Friday, January 25, 2013

Baby It's Cold Outside

It always amazes me that so many Brits move to Spain for the weather.  No one from California would.  The weather anywhere in California (except maybe the Mojave desert) is much better than here, and especially in the San Francisco Bay Area which once was my home.  Here it is hotter (and very humid) in the summer and colder in the winter.  And don’t expect to find natural gas service unless you move to a city or town.  Many villages don’t have city gas and none of the rural areas do. 

It doesn’t rain much and only snows in the mountains.  What is nice in this area is that the Pyrenees are close by, you only have to go for a walk to see snow-covered mountains, and you don’t have to shovel it.  This suits me just fine.

At least now that I live in an apartment instead of the lovely villa that had a pool but no insulation and no central heating (which is typical of houses in the resort areas intended only for summer use), I can be comfortable when winter sets in.   In fact, it is a real pleasure to sit in a warm home when you know it’s cold outside.  I live in town and I have city gas.  It’s the first time since we lived in Tarragona that I’m warm at home in the winter.  I have a small apartment and a radiator in every room.  And I am truly grateful.

The cats are also grateful

Friday, January 18, 2013

On The Road: Aiguamolls (Marshlands)

I meant to create a post about Reis, (Kings), and the parade on the evening of the 5th of January when the Three Wise Men rode into town on floats, attended by lots of colorful characters.  But my photos weren’t turning out well, and the streets were so packed that I couldn’t endure the crowds so I went home.  Nonetheless, I did learn something from the experience: first, that I can’t stand being in large crowds, and second, that I need to buy a book on photography.

So, instead of giving you the Calvalcada dels Reis, I give you the nearby Aiguamolls (marshlands) that I recently discovered and have visited twice.  This nature reserve is just 20 minutes away and much more to my liking.  There are no crowds – just peace and quiet and birds, although I didn’t get any good shots of them either!

For more information:

Friday, January 11, 2013

Common Sense

Connections should come from somewhere and go to somewhere.  So says Slim Kallas, European Commissioner for Transport in talking about Spain.

This novel idea has not caught on in Spain, which still builds on the medieval urban plan, where all roads radiate out from the center, which is Madrid.  This, of course, makes for the situation of "you can't get there from here" and forces you to backtrack in order to go forward. 

In general, creating infrastructure for business to flourish has not caught on.  Spain has more high speed train track than any other country in Europe, but for much of the journey along the Mediterranean, freight trains coming from or going to France (and the rest of Europe) still share a single track with conventional commuter and long distance trains.  This means frequent waits at stations to allow another train to pass on the single track.  In all the twenty years of high-speed building, nothing has been done to upgrade the conventional freight or passenger rail system.

Then there is the new container port in Barcelona.  Paid for by Chinese investors, the Spanish government couldn't get it together to put in the promised rail link that would connect the new port to that above-mentioned rail line and left it stranded.  The Catalans, knowing that they need these kinds of facilities in order to live long and prosper, came up with a quick fix.

We could talk about airports where no planes ever take off or land, or Olympic-quality sports arenas in tiny villages.  And we could talk about corruption at all levels of government and in every ministry, and even in the Royal family.

What Spain lacks is what the Catalans call seny, which means understanding, good judgment, or common sense.  It’s no wonder that the Catalans, who value seny and consider it one of their characteristic traits, want out.

Under Spanish law, public buildings must fly the Spanish flag.  But in Catalunya, there are some towns that don’t want to, and only have the Catalan and EU flags hoisted.  In order to avoid legal problems, one small town decided that, since it doesn’t say what size the flag has to be, any size will do and thus, in their good judgment, they have hoisted this.

For more related reading, I recommend the following:
One of the best articles I've seen about Catalan Independence from an economic point of view, from The Guardian

Translation of an article in a Catalan newspaper, about the problems with Spanish economic policy

Not about economics, this 60 Minute piece (a 13-minute segment) about the Barcelona Futbol Club talks about a lot more than just soccer that is so good, it was broadcast last night on Catalan television after the Barcelona-Malaga soccer match where Barca won 5-0!

Friday, January 4, 2013

On the Road: Besalú

I’m on the road again.

I didn’t used to have this problem of not wanting to drive; I used to drive everywhere and loved exploring by car.  I could drive all day.  I drove to Los Angeles and back from the Bay Area many times, often alone, and drove cross-country several times too, although those trips were never alone.  But I was younger then, and I was in the USA then – the USA where although it is much easier to get a driver’s license, it is also much safer on the roads.

Here in Spain, the roads are chaos.  To go on the road is to take your life in your hands, or worse, put it in the hands of idiots you don’t know.  These drivers passed very difficult driving tests but they didn’t learn enough to respect speed or safety laws. 

There is rarely any consequence to breaking road rules, as long as you don’t end up in a wreck.  There are no highway patrols, only ad hoc stationary check points where they stop you to see if you’re drunk, and stationary radars that are announced in advance so that only a moron wouldn’t know to slow until they pass them.  Here, I’m much more reticent about driving, especially driving alone to someplace new. 

In any case, last week I got into my car and drove to Besalú, which turned out to be a very easy drive.  Besalú is less than half an hour away!  If I had realized how close it was and how easy the drive was, I would have gone much sooner, because Besalú is a pretty little village and definitely worth seeing. 

Besalú has 2000 inhabitants, some nice shops, its medieval center is full of old stone buildings, narrow streets, an arcaded village square, a church built in the 10th century, a restored Jewish mikveh and the ghost of a medieval synagogue.  But it is most famous for its splendid 12th century Romanesque bridge that, unusually, halfway across its span takes a turn.  Most of the bridge supports rest on huge in situ boulders that the architect/mason took advantage of when he designed the bridge.  It is a beautiful piece of architecture.

The mikveh was closed so I didn’t get to see it.  But that gives me a good excuse to go back again soon.

Don't know how they got in
much less how they will get out

Sant Pere, church of the former Benedictine
monastery, founded 977 AD

Dangerous door

Catalan Independence flags
are found everywhere

Besalú Tourist Office