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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