Saturday 30 September 2017

About 1-O

1-O of course means, 1st October. The day of the planned referendum on independence. I will write during the day about my village, Celrà and maybe Girona as well. 

This is the town hall (on the left) and the Civic Centre (entrance by the right-hand chimney).
The painting is in watercolour, 2004.

I just got back from Can Ponac which is the place for old-folks and that is one of the three locations that was intended for the vote. But I found a large group of people which, first of all, I thought were not able to get in. I knew that the police had come earlier but, in fact, they had come to cut the internet connection on which they depended. This seemed strange to me, why did they not simply check peoples' ID and count ballot papers at the end of the day? This was a weak link!

The mayor made an announcement on a barely audible hand-held loud-hailer. After a while, some people drifted away and I followed them. I fancied a coffee and there were tables serving hot dogs and drink. The atmosphere was relaxed and festive despite the frustration of not being able to vote. Maybe they hoped something would change during the day. I came back home to write up my blog but I will go back later.

I spoke to one or two people, two of whom I know quite well. One works in reception at the Town Hall, so I wondered if she had seen my email about the posters which so offended me. The message, like a mantra, from them was the same..... The referendum was totally legal, they have the basic human right to self-determination. The central governing party, the PP, are "francistas", the grandchildren of Franco. In other words they are the same. Extreme right. I asked one guy what party he would like to see in power in Madrid. He said, "none of them".

All my conversations on the subject are friendly and respectful, I may feel strongly on the subject myself but I hold back in order to maintain good relations.

But I get very depressed at the vast difference between the two sides. It is not like Brexit where people had different opinions, it is a total disagreement over the rules of engagement. That is the best way I can think about it. It is not about whether people want a referendum or not, it is about whether they consider it legal or not. That goes very deep. They see a basic human right of self-determination being denied. Sometimes the phrase, "self-expression" is used. Hey, that's OK. They can express as much as they like but, despite their deep belief to the contrary, they do not have the right to vote on independence. The same with Germany, Italy.....

I have just seen pictures of the Guardia Civil violently hitting people in the street and I am very shocked. There are reports on TV3 that they are using rubber bullets. I feel abandoned by both sides. The independistas who want to create a new republic which will float somewhere to the west of Portugal with no EU membership and no trade deals with the rest of the world and these riot police whose brains are conditioned by dealing with  violent extremists, not the nice, polite people of Catalunya. I wrote earlier, they genuinely believe that they have a right to vote. I respect that even if I think they are wrong.

These pictures will circle the globe and will pour gasoline on a fire which is many times more intense than the court judgements of the Tribunal Constitucional. Such is the modern world. Many people will jump on the band-waggon tomorrow. I am scared. Last year, I learnt that my passport will no longer be an EU passport, simply a UK passport. And now the place where I have made my new home is going.... I have no idea where.

I am going back to the town hall now. The railway station is right next-door so I will then take a train to Girona to see what is happening there. I will write more here later!

They got their vote! When I went back, people were inside Can Ponac voting. This guy was very happy to have his photo taken but I promised to pixelate the three guys who were helping. But I don't think they were too worried.

They managed to re-connect the internet which they use to verify peoples' IDs. Later I saw two Mossos, the Catalan police but they were making no attempt to stop the voting. I think this was happening a lot, that the Mossos, if not supporting the vote were certainly taking a passive role.

They celebrated with a meal!

I walked aimlessly around Girona for an hour then went to the station for the train back to Celrà. On the platform I met a guy who I have got to know in Celrà, together with his young female carer. He had a stroke and is more or less confined to a wheelchair. His speech is very difficult to follow but he can read and use his hands. No one came with a ramp to help him onto the train but fortunately, when it arrived, it was one of the more modern versions with wheelchair access. Joan got up from the chair and I dragged him to a seat inside, his carer brought the wheelchair onto the train and sat in it for the short journey to our village.

When we arrived, Joan stayed in the chair and we dragged him onto the platform. I felt a muscle in my side twinging but it was soon OK. We went together to Can Ponc where he wanted to vote. When we arrived, the crowd parted for him to be wheeled down to the entrance and everyone burst into applause. I guess it was for my noble work in dragging him off the train (joking of course). I found it rather patronising, as though he had overcome great hardship to get there (maybe you think I am heartless but I write this story with a smile and I often stop to talk to him). When I used to push my mum around in a wheelchair after her stroke, we used to get sickly smiles from people passing by, "There, there... does she take sugar?" Fortunately the stroke didn't dim her mischievous sense of humour so we used to joke about it. Except that she couldn't talk.

I left rapidly and in passing I saw the mayor and he said, "Hello Steve". I replied back, "Hello Dani", but I confess it was rather cool because I blamed him for the offensive posters outside the Town Hall. I felt guilty about that afterwards. Maybe he didn't get to see my email. Normally our relationship is very cordial but, at the time, I was feeling very depressed about how things were going. And his party, CUP, was a chief protagonist.

To France again!

I had an interesting day yesterday. I know I have written a lot about the political situation here but my blog is really to cover anything that might entertain you! Especially when I go travelling.
Yesterday was a very short trip, to Perpignan. I have a choice of two routes, one is cheap and slow, the other is much more expensive and, certainly from Girona to Perpignan much faster. The down-side of taking the fast train is that I first have to go into Girona and sometimes there is not very much difference in the time. To buy a ticket at short notice is €33 but it only takes 40 minutes from Girona to Perpignan. The train is either a Spanish AVE which goes on to Toulouse, Lyon or Marseille or it is the French TGV which goes twice daily to Paris.
Yesterday, I looked up the "slow train" and saw that there was an R11 regional train to Cerbère at 11am. Perfect, because it takes one hour and there is a French TER regional train to Perpignan (and on to Avignon) at 12.30.
But this was most odd! The train arrived but on the wrong track, the "down" line in rail parlance, the track which normally takes trains down to Barcelona. We looked in puzzlement and walked down to the back of the train, scrambled across the tracks and onto the train in the last carriage.
Gradually I began to notice the screen in the carriage, it said "RG1 Portbou", not "R11 Cerbère". Portbou is the final stop in Spain before the train trundles through a short tunnel into France and stops at Cerbère. I decided that I must have made a mistake in looking up the trains because I don't normally take this train. I didn't have my timetable with me and the app on my mobile only showed future trains.
At Flaça, the train crossed over to a platform not normally used and I could see a freight train waiting for the track to be free in order to go in the direction of Barcelona.
I saw people in Flaça coming to enter my carriage but the doors closed before they could get on and they were left stranded on the platform. "Odder and odder," said Alice.
After Flaça, the train crossed back to its normal track - as on the roads, trains here go on the right. I got off at Figueres, not having had to pay for the ride. There was no point in staying on the train because it was going no further than Portbou. Just as I was pondering what to do, maybe spend a day out in Figueres, I heard an announcement which immediately made everything clear. It was for R11 to Cerebère! The train which I should have been on. The previous train was obviously running very late. The change of track was for a different reason I guess, maintenance for example.
I was very honest and told the ticket collector that I had come from Celrà... on two trains. I smiled but he didn't seem to enjoy the joke. In any case, it is only €2.95. Imagine! About 3 euros to go to France!
At Cerbère, I passed through a security check where I showed my passport, and crossed to the French side, picked up my ticket which I had already paid for online. €4.40. And I took the TER to Perpignan. The TER is much more comfortable than the rather basic Spanish train. Typically French, the interior is a pastel blue. (By the way, I usually carry a laminated photocopy of my passport with a notary stamp on the back to say that it is authentic. I use that as my ID because my Spanish ID is not a photo ID on account of my being a foreigner and I keep my passport safe at home. When I first arrived here my ID was the same as the Spanish photo-ID on a credit card format but later they downgraded the foreigners' ID, it is called NIE - numero identificar estranjeros.) On the high-speed train, there is no ID check between France and Spain. And none coming back from France on the low-speed train.

By the time I arrived in Perpignan, it was about 1.15 so I headed directly for Port d'Espagne which is where the Auchan store is located. Oh, I didn't tell you, the purpose of the trip was to buy wine! I was so happy to find that the flimsy little reloadable bus ticket that I've had at home for a long time still worked. I have had a credit of 10 journeys for about 2 years. I thought that they would expire.

Very strange, the students, who I asked where the number 11 bus stop was, replied that they didn't speak Spanish. I am sure I asked in French. So I said it again more slowly, "Ou est l'arrête pour l'autobus onze?" This time, success. I am sure I don't speak French with a Spanish accent, that would be most odd! Most of the time, I get my leg pulled over my English accent when speaking Spanish.
The rest of the afternoon was spent happily choosing wine. I had taken my shopping trolley and guessed that it would take 12 bottles which was about right.
I went back to Perpignan station to buy my ticket for the 17.11 to Portbou but there was a long queue in the ticket office and I was running a little short of time. I tried to use the TER ticket machine which is not the same as the machine for the main lines. It is like something out of the 60s. It has a screen but it is not a touch screen, instead it is operated with a rotating wheel like an arcade game. I felt sure I was wasting my time because, last time, it would only accept French bank cards (or cash). This turned out to be true. Now time was getting short and I didn't know the penalty for getting on the train without a ticket. The train was sitting outside.

I complained to a woman at the help desk nearby, saying that the machine - in French, bourne - was out of the last century. I said the it was an international station and yet the machine only accepted French bank cards. She responded with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders. I responded by mocking her with an English shrug of the shoulders.

I decided to get some change. I bought a fruit juice and got my change in euro coins. I went back to the machine and went through the same old rigmarole again. This time, it kept on rejecting my euro coins. Finally I got it to accept 7 euros (the fare was 6.80, more because it is peak time). It then gave me a message saying that it could not give me my 20 cents change and gave me a choice of things to do. Some I didn't understand but one was to quit and get my money back which is what I did.

I took a photo and went out to the train. The ticket collector was on the platform and he said that there would be an extra €7 to pay if I had no ticket. I showed him the photo of the ticket machine. He said to speak to the supervisor.  He grudgingly agreed to charge the normal fare but during the journey he never came to my seat, so I travelled back to Spain for nothing!

Later, when I looked at the photo of the ticket machine, I guess the correct choice would have been "Vous acceptez l'Avoir", in other words, accept the loss of 20 cents and print the ticket. But I was running out of time. Next time, I will make sure I have €7 in cash because I usually catch this train back home. Or, even better, €6.80!

I wanted to see how the political situation here is reported in the French press, well at least one newspaper. I picked up l'Independent in its local version. It has "Catalan" on the front page, meaning Paises Catalanes. But its coverage was surprisingly low key, an inside page and not even all the page. And this was very welcome, it was balanced and fair. Even in fact leaning towards support for the Government in Madrid. That was welcome after the unbalanced and emotive language of The Times in London.

Wednesday 27 September 2017

An Email

In response to the inflammatory posters in three Adjuntament locations (see the previous post, "Photos"), one of which adorns the Town Hall, I bravely decide to write an email. I didn't want an argument in reception so I thought it would be best to measure my words. I was careful to say that my objection was to do with the posters, not the referendum or independence. It is not a very large village and I often speak to the mayor, so they know me well.

Of course, I will add their reply if I receive one. I know why I'm doing this. Just one small victory would make me feel so much better, I feel rather crushed by the weight of opinion and propaganda over this whole event. It is to push back a bit and make a bit of space around myself.

Friends have suggested I move away during the weekend. I am sure there will be some kind of vote here, even if they print their own ballot papers. Many of the posters in the town were probably printed at home. There is a website with all the "Freedom" posters as PDFs. Nooo, I am staying here. I want to report here what happens each day, and especially on Sunday. For example, I don't know where they plan to vote. There are public meetings which I guess I could attempt to attend. But I wouldn't have a vote anyway so they would probably suspect me of spying. And they would be right!
Then after Sunday maybe I will take a break. It is stressful for me here, I'm writing this blog and also in The Times comments but there is bad stress and good stress. This is good stress because I am doing something positive and I love to write anyway. I still have my clunky keyboard from when I ran my company in the UK, which I love. I have two, with the Spanish symbols drawn on in indelible pen.

Here's the email.....

Supongo sabes que no estoy en favor de independencia, tampoco el referendum! Siempre he mostrado respeto por tu opinión y espero igual tú conmigo. Pero los posters afuera de La Fabrica son inflamatorios. Es un sitio para todo del pueblo y no es justo tener algo tan fuerte. Creo que tienes un responsabilidad de cortesía por todo del mundo que vive aquí. Aún yo!:-)

Son en inglés.... porque? Me molestan aun mas porque les tomo personalmente. Soy el único inglés en Celrà.

"Voting is not a crime"? Nadie lo dice.
"Pistola, guns"?? Que dices exactamente? Nadie usa armas.

(Yo supongo, si los posters no se hacen directamente por el Ajuntament, son allí con su permiso).

He utilizado email porque no busco una respuesta y no quería una polémica en recepción.

con respeto, y saludos!

I guess you know I'm not in favor of independence, neither the referendum! I have always shown respect for your opinion and I hope you are the same with me. But the posters outside La Fabrica are inflammatory. It is a place for everyone in the village and it is not fair to have something so strong. I think you have a responsibility for courtesy to everyone who lives here. Even me! (and I added a smiley emoji)

They are in English .... why? They annoy me even more because I take them personally. I am the only Englishman in Celrà.

"Voting is not a crime"? Nobody says that.
"Gun, guns" ?? What exactly are you saying? Nobody is using arms.

(I suppose, if the posters are not made directly by the Ajuntament, they are there with your permission).

I used email because I don't require an answer and I did not want an argument in reception.

I was just reading some propaganda about Paises Catalanes. It is alarming. A declaration was made earlier this month in the "four cities of the Catalan Countries", Barcelona, Palma, Valencia and Perpignan. And it made its intentions clear, that this referendum is only the first step in reuniting the 4 "countries" of Catalunya. It spoke angrily not only about Spain but also the French government. The document is far-left politically. It is dynamite. Maybe I should publish it somewhere because I don't think people realise how fanatical these people are. But you can read it here and translate from the Catalan to English in Google Translate which works well.

The posters are here:
The propaganda about the "new republic", including the declaration I described above is

Tuesday 26 September 2017


I went to the Civic Centre this morning to pick up some of my paintings which were in storage following the rather sudden closure of the bar where they were being exhibited! I thought I would show you a selection of posters around the town of Celrà and I have placed them in a PDF file, click here
The size is about 8MB. I took all these photos this morning (Samsung S6 phone).

The most outrageous by far is hanging above the entrance to the Town Hall. This is what I am up against on a daily basis although this is the most extreme banner I have seen so far.

I feel doubly insulted because it is also in English, as if directed at me. There is only one other English person in the village and she is married to a Catalan. I am really annoyed by their use of English. I didn't ask why they had done it - I didn't dare. I have to be careful here because some people are quite fanatical, as you can see. I am not saying I would be in physical danger, only that it is a village and I want to stay here.

The corner of the brick wall in one of the photos is the health centre.  "Voting is not a crime". I don't think anyone has said that it is, as far as I know.
The interior view is simply to show you the interior of La Fabrica which is next to the Town Hall. It is a bar and restaurant and the Civic Centre is in the same building. Both were part of a factory dating from around 1920 which was restored in about 1980 by the local council.

I added this at 11pm. I have always had good relations with the Ajuntament although we are politically opposite and I hope it will stay that way (in both senses!). Actually, I sent an email this aftenoon complaining about the three posters by the Town Hall and I will write more tomorrow about it. I am not entering into a discussion about independence, it is simply that I think a line has been crossed in what is acceptable in a modern society.

The right to self-determination

Recently I have been writing in the comments section of The Times and one point that comes up frequently is the "right to self-determination". Well, it comes up frequently all over the place! I found an article in El País in English. As one would expect for a newspaper based in Madrid, it puts the Goverment's side of the argument. But, if you read it, I hope you will find it credible. If the Catalan Parliament wishes to question this logic, then they have recourse to the law, either to the UN or the EU. But they haven't done so. Either they think that they would lose or else they haven't thought about it.

It is interesting that the article analyses the UN Charter because I was attempting to do that online a couple of days ago. Actually is is not difficult to follow, it is in very clear language. 

Here is the paragraph from El País....

It is false that, as what the suspended referendum law says in its explanatory statements, Catalonia has “the inalienable and indefeasible right to self-determination” and that this has been recognised by international law. The contrary is true, rather.

The United Nations’ own norms (the foundational charter of 1945, General Assembly Resolutions 1514 and 2625, International Covenant on Civil Rights) recognise the right to self-determination but to do so in an internal way: as a right for citizens to express themselves politically, vote in democratic elections and participate in institutions.
Only in very specific cases can this right become an external form of self-determination, meaning secession. These cases are limited to the particular situation of peoples under “colonial or other forms of alien domination or foreign occupation.” (UN Resolution 50/6)
But the resolution goes on to say that, “this shall not be construed as authorizing or encouraging any action that would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States conducting themselves in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples and thus possessed of a Government representing the whole people belonging to the territory without distinction of any kind.”
In other words, democracies.

You can read the whole article here 

Yes, of course this blog is one-sided! (but I welcome opinion from all sides). I need to restore the balance and state my case clearly that this process towards secession goes completely against the whole principle of democracy and the rule of law which protects me - to protect me against people who have no respect for the law. 

The Spanish Constitution was agreed by Catalunya and two prominent Catalans took part in its assembly. When I hear this illegal process described as "Democracy", it makes me rather upset. Well, it used to upset me but I think I am getting used to all the propaganda. (Incidentally, the word, propaganda in Spanish is a "false friend". Those who learn languages will know what I mean. In Spanish the word simply means "publicity" such as a leaflet, it doesn't imply bending the truth which is the meaning in English.)

By the way, this blog is normally about my life here and my travels (I go to the Philippines for 3 weeks in November to visit my friends there after a week in Bangkok). It is only during this very tense period up to 1st October that I am writing about politics.

Monday 25 September 2017

in Perpignan

I take back my joke about Catalalunya Nord in a previous post! I am in Perpignan and my beer is Catalan!

I have been writing comments in The Times website but threads get deeper and deeper with additional questions so, at some stage I have to call a halt and not respond. One point was so brief, I didn't really understand it anyway. Another asked exactly where in the Constitution it prohibits the referendum. I thought of replying, "No idea!" but felt that was rather brusque and rude.

I answered a point about the "right to self-determination" and whether it overruled the Constitution. I think we would know by now if it did because the Catalan Parliament would be waving the document in the air together with the esteladas (the independence flag). I even looked up the UN Charter and read Articles 1 and 55. But I am none the wiser. I think there  ofare two levels to the right of self-termination, one on a national level and one on a personal level. It was written in 1945 when countries were encouraged to escape oppressors. Now we are in a very different world and I cannot believe this charter is saying that any region of a country may vote and leave the mother-ship. Imagine that happening in Europe, it would be chaos.

Another writer in The Times suggested that I was against the referendum because I wouldn't like the result. My reply would be that, no, this is not the case. I am against it because it is illegal. But I do not want independence. Those are two different things.

I spent the whole day in Perpignan and, at 17.11 I took the TER, the French local train which trundles down the coast to Portbou. I then had a wait of one hour before taking the Regional train which goes all the way to Barcelona Sants. It stops at Celrà, my destination after about an hour, so I will be home in good time to cook my supper. I had quite a nice day but the weather was rather grey and it rained from time to time. I went to my old happy hunting grounds of Auchan in Port D'Espagne and bought 3 bottles of wine, one of which I will open this evening! I would have bought more but it was as much as I could carry comfortably. Auchan seems to have lost some of its character, they seem to have opened out large spaces, the meat department is huge and soulless. 

This is only half the selection of red wine because I was in the middle of it! I will go back soon but I will take an empty wine case on my trolley, then I can bring back 12 bottles.

Having written a great deal about Catalunya, I had visited Catalunya Nord. I have to confess there is a great deal of Catalan feeling here, the yellow and red stripes evident all over the place. But it has no wish to break with France. I only wish Catalunya South was able to find a solution rather than fly in face of the legitimate government of Spain. But as I discovered yesterday, many Catalans simply don't recognise the laws handed down from Madrid. Or otherwise they consider it a duel in the sun between two competing courts of law. So they don't feel that they are breaking the law. They are, of course. But try telling that to a happy bunch of farmers and their families painting "Hola Republica" on the wall of a finca.

I have seen similar slogans before. There is a banner, "The next new republic of Europe", meaning presumably the European Union. Dream on. 

I wish my friends in St Martí Vell would write something here too. I am highly critical of El Punt Avui for being biased so I would like to add a little balance to the proceedings.

Sunday 24 September 2017

A bike ride

I was busy writing posts on the website of The Times in London this morning, so I ended up going out on my bike quite late, at 12. I just cycled up to Madremanya which is 10km uphill and, as I passed St Martí Vell, I saw these people painting on a wall so I decided to stop on my way back.

 I chatted with one young guy and we quickly switched to English - I was happy to give him the opportunity to speak in English (and in fact I gave him the link to my Meetup group where we speak in English each week).

They were simply people from the village, not affiliated to any one political party. His father who is a farmer is one of the group on the left. We chatted a lot. I quickly explained that I was against the referendum and independence but I was interested in what they were doing. I respect them for what they think and I told them about this blog and how I want to give a balanced report on what is happening here. I said that, although we have widely differing opinions, we can still get on well. They are virtually neighbours of mine, St Martí Vell being very close to Celrà and his father's farm is right next to where I go on my bike sometimes.

I said that I hoped they had the permission of the finca to paint on their wall! They could see that I was joking!!

I told them my name and told them to look me up, there aren't many Steves in Celrà! I wish I had said that they were welcome to write on this blog. But maybe they will write to me.

I listened to what they had to say. About how they feel that they have a legitimate right to vote, how they would remain in the EU after independence. Their disgust for Spain is evident. The father called it "a king" and we are "the subjects". They introduced me to the mayor but they tried to use the word in English. They said "Sherrif"! I asked him where his badge was! I quickly established for them what the correct word was (it is alcalde in Spanish). They don't see the referendum as illegal because it was passed by the Parliament in Barcelona. I bravely said that the laws of Spain and Catalunya were not on an equal par, Spain has precedence. (It is not like a game of football between Barça and Madrid. Maybe that's how it should be settled..... joking!) But I quickly moved on so there was no violence. Anyway, there were many more of them than me. I joked about running across the road and jumping on my bike to escape their wrath!

 But, in contrast to the scenes in Barcelona, this was a simple meeting of neighbours in the warm September sun in Catalunya.

We talked about what defines Catalan. The young guy said that he still felt Spanish, that he wanted to retain his Spanish passport but I can't see how that is possible in the event of independence.

I told him that, some years ago, an MP in the Parliament said that everyone living here is a Catalan. He asked me how I felt. I said that I felt "Catalan" because I feel very much integrated in the life here. And I love living here, one of the reasons being that it is not like the rest of Spain, all olé, olé, Flamenco, bull-fighting which I detest.

At 1.30 they headed off for lunch and I did the same. I put a sausage in the oven and it will be cooked by now, so I will publish this now!

Yesterday I took photos of a selection of posters in Celrà where I live. Some have been torn down, I hope they don´t think it is me that would do such a thing!

Here is a selection. Many make a point about the word, "freedom" which obviously refers to freedom from Spain. But where to?

I rather like the design of this one, if not the message!

Saturday 23 September 2017

About Catalan and languages

I read in The Times this morning a report of intimidation against those of us who oppose independence and an illegal referendum. It is not a surprise because, for a long time, I have felt it necessary to lower my voice in a bar for example, when talking about not wishing for independence. Maybe it is my imagination but I feel somehow disloyal to the cause if I speak out against it. But I must make it clear that I have never experienced any form of intimidation here, apart from pressure to speak Catalan. Quite the opposite. But I am aware that many Catalans, especially where I live, have very strong feelings about Madrid. They hate the ruling PP. If I had a vote, it would be for the PP, much in the same way as I would vote Tory in the UK. But I would be careful who I told.

But sometimes I am lectured about not speaking Catalan, sometimes by my expat friends! It is quite distinct from Spanish although there are many common words. When I say that my third language is French, people say, "Oh, it's very like Catalan, you should have no difficulty". Ahem, it is nothing like French. For sure, it has common words but that's hardly surprising since it shares the same Romance roots.

I enjoy a little joke at their expense. I say that I speak, "Catalan Nord", in other words French. This is a little dig at Catalunya referring to the area across the border up to Perpignan as "Catalunya Nord" as if it is still part of the "nation" of Catalunya. Nooo, it's France. Perpignan features in the weather forecast on TV3, not because it expects many people to be spending the day there; it is to make a political point. It is true that there is much evidence of the Catalan culture across the border with the yellow and red of the Catalan flag in evidence. The rugby team, USAP, has the yellow and red stripes of Catalunya as its colours.

I remember once apologising for not speaking Catalan (I never do that now). The response was, "Take your time"! Yes, I will be taking a very long time. Sometimes I order a coffee in Catalan and I often use si us plau in preference to Por favor. But more that once, the order has been repeated up at the bar in Spanish!! Sometimes I order it in Spanish, café con leche but add the Catalan, si us plau! There are many people here from other parts of Spain and Latin America. I often hear the Colombian accent which I recognise.

I know many Catalan words and can understand it fairly well of course, but I would not know how to put a sentence together in order to speak it. Better to concentrate on one language and speak it well rather than juggle with two languages.

Or sometimes I am asked for how long I have been living here. When I reply innocently, "13 years", the response is, "Then why don't you speak Catalan by now? This is Catalunya." which is not very polite. It is also Spain. I have no need to speak the language, I am fluent in Spanish and everyone speaks Spanish here. It is one of the two official languages. I don't need two languages for one country, I prefer to work on my French.

Some of my expat friends speak Catalan only which is not much use if one travels to Madrid or Malaga. Or Latin America. I was in Colombia last year and it was a joy to speak Spanish for a month without a thought for Catalan. It is no coincidence that my Catalan-speaking expat friends are generally pro-independence because, to learn Catalan is a way of supporting the cause. I learn a language to communicate, not to show support for a cause which I don't agree with. I wrote in my previous post how I see independence would leave us. It is frightening.

Things would be different if I was working in an office or a shop, then I would be expected to speak Catalan, that is reasonable. But I am retired. Also, Catalans are irritated by people who come from other parts of Spain but do not learn Catalan. That also is reasonable. Most of my friends are much happier about "giris" like me not learning the language. (That is GIRIS not GIRLS! On my screen, it looks like "girls" which I find very funny).

One final point, I hear this so often and it is a fallacy. That one needs to speak Catalan in order to be accepted into society here, as if not speaking it leaves one a kind of social outsider. I can assure you that this is simply not true. Even from my first year here, I became rapidly part of the community in Celrà. I think my art helped because I was soon showing my paintings in the Centre Cultura and I became known through my art. In any case, the community in Celrà is a mixture of Catalan, Spanish - many from Andalucia, Romanian and Gambian. So I hear a mixture of Catalan and the distinctive southern Spanish accent.

I hear a lot of Romanian, usually big beefy guys outside my local bar who work in Carniques Juia - a meat processing factory nearby. "Processing" is a euphemism, "chopping" more like. It sounds horrendous work. Apart from the physical aspect, the area is maintained at a cold temperature as one would expect.

The Gambians here are a very cheerful crowd, the adults - with their colourful clothes - usually speak in their own tongue but the kids speak in Catalan, or maybe also Spanish.

So, going back to the first paragraph, I predicit things will start to get very dirty, unfortunately. There are many thousands of people like me who love this part of Spain but want it to remain part of Spain, it is different. But if it does leave, then it should do it within the law and that is not possible without much debate in Madrid and a change to the Constitution, something that Pedro Sanchez of the Socialist party is supporting. But that would take a long time. More than a week!

There are also many people who support the idea of a referendum but would actually vote "no" to independence. The problem is that, if a referendum does go ahead in some form or other, they won't bother to vote because they will view it as illegal.

The arrogance of the independistas is clearly evident everywhere I go. The posters don't say effectively, "Here is your opportunity to vote", they tell me how I will vote. The most common example is a flag or poster which simply says "Sí".

In the next post I will show you some of the posters which are distributed around the neighbourhood. And I will draw a cartoon. I have decided.

Friday 22 September 2017

No more!

Maybe I will stop writing about the political situation here because I am getting really stressed and anxious about it! Most of the time, I try to avoid thinking about it. One Facebook page which I used to follow is now removed from my bookmarks and I don't go there now. A post titled "Fascist Spain..." finished me I am afraid. I posted quite a few comments there in the hope of maintaining a respectful and intelligent discussion but the page is very partisan and my hopes were dashed.

I recently wrote a few posts in The Times in response to their leader which suggested that Mariano Rajoy should offer talks. But he has been offering that for a very long time. For a national newspaper, there were surprisingly few posts so I think maybe mine made an impact. In general, the comments there were moderate. Many from the UK of course.

In any case, I have exhaused all the arguments for and aganist, so there is a limit to what I can write now.

Now the battle is moving to the streets - at the moment with fairly peaceful demonstrations - but I fear that people from other parts of Europe will join in, not because they have an interest in Catalunya but because they want a fight. With whom? It doesn't really matter so long as they represent the hated democracy and the rule of law. It is called anarchy. That is what I fear most at the moment.

There are many misconceptions about what is happening here, much of it from people who don't live here - that is OK. But a lot of it is criticism of the central government in Madrid for deploying what was described in The Times as, "Strong-arm tactics". What exactly are they supposed to do? Their whole raison d'être is to administer the Law and their oponent does not respect the Law. Their job is called Democracy - a much-misused word here. If an angry crowd assembled outside Downing Street in London and blocked access, would the police stand idly by and, "Oh well, that is your right to self-expression. Enjoy"? I think not!

I have avoided talking about the case for independence, rather concentrating on the legality of the referendum. But let us look for a moment at the prospect.

It seems gradually to be accepted in the media that leaving Spain would mean leaving the European Union. I knew this a long time ago but gradually it is entering the general concensus. I was talking to a Catalan friend a few days ago and I drew it like a lump of cheese (because Catalunya is shaped like a triangle), being set adrift from Spain... but also the EU. I love to draw!

Then I read in The Times today that even Raül Rovira accepts that the new nation would not be recognised in the world (I went back to read it again because it destroys the whole point of the referendum. I couldn't believe it when first I saw it). Rovira is the Minister for Exterior Affairs. You may wonder why a region of Spain has a Foreign Minister. And he has established embassies in various countries, most recently in Denmark. You may wonder why that has been done too. It is a cheek, rather a mild word in English. An outrage. That's better. In Spanish, descarro. I am paying for Catalan vanity through my taxes.

What about an army, an air-force, navy? What would happen with the (Spanish) train, RENFE, which runs from Barcelona up past the border into France at Cerebère? What would  happen with the high-speed train link which tunnels its way through the Pyrenees at Perthus? It carries not only Spanish trains to Perpignan and onward to Toulouse and Lyon but also the sleek French duplex TGV which goes all the way to Paris. I wrote about it in a previous post in this blog.

And how would the nacent nation trade with the rest of the world, outside the EU, with no trade deals? Even if it was recognised as a country.

My opinion is that it would end up as a neat triangle of land somewhere adrift in the Atlantic west of Portugal with no way to trade with the outside world and with no trains, nada. It would float maybe for a short time but then would rapidly sink into the ocean and go bankrupt and me with it.

But, hey! We will be free from Madrid!

Tuesday 19 September 2017

A Headline

This will be a very short post! I read the (very large) headline in El Punt Avui this morning and it took my breath away for its hypocrisy.

Abús de llei

You will be correct if you guess it means, Abuse of law. It refers to the attempts by the Government to block the planned referendum on October 1st. Then breaking the law by creating the referendum is not abuse of the law?
It amazes me! Very many people read this newspaper but it is totally biased.
Rafa Nadal made the point that we cannot choose which laws to obey because we like them and reject the ones we disagree with. But that is what is happening here!
Now for a little bit of moderation. I am all for that! .........
I read an article this morning in El País in English which describes the people who are trapped between the two opposite camps. Many people are uncomfortable about possible heavy-handed measure to prevent the referendum by confiscating ballot papers for example. And people like me are shocked by what has happened in the Parliament in Barcelona which clearly rejects the law which they are supposed to respect.

There was another thought that I had but I don't know the answer. When a mayor is sworn in to office, surely he or she promises to uphold the law. But very many mayors are rejecting the law as handed down by the Fiscalia and the TC by promising to provide facilities for the referendum.
I was watching TV3 a few minutes ago with scenes from a raid by the Guardia Civil and my heart sinks when I see these macho guys standing outside a print shop, all wearing shades, arms folded like they are straight out of The Godfather. It is so dumb!
OK, I said that it would be a short post! Now I will have some lunch!

Monday 18 September 2017

You can take part!

So far, this blog has been rather one-sided on the subject of the proposed referendum on 1st October as you would expect!  But I would like to include opinions from both sides, so you are welcome to post a comment. I want to show that good personal relations can be maintained even when there is huge divergence in opinion!

I think that most people are agreed that, now, it is not so much about the pros and cons of independence, it is about the legitimacy of the referendum itself. Well, that is how I see it! I respect both opinions on independence.

Discussions about the Franco years; more money going to Madrid than comes back in kind, etc are valid points but not so much now. Or is it legitimate to use them as justification for breaking the law? And is a rejection of the law, in a sense, a declaration of independence now?

I must confess, I am rather pedantic, logical. I used to work in 0s and 1s. I take after my father who always saw things in black or white! So I see respect for the law as inviolable (If a law is open to interpretation, then it is badly written). But I am sure many people see shades of grey. Maybe it is not about politics at all! Maybe it is the logic of an engineer who has a fantasy about being a lawyer against the emotion of freedom from Madrid. It is the pragmatism of the law against the thousands of esteladas in the street - on TV! Two totally different languages. The battle between Head and Heart.

One of my Ukrainian friends wrote..... I agree with you and the Madrid government that this is all illegal and it is bad they are doing it. Maybe the government should just give them more rights in something?

Tell your Catalan friends about the situation with Ukraine.  Maybe they will change their opinion then. How men are killed in the war and how hard it is to survive here and to pay for the public utilities. I guess when people are wealthy and prosperous such ideas about the independence come to their mind. Maybe they should just concentrate on other things. Intuition tells me it will all not result in a good way.

(I replied to her that, yes, to give more rights to Catalunya would be the way forward but there is one thing which is not negotiable and that is rather blocking any progress.)

Sunday 17 September 2017

Getting involved

A little bit of history..... I run Girona Grapevine which is an English-speaking social group in Girona. It started about 17 years ago and meets each week in the Hotel Carlemany coffee shop at 11am. Because of the hour, it tends to attract people who are retired – like me!

I don’t take credit for starting it, I am simply the latest person to take responsibility for running it. There is a Meetup group and Facebook page. We have 8 advertisers each of whom pay the €15 a year which covers the cost of the website and Meetup group.

Up to a few years ago, the Facebook page of Girona Grapevine was called “Girona Grapevine Jolly Japes” run by a very jolly and likeable person, Barbara. But the content started to get rather political and Girona Grapevine is most certainly not like that. I discussed this amicably with Barbara and, when she was able to, she changed the name to Girona Jolly Japes and now it has no connection with Girona Grapevine. I should explain that “Jolly Japes” is a reference to a typical children’s book title from the 1950s. Jolly is cheerful and a jape is a joke, or having fun. One thing that Barbara could not change was the URL of the Facebook page which, if you look closely, still carries the original title including “Girona Grapevine”.

Now it is most certainly not a "jolly jape". This photo has now appeared with the slightly cryptic heading, "One that proves puzzling when you think it would be a no brainer".
The Facebook page is carrying a great deal of pro-independence content which includes this twisted logic. My concern is not primarily about independence (or not) although I personally don’t like the idea, it is the flouting of the law by the very people who should be upholding it. Namely the Parliament in Barcelona. And they are attempting to use the media to twist the truth and persuade people in other parts of the world that their cause is just. How is it possible that they call, “The right to decide”, “democracy”? Democracy is respect for the law.

Each day, I get more and more anxious about what is happening and finally, having seen the bullfighting post, I have decided to do something about it. I told my friends in Societat Civil Catalunya about Jolly Japes – it is public, so I can do that - and I am writing more openly here. I want to make a difference because the prospect really frightens me. People that I know, English expats among them, seem to be turning a blind eye to the fact that this proposed referendum is illegal.
That is my simple issue, respect for the law. If we cease doing that, it is called anarchy. People I know - many of whom are friends also - may be pro or anti indepenence, I respect their opinions. Of course I do.

The most recent development was a letter written, ostensibly to Mariano Rajoy, the Prime Minister of Spain, and copied to King Felipe VI. But its true purpose was nothing about dialogue as it suggested, it was sent to the Financial Times in London and it is quite possible that they received their copy before that of the King. Its content was described in El Punt Avui as follows.

Puigdemont (The President of Catalunya), Colau (the mayor of Barcelona) Demand Dialogue.

It went on to describe how the Catalan government has “showed the world its willingness to negotiate the vote”. It described this offer as “without conditions” but made the condition that the vote on 1st October goes ahead. To say that is disingenuous is the understatement of the year. The letter was full of terms such as, "Spain is undertaking an offensive of unprecedented repression”. But people will believe this. They will not see through the deceit and will think that the Generalitat is making a noble last-minute offer of peace. It is nothing like that. If one reads the text, it is blatantly obvious.

In any case, Sr Rajoy cannot negotiate the vote even if he wanted to. The rules are embedded in the Constitution. Whatever one may think about whether the rules are justified or not, it is not something that can be changed without intense debate. And that happens very rarely. At least, the press here is beginning to report the fact which many people have been saying for a long time - that an independent Catalunya would automatically be outside the European Union and would have to re-apply for membership. And that would require the cooperation of the Spanish government together with all other member states. And, not trivial for some, FC Barcelona would not be able to play in La Liga, so they will have to be content playing Girona and Espanyol.

Previously I have resisted writing comments on Jolly Japes. Now I am doing so. In response to the photo above, I wrote, “I am shocked by such inflammatory material, more so to see it repeated here. I am all for a debate with respect for the law but this plumbs new depths”.

Actually I wrote it late at night after eating out in a restaurant in Celrà so I was very careful with the wording. I didn’t want to regret it next morning! I didn’t!

The silent majority needs to speak out more. We can no longer remain tranquil with our faith in the law. We may be winning the battle in the courts but the Independistas have no respect for the courts. So we need to use the same methods in order to make clear to the world the travesty that is happening here.

There is a black joke fermenting (or do I mean fomenting?) in my mind. That is, the solution is for the Generalitat to declare independence now and then hold the referendum because then it would be legal. But, effectively, that is what is already happening.
By the way, I wrote here on the same subject back in 2012. You can find the article by clicking on year 2012 in the blog menu. Or follow this link......