dijous, 31 de març de 2016

Waiting for God Knows What

Berni Armstrong, an English singer-songwriter who was born and brought up in Lagos and has lived
much of the rest of his life in the Catalan town of Capellades, has just become an Irish citizen. This is because under Irish law, if you have at least one Irish grandparent, you are eligible for Irish citizenship. Berni, having had the requisite relative, immediately applied. I know of two other British residents in Catalonia - one of whom I don't think has so much as clapped eyes on the Liffey - who are doing exactly the same thing.

Earlier this week The Times reported that about a hundred British expats are leaving Spain every day, but failed to add that many of us are desperately trying to stay by finding alternative ways to remain within the EU, should the British in Britain (or perhaps just the English in Britain) decide to slip their European moorings on the 23rd of June. There are nearly 760,000 British residents in Spain (according to the BBC) or 380,000 (according to the Independent) or 319,000 (according to the Daily Telegraph): either way there are more British expats in Spain than any other part of Europe. Most of them are based on the islands or along the coast, and many are retirees who live in linguistically gated communities and have little or no contact with the local populations amidst whom they bask. But there are also tens of thousands of us who have made ourselves entirely at home here. We speak Spanish (and if we live in Catalonia, the Valencian area or the Balearics, we often speak Catalan); we follow the local news and hold political opinions about it (or are politically active concerning it); we pay our taxes and social security quotas here; and many of our friends, some of our wives and partners, and often all our children are from here. And none of us want to go 'back'. Back where? In the UK we would be fish out of warmer waters, strangers in a familiar land.

The problem is that not only do we not know what would happen to us if Britain left the EU, but nobody else seems to either: all the websites that appear when you Google 'consequences of Brexit for UK expats' (or similar) contradict each other. At one extreme is the best-case theory that we would have 'acquired rights' which would guarantee us much the same status post-Brexit as that which we enjoy now. At the other extreme is the worst-case possibility that we will all have to re-apply for our residence and work permits, and this time we would be in the 'other' queue, the painfully slow and notoriously unpredictable one for non-EU applicants, at the end of which we might well be sent back to the British Isles to reapply for re-entry. Viewed from here, then, a possible Brexit leaves us puzzled and fretful. What is it, we ask ourselves, with the English – and we do suspect that it's mainly the English – and Europe? Why does Britain give the impression of being the most Europhobic country in the UE? Why, for example, are anti-EU bumper stickers and other similarly messaged accessories far more prevalent in the UK than anywhere in Spain?

So the only thing we're sure about here is that nothing is sure. Hence the recent aforementioned increase in the Irish population. For those of us without Irish grandparents, the only chance left to guarantee our European rights is to flaunt our many years of residence here before Madrid's Ministro de Labor y Inmigración in the hope that it'll give us Spanish passports. Taking care not to mention that for plenty of those of us who happen to live in Catalonia (though by no means all) this would be an ironically painful last resort given that we have long supported the considerable efforts of millions of Catalans to leave Spain to form an independent Catalan Republic, most of whose potential residents, it should be said, would like it to remain firmly within the EU.

Matthew Tree, The Guardian, 30/103/2016 (versió original amb el títol original).

dimarts, 29 de març de 2016

L'enèsima Cruyffada

Des que, dijous sant, va trascendir la mort de Johan Cruyff, els diaris han publicat desenes de Cruyffades, és a dir, columnes centrades en episodis més o menys significatius del geni neerlandès. I això que Cruyff va tenir el detall de morir-se la vigília d’un dels tres dies de l’any sense diaris (de paper). Aquesta columna és una Cruyffada més. El meu record és una mica surrealista. Durant la temporada 2009-10, poc després de la mort de mon fill Llullu, em van demanar de participar en un acte benèfic a les instal·lacions del Barça. Es tractava de recaptar fons perquè un nen que patia un trastorn cerebral greu pogués rebre un tractament basat en les cèl·lules mare. L’avi del nen era Pedro De Felipe, un defensa central que havia jugat al Madrid i que, en l’època de Cruyff, ho feia a l’Espanyol. És a dir, un rival directe del davanter, a qui segurament havia cosit a puntades, però de qui s’havia fet amic. Tant que Cruyff li obria les portes del club, en aquell Barça de Laporta. A la sala hi havia entitats del tercer sector, el president del Barça, uns quants vips i la majoria de companys de curs del fill del futbolista, crec que de la Salle Bonanova. El plantejament era una mica estrany, perquè havien instal·lat dues taules de ruleta a la sala i convidaven la gent a jugar-hi, sabent que tot el que hi perdessin aniria per la causa i si hi guanyaven podrien licitar més a la subhasta. Presentaven l’acte Verónica Sanz, llavors a Barça TV, i Manel Fuentes, en la seva primera temporada matinal a Catalunya Ràdio. En un moment determinat jo havia de parlar de l’experiència d’haver viscut nou anys i mig al costat d’un fill quiet. Després s’havia de celebrar la subhasta benèfica que tancaria l’acte, sempre a peu dret.
       Així ho vam fer, amb Johann a primera fila, envoltat d’amics i admiradors. Després del meu parlament, Fuentes i Sanz van conduir la subhasta. Hi havia un casc de Lorenzo, una raqueta de Nadal, unes botes de Xavi... coses així. La gent anava licitant amb generositat notable. En un moment donat, va aparèixer Xavier Gabriel, el famós venedor de loteria de la Bruixa d’Or, amb un xec estampat en un ploma tan enorme com la xifra que hi havia dibuixada. Ja no recordo la peça que es va emportar cap a Sort. Ben segur que va ser la quantitat més alta de la vetllada, però no pas la licitació més disputada. Perquè la cirereta de la jornada, el premi que més expectació va despertar entre tots els presents, va ser una simple partida de golf en companyia de Johan Cruyff. Allò sí que va provocar una remor libidinosa entre els assistents. El millor premi era estar unes hores amb en Johan. 

Màrius Serra. La Vanguardia. Rum-rum 29/3/16

dilluns, 28 de març de 2016

All Shook Up

The author of 'Clockwork Orange', Anthony Burgess, famously described Shakespeare on live TV as
'something of a bore'. And the author of 'Tropic of Cancer', Henry Miller, wrote in a letter to his friend Lawrence Durrell that Shakespeare 'was just the kind of flatulent genius you could expect the English to produce'. I was 15 when I was first obliged to read Shakespeare (for English O level). I was astonished to find that to understand the text, I needed to read oodles of footnotes, given that much of the vocabulary was obsolete and not a few of the word games, excruciatingly abstruse. This was frustrating and at times downright exasperating. His 16th century jokes fell flat on me, and the serious parts of the text struck me as being little more than that: serious. Later, for English A level, I had to plough through most of the complete works and found myself in the unsettling situation of being fully aware that I was reading works of undoubted genius, without liking them very much. There were exceptions, of course, plays with whose main characters I – and many others - could identify ('Hamlet', 'Othello') or which conjured up an imaginary world attractive enough to bask in ('Love's Labour's Lost', 'The Winter's Tale'...). But all in all, I was not William Shakespeare's biggest devotee, almost certainly because, as an English school student, I wasn't allowed to decide for myself whether I wanted to read him or not. On the 23rd of this month, Catalonia's Book Day (aka Sant Jordi's Day) will mark the 400th anniversary of the deaths of both Shakespeare and Cervantes. Like many English people, I read 'Don Quixote' voluntarily and enjoyed it more than very much, but people here, on the whole, have ambiguous feelings towards it that are similar to those I (and many English people) have with regard to Shakespeare's plays and poems. In a nutshell, it's hard to savour something that had once been shoved down your throat. And never mind throats: throughout 2016 we're going to have Shakespeare and Cervantes up what Americans have long taken to calling the wazoo. It could be painful. It could even be like going back to school.

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, abril de 2016

Carles H.

In the first two months of this year, quite a lot of well-known people in the performing arts died
before their time (or at least before the average Western life expectancy of 80): Black, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, David Bowie... Here in Catalonia, at the tail end of January, we lost Carles Hac Mor, a performance poet (or maybe just poet would do) who never reached nor wished to reach a wide audience, but who will remain very much alive in the memories of all those who read him or saw him read. It would be easy to pigeonhole Carles as avant-garde, but he went way beyond many avant-garde artists, who tend to end up imposing certain limits on themselves. Carles didn't believe in any limits whatsoever. A literary anarchist, he revelled in writing anti-poems and anti-novels which defied all conceivable norms, but would then take things a step further by undercutting his own defiance: 'There's no point in making an institution of everything "Anti"'. On occasion - and they were good occasions - he would write material that was anarchist in the simple political sense. For example, when the current King's sister got married in 1997 (both bride and bridegroom, incidentally, are now up on corruption charges) Carles defied Spanish laws which prohibit criticisms of the monarchy with a 'Nuptial Ode' that included the lines: 'Monarchy, anarchy, anarchy!/Out with the bollocking, bollocking Bourbon!" His own work aside, he and his partner Ester Xargay gave dozens upon dozens of new writers and artists a chance to air their work at live readings and performances, year after year, both in remote villages and industrial towns, in closed venues and on the street, usually with Carles as a naturally droll master of ceremonies. He also kept a close eye on world events, the seeming absurdity of which imbued Carles's work with a cheeky nihilism (a line in his last poem reads: 'There was a time in which everything was as it is now, and so many things happened in the meantime that they gave the impression of nothing ever having happened at all'). But this nihilism sui generis never stopped him coming to the aid of those of us who badly needed a sounding board in the form of a live audience, for our as yet unpublished work. He who loved contradictions, was the personification of a considerable contradiction himself: that of the unrelenting anti-writer who thought nothing of lending a helping hand to so many, many non-anti younger writers, something he did with unquestioning generosity. May he rest in permanent unrest, which is where I suspect he felt most at home.

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, març de 2016

The Twist

Last month, in a wantonly hip comparison, the Financial Times used two popular political drama
series – Denmark's 'Borgen' and America's (though originally Britain's) 'House of Cards' – to explain the Catalan independence process, described by Madrid correspondent Tobias Buck as 'an engrossing feast of political drama with cliffhangers, surprise turns and last-minute revelations so improbable they would make a television scriptwriter blush.' This is anything but exaggerated: the independence 'drama' began back in 2006, when the Catalan parliament approved a new Autonomy Statute which would have given Catalonia a similar status to the semi-federal Basque Country and perhaps solved the 'Catalan Question' for many years to come. However, although the Statute was ratified in the Spanish parliament (which wilfully hacked off a few bits), after a four year wait it was finally bowdlerised (disembowelled would be a better word) by the Spanish Constitutional Court, at the behest of the right-wing Partido Popular and Spain's (socialist) ombudsman. This resulted in a spontaneous one million strong demo in Barcelona. Madrid ignored it. Pressure built. Two years later, in 2012, the largest pro-indy demonstration ever held in Barcelona (about one and a half million people) prompted the then Catalan president, Artur Mas, to ask the Spanish premier, Mr. Rajoy, for some mild financial reforms. That failed. Mas then decided to go full tilt, and opted for an independence process which, after all, already had considerable popular backing. Later, in 2013 and 2014 up to 2 million people demonstrated in favour of independence, in Barcelona alone. Polls showed that over 80% of Catalans wanted a referendum on the issue. Madrid refused to negotiate one, so Mas proposed a non-binding consultation. Madrid banned it. The Catalan government went ahead anyway – after weeks of wrangling between local political parties about the wording of the questions on the ballot papers - and nearly two and half million people finally voted on 9/11/14. Madrid ignored the results and indicted Mas and two other Catalan ministers for defying the Constitution. Given continuous popular pressure to move on, Catalan pro-indy politicians decided to make the upcoming Catalan parliamentary elections into a kind of plebiscite, but then squabbled for months about how to go about it. At the last minute, Mas's party and the Catalan Republican Left, plus some non-party independents, formed a coalition called Together for Yes (Junts pel Sí), which competed with the far left Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) for the pro-indy vote. Junts pel Sí obtained 62 seats and the CUP, 10: together, they had an absolute majority. But then, they couldn't agree on how to work together, the stumbling block being – at least for the CUP – the presence of Mas, who they regarded as being beyond the anti-capitalist pale. When all seemed lost, Mas stepped down at the eleventh hour, a social democratic Mayor from his own party was proposed as president, the CUP accepted, and Catalonia now has a functioning, pro-independence, cross-party government. Whew! And this month...

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, febrer de 2016

The Magic Touch

Most people don't like Mondays. One US health site, Prevention.com, even has a section called '12
Ways To Hate Mondays Less' which is full of cute tips like 'check out a yoga class' or 'start your day with a romp in the hay' (sic). In Catalonia, for thirteen glorious weeks ending last December, our Mondays were made less hateful by 'Merlí', a thankfully uncute comedy-drama series broadcast by Catalan Public Television (TV3). With over half a million viewers, 'Merlí' became one of TV3's most successful series ever, thanks to believable acting, imaginative directing and the carefully structured, twist-laden scripts of the series' creator, Héctor Lozano. At first sight, 'Merlí' seemed to be a Catalan take on the film 'The Dead Poets' Club': the eponymous hero is a philosophy teacher at a Barcelona state school whose unorthodox methods (and penchant for obscene language) delight and stimulate his students even as they infuriate the more traditional teachers and parents. As the series unfolded, however, it turned out to be far more complex, dealing as it did with a wide range of themes of interest to just about everybody: homosexuality, sexism, sex in general, mental illness, hopelessly authoritarian parents, and so on. Merlí, perfectly played by the New York trained actor Francesc Orella, goes out of his way to help certain of his more confused and unhappy pupils, but far from coming over as a lay saint, we gradually discover that he has an unpleasantly arrogant streak in him, and that he also cheats unthinkingly on his lovers (of which there have been three so far: one teacher and two mums). At the same time, the philosophers whose names supply the titles of the different episodes subtly qualify each one's plotline (for example, when Foucault's name comes up, the various story threads all end up dealing with the question of what it means – if anything - to be 'normal'). That said, I suspect 'Merlí''s success – like that of so many other good TV series – is partly due to its therapeutic qualities. Lozano said in a recent interview that this was the series he would have liked to have seen when he was sixteen, as it would have helped him accept his homosexuality (one of the main characters, Merlí's son, is a gay who desperately needs to step out of the closet). I wouldn't have minded seeing it when I was sixteen myself, given that back then I shared certain traits with the mentally ill character in the series, the only difference being that he knows he's mentally ill and I didn't. Watching 'Merlí' would have emboldened me to seek treatment instead of bottling everything up right through adolescence. When I can look at the character in question, I recall that distant shadow of my teenage self and can now at least laugh about it. Not too heartily, mind.

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, gener de 2016

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