Sunday, December 25, 2005

Bon Nadal - Feliz Navidad - Merry Christmas

I was born in the sixties, I am a so-called Spanish/Catalan baby-boomer. At that time, in Franco's Spain, we were all born catholic. When I grew up, I did not know anyone who was not a catholic. You needed the baptism certificate for almost everything: to be admitted in a school, to get married, to become a public servant, etc.
I never heard anyone complaining about it. At that time, I thought that this was normal, that other religions belonged to remote locations and that by definition, Spaniards were catholic. My only sign of rebelliousness was my insistence on taking my first Holy Communion in Catalan. Do not ask me why, I cannot recall. I lived in a community with a high degree of immigration from other parts of Spain, Catalan was hardly spoken, there was only one nun in my school (out of 25 or 30) who could speak Catalan, but with 7 years I was determined to make a difference. And I did it, I learnt the whole thing in Catalan and I took my first Holy Communion in an “all Catalan ceremony” (when the dictator was still alive and kicking), dressed like a sailor, together with 5 other kids. The ceremony in Spanish took place the weekend prior with 300 children.
However after having been in Catholic schools for 14 years (4 with nuns and 10 with Salesian priests), I cannot call myself a practicing catholic. I am very critical of the catholic hierarchy, I am upset by the sex scandals where catholic priests played a leading role and were concealed by the Vatican, I am unhappy about the fact that the Spanish bishop conference radio station (COPE) has orchestrated a campaign against Catalonia and the Catalans, about the fact that the Catalan speaking parishes in Aragon (La Franja) were segregated from the Catalan archdiocese of Lleida where they belonged for more that 700 years, that the Pope continues to condemn the use of contraceptives, even the non abortive ones, while thousands of children in the world die because of overpopulation.

However I still believe that I have to preserve some of our traditions, those traditions that were so special to me when I was a kid. So this year we laid down the Nativity display (we call it “Pessebre” or “Belem”) with Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, the Angel, the cow and the donkey, the three Magic kings and two “caganers” (one boy and one girl) that I had to hide behind the bushes, not because of the new civic ordinance approved by the Barcelona Town Hall, but because my daughter, as a good puritan New Englander, found the figurines distasteful.
The other tradition that I try to keep is Epiphany. That is the day, January 6th, when the kids use to get their presents. I find it much more appealing than the northern European tradition of Santa Claus (Papa Noel) and clearly more educational than the Catalan-only tradition of the “Caga Tió” (shitting log).
I will not spend much time describing the Catalan tradition, it is clear that this basic need is one of our common places, because , as I said, it is a tradition that I do not follow. I will, however, explain why the three Magic Kings (or Wise Men) are much better than Santa Claus:
• First they represent a much more democratic environment. You can choose which King, White, Brown or Black, will bring your presents. My favorite was and still is the Black King.
• Second, it a tradition that promotes diversity. The Magic Kings came from the East, had different origins, different skin colors, brought presents, they were humble and peaceful. A big contrast compared to all white Northern European Santa Claus.
• Finally, they bring the presents on Epiphany day, January 6th. By then, all those kids that received their presents from Santa on December 25th, have wrecked most of their toys.

This time I will refrain from making comments on the Dutch tradition. I like Dutch and I always put the Netherlands as a mirror where Catalonia should look, but in this aspect they went too far. Presents are brought to kids on December 6th (you can imagine the state of the toys by now) by Saint Nicholaes. The terrible part is that the Santa Claus looking Saint Nicholaes is accompanied by a black servant that comes from Spain!!! The servant is called “Zwarte Piet” (Peter the Black) and threatens kids who did not make it to the nice list to be put in a sack and brought to Spain. Now I understand why so many of them make it to the “naughty” list. They want to eat free “tapas”.

Bon Nadal -Feliz Navidad- Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

ABC's confusion of languages

On November 30th, an editorial in the Madrid based conservative newspaper ABC titled “Confusion of languages” put the blame for the reduction of Spanish interpreters in the European Union (from 100 to 67) on the push to get Catalan recognized in the E.U. Since that very day, José Montilla, a minister in the Spanish government, a Catalan born in Andalusia, had used Catalan to address the EU assembly, the editorialists blasted at him, saying that he had chosen a very bad day to speak in Catalan.
In one of my future postings, I will elaborate my proposal on EU language policy that can be summarized by saying that all sessions should be held in English and all master documents should be generated in English. If any MP or speaker does not speak English, he/she should stay home (as I said, more details to follow).
After I read the article, I felt the urge to write a letter to the editor and I did it. As usual, also this time they did not publish it. However I have taken the liberty to include a free translation of my letter herebelow:

Every day is good to speak in Catalan

I take as a personal offense, someone saying that this or that day is not good to speak in Catalan, especially coming from a newspaper with distribution nation wide. Dear Sirs, there is never a bad day to speak in Catalan, nor to speak in any other language. It is downright insolence trying to blame on my modest but rich language (Catalan) for errors made by the Spanish diplomacy that have nothing to do with the defense of our native languages (or did they happen to reduce the number of English interpreters when Gaelic became official in the E.U.? obviously not), but has to do with the weakness of our economy in relationship with the European powers, the substandard education system as compared to our rich neighbors (UK, France, Germany,...) and the inexperience of our present and past politicians in the international arena.
Because the reality is that the central government only dares to take on Catalonia, a pacific and law abiding people with special passion for its language and culture, a passion that should the Spanish speaking have a similar level, the Spanish language would be in a much better position internationally.
When several US states proposed laws to end with bilingual education (basically dropping Spanish), I did not see you attacking the Spanish diplomacy led, at that time, by political parties much closer to your ideology. You did not show either any signs of outrage when Gibraltar got its .gi domain (1), when Spain plays “international” matches with Scotland (2) or when Spain accepted to foot its part of the bill for the Gaelic translation services in the E.U. (Gaelic is spoken by 50 thousand people) as a good E.U. member, when at the same time had to foot the total bill for translations to Catalan, a language that is spoken, as first or second language, by 10 million people.
And the reality is that you, the Spanish Central government only dares to take on Catalonia, and, OK Morocco too, if there are few of them (3), but USA, UK, France and Germany are off limits, they are too strong for Spain.
I hope that you will enjoy your toast with French champagne(4). That gives me hope because it shows how short the memory of the Spanish people is(5). As a person of good moral character, I will toast with cava (Catalan sparking wine) after having had dinner with Rioja and Ribera de Duero red wines and I will finish with an Alicante “turron” (nougat) dessert. Unfortunately I will have to do without Jabugo ham, since the US customs always confiscates it when I declare it upon arrival.

(1) There was a big uproar when the Catalan language/culture got the .cat internet domain
(2) It refers to the total opposition to having Catalan national teams, as for instance, in roller-hockey
(3) This refers to the “heroic” seizure by the Spanish military of the Perejil island, an island the size of a soccer field off the Moroccan coast that was “invaded” by a handful of Moroccan soldiers in 1999. However when hundreds of thousands of Moroccans invaded West Sahara (Green March), the Spanish military, ran away.
(4) It referes to the current boycott to Catalan products, especially "cava" (Catalan sparkling wine)
(5) In the 80s, French farmers use to burn scores of Spanish trucks carrying fruits and vegetables in front of the passivity of the French police.

Here is the Spanish version for whose who want to either practice their Spanish or check on my translation skills:

Todos los días son buenos para hablar en catalán

Tomo como una afrenta personal que alguien diga, sobre todo en un diario de difusión estatal, que tal o cual dia es malo para hablar en catalán. Muy señores míos, ningún día es malo para hablar en catalán, como no lo es para hablar en cualquier otro idioma. Tratar de echarle la culpa a mi modesta pero rica lengua de los fallos de la diplomacia española achacables no a la defensa de las lenguas vernaculas (o acaso redujeron el numero de traductores ingleses cuando dieron entrada al gaélico), sino a la debilidad de nuestra economía frente a las potencias europeas, a nuestro deficiente sistema educativo frente a muchos de nuestros socios ricos, a la inexperiencia en el terreno internacional de nuestros politicos, pasados y presentes, es una auténtica desfachatez.

Porque la realidad es que el gobierno central, solo puede con Cataluña, un pueblo pacífico, que cumple con las leyes y tiene una pasión especial por su lengua y por su cultura, que si los castellano hablantes tuvieran la misma, otro gallo le cantaría al español.

Cuando varios estados de EE.UU. prohibieron la educación en español, no vi yo que se ensañaran ustedes con la diplomacia española dirigida en aquellos momentos por partidos más afines a ustedes, ni cuando Gibraltar logró su dominio de internet .gi, ni cuando España juega partidos "internacionales" contra Escocia, ni mucho menos cuando España aceptó sufragar los gastos de traducción del gaélico (hablado por 50 mil personas) como buen socio comunitario, mientras a su vez aceptaba pagar el 100% de los gastos de traducción del Catalán que es hablado como primera o segunda lengua por 10 millones,

Y es que solo nos atrevemos con Cataluña, y, de acuerdo, con Marruecos también, si no vienen muchos, pero Estados Unidos, Gran Bretaña, Francia, Alemania, esos no, que son muy fuertes.

Les deseo que les siente bien el brindis con champán francés, lo que me da esperanzas porque demuestra lo corta que es la memoria del pueblo español. Yo, como persona como Dios manda, brindaré con cava, después de haber regado la cena con Rioja y Ribera de Duero, para acabar con turrón de Alicante de postre. Muy a mi pesar, tendré que prescindir del Jabugo que siempre me confiscan en aduanas.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Tourist in my own city

From Germany I flew to Barcelona to spend a long weekend. Every now and then, I feel the uncontrollable desire to go back to my beloved and heavily criticized city, and the €45.00 two hour flight from Stuttgart was too enticing to reject.
It’s been a long weekend here, they call it an aqueduct, because both Tuesday and Thursday were a holiday (the day of the Spanish Constitution and the day of the Immaculate Conception). So many people take the week off.
My arrival was impeccable, they have either fired the operations manager at the airport as I requested last time, or the guy went for some training to Schiphol or Changi (the airport, not the prison) and learnt something. My flight was on the monitors and the right conveyor belt was mentioned and, you are not going to believe it, my luggage was already standing there, someone had already removed it from the belt. Luck or improvements? I hope for the latter.
On Friday night I met my old friend Jordi, the creative director of a BCN based on-line fashion magazine called dRESSLAb. It was refreshing to talk to someone who was neither an engineer, nor a financial controller and in my own mother tongue.
We went for dinner to a restaurant I had never been in, it’s run by two young Basque entrepreneurs and serves what I would describe as Mediterranean “nouvelle cuisine” with an excellent presentation. The restaurant is called Freud b’ART and it is very close to the BCN Town Hall. That’s what we ate (unedited copy directly from their English menu):
o Bites of shrimps over black pepper pears and “ajoblanco” soup of coconut with duck ham oil.
o Sautéed scallops with mushroom vinaigrette and caramelized almonds
o Codfish loin candied at low temperatures with juice of red fruits and sweet pepper to the vanilla
o Black chocolate creamy cake in a soup of white chocolate and Brazil nut powder

We had a nice conversation about the new Catalan Estatut seen from inside and outside Catalonia only interrupted a dozen of times by his palindromic Polish girlfriend who sent constantly incomprehensible SMS messages.

Then we went to visit the controversial “caganer”-less Nativity display in front of the building of the Catalan government. It is a sterilized sort of environment and I have to agree that the “caganer” does not fit there at all, there is nowhere to hide.
After that we went to have a drink (or maybe two) at an area called Born (used to be BCN central food market). It has not changed much since I was a regular 20 years ago, it looked to me safer than before (although I always carry the wallet in the front pocket) and with many more fashion shops. We continued our nice conversation with Scotch at a bar called Mudanzas while the SMS messages continued to come.
And all these stories about people not willing to speak Spanish, nothing I came across, maybe just the opposite. I went to the central government representative office (“Delegación del Gobierno”) and absolutely no one spoke Catalan, so if you have to deal with any immigration issue, your Spanish is more than enough, none of the waiters that attended us were either Catalan or spoke a word of Catalan, and when I got close to a couple of Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police that has just been deployed in Barcelona, they were speaking in Spanish!!!, in front of the Catalan government building. Everything is fine to me, I am glad that everyone talks in the language that he or she wants, but please stop telling false “hear-say” stories about Catalan language being forced onto visitors, because they have nothing to do with reality. And did I write a complaint because no one would reply me in my mother tongue? No, I switched to Spanish and continued with my speech, something I have always done and will always do. That’s why I learnt 9 languages.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Holy shit! From the “caganer” to the Rockettes.

It was in the news last week that the Barcelona mayor has banned the traditional character in the Catalan Nativity display, called the “caganer” (shitting man, excuse my Catalan). This year’s display was designed by an Argentinean art student, that in principle did not contain the famous character, because she was not aware of it (it seems that it is not famous in Argentina, things happen). After being reminded of her omission, she tried to put it in, but she was not allowed to do so by the Town council. Apparently, this is a side-effect of the new civic rules that have been put in place by mayor Clos that prohibit urinating and obviously defecating on the streets (although vomiting is allowed, due to its uncontrollable nature).
Even though I agree with most of the new civic rules that have been put in place, I am afraid that killing a traditional symbol that has been part of our Nativity displays for hundreds of years, is going too far. The character tries to symbolize that among so many divine and royal figures (Jesus, Holy Spirit, the angels, the three Magic Kings, etc.), we, the average humans, still exist and have to fulfill our basic needs. A little bit gross, I admit, but that’s way the “caganer” character is always placed in a very discrete location in the display, very often behind a bush. If you are looking for this piece of Catalan art tradition, I recommend you visit where you can find some gift ideas with traditional and also less traditional “caganers”.
Talking about Christmas traditions, last week I went to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular show in New York City. They use a different, similarly effective and clearly more classy way to bring you down to Earth. The method is called the Rockettes. These girls are hot (I know I am not supposed to use those terms in a political blog, but I am sorry they are hot). Their methodology is linked, however, to a different type of basic instinct in humans that I will refrain from elaborating.
Moving back to the serious political speech, I need to say that from the point of view of non-discrimination, the “caganer” is my choice. It depicts an average person, neither old not young, neither handsome nor ugly, discretely doing his unavoidable business, whereas the Rockettes exhibit miles of naked legs, mostly white (except for 4 black and two Asian legs, 2 and 1 girls respectively for those who have problems with maths) and they draw completely the attention away from the central religious message.

Sports and Politics 0-3

I know, I know, we should not mix sports and politics, but this time I will make an exception. Personally I do not like soccer (football for the Europeans), but after a month of anti-Catalan rhetoric by the Castilian nationalists, I had to tune Catalunya Radio on the web to listen to the big match, Real Madrid against Barcelona, that took place in Madrid on Saturday.
The match took me back to my childhood, the last years of the Franco dictatorship, where those matches were real political statements. The expression, "Barcelona is more than a soccer club", was cast long ago, but it appeared to me to have regained this year its original meaning.
And we won 0-3, and we not only won, but we also played well and even part of the Real Madrid fans applauded Ronaldinho's last goal. Does this mean that the approval of "l'Estatut" is not a dream, that one day the Spanish Parliament will celebrate the approval of the new Catalan Constitution in a standing ovation? I doubt it, but who knows.
I had to do something to celebrate the victory, so I took out a bottle of "cava" from the fridge (excellent quality at only $6.99 at Costco), I asked my daughter to come, I poured "cava" in my glass, Sprite in hers and I explained to her that we had to toast because Barça had won a very important match and then she asked me what Barça was. I could have gone to tell her stories about our glorious history and how Barça was the symbol of that. I could have also told her that it is the expression of the global spirit of the Catalan people, with only 4 Catalans playing in the main team and a Brazilian and a Cameroonian being the stars, but I thought that I would use an alternative form that would make my life easier: 'Barça, I explained to her, is daddy's Red Sox'. She showed me her beautiful Sino-Catalan smile and said to me "gan bei" (bottoms up in Mandarin).
For years, Catalonia has tried to get international recognition in the sports arena., especially for those sports where Catalonia is strong, like roller-hockey. After being admitted to the roller-hockey world federation last year and winning the only international tournament where it participated, Catalonia was kicked out after heavy lobbying by the Spanish federation. Our only success so far, has been the admission of Catalonia as a national team by the Korfball Federation. What's korfball? How do you dare to ask what Korfball is, after their bold decision?. Korfball is a sport, the federation of which believes that Catalonia is a nation and I think they use a ball.

Friday, November 11, 2005


It is difficult for me to understand why people are so concerned about languages. I grew up bilingual (Catalan and Spanish), then I learned English, French and many more. I always used the language to communicate and I tried to adapt to the person that I was talking too. In our home in Massachusetts (a real Babel tower), we use 5 languages on regular basis (Catalan, Spanish, Mandarin, Suzhouese and, of course, English). We all understand, more or less, what the other one is talking about, and if not, we go back to our safe haven, English. The only one who seems to rebel at the situation is my 13 month old. He seems to think that everyone in the world (at least his little world) has a different language, that’s why he, so far and I hope not for long, sticks to the universal gugu, gaga.
Sometimes it is difficult for the mainly monolingual Anglo-Saxon world to understand how embedded languages are in our psychology. I find it extremely difficult to speak to someone in a language that is different to the one we used when we first met and when I have to do it, because I do not want to offend other people that may not understand our common language, I feel extremely uneasy. As an example, we are a group of four friends that know each other since childhood, all Catalan, all fully bilingual (Catalan and Spanish). I met one of them speaking Spanish (J) and the other two speaking in Catalan (L1 and L2). When we meet, we switch language depending on whom we are looking at. If I look at J, I will speak in Spanish and as soon as I turn my face to L1 or L2, I will switch to Catalan and the other way around (switch, not mix). It may look stupid, but it is a reality, it shows you how both languages co-exist in Catalonia, how embedded are both in our daily life and how natural it is for us to live in this dual environment.
All those catastrophists that say you have to be careful when speaking Spanish in Barcelona, that people will not answer you if you address them in Spanish, are simply lying, it is a big fat lie. In your first encounter, people will talk to you in the language that comes natural for them and I am assuming that you do not walk around in Catalonia with a Spanish flag tattooed on you forehead to indicate that this is your language of choice. If you politely indicate that you do not understand Catalan, people will switch to Spanish or English (if they know it). I say politely, because if you raise the voice and say, DO NOT TALK TO ME IN POLISH (that’s how Castilian people refer to Catalan), TALK TO ME IN CHRISTIAN (that’s how Castilian people sometimes refer to Spanish), THE LANGUAGE OF THE EMPIRE (i.e. the lost colonial Spanish empire), you may get somewhat less cooperation.
Next month I will go back to Barcelona for a weekend. I will let you know whether things have changed or not, and whether I get arrested for talking to J in Spanish.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

TARGET solves the "Estatut" issue

This week I have e-followed the debate on the Catalan Constitution (l'Estatut, English version) through all webpapers. I have read all kind of commentaries, from the right and the left, from Catalan nationalists and Spanish patriots, from Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Galicia, Andalusia and the Basque country. I have also read the speeches of almost every speaker. My conclusion is that the story will continue for years to come.
In my opinion the best speech came surprisingly from Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira. I do not like him as politician, I think that his statements have damaged Catalonia and the Catalan cause, but this time he was superb. He was even witty when he replied to the Popular Party leader in Galician language "the more you attack me, the more votes I get". Mariano Rajoy, the current conservative party leader is from Galicia although his wife has always insisted to deliver their kids in Barcelona, a matter of trust, I guess.
Unfortunately none of the sides listens to what the other has to say. Both have valid arguments, but no one wants to give in.
However, last week when I was shopping at the US retailer Target, a track jacket caught my eye. Immediately I realized that they had discovered the perfect answer to the problems we are currently facing in Catalonia and Spain. They have created a track jacket with Madrid in big letters and the Barcelona soccer club logo right next to it (imagine a track jacket with New York in big letters and the Boston Red Sox logo next to it in a moment in which New England would be debating the secession from the Union).
I think that the jacket can be safely worn in USA, but I would not recommend any of you (unless you are a masochist) that you wear it in Spain. I was planning to give it as a present to one of my friends from Madrid who lives now in Kenya (although since I started this blog, I do not know whether he still calls me friend or not), because I thought it would be pretty safe to wear it in the Kenyan jungle, but you never know.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Nation or financing, LET'S TAKE THE CASH

I am in Hamburg (Germany), Hansestadt Hamburg to be precise (that's why the car plates have a double HH, I love double letters), at the airport lounge wirelessly connected to my blog while drinking schnapps. I am in a federal country, something that in Spain seems to be a heretic concept. I am sure that some of you have seen this beatiful palace in an upscale neighborhood in Brussels with the sign, free state of Bavaria embassy to the European Union. What an insolent behaviour? If the Spanish Popular Party ruled Germany, this would have never happened. Only Bonn has the right to have international representation, or it is Berlin now? Things can even change in the old Europe. They will even have a new chancellor that comes from Eastern Europe and is a female!. The concept of having a Catalan president in Spain is totally unthinkable independently of gender, any party who would nominate a Catalan candidate for the Spanish presidency would commit political harakiri, we saw that already.

That brings me back to the Catalan Constitution (L'Estatut) and which aspects need to be preserved in the final negotiation. The way is going to be long, and we need to make sure that we advance in the right direction with detemination and resolve, with common sense and avoiding confrontation and rupture. There are two main concepts in the Estatut that are controversial, the notion that Catalonia is a nation and the control of our finances and taxation, one is emotional, the other one is practical. My advise is to be pragmatic. Let's give up the first one and focus on the second. We all know we are a nation, even the Castilians know we are a nation even though they do not want to admit it in the open, so let's not spend our efforts in the evident. Let's take the cash, let's make sure we can control our finances, that we can fund all our development plans, that we can invest on education, infrastucture and R&D, let's not forget that "pesseta", the old currency is Spain, is a Catalan word. Let's agree on less controversial denominations as a "national entity", but let's not give away control on a single euro cent.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

“boyCATt” me

As a result of the approval of the new Catalan constitution (L’Estatut) by the Catalan Parliament, many in Spain have called for a boycott to Catalan companies and products. This is not the first time, by the way.
In order to facilitate the work of those individuals who want to boycott Catalonia, a good Catalan Samaritan has created a website called “boiCATeja’m” (“boyCATt” me) that provides good reasons to boycott Catalonia, as for example:

  • One I said a few bad words about Spain
  • I have a basque friend
  • Once I celebrated the defeat of the Spanish national soccer team
  • At home we speak Catalan, just to annoy Spaniards
  • I read the Catalan constitution and I think it is not that bad
  • In addition to Catalan, I am gay/lesbian
  • My parents gave me a very Catalan name (Jordi/Montserrat)
  • I would not mind if we would give away the north Africa enclaves (Ceuta/Melilla) to Morocco
  • Etc.

I like the site because it radiates good humor. Almost 4000 people have already signed up and provided a wide variety of reasons to boycott us.
The creator of the website is Emili Junsalba who works in a textile company in Barcelona. He created the site after receiving a letter from a Castilian customer who informed them that that they would no longer buy carpets from them, because they had read in the papers that Catalonia did not want to remain as part of Spain and they refused to learn Catalan (a sheer misinterpretation of the facts, but anyway).

It is going to take a long time to get where we want be as a nation. We need to be relentless, but, at the same time, face the daunting job with good humor and without a revengeful attitude. We can make it, yes we can.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I am a “blocaire”

I was thinking of writing something about the draft of the new Catalan constitution (L’Estatut) that was approved in the Catalan Parliament last week and has been submitted to the Spanish parliament for “rejection”. I say rejection because the Spanish nationalists have already started a campaign against not only against the new Catalan Constitution but also calling for a boycott against Catalan products as a reprisal (there is several websites giving the name of Catalan companies and asking people to boycott them).
The document is a beautiful piece of legislation, very progressive, with the highest levels of human right protection. There are, however, two areas that the Spanish nationalists cannot swallow (especially those of the right wing Popular Party). The first one is that the document describes Catalonia as a nation, the second is that the task of raising all taxes is given to the Catalan government that will hand over to the Spanish government an amount to be agreed upon (now everything goes to the big pot in Madrid and Catalonia gets whatever the Spanish government wants).
That’s why, to my despair, I am convinced that the Catalan Constitution will never be approved. Last time we tried something similar, in the thirties, there was a military “coup” that lasted 40 years. I hope this time we can handle it better, but anyway we need the funds to become a leading nation. My benchmark is The Netherlands and that’s a tough goal if you cannot manage your finances.
However today I do not want to talk about the draft constitution (L’Estatut), I want to share with you that the organism that regulates the new terms that can be used in Catalan language (Termcat) has accepted two new terms: “bloc” (for blog) and “blocaire” (for blogger) that substitute the previously accepted forms that would translate as “personal interactive diary”. I have to congratulate Termcat for its flexibility to adopt new words. That makes Catalan a language that is much more dynamic than Spanish, where it is very difficult to get neologisms accepted and sometimes they sound so ridiculous that no one uses them, like “cajeta” for cassette/tape or güisqui for whisky.
So yes guys, I am a “blocaire” and you are reading my “bloc”.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Who cares about borders, fences, walls, border patrols, barb wire and all that stuff. We live in a cyber world. Her Excellency the Queen of Namibia was trying to justify the inexistence of the Catalan nation based on the fact that she did not find solid lines in the map around the Catalan territory. What an old-fashioned mentality! I can scientifically prove that Catalonia is a nation using "inference" as a reasoning tool.
In a world dominated by routers, search engines, email, websites and bloggers, the concept of nation can be proven if those companies dominating the cyberspace devote the necessary attention to Catalonia, Catalan people and the Catalan language. Let's start with Google (I assume some of you will find this the most powerful argument, because of its co-founder Sergey Brin). All Google applications are available in Catalan, the search engine googlecat and gmail. Microsoft has a very effective spell check in Catalan that allows me to write in Catalan virtually spelling mistake free, even though it was forbidden to teach Catalan at school when I was a kid. Finally the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) approved in September the .cat domain to be used by everyone related to the Catalan language and Catalan culture. Even though I do not agree with Chomsky's definition of language, I think it is 100% applicable to nations: "a nation is a group of people that think they are a nation, especially if they have a web domain". Therefore it is scientifically proven that we are a nation, at least a virtual nation, and that's all that matters.

As you can imagine, some Spanish nationalists are outraged by the concession of the internet domain to the Catalan people, what they qualify it as secession, a virtual secession, even though the .cat domain is not ISO compliant (.ct would be the ISO-correct domain for a Catalan nation). However they kept the mouth shut when Gibraltar got its domain (.gi) what, in my opinion, goes against the Utrech treaty. Other remarkable domains are .hk (Hong Kong), .tw (Taiwan) and especially .tk (Tokelau), all of them with a two letter national denomination. Food for thought.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Singapore, Barcelona and wallets in the front pocket

It was good to be back to Singapore . I lived there from 1992 to 1995. I love the city. I love the people. I love the food.
I did not see much of the city this time. I was in meetings from early in the morning to late in the evening, but at least, I was able to go to Newton Circus on Sunday night to eat one of my favorite dishes, sting ray with lots and lots of chili and one big Tiger beer (actually, two). On Friday night my Singaporean friends brought me to a new place, Fullerton One, to a seafood restaurant next to the relocated Merlion. We had delicious food, pepper crab, steamed fish, drunken prawns, baby kailan and a yam based dessert.
I really like Singapore as long as I do not read The Strait Times or watch the local TV news. I am sure that you can learn much more about Singapore from Orange Raindrops. By the way, I was told that now you can finally buy chewing gum in Singapore with a doctor's prescription (!?).

One of the characteristics of Singapore is how safe it is. You can walk around almost everywhere in the island without fear of being robbed or assaulted. I wish Barcelona were the same thing, but it is not. I still remember when I moved to USA in 1999 and called the VISA hotline. I noticed a familiar accent in the service staff that answered my call. He was Chinese and we switched the conversation to Mandarin. He asked me where I was from and I told him from Barcelona (I would never say from Spain). He was shocked. He said, "I am sorry for you". I argued, "why sorry, it's a great city!". "No", he said, "many of the calls I receive every day to report stolen Visa cards come from Barcelona. So many people get robbed there, it must be a terrible place".
It is obvious that it is more difficult to prevent crime in Barcelona than in a tightly controlled island as Singapore, but I am convinced that much more can be done by city officials and the Catalan government to dramatically reduce crime levels. If pickpockets are released, while victims are still filing the police report, we will not go anywhere. The Catalan government needs to address two of the main sources of crime, uncontrolled immigration and drug addiction and at the same time, provide the tools to police and judges to address the unacceptable level of crime on the streets of Barcelona. We get about ten million visitors every year. We want to make sure that they have an enjoyable experience, that they have fun, learn a bit about our culture, dine and party, participate in our traditions, shop and spend money. I feel bad when I realize that some of them just remember the four hours they spent at the police station trying to file a report and the 2 hours on the phone, canceling their credit cards.
However, before the Catalan government finally steps in, I still encourage you to visit our wonderful city, just make sure that you have the wallet in the front pocket and your camera always under control.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Bullfighting, souvenirs and "guiris"

There are two things that I would like to see banned in Barcelona and Catalonia at large. One of them is bullfighting, the other one is Mexican hats sold at souvenir shops.
Before I elaborate on the reasons behind those draconian measures, let me say a few words about the word “guiri” that has created some controversy. In my opinion, the word “guiri” is only mildly offensive and in many cases, it pretends to be funny. The origins of the word, are pretty old (early 19th century) and it described the members of the “Carlist” party and it became also a synonym of the word “liberal”. It was also used to describe certain members of the Civil Guard (“Guardia Civil”) that most probably led to the term “guripa”, still used today. There are many theories about the origin of the word “guiri” applied to the Anglo and North Europeans, whose only interest in Spain was the sun, the beach and the cheap alcohol but had no interest at all in the country they were visiting. It clearly originates in the early 60s, when Spain started to open up to tourism. The Spanish society at that time was totally unprepared to deal with this influx of tourists who did not speak the language (hardly any Spaniard spoke English at that time either), behaved in a strange way, were noisy and got drunk all the time, became red as lobsters and had no interest at all in the country they were visiting or its people. They had to create a word to describe them, and this word was “guiri” as I said, not a terribly offensive word.
Going back to the main discussion point, in Catalonia, bullfighting and certain souvenirs like Mexican hats are offered just for the consumption of misguided or misinformed tourists. Bullfighting has never been popular in Catalonia and the vast majority of Catalans is against it, so let’s devote the arenas to other activities like concerts, displays of local culture (human towers, “sardanas”, the national dance, ...), circus, etc. If someone wants to see bullfighting, he/she can go to Madrid or Sevilla and mingle with the locals who appreciate this tradition. Let me be clear, I am not proposing a bullfighting ban in the rest of Spain, only in Catalonia. Those who voice animal rights concerns should devote their time to other issues first like animal testing. If asked, 100% of the bulls would prefer to die in a bullfighting rink, 20 minutes of suffering after having enjoyed 5 years in the wild with plenty of food and cows, rather than being forcedly fed with “contra-natura” food in overcrowded farms and later being hanged alive from a moving conveyor, electrocuted and skinned while still kicking.
The issue with the Mexican hats is obvious, what do Mexican hats have to do with Barcelona or Catalonia? I take it as a personal offence, a lack of tact, a total disregard of our culture and our feelings. But those who buy them are not responsible for this cultural disgrace, they are simply ignorant, those who sell them are to blame. That is why the Catalan government should ban their sale in souvenir shops (they could be sold in Mexican or ethnic shops, I have absolutely nothing against Mexico, in fact I worked there for a few years and have excellent Mexican friends).
What would New Yorkers think about a group of tourists visiting the Big Apple dressed in full cow-boy attire and franticly looking for the nearest rodeo show, because they want to enjoy some "local" entertainment? Anyway, be careful, I hear that it starts to be popular in DC.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Cartography in Namibia

Cartography is a very dynamic science. Just compare the map of Europe from 30 years ago and the current one. Dozens of new countries with its small little borders have appeared. Is the Queen of Namibia implying that the inhabitants of those little countries (Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Rep., Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Slovakia, Slovenia, etc) deserve more respect than Catalans, that their languages deserve more recognition than Catalan, because they have little borders around them? That’s obviously ridiculous and does not stand any analysis, but the very fact that some people think this way and even try to promote it from the outside (and from the inside), may lead us to a Europe of micro-states, unable to compete with the almighty USA.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

OK, OK, Barcelona sucks a little bit

The original intention for creating this blog was to try to drive fundamental changes in my country Catalonia with the objective that it becomes a leading country in trade, education, technology, communications and social fairness. I have some ideas about how to do it and I wanted to steer Catalonia’s future from my blog. I was hoping that the politicians that rule our country, to be frank a bunch of useless individuals, would take note and start the required reforms.
After reading Ale’s insidious remarks about my city, I decided to start my blog with a different objective, fight back!.
I think that, by now, I have already put the record straight, everyone believes now that Barcelona is still on the biting edge of fashion, architecture, food, style, music and good times.
I do not think that anyone can take seriously the comments of an American woman who expects everyone to wave and smile at her when she goes for a stroll in Barcelona, dressed with a crop top, low cut jeans, pierced belly button, a tattoo on her lower back partially hidden by a purposely misplaced thong and a one meter radius (40 inches, someone asked for translations) Mexican hat (that’s precisely what Ale would describe as orthodox Vogue style).

Going back to my original intent requires some criticism to my city and my country to Ale’s delight.
So yes, Barcelona sucks a little bit. Its airport gets on my nerves. Whenever I arrive, I have to wait for my baggage for half an hour, it always appears in the wrong conveyor and many times the monitors do not even show the right flight. If you ask someone with uniform, they will always tell you that they work for another airline. They should simply fire the operations manager. At the airport, newcomers get the first impression of the country and I have to tell you, the impression is NOT good.
In coming weeks, I will highlight other areas of opportunity, but one thing is clear, I still love my city Barcelona and my country Catalonia. And after all I think Ale has good intention, maybe they lost her baggage at the airport and that biased her during the whole stay.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Those who say that Barcelona sucks suck

This was my reply to SemprePrimavera's posting titled "Barcelona STILL sucks!!!":

I am from Barcelona and live in New England. I am just back from Barcelona and I have to tell you that it is still a great city. I have been gone from Barcelona for 13 years, and the only thing that shocks me when I go back is how few native people are left in the city. I did not meet any waiter or waitress who were either Catalan or Spanish.

If you were looking for "fiesta" the Andalusian way, you went to the wrong location. Barcelona is Catalonia. Flamingo and bullfighting are staged only for "guiris" like you, but have nothing to do with our culture. If what you are looking for is the southern warmth, go back to Sevilla, or go to Cadiz, Malaga or Huelva. Great people, great climate, great food. As a Catalan, I recommend to everyone to visit Andalusia, as well as many other regions in Spain.

Regarding your taxi driver from Sevilla, most propably he did not tell you that his kids feel 100% Catalan, that they support Barcelona soccer club and vote for CiU (the Catalan nacionalistic party) and that he loves to go back to Sevilla every year for a few weeks, but after that, he is looking forward to going back to the organized life in Catalonia.

Finally, being from New York, how do you dare give lessons of friendliness? Next time go to Antarctica. Penguins are really nice and really southern.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Global, not provincial

I am a Catalan married with a Chinese lady with American kids, living now in the States after having lived and worked in 3 other continents. Wherever I went, I learned the local tongue, including Malay/Indonesian, Mandarin and as much as I could Suzhouese. I also speak at different levels 7 European languages.And I can tell you, Catalans are not the problem. We have the democratic right to wish we were independent, we have the right to speak our language and expect that people who want to join our community learn it. We have the right to proclaim that we are not Hispanic (that's theoretically my "race" in the USA), since we did not participate in the colonization of America (I remind you that Catalans, Valencians and residents of the Balearic islands were not allowed to go to America freely until the 18th century) and we do not speak Spanish as mother tongue. We are respectful and I agree we should do much more to promote English as a third language in Catalonia, while keeping a very high standard in both Catalan and Spanish. We should be very pragmatic and have multilingual offerings in our Universities that attract top students and make use of the language to promote our economy. My formula is very simple, if you come to sell things to Catalonia, make sure that you are able to communicate your message in our language, if you come to buy or invest, you can speak swahili that we will manage.

Monday, July 25, 2005

My blog creation

I have been reading some nasty stuff about my home town, Barcelona. I am creating this blog to put the record straight (or at least try) and give you my opinion about politics and supply chain. What's the relationship between those two? Don't know yet, but we'll see.