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).
Friday, 22 February 2008
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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)
Thursday, 14 February 2008
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).
- 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).
- 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).
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).
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).
The Partido Popular (PP) appears bent on making immigration a chief electoral talking point among Spanish voters. PP candidate for prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, says that migrants must "abide by the law, respect customs, learn the language and pay taxes like everyone else". He added that they must "actively work in order to integrate" and "return to their home countries if they do not find a job". The Socialists do not appear keen on getting bogged down in a debate on immigration, as it "generates racism". (Full story in printed edition).
Barcelona's Gràcia neighbourhood is home to one of the great minds of what many consider to the game of all games: chess. Miguel Illescas was crowned king of the Spanish chess world for the seventh time in 2007. And this seventh crown has come with Illescas only playing at half throttle. He says that now with his teaching responsibilities at his chess academy EDAMI in Gràcia, he only has time to play 30-40 professional matches a year, enough "to allow me to stay in the top 100 players in the world," but not in the top 20 when he played over a hundred matches annually. (Full story in printed edition).
The stevedores on the docks of Barcelona can't be playing many games of cards lately, given the massive numbers of containers that are passing through, many of them to or from China. (Full story in printed edition).
Two things struck me about the publication of a recent poll which showed that some 56% percent of Spaniards believe that immigrants should be obliged "to respect Spanish customs." The first was just how loaded the concept of respect is here, and the second was that I, an immigrant myself, didn't have a clue what they were talking about. (Full story in printed edition).
Lewis Hamilton is black. He is also English, 23-years old and the most exciting young talent on the F1 circuit. Hamilton has also become a hate-figure among Spanish racing fans due to his rivalry with former team mate, Spain's Fernando Alonso. It is this rivalry that sparked a racist protest during testing at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmeló earlier this month. (Full story in printed edition).
Isabel Coixet has made the big step up to Hollywood and survived. It could even be said that she made her mark, having the final word on actors, the ending of her film, Elegy, and even the soundtrack. Elegy, which was shot in Canada, was recently shown to audiences and critics at Germany's Berlinale film festival. The film is slated for release in Catalonia on April 18. (Full story in printed edition).
Barcelona Visual Sound, a 10 day free event aimed at encouraging young creators in the exploratory field of audiovisuals, celebrates its 5th edition from February 19 to 29. The eclectic and hectic festival provides a number of exhibition spaces for creators and organises conferences, workshops and concerts dedicated to particular aspects and disciplines of the audiovisual world. (Full story in printed edition).
Vides Minades – Under Mined Lives is an exhibition based on a book of the compiled photographs of photojournalist Gervasio Sánchez. Sanchez revisits four disabled children that he first photographed in 1997, then again in 2002. Sofia Elface from Mozambique, Sokheurm Man from Cambodia, Manuel Orellana from El Salvador and Adis Smajic from Bosnia were all maimed as children when they stood on antipersonnel land mines. (Full story in printed edition).
When it comes to satire, yesterday's gags pull about as much weight as a political endorsement from Mike Dukakis. (Case in point.) That's why the cast and crew of TV3's comedy programme Polònia work in an environment that amounts to a perpetual crescendo of last minute carnage. (Full story in printed edition).
It has been said that the first ever collector was Noah. Whether true or not, what cannot be doubted is that the dedication shown by Noah in going about gathering two specimens of every species of animal on the planet into his Ark is alive and well today. Most of us will have some childhood memory of collecting album stickers, comics or stamps but while most collections are abandoned as we progress towards adulthood, for many people collecting becomes a life's work and, in certain cases, a lifelong obsession. (Full story in printed edition).
Catch and release. No, this is not an article about sports fishing, but rather a literary phenomenon that includes over 600,000 book lovers in the whole world and some 32,000 right here in Spain. Bookcrossing, a kind of Internet supported
treasure hunt for books people want to trade, share or just give away, has consolidated itself in Barcelona as Spain's leader with over 4,800 registered users. (Full story in printed edition).
Thursday, 7 February 2008
"As good as new". That is the message coming out of the Palau de la Música Catalana as the finishing touches are put to restoration work and one of the country's foremost musical institutions begins a year of celebrations to mark its 100th anniversary. The Fundació Orfeó Català- Palau de la Música Catalana, which calls the emblematic Lluís Domènech i Montaner building home, has programmed a host of commemorative concerts and exhibitions that begin on February 9 with an open day and a performance by the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra with the Orfeó Català choir. (Full story in printed edition).
One man's trash heap is another man's treasure trove, and never more so than every Sunday morning at the Sant Antoni book market. Rummaging through the piles and rows of dusty books is an acquired taste, but more than one bibliophile begins their Sunday with a trip here to elbow their way through crowds of fellow treasure hunters. (Full story in printed edition).
"Neither Rajoy nor Zapatero deserves the support of Catalonia," says Unió leader, Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida. "Do not trust Zapatero," concurs his ally, Convergència leader, Artur Mas. "Zapatero promised many things and has fulfilled very few of them," says Esquerra Republicana's parliamentary spokesman, Joan Ridao. (Full story in printed edition).
The recent rains in Catalonia had virtually no effect on shrinking reservoirs, prompting the government to introduce second-stage measures to conserve water. With water in the Ter and Llobregat reservoirs now at 23.6% of capacity, the Environmental Ministry has banned water use for pools and gardens, both public and private. In the latter case, watering is allowed only to ensure the survival of woodlands, the Ministry said. Water use for washing vehicles has also been banned, except at public car washes. (Full story in printed edition).
Catalonia registered 82,000 births in 2006, the highest since 1979, with migrants and native baby boomers combining to reverse a well-entrenched ageing trend, according to the Spanish Institute of National Statistics. Catalonia's total population also surpassed the seven million mark in 2006, the agency said. (Full story in printed edition).
The fortune left behind by a humble businessman from Santa Coloma de Farners (Girona) has provided more than a hundred young students with the opportunity to study English abroad. In two years, the Joan Riera i Gubau Foundation has granted a total of 143 scholarships, allowing some 138 youngsters to study English in the UK, Ireland and North America, and five university students to do postgraduate studies in the US. (Full story in printed edition).
Students beginning their university studies next year will have three options to fulfill a new requirement for their degree: a working knowledge of English, today's global lingua franca. Either 10% of their regular degree courses will have to be conducted in English (not including English-language class), or they will have to achieve competence in English equivalent to the Cambridge First Certificate examination or the European Union B2 level. Finally, students will have also the option of fulfilling the 10% requirement of their studies in English (roughly a term) in foreign universities. (Full story in printed edition).
Land that means a breath of fresh air for large numbers of Catalan urbanites is also proving to be the source of a hefty bureaucratic challenge for the municipalities that border the Parc de Collserola, Barcelona's largest park. The 8,467 hectare (nearly 21,000 acres) green space abuts Barcelona and eight other municipalities including Sant Cugat de Vallès and Cerdanyola de Vallès. (Full story in printed edition).
While the NBA takes a break in order to play a light hearted shoot-around called the All-Star Game at the season's midway point, in Spain the top eight teams play face off in a long weekend of hard-nosed hoops for the right to claim the crown of Spanish basketball in the Copa del Rey. This year's King's Cup is held in Vitoria with the quarterfinals played on February 7 and 8, the semifinals on Saturday February 9 and the final on Sunday. A true endurance test. (Full story in printed edition).
Visitors to the city of Girona this summer will have the opportunity to take a walk through history. Girona's city council, in cooperation with the local restauranteurs association, are preparing a guided tour of landmarks of the siege and occupation of the city by Napoleon's army in the early 18th century. The city was besieged from 1808 to 1809, and occupied by the
French forces until 1814. (Full story in printed edition).
With renovation of Roses's landmark castle almost completed, the local town council has begun to solicit proposals for how best to utilize the historic building. Begun in 2002, and at a cost of roughly a million Euros, the 16th century Castle of the Trinity –also known as la Poncella– has received a substantial facelift including concrete reinforcement and attractive if
somewhat modern looking wood panelling. (Full story in printed edition).
Although the Generalitat has set a goal of turning Catalonia into a centre for biotechnology in Europe, local biotech companies claim current investment levels are far too low to make those aspirations a reality. (Full story in printed edition).
A bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates? The company Chocolat Factory has a solution for such a dilemma in the form of the "Ramolate," strips of chocolate bundled up like a bouquet, complete with a bow. It's one of the products from the mind of the Belgian Michel Laline, an architect and designer who left the world of interiors and set up shop in Sant Cugat del Vallès a decade ago. His chocolate factory, built on pure craftsmanship and creativity, supplies 22 different stores and is now expanding to a second workshop. (Full story in printed edition).
Don't tell my mum, but I've had another brush with the law. My latest fruitless encounter with the security services happened last week after a long day at the newspaper. (Full story in printed edition).
Where are the Muslim libertines? That may seem a provocative question at a time when the Muslim community in Catalonia, and particularly that of the Raval in Barcelona, is having a difficult time of it. But this article was conceived before the recent detentions and to my mind has not lost any of its relevance. (Full story in printed edition).
Albert Serra, a frustrated author and not so frustrated filmmaker was born in Banyoles in 1975. His 2006 film Honor de cavalleria (Honour of the knights), filmed digitally on location in Catalonia, successfully showed in Cannes at the Directors' fortnight and then festival hopped around the world. The film is an intimate look at the friendship between Don Quixote
and Sancho Panza as well as the former character's mental confusion. The film was recently listed as one of the 10 best films of 2007 by critics at French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma. (Full story in printed edition).
Be on the look out for signs of a new plague sweeping the country whose main symptom appears to be an extreme drop in blood temperature. Take the situation of the proud Audi owner who after watching in horror as a 34-year pedestrian dented his beauty's bonnet is now suffering from severe coldbloodiness and felt perfectly legit in asking the pedestrian's family for the tidy sum of €20,000 to pay for the damages to his car caused by the impact with their loved one's, now dead, body. This is just one in a spate of recent cases of ramped bastardliness. Please inform health authorities if you experience urges to sue the relatives of people you have killed accidently or otherwise. (Full story in printed edition).
With lots to smile about except the big prize, the most popular and talked about Spanish film of 2007 was not the winner of this year's Goya award for best picture. That distinction went instead to a film that has up till now received little attention. (Full story in printed edition).
If you are one of those who measures intellectual prowess in the languages you master, then buy a ticket to Papua New Guinea, where you can delve into the noun-verb-adjective of over 800 different tongues. But if the flight ticket is too pricey or the challenge too great, you can always learn the names, origins and number of speakers of each language on one Catalan web page: Linguamundi (www.linguamundi.cat).
They are neither mantids nor shrimps though the large crustacean better known as galera in Catalan is at least edible. In fact galera is something of a delicacy in the Mediterranean and in Catalonia Cambrils has an annual celebration devoted to the seafood speciality.
What do Al Gore and wine have in common? Well, next week the two will be brought together at a conference on climate change and the wine industry being held at the five-star Hesperia Tower Hotel in Barcelona, where Al Gore has been invited to speak on the political, ethical and financial implications of climate change on this very specific theme.