Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Help Catalonia, Save Europe

This video is in English.  It was made by Omnium Cultural, a Catalan cultural organization that for the last few years has been instrumental in the Catalan Right To Vote and Independence movement.  

By posting this video, I'm hoping to help disseminate information about Catalonia and the current crisis.  Omnium (as well as the Catalan government and everyone involved here) is trying to get more public attention to the situation and to get Europe involved in an issue that, in spite of what EU leaders say, is not just about Spain.  Democracy, human rights -- the right to free speech and assembly, and the right to vote, are basic values of the European Union and incorporated into its charter.  The current instability that gets worse each day, and the Spanish government's refusal to engage in dialogue or be assisted by mediation, is endangering the Catalan economy.  This seems to be Spain's aim (just last week they just made it easier for corporations to move their headquarters out of Catalonia, hoping to pressure and weaken the Catalan economy).  What they don't seem to realize is that with Catalonia providing 20% of Spain's economy, when Catalonia falls, so does Spain.  And when Spain falls, so does Europe.  So even with leaders willing to ignore the violation of basic democratic rights and the violence perpetrated again peaceful, unarmed E.U. citizens right there in Catalonia, in the middle of Europe, the economic threat should wake them up.

The media, for the most part, reports on and takes the Spanish side.  But there are two sides to the conflict and the Catalan side has a lot in its favor.  Watch the video and see what you think, and if you agree, please share it with people you know.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

When is Something Illegal Actually Legal?

When is Something Illegal Actually Legal?

When the bigger guy says so.

Footnote: Human rights can never be illegal.

All the world seems to agree that for Catalans to vote on a referendum to see if the majority does or does not want independence is illegal.  Everyone says this because it is Madrid’s mantra that no one questions.  Madrid says that a referendum is illegal and secession is unconstitutional.  And given those two points, it is not possible to vote on them or to discuss them because you cannot talk about things that are illegal and unconstitutional.

I’m no legal expert.  I’ve never taken a law course.  But I read and I listen and I try to apply logic to the statements and arguments I hear.  And there are two things I don’t hear often.  One is that voting is the basis of democracy; without it there is no democracy.  So the legitimacy of a country that says that voting on a referendum is illegal should be questioned.  The second is that local laws are overridden by state or national laws, and national laws are overridden by international laws.  So what do international laws have to say about the Spanish law?

Within Spain, there have been dozens of laws recently passed by the Catalan parliament that were overridden by Spain – laws that included the protection of unemployed or poor people from having their gas or electricity turned off in winter months for non-payment; a tax on bank owned repossessed properties in order to pressure the banks to make the properties available for rent in an inadequate housing market; the prohibition of fracking; the outlawing of bullfights, and more.  In all these instances the laws were overturned because either they gave Catalans better protections than other Spaniards enjoyed, or because it was said that it was not within the jurisdiction of the Catalans to pass such a law.

Since the very beginning, six years ago, when Catalans began to have huge mobilizations that numbered from 1 to 2 million people each year on their National Day, 11 September, demanding the right to vote on a referendum to ascertain what percentage of Catalans wanted independence, the Spanish government always responded that a referendum was illegal.  After a few years of these massive demonstrations (2 million people demonstrating out of a population of 7.5 million is an impressive number of people) the topic started to come up in E.U. discussions.  And the response there was always the same.  This was an internal matter for Spain to resolve.  When Catalan leaders arranged an informal, non-binding consultation to see what the citizens wanted, they were accused of illegal activity, banned from holding public office, and now face disobedience and other charges as well as having their private property – bank accounts and homes – seized by the Spanish state.  Knowing this, the E.U. continued to maintain that it was an internal matter.

More recently when tensions rose to new heights and violence erupted on the part of Spanish police against peaceful citizens, the position of the E.U. was that it could not condone the Catalans voting on a referendum that was illegal by Spanish law (also mumbling something about too much use of force on the part of the police).  Virtually all international media condemned the violence in stronger terms than the E.U. did, saying it was disproportionate and too brutal, but everyone still assumed that the vote had been illegal.

However, just as Spain can legally override Catalan laws, so Europe’s laws override the laws of their member countries. 

The E.U. was created after World War II in order to prevent violence among the peoples of Europe.  It has strong guarantees of consumer protection, workers’ rights, and human rights.  These are codified in the Lisbon Treaty, incorporated into the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and are part of European Union law.  They include

Article 1: The Right to Human Dignity
Article 6: The Right to Liberty or Security of Person
Article 11: Freedom of Expression and Information
Article 12: Freedom of Assembly and Association
Article 54: Prohibition of Abuse of Rights

Articles 11 and 12 were violated with the charges against the Catalan leaders who arranged the informal consultation, and all of these were violated when Spanish police confiscated voting materials as well as mail and publications of non-profit pro-independence groups, and attacked peaceful citizens who were trying to protect voting boxes and cast their ballots.  Craig Murray, author, broadcaster and human rights activist, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, and former Rector of the University of Dundee recently wrote: “The European Commission is obliged to abide by this Charter by Article 51. Yet when the Spanish government committed the most egregious mass violation of human rights within the European Union for a great many years, the EU Commission deliberately chose to ignore completely its obligations under the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in its response. The Commission’s actions shocked all of intellectual Europe, and represented a complete betrayal of the fundamental principles, obligations and basic documents of the European Union.”  (See full article here.)

And that is not all.  The fact that police were attacking European Union citizens (as all Catalans are) who were exercising their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, among other rights, is not the end of the story.  The laws of the European Union are also subject to being superseded by the laws of the United Nations.  Article 1 of the U.N. Charter of the United Nations says that people have the right to self­-determination.  “Article 1 (2) To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.”

So this “illegal referendum” that the Catalans risked their lives to vote on is legal under the Charter of the U.N., and the police brutality against non-violent citizens, plus the confiscation of voting boxes, ballots, any referendum-related material, as well as letters and publications sent through the mail that had been confiscated by the Spanish police were violations of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

So when you read that the referendum was illegal, stop and think even if you never heard of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights or the Charter of the United Nations.  What is the basis of democracy if not voting?  That should be enough to tell you that no democratic country can make voting illegal and still be called a democracy.  The international press has either been too lazy to research, incapable of thinking logically, or has taken sides and is not interested in providing the public with a rounded view of an important crisis.  And the European Union has failed miserably in upholding the rights it is supposed to guarantee to all its citizens.  Maybe tomorrow, or one day soon, they will. 

Photo from public source

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Declaration of Independence put on ice

The President of the Generalitat sort of declared independence today. The declaration has been signed by a majority of the Catalan parliament but they immediately suspended it allowing for some time to see if there can be dialogue and negotiations with Madrid.
Since Madrid has always said and continues to say (even today) that they won't talk about something (a referendum or independence) that is outside the law and unconstitutional, there doesn't seem to me that there is much hope for any dialogue. But if some millions of your citizens have a complaint, and turn out to demonstrate about the issue in the millions, year after year for six years, and you won't talk about it because it goes against the constitution, what chance is there that those citizens will ever feel attended to? To solve a political problem, political leaders must talk. Using the court and the police does not solve the problem.  Political problems need to be solved by political means -- at least in a democracy.  And if they have to change a law or amend a constitution to meet the needs of the people, they do that. Constitutions are supposed to serve the people, not put chains on them.
However, because Rajoy is screwing the economy of Catalonia as well as the whole of Spain with the unstable situation that exists now (occupying one part of your own country with thousands of military and paramilitary troops does not inspire confidence in the financial world), he may well be pressured by outside forces to negotiate.
The cava that many people were going to break open today will have to wait for another day. The good news is that it keeps, and to a point, even improves with age.

(Photo from public source)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Tractors for Independence!

Usually when I post, I post my own writing.  But this article from the New York Times was so sweet as well as informative (and so unlike their usual biased articles against Catalan independence), that I felt I wanted to share it with anyone who might not have seen it.  So here's a link to the article titled, Catalonia's Push for Independence Has an Unlikely Symbol: Tractors.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Silent Majority Came from Madrid by Bus

This was illegal on 1 October
Mario Vargas Llosa came to Barcelona today to participate in a demonstration against Catalan independence.  The Nobel Laureate seemed to have no problem with the police violence of the week before, or at least he didn’t mention it.

But others at the demonstration did address the issue.  Hundreds went to place themselves in front of the precinct of the National Police on Via Laetana where they thanked, applauded, and kissed the police who had beaten up their fellow citizens the week before.

This demonstration was called by a citizens’ group, but who was really behind it was the PP party and the Ciutadanos – both right wing parties who are against not only Catalan independence, but the right of the Catalans to vote to see how many actually want it and how many don’t.

Today’s demonstration was billed as the march of the silent majority.  The Unionists – those who are against independence and for the maintenance of the present union – have always said that the majority of Catalans do not want independence and lately have utilized the term “silent majority” – a term which is impossible to prove or disprove without a vote.  And yet it is the same Unionists who have declared a referendum on the issue illegal.  Thus we are left with the fictional silent majority.

The silent majority today numbered 350,000, as estimated by the local police.  It was a peaceful demonstration, it was legal, and there were no threats by any police or anyone else against the marchers.  If you consider that last Sunday, on 1 October, over 2 million (2,262,425 ballots could be counted, additional ballots had been confiscated by police) people came out to vote, in spite of being told by Madrid that voting was illegal, and in spite of the threat implied by sending thousands of Spanish National police to the area to stop the voting, and in spite of actual police violence and brutality against voters – violent police attacks that began at 9 in the morning, you have to wonder which is the majority and which the minority.

The other notable factor in today’s 350,000 people who constitute the silent majority of Catalans is that many thousands of them came in on charter buses from all over Spain.  The organizers and the two political parties behind the event put out a call for participation from all Spaniards and some thousands responded and came.  In the on-street interviews on the news, only 2 of the 10 I saw interviewed could speak Catalan.  How many of the Catalan silent majority were actually Spaniards who lived in Madrid, Seville, Burgos, or Salamanca?

Vargas Llosa came today to make a speech.  He has been vocally against independence for some time.  I wondered how much he actually knew about the issue outside of what the Madrid authorities and Madrid press says.  He was certainly unfamiliar with the major Catalan players, mispronouncing the names of both Catalan President Puigdemont, Vice President Junqueras, and having to ask someone else on stage what the name of the President of the Parliament was (Forcadell) and then getting it wrong when he repeated it.

Although he is a world-class writer and had won the Nobel Prize for literature, his comments against Catalan independence have no creativity about them and simply adhered to the PP party line.   Today he told the cheering crowd that the Catalan independence movement constitutes nationalism, fanaticism, and racism.  (He left out Nazism.  The leaders and press of Madrid love to describe Catalan demonstrations and independence movement as being like Nazis.)

This shocked me.  It was as if the man had just landed from Mars.  There is more than one definition of nationalism, and we all knew which one Vargas Llosa meant.  One definition refers to patriotic sentiment.  What Vargas Llosa was talking about was the extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries, currently an issue among some of the other European nations

Catalans don’t want to exclude anyone and there is nothing in their speeches, writings or personal discourse, as far as I’ve heard, to indicate that they feel superior to anyone.  They take in more immigrants than anywhere else in Spain bending over backwards to help them and make them feel welcome.  They want nothing more than to remain part of the European Union and keep on paying in their share.

As for fanaticism, if people believe in something very strongly, they work tirelessly to achieve it, even at personal risk.  That is called committed.  That was what the freedom fighters in Mississippi did in the 60s and what the suffragettes did before them.  Working for change or justice, being dedicated to an ideal, is not fanaticism, unless you are on the other side of the issue.

Some people like Vargas Llosa say the Catalan independentists are nationalistic, others say they want to secede for financial reasons.  But there are many other reasons for secession.  These have to do with protecting their culture and language and much more from Spanish onslaught.  The foreign press talks often about how Catalans have a lot of autonomy.  But just in the last few years the Madrid government has prevented the Catalans from doing the following:

The Catalan government passed a law that would prohibit the utility companies from turning off service in the winter months of people who are at risk.  The Social Services Department would provide the information as to whether or not the person met the requirements for that protection.  The Spanish government said this was not fair to all the Spaniards living outside of Catalonia who do not have that protection.

The Catalan government passed a law to prohibit fracking.  The Spanish government said it was not in their jurisdiction to do that.

The Catalan government attempted to protect citizens who were swindled by banks with mortgages and investment schemes that were fraudulent and denounced by the European Union.  The Spanish government said it was not within their jurisdiction to do that.

The language of instruction in Catalan public schools is Catalan as it has been for 30 or more years.  But the Spanish government tried to force the Catalan school system to use Spanish.  When one parent complained that he wanted his child to be taught in Spanish, the court ruled in his favor and directed the school that the whole class had to be taught in Spanish.  That means that 29 other people have to submit to the one.

Several years ago the Catalan government prohibited bullfights.  A couple of years later, the Spanish government declared bullfighting a national treasure, thus overriding the Catalan prohibition.

The rail line that runs up the Spanish Mediterranean coast is, in many places, a single track, requiring one train to wait for another that is passing in the opposite direction.  This is a heavily used line of both passenger and freight trains connecting Spain with France and the rest of Europe, and is where most cargo transport moves, passing the ports of Valencia and Barcelona – the two biggest ports in Spain.  For years the European Union has said that the line needs to be enlarged so that trains would not need to make unproductive stops.  It is concerned because not only would it help better connectivity for Spain, but obviously for the rest of Europe.  But Spain refuses.  Its method is to build transportation lines that radiate from Madrid, and Madrid is not on the Mediterranean.

Wales, which is part of the United Kingdom, has teams representing it in international sports competitions.  Catalonia would like to do the same but is not allowed by Spain to do that.  Does the constitution also limit sports teams?

There are many others I could list.  They are all examples of where, notwithstanding the autonomy it is supposed to enjoy, Spain interferes in Catalan affairs to the detriment of the Catalan people.

Catalans don’t feel they are better than other Spaniards; they just want the others to leave them alone to run their own community in peace.

The Catalans are not how Vargas Llosa described them.  They are not nationalists in the negative sense of the word, not fanatics, and not racists.  Whether or not a majority wants independence, all polls show that a majority of about 80% want the right to vote to determine the issue.  When the 2 million votes were counted after the polls closed on 1 October, it showed that 89% had voted Yes and 7.8% had voted No.

Vargas Llosa could have presented arguments for why Catalonia should remain in Spain.  I would give examples, but I can’t think of one.  Going on and on about the constitution isn’t particularly convincing.  Constitutions can be amended.  The U.S. has done it 23 times.  One change was to give women the vote.  He would have been more eloquent and closer to the truth if he had said what The Economist said in the issue of 7 October:  “WHEN a democracy sends riot police to beat old ladies over the head with batons and stop them voting, something has gone badly wrong.” 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Voting is Sacred in Catalunya

Last Sunday the Catalans tried to vote on a referendum asking them whether they wanted to form a new state or not.  Meanwhile the Spanish police, who ostensibly were sent to confiscate ballots and ballot boxes, also spent a lot of their energy that day breaking doors and windows of schools and gymnasiums, bludgeoning people young and old, pulling women along the ground by the hair and one they dragged by the mouth (yes, and there are videos).  At the end of the day emergency services reported they had attended 844 persons.  By the next day that number had risen to 893.  The physical damage to the public property, all of it done by police (there were no riots) totaled 300,000 euros.  The Catalan government will be filing a complaint with the court naming the Spanish National Police and Guardia Civil.

At many of the polling stations people tried all kinds of ingenious ways to hide the polling boxes from police so they wouldn't be confiscated (obviously at some personal risk).  One school hid its box in the space at the top of the elevator shaft.  Others kept moving from room to room in a cat and mouse dance with the police.  But the volunteers in Vila-rodona were the most ingenious of all.  Watch the video and see where they did their vote count.


In the end, in spite of the repressive activity of the thousands of Spanish police who were sent from all over Spain, over 2.2 million of the 5.3 eligible voters cast ballots that were counted.  Close to 800,000 people either could not vote because their polling station had been closed by police, or their votes were lost because, as the Catalan spokesman said, "the ballots were stolen."   The total number of eligible voters is 5.3 million, which means that participation (actual votes counted) was at 42.34%.

And the results are:
Yes won with 89% of the vote
No had 7.8% of the vote
Blank had 2.02%
Null had 0.8%

It is expected that the Catalan Parliament will declare independence this week.

(The photo was from media, found on the web.)

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Community Spirit in Catalan Demonstrations

With the Spanish government using all means at their disposal to stop the Catalans from voting on a referendum that the Spanish say is very illegal, the Catalans continue to protest and demonstrate for democracy and freedom.  They do it peacefully, sometimes with humor, and especially in these last few days, with a great sense of community spirit.

While the big demonstrations draw crowds of tens of thousands to a million or more people, this week, just days before the scheduled vote on Sunday, the demonstrations in support of the referendum (that many say is perfectly legal, but in any case, in what kind of democracy is voting illegal?) have been small in scale and very large in terms of the community spirit they show.

When Spain sent in hundreds of their national police to printing presses and small town newspapers where the police entered and seized supposed referendum materials (some of those searches and seizures done without benefit of court order) the Catalans protested peacefully, singing and placing carnations on the police cars.

When Spain obtained three large ships to house the thousands of national police that were being sent from all over Spain and two docked in Barcelona while the third docked in Tarragona, the stevedores announced that they would not service those “ships of repression.”

When Spain realized that it was undignified to have Looney Tunes characters painted bigger than life on the sides of one of the ships destined to house the national police, someone decided to cover Tweety, Sylvester, Daffy, and the Tasmanian Devil with large tarps.

This caused the Catalans to start a campaign to Free Piolin (Free Tweety) and Tweety was incorporated into the visual imagery of the right to vote campaign.  Never mind that by the next day, the tarps had fallen or blown or were taken off and Tweety was once again free.

What we’ve had this week has been, among other things,
1.  High school and university students calling a strike on Friday (no school was held) and holding informative sessions and demonstrations in support of the right to vote.

2.  On Thursday, more than 300 firefighters came to Barcelona from all over Catalonia, to hold their own demonstration and hang a giant poster at the history museum in support of the referendum and the right to vote.

3.  Also on Thursday, more than 700 school teachers, principals, and administrators came to Barcelona, to the Palau de la Generalitat, the seat of the Catalan government, to symbolically give the keys of their schools to the President of the Generalitat, making those schools available for the voting on Sunday.  Those schools are the usual sites of the polling stations in all elections and they did this under threat of prosecution by the Spanish government.

4.  Then, on Friday, several thousand farmers drove their tractors from the countryside throughout Catalunya, causing all sorts of slowdowns on highways and city streets, as their tratorcades came to the largest city in their area -- Lleida, Girona, Tarragona, or Barcelona, to show their support for the referendum and their right to vote.

5.  And finally, starting Friday afternoon and continuing until the polls open on Sunday morning at 8 am, there has been an organized effort to keep the schools open.  This involves people actively occupying hundreds of public schools that will serve as polling stations on Sunday.  Over 60,000 people are participating in this marathon initiative that is being carried out throughout Catalonia by parents and other members of each of the communities where the schools are located.  It was done to prevent the police from blocking entry between Friday afternoon when the schools closed and Sunday morning when they are supposed to be opened to people who come to vote.  These groups have many activities planned for adults and children, and many brought sleeping bags to spend Friday and Saturday night there.  They’ve had food brought in by the box to feed everyone, and as in all these demonstrations, there is a festive spirit and a strong sense of community.

Photo and image credits: all found on the internet

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Free Tweety! The New Catalan Battle Cry

The Spanish government rented three ships and sent two to Barcelona and one to Tarragona to house the thousands of riot police and army personnel that it is sending to Catalonia to keep order. Never mind that the Catalans are keeping perfect order without them. What they are really doing is intimidating the Catalans so that they won't go to the polls on Sunday to vote on the referendum. For days there have been hundreds of thousands of Catalans in the streets with the slogan "We Will Vote."
But to that slogan another, unexpected battle cry has just been added: "Free Tweety!" The reason for this new campaign (which is taking place on the internet and not on the streets) is that on the side of one of the ships docked in Barcelona are painted the Warner Bros. cartoon characters Tweety, Sylvester, Daffy Duck, and the Tasmanian Devil. Because people were making fun of the cartoons on what is currently a military ship -- not very dignified by anyone's estimation and not particularly intimidating -- someone in charge had the bright idea of covering the cartoons with huge plastic tarps, which they did (although not very artfully) a few days ago.  Thus the campaign to Free Tweety.


And Tweety has, in fact, been freed! 

I don't know if freedom came as a result of the wind, Catalan activists, ineptitude by those who hung the tarps in the first place, or for aesthetic reasons.  But he has found a place in the hearts of many Catalans, and has been adopted as a kind of mascot for the independence movement. 

Photos and images found on the internet

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