A tale of two cities

IMG_5904

As the storm clouds gathered over Barcelona this morning, they were an apt metaphor for what was to come. By the end of the day, the gloomy sky was still in evidence, but the violence meted out by the National Police has become the real storm brewing.

In football terminology, football being the true lifeblood of this city, this was a game of two halves, however.  I saw a polling station in Barceloneta which remained peaceful through the day. The voters queuing up, were watched by four local police officers (Mossos d’Esquadra) who stood at a distance doing little other than chatting among themselves. The mood was upbeat. Initially there had been some technical issues (these were widespread at polling stations across Barcelona) resulting in the crowd chanting ‘votarem’ (we will vote). However shortly after, the polling station opened and those who were first to vote were greeted by applause and cheers when they exited, having cast their vote.  Returning here at various points throughout the day, I didn’t witness any violence and there were no Guardia Civil officers in evidence. Indeed, when a patrol car of the Mossos d’Esquadra passed through the throng, doing nothing to prevent the vote, they crowd applauded the car.

IMG_5944.JPG

IMG_5933

This morning I saw another neighbour, Maria, heading out and she said she had absolutely no interest in voting. Whilst she said she always voted normally, she said she would not be voting today as she did not believe in the legitimacy of the vote nor was she pro-Catalan independence. Chatting to a lady who was waiting to vote in Barceloneta, her feeling was that the pro-remain people who had attended a march yesterday, were largely from other areas and not ‘true’ Catalans. And yet, Maria would call herself a ‘true’ Catalan. Such divisions are rife in Catalonia.

In the early afternoon there was a march by the pro-remainers, those who favour staying with Spain. They marched through Barcelona, accompanied by the National police. Again, whilst fairly boisterous, singing songs such as ‘Viva España’, I witnessed no violence from them nor the pro-separatist Catalans walking past. Much of the Born and Barceloneta, two central districts of Barcelona, remained calm and eerily quiet apart from the constant hum of the helicopters overhead; a sound which has become something of Barcelona’s soundtrack in the past month.

IMG_5955

However, I have subsequently seen numerous pieces of footage on Facebook, posted by friends and others, which show the brutality so many had feared. Unarmed, defenceless citizens thrown down the stairs, dragged out by their hair, jumped upon and kicked by Guardia Civil officers, in full riot gear, and all just for sitting in peaceful protest. Similarly, those protecting schools by forming human walls to protect the polling stations, were attacked savagely with batons, despite the protestors holding their arms up in peace.

When the forces of law and order hit and attack defenceless citizens, they lose the general population’s respect and trust. Respect and trust in the police is vital to a well-functioning democracy. It was notable throughout the day that the Mossos were in evidence throughout the city, but did not, as far as I have seen, lay a hand on a protestor, nor respond as the National police did. It is very clear that Spain and Catalonia are divided both from each other and within. This referendum, at the very least, has brought the issue of Catalan independence, to the world’s attention, which was perhaps partly the point. Given how many ballot boxes were seized, how many weren’t able to vote and perhaps, as is the case with my neighbour, a boycott of the vote, it seems unlikely that the Catalan parliament can call for independence from Spain in a few days, as Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan President, had said he would do, were the result to be a ‘sí’.

Tonight, FC Barca’s football match is being played behind closed doors, to prevent any outbreak of violence. And to keep up with the football analogy, it feels that even if the ‘sí’ camp ‘wins’, it will feel like a goal which is disallowed by the referee. Given that the referee is perceived as being biased too, it would seem that no side is going to ‘win’. With tempers flaring both on and off the pitch, perhaps all should refrain from playing the game until at the very least, everyone has agreed upon the rules.

A Catalan Calamity?

Photo Blog Independence

 

Plaça Jaume , home to Barcelona’s city hall and government offices, was quiet this morning; the calm before the storm perhaps. There were a few anti-independence supporters, bedecked in the Spanish flag. One of the flags had a bull on, as if to reinforce the point; bullfighting, never much beloved by the Catalan, was outlawed here in 2011, but the bull remains a potent symbol of traditional Spain. Behind them the buildings remain covered in signs pleading for democracy. The majority of people in the square were various media outlets, waiting for the news. Most nights in my square, I hear the 10pm ‘call to pots and pans’ (‘cacerolazo’) and up and down my street posters for the referendum are put up and taken down in quick succession.

img_5820.jpg

Speaking to my elderly neighbour, Carmen, she is unsure as to whether she will vote. She says she will decide when she wakes up. Her granddaughter and daughter-in-law are insistent she should and that she should vote ‘yes’ i.e in favour of independence. She remains unconvinced. She seemed to be favouring the ‘no’ campaign. She asked what would Catalonia do if it really did ‘leave’ Spain? Foreign companies would go to other cities. Would the region be able to support itself? She added, ‘I’m Catalan, but what’s my nationality? Spanish. And who’s counting the votes? Pro-Indepenence people, that’s who. The vote is against the constitution and I don’t agree with it, however, I will vote as my family wants me to’. In contrast, for another younger neighbour separation can’t come fast enough. His concern is more about what will happen to Catalans’ money given the seizing of the Catalan finances by the Spanish government which the government says is to prevent any public money being used to pay for the referendum. My younger Catalan friends tend to be pro-independence and pro-referendum. Indeed, a majority of Catalans are pro-referendum which they see as being pro-democracy.

Continue reading “A Catalan Calamity?”

Stuck between a Brexit and a Cata(lan)strophe

IMG_5345

Outside my flat the bells of Santa Maria del Mar have just tolled, a helicopter hums above and below there is the din of the square: people’s laughter and cups clanking on the metal tables. The sound of the helicopter has become almost as habitual as the ringing of the bells since not only the Barcelona attacks, but in the lead up to the referendum on 1st October. Last night the bells were drowned out by the sound of pots and pans being banged throughout the city, a ‘cacerolazo’ in support of the referendum and as a gesture of defiance towards the Madrid government.

IMG_5368

September is always a particularly patriotic month for the locals, as it is the month during which Catalans commemorate the fall of Hapsburg-supporting-Barcelona to Bourbon-supporting -Spain on 11th September, 1714; incidentally those same Bourbons who today are still Spain’s royal family. It is also the month where they celebrate ‘La Mercè’, the city’s patron saint. These events provide a platform for the ‘Leave Spain’ voters who turn out in their droves, or rather, in their fluorescent green t-shirts emblazoned with the word ‘Sí’ translated into ‘oui’, ‘yes’ and ‘ja’ among myriad other languages, to ensure that all understand the message being conveyed. At such events the mood tends to be upbeat, something helped by the numerous ‘Estrella’ beers being downed and food bandied about. One thing common to all Spaniards is their ability to turn any event into a quasi fiesta.

 

Continue reading “Stuck between a Brexit and a Cata(lan)strophe”

Fear of Flying

 

IMG_0761.jpg

We all know the acronym, FEAR, False Expectation (or Evidence) Appearing Real. In order to achieve anything in life we have to be brave. I encounter a lot of fear among the people I take travelling which therefore makes their decision to come on trips braver still. In reality the world is safer now than it has ever been before. However, whilst crime has been declining, our perception of crime has been increasing courtesy of the internet, 24-hour streaming news and social media. As I often point out to the people I take on tour however, the reason something is in the news is because it is something different to the norm and therefore unlikely to happen to them.

The current American election and potential UK exit, the so-called ‘Brexit’, from the European Union have something in common, other than being largely about two men whose egos and ambition are matched only in size with their improbably sized mops of hair; fear. The reason many are dashing for the exit in the UK is fear: fear of being overrun with migrants; fear of being told what to do by the Germans, or god forbid, the French. On the campaign to stay side, the politics of fear are being employed to suggest all kinds of doomsday scenarios should Britain leave. Over the pond Americans are voting for Trump because he plays upon their fears over immigration and worries about future hypothetical terrorist attacks. Never mind that Americans are more likely to die from being shot by each other than in a terrorist attack perpetrated by ‘outsiders’. Never mind that in the UK, migrants constitute a small percentage of the population and largely contribute rather than take out of the system. The false reality is the one we virtually inhabit and given that we spend more and more of our time online it is the one which appears the most real.

Continue reading “Fear of Flying”

No place like Rome

la-parolaccia

 

‘La Parolaccia’ in Rome, is a restaurant made famous for the fact that its waiters swear at and verbally abuse the clientele. I can’t decide what is more astonishing: the fact that people will pay for this, or the fact that they are able to tell a difference between this and other ‘customer service’ in Rome.

The Romans are a proud people. In fact, to call oneself Roman is to call back on seven generations, many of whom could well still be living above one another in one of the main high rise buildings dotted throughout Rome. However, it is this ‘first’ generation who regularly hurl abuse at each other over the ‘cortile’ whilst all the while the tourists wander by marvelling at the “beautiful courtyards, so peaceful” seemingly immune to the sounds of the blaring televisions and histrionics of daily life. Churches with enforced silences abound whilst outside ambulances scream by.  This is a city of contradictions. The Rome of ‘Roman Holiday’, ‘La Dolce Vita’ and, more recently, ‘La Grande Bellezza’ is the beautiful backdrop. Romans themselves take back their city from the tourists by spraying it with graffiti. Rome has often been described as an open air museum, but this is like the Breakfast club invaded the museum.

Rome, the eternal (ly) noisy city where a conversation is an act in a Shakespearean tragedy, where the audience of passers-by need not cross the street to hear the intricacies of any conversation. ‘All the world’s a stage’ and if the accent makes the language difficult to discern, the players thoughtfully add in subtitles in the form of gestures. Beware the unwitting tourist armed with their ‘lingua de Bocaccio’, the purest form of Italian; Roman dialect is a series of grunts and words more masticated than the victim of an encounter with a lion in the Colosseum. Given the adventurous lives of the ancient Romans (and I refer to their conquering of each other rather than countries) it should hardly come as a surprise that La Parolaccia is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the swearing and abuse. And even here, the earnest Italian scholar may find themselves a little confused when listening to expressions such as ‘mortacci tuoi/tua’ a phrase almost impossible to translate into English, but which basically insults your antecedents; a very Roman way of abusing someone.

Continue reading “No place like Rome”

A ‘Crap’ Article

image

No, not my being self-deprecating although you may well think it an apt title upon reading, but rather an article about the Catalan obsession with, well, crap or ‘caga’. This comes particularly into mind at this time of year as I am surrounded by ‘caganers’, ie crappers. Visiting the stands at the local Christmas market in front of Barcelona’s cathedral you are greeted by the usual suspects: Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, but you will also see stands upon stands of caganers. The most traditional caganer is the one wearing his red cap, however, now you can see anyone from the Pope to Obama caught in a compromising position (and no, not the same one Clinton was caught in). Literally, the figurines are all crapping and a pile of poo behind them is  included on the figurine.

image

 image

It could be said that the Catalans have a bit of an obsession with crap. The most famous (or nowadays infamous) avenue in Barcelona, the Ramblas is the riverbed of the Cagallel, literally stream of shit, in reference to the sewer that it once was. And as Robert Hughes mentions in his book on Barcelona, ‘the pleasures of a good crap are considered in Catalunya on a level with those of a good meal; “Menjar be i cagar fort/I no tingues por de la mort”, goes the folk saying: “Eat well, shit strongly, and you will have no fear of death”. Quite.

image

Continue reading “A ‘Crap’ Article”

Driving (near)Miss Delhi

image

As we hurtled the wrong way down the dual carriageway it became clear that whilst in India they do still drive on the Left, they also drive on the Right. In India it is not a case of ‘as the crow flies’, more a case of ‘how an Indian arrives’. In this particular instance the service station was located on the other side of the dual carriageway and rather than have to proceed to the next turn off and then turn around, our driver employed the ‘drive now think later’ attitude in crossing onto the other side, following the maxim that ‘might is right’. Such assumptions of immortality are natural to all drivers on Indian roads and as a consequence bus drivers in India are heading straight for Nirvana. A joke in India tells of a driver and priest arriving at the Pearly Gates. The priest isn’t admitted, but the driver is, with the explanation that whilst the priest was doing his job everyone was sleeping, but whilst the driver was doing his job, everyone was praying.

image

On my first visit to India I remember the bus drivers almost permanently driving on the wrong side of the road and with no seat belts; however, the driver did stop at every Hindu shrine along the way to pray. Given the fact we made it, it is hard to argue which is the more compelling case to be made. Insurance policies are largely regarded as unnecessary in a country where the overwhelming majority of the population is Hindu, with an accompanying belief in reincarnation. Indians must have found the Bond film title ‘You only live twice’ truly baffling .Why worry about your present life when you could be lucky enough to come back as a cow in India? Cows are considered the sacred mother god and are to be seen scattered across the streets of most of India, including lying in the middle of the traffic as 1.2 billion Indians go about their daily business. One of the most fascinating things to do in India is drive or walk around in order to see every aspect of human practices carried out by the side of the road. From the constant brewing of chai to washing in tubs and defecating in the fields, it is there to be witnessed by all who pass by.

Continue reading “Driving (near)Miss Delhi”

Neverending story

Neverending Story

photo copy

“Is this just a story?’ was a question once posed in a History lesson I was observing. The teacher was flummoxed. The child persisted. “Did any of what you told us actually happen?” He wasn’t being facetious. He just found it hard to determine what the past really was and how to engage with it. I was reminded of this student when I wandered around Verona today ahead of my tour group’s arrival tomorrow. If ever a country owed a lot of its tourism trade to Shakespeare it is Italy and if ever a city did, there can be no more worthy a contender than Verona. All over the town are signs to ‘Juliet’s tomb’ and ‘Juliet’s House’. Upon visiting ‘Juliet’s House’ you can touch her statue (supposedly grabbing her right breast will bring good luck, an idea no doubt put about by an Italian male although I can’t help but think that Shakespeare would have approved). Alternatively you can stand on ‘her balcony’ although the Romeos below mainly comprise American tour groups of girls who saw the film ‘Letters to Juliet’. Going one further is ‘Juliet’s Tomb’ and I was amused to read the top review on Tripadvisor, entitled ‘Empty’ where the reviewer ‘Travellingcuriosity’ wrote ‘I did not like this. All there is is an empty tomb’. Well yes ‘Travellingcuriosity’, this can’t have come as much of a surprise. They continued ‘I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this’.  I think short of Romeo lying strewn across the coffin, this reviewer, who really does have the most apt name, being in my eyes, a real ‘curiosity’, was destined to be disappointed.

photo 1 copy

Continue reading “Neverending story”

Eyes Wide Shut

 63950-640x360-london-icons2-640

“The final scene in  Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut ‘, was filmed not, as the film suggested, in New York, rather, in Hamley’s toy store on Regent Street”. Sean, our local blue badge guide, continued, “the Apple Store is the most profitable shop in London per square footage”, “Ian Fleming’s Bond was indeed ‘related’ to Sir Michael Bond of Bond Street” and “Queen Anne’s physician’s collection of artefacts formed the British museum”. The fact that Anne suffered 19 pregnancies all of which resulted in the death of her children through various forms, suggests his services were much in demand if not necessarily successful, hence his ability to build such a collection. However, it was the film’s title that struck me the most apt for me, an ex inhabitant of London, in that it sums up how we walk around our ‘own’ cities or countries. Where tourists may swoon at the guard change, or marvel at the Tower of London, most Londoners walk, or rather, dash past, saving their ‘wandering’ for foreign climes.

Continue reading “Eyes Wide Shut”

Qué?

article-1126509-003E35FB00000258-467_468x370

It was clear from the massive grins on my entirely male Spanish class, that something was amiss. In Spanish ‘estoy caliente’ means I am feeling amorous, whereas ‘tengo calor’ means I am hot. In my dashing in late, I had confused the two with the consequence that my students , not surprisingly, happily forgave my lateness (in a country in which lateness doesn’t technically exist, I shouldn’t have worried). No wonder they said I was their best teacher. Mistakes in foreign languages can have very amusing consequences and are some of the best ways of learning a language, or rather, remembering what not to say.

Continue reading “Qué?”