Wednesday, November 30, 2005

why a duck?

or why not a duck? why can't you get duck in the poultry shops here? it appears to be a luxury food that is impossible to obtain. We ate in our local Chinese tonight, a rather good place called Shanghai (A favourite of Ferran Adria no less) and duck was on the menu but all the dishes were at least twice as expensive as other main courses. peking duck for two was an astonishing E42 (£24) and carved and served with great ceremony - very different from its quotidien existence in most British chinese restaurants.

any answers welcome.

Barca has a heart

More than a team, Barca played its little part in trying to bring peace to the Middle East last night by hosting a game against a combined Israeli/Palestine peace team at the Camp Nou.

Everyone turned out - Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Messi et al, even if for only a half each - and 31,000 people turned up on a very cold night. Barca won 2-1 with a Palestinian Israeli scoring the goal. Step by step as they say....

News just in - next week a joint Catalonian Spanish team play an Israeli XI in Tel Aviv in an attempt to bring together the two warring parts of the country.

Hold on, let's stick to the merely possible...

Call me a taxi ...

Ok, you're a taxi...

One of the nice things about Barcelona is that not everything is reduced to a market transaction where every last euro is dragged out of you for the service is provided. But sometimes you do miss the invisble hand of the market to match supply and demand.

Taxis are a clear example. Very cheap all the time with just a small night premium. Result - a huge glut in the day and a huge drought at 3am when all good party goers want to head home.

La Vanguardia had a big piece on it this week which charted the imblance. 5pm on a weekday, 7,000 cabs cruise the street while just 3,000 are looking for one. Come 2am Saturday, it's still the same number hunting a cab but they are chasing a total of 900 still plying for fares.

Usual shtick from the drivers - unsocial hours, not enough money, rowdy passengers (although little angels compared with England - you never need marshals to police a late night taxi queue here). The obvious answer is hike the night rates by 50 per cent and the streets will be flooded with them.

Monday, November 28, 2005

shares in tragaluz group rose on the news..

We had four friends over from London for the weekend and did the Tragaluz group proud - they stayed at the Hotel Omm and we ate both at the Santa Catarina market restaurant and Agua, still the best place on the city's beach.

We also ate at the sub El Bulli Commerc 24 which again was great - but I get the feeling the first time there is the best as so much of the food is the element of surprise.

Highlight of all was Abac. Much talked about as the best place in town, it certainly would come a very close first in my book. Really great food (foie gras in bamboo leaves, the signature suckling pig and a top cheese plate which is unsual here), coll beech wood decor and terrific service. I still think in London prices and at £70 a head Abac is a screaming bargain.

football fallout

interesting how the fall out continues from the barca thrashing of real madrid nine days ago. At a time when Catalonia has presented its 'statehood' draft constiution to the national parliament, provoking a national (if sporadic) boycott of catalonian goods, the sporting behaviour of the real madrid fans may have done something to ease tensions. their applauding of ronadinho et al has been well received here as was the pre-emptive banning of anti-catalonian banners by the real madrid president.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

best and barca

there seemed no better way to pay tribute to george best than to go watch his spiritual successor ronaldinho in action. it was a bitterly cold sunday night in the camp nou and many wisely decided to stay at home. But the barca crowd who turned up seemed much more naimated than usual - perhaps they just needed to shout and clap to stay warm.

ronaldinho by his standards was quiet - he missed one penalty and score another, both provoked by the Racing defenders being unable to cope with his speed - but there were three brilliant solo goals from Eto'o (40 yards, beat five defenders), Messi and Sylvinho, any of which bestie would have been proud to claim. 4-1 and we all went home happy and warm.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

trains and letters

If there's two things I love its grand old railways stations and general post offices (seeing a sign saying 'telegraphs' makes me go weak at the knees). in britain we have managed to screw up all examples of both, converting them into (respectively) shopping/eating malls and convenience stores. and they wonder why people don't respect public services...

barcelona has a fabulous (if underused) classic railway station - estacion de franca - and a great post office which I finally got to look inside Saturday complete with marble pillars and a very high ceiling with stained glass windows and (heaven be praised) a telegraphos sign. I was quite tempted to send a cable somewhere. ben took one look at the ceiling and asked 'did this place used to be a church?'

more, more

Every paper - from the most serious to the most tabloid sports rag - is beside itself today with the stunning victory over real madrid last night and how the madrilenos applauded ronaldinho after his second goal and (those that were left) booed their own off the pitch.

this is, remember, just the 14th time they have lost at home to barca in 75 years. back home there were thousands in the streets hooting and waving flags while many others went to the airport to meet the team on their arrival back home.

the boycott of cava and other catalunyan goods can only get more intense...

Saturday, November 19, 2005

'a piece of magic'

3-0 in the bernabeu. I'll run that one again

3-0 in the bernabeu to barcelona.

real madrid hardly turned up as two goals from ronaldinho (one that would make the top 10 of anyone's list) and one from eto'o demolished las blancas. beckham hardly got a touch. it would have been 7-0 had madrid's goalie not been on such good form. the stadium was half empty by the end.

As El Mundo Deportivo put it:

El Barça disfrutó jugando al fútbol en el Bernabéu y humilló al Real Madrid en su propio estadio. - Barça enjoyed playing football in the Bernabéu and humiliated Real Madrid in its own stadium.

ben and i watched in the packed Bar Mandri one of the neighbourhbood's rather good bars and emerged to a cocophanous array of hooting motor scooters. only the 14th victory there in 75 years; rijkaard becomes the first barca manager to win there twice.

Rijkaard's verdict: ' [Ronaldinho] estuvo fenomenal'

Ben's verdict: 'Ronaldinho isn't human - he's a piece of magic'

Friday, November 18, 2005

The friday lunch

... is something they do well here. I met up with Orland and two colleagues from the education department (home of this blog's biggest fans) at La Reina, a teriffic bar/restaurant/vinoteca on C. Valencia.

(One colleague, Ramon, had the best ipod collection i have seen including the Ramones 'Sheena is a punk rocker' which I last heard so long ago that some of the Ramones still had a pulse).

The food was great - fried eggs and grated fish, a real Spanish market dish that i could eat very day - and we went through the whole gamut of why catalunya wants/needs/should have independence/freedom from the rest of Spain.

It's not about Catalunya using the word nation (although that's what grates with the rest of Spain I think) to describe itself but the fact that the culture is so different and the economic base so strong that they want to keep the money they earn here and not stump up for glistening motorways in Galicia so that the donkey carts can go that much faster.

It's an intriguing situation because unlike most other cases for independence (formal or otherwise) Catalunya is so economically strong and not a basket case dependent on hand outs (step forward wales, scotland, basque region, cornwall etc etc).

And throw in the language. Virtually everyone here speaks Catalan and it is the language of instruction in all state schools.

Back in Scotland the polemcist Alan Massie once wrote that '
Scotland has probably more households where Urdu is spoken than Gaelic-speaking ones'.

In fact the 2001 census showed '
over 92,000 people in Scotland (just under 2 per cent of the population) had some Gaelic language ability and that almost half of these people lived in Eilean Siar, Highland or Argyll & Bute.'

Wales is slightly better - 21% - but that's still pretty low (not that it prevents bucketloads of english taxpayers' cash going to subsidise welsh television, gaelic radio, yada, yada)

Catalan outside catalunya (and a few villages in languedoc) may be as useful as a chocolate fireguard but so is finnish outside finland and nobody suggests they drop that.

It's all getting a bit angry with calls in the rest of spain to boycott Catalunyan Cava and other goods, presumably to give the Catalans a little lesson in what it's like to be a foreign nation.

We then moved on to Barca's chances against Real Madrid tomorrow (5-0 to barca according to the most respected sports journalist here. hmmm.) and, curiously, ended lunch around 5.30pm
by drinking gin and tonics from swimming-pool sized brandy balloons.

It comes to something when even the Catalunyans are straying from their Cava.

Monday, November 14, 2005

barca vs madrid

the first clash of the season (in madrid) is five days away and already the papers are full of it. la vanguardia today has five pages in its sports section ahead of coverage of Spain's 5-1 victory on saturday against slovakia which virtually guarantees world cup qualification. That refelects the obsession with the club game here and the fact that Spain have never done anything in the world cup.

it should be a great game on saturday. if barca win then rijkaard will become the first manager to have coached the team to two victories in this game at the bernabau. in 75 years they have only won 13 times in league games there, all under different managers...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

a game of basketball

ben and i went off to see FC Barcelona's basketball team. basketball is the second most important sport in the Barca firmament and the team, top of the spanish league, duly kept its 100% record against Bilbao.

There was a big following - around 6,000 in the stadium situated right next to the Camp Nou. Of these around 100 were flag waving, drum banging Catalan extreme nationalists who seem to car little about the game but use Barca as a vehicle for their barmy independence dreams. they trade under the "Sang culé" banner proclaiming that Catalonia is not part of Spain and they are pretty nasty. they are probably there in the camp nou in the same numbers but you just dont notice them. tiny in numbers they are a pain in the arse for the club management who have declared war on them.

it's all piss and wind compared to the huge numbers of aggressive supporters at English games but its an unpleasant side to the club

Saturday, November 12, 2005

this blog is famous (sort of)

we eat dinner at the house of catalan friends (teriffic tapas - gracias a Lourdes) and it turns out this blog is now becoming well known among the literati of the Catalunya schools IT department for its allegedly lucid views of how this newcomer is settling here (or perhaps it's just because they have blocked the porn sites...)

in any case, they are fascinated by my use of the term 'sparrow fart', a piece of Australian slang which has failed to make it to these shores just yet. For them and others, it means 'dawn' - ie when the sparrow stretches and gets his digestive system in working order for the day. Pacement pizza was new to them as well.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Patrick Lichfield

...has died at just 66. I've never cared much for royals but he was an exception - one of the very few who got off their arses to work for a living.

And he was a very good photographer. The Marsha Hunt pic is the 1960s in a flash while the Tommy Cooper one is just priceless.

I met him once when he came to Cambridge to talk to the photo soc. he was utterly charming, and told an extremely funny story about diving under a model's bed to avoid her jealous boyfriend entering the hotel room - and finding david bailey hiding there...

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Me of little faith

an apology

readers of this blog might have got the impression that my faith in man united was waning (wayning?). Headlines such as 'adios fergie' and 'at least they score goals in barcelona' might have led readers to believe that I assumed that I feared a good hammering from chelsea today.

in the light of today's historic victory I would like to clear up this misunderstanding. As we nominate Mr ferguson for prime minister, president of the EU and the house of lords, expect further headlines such as 'We'll take Barcelona anytime' and 'Who the hell is Ronaldinho anyway?'

Weekends like this

... can be very hard to beat.

It’s now around 70F max with very blue skies and sunny and the city is looking beautiful. On saturday we went cycling around Ciutadella Park, and ate lunch at Txakolin, definitely the city’s best tapas restaurant.

On Sunday we hung out on Sunday in our local Turo Parc, Barcelona’s equivalent of primrose hill complete with posh prams, yummy mummy and meeting-place playground.

Gorgeous Goldfrapp

Sarah and I also went with friends to see the extraordinary Alison Goldfrapp at Razzmatazz on Saturday night.

Blessed with an operatic voice, she commands the stage like some sexpot commando in gold high heel boots, black catsuit and pink cape. I can’t take too much electronic disco normally but it was an amazing performance that sent the place wild.

We stayed on in the packed upstairs party bar after the concert and she turned up, sin zapateros, a tiny, shy looking woman who patiently posed with every fan who wanted their picture taken. A real star.

Nice story about her in The Observer a couple of weeks back. Apparently she is also backing the turgid Coldplay on their European tour.

Reminds me of the time when I saw Genesis in their pomp with Peter Gabriel playing second fiddle to the ghastly Lindisfarne…

30 years on (1)

It is hard to remember what a shit-kicking, oppressed, dirt-poor place Spain was under the old bastard Franco. It was all donkeys, oxen, the Angelus and backwardness born of 40 years of fascist rule.

Next year sees the 30th anniversary of his death and the transformation of people’s lives and their standards of living to what there is today is the best testament you could have to the power of liberal democracy (those opposing efforts to bring these delights to the oppressed people of the Middle East, please note) and pari passu, the diminishing influence of the falangist wing of the Catholic church.

Today’s Sunday magazine in La Vanguardia, Catalanuya’s best daily, has a terrific photo essay of ordinary people 30 years on, each telling their stories.

The best are two sisters, Tere and Lois Madrid. The photo from 1978 shows them loading their donkeys on their street in a village in Malaga. Today’s picture shows them all buxom, blonde and blingy, leaning against their Mercedes saloon in the same street.

‘We had no running water and had to pack the mules. There were five daughters and we all had to work in the fields. Compared to those times we live like queens today.’

30 years on (2)

The Bronx is Burning book is sensational. Again it is hard to remember how truly dreadful New York City was in 1977.

The City was almost bankrupt with bonds unissuable and Federal aid refused. Before being turned out in 1976, Gerald Ford refused a bailout, prompting the gorgeous headline in the Post ‘Ford to City: Drop Dead’.

Some 300,000 jobs were leaving the city each year, large tracts of the Bronx and Harlem were torched and thousands of cops and firemen were laid off. There was looting on an unimaginable scale after a massive power blackout in the hottest August for 50 years.

Oh yes and Son of Sam was on the loose.

The book tells the story through the epic mayoral primary between Ed Koch, left wing firebrand Bella Abzug, liberal sweetheart Mario Cuomo and hapless midget incumbent Abe Beame.

Abzug apart, the contestants got themselves in an unholy twist between appealing to liberal Manhattan and the frightened blue-collar ethnic communities of Queens and Brooklyn. Koch won and went on to rescue the City and help return it to its former glory.

The sub-plot of the book is how Reggie Jackson, the swaggering baseball superstar, joined the Yankees to become the city’s first black sports superstar. After terrible slumps in form and fist fights with his manager, he went on to bring the Yanks their first world series in 12 years by the extraordinary feat of hitting three home runs in game six from three deliveries.

1977 was also the first time I visited New York. Needless to say I fell in love with the City and baseball and have remained passionate about both ever since

Friday, November 04, 2005


Bon dia!
Life in the Lander household (apartmenthold?) is interesting-a confusing mixture of sun, school and salsa (why not?). I can recite all the vegetables (and a poem about autumn) in catalan, and can sing You're Beautiful by James Blunt in Spanish:
Tu eres guapa
Tu eres guapa
Te eres guapa, es verdad
Yo visto tu cara, en un placa apretado
Y yo no se que para hacer
Porque yo nunca ser con tu

As Bart Simspon put it, I am so great, I am so great, everybody loves me cos I am so great!
P.s my blog is much cooler than this one.
besita besita,

Look smart, drink smart

People tend to be smartly dressed here of a night out and they want to keep it that way. Boadas, one of the city’s (nay, the world's) great historic cocktail bars - all wood panelling and white-jacketed waiters - is determined to keep it that way.

Just off the human zoo that is the Ramblas, the tiny bar is almost always packed, but has no doorman and nor are the dreaed words ‘can I have a card to keep behind the bar?’ ever uttered. In other words, people are trusted to behave nicely and not do a runner.

The owner Jose Luis Boadas doesn’t want to lose that and now says ‘I won’t allow anyone else in with a sleeveless shirt Dignity and decency are more important than the till.’

And who’s mostly to blame? ‘I don’t want any more English people in swimming costumes and tee-shirts across their shoulder.’

Boadas got a hero’s welcome in the press.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Andrew Gowers

has resigned from the FT after strategy differences with the Pearson board. V bad news - not only is he one the best journalists of his generation (a great middle east scholar) but he is also great fun - the first rock and roll editor of a serious paper (and they dont get more serious than the FT) .

He was once slim (I knew him at Cambridge) but was posted to Brussels with Reuters, discovered great food and never looked back. Not for him the rushed sandwich lunch....

Lance Knobel writes knowledgeably of about the problems facing the paper and whether anew editor can solve them (answer: probably no).

Barca drive on

while my own United go from bad to worse, Barca have hit full stride. three home league wins followed by a 5-0 thrashing of panathanikos last night. I watched the 2nd half in a local bar and Eto'o's 3rd goal was a sublime lob that had the netire bar applauding.

Espanyol however go from bad to worse - in the relegation zone and the manager sacked.