Friday, September 28, 2012

Sephardic Jews and the Nissan

 Carrer Jueus,
Castelló d’Empúries
It was my own stupid fault.  I knew better and had thought of it many times.  Lazy, that’s me.  Ever since I first came up here to look for an apartment, I have parked the car more or less in the same place, somewhere near a supermarket, just at the entrance to town and about a ten minute walk from where I now live.  It’s a good place to park:  there is no posted time limit (although my mason/handyman Josep assures me that they do tow cars away from time to time, when the spirit moves them, posted limit or no), I can easily check on it two or three times a week when I go to that way to buy groceries, and this last spot I found was so near the major road that I had less worry about theft or vandalism than when it’s parked way in back.  So I didn’t want to start it up and drive it and lose that premium spot.  Unfortunately, after sitting in that premium spot for two months, the battery died.

Back in mid-July I had driven to nearby Peralada to see what the village and the famous castle looked like.  That was the last time I drove the car.  Since then I’ve gone on two outings, but both were to France and by train.  It’s rare that I need the car for my errands which is one of the great joys of living in a European city and one of the things I disliked the most about where I used to live, where you need a car to do anything.

I went to use the car on a recent Sunday, thinking I would go to Castelló d’Empúries, a very pretty village that I visited soon after I moved here.  This time I would go to attend their 22nd annual Festival of Troubadours, dedicated this year to Temps de Sefarad.  Maybe there would be some bagels. 

Some Catalans seem to take an active interest in the Jewish community that once lived here before it was thrown out in 1492.  Those Jews were a colorful blend of Middle East and Europe, a blend that can be heard in their lovely music.  There is really very little that remains in Catalunya of that community.  But many towns take pride (or an interest) in at least identifying the former Jewish neighborhoods and some of the streets where Jews once lived.  Perhaps a case of absence making the heart grow fonder.  Or a way to attract tourists.

Plaque in  Castelló d’Empúries
where the medieval synagogue used to be
Tortosa has identified their former Ghetto (called a call in Catalan), as has Barcelona and Girona and Castelló d’Empúries, among others.  In Barcelona, you can visit a small museum on the ground floor of an old building on the site where the main synagogue was once located.  In Castelló d’Empúries, as in most other towns, there are only plaques.  Girona was home to one of the most important centers of Jewish mysticism, the study of Cabbala, with Rabbi Moises ben Nahman, also known as Nahmanides as its leader.  This intellectual center made Girona possibly the most important Jewish community on the Iberian Peninsula at that time.  Girona’s Jewish museum, more substantial than the one in Barcelona, is located in the former call. 

Outside the museum but within the former call, you can find, in some of the surrounding buildings, a small indentation in the portal of some of the houses where a mezuzah once hung.  It gave me goose bumps being there when I visited a few years ago, and seeing those indentations, still there in the same doorways to the same buildings that had been hurriedly vacated more than 500 years ago.

The Catalans have an odd relationship with the people of the Middle East.  They dislike Arabs but are great supporters of the Palestinians; they pretend to like Jews (easy enough since there are essentially no Jews living here) but despise Israel.  Like most of the world, they feel compelled to choose sides but don’t really care enough about those they support to offer ideas that would help arrive at a resolution to that long-standing conflict. 

I walked down to the car the next morning and called for road service.  Damn.  I should have brought a book.  Who knows how long you have to wait on a Monday morning for road assistance.  I sat myself on a nearby bench under the shade of a tree and watched and waited.  The truck came in twenty minutes, connected cables from a portable battery, and the engine started up immediately.  I signed a paper and that was it.  The service comes free with my car insurance. 

Not wanting to take the chance of getting stuck somewhere, I drove straight to a garage near my house to have the battery charged.  The good part is that I now have a neighborhood mechanic.  The bad part is that I had to pay for something I could probably have achieved for free (well, the cost of gas) just by driving for twenty minutes. But hopefully I have learned my lesson and will start the car up a little more often.  Maybe even today.  Or tomorrow. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Unconstitutional and Impossible

Artur Mas, President of the
Generalitat of Catalunya,
has a battle to fight
It’s unconstitutional.  That is mostly what we, in Catalunya, hear coming from the Central Government in Madrid.  To have a referendum so that Catalans can vote and see if a majority wants to secede from Spain is unconstitutional.  And of course, to secede is also unconstitutional.   Apparently, unlike the American and other Constitutions, the Spanish one is carved in stone (although it has, actually, been amended in the past, but never mind that; it is now carved in stone).

The Spanish Constitution was created in 1978 after Franco died when Spain became a so-called democracy. (Just want to mention that the Catalan Constitution was created in 1283, said here to be the oldest constitution, older even  than England's Magna Carta.)

Because it is unconstitutional there is no way to have a referendum to let people vote.  Voting would be illegal.  Catalunya separating from Spain is illegal.  It says so in the Constitution.   It’s carved in stone and Catalans can only hit their heads against that stone wall.  There is no other recourse, according to the Central Government in Madrid.  They’ve said the same for years, but now they are saying it daily and frankly, it’s making me dizzy.  I have no tolerance for going round and round – something about my ears.  It was a handicap when I used to dance.

But it seems that a large segment of the population of Catalunya, possibly a majority, want Independence and believe they should have the right to vote on it.  Now I ask you:  What would you think if, say, your country’s Constitution said that women were not allowed to vote.  Would you think that was appropriate in a democracy?  Would you think that maybe your Constitution needed to be revised?  If women started going to the polls would you send in the army?

How can a democracy say that a referendum is unconstitutional?  Voting is the key that makes a democracy a democracy, isn’t it?

Today Spain’s Vice President spoke to the press, as she does most days, and during the two or three minutes devoted to speaking of Catalunya, she uttered the word Constitution (and unconstitutional) eight or ten times.  A child could have understood her point.  She and others who are against it can utter those words as much as they like, the truth is that in a democracy a referendum SHOULD be legal, and if it isn’t, the laws should change so that it is.  But in spite of that stone wall, I believe Catalunya will find a way to let its citizens vote and I think that vote will lead to secession.  We shall see.

Catalunya gaining its Independence, if that’s what Catalans want, is probably not impossible, whatever hurdles may be put in its way.  Walls can be scaled or one can take the long way around and still end up on the other side.  What is impossible is getting my criminal record (or certification that there isn’t one) from the U.S.  I need this to deal with my legal status here.  I sent in fingerprints (the only evidence they will accept) to the FBI last year and got a form back saying there were not discernible.   Since then I’ve been busy, but today I went again to the Mossos d'Esquadra (the Catalan National Police), the office here in Figueres, to see if they could do the prints better so that they would be discernible.

The Mosso (police agent) started inking and printing and couldn’t believe it when he saw the results.  My fingers have none of those circular lines.  He said that in all the eight years that he has been doing this work, he has never seen fingers as bad as mine at least never all ten fingers.  Thanks a lot.  This was the problem the last time.  The Mosso who did those a year ago said I could be a thief because no one would be able to identify my fingerprints.  I wish someone had told me this years ago!  I might have had a more affluent life.  Now, it may be amusing to the Mossos, but for me it is a great nuisance, a problem with no solution.  Without the criminal report I cannot complete the required process here.  This is not amusing.

Mossos d'Esquadra don’t usually provide fingerprinting services to the public.  But since the office in Barcelona had done the original prints that the FBI rejected (upon receipt of a letter from the US Consulate requesting the service; the form letter cost 40 euros, the Mossos spent 20 minutes and did the fingerprints for free), the agents here were willing to deal with me. 

Understanding my dilemma of being between a rock and a hard place with a problem that seems to have no solution, the two agents who were helping me this morning have called their headquarters in Barcelona to see if the chief will write or authorize a letter on my behalf explaining that my fingers will only produce prints that are not readable.  I’m not sure yet what I will do with that letter, but as far as I can figure, it’s the only tool I will have to work with.  Maybe someone at Immigration will understand the problem, give me the benefit of the doubt, and let me more forward.  Immigration is a department of the Spanish government.  Maybe they will tell me that my problem is unconstitutional.

Friday, September 14, 2012

One and a Half Million

One and a half million people marched for Catalan Independence in Barcelona on 11 September, Catalunya’s National Day, La Diada.  If I had gone, it would have been 1,500,001.

I would have liked to have gone in order to show my support.  But I’m not sorry I stayed home.  I show my support in other ways, ways that right now, I find more suitable.  The march was immensely crowded and in fact many of the people at the starting point never left it.  For three hours they were stuck there because there were so many people they couldn’t move.

Barcelona was an ocean of Catalan flags (senyeres) and estalades, the Catalan flag with the star, the symbol for Independence.  It was an event for all ages, young, old, families with children.  I watched it on television and it looked like a party.  Everyone was happy, making music, making castells, making their voices heard chanting Independence, creating no disturbances.

The march was organized by a non-partisan organization called Assemblea Nacional Catalana.  Many politicians attended the march, but partisan symbols were not much on display.  This was a unifying event for everyone who wanted Independence for Catalunya and it was all the better for it.

One of the reasons people feel compelled to march is that they are not allowed to vote.  Although Spain claims to be a democracy, it is illegal to have a referendum on the subject of Independence.  It’s unconstitutional.  For that matter, seceding is unconstitutional.  So exactly what the Catalans (or Basques) are supposed to do is a matter for speculation.  I suppose one option is what some Basques did within the terrorist organization ETA.  I am grateful that the Catalans prefer to march.

Artur Mas, the President of the Catalan Regional Government, the Generalitat, went to Madrid two days after the march to voice Catalan sentiment regarding Independence to the Spanish government.  He did not go to an official meeting of the Parliament, but held a public conference.  Neither the President of Spain nor any of his cabinet ministers attended.  There was, however, an official representative from the monarchy.

The Spanish government sent no one to listen.  And they have made almost no comments at all concerning either the huge march or the question of Independence for Catalunya except to say that a Referendum is unconstitutional, seceding is illegal, Catalans should be more solidary, and there are other matters more important to pay attention to.  If you were a Catalan, what would you think of that?

Catalans pay their taxes to Madrid and then Catalunya gets some of that back to carry out the responsibilities of the autonomous community, including health care, education, social services, police, etc., much like the individual states of the United States.  The rest of the money gets distributed to other, supposedly poorer autonomous communities.  The problem has been that those other communities have been receiving a disproportionately greater share than what Catalunya gets back, so that Catalunya is being systematically reduced in its capacity to maintain services and drive a viable economy while other communities enjoy the benefits. 
I can’t help thinking of the goose that laid the golden egg story.  You would think Catalunya would get its fair share back if not extra, since this is one of the few places in Spain where any wealth is generated although it won’t be for long if its businesses keep being hammered.  But maybe logic has nothing to do with it.  There is a real antipathy for Catalans in Spain which I saw for myself on my first and only trip to Madrid.  Spain seems to want Catalunya but without any Catalans in it.  And in fact, years ago, Franco orchestrated large migrations of Spaniards into Catalunya to achieve exactly that. 

Everyone was at the march.  The firefighters had a contingent with a banner, Bombers per la Independencia.  The Catalan police were there with a banner, Mossos per la Independencia.  Celebrities, politicians from all but one political party, young people, parents, children, grandparents were there.  Artur Mas, the President of the Generalitat wasn’t there but he said it wouldn’t be appropriate for him in his official capacity to go.  His wife, however, was there.  Pep Guardiola, beloved former trainer of the Barcelona futbol team was in New York and couldn’t be there, but he sent a video where he quietly repeated the official slogan of the march “Catalunya, nou estat d’Europa.”  My friend Trini was there and took photos. She also designed a slideshow that shows the ambience of the day and is set to wonderful Catalan music which you can find at  And last, but not least, she kindly sent me some photos so I could post them because as you know, I was the only one who wasn’t there.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Independence and Diversion

Momentum is building for the March for Independence that will take place in Barcelona on 11 September, Catalunya’s National Day.  So many people are going that all the private bus companies have run out of buses for that day.  Seven hundred buses will be bringing people from every town and village to the capital.  Tickets for many of them have already been sold out.  In addition to private buses, the cities of Girona and Figueres have also contracted for two special trains that will transport an additional 1000 independenistes.  I will not be among them.  I received several offers to march together from blog readers (thank you!) but have decided to stay home that day and cheer on the crowd (sincerely) from my living room while I watch them on TV.

The official banner for the march has been unveiled.  It says Catalunya, a New Nation of Europe.  Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, the head of one of the right-wing Catalan political parties, today changed his mind and decided he would attend the march since, he said, it was not about independence.  Why he would say that I cannot fathom.  I’ve been wondering how many people will march.  Tens of thousands?  I’m sure it will be massive and can now feel a bit off the hook since Duran i Lleida will be there to take my place, even if his motives for going are a mystery.

N.B.  I've been thinking about it and have revised my estimate.  I think there will be at least one million at the march.  Let's see if I'm right! 


Barcelona and Madrid have recently been rivals (yet again) in their bids to have the new EuroVegas built in their municipalities.  It makes no sense to me that the Catalans would want such a thing.  It’s not news that the Vegas casinos are closely tied to mafias.  Why invite gambling dens, mafia, and the prostitution business that comes with them to your house?  But two days ago a Madrid spokesman said that the Americans have decided on Madrid for the new venue. 

Not to be left behind, today the Catalan Generalitat came out with the news that Catalunya was going to be the site of the new Barcelona World.  This is a theme park that will be bigger than anything built before and will create 20,000 new jobs.  La Caixa, Catalunya’s largest (stable) bank owns the land and the major investment comes from a Spanish billionaire businessman.  It will include themed areas representing different parts of the world, hotels, restaurants, and casinos.  At least casinos will be only a minor part of this new development.  And unlike EuroVegas that was going to be built on agricultural land near the Barcelona airport, Barcelona World will be built adjacent to Port Aventura, a theme park on the coast near Tarragona, on land that is already laid out for development, albeit that was supposed to be housing units before the current economic crisis hit.  I’m not thrilled with either of these projects, but I think that Catalunya will be much better off with the more benign, family-oriented Barcelona World than it would have with a Las Vegas imitation.  When it’s built, I won’t be going to that either.

Monday, September 3, 2012

No Soap, Radio

Hoping to someday have a guest, and endeavoring to improve upon the garish wall treatment I inherited, last week I had the spare bedroom painted.  A few days later, my handy mason and all around Mr. FixIt, Josep, came back with his drill to help me hang more pictures.

The room now looks great.  In fact, I like it better than my own bedroom which is painted a sickening shade of peachy apricot and has virtually no natural light.  There is a small window, but apart from it being partially blocked by a wall-to-wall armoire (that I also inherited) it opens out to the light well, a space where the sun never shines and which thus gives no light.   On the other hand, if there was more light, the awful apricot/peach walls would make an even greater impact.

Picture-hanging turned out to be more exciting that I had expected.  No, we did not discover any medieval or Roman ruins.  But while drilling one of the holes, we did suddenly heard a strange noise from the other side of the wall.  Sadly, Josep had the bad luck of drilling at a point just where two bricks come together so that the plaster on the other side broke and landed all over my living room floor.  Josep said it could have been worse.  Sometimes one drills and hits an electrical wire or worse, a water pipe.  Josep also said it isn’t worth buying a bag of plaster to redo such a small hole, so when he or any of his friends have a small amount left from another job, he’ll come back to fix it.  I don’t know when that might be.  But I do know that when the time comes, matching the paint – two shades of yellow, one sponged over the other -- will be a challenge.

I keep a regular schedule of posting every Friday but missed this last one so am posting late.  It wasn’t that I was depressed over the hole in the wall.  It was that I was having internet problems all week.  In fact, I have been having internet problems on and off since I moved here and last week was the final culmination. 

I had my phone and internet with Orange.  They, as all phone and internet providers in Spain, use the phone and broadband lines owned by Telefonica (now known as Movistar).  The internet problem had been going on for weeks, sometimes it got better, sometimes worse, and finally it got to where I couldn’t connect at all.  I called Orange many times and each time a technician asked different questions and had me do different things.  The majority of the technicians thought the problem was with the router.  Two technicians told me the problem was with my computer¸ and one said I should take my computer to a repair shop.  But I had bought my computer only two months ago and was sure the problem was with the phone equipment and that Orange just didn’t want to do their job.  I ran Windows and Orange diagnostics and both reported that the problem was with the router.  It was a battle, but finally someone said they would send out a technician to the house. 

Who knew when this technician would come.  On a Sunday they told me Monday.  And in fact, a technician called on Monday and was prepared to come the next day to some address he had for me in Tortosa.  I told him I never lived in Tortosa.  I live in Figueres.  The Orange technician who installed the service came to this address in June.  Surely Orange has a record of it.  He apologized and said someone else would call.  Tired of getting nowhere with Orange I decided to change to Movistar.  They owned the line and once they set me up, would be more likely to come and fix it if there was a problem.

Movistar came on Friday and brought a Movistar router.  It took a while for the technician to set things up because there was a problem with the line and he had to go up to the roof to untangle wires.  Apparently this is not unusual.  When that was fixed and he tested it with his computer, the internet worked.  So we fired up my computer.  No internet.  Surprise!  The problem had been both with the line and with my computer.  When he left I ran off to the shop where I bought the thing, and just before 8 pm they had it ready for me, all cleaned up and rid of the virus that had caused it to be ailing.  And that’s why there was no post on Friday.