a French car.  Certainly every American or Brit going native in the French countryside drives one in films. 

And then there is the black Citroen Traction Avant, the first mass produced front wheel drive car.   First produced in 1934, these aren’t as common as the 2cvs, but if you’re an Inspector Maigret fan, you are familiar with them because they used to be the standard police cars and one or more always makes an appearance in any episode of any of the Maigret television series.  (The BBC production with Michael Gambon is great, as is the French series with Bruno Cremer.  If you haven't seen them, you can watch and decide for yourself which is the better of the two.  Both are available at my Amazon store).

There weren’t more than 20 cars in the show and they weren’t all French.  

The one that won first prize was, in my opinion, a fabulous little thing.  I asked the owner what it was and darn, I didn’t write it down, don’t remember what he said, and having scrolled through dozens of old French car photos on the internet, can't find it.  All I remember is that it was a 1954 model.  Renault?  Peugeot?  Do you know?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Van Gogh Pilgrimage

As is sometimes the case when I travel, this year’s vacation included a pilgrimage.  Most years my vacation base is Avignon.  Avignon is a hub which makes it convenient for visiting other towns in the area, it has some great restaurants, it’s beautiful, provides for some great walks, and each time I go there it becomes more like a second home, so going there is enjoyable and comfortable.  The fact that it was once the papal seat means nothing to me except that it resulted in the monumental Pope’s Palace.

Arles, however, was always special because Vincent van Gogh lived there for 16 months and created 200 paintings and 100 drawings during that short time.  Many of these paintings are among his most famous.  It was where Gauguin came to live with him – a disaster of a visit that ended in Van Gogh’s mutilating his ear and setting off the series of his worst epileptic fits – what became the beginning of the end for him.

 I’ve walked in the Alyscamps, been to what was the hospital where he was treated, walked along the river where he painted his starry night over the Rhone.  Each time I visit, walking into town from the railway station, I pass by the square where his yellow house once stood, and I’ve passed many times by café of the café terrace at night.  What I never managed to do was find the Langlois Bridge – the bridge that he painted four times in oil, once in water color, and drew four times – the bridge that has become an icon.

Clearly the bridge sits across a waterway, but the road directions seemed to take you off onto some sort of highway that doesn’t run along the river.  Since I always go to Arles by train, I wanted to walk to the bridge.  I knew it was no longer in its original location, but I didn’t want to navigate along a highway full of traffic to get to it.  So this time I wrote in advance to the Arles tourist office to ask for directions to get there by foot.

I saved my visit to the fabulous Saturday market for after my pilgrimage, passing through it quickly and then off onto the footpath that followed a canal to my destination.  The nice man at the tourist office said would take 30-40 minutes to walk to. 

It’s 2.7 kilometers from Arles to the bridge, and it took me almost an hour.  But never mind.  It was a lovely walk along a canal and well worth the time.  Maybe it took me so long because I was constantly stopping to take pictures:  of the canal, of the boats and barges, of the fishermen, and of the old Citroens.

Coming around a bend and seeing the bridge from a distance was an “Oh my goodness” moment.    

Inspecting it at close quarters was a real pleasure.  No lines, no barriers, almost no people.  There were two young German families there too, so I just about had the place to myself.

The original bridge was built in the first half of the 19th century as part of a project to expand the networks of canals that go to the Mediterranean.  That was replaced in 1930 by a reinforced concrete bridge that in 1944, along with all but one of the other bridges along the canal, was blown up by the Germans.  The only surviving bridge was moved in 1959 to the site along the canal, a little outside of Arles, where it now sits and where people like me come to pay their respect.