Friday, August 24, 2012

In The News

When either Barça or Spain play futbol, I’m usually there, with a bowl of homemade guacamole and some chips, sitting on my couch, watching on T.V.  I was there last night, but without the snacks.

Soccer games in Spain usually start at 10 pm, which seems late enough.  Last night’s Super Copa game began at 10:30 pm.  And I was lucky to be watching it at home because many of the 90,000 spectators who attended the match at Camp Nou (a larger than usual percentage of them tourists because they are here on vacation while the Catalans are away on theirs) found themselves without transportation when the game was over at 12:30.

It seems that the city government no longer pays the 30,000 euros-per-hour that public transportation demands for working after regular hours and so neither the metro nor the buses were running.  City hall representatives say that they wrote to the Futbol Federation as well as to the two clubs to ask that the game be played earlier, say at 9:30.  But their letter was never answered and the schedule was not changed.  It took some people several hours to get back to their homes or their hotels, the taxis being overrun with fares.  Some just gave up and went to sleep on public benches.


Continuing on the topic of sports, today’s news has the sad story of Lance Armstrong who is giving up his fight against the allegations of drug use.  They say it may cost him his seven Tour de France cups.  Some nitwit on the internet named Carpenter says his giving up his fight is a clear sign that he is guilty, his logic being that if he were really innocent, he would continue fighting the allegations.

I don’t follow that logic.  In the first place, I was always dubious of the allegations that were brought forth years after the events.  But that aside, Armstrong has been involved in a fight to defend his innocence for years.  I don’t follow closely, but do they keep coming up with new accusations? new proofs?  How long does he have to keep fighting?  It’s already been several years.  Doesn’t he have the right, if he wants to, to turn his back on the whole thing and try to have a life.  He already put up a great fight against cancer.  As far as I’m concerned, the man deserves to be let in peace.  But in any case, his laying down his sword doesn’t say to me that he is guilty, but perhaps that he is tired.


Spain is on the move to change the laws governing rentals, specifically, how long it has to take before a tenant who does not pay rent can be evicted.  They are including some safeguards so that someone who becomes ill or unemployed gets special consideration.  But the rest will have ten days from the time the court says out.

Spain has the lowest percentage of rentals in Europe – only 17% of housing is rented, the rest is lived in by the owners or stays empty (by choice).  Until now, if a tenant refused to pay rent, they were protected by law and could stay in the property for years.  Meanwhile, if the landlord had a mortgage or other legal financial obligations, building maintenance, etc., he would have to continue paying them.  It was a crazy situation that kept many people from renting out properties for fear of getting stuck in an impossible situation.

I was one of those  A few years ago when I owned my villa and was thinking of going back to live in the US, I considered renting it out.  I did that for about one minute.  I couldn’t afford getting a tenant who moved in and then at some point stopped paying and I would be stuck with my hefty mortgage and no income to cover it.


Anders Breivik the mass murderer who killed 77 people in Norway was found by the Norwegian court to be sane.  Of course he’s not sane.  No one who does things like that is sane.  But he is functional enough to understand what he did and to meet whatever the requirements for sanity might be, and so he can be judged as a sane person.  He has been sentenced to 21 years in prison.  His minimum sentence is 10 years at which time his case can be reviewed.  If, in the future, he is found to still be a danger, his sentence can be extended.  This is a far cry from the death penalty sometimes imposed in the U.S., or the life sentences (stated specifically in thousands of years) that Spain imposes on ETA (but not Muslim) terrorists. 
Photo credit:  Futbol Club Barcelona 

Friday, August 17, 2012

March for Independence

The movement for Catalan Independence from Spain is growing.  I thought that would be a good idea soon after I first moved here in 2001 when the movement was much smaller than it is today.  It’s obvious that the Catalans have the own language, culture, and history, and being part of Spain they have difficulty enjoying and expressing them.  But culture aside, it only took a few months of life here to see that I and everyone who lives, works, or does business here would be better off if Catalunya were an independent state and not part of Spain.

Once I started to get the hang of the language, I could see, watching the news, that Catalan business and the Catalan economy was suffering under Spain.  To do business here meant paying for tolls on roads that are mostly free in the rest of Spain.  To import merchandise into the port of Barcelona meant, in some cases, having to wait extra days for the paperwork to go to Customs in Madrid.  By that time, certain merchandise was spoiled…. or had died.

Then there is also the matter of the dislike many Spaniards have for Catalans and the repressive, even abusive attitude of the central government towards Catalunya.  I often wonder why, if the Spanish hate Catalans so, why they are so adamant that they not secede.  But of course, that’s obvious.  Catalunya is the Goose that Lays Spain’s Golden Eggs and they would miss robbing her of her wealth.

Now more than ever, Madrid is using the current economic crisis to drain Catalunya of its economic wealth and its future economic potential.  And because it has become so overt and apparent, even to those who don’t really want to see it, many more people now are falling behind the idea of Independence.  In a way, it’s reminiscent of the Americans when they decided that they were being ripped off by England and decided to free themselves of the oppression.

What I find most disturbing is that the Spanish government will not allow a referendum so that Catalans can vote to see if, as a group, they actually want Independence.  It doesn’t seem acceptable, in a democracy, not to allow people the basic right to hold a referendum and vote on a subject of interest to themselves.  But that’s yet another thing I noticed when I first came to Spain.  More than half of the population of Spain votes for the PP, the current right-wing political party in office.  Not only is the PP a right wing party, it is the direct descendent of Franco’s fascist government.   Franco was an ally of Hitler.  Spain didn’t enter into the Second World War, but Hitler provided aircraft to help Franco bomb Spanish cities.  It was the Lufthwaffe that bombed Guernica for Franco.  Unlike Spain as a whole, in Catalunya, the PP gets only a small percentage of the vote. 

When the issue of a referendum came up recently in political circles, a Spanish general threatened to send the army if Catalunya dared to hold referendum.  This is an amazing thing for a high-ranking military person to say in this day and age, here in a so-called modern country of the European Union where if you are not a bona fide democracy, you are not admitted to the Union. 

Lately there are been marches in support of Independence, and I participated in the one in Figueres.  I was happy to show my support, but I was not happy to be at the march.  It wasn’t that big, some few hundred people, but of all those few hundred, I seemed to be the only one there walking alone.  I walked alone for an hour, until the march ended and the speakers started, at which time I felt I had done my part and went home. 

There will be a much bigger march in Barcelona on 11 September, Catalunya’s National Day.  I imagine there will be tens of thousands there, maybe more.  In Barcelona, in 2001, I participated in the march protesting the American invasion of Iraq.  That march had a million people.  I went alone.  A march of a million people is not a nice place to be alone.  In America maybe someone marching near you would start up a conversation and all of a sudden you’d be with someone else or with a group.  Or maybe I’m just dreaming.  In any case, that doesn’t happen here.  Here everyone was walking in groups of friends and family – people they knew and with whom they had come.  No one does anything alone and people don’t speak to strangers (nor nod hello when passing on the street).  I wanted to do my part but I felt very much an outsider.  It was very crowded, I felt overwhelmed, squished, and isolated among a million strangers.  After less than an hour I felt I had done my bit, left and headed back home.

So I’m not sure I will go to Barcelona on 11 September.  I’m still thinking about it.  But if I don’t go, my heart will be there with the Catalans who want their freedom.


Rather than try to argue my opinion on Catalan Independence, I’m supplying a couple of links to articles by people who know more and can explain things much better than I can, for anyone who is interested.  I have my opinions, but I’ve never been good at arguing them.  The first is about the general economic mess in Spain and how the central government is abusing Catalunya.

This second is a very interesting article on hatred in Spain from the same blog:

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Shoeshine Mystery

Facing me across the open space there is an apartment where, in all the weeks since I came to live here, the shutters have never come up, the two rags hanging on the laundry line in the patio have never come down, and no one has ever come in or out. Then, all of a sudden one day last week, there was a shirtless man in the patio equipped with a full-blown shoeshine kit, encased in a wooden box polishing a pair of black leather shoes.  Not many people wear black leather shoes in the heat of summer.  Was he a waiter?  Was he going to a wedding?  Was he the groom?  Whatever he was, he had not seen fit to pull up the blinds, and he only opened the back door a tiny bit.  He left it open for a short while afterwards (when it occurred to me to take a photo)and then closed it and left.

Does he live there with the shutters always closed?   Or had he come only to polish his shoes, like you might go to your grandmother’s just for the chicken soup with knaidelach or to your mother’s to do the laundry?  A week later, he has never made a repeat appearance and the apartment continues as vacant as before.

Friday, August 3, 2012


Portbou train station

It was my dream to move to France when I sold my villa, but it turned out to be impossible.  Well, maybe I could have arranged it, but it was so complicated and so uncertain that I couldn’t take the risk -- not at my age and with my limited resources.

When I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to move to France, I started thinking about where in Catalunya I would move to and settled on Figueres.  I didn’t want to be in one of those coastal towns that is flooded with sun-burned bodies in the summer and dead in the winter.  I wanted a place not too big and overwhelming, and not too small and claustrophobic.   I wanted good public transportation to be available so I wouldn’t have to use my car for every outing or even just to buy bread.  Figueres fits all the above plus it is only 20 kilometers from the French border, so I figured if I can’t live in France, at least I can go to visit, and living that close I could even visit on daytrips. 

Finally, after being here for over a month, I got up my courage to test the trains and see if the odd connections would work.  They are odd (and this took some probing to find out) because on the way there you take the regional to the last stop, which is Cerbere, the first town on the train line in France.  But on your return you pass Cerbere and take the French regional to its last stop, which is Portbou, the first town on the train line in Spain.  It’s a little asymmetrical and tricky for getting round trip tickets on either the Spanish or the French trains, but once you know how it works, it’s easy.

I didn’t have any specific expectations for Perpignan.  Some Brits I know said it was pretty much like Catalan towns.  Historically, the Rousillon was part of Catalunya, some still think of it as Catalunya North and some people there speak Catalan.

The natural landscape doesn’t change much when you cross the border except that in Spain there were a few vineyards while in France vineyards dominated the landscape, sloping in every which direction.  While the natural landscape was similar, I think that French towns are distinctly different.  Perpignan certainly is.  In Perpignan, there is no mistaking that you’re in France.

Houses look different, and even the little cars seemed to have an extra touch of je ne sais quoi.  Figueres boasts a beautiful promenade along the canalized River Basse.  I had done no homework, wanting to just get there, explore, and be surprised.  And I was surprised.  There is nothing that looks like this in Catalunya, at least nothing I’ve ever seen.

I was also surprised at how mediocre my lunch was.  I looked for something other than one of those brasseries with the large patio out front designed to entrap tourists but couldn’t find anything better.  So I went to one and ordered their special seafood tasting menu, which had I-forget-how-many different parts.  Unfortunately rather than being served in courses they were brought to the table all at once and all, except the bread with tomato and anchovies vinaigrette (a remnant of Catalunya cuisine) was boring and deeply disappointing.

But that’s OK.  There are two types of travelers:  those who research first and plan out the visit, and those who just go and see what they find. Both have their merit, and I have a little of both in me.  So when I know I’m going to a place that I will likely visit again, I can indulge both approaches.  On my next trip, I’ll definitely research restaurants before I go.  In fact, I've already started.