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.