Friday, March 29, 2013

Holy Aroma

It's holy week and what could be holier than taking a walk out in the country.  Once again, I headed off  on the path to Vilabertran so see if I could find evidence of spring.  But before even leaving the city I came upon a small patch of freshly mown lawn and that took me not out into the country, but far back in time.... to Los Angeles in the 50s.  To this day, the aroma of cut grass reminds me of my father.  He was a gardener and when I was little I sometimes went with him to his jobs.  Mowing lawn was almost always part of his day's work and more than 50 years later, I still associate that smell with those LA lawns and my dad.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sick Spain

The following editorial comes from Col·lectiu Emma, a network of Catalans and non-Catalans, academics, journalists, and others, living in different countries, who have made it their job to track and review news reports about Catalonia in the international media and who have given me permission to publish this on my blog.   The illness they have written about is much more serious than the economic one that is much talked about.  You can find their website here


The Spanish malaise may be deeper than the economic hole

Earlier this month, the top judicial authorities in Spain forced the resignation of the State's Chief Prosecutor in Catalonia. This is not an elected official but a public servant appointed from the capital, and the post traditionally goes to a non-Catalan. The latest incumbent was summarily dismissed only hours after remarking in an interview with a news agency that "the people must be given the opportunity to express their wishes". It sounds mild enough, except that the statement was made in the context of the Catalans' right to decide about their political future. Perhaps this is why he immediately qualified it adding that he meant "in general, any people", and only after making clear that there is not in Spain "a legal framework allowing a referendum on independence". All seemingly aboveboard. And yet, the mere implication that perhaps a way should be found for Catalans to have their say on the matter turned what was essentially a platitude into an inflammatory pronouncement, causing the prosecutor's fall from grace. So much for the independence of the judiciary – not to mention freedom of speech.

A month before, a retired Spanish army general spoke to a formal gathering of fellow high-ranking officers about the "separatist-secessionist offensive in Catalonia" and reflected on the eventual position that the armed forces should take. "The Fatherland is more important than democracy", he concluded. "Patriotism is a feeling, and the Constitution is nothing but a law". The audience greeted with applause what could be easily read as an invitation to flout the laws of the land, or even as a justification for a military coup. Like similar statements made by others in the past, it has produced no significant response from the civilian authorities.

These two events –and the very different official reactions to them– point to fundamental flaws in the workings of a democratic State, and suggest that Spain's problems may go well beyond the admittedly atrocious economic environment. And the trigger in both cases is the situation in Catalonia.

In Spain today the economy is in dire straits, and there is no real plan for the future that doesn't involve the State's continuing plunder of a few productive communities in order to perpetuate itself. Many Catalans believe that the present political arrangement is threatening to ruin their economy, wipe out their culture and ultimately bring about their irrelevance as a nation. Lately the people have become less inhibited in their expressions of discontent with this state of affairs. Their elected leaders too seem to have abandoned their traditional policy of going out of their way to avoid confrontation. Reacting to a widespread popular demand, they have proposed a new course of action that might lead –if the people so decide– to separation from Spain.

The Catalan side would want this to be a negotiated, gradual, peaceful and fully democratic process, and it has offered to discuss the terms with the Spanish government. So far, all overtures have been spurned. The official line in Madrid remains that the law, such as it is, must be strictly adhered to, and a suitably narrow interpretation of the 1978 Constitution is used to reject, among other things, the possibility of asking the Catalan people's opinion in a referendum.

In the meantime, the newly-found Catalan assertiveness has awakened the worst instincts of a State that feels threatened. While putting on an unfazed front, the Spanish government is using all the tricks in the book to undermine the Catalan administration and to intimidate the Catalan people. The familiar weapon of financial strangulation is now accompanied by a political and judicial offensive against the Catalan institutions of self-government and a media campaign against carefully selected individuals. Moreover, the prosecutor's peremptory purge shows that the government is determined to silence all expressions of dissent even from its own ranks. And a real or imagined military threat is conveniently kept alive as part of a strategy of fear.

Those watching from outside the latest goings-on in Spain have tended to focus on the economy. A closer look into the political underpinnings of the State might reveal that, even in its present incarnation as an ostensibly democratic country, Spain retains not few of the authoritarian habits of the dictatorship that it grew out of. Indeed, something must be very wrong in a country where a general's pronouncement amounting to a call for the armed forces to place themselves above the law is overlooked, while stating such a basic principle of democratic governance as the people's right to express themselves is punished as an act of sedition.

Friday, March 15, 2013

On The Road: Pont de Molins

I could have gone there walking.  But I am constantly worried about the new battery staying charged, so I am making a point of taking the car out for some exercise at least once a week.  This week my car and I went to Pont de Molins.

If I had gone there walking, I would have taken the footpath that goes to Vilabertran and then continued on (if I could find signs for the continuation).  Instead I took my life in my hands and drove on the deadly N II.  I mean really, it’s only six kilometers from here.

Pont means bridge and moli is a mill.  This must have been an industrial town in the 19th century.  It had just rained and the Muga River was running at full volume.  That was, actually the main inspiration for choosing Pont de Molins for the outing.  I love rivers and like them even better when there is some water running in them.

I wasn’t disappointed.  The river was running full.  And the little village of Pont de Molins is pleasingly picturesque with an attractive restaurant that overlooks the river.  I will be back.  

You see Catalan Independence
flags in every city, town, and village

Moonshine equipment?

The path not taken...... yet

Friday, March 8, 2013

Agricultural Fair

Today was the first day of the local agricultural fair, so I walked on over to see what was up.  Not surprisingly, there were lots of tractors and farm machinery, some livestock, and groups of men studying the insides of engines.  The fact is that farm machinery can be as attractive as anything else, especially when painted pretty colors.  And farm animals, as long as they are still alive and on the hoof, are always good-looking.  

Some tractors benefit from color contrast

Others don't

Donkey rides

First poppy of spring
spotted on the way home

Friday, March 1, 2013


One day when the tramuntana wasn’t blowing, I returned to the footbath and followed it all the way to the nearby village of Vilabertran.  It is mostly a nondescript place, but has two highlights.  One is the monastery, the other is the city hall.  The city hall is in a singular building that deserves photos.  It must once have been someone’s mansion.  The whole property is fenced and there was no good position for taking shots because, unfortunately, since I came on a Sunday, the entrance gate was locked.  But it is definitely worth another trip with the camera.

The monastery of Santa Maria, founded in 1069 was accessible, although I didn’t enter the building, saving that for another day.  Vilabertran (and Figueres, for that matter) is on the Camí de Sant Jaume, Catalan for the medieval pilgrimage path that goes to Santiago de Compostela.

A pilgrim's path

A grey winter day, but no wind!