Saturday, May 27, 2006

less smoking

My own on the street evidence suggests otherwise but according to El Pais today, the new anti smoking law introduced at the start of the year is working. sales are down 6.4% by volume for the first four months and were down 13% in April alone.

The ban allows small bars to opt to ban smoking (I see very few that have) and forces larger ones to provide a no smoking area. Smoking in the workplace and in public buildings has been banned, the sale of cigarettes has been restricted to tobacconists and vending machines and tobacco taxes and duties have been increased.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Is this the Euro summer hit of 2006?

It could well be. It's called We're from Barcelona and by a Swedish group called, er, I'm from Barcelona... You can get the single video at their website here

hard to tell whether it's ironic, post ironic or just earnestly Scandinavian ... but its very catchy.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

la Vanguardia

If you are by any chance in Barcelona over the next two weeks, do head over to the wonderful CCCB museum in the Raval district to see a truly great exhibition, marking 125 years of La Vanguardia, Catalonia's main serious newspaper.

It's a beautifully curated and designed show the main part of which is a collection of the most historic front covers throughout its life.

What stands out is how advanced front page layout at the paper 40, 50 years ago compared to serious British papers. when something truly monumental happened, the front page was cleared for a full page photo - JFK, Picasso's death, etc etc. Picasso's 90th was marked by a full colour reproduction of a birthday card designed by his friend Joan Miro.

The exhibition also features some of the quirky elements, such as the obit notices commemortaing the centerary of the death of Jack the Ripper's victims. And even today there appears each year a memorial to a priest which is accomanied by a few words of commentary on how Barca fared that season.

What is nice is that it remains a newspaper unlike so many British papers which have descended into biased rhetoric, mangling of the facts and distortion of what people say. headlines are straight and interviews are often printed in Q&A form; these are the facts, you decide. Some people regard its national political coverage from Madrid as the best of any paper, avoiding the bias of most of the national titles.

It can be absurdly bullish at times, blowing the trumpted of Barcelona and Catalonia, but it's a huge change to wake up and finding some optimism in your paper after years of the Daily Mail et al telling you every day that we are heading for hell in a handbasket. And it is still family owned, by the aristocratic Godo family which founded it in 1881, which is how all decent papers (such as this one) should be.

The best things about Barca's Champions League win ...

1) Going toLa Boqueria on wednesday lunchtime with our friend Phil Melville who had flown over especially to watch it with us. every stall was decrorated with azulgrana colours and most were belting out the Barca hymn. we ate chiperones con huevos fritas at El Quim which were, as ever, sensational.
2) the weather. it was 80F all day
3) having all sorts of friends round to watch the game on our big projector screen
4) a great dinner in the garden beforehand, cooked by Sarah
5) the brownies, great comfort food for when Barca went 0-1 to Arsenal
6) Ben hugging his mates Pablo and Fernando who had come to watch the game with us
7) R ijkaard's inspired substiutions.
8) the role played by Ben donning his Barca hat, socks and scarf with just 20 mins to go. The papers have made nothing of this.
9) Watching Arsenal's defenders stick their hands up in vain for offside on Eto'o's goal. Proper brought back happy memories of Tony Adams, it did.
10) Wenger whinging in defeat. So predictable but it's a sad man who can't find it in him to congratulate the winner. For withering analyses of his apalling behaviour, read Paddy Barclay and Paul Wilson
11) Henry's decision to stay at Arsenal. His whinging after the game was distressing. Not wanted here thanks.
12) the presence in the crowd of Barcelona's mayor, the prime minister, the president of catalonia and the king and queen. Could any of their British equivalents be arsed to turn up?
13) all four of them coming down on the pitch after the game. there is one sensational photo in the papers of the Castillian king in a full bear hug mode with carlos puyol, the sweaty, soaking wet, Catalan Republican to his shin pads, Barca captain.
14) Going down to Plaza catalunya after the game to join 100,000 delirious people who were climbing lamposts, dancing, lighting flares and generally going nuts. yes it all went tits up at about 3am when they had got pissed but it was unmitigated joy when we were there
15) ben and his mates on the balcony after the game singing 'campeones' at all the motor bikes as they beeped their horns
16) Victor Valdes's performance in the Barca goal. Not totally loved by the fans here (and not even in Spain's world cup squad) for his occasional David James imitations, he had a terrific night
17) My mojitos. eased the pain of the Arsenal goal
18) Henrik Larsson's performance. He will be missed
19) buying all the papers the morning after
20) Being here rather than in north London to watch the game

Sunday, May 14, 2006

This is where I came in ...

Seven years ago this month I first set foot in Barcelona, eagerly anticipating, as I am this week, a European Champions League final.

My first taste of the city was pretty inauspicious. Flying via Paris to watch United play Bayern Munich, I was stuck in Orly for several hours as British fighter jets hogged the air corridors en route to bombing Serbia.

Having faced down the prospect of watching the game in an Orly bar, I finally made it straight from El Prat airport to the Camp Nou with 90 minutes to spare. It was a stunning evening, beautifully hot and sunny and the first sight of the ground full to bursting will live with me for ever.

But the game? After conceding a soft early goal, it was 90 minutes of hell as United huffed and puffed without ever looking like scoring. Miserable beyond belief I ground my way through cigarette after cigarette (I am purely a tension smoker), barely noticing that with Bayern twice hitting the woodwork and making some absurd substitutions, the game was slowly tilting United’s way.

Then came the extraordinary events of injury time when, for those residing on Planet Zog at the time, two Beckham corners delivered two United goals and their second European Cup.

If miracles like that could happen here, Barcelona had to have something special about it.

I had still seen nothing of the city when I left early the next day, and it was only when I came back the following year for a TV news show that the Barcelona drug started to kick in.

Like thousands of others I was suckered in by the trade show routine they have here. Arrive Monday, attend show Tuesday to Thursday while sampling the bars and restaurants in the evening, and then invite your partner out for the weekend. Slowly but surely, and quite methodically, the city walks you through its charms one by one, from the back alleys of the old city to the absurd Sagrada Familia and other Gaudi monuments via the La Boqueria market and the museums which pay homage to Miro and Picasso.

By Sunday afternoon when you are lying on the City’s beach (and this was November) after a fantastic lunch for all of £15 a head at Agua you are well and truly hooked.

Several visits later a plan was being formed. First, a small flat in the centre of the old town and then, the idea to actually come and live here for a year. The great thing is we actually did it, rather than leaving it in the ‘we could have done …’ bin which is where most such ideas end up.

Regular readers of this blog will know in copious and tedious detail of what has been happening to us, nearly all of it wonderful, in our time here. We have been helped hugely by the kindness of the few old acquaintances and friends of friends (Catalan and otherwise) we know here. To them a big collective thanks. One such set of friends took us up to the Costa Brava this where weekend where we lived the ultimate in lotus eater clich├ęs of tearing around the coast in a speedboat and dropping anchor in a tiny bay to eat paella in a beachfront restaurant.

Which brings us to Wednesday night when, along with every other Catalan household, we shall be willing Barca, without doubt the best and most exciting club side in the world, to beat Arsenal in the Champions League final.

If they succeed, the town might just collapse with excitement. When Barca won its second league title 11 days ago, 24,000 people rushed into Las Ramblas at 11 pm to celebrate, throw fireworks and sing. Three days later there were fireworks at the team’s last home game and the following day 1.2 million people came out to watch the celebration bus tour. Heaven knows what will happen if they clinch only their second ever Champions League final (and the first since 1992).

If they don’t, well the sun will still rise over the Med on Thursday and we’ll get back to enjoying this beautiful city once again.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Clever King

King Juan Carlos has announced he is going to Paris to cheer on Barca in the Champions League final. It's a fine gesture from a smart royal who has had a very uneasy relationship with Catalonia.

Although he has a grown up child living here, and is very fond of the skiing in the Pyrenees, many Catalans distrust him because of his heir of Franco role. And while he ushered the country back to democracy, and showed his strength in the attempted coup of 1981, he still got a good booing when he came here for the Olympics in 1992.

So good for him. And can you imagine the Queen, or indeed any senior member of the British Royal Family, shifting their arses and taking the Eurostar to Paris to support Arsenal?

people everywhere

whoever was at home in the city at the weekend please raise their hand. on a very hot saturday evening, 1 million crushed on to the beaches to watch the red bull air race. at the same time around 90,000 others were heading to the camp nou (ben, bex and i included) to watch barca beat espanyol 2-0 and more importantly, parade the league trophy in front of their adoring fans.

it was a great evening which climaxed with speeches from the players (with some crowd pleasing catalan nationalism thrown in), a lap of honour and some terrific fireworks. the ovations for the departing larsson and gabri, both hoisted in the air by their teammates was particularly touching.

Sunday, just as hot, saw 1.2 million line the streets for the team's open top bus parade. ben and i made the mistake of heading to pl francesc macia near the end of the route which went way over schedule. we waited over an hour until we got too cold and went home. just wait till they bring the big trophy home from paris ...

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Rockin' Ray

Ray Davies last night was sensational. Two hours of rocking from the godfather of Britpop at Razzmatazz. He might, as Sarah said, look a bit like Bill Nighy's wrinkly rocker in Love Actually but at 61 he is still the genuine article, particular when he got down to the old Kinks hits at the end such as You Really Got Me, All Day and Lola. And looking like he was having a great time as well.

He alluded to having bumped along more than a few potholes along life's highway but seems to be on the straight and narrow now.

He seems to have a much bigger following here than I thought, although what they made of his ramblings about English life I don't know. He only got it wrong at the end when he said Arsenal would stuff Barca in the Champions League final.

He's not Gary Neville

Oleguer Presas that is. Splendid article in the Guardian by Sid Lowe on the Barca player who is an 'ecowarrior, Catalan nationalist and intellectual' while also being a very effective member of the la Liga winning squad.
Oleguer also launched his recent book in a Barcelona squat. Can't imagine Gary Neville visiting a squat (or indeed writing his own book) unless they were occupying one his many properties and he was there to tell them to 'fook off'.

Reviewing the book in The Indy, Charlie Mitten described it as a:

... political volume [in which] Oleguer pontificates over childhood anorexia, the global anti-fascist struggle and the involvement of a previous Spanish government in the Gulf War. Savaged by the Madrid press, who have labelled him a hypocrite for being prepared to play for Spain despite his desire for Catalan independence, the book has been acclaimed by Catalan academics.

mmm, definitely not our Gary. Taking Barca as a whole there are certain inconsistencies in the whole More than a Club/Catalonia schtick. As has been pointed out often, Barca has never followed the example of the top Basque teams of only fielding local players (which would leave a gigantic hole in the side as constiuted right now).

And what would happen if Catalonia really did get independence and has its own national league. How long would Eto'o, Ronaldinho, Deco et al hang around for the dubious pleasure of banging six past the likes of Vic, Lleida, Tarragona and Girona every week?


It's been eight months since I came to live in Barcelona (and almost eight months left) and....
Um. It's 10am here and I'm not properly awake and therefore the end to that promising sentence eludes me.
Oh, I've started to forget my English. Or rather, I've become very unsure of it (is 'leave me in peace' a real phrase?) despite my lovely english teacher from Newcastle constantly reminding me what the 3rd conditional is.
And Mum is going to the television Bafta's. Which I'm guessing you are aware of since if you read this blog chances are you are either a family member, a family friend or someone who works with/for my father.
That wasn't meant as a nasty comment.
And I'm worryingly out of touch with english pop culture (for instance, who is this Chico that you speak of? And isn't Shane Ward a cricket player?) and regularly have to ask my friends to explain who Chantelle and Preston are etc etc.
So not much has actually changed; I still miss camden market and still have two eyes (now with contact lenses incidentally) and the only major change is a noticeable improvement in my languages (I even managed an Excellent in German last term, which wouldn't have been so odd if I actually did German classes).
Oh yes, and of course the weather is much better than wherever you are now.
Kiss kiss, spit spit,

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Barca have won La Liga again and the centre of town has gone mad with thousands of fans taking to the streets with flags, horns and fiireworks to celebrate. Here's a pic from my smart new Sharp phone. Next stop Paris!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

One nation divided by two languages

Whether or not Catalonia and Spain are/will ever be/should be two different nations, Catalan and Spanish are most definitely two different languages. To paraphrase The Guardian Pass Notes, Don't Say to a Catalan: 'So it's a dialect of Spanish, then?' Having said that if you have O-level French and starter Spanish like I do, you can get the gist of a Catalan newspaper story.

But the two languages come together in the strangest ways. El Periodico, a Catalonia daily, publishes identical editions in Spanish and Catalan - a blue masthead for Catalan, red for Spanish. I think this is unique in the world and I would be very keen to watch the production process unfold.

Then on Sunday I was watching the football highlights and chat programme Gol a Gol on Catalan TV33. They usually have a hack or two on as guests and up pops John Carlin, former Independent colleague and now at El Pais.

With a Spanish parent, John is fully bilingual but has little Catalan. But having a presenter speak Spanish on Catalan TV is not on, so the questions were fired off in Catalan and responded to in Spanish.

In John's words 'I just guessed what they were asking and answered as best I could.'