Tuesday 31 October 2017

Tuesday Update

The last 2 or 3 paragraphs updated: 10.30am

Yesterday, there seemed to be a resignation that the power of the law from Madrid has overcome the Independistas but this may be a false peace. TV3 was very subdued.  If Carles Puigdemont is arrested and charged, then there will be much anger. Yesterday he went to Belgium because there was talk of offering him asylum but this is illegal under EU law. I have never felt antagonism towards him. He used to be mayor of my city, Girona and I know his wife Marcela through Catalonia Today which she edits. It is a pro-independence magazine in English produced by the same company as El Punt Avui which is an extremely biased newspaper. Their offices used to be right next to the café where Girona Grapevine met but the lease on the whole building expired so they moved, the café closed and we now meet in Hotel Carlemany. But we often saw Marcela and other jounalists because they used la Farinera as a staff canteen! Marcela is Romanian and they have two children who go to school near to Hotel Carlemany.

Catalonia Today has a regular feature called "My Space" and they showed me surrounded by all my favourite things in my "studio" and I was one of the early interviewees on their new TV channel. I also advertised with them once or twice. You can see links to the feature and the TV interview on my website. The interview is funny, partly because I look very different these days! http://www.stevebrown.es

Anyway, back to Carles Puigdemont, I hope he is offered an amnesty because he is a decent person, I am sure. I respect politicians because very often they start off wanting to take part in their local community. Previously Carles was a journalist.
He didn't actually stand in the last elections, that was for Artur Mas but after much bargaining, he still fell short of a majority to govern. Then Junts pel Sí, already a coalition, required the 10 diputados of the far-left CUP to obtain a working majority and they chose Carles Puigdemont to lead this group. And it is this coalition within a coalition which has driven the process towards a hoped-for independence, much to the disgust of the opposition diputados who walked out on a couple of occasions rather than vote.

I started writing this early on a Tuesday morning. As usual, I have my Meetup group to organise this evening. It gives me much pleasure but it is hard work and I'm hoping someone will either take it over or share the responsibility. It is a little stressful, I am not a natural socialiser! But it is enormously rewarding and people say very nice things to me.
Let's see what happens during the day.
I have been reading The Times today which reports in detail about the flight to Belgium by Carles Puigdemont and four colleagues. It seems that the intervention of the Madrid government has been more or less accepted, there has been no sign of civil unrest or a proposed general strike. And polls suggest a clear majority against independence in the forthcoming elections on 21st December. How did this all come about? Maybe those people shouting, "We will vote," on Sunday should have voted in greater numbers in the last elections. Maybe we made a big difference, the manifestación was reported world-wide. Maybe many people who wanted independence came face to face with what it really meant. I know it is a cliché, a reality check. For months, politicians and learned professors in Barcelona have been writing in El Punt Avui and appearing on TV3, "We will remain in the EU, they wouldn't let such a wealthy region leave". And people believed it. I knew it was a lie, the EU Constitution clearly says so.

Or maybe there were people who, like an English friend of mine, changed their minds to wanting independence on the basis of photos of the Guardia Civil using excessive force. Hey, no way that is a reason for wanting independence. It is the economy stupid. Would an independent Catalunya be economically viable? And the answer is ringing out loud and clear for even the most loyal supporters of independence, with banks and companies leaving in droves. Noooo! It would be a disaster on an enormous scale. A whole country going bankrupt. Like Venezuela. But in Europe. Unthinkable.

Of course, the move of companies out of Catalunya will make no difference if, as I predict, the next Parliament will be led by
Inés Arrimadas of Ciudadanos, prepared to talk to Madrid without the threat of independence. And Madrid has always left the door open for that. Those companies are still in Spain and Catalunya will remain part of Spain. The alternative filled me with fear and that has subsided. Maybe even Carles Puigdemont had fear - I am sure he did. He saw the companies leaving too.

Now I am getting that scared feeling in my stomach again. I am watching Carles Puigdemont giving a press conference in Brussels. And the press are climbing all over him. Why? Because they see a great story; it sells newspapers. Do you think for a moment they care about the millions of us in Catalunya who simply want stability under the law. I noticed that they weren't smart enough to arrange a radio mic for questions, so we couldn't hear them. Always a very good intelligence test: make sure questions are heard on TV.

I mentioned my English friend who used the excessive force of the Guardia Civil to justify independence. And Carles Puigdemont is doing the same in Brussels... for a reason. No talk about his plans for the glorious progress of his independent nation of Catalunya into bankruptcy. I am scared again because having rejected the rule of law, he is attempting to harness public opinion. And that is a very powerful weapon. One loaded question from the BBC, "Are you prepared to go to prison for 30 years?" That is rather like the Hon. Conservative member of Woking asking Teresa May in Parliament if she is proud to be leading the Tory party. This is very worrying. He doesn't look scared to me, I take that back. Many countries represented there have no idea of the real issues at stake here, they just want a story. For the past few weeks I have been on an emotional roller-coaster, it is not good. In a week, I go away. But the anxiety will not abate much because I can still see it all online. And I have personality problems between members in my Meetup group.

Tomorrow is All Saints which is celebrated in Roman Catholic countries, not so much in the UK.

Monday 30 October 2017

Manifestación..... BIGGER!!

 I won't write much here because you will have seen the pictures and reports on TV and in the press but here is my own take on the manifestación yesterday in Barcelona. I don't understand why there is such disparity in calculating the numbers, I am sure from a high vantage point, it is easy to sample the density of the crowd. All I can say it that there were an awful lot of people who simply want a return to the rule of law and unity with Spain. I wrote another post about a previous manifestación - there is a picture of me draped in the Catalan flag - but the flag of Spain was much more in evidence this time. And the number of people was bigger.
These are pictures of the Girona contingent. We were waiting for the buses to arrive at 9.15am. We occupied 3 coaches. On the way to Barcelona we chatted and sang songs, it was lots of fun - a festive atmosphere. The possible train crash the following day (which is when I am writing this) forgotten for the moment.

Look at the flags in the cars!

This was walking from the bus to Passeig de Gracia which is where we started. Then I began to see how many people there were!

 During our slow progress down Passeig de Gracia towards Placa de Catalunya, we cheered at people waving flags from the buildings. "La Senyera es bonita".

We cheered the Spanish police helicopters, "Eso es... nuestra policia!" At one stage there were four helicopters, the other two for TV I guess. At one stage the two police helicopters came straight up Passeig de Gracia together and then peeled off above us. Don't try to tell me they were just watching the crowd! It was as if they were joining in. I cannot tell you how moving this is, our own police force, protecting us. I feel Catalan now having lived here for 14 years but it is still Spain.

I am a little bashful about admitting that I joined in, "Puigdemont a prisón", but I didn't mean it, I would not like to see that. The main message that people were saying was, "Ara votarem" (now we will vote - in Catalan) referring to elections on 21st December.

I thought that maybe there would be a rally in Plaça de Catalunya which is at the bottom of Passeig de Gracia but we stopped one block short of that - where you see the large flag. To get to the speeches, one had to go around the flag but it took a little while for me to realise that, so I didn't hear any speeches. There were just so many people around, it was amazing! The weather was very kind to us, it was hot in the sun although it is late October. That is Spain for you!

Then, after the speeches there was music and many of us spilled out into Plaça de Catalunya, some like me sitting down to eat.

The buses were due to leave at 4pm so that left over an hour to enjoy the sun. I walked down to the Rambla but put my flag away, it was in my hand. I had a tea in Viena which is an up-market fast food restaurant. I felt slightly uncomfortable with a small group with flags in la Rambla chanting slogans. The demo was over, and I felt that there was a risk of altercations because, when it is like that, it can be reduced to a personal level. And then it gets filmed for TV. It is so stupid because it is representive of a small minority of idiots. If there are arguments, that is how it happens, not in the main demo which was totally peaceful and joyous.

It was a super day. This was my "vote". I don't have a vote in parliamentary elections. I still have a vote in the UK, not that it interests me very much. I voted in the Brexit referendum, I will let you guess how I voted! If Catalunya achieves independence, I will be leaving the EU twice over! But I don't see it happening. I will write more today but meantime, I'm going to have my breakfast and publish this online! I hope you enjoy reading it!

Saturday 28 October 2017

What happens now?

I will write in this post from time to time, so please keep coming back here. It is 7am on the morning of Saturday 28th October, after the declaration of independence and the activating of Article 155. I am watching TV3. It is like a direct line from Carles Puigdemont, which is more or less how it operates; totally under the control of the Generalitat. But for how long? It shows pictures of the declaration of independence, crowds cheering, music, the mayors of Catalunya in the Palacio de Generalitat waving their sticks, singing the national anthem. And then a short piece about 12 minutes later of Mariano Rajoy as . That is how the news is presented here. Much like North Korea I suppose.
What this reporting will do is feed the fire of resistance because it hides the truth that, unfortunately for Puigedemont, Mariano Rajoy is his boss.
It scares me because it deludes its viewers presenting independence as a fait-acompli which means that people will be even more angry when they find that it is being denied them by the central government in Madrid. Why do they not get the message? This "new republic" would not be recognised internationally. Ah, excuse me, it is recognised by Slovenia, Latvia and one other country which I forget. That is being announced with pride. Hey, maybe mention the UK, Germany..........?? No, not on TV3. It is a TV channel full of lies and propaganda, it is terrible. It is due to be taken over by Madrid, maybe then we will get balanced reporting such as with the BBC. 

Updated, mid-day. I see that Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría has been appointed, effectively, President of the Generalitat. She is the deputy prime-minister of Spain. Wow, I really like Soraya, I often think she would make a great prime-minister in place of the rather wooden Mariano Rajoy. I often watch her on TV because frequently she takes press conferences in addition to the regular spokesman, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo who is a very jolly avuncular sort of chap. Quite a contrast to the smirking self-satisfied Puigdemont.

This is very dramatic news, a lot of people will be very unhappy. Those who were assured about independence on TV3 this morning, views of joyous celebrations. But one person here is very happy that, in theory, order has been restored. But in the streets, that is another matter.
I am surprised that elections will be help so soon. What if the same parties get back into power, the CUP with more MPs? God forbid. I am not sure what would happen. The BBC website takes this to mean that there would effectively be an official referendum on independence. I can't see that that is what is intended. But at the moment, the independistas are boycotting the elections, the municipalities which support independence refusing to allow voting in their towns. That is rather ironic!
I look forward to balanced reporting on TV3, or maybe the employees will shut the channel down. 

At the moment, it is broadcasting as if independence is going ahead, a short clip of Mariano Rajoy and lots of clips of celebrations. They are in fantasy-land. Madrid is Puigdemont's boss.
13.30: I have just read that there will be a general strike from 30th October to 9th November which happens to be the day that I go to Bangkok. My flight is at 14.50 so I will have to make sure I leave plenty of time to get there. Or maybe there will be a strike at the airport. I can't get out of here quick enough. I thought about visiting Valencia before I go to Bangkok but that would not be a good idea because there will be a minimal train service. When it sinks in that Catalunya is being run from Madrid, there will be big problems I think - lots of angry people.

14.30: On the subject of moving home, I just had a reply from an estate agent in Valencia. She quoted €750 per month for a one bedroom flat!! Admittedly mine is a little out of town and I don't know the location of the flat in Valencia but mine has 4 bedrooms, two bathrooms and is 100 m2 in area. And the going rate is €600 per month. Slight problem there!! But I am away a lot in the next few months, so I am not too bothered for the moment. Soraya is in charge..... I hope! I spoke to a Spanish friend and she said that Valencia was not expensive so maybe that was not a good example. 

I just tried changing my flight from Barcelona to Dubai by phone in order to get out of Catalunya as quickly as possible but it is expensive to do because Emirate recalculates the whole reservation, BCN-BKK-BCN. But is was soooo intersting. I spoke to a Spanish guy in Manchester. He was very helpful and we got on well, he told me a little about himself. And we spoke in Spanish which I enjoyed. Sometimes it feels more natural to speak in Spainsh than in English. He couldn't help me, though.

Friday 27 October 2017

A jump back in time!

I have been writing about Catalunya and about my latest trip to Ukraine. And life is just so very strange. I spent three wonderful days with Marta, mostly in Lviv, and yet it feels like a dream. I have the photos so I know it was real. How is it possible for a guy of 74 to enjoy a weekend with a young Ukrainian girl of 30 as total equals almost like partners, with not a moment's thought about the age difference. But then, why should it matter? I felt the same with Marina but I have visited her so many times now that I am used to it. Other times in my life, I can hardly believe some of the things I did - some of the products that I designed. I am staggered at the complexity of some of them, a modem for example. An extremely complicated chip at the centre of it. The 093 card which changed the way in which large buildings were monitored. Writing software for the new 6800 microprocessor in 1978. I am writing my story as an autobiography because, when I look at my life, some amazing things happened which I can hardly believe (the following is an extract from the book).
And now, I am having so much fun and part of the reason is that I have known highs and lows. And so I see each day as a gift from God. But it wasn't always fun, at one stage in my life I felt it was all over. I remember being in a yard (with high walls!) of a psychiatric ward watching Ryanair planes coming in to land at Girona Airport nearby and thinking that I would never again be flying... anywhere. And now I am off to Thailand and the Philippines in 2 week's time. I wanted to include the story here to illustrate that, even if things are very black, there is a way out. One has to believe that. And it makes an interesting story! Let me tell you about it......

It was by far the worse crisis in my life. After about 3 years in the original flat which I bought here - by then it would have been around 2008 - I started looking for a “local”, meaning a commercial unit to use as a studio because by this time I had swapped my soldering iron for a paint brush. This was a totally crazy idea because the rent would have been almost as much as a flat. Josep, who I was talking to was the rep for Promontjuic which also built the flats where I was living. “Why don’t you buy a house? We have just the thing for you!” He offered me a part exchange on my flat and like a total fool I bought the house they offered me which at the time was occupied by one of the sons of the boss. I bought it at the height of the housing boom in Spain and by the time I finally managed to sell it, I had lost 200k euros. I quickly realised my error. The house was on 3 floors, far too big for me. Noisy neighbours, thin walls, heating, aircon not working. Underfloor heating which never really worked and had a huge time-lag anyway. Concrete garden. I plunged into despair, how could I have done such a stupid thing?

Far worse was to come. About three months after moving in, I responded to a phishing email (you know the kind… “click here for something”). I clicked and my computer hard drive started whirring and never really stopped. I had been fed a virus. I plunged down from depression into paranoia. I imagined that I would lose all my money online, I imagined that the same people came to visit me so I changed the lock on the front door I don’t know how many time. I sat in a chair, eyes closed for days on end. But, but….. You know the saying “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me”? What it is saying that sometimes, among all the fear, something real actually happened. To this day, there are things that happened in that house that I cannot explain, things that changed.

Twice, four days apart, I woke up in the morning with the kind of mild internal bleeding in my thigh one gets if a blood sample from the arm doesn’t puncture the vein accurately. How could that happen? I became convinced that these people were coming into my room at night. It happened a second time about 3 days later. In fact I came to accept it. My doctor even gave me a HIV test.

On another occasion, at about midnight, I heard a car driving away and was aware of a very strange smell in the whole house – it was sort of organic. I was convinced that I was being poisoned. I got dressed, got into my car and drove to Hotel Girona Nord in Sarría de Ter and checked in. Then I remembered something in the house, some documents I had left out on a table. I went back out to the car park and drove rapidly back home because I felt sure that these people would be in the house by now. I drove back to the hotel. My parking space had been taken by another car and I thought that I recognised it. I imagined it was one of this group of people following me. In my room, I heard movement on the floor above me. This I assumed was the owner of the car.

Next morning, I felt very foggy in my head, almost falling asleep, and hardly dared drive my car back home. I considered leaving it in the car park but decided that, if I did that, it would be there for ever and taken away as abandoned. I drove back home feeling very ill and not connected with the road ahead. That was a huge risk.

I used to throw a lot of food away in the evenings because I felt that it was poisoned. Similarly wine. What a waste! I would cook the food and it would have a very strange smell and it would make me very sleepy.

At the height of my paranoia, I was imagining the group of criminals which hacked into my computer were getting into the house. I thought maybe they were occupying a flat nearby overlooking the house to spy on me. So I parked my car away from the house next to a restaurant in the ground floor of a block of flats. I ordered a pizza and walked home. Unfortunately I had parked right across the exit to the underground parking for the flats. And they had no way of contacting me. There were some very angry people wanting to go out for the night. I only realised what I had done next morning when a neighbour spoke to me in my local bar. There were key scratches down the side of the car and the aerial was bent.

I don’t tell many people this but I spent three weeks in a psychiatric ward in Hospital Santa Caterina in Girona. So now I am telling everyone! But it is nothing to be ashamed of - some people have physical illnesses and recover, I had a mental illness and recovered.This really bad patch in my life, in the house, lasted about three years; it is a bit of a haze now. But early in this period my doctor sent me to a psychiatrist in Girona after I became very anxious one day in the health centre. Firstly it was with a Catalan psychiatrist, later a kind English woman who I still see from time to time in Girona – she is retired now. Maybe I hastened that.

One day, the Catalan woman said to me, “How about spending a few days somewhere where you can be tranquil?” I look back at myself now and cannot believe the human wreck in front of her. I agreed. She made a phone call. A few minutes later I was taken out to an ambulance which had arrived outside. I sat inside with a nurse and gave him my details. We drove with siren and maybe blue light to the hospital. I like to think so but I can't remember. I was taken into a small office and told to wait. I started to wake up to my situation. No one knew I was here; I had come directly from home to the clinic in Girona and to the hospital. A nurse brought in a small dish with a pill which I thought, in a twisted way, was rather funny. At a discotheque, one receives a welcome glass of what is called “fizzy” in the UK (pretending to be champagne). Here, it was a little tranquiliser to welcome me.

The doctor came in, a large man with a beard. I got up and said that I had changed my mind and that I wanted to go home. He said words to the effect that, “You are mine now”. I got up again. His hand strayed under the desk and a few moments later a couple of nurses came in. They restrained me with a strait jacket – I was by now very scared. I was completely incapacitated with my arms folded around my chest. They marched me up a corridor and, at one stage, one of the nurses jabbed a syringe into my bottom as I was walking. They took me into a small room which they called, “The Box”. The strait jacket was clipped to the bed and I was left there for one, maybe two hours. No water, nothing.

The ward where I was finally taken comprised a long corridor with sad figures in dressing gowns shuffling up and down. I was soon to join them. No one wore day clothes. The food was truly awful. They fed me medication every day, checking my mouth to make sure I had swallowed the drug. There was an exercise yard outside with a high wall so as to prevent escape. Maybe I should have tried tunnelling. The doors to the rest of the hospital were locked. I knew then for sure that my life out in the world had come to an end – I saw no way back to a normal life. I was dead, effectively. Every day, the doctor who had welcomed me to Paradise Resort came to the ward and it was clear that he enjoyed his moments of grandeur, surrounded by his obedient nurses and other acolytes. I came to depend on this guy because it would be he who decided if it was safe to let me back out into the world.

I was in that awful place for three weeks. And no one knew that I was there. My friends, especially in the UK were very worried because I had no way to communicate with the outside world.

When I finally got back home from the hospital I used to spend so long sitting in the chair that I gave myself thrombosis and had to spend a week in hospital, a real hospital this time. I would often spend whole days in the chair with eyes closed. If that isn’t “dead”, it’s not far off. I saw the blue sky outside, it was like another world.

But in a strange way, after that week, things very slightly got better. I could not sell the house within 3 years of buying it because then I would have had to pay tax on my profit on the original flat and no one was interested anyway. But I did sell it and this whole awful period when I was quite literally mentally ill lasted 3 years. And I was very fortunate to sell it, a number of lucky chances, someone chatting with my hairdresser who knew I was desperate to sell. The woman, Emy, happened to work for an estate agent. And she found a young couple who actually liked the place, strange as it may seem. I often see them in Celrà, now with two young children.

Emy also found me a flat to rent when the house was sold but I soon discovered that the owner wanted to sell it and I really liked the flat. So I very quickly bought it and I am very happy there. It has a huge lounge which I used as a studio and it had lots more light than the original flat.

And do I look back and feel that I lost three years out of my life? Not a bit of it! I got out alive, my life could effectively have ended there. I dread to think what would have happened if I had not sold the house.

In the last year in The House, I gave my car away. I couldn’t drive it because my head was foggy with stress. But this is with me most of the time anyway. So the car sat in the garage in the house and little by little the battery would go flat, also the tyres. At one point the tyres were at risk of coming away from the rims. It was a nightmare to keep the battery charged and the tyres full of air and the space around the car was very cramped. So I rang the Ford dealer in La Bisbal which used to service the car and asked them to take it away which is what they duly did. It was right-hand drive of course so I saw little possibility of selling it. But you can see that I got it registered in Spain. So with a little puff of blue smoke from the twin exhausts, I waved goodbye to my beautiful blue Probe. I drove several times between the UK and Spain in that car, its cruised down the autoroutes effortlessly, so I was very sad. Daft name, though. (My butcher in Weybridge used to ask me, how was my penis!)

A Shock

I have written here about my day in Kyiv but, on Friday evening, I am still reeling after the decision of the Parliament in Barcelona to declare independence. But it won't happen because, at almost the same time, the Government in Madrid activated Article 155, direct rule. But there is no knowing what will happen in the streets. I am shocked that we have come this far. See my previous post to realise what a disastrous path independence would be. Anyway..... back to Ukraine! Read later about the painting!

Monday morning, I woke to very pleasant weather, I went down to breakfast. I had decided to visit the house of Yanukovytch, the previous president of Ukraine. I decided to follow Marta's advice and look for a kiosk selling a tour of the house in the main street of Kyiv, Kreshatyk. I had left my phone charger and personal hotspot in the train which brought us back from Lviv. It had a very short USB cable so the hotspot was hanging above my head to the right. So it is was easy to miss. Normally I would put it in my bag. And I fancied a coffee. I found both destinations right next to each other. I bought a coffee which was delicious and then went into the Citrus store. Citrus is rather like PC World but they specialise in phones and tablets. I bought a charger and two USB cables. Then I went to a Kyvstar shop to check the balance in my phone because, from now, I would be using it for tethering to replace my lost wifi hotspot. That is a better idea anyway, so I didn't miss my little gizmo!
Just then, Marina phoned me and said that she would phone a taxi for me to go to the house but first I had to find a convenient place, easy to identify and with easy parking. I went down to the far end of Maidan where there is a very quiet area in front of McDonalds. But we got very mixed up about where the taxi would come and my phone battery was almost exhausted. Now the screen was blanking out to save energy. In the end, I never found the taxi, my phone was dead so I abandoned the trip. Marina meanwhile was getting frustrated because she couldn't contact me. I decided to forget the whole idea, better to do it in the summer, I decided.
I walked back to Maidan Metro and took the train to Dneiper by the river. The station was open and windswept. I enjoyed the view and then went back one stop to Arsenal'ad. I wanted to see a sunken cathedral but I wasn't exactly sure where I was going. I saw a Kamyucha restaurant (Камюша) which is where I went with Marta the previous evening so that was where I had lunch. Chicken Kiev and the same super cherry juice that I had with Marta. Now I was able to charge up my phones, one with a Kyvstar SIM, the other is my regular Spanish phone which I use for WhatsApp, using wifi.
I tried to contact Marina, I think I sent a message. By now it was getting rather cloudy and cold and I was getting rather dispirited. I decided to go back to the hotel where I had stored my suitcase after checking out and have a tea in the restaurant. And I could charge up my phones.

Then at about 6pm I walked back down to the station to take the Sky Bus to the airport where the Ligena Hotel mini-bus would pick me up. I chatted to Marina in WhatsApp while I was in the bus. I got to the hotel around 8pm, had a super meal, chatted to Marta by phone while I attempted to eat!

Next morning, I took the shuttle bus back to the airport. I had plenty of time and I stopped to marvel at a super exhibition of paintings in the air-side (so I was relaxed having passed through security and passport control) I have added a couple of photos. The artist is Antonyuk Andreu Danilovich (Антонюк Андрей Данилович). I am sure Marina will correct my conversion into Latin text!
Unfortunately, the flight departure was delayed for an hour but it didn't really affect my plans. We arrived back in Barcelona in time for me to catch the 15.40 AVE to Girona. I then went to get my hair cut and I wandered around until my Meetup group at 7pm. There was no time to go back home and then return to Girona. I have a slight problem with two of my members who don't get on very well (understatement!) so that is preoccupying me a little.

It is funny because I am writing this on Friday back at the hairdresser, this time having colour added because I didn't have sufficient time on Tuesday. On the 9th of November I go abroad again, this time to Thailand and the Philippines. This morning I went to the inoculation centre at Hospital de Salt to get my injections up to date. We talked about malaria tabs but the consensus is that, providing I am usually in the city such as Bangkok or Manila, the risk is small and it is better to take precautions against getting bitten, such as using a repellent. He suggested a couple of products. Last time I took this trip, I saw very few mosquitoes. I see  more in Spain, admittedly they don't normally carry malaria. The other danger is Dengue Fever which doesn't sound very nice. Here are the photos....

Here was a promotion for Ukraine Post but all the post cards had been used!

Thursday 26 October 2017

Catalunya latest

I was at Girona Grapevine yesterday, the group that I run in the cafetería in Hotel Carlemany, and spoke to two friends who both want independence. One is Scottish, Laura, but she has lived here for very many years (she was married to a Catalan), the other Montse, is Catalan through and through! Montse was livid about the "lies" being told by Madrid, likewise Laura. I insisted that all of that would be water under the bridge in an independent Catalunya. I said that the only thing we should be thinking about was the viability of an independent Catalunya, everything else was a distraction. A Spanish equivalent to The Economist had a headline a few days ago, "It's the economy, stupid!" (borrowed from James Carville, Bill Clinton's campaign manager).
I said, "What about all the companies moving their head offices from Catalunya?"
Laura replied, "Don't worry, they will still have offices in Catalunya", as if to say, "it's nothing".
"But," I replied, "They must have a reason for their doing that. They will pay corporation tax to Spain and will remain in the EU". I cited the example of Amazon. It has offices all over the place but it pays taxes in Luxembourg. (That is under discussion, of course!)
I asked about where the money was going to come from. I explained that my income tax for 2017 will automatically go to Spain in June 2018 because I am resident in Spain for more than 6 months in 2017. Likewise everyone else. So an independent Catalunya will not receive any income tax revenue until June 2019.

Montse said, "Don't worry, everything will be fine. My husband will explain it all to you".

I reminded them that the Republic of Catalunya would be outside the EU, "How would it trade with the rest of the world?"

Montse replied, "Ah but not for long" She quoted the case of Montenegro. But I replied that Madrid would block re-entry into the EU as it would require the agreement of all member states. 

Borders? Air Force, Army, Navy?

"We don't want borders," said Montse. "The Spanish Navy does nothing, they are sleeping."

"What about the huge debt that Catalunya owes to Madrid?"
Montse replied that it could be negotiated. Try telling that to Madrid!

These are two women who I have known and liked for a long time (I have changed their names). We moved on to other subjects, our good relations unaffected by our difference of opinion. What concerns me is their seething anger with Madrid. OK, I sympathise with them but it is not a criterion for deciding on independence. It is the economy, stupid. Is an independent Catalunya financially viable? I think clearly that it is not. And that it will sink slowly into the sparkling blue Mediterranean. With me on board? No, I will have jumped ship long before. To Valencia or even Colombia. Where I can speak Spanish without the lurking suspicion that, really, I should be speaking Catalan also.
I did think about moving to France, Perpignan for example is very close, but it doesn't attract me at all. France is expensive, I would have to learn a new tax system, change my residency (I would have to do that in Colombia, of course but I am fluent in Spanish, albeit with an English accent! French, not so much!) My flat here would be difficult to sell at a price close to what I paid for it. I paid around €175k 5 years ago which was a fair price but my estate agent friend, Emy, who sold it to me says that there are now plenty of other similar properties in Celrà for €150k. So my only option is to rent it out (3 year period). For that I can receive €600 per month and she told me that the tax on that income would not be very great. That was a preoccupation of mine. If Catalunya really went independent, I dread to imagine what would happen to the price. At the moment, the political situation is not affecting the price. I actually made an appointment to see Emy in her office before the Girona Grapevine meeting.

It was funny because I saw her again in my local bar in the evening because she lives in Celrà. "Mucho tiempo!" she said. I asked her how the agency was doing and she burst out laughing. She explained that two other people had just asked her the same question (she only works there, she is not a partner). So we talked about cooking because I was on the point of going back home to cook my supper. She said that she hated cooking and eating was boring. I said that I thought it was better than sex, which she found very funny. We laugh a lot!

While I was in Ukraine, I read the news with alarm. But back home, the sun still rises every day, the bar still serves my favourite beer. 

In the next few days we will know a lot more about the politics. Today even!

Stop Press! 26th October at 1pm. Carles Puigdemont is dissolving Parliament and is calling new elections. I am not quite sure how that will work. If he gets a larger majority, he will be back in the same place. If the moderate parties manage to get a majority and CUP lose their grip on power, then there will be talks with Madrid. That has always been on offer and I would be very glad to see it. Anything but independence because I think people are gradually waking up to the fact that it would be a disaster of major proportions. A walk down a very dark path. Here is a link to a page in the BBC website which analyses what would happen to an independent Catalunya. Scares me. I think it scares Carles Puigdemont also, the difference being that I can say it; he dare not.

9pm.   The declaration was cancelled and now Catalunya has descended into chaos with a long and tedious debate in Parliament.