Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Salamanca private documents return to Catalonia

The first private documents taken from Catalonia by Franco's nationalist forces in 1940, and kept in the Archivo General de la Guerra Civil Espanyola in Salamanca, returned to Catalonia's National Archive last Monday. The documents include 120 books, 75 of which were part of the private library of the writer, historian and politician Antoni Rovira i Virgili.
The rest of the documents, inlcluding private documents of political parties and various associations, are set to return to Catalonia in 2009.
More than 300,000 files and 1,000 photographs were taken by Franco's nationalist forces in 1940. Catalonian officials have campaigned for the return of the documents for more than 20 years.

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Monday, 22 December 2008

Catalan investors buy a part of Spanair


The tourism group Consorci de Turisme de Barcelona and Catalana d'Iniciatives, a private equity group, will buy a part of Spanair, announced the Scandinavian airline operator SAS AB. The Stockholm-based company said it had signed an initial agreement with the Catalan investors. A final agreement is expected by January 31, SAS said. SAS has been trying to sell Spanair, Spain's second-largest airline after Iberia, for more than a year as the carrier struggles to turn a profit amid tough competition and a slumping Spanish economy.

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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

House prices lowest in 50 years


New property prices are set to drop to their lowest level in almost 50 years, recent studies warn. Real estate experts are now predicting a drastic drop in residential construction next year, meaning that only 150,000 homes will be built in the whole of Spain, which is the fewest since 1960. This situation will certainly have a negative effect on employment as well. Studies say that one million people working in the real estate and construction businesses are likely to lose their jobs next year.

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Friday, 5 December 2008

Pottery fair in Quart


The village of Quart, near Girona, has become popular for its first-quality pottery. 43 potters and ceramists from all the corners of Catalonia will gather at the 19th annual Fira Mercat de la terrissa catalana from December 6-8. Visitors to the fair will have the opportunity to see the different traditional techniques used by locals to make various kinds of pottery, such as rakú, or just practise their skills with the clay. Declared an area of artesanal interest, Quart has known how to use its geographical location (the village is located in an area with an extremely clayey ground) to build a long tradition in pottery -making. Quart is especially famous for the black ceramics, the terrissa negra.

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Ever-green fir trees at Espinelves Christmas fair


What would be Christmas without a tree? For all those in love with the festive season, Espinelves (Osona)celebrates the traditional Fira del Avet, its annual fir tree festival, from December 6-14. Espinelves has become famous for this rural Christmas fair, over 25 years old. Visitors can choose from a myriad of fir trees, as well as Christmas decorations and crafts, exhibitions and street shows. http://www.espinelves.com/

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Plastic bag controversy goes on


The three members of the Catalan government don't seem to agree on the hot issue of plastic bags. While ICV-EUIA goes for the elimination of the bags, the other members of the government propose to charge customers for plastic shopping bags beginning with next year. The three left-wing parties need time to clear their thoughts and have given themselves six months to take a mutual decision. A special commission including government experts in environment, businesses, customers and other groups will be created to help them reduce the use of the environmental-damaging plastic bags. The deadline is June 2009.

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Thursday, 4 December 2008

Explosion in Gavà


A gas explosion injured 24 people, 16 of them seriously, and killed a 60 year-old woman in a block of flats near Barcelona in northeast Catalonia on Wednesday. An accumulation of gas in the lower part of the three-storey block in the town of Gava could have set off the explosion, the spokeswoman for the interior ministry of the Catalan government said. The blast happened around 3am and at least four children were among the injured.The building was almost completely destroyed by the blast and a subsequent fire. Around 50 people living in neighbouring blocks of flats had been evacuated as a precaution.

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Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Joan Baptista Humet dies aged 58


Catalan singer-songwriter Joan Baptista Humet died Monday in Barcelona of stomach cancer, aged 58. Humet's songs, such as Que No Soy Yo , Terciopelo, and Gemma, among others, put to music the difficult years of Spanish transition, and became instant hits. Soon after, his songs Busco una Flor, Hojas, Clara, Hay que Vivir and Terciopelo, turned him into one of the most symbolic singer-songwriters of the 1980s.

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Sunday, 30 November 2008

El Punt newspaper celebrates the fifth anniversary of its Barcelona's edition

Five years ago, November the 30th, El Punt published the first issue of its Barcelona`s edition. It was the opening of a new era for the newspaper, a milestone in the company's mission of achieving a Nation-wide Catalan newspaper. El Punt Barcelona was the result of months of preparatory works from a large team of journalists. Five years later, El Punt is the country's #1 newspaper written in Catalan by circulation and by readers.

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Saturday, 29 November 2008

Brown worried about plunged retail sales in UK

Another front in his war against the crisis worries PM Gordon Brown, as British retail sales plunged in November at their joint-fastest pace since records began 25 years ago while a growing number of Britons predicted prices would fall, not rise, next year.
Lending rates on dollar loans between banks rose for the second day running yesterday amid ongoing funding concerns despite the rescue of Citigroup Inc. earlier in the week. The rate on three-month loans in dollars — known as the London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor — rose over 0.01 percentage points to 2.22 percent, according to the British Bankers’ Association.

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Friday, 28 November 2008

Catalan novelist Juan Marsé, Premi Cervantes

The Catalan author Juan Marsé, the writer who best portrayed Barcelona's post-war period, won the Cervantes literary award, the Spanish-speaking world's highest literary honor. The prize, considered a Nobel for literature in Spanish, worth 125,000 euros, has been awarded to Marsé for the body of his entore work focusing on the hardships of life in post-civil war Spain. The author of Últimas tardes con Teresa was born in Barcelona in 1933. Last year the Cervantes prize went to Argentine poet Juan Gelman. Previous winners include Jorge Luis Borges, Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes.

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Plastic bags to be banned in Catalonia

Catalonia's regional government is set to approve legislation that will ban all shops and supermarkets to give out plastic bags for free. From January next year, customers will have to pay for each plastic bag or bring their own shopping bag from home. This measure is meant to raise people's awareness on protecting the environment and follows the example of other coountries in Europe and the U.S.

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Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Festival del Mil.lenni kicks off in Barcelona

From December 16 to April 27, the 10th festival Mil.lenni will be offering around thirty concerts in Barcelona. Venues include the Palau de la Música, Auditori, Auditori del Fòrum and Gran Teatre del Liceu. The festival boasts a long list of Catalan artists including Raimon, Antonia Font, Jarabe de Palo, Josep Carreras, Manu Guix, Nena Daconte, Roger Mas and La Locomotora Negra, among others. Other highlights include Michael Nyman, Enrique Morente, Paco Ibáñez, Noa, Goran Bregovic and Ainhoa Arteta. Mil.lenni will also bring Sara Baras and Josep Carreras, who will be singing together for the first time in Barcelona. The festival kicks off with the Gotan Project and closes with Pasión Vega, in a show specially designed for the Gran Teatre del Liceu.

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Three Mossos d'Esquadra sentenced to jail for torturing innocent immigrant

Barcelona's Audiència (High Court) has sentenced to six-and-a-half years in jail to three members of the Mossos d'Esquadra (Catalan police) who tortured and threatened a Romanian man they confused with a thief in July 2006. On July 27, 2006, the Mossos d'Esquadra went to Lucian Paduraru's home, five days after a woman had identified him, although expressing her doubt, as the man who had robbed and assaulted her. According to the prosecutor in the case and eye witnesses, the officers beat Lucian Paduraru all over his body, and verbally abused him, threatened him and put a gun in his mouth to force him to confess. They also abused his girlfiend who was three months pregnant at the time. In recent years the Mossos d'Esquadra been the object of various allegations of police brutality and mistreatment. At present the three men are free and still working as police officers.

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Tuesday, 25 November 2008

EU has its own Stimulus Package

Today the European Commission is presenting a huge stimulis plan to meet the looming economic downturn, with more than 130 billion euros in initiatives.

President José Manuel Durao Barroso said the plan is based on a "groundwork coordinated measures by member states, which are tailored to each specific situation."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel approved injetions of capital in Europe's biggest economy of 32 billion euros over the next two years.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wants to lower its VAT from 17.5 to 15 per cent, starting next month, and even wants lower rates in some instances, such as restaurant bills.
All governments in Europe are facing the same challenge of preparing anti-crisis plans. Most choose from a menu that includes public works expenditures, tax cuts, monetary handouts, benefits for the families and other measures that can be applied fast.

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Monday, 24 November 2008

Former Royal Navy officer accused of murder in Barcelona

A former Royal Navy officer has appeared in court in Catalonia accused of murdering a Scottish man in Barcelona last october. The body of Derek Cowan, 46, was discovered in his Catalonian apartment on 8 October. The Mossos d'Esquadra described his death as "violent".
William Madley, also 46, from Huddersfield, Yorkshire, was arrested by Mossos in Barcelona at the weekend after a five week search. He was sent to the city's Model prison to await trail after appearing before an investigating judge at a closed door hearing.
Mr Cowan's body was found at his apartment in the upmarket Eixample neighbourhood. The discovery was made by a German business associate of Mr Cowan, Andreas Langweider. Mr Madley is reported to have served in the Royal Navy aboard a nuclear submarine at Faslane for four years during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Police in Barcelona would not give any details of how Mr Madley was traced and arrested.

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Monday, 28 July 2008

Prison population to hit 10,000

If the current growth trends hold steady, Catalonia's prison
population will exceed 10,000 by the end of 2008.
Currently, Catalonia's prisons are holding 9,845 inmates, according to
a study by the Departament de Justícia, up 4.78% since the end of
2007. The population of Catalonia increased 1.06% in that same period.
Of the total, 22.7% are in preventative custody awaiting trail, the
highest proportion in a decade. (Full story in printed edition).

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Fewer tourists leave more cash

Despite an endless stream of worrying news about the economy,
Barcelona's tourism industry is still having its cake and eating it
too.
While in the first five months of 2008 the Catalan capital saw the
first decrease in tourists seen in a long, long time, the tourists who
are coming are spending more money. At last, the elusive hunt for the
"quality tourist" seems to have born fruit, although it is at least
partly due to the global economic slump that keeps some tourists at
home. (Full story in printed edition).

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Interviews with statues

The human statues on Les Rambles are a longtime fixture of the city's
premier tourist thoroughfare. Residents often stride by without giving
a second look, but they are out there everyday, plying their curious
trade. What is it like to embody Julius Caesar or Che Guevara, a
Japanese World War II infantryman or an enormously fat lady? How do
they prepare, what do they think about and do they get bored? These
are some of the questions we asked the four human statues below. (Full
story in printed edition).

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Neighbourhood renovation plan

Some €99 million from the Generalitat and a further €99 million from
municipal authorities around Catalonia have been earmarked for
renovation projects in 22 local areas for 2008, in line with the Llei
de barris, passed in 2004. (Full story in printed edition).

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Beijing 2008: Catalan talent infiltrates Spain

There is no doubt that Catalonia has always acted as a hothouse for
domestic basketball talent. In recent years, however, the number of
home-grown players produced has been phenomenal. Even a glance at the
make-up of Spain's national squads reveals the dominance of Catalan
basketball players, with eight of the 15 players called up for
national duty in Beijing coming from Catalonia and a further eight
currently in the national reserve team. (Full story in printed
edition).

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Platform, by Martí Gironell: Mandela and the role of sport

Now that all the fuss over Spain's victory in Euro 2008 has died down,
I would like to talk about football. To be specific, about football
and Nelson Mandela. At the end of June, while Vienna was hosting the
Euro 2008 final, a concert was held in tribute to the South African
leader in London. Specifically, it was a concert to celebrate
Mandela's upcoming 90th birthday on July 18. I don't know if Mandela
asked for a television in order not to miss the Euro 2008 final, but
it is well-known that he is a keen football fan who defends the game
as a way of positively changing the lives of millions of people, many
of whom to be found in his long-suffering country. (Full story in
printed edition).

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Battle for Santa Mònica

Local art associations are not about to accept the sudden change in
direction of Barcelona's Centre d'Art de Santa Mònica without a fight.
The various groups issued a statement demanding that "the project put
foward by [Generalitat culture minister] Joan Tresserras be stopped"
until a ruling on the decision is released by the future Arts Council
that has been proposed as a new culture authority independent of
political interference. The statement called for establishing the Arts
Council as soon as possible and holding an international selection
process to select a new director. (Full story in printed edition)

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Interview: Simone Lambrects, dutch musician: That ’ol Catalan hoedown

– What brought you here?
In 1998 some friends introduced me to Cesc Sans and Pere Pau Gimènez,
a tabor piper and an accordion player – the two of them specialised in
Catalan folk music. We set up a folk band named Clau de Lluna, which
was the job that convinced me to come over and make a living in
Catalonia. I first collaborated with Pep Sala for the song La Taverna
d'Old John and it came out so well that he asked me to join his Banda
del Bar. I also played with Sau, Gerard Quintana, Lluís Llach, Toni
Xuclà, Electrica Dharma... (Full story in printed edition)

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Finding the magic in 3D

Catalonia's renowned maker of IMAX films, Jordi Llompart, is shooting
in Barcelona this month, putting the finishing touches to Spain's
first IMAX 3D feature film, The Magic Tale.
Largely shot in Namibia, the film is based on Llompart's own novel, El
corr damunt la sorra, and tells the story of a young girl who uses her
imagination to travel through the African wilderness with a young
African boy as her guide, encountering talking animals and a number of
other magical characters. (Full story in printed edition).

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Living on the edge

Shanty towns are impoverished urban settlements where individuals and
families are forced to improvise their own dwellings, constructing
them out of materials such as plywood, corrugated metal and sheets of
plastic.
Grey, dirty zones without proper sanitation or public services, these
are often areas in which crime, suicide, drug use, and disease are
common. We tend to associate such illegal settlements with developing
nations, but the proximity of them to our own lives is brought home to
us in a fascinating and sobering photography exhibition at Museu
d'Història de la Ciutat in Barcelona. (Full story in printed edition)

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Summer options in town

While many, if not most, of Barcelona's residents will hand over their
city to the tourists over the next few weeks, for those who stay the
Catalan capital will have a healthy serving of summer cultural events
on offer. Whether it is music on the rooftop of Gaudí's Pedrera or
cinema in Montjuïc castle's moat, some of Barcelona's most emblematic
sights will provide ample compensation for the city-bound. Below is a
selection of events on offer over the summer months. (Full story in
printed edition)

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Eating out can be healthy

Eating out in restaurants may be convenient or a good way to do
business or to celebrate a special occasion, but it is widely accepted
that doing it too often cannot be good for you.
This theory is now to be put to the test by Amed, an initiative from
the Catalan health department. Involving local authorities,
restaurateurs' guilds and the Fundació Dieta Mediterrània, Amed is a
network of eateries that will be allowed to bear a sign on their front
doors letting customers know that healthy food is served inside. The
scheme is based on a successful pilot project carried out in
Granollers and will now be extended to Barcelona. (Full story in
printed edition)

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The Last Word, by Joseph Wilson: The New Feminism

Once upon a time women had to be paid (in cash, and mainly in small
bills) to swing around a pole dressed in high heels and progressively
very little else. Oh, how the times have changed. El Periódico reports
that the latest fitness fad to arrive from US gym culture to these
shores is the estriptís class. So now we have women handing over money
to dance instructors or work-out leaders to learn the lusty arts of
erotic dancing. According to Barcelona's resident expert on the art of
striptease, Chiqui Martí, this form of exercise "is a compendium of
technics designed for a woman to carry out an activity which, besides
allowing her to keep physically, as well as mentally fit, permits her
to develop a feminine means of expression unknown to her until now".
(Full story in printed edition)

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Thursday, 17 July 2008

Ebre battle joins the tourist map

Historic battlegrounds can become symbols of peace and often they are
turned into tourist attractions. That's the case in Catalonia, too,
which is transforming its Civil War legacy into a form of cultural
tourism with a major project to revive the heritage of the Battle of
the Ebre, one of the bloodiest and most decisive periods of the
Spanish Civil War, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year.
The Generalitat is organising a network of routes and areas of
historical memory that will allow visitors to learn, or in some cases
remember, some of the most bitter scenes of the Spanish Civil War.
(Full story in printed edition)

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Mas’s last shot at Generalitat

Third time lucky. Or so Convergència's (CDC) Artus Mas hopes as he has
been chosen to lead his party into the 2010 elections for the Catalan
government after being reelected as general secretary at the CDC's
15th party congress which concluded on July 13. (Full story in printed
edition)

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Catalan division over migration

For Spain's immigration minister, Celestino Corbacho, economic
migrants bringing family members to join them is a privilege that
should be restricted as much as possible, while for Catalonia's
Secretari per a la Immigració, Oriol Amorós, the system known as
reagrupament familiar is a right that should be supported for the sake
of community relations. Into this rift has stepped the Generalitat's
minister for Acció Social i Ciutadania, Carme Capdevila, who has sided
with Corbacho. (Full story in printed edition)

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The changing face of Glòries

Demolition work on one of Barcelona's most unpopular structures –the
donut-shaped, concrete square in Glòries– began on July 10, offering
hope that the local area can be redeemed and live up to its name.
(Full story in printed edition)

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Generalitat’s fiscal deficit widens

Catalonia's fiscal deficit with the Spanish government – the
difference between what Catalan taxpayers send to Madrid and what they
get back in the form of federal expenditures and investments – is
widening, according to a study commissioned by the Generalitat's
finance minister, Antoni Castells. (Full story in printed edition)

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Platform: Catalonia and the ‘asymmetric’ state, by Genís Barnosell

Those in favour of a one-size-fits-all approach to the debate on the
funding of Spain's autonomous communities say that "asymmetric
solutions" – those that are not the same for everyone – are neither
viable nor fair. Yet, Spain, because of its history, geography and
politics, is by nature "asymmetric."
A clear example of this is the Basque Country. As Lehendakari
Ibarretxe proudly declared after legislation on the economic bilateral
cooperation with Spain was passed in 2002: "Whether in the European
Union, or among federal states or those with the greatest degree of
decentralisation, there is no case like that of the autonomous
community of the Basque Country – and the neighbouring community of
Navarra – in which bodies not belonging to the state have the capacity
to regulate their entire tax system." (Full story in printed edition)

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State budget doubles Catalan funding of CCCB

Thanks to the municipal charter approved by the Spanish parliament in
December 2005, the culture and finance ministries have signed an
annual agreement with the Barcelona City Council on how to dole out
the yearly budget of €20 million to the city's cultural institutions.
In an appearance before the Comissió de Política Cultural on July 9,
Joan Manuel Tresserras, the Catalan culture minister, reported to
Parlament the extent of the deal that had been reached with the
Spanish government. (Full story in printed edition)

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Interview: Tanja Smit, Dutch painter: A philosopher of images

What brought you to Catalonia?
A longstanding wish to travel, a grant possibility and marketing! It
was 1992 and in Holland you suddenly heard a lot about Catalonia with
the Olympic Games, about Seville's World Expo and Madrid as cultural
capital. El Greco, Velasquez, Goya and Picasso already were
references. So Spain basically attracted me, but I wanted to stay near
the sea and so I landed up in Catalonia.

How has living here influenced your work?
Being a foreigner made me see everything with more distance. The
harder light made me change from acrylic to egg tempera and use
shadows and silhouettes in photographs of drawings and paintings. I've
become more conscious about language in my text works. (Full story in
printed edition)

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So many festivals, so little time

With so many music festivals in Spain, this had to happen sooner or
later. The Summercase Festival organizers announced in December that
they would move their 2008 dates to July 18 and 19, so as to avoid
overlapping with the UK's T in the Park and Oxegen, which would have
prevented artists from coming to Summercase. Now, however, it will
unavoidably coincide with the FIB at Benicàssim. This was seen as a
declaration of war, and FIB countered with a "mini-FIB festival" in
Madrid on July 19 – featuring Morrissey, My Bloody Valentine, and
Siouxsie and Babyshambles – the same day as the Summercase in Madrid
and Barcelona. (Full story in printed edition).

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Hollywood’s wardrobe

Some of the most famous pieces of clothing in cinematic history are on
display this summer at Girona's Museu del Cinema. From Tarzan's loin
cloth to Batman's mask and lots of glitzy glamour in between, some 16
suites and gowns as well as other objects from the Hollywood wardrobe
make up the museum's Vestits pel Cinema on display until September 14.
(Full story in printed edition)

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Bleak House in Catalan

Bleak House constitutes one of Charles Dicken's most mature novels.
Fans of the great author agree that among all his works (including
such timeless classics as Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and A Tale
of Two Cities) this novel is Dicken's true masterpiece. Now, thanks to
the publishing house Destino and a wonderous translation by Xavier
Pàmies, readers can enjoy it in Catalan for the first time ever as El
Casalot. (Full story in printed edition)

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The Last Word, by Joseph Wilson: New hights

From winner of Wimbledon to bearer of Armageddon, Rafael Nadal has
without a doubt reached the peak of tennis fame and, rather
unexpectedly, now gone far beyond its wordly reaches. While any soul
who has opened a paper or turned on a television this week knows that
the Mallorcan master of the racket recently won the globe's most
famous tennis event, I imagine very few of you happen to also be aware
that an asteroid was named after Nadal in honour of his achievement
and spectacular, albeit very young, career. (Full story in printed
edition)

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Friday, 30 May 2008

Jordi Hereu, Mayor of Barcelona: Another tripartite is not the only option

After a year in minority government, consensus is the key word for the
mayor of Barcelona, who calls for a period of political calm and
reflection.
– What's the best thing about this past year?
That almost all the seeds are planted so that they can grow.
– And the worst?
That it is hard to imagine what it will become.
– You say you want to reach an agreement with ERC. How do you think
that might work?
In terms of governability, it is true that in the next few months I
would like a more stable environment. It could be a good thing for
everyone. We will work over the next few months and I will get
involved personally, though before that happens we have work on policy
to get on with. (Full story in printed edition).

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International in name only

When Europe's national football teams line-up to do battle in June for
the 2008 Eurocopa some countries will be conspicuously absent.
England, for example, the originators of the game, failed to qualify
and will to sit the tournament out.
But there are also a number of European countries who were never given
the opportunity to qualify because they are not recognised by the
international football federations, Uefa and Fifa. One such team is
Catalonia. (Full story in printed edition).

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Long term resident, by Matthew Tree: If only we knew

It is hard to help noticing that in Spain in general and Catalonia in
particular, the most alarming items of news about violent rightwingers
pass practically unnoticed, allowing the latter to go about their
knifing, shooting and extorting with near perfect impunity - whereas
the raising of a suspected ETA member's little finger, so to speak
(never mind a full-blown maiming or slaughter) will send the media
into paroxysms of gabble for days on end. (Full story in printed
edition).

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Heading for the hills, by Martin Kirby: Who gives a fig?

I rely on fig trees, for broad-leaf summer shade and to zap my
tastebuds and tummy twice a year. The experience is divine, the
consequences are unmentionable.
Between my office window and the lines of Garnacha vines where we
labour like mad dogs in our main fruiter stands, with bark like
elephant hide, a perch for birds, cats and children. We have green
figs and striped figs all around the old farmhouse, but this
particular tree with its purple fruit bears an avalanche of offerings
in June and again in September. If we don't take the harvest it falls
and explodes on impact, a feast for flies and a squidgy mess with the
adhesive attributes of dog poo. (Full story in printed edition).

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Commentary by Gary Gibson: Dima who?

I must admit that I've always had a soft spot for the Eurovision Song
Contest with all those exotic languages, shiny outfits, brokenhearted
losers and utterly ecstatic winners. Unfortunately, the ecstatic
winners always tend to fade back into the anonymity they've come from,
with the exception of ABBA and Celine Dion. Spain has gone for very
conservative offerings on the whole, although they took a risk with
Peret back in 1974 with his jolly rumba and the flamenco singer
Remedios Amaya in 1983, who didn't get a point. Winning or losing,
however, isn't really what it's about because Eurovision basically
makes being naff into an art form. (Full story in printed edition).

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Interview, Albert Serra, filmmaker: Wise men take on France

While Albert Serra might not care, the audiences at the Cannes film
festival seem to love him. The Banyoles-born director's latest film El
Cant dels Ocells (Birdsong) recently met applause and positive reviews
after a screening at the Directors' Fortnight during the southern
French town's mythical film festival. The film tracks the Three Wise
Men as they wander, half lost, through a barren landscape. Le Monde
praised the film's "discreet humour," "mix between the sacred and
profane" and the "shock between the grotesque and the sublime," while
the French daily Libération simply said, "cinema should always be like
this." (Full story in printed edition).

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History in a populist key

The Museu d'Història de Catalunya is now officially uptodate, opening
a new permanent exhibit that fills in the gap between 1980 and the
present.
History, one could say, is a tough act to follow – literally. One
never knows what major event of today will fade into obscurity with
the passage of time, while the everyday people that make up the fabric
of a society are often ignored at the expense of those with more
political clout. Now, in the middle of a change in directorship, the
Museu d'Història de Catalunya (MHC) has addressed these challenges.
(Full story in printed edition).

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Officials say no to bugs

It seems that drinking omelettes out of a glass at "deconstructionist"
restaurants wasn't enough for adventurous diners in Catalonia. For the
past four years, curious epicures have been bypassing French-approved
high-end restaurants and getting a more affordable thrill by going to
Llorenç Patràs' stand at the Boqueria market, and ordering scorpions,
worms, beatles and other succulent invertebrates. But now, after four
years of bureaucratic lollygagging, this is about to change. Health
officials have determined that selling foods that would hardly raise
an eyebrow – or an antenna – in the rest of the world, should not be
sold here. (Full story in printed edition).

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The Last Word, by Joseph Wilson: Heaven and earth

Signs of spiritual slippage seem to have been going unnoticed by the
majority of society, wrapped up as we are in more earthly concerns
like water, oil and whether we here in Spain will be graced by
Cristiano Ronaldo's exemplary displays of humility come next season.
Yet fear not, for the Church never sleeps when it comes to sounding
the alarm over the nation's moral decline. This week we have been
warned by none other than the Cardinal of Madrid and head of the
Conferencia Episcopal Española himself, Antonio María Rouco, that
"Spain and Europe are feeling the temptation to declare the death of
God." Ah, a man of the times. If, at least as far as Europe goes, the
"times" he is referring to were a couple of centuries ago. But
whatever modernity Cardinal Rouco lacks in thought, he more than makes
up for in style. I mean how can you not trust a man of the cloth who
dons shades? Or, for that matter, an army general? The truth is that
the sunglasses so popular among priests and higher ranking military
officials (generally of the Latin world) has never really put me at
ease. But again, I doubt they are really out to win over my heart and
mind. (Full story in printed edition).

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Monday, 26 May 2008

Ghettoisation of Catalan Schools

Last year, the father of a child attending the Collaso i Gil secondary
school in Barcelona contacted Catalonia's ombudsman, the Síndic de
Greuges, to make a complaint about the growth in the proportion of
immigrant children at the school, which in 2001 stood at 32% and had
risen to 80% in 2006.
The complaint was only one of 148 received by the ombudsman in 2007
and in most cases the rise in the proportion of schoolchildren of
immigrant origin did not correspond with the proportion of foreigners
living in the local area, which was usually much lower.
This last aspect is the main conclusion drawn from the report on
segregation in schools presented by the Síndic de Greuges to the
Catalan parliament on May 15. (Full story in printed edition).

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Long-term resident, by Matthew Tree: On hold

Not only prisons keep their portals locked. The Associació Vallès
Amics de la Neurologia (AVAN), like many other voluntary organisations
dedicated to the care of people with damaged nervous systems, ensures
that the gates of its centre in Sabadell are secured at all times to
prevent its patients from drifting into a world that doesn't have a
clue as to their particular needs and difficulties. When I went there
last week, I was expecting to see mainly middleaged or elderly people,
more likely as they were to be affected by Parkinson's, MS, Attention
Deficit Disorder and similar illnesses. So it was a surprise to find a
very young man in the audience. It turned out he'd been in a car
crash, then six months in coma, and now he was fighting to make the
simplest movements, to mouth the shortest of syllables. (Full story in
printed edition).

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Heading for the hills, by Martin Kirby: Moth therapy in a maddening world

England was significantly warmer than Barcelona last week and a BBC
radio station invited me on air so they could gloat.
I kindly but forcibly informed the listeners of this nation's
unbridled relief. The downpour on our farm measured two hundred litres
per cubic metre of rainfall in four days and I'd splashed about like
Gene Kelly.
Bloody typical, I said when I put the phone down. Wafer-thin global
awareness in a supposedly know-all age. Then I realised why I'd been
forced to lob some serious discussion into the lighthearted banter.
The water crisis here has sneaked into the British news, finally. But
between the bitter pill of the news slots, radio stations and
television programmes have to fill cavernous gaps of time, preferably
with something bland, cheery and easily digestible. (Full story in
printed edition)

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The language factory

Benedetta Tagliabue has already produced one landmark building in
Barcelona and now the celebrated architect will be responsible for
another. After the success of the Santa Caterina marketplace with its
multi-coloured roof, Tagliabue has been charged by the Barcelona City
Council to oversee the rebuilding of the Can Ricart factory in the
city's 22@ district, which is destined to become the new home of the
Casa de les Llengües, or House of Languages, in 2010. (Full story in
printed edition)

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Culinary titans clash

The culture wars have just changed their flavour. Whereas fierce
battles once raged over the divinity of Jesus' mother or whether
multiculturalism had a place in a nation's literary canon, the latest
earthshaking cultural debate revolves around the use of a certain type
of modified cellulose in cooking. (Full story in printed edition)

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The Last Word, by Joseph Wilson: Insult to injury

Last week we mentioned the case of the poor sister of Princess
Leticia, this one stuck with the rather un-royal title of Telma, who,
tired of being in the media spotlight due to her status of the future
king of Spain's in-law, had gone to court to seek an injunction
against those prying tabloids reporters who will stop at nothing for a
glimpse of her masticating, snoring and, please sweet God let it be
true, picking her nose. (Full story in printed edition)

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Thursday, 24 April 2008

Catalans of the world unite

More than 250 representatives from Catalan ex-pat communities around
the world are in Tarragona this week for the Trobada de Comunitats
Catalanes de l'Exterior.
In all, there are 117 Catalan cultural centres, or casals recognised
by the Generalitat, and the majority attended the fourth edition of
the annual conference. The event began on April 22 with a welcome
dinner in Pineda. (Full story in printed edition).

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Op: Why is the Catalan diaspora ignored?, by Germà Capdevila.

Many countries hace had to suffer exile on a large scale throughout
their history. The Irish, Armenians, Gypsies, Basques and Catalans are
a few examples, but the attitudes towards the diaspora have been
radically different.
In many cases there is pride and gratitude towards émigrés that have
done and do so much to represent the homeland in the host countries to
which they have emigrated. This is something that has always made me
wonder what has led Catalan society to ignore its own diaspora in the
space of only a couple of decades. (Full story in printed edition).

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Barcelona tackles illegal tourist flats

As a measure to bring Barcelona's many and largely unregulated
"tourist flats" under control, the City Council has introduced new
regulations which are predicted to result in the closure of over 500
flats in the city centre now illegally rented out to tourists. Failure
to comply with new regulations by this summer could result in fines of
up to €30,000 and owners being reported to tax officials. Under the
new ordinance, even legal tourist flats could face fines of up to
€15,000 for failing to comply with complaints from neighbours. (Full
story in printed edition).

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Interview: Jordi Margeli. Basics and innovation in English for schools

Jordi Margelí, 51, has been in charge of teacher training in foreign
languages at the Departament d'Educació since 1993 . In this interview
he speaks about the Pla d'Impuls de l'Anglès, a wide-ranging plan to
improve the level of English of pupils at primary and secondary
schools. (Full story in printed edition).

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Summer camps and activities in Catalonia

Summer is almost here and while children are anxiously awaiting the
end of the school year, some parents are wondering what to do with the
younger ones in the family when school stops and work continues.
Luckily there is no shortage of options to help pass the time in ways
that are much more constructive than watching telly or loitering in
online chat rooms.
A veritable army of everything from small non-profit foundations to
pricey sports training centres means that nearly all interests – and
budgets –will be covered. (Full story in printed edition).

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First steps in the European market

Talk of economic crisis has not discouraged Catalan shoeshop chain
Vialis from wanting to expand abroad. The specialist in high-quality
women's footwear is planning to open up to four shops a year,
including stores in Berlin and Paris in 2008, while on the horizon is
the possibility of a presence in New York. (Full story in printed
edition).

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Sun shines on Sant Jordi

It was a perfect spring day for this year's Sant Jordi celebrations on
April 23 and the public turned out all over Catalonia in their
thousands. In Barcelona, traffic on Les Rambles was cut before noon as
over a thousand book and flower stalls set up shop on the Catalan
capital's main thoroughfare.
It was a similar story all over the country, with the predictions on
book and flower sales fulfilling expectations, especially in the
afternoon. As forecast, Carlos Ruiz Zafón was the top-selling Catalan
author, while flower stalls sold around 6 million roses. (Full story
in printed edition).

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Interview: Melinda Gebbie "We have lost community"

Melinda Gebbie likes her porn. At least her own lushly illustrated
Victorian fantasy, drawn by her and fused with a story written by her
husband and creative partner, comicbook writer Alan Moore. Lost Girls,
the result of this 16- year collaboration, describes a meeting between
the female lead characters from Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz
and Peter Pan in an Austrian hotel in 1913. A 61-year-old born in San
Francisco, Gebbie presented the Spanish translation, published by
Norma comics, at the recent Saló de comic. (Full story in printed
edition).

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A tribute to resistance

It was creative talent that kept alive the spirit of resistance in
Catalonia under the Franco dictatorship. That is the claim made by
photographer Pilar Aymerich, who is displaying 71 of her portraits of
major Catalan figures from the world of letters, thought, music, art
and theatre at the Museu d'Història de Catalunya (MHC). (Full story in
printed edition).

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Mixed grades for literacy

If the success of Sant Jordi's day on April 23 was not proof enough,
most Catalans consider themselves to be readers, a new study has
found. Commissioned by the bookselling industry in Catalonia, the
report – Hàbits de lectura i compra de llibres a Catalunya – concludes
that some 59.4% of Catalans consider themselves regular or occasional
readers, with the majority claiming to read daily or weekly. (Full
story in printed edition).

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The bliss of fried dough

In a city that often wants for decent Latin options, we have the
porteños, or Buenos Aires migrants, to thank for a host of Old World
delights. They can toss a mean pizza, do holy things to milk and
sugar, and carry the international title for devouring piles of steak.
Maybe it's just what happens when Galicians, Basques, Italians and
Lebanese get together in the kitchen. (Full story in printed edition).

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Op: The last word, by Josep Wilson

Pirates: Finally the day has arrived. Yes, I have been waiting the
better part of my adult life to get the opportunity to write about
pirates, and I will not let this chance fate has granted me go to
waste. However, out of respect for the 26 sailors (13 of Spanish
nationality) who since April 20 have been in the hands of pirates off
the coast of Somalia, I will resist the temptation of incorporating
"walk the plank" into this here column. (Full story in printed
edition).

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Thursday, 17 April 2008

Sant Jordi in English

From the big chain bookstore such as Casa del Llibre, Fnac and El
Corte Inglés, passing through the smaller, more traditional bookshops
like La Central and Laie, all the way down to the second-hand English
bookstores, across Catalonia booksellers are revving up their engines
for Sant Jordi. (Full story in printed edition).

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Books and lovers unite

It is that time of the year again when people flood the streets,
exchanging books and roses with their loved ones. April 23 is Sant
Jordi, the most Catalan of celebrations, free from politics and debate
and full of rose petals and brand new book releases.
As always, enjoying the day takes nothing more than just joining in
the throngs of book buyers browsing through the book stands which line
the sidewalks and squares throughout every city, town and village. But
Barcelona is also offering a variety of activities to complement the
literary and floral festival. (Full story in printed edition).

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Guinness flows like wine in BCN

Boon or blight, that is the question. Some see the more than 20 Irish
pubs in Barcelona as an assault on the indigenous culture of a city
populated by more and more cookie-cutter businesses and less and less
local charm. However, others see the dimly lit thematic bars as
providers of a legitimate service that meets a real demand. (Full
story in printed edition).

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Catalonia’s CSI in on the case

Their uniforms make them look more like doctors than police officers
and their weapons are swabs, syringes and microscopes. Life in the
forensic division of the Mossos d'Esquadra police force is often slow
and deliberate, but thanks to their patience many criminal cases are
solved. (Full story in printed edition).

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Joan Laporta confidential

Journalist Àlex Sántos has just published L'Entorn, Joan Laporta en la
lluita pel poder, an exposé on Barça's president and the men who
helped him win the presidency and bring FC Barcelona back to being
counted among the world's elite football clubs. The book, according to
the author, tries to illuminate the "difficult to understand
barcelonista universe," a task never more urgent than at the present
moment with the club surrounded by so much doubt and skepticism. (Full
story in printed edition).

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Opening up Catalonia’s mass graves

Joan Solé was 38 years old when he was fatally wounded at the battle
of Vic as the Republican forces withdrew on February 1 and 2 1939 in
the dying days of the Spanish Civil War. Solé and three other soldiers
from the area of Gavà were buried were they fell in a common grave
already occupied by 22 corpses near the masia of Rovira de Gurb in
Osona. Some days later, Solé's family applied to the bishop of Vic for
a Christian burial for Joan in his home town. The response was as
blunt as it was insensitive: "Reds cannot be buried in a cemetery."
(Full story in printed edition).

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Zapatero begins on equal footing

Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has picked his team for
his second term, a selection of 17 cabinet ministers chosen with an
eye towards fulfilling a campaign promise of gender equality in his
administration. Nine of the ministers are women, forming a majority
for the first time in Spain's history. (Full story inprinted edition).

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Catalan firms on global stage

They began as modest ideas and have grown into successful, profitable
companies that in most cases have ended up as market leaders in their
respective sectors.
A belief in innovation and the drive to make their mark on the
international stage are the features that bind together a large number
of local firms that have been selected for an initiative called
Èxit.cat, sponsored by the Departament d'Innovació, Universitats i
Empresa. These businesses have been profiled in a series on Spanish
television TVE that showcases some of companies and business leaders
from Catalonia whose innovative outlook has been translated into
profits by offering their services and products to international
markets. (Full story in story edition).

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Interview, José Castro: ‘Excentricity is a must in fashion’

He has been compared to Thierry Mugler, Alexander McQueen and John
Galliano, but it is obvious that like them, he has his own style. José
Castro, born in a Galician village, educated in Barcelona and London,
transfers the clothes he designs into an universe clearly inspired by
cinema. From Charles Chaplin, he inherited wide trousers and from
Blade Runner – he adores 1980s science-fiction – a passion for volume
and above all, shoulder pads. (Full story in printed edition).

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Keith Haring's legacy

Last February Barcelona celebrated 20 years since the muchpraised
artist Keith Haring (Pennsylvania, 1958-New York, 1990) visited
Barcelona and in only five hours painted a mural on a wall in Raval, a
vast painting denouncing Aids, the terrible illness that ended his
life in 1990. (Full story in printed edition).

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Peralada’s eclectic plans

"A festival of everything for everybody" is the promise from the
organisers of this year's Festival Castell de Peralada. The programme
for Girona's showcase culture fest, which will run from July 17 to
August 17, puts the onus on the eclectic. (Full story in printed
edition).

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Sisters of the sketchbook

At the end of the 80s it seemed as if the comic book was doomed to
disappear in Europe. Then along came manga and saved the day. Yet,
there was another consequence of the rise of the Japanese comic book:
it brought women back on board.
Girls had all but given up on comics by the 70s, when the female
market had been dominated by pocket-sized romantic comics drawn by the
likes of Maria Pascual. In fact, this author's work has recently found
a new lease of life with the reissuing of Sissi, by the publishers
Zeta Bolsillo. (Full story in printed edition).

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Home of 21st century art

Contemporary art has a new home in Barcelona. On April 10, the
Fundació Alorda-Derksen opened a new gallery on carrer Aragó devoted
to contemporary art.
An initiative of businessman and art collector Manuel Alorda, the
gallery's inaugural exhibition contains 25 works by some of today's
most highly-regarded artists, including the likes of Damien Hirst,
Anish Kapoor, Anselm Kiefer, Jason Martin and Douglas Gordon. (Full
story in printed edition).

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We, too, are Catalans

If you are a foreigner who has lived in Catalonia for some time and
has a grasp of the local language, this might be the perfect book to
give reading in Catalan a a start.
It may be true that it is not designed to be an introductory book for
non-Catalan speakers, and a Catalan-English dictionary may be
required, but Nosaltres, els catalans (We, too, are Catalans) relates
situations, feelings and experiences with which you will be familiar.
(Full story in printed edition).

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Opinion: The Last Word, by Joseph Wilson

The Bad Guy. So it seems more and more likely that Mariano Rajoy,
still punch-drunk from the beating Zapatero laid on him in the March
general elections, is now going to have to duke it out with the
baroness Esperanza Aguirre to maintain the leadership of the Partido
Popular. Big surprise I might say. (Full story in printed edition).

Read more...

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Barcelona puts on cultural weight

Complaints about the incessant racket of drills and bulldozers are
common in Barcelona, but not all the building in the Catalan capital
is in response to the seemingly inexhaustible demand for housing and
equally inexhaustible profit motive of developers. All over the city,
there are a number of building projects in varying states of
completion that will boost the city's claims to be a cultural capital
by providing venues, centres and places for study in everything from
music to film. (Full story in printed edition).

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Enough is enough for souvenirs

Barcelona wants to stop the plague of souvenir shop from spreading any
further. From now on, any potential entrepreneur looking to hock fake
Barça jerseys and Mexican sombreros in the tourist hotspots of la
Sagrada Familia and Parc Gûell will not be able to open his or her
souvenir shack. (Full story in printed edition).

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Drought plan sparks water war

The lines have been drawn and the first salvos fired. The worst
drought in the past 60 years in Catalonia is pitting brother against
brother with the Catalan government versus Madrid and Barcelona
against the other three provinces of Catalonia –Girona, Lleida and
Tarragona. The dispute, ironically enough, is not about how to deal
with the drought, but rather how to deal with a possible water
shortage for the city of Barcelona. Baring massive rainfall this
summer, the Catalan capital will run dry come October 2008. (Full
story in printed edition).

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Migrants fight for a lost voice

Pakcelona radio is a lifeline for the local South Asian community,
providing not only the latest news from home, but lessons in Catalan
and Spanish, practical advice on negotiating the bureaucracy and other
challenges of a new land, and even helping newcomers or the
down-and-out find jobs and housing. (Full story in printed edition).

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Interview, Thubten Wangchen, ‘Change has to come before the Olympics’

Casa del Tibet is a cultural centre and the only one of its kind in
Spain. It opened in Barcelona 1994 and has 400 members, mostly in
Catalonia. Thubten Wangchen has been director since its founding.
(Full story in printed edition).

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Diversity rules new businesses

Move over, USA, because soon idealists may start talking about the
Catalan dream. For some of those who have made Barcelona their new
home, Catalonia is shaping up to be a land of opportunity. (Full story
in printed edition).

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BCN’s ‘indestructible’ suitcases

The television series Lost begins with an aeroplane explosion that
leaves a beach strewn with passengers and suitcases. The luggage in
the programme, which survives the crash intact, was supplied by the
Californian company Peli. Yet far from Hollywood, Peli, from its base
in Barcelona, is targeting its 'indestructible' suitcases at the
European, African and Far Eastern markets and hopes to treble its
revenue over the next five years. (Full story in printed edition).

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Op: Africa’s beauty (by way of Barcelona), by Claire E. Terry

Some places on this planet can only be described as stunning. Others,
awe-inspiring. Yet others still as thrilling, beautiful, breathtaking.
But there is only one continent that, in my experience, can lay claim
to every superlative in the book, and that is, quite simply, the
magical continent of Africa. (Full story in printed edition).

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Rodoreda: innocence lost

To celebrate the centenary of the birth of Catalan novelist Mercè Rodoreda (1908-1983), an unusual show at Palau Robert explores the writings of the enigmatic Barcelona-born author from the inside out. (Full story in printed edition).

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Interview: Ferran Barenbilt. ‘Let’s not talk about numbers’

Ferran Barenblit (Buenos Aires, 1968) has been the director of the Centre d'Art Santa Mònica (CASM) since 2003. In this interview, he defends his project, which has been questioned lately. According to rumours unconfirmed by the culture minister, Manuel Trasseres, the venue could be closed down or turned into a Generalitat venue for the promotion of Catalan culture. However, Barenblit says he is committed to the value of Santa Mònica, which cannot be measured only in terms of the size of the public it receives. (Full story in printed edition). 

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Interview: Maria Popistasu, actor. ‘It’s just a love story’

After Cristian Mungiu's 4 months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) and Cornel Porumboiu's 12:08 East of  Bucharest (2006), Tudor Giurgiu's Love Sick, hitting theatres this week, seems to be riding the crest of a new wave of Romanian cinema. The film narrates the shifting relationships between Kiki, played by Maria Popistasu, her brother Sandu and her friend Alex. Popistasu was in town this week to talk about the film. (Full story in printed edition).

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Dinosaurs to call our own

Wrangling over control of Catalonia, Valencia and the other areas that make up the Països Catalans is nothing new, but between 65 and 230 million years ago there was one undisputed master of the territory: dinosaurs.
Still today, our knowledge of the dinosaur species that once held sway in the Països Catalans largely remains a mystery. This fact has now prompted the Institut Català de Paleontologia to bring out a book – Dinosaurios del Levante Peninsular – that classifies many of the dinosaur species that could once be found in the region. (Full story in printed edition).

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Incubating new talent

For a number of years, places such as Vinçon or Maxalot have been at the forefront of design in Barcelona. Sleek, highbrow and moneyed, these temples to graphic design catering to the elite now have more down-toearth competitors. All over Barcelona, galleries have sprung up open to the city's emerging talent, allowing young, unknown artists of all disciplines to showcase their work. (Full story in printed edition).

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Connoisseurs of crime

Down one of Barceloneta's dark and dreary alleyways, the reader in dire need of a good mystery finds his way to the Negra i Criminal bookstore in order to plead for help from two of the city's experts on crime fiction and self-described "detectives of lost books," Paco Camarasa and his wife Montse Clave. During the day this couple scour the city for second-hand detective novels to accompany the brand new editions that line the shelves of what its owners say is the only bookstore in all of Spain dedicated solely to the subject of the detective and crime novel. (Full story in printed edition).

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Friday, 28 March 2008

Resolving conflicts: Mutually assured resolution

Whether between employer and employee, next-door neighbours, criminal and victim, husband and wife or warring states, we are surrounded by conflicts that seemingly have little chance of reaching a resolution acceptable to both parties. Yet, with a dose of goodwill and constructive dialogue under the direction of a professional mediator, there are few conflicts that cannot be resolved to the benefit of both parties. Arbitration, in all walks of life, is an alternative to mutual destruction and damaging legal battles and is growing by the day. (Full story in printed edition).

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US house speaker comes to town

Barcelona appears to be developing a reputation as a world leader in public transportation. No less than the third most powerful politician in the most powerful nation in the world was recently in town to see for herself what all the talk was about.
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, stopped in Barcelona on her return leg to the US after a trip to India to meet with the Dalai Lama. She took the opportunity to talk transportation with Jordi Hereu. (Full story in printed edition).

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Catalonia has highest per capita population of foreign prisoners

Foreigners represent 30.4% of the Catalan prisoner population, the highest of any country in Europe. The data comes from the Síndic de Greuges de Catalunya, the Catalan ombudsman, which extrapolated information about Catalonia from an EU-wide study penitentiary systems in 2002-2004. Among other data, the Síndic highlights the fact that Catalonia has the fewest penitentiary workers in the EU – 40.7 per 100 convicts. The European countries leading the pack are Sweden with 99.6 workers per 100 prisoners and Italy with 85.1. (Full story in printed edition).

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Interview. Oriol Amorós. Language, jobs and social understanding

In the past year, Oriol Amorós has instigated two of Catalonia's most ambitious immigration projects: the Llei d'acollida and the Pacte Nacional per a la Immigració. The measures are aimed at addressing the influx of migrants by providing newcomers with tools in order to aid their  integration and to reorganise public services so as to offer improved attention to all citizens. The philosophy behind these initiatives is the same that has led Amorós to advocate reducing the proposed period necessary for naturalisation from five to two years and to defend the aules  d'acollida as the most efficient way of promoting integration. (Full story in printed edition).

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Little league football on the global stage

The next generation of international football stars was recently on display at the Mundaliet, played at different sites along the Costa Brava. Teams hailed from throughout Europe and from as far away as Brazil, Russia and Japan, but there were no surprises at the moment of crowning the champs in each category. The wee ones of the power houses continued in the tradition of their bigger brothers as Barça, Real Madrid, Brazil and Mexico took home trophies. (Full story in printed edition).

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Generalitat antes up in Magreb

The Generalitat as been a big promoter of the EU's Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, designed to build closer ties between Europe and the non-EU countries bordering the Mediterranean, but now it is putting its money where its mouth is.
Behind its investment arm, the Institut Català de Finances (ICF), the Catalan government is one of the three largest partners in a new venture capital fund, Fons Mediterrània Capital (Mediterranean Capital Fund), that plans to invest up to €100 million in the Magreb countries of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. (Full story in printed edition).

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Learning English on the phone

Speaking English has in recent years become as essential a skill for most Catalans as getting a driving licence or knowing how to swim. In response, a whole industry, comprising language schools, audio and video materials, books and exchange trips to English-speaking countries has sprung up. Barcelona-based company Phonelearning is now offering English language  students a service whereby clients choose a date and time to be rung up for a conversation of their choosing in English. (Full story in printed edition).

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Op: The sound of global English, by Mercè Vilarrubias

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and China's entrance into international economic markets, English has become a truly global language. Covering the five continents and cutting across social classes, English is now the lingua franca of the world. It is estimated that between 1.5 and two billion people in the world now speak English and that of those only about 450 million are native speakers. (Full story in printed edition).

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The universal Catalan

In his day, he was the subject of eulogies from the likes of Josep Pla and Joan Miró and his engravings appear in all the manuals and encyclopaedias dedicated to the world of Catalan art, yet Enric Cristòfol Ricart remains largely unknown today in his native Catalonia. (Full story in printed edition).

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Interview. Lluís Llobera. Computer animator

Lluis Llobera has a job that most would envy. At least, that is, if you enjoy long hours in front of a high powered computer breathing life into fantastic characters that will charge across big screens around the world.
Llobera, a twenty-eight year old from Barcelona, now works as an animator for New York based Blue Sky studios, the outfit responsible for the recent film Horton hears a who. Horton was Llobera's first film with Blue Sky. (Full story in printed edition).

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The flowers of Egypt

Barcelona's Egyptian museum inaugurates a new space with a show of 40 ancient artefacts, including 28 sarcophagi, unearthed in two tombs in Egypt's Valley of the Queens, near Thebes (ancient Luxor).
Although the 2,700 year old tombs were discovered in 1903 by the Italian archeologist Ernesto Schiaparelli, this is the first time they have been put on display to the public. (Full story in printed edition).

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Smaller museums praise plan

Despite its detractors, the Pla de Museus de Catalunya, Catalonia's national museum plan, does have its fans. A group of 39 directors of local museums have signed a manifesto praising key language in the document. (Full story in printed edition).

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The literary spoils of war

Militària, Barcelona's one and only bookshop specialising in the subject of the history, men and machines of modern warfare turns 25 years old this month. The shop, located on carrer Bruc 87 in the heart of the Eixample, offers a veritable war bounty for the military buff and collectionist alike. (Full story in printed edition).

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From the fields to the doorstep

The horticultural home-delivery service popular in northern Europe has established itself in Catalonia.
Disfruta & Verdura, based at the l'Hort del Pilar farm in Cambrils, was formed by three partners in October 2007. Under general director Álvaro Córdoba, the company began to ship out weekly or fortnightly eight-kilo or 12-kilo boxes of fruits and vegetables to homes in Barcelona at prices ranging from €26-€36 a box. (Full story in printed edition).

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Op: The Last Word, by Joseph Wilson

Wearing pants instead of a skirt costs nurses €30 in a clinic in Cádiz. La clínica San Rafael has reduced the salaries of their nurses who opt not to bare their bottom third and dock them their "collaboration and dedication" bonus. It looks like the bossman justifies this by construing "collaboration and dedication" as "for my viewing pleasure". (Full story in printed edition).

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Friday, 21 March 2008

Three days when it rained iron

Seventy years ago to the day, Barcelona lay in rubble, with over one thousand civilians dead in the streets or in the ruins of their former homes. From March 16-18, 1938, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, Franco's airforce and his Italian allies bombed the city from the sky and opened a new chapter in the dark history of warfare. A new book, Tres dies de març, bears visual witness to those days of destruction. (Full story in printed edition).

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The Mediterranean: a fragile sea

The Mediterranean is getting warmer. According to a comprehensive study conducted by Centre d'Estudis Avançats de Blanes (CEAB), a marine research centre, the Mediterranean sea is both warmer and saltier than it was 30-40 years ago. Likely explanations for the increased salinity of the sea are the decrease in fresh water flowing from rivers due to decreasing rainfall in recent years, and the global rise in sea level resulting from the melting of polar ice caused by global warming. (Full story in printed edition).

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Sounding the depths of need

Barcelona's Town Hall says there are approximately 800 homeless people living on the city's streets day-to-day. Independent social service agencies put the number at 1,500. To find out exactly how many people live on the streets, who they are, what circumstances led them there and what they need, the city is collaborating with some of those same agencies to undertake the most extensive census of the homeless in the city's history. (Full story in printed edition).

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Interview, Thomas Buergenthal. Auschwitz survivor and international judge: ‘It is important to say the truth’

As a child,Thomas Buergenthal was rounded up by the Nazis in the Jewish ghetto of Kielce in Poland and sent to Auschwitz. Separated from his parents, he survived the death camps alone. After the war, he adopted US citizenship and went on to become a judge in the International Court of Justice in the Hague. His 2007 autobiography, A Lucky Child, has just been published in Catalan under the title, Un nen afortunat. (Full story in printed edition).

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Circus back in the ring

After months of negotiation with the authorities and after years of institutional neglect, Catalan circus has a future. Protracted talks between the Departament de Cultura and the Associació de Professionals del Circ de Catalunya (APCC) has brought about an agreement that will lead to the regulation of the profession and a significant increase in government funding. (Full story in printed edition).

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Interview, Joan Garriga, Rumba singer: ‘Parties are serious business’

Without missing a note on his diatonic accordion, Joan Garriga sweeps down gracefully to pick up the underwear one of his female fans has thrown to him on stage. Although receiving critical acclaim and a prestigious Ciutat de Barcelona prize for Clavell Morenet, the new album by his band La Troba Kung-Fú, Garriga's high-energy Catalan rumba is far from stuffy and academic, as his knickerless fans will attest. Here he talks about disco politics, African immigration and the serious business of partying. (Full story in printed edition).

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The Post-it project

An extensive exhibition at CCCB explores the phenomenom of the Post-it city: an international research project that centres on "the temporary use of public space for commercial, recreational and sexual activities." (Full story in printed edition).

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Thursday, 13 March 2008

Exiles museum: Keeping the memory alive

It is somehow fitting that a museum dedicated to refugees should be located in a border town. La Jonquera in Alt Empordà witnessed at first hand the exodus of thousands of people, as Republican sympathisers fled Franco's victorious forces after the Civil War. That was in 1939 and, for some, still within living memory. Those memories now have a home at Mume or the Museu Memorial de l'Exili. (Full story in printed edition).

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Palau v neighbours over hotel

A fight is brewing in Barcelona's Ciutat Vella over the neighbourhood's architectural heritage, pitting the Palau de la Música Catalana against the local neighbourhood association.
The bone of contention is the Palau's plan to purchase the Casa Agustín Valenti, carrer Sant Pere Més Alt 13, listed in Barcelona's catalogue of architectural heritage and located directly across the street from the Palau. The plan is to tear down the building and build a hotel with a small square that will widen the street. (Full story in printed edition).

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ERC leads the fall-off by the left

A recent survey carried out by the Generalitat's Centre d'Estudis d'Opinió showed a growing number of Catalans in favour of independence, a trend that theoretically, at least, should have
translated into more votes for the party most closely associated with Catalan independence –the left-wing nationalist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya. (Full story in printed edition).

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A new wrinkle in mystery of light

A joint team of physicists and biologists based in Barcelona has recently made a discovery that one day could be used to treat cases of severe nerve damage.
Nerve cells have been discovered to follow the pinpoint of a tiny laser beam just like a donkey can be lead with a carrot on a stick. While apparently simple, this finding has potentially groundbreaking applications. (Full story in printed edition).

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Contentious Laietana turns 100

Interestingly enough, via Laietana was born on carrer Ample, when King Alfons XIII symbolically broke ground, swinging a pick axe at 77 carrer Ample one hundred years ago, on March 10, 1908.
The plan to connect the city's old port with the new district of the Eixample with a modern, wide road was coloured with an urbanistic idealism. However, it also represented yet another point of friction between Barcelona's influential bourgeoisie and the working class: in this case the unfortunate residents of dark, constricting medieval neighbourhoods that would be razed to make way for the new artery. (Full story in printed edition).

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Montjuïc: From mountain to monument

Barcelona and Montjuïc have always had a relationship bordering on symbiosis. It was Montjuïc stone – renowned for its quality and durability – that was used to build so many of the city's landmarks. In return, over the years, Barcelona has turned Montjuïc into a monument of the first order. (Full story in printed edition).

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Rajoy is beaten but unbowed

Mariano Rajoy announced his intention to lead the Partido Popular yet again in the next general elections four years from now, supporting his decision as "the best for the PP, the best for Spain, and because I have a good political project and because 10 million Spaniards backed a slate of candidates led by me." (Full story in printed edition).

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Sports: Crisis or dip in form for Espanyol?

'It's a funny old game' is an old footballing cliche but it could well be the phrase going through the heads of many Espanyol fans at the moment.
After an excellent start to the season, in which the Barcelona team spent 21 consecutive match days in La Liga's European placings, Espanyol have picked up a mere six points from 24 since the Christmas break. (Full story in printed edition).

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Keeping the wheels on the economy

The government under Prime Minister Jose Luís Rodríguez Zapatero delivered economic growth that averaged 3.7% a year and created three million new jobs, results that helped him win a second term in recent elections.
Growth like that is long gone. In the march of economic cycles, Spain has exited Easy Street (now offically known as the good old days) and is flirting with a technical recession (two consecutive quarters of negative growth), with the potential that it will become full blown. (Full story in printed edition).

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Cooked offers clothing al dente

Imagine a clothes store that feels like a take-away restaurant, with goods intriguingly presented, a menu tailored to individual tastes, and items freshly prepared while you relax at the bar. Welcome to Cooked in Barcelona, a local firm promoting the fashion equivalent of the "slow food" movement. (Full story in printed edition).

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Opinion, by Antoni Mir: Multilingualism means business

We never think when we go to the fridge to get a yoghurt that this word has come to us via Turkish. Or similarly, it never crosses our minds when talking on a mobile phone that the term was originally Greek. Words do not respect borders and thanks to languages our culture grows. It is this concept that lies behind the exhibition La mar de llengües. Parlar a la Mediterrània in the Casa de Cultura in Girona. (Full story in printed edition).

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Courageous creations

The images of female photographer Lee Miller are on show at the Manuel Barbié gallery in Barcelona until April 22. Miller was the subject of a recent extensive exhibition at Museu Picasso.
Multifaceted and multi-talented, Miller acted as a commercial photographer, news reporter and war correspondent during her lifetime. (Full story in printed edition).

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Giving screen life to Cold Skin

Albert Sánchez Piñol's La pell freda (Cold Skin) now has a pair of scriptwriters who will bear the artistic burden of successfully turning this excellent novel into a – cross your fingers – great film.
Two Catalan brothers, David and Alex Pastor, have been tagged for the difficult task of writing an English screenplay for the novel's adaptation. (Full story in printed edition).

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The artistry of botifarra

There's sausage and then there's botifarra. Catalans would probably not look kindly on one of the principal staples of their cuisine being refered to as a mere salsitxa, and as one local shop has proved, the botifarra can be as simple or as elaborate as you like.
Across the street from the church of Santa María del Mar in Barcelona's increasingly fashionable El Born neighbourhood, La Botifarreria de Santa María specialises in quality meats and cheeses, but its main attraction is its bewildering variety of botifarra. (Full story in printed edition).

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The Last Word, by Joseph Wilson: Varieties of silence

Little-known-fact-of-the-week: do you know what country is the only foreigner to officially represent the insanely odd government of North Korea hails from? From China you say? No. From Russia? Nope. Did someone say from Catalonia? Go on, speak up! Say it loud and clear because we have a winner! (And who says that Catalonia doesn't have a voice on the international scene?) Yes, Alejandro Cao de Benós originally hails from Tarragona and presently is head of the Committee of Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as well as leading the Friends of North Korea Association. (Full story in printed edition).

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Friday, 7 March 2008

Barcelona’s reputation turns tame

Barcelona City Council's campaign to shed its budget holiday appeal is
starting to have an effect on the international perception of the city
as a "wild" destination for stag and hen parties. In a self-styled
"hell-raising" scale that appeared in a recent issue of the UK's
Independent, Barcelona received a low rating. The article attributed
the drop in its hell-raising status to the 2005 introduction of the
civisme policy, "a raft of measures to clamp down on drunken groups,
with heavy on-the-spot fines for antisocial behaviour and a ban on
drinking in the street." (Full story in printed edition).

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Playgrounds get the butt end

Cigarette butts, scraps of aluminum foil, plastic bags, even the
occasional and highly unpleasant piece of canine excrement. Parents,
experts and city officials can agree on one point regarding
Barcelona's playgrounds for children: their level of cleanliness
leaves something to be desired.
Hannah, parent of a two-year-old girl and resident of La Ribera, says
that her neighbourhood has "plenty" of places for her daughter to play
but laments the fact they "get pretty grubby," adding that "people
treat them as vast bins and just toss their rubbish in". (Full story
in printed edition).

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A quarter of water wasted in leaks

Despite suffering from the worst drought in decades and with water
resource management at the top of the government's to-do list, a
quarter of Catalonia's water is being lost on its journey from the
treatment plant to the tap.
A report from the Col·legi d'Enginyers de Camins, Canals i Ports,
based on statistics from the Agència Catalana de l'Aigua, claims that
the government calculation of a 17% loss of total water resources
through leaks to be an underestimate. What's more, the loss of 25
litres in every 100 stated in the study is well over the Spanish
average of 17.9%. (Full story in printed edition).

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Joan Laporta: A sporting chance in politics

Spain's conservative Partido Popular has accused him of being an
"Ultra." An English journalist labelled him "Barça's Kennedy." A
former colleague decried his "authoritanism, opacity and power-greed."
The man who inspired that range of opinion is none other than Joan
Laporta, the charismatic president of Futbol Club Barcelona and
presumed candidate for political office. The media-savvy Laporta has
kept his future intentions close to the vest, but his transition from
sport to local politics looks inevitable. Indeed, if there ever was a
club that could prepare a man for the political arena, it's Barça,
where politics and sport are inextricably linked. (Full story in
printed edition).

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Opinion: When less means more in politics, by Joan Abril

Slogans for political campaigns or electoral programmes have to
conform to the magic formula: "less is more". What this means exactly
is that a few, carefully selected words have to carry maximum force in
their meaning. A good example is the slogan for the PSC-PSOE (Partit
dels Socialistes de Catalunya) candidate Carme Chacón. "La Catalunya
optimista" is a phrase that transmits an optimism that the work of the
governing Socialist party will continue, while the phrase "Si tú vas,
somos más" also rings with optimism. This latter slogan is
complemented by another – "Si tú no vas, ellos vuelven" – that shows
spooky silhouettes of the opposition leaders of the Partido Popular
(PP). (Full story in printed edition)

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Interview: Joan Manuel Treserras, Culture and Communications Minister - Catalan on the box

Q: You were very critical of the Audiovisual Council of Catalunya
(CAC), an organisation of which you yourself were part.
A: That's right. However, it seems to me that these criticisms must be
seen as a contribution to the process of changing the relation the
political class has with public media. In other words, changing from a
model of very strict relations where there public communications
system must basically submit to the political system to a more
separated, autonomous model that would allow the Consell català de
mitjans audiovisuals or [Catalan council of audiovisual media] to
assume more responsibility. (Full story in printed edition)

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Romanesque Catalonia

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya with the support of Sociedad Estatal
de Conmemoraciones Culturales (SECC), a Madrid-based governmental body
dedicated to recovering and restoring cultural heritage, presents an
exhibition entitled Romanesque art and the Mediterranean, Catalonia,
Toulouse and Pisa 1120-1180. (Full story in printed edition).

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Interview: Josep Grau-Garriga, artist - The language of tapestry

Q: What does the Any Tapís 2008 mean to you?
A: The aim is to show the importance that this artistic technique has
had in Sant Cugat, thanks to the efforts of the Escola Catalana de
Tapís. (Full story in printed edition).

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Opinion: Johnny get your gun, by Joseph Wilson

Spaniards, even those dastardly Republicans, mostly see their royals
as modest, spendthrift and dare I say modern when put side by side
with the likes of the House of Windsor. The general consensus is the
House of Bourbon somehow symbolically pays its way while being
generous enough not to run up the tax payers' bill too much. (Full
story in printed edition)

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Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Racism and xenophobia cannot be kissed away

During election times, in other countries, they kiss babies. In Spain,
it seems they kiss blacks, if a cursory look at some of the newspapers
is to be believed. OK, not all political parties it seems, so I will
omit the Secretary General of the PSOE Zapatero from such activities
but not Rajoy.
I would like to know what is it about Mariano Rajoy and PP that they
manage to get themselves in photos and stories with prominent black
people – presumably immigrants or pictorially seen as images or
representatives of immigrants – when the substance of their message is
racist, xenophobic and intimidating.
One of these cases was the one covered prominently by several
newspapers, prior to the official election kick-off, was that of Khady
Koita on a PP platform with amongst others Rajoy, which I will discuss
further below. Recently, Público's (page 8, 29 February 2008) feature
article Habrá agua para todos also ran a photo of about a quarter the
size of the tabloid page dedicated to Rajoy kissing a black woman
sympathiser, who was unnamed. The huge image represents Rajoy as being
sympathetic, open and fair to say the least to blacks and immigrants
concerns - something the accompanying article (Llamazares tilda al PP
de ¨xenófobo y sectario¨) clearly contradicts.
In addition, the photo does not serve to illuminate the importance of
responsible water utilization and the failed water policies of PP but
represents a Rajoy simply as a happy campaigner!
In the former case of Koita – president of a group called European
Network against FGM –, her message to PP was to tackle female genital
mutilation (Rajoy afirma que su propuesta de contrato ayudará a
prevenir la ablación genital, El País, 8 February 2008), whilst there
seems to be no corresponding call for support nor participation
towards the PSOE, and other left parties in the country. Apparently,
during 2007, the Senegalese born activist received an award from PP's
main women leader Esperanza Aguirre.
I do not have any problems with this, but I have concerns when Black
people and an activist ostensibly committed to tackling such anti
women and anti human practices is privatised by a party whose message
on women and immigrants is at best paternalistic. As regards
immigration, it is racist and xenophobic and I do not believe any
immigrant, let alone any Black person, must be used in process that
will only facilitate his/her own subjugation. What is clearly called
for is resistance and alliances with those who seek genuine dignity
and equality for all in a world where immigration is both inevitable
yet not always equitable and just.

[Hassen Lorgat is on short sabbatical in Spain and studying at UPC.
Was the former chair of Transparency International – South Africa, and
manager of campaigns and communications with the South African NGO
Coalition.]

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Friday, 22 February 2008

The heart of the city

If you type the words "town square" into the Wikipedia search engine, the resulting article comes accompanied by a photo of a public square in the city of Sabadell. It is no coincidence that it is a Catalan town that has been picked by the on-line encyclopaedia to portray a typical square. Catalonia is rich in places, which ever since the Romans built forums as a central communal location in towns, have served a variety of functions. From meeting places to festival venues and from centres of commerce to sites of political rebellion, public squares have always played a full role in the collective life of towns and cities. (Full story in printed edition).

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Catalonia's 100 new ‘barris’

The Generalitat is to build 100 new housing estates that will be erected across 85 municipal districts as part of meeting the targets outlined by the Pacte Nacional per l'Habitatge, signed at the end of 2007 by social groups and business leaders. This housing expansion, known as the Residential Areas Strategy (ARE) will mean a total of 90,000 new flats in Catalonia, 50% of which will be publicly protected. Half of these flats will be located in the Barcelona Metropolitan area. (Full story in printed edition).

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Interview: ‘Artificial is not bad’

David Bueno i Torrens, Professor of Genetics at the Universitat de Barcelona and author of Òrgans a la carta (Organs on Demand), specialises in the emerging field of regenerative medicine, based on the idea of repairing worn out tissues and organs with new ones grown in the lab. He talks about cultivating organs, exchanging DNA with cows, and Walt Disney's future. (Full story in printed edition).

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Interview, Marta Selva: ‘Women are still overloaded with work’

The Ley de Igualdad (Gender Equality Act) was passed in March 2007 to ensure equal opportunities for men and women in the workplace, but what impact is it having? (Full story in printed edition).

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The debates: Zapatero v Rajoy

The Spanish public is hungrily awaiting the debates between Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and the conservative Partido Popular challenger Mariano Rajoy. The first is set for February 25, followed by rematch on March 3, six days before the election. (Full story in printed edition).

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M&B: Is Catalonia recession-resistant?

Catalan President José Montilla recently expressed confidence that the nation's relatively strong industrial sector will cushion the impact from the slowdown in construction weighing on Spain as a whole. (Full story in printed edition).

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Opinion: Catalonia is no Kosovo and Spain no Serbia, by Neil Stokes

Nothing gets Catalan hearts beating faster than when a small country declares itself independent. The recent secession of Kosovo from Serbia is a case in point, with most Catalan newspapers dedicating the sort of coverage to the events in the Balkans normally reserved for domestic issues. Avui newspaper, for example, has run at least one opinion article on the situation in Kosovo every day since independence was announced by the parliament in Pristina on February 17. (Full story in printed edition).

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Interview, Salvador Sunyer: Catalan theatre centre stage

Salvador Sunyer is educated in the art of understatement and has a degree of difficulty when it comes to speaking about himself and getting into the role of the interviewee. Consequently, what follows is an approximate transcription of an informal conversation carried out with the aid of a recording device that ended up not working. (Full story in printed edition).

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On set in Barcelona

When US director Woody Allen brought the Catalan capital to a standstill last summer while shooting his film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, many critics wondered what benefit there would be for the city. The answer may be found in a new initiative from the city's tourism department, Turisme de Barcelona, under the (English) title, Barcelona Movie. (Full story in printed edition).

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Two decades of ‘different’ films

It is a haunt beloved by foreign and native filmgoers alike but the Verdi cinema in the Gràcia district of Barcelona, which this year celebrates 20 years of screening films in original version, began life as a local neighbourhood picture house. (Full story in printed edition).

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Catalan jazz reaches out

Jazz in Catalonia is in good shape once again thanks to a series of long-awaited projects that have breathed new life into the genre with new formats, festivals and short seasons where local jazzmen play a key role. (Full story in printed edition).

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All eyes on China

Barcelona-based institutions Palau de la Virreina, Fundació Miró and Galeria Loft host complimentary exhibitions showing different aspects of contemporary Chinese culture. Virreina fixes on photography, Miró on the multidisciplinary collection of Swiss diplomat Uli Sigg and gallery Loft, which specialises in contemporary Chinese art and has lent a number of works to the Virreina show, hosts an individual exhibition of action artist Wu Gaozhong. (Full story in printed edition).

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Oases for tired readers

Anyone who has decided to abandon the sofa or the library desk and gone out in search of a quiet place to sit down and immerse oneself in a book over a hot cup of coffee has probably found this easier said than done. (Full story in printed edition).

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A library of beer

For beer lovers lost in a land where wine reigns supreme, Barcelona's La Cerveteca is here to offer respite, advice and, above all, a wide selection of the best beer from both right here in Catalonia and around the world. But Guillem Laporta and Rubén Río, La Cerveteca's young owners, want to make it clear that even though the shop has an international flavour, they have only one criterion in mind when it comes to selecting their stock: excellence. (Full story in printed edition)

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Thursday, 14 February 2008

Declarations of independence

They are a far cry from the young radical Catalans whose hunger for self-determination leads to the unfurling of provocative banners at football matches or the burning of the monarch's image in public squares. Yet a section of the Catalan population, politicised, well-educated and not always so young, is just as passionate about independence for Catalonia, despite being foreign-born. Instead of Manresa, Lleida or Reus, these supporters of independence hail from such distant places as the Americas or Africa.
Since the transition to democracy in the mid-70s, successive Catalan governments have consistently sponsored a political philosophy that reaches out to embrace non-Catalan born citizens. The policy of basing the so-called 'Catalan differential' on linguistic and cultural integration rather than along ethnic lines has had mixed results. Many migrant families from other parts of Spain, for example, have maintained their affection for their non-Catalan origins, and in certain parts of the country Spanish is virtually a lingua franca. Yet, there are those born on distant shores who have not only embraced Catalan language and culture but actively support an independent Catalonia. (Full story in printed edition).

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Interview: Muhammad Iqbal: Integration: ‘everyone has to chip in’

- Eight of the 10 arrested for allegedly planning a terrorist attack in Barcelona are Pakistani [the other two are Indian nationals]. What's your
opinion of the police investigation so far?
- It's hard for us to believe that these men are implicated. As to the two I know personally –Ahmad Mirza [accused of being the ideological leader]– he has four daughters. Mohammad Ayub Elahi [an alleged coleader] I've known forever. I do not share any suspicion whatsoever that these men are linked. We hope the justice system does its work; it's up to them to see if it's one, two or three or all of them. But based on the what has come out so far, based on the testimony of the protected witness, there is not enough to charge anyone. (Full story in printed edition).

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Interview: Ernest Maragall, Minister of Education: ‘Talk of privatisation is nonsense’

- One of the fears behind the teachers' strike is that your department wants to privatise education. Is this true?
- It's strange because the draft proposals include neither this concept nor its intention and nor is this given as a formal reason in calling the strike. We have to be very clear about this. I call for the possibility of a composed debate to show that there is no intention to privatise anything. The suggestion that we might privatise some schools is complete nonsense. (Full story in printed edition).

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Easy pickings in Barcelona

Purse-snatchings and pickpocketing are surely not crimes limited to the Catalan capital, but the fact remains that they are a growing reality in Barcelona. Every week, an average of 2,000 petty crimes are reported in the city, El Periódico reports. That's an alarming number, even when taking into account that every week more than 300,000 people visit Catalonia, most passing through Barcelona. Statistics are the one, but the experience if being robbed is another. (Full story in printed edition).

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Stray pets facing kennel crunch

The visitor to Barcelona's municipal kennels is greeted by hundreds of dogs barking the usual "Take me home!", but unlike most kennels, no dog or cat here will ever be sacrificed due to lack of space. In January 2003, the Barcelona City Council announced a commitment to never again touch a hair on an animal's head under their care. This move has been applauded by animal lovers, but it also created the need to build a new kennel since the only way animals ever leave its walls is by adoption, something which can take months or even years. (Full story in printed edition).

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