Saturday, December 22, 2007

Off for xmas

Christmas in New York beckons tomorrow, so a very big, happy and joyful one to everybody. We'll be back in early January.  Whether Ronaldinho will still be with Barca is another matter ...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Oh show me the way to the next gin tonic bar

Funny how these things happen. You stumble across a bar that makes some really fine Gin and Tonics - and hey presto you pick up the paper the next day and there it is in a feature about the city's best G&T bars.

The G&T here is many miles away from the colonel's pre-dinner tastebud killer that it is in Britain, where it tends to be served with miniature ice cubes and a translucent and tiny slice of lemon in a dainty shot glass.

Here, quite rightly, it's a hearty post-dinner cocktail designed to get the conversational juices flowing. Take a big brandy style schooner, throw in four large chunky ice cubes and pour over a large helping of gin without the aid of a measure. Then get the flavour in - plenty of lime, cucumber, lemon or mint depending where you are.

At the xixbar where we were last night, it was cucumber in the glass and lime wiped round the rim.

The xix incidentally formed the endpoint to a delightful evening that covered all the bases within a few hundred yards on Calle Tamarit. Start out at the minuscule Casa Jacinta at 154 for a vermouth and anchovies. Then a full dinner of amazing tapas at Albert Adria's Inopia (104) and then across the road to xix (actually at Rocafort 19, but who's counting?).

Other G&T bars on the La Vanguardia list today, none of which have been tried (yet):
  • Dacksy (Consell de Cent 247)
  • Coppelia (Rera Palau 4)
  • Snooker (Roger de Lluria 42)
  • Shenu (Londres 91)

To which I'd add the Ideal (Aribau 89)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Let them have it

Much as the British moan about the state of public transport, you'd be lucky to get 20 people to stage a march to protest their dire state.

Last night we had between 200,000 (the police) and 700,000 (the organisers) on the streets of Barcelona, using four weeks of suburban rail chaos (the result of construction of the final stretch of the AVE high-speed rail link into the city centre) as the springboard for a pretty impressive demonstration of the strength of nationalist feeling here.

This may be a new phase in the Catalan campaign for greater autonomy from Madrid and/or full independence. No more of the 'we are a people, we are a nation ...' homespun philosophy that has a limited appeal but 'Madrid's buggered it up, we couldn't be any worse'.

Indeed they would probably be a lot better. There's the money and the smarts here, so why not? Nationhood based on competence rather than a cultural ideology. This was no factional left wing demo but one that brought together some 150 organisations from across the political spectrum.

Things may move fast. There is a national general election in 2008 so expect plenty of devloutionary bones to be chucked Catalonia's way - promises which may or may not be followed up if the Socialists get elected. Three years later we get Joan Laporta, president of Barca and nationalist in chief, running for office as President of the region. At that point things get really interesting.

PS Note to Catalans. Please, please stop looking to Edinburgh and drooling over the Scottish National Party's minority government as a template for independence there and here. The Scottish Parliament was a bastardised gerrymandered talking shop designed to quell nationalism and keep the Labour party in power in perpetuity.

It went horribly wrong at the last election, but hell will freeze other before a government in London would ever allows any quasi independent powers to go to Scotland.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Michelin man disses Spain

They are spitting tacks here that the new Michelin guide to Spain has failed to up the star number count in any meaningful way.

There are no new 3* restaurants beyond the six already established (three in Catalonia and three in the Basque country). Quite what 'El Celler de Can Roca' in Girona has to do to get a third star is unclear. It would also appear that the wonderful Cinc Sentits in Barcelona is not pressing enough wonga under Bibendum's ample rump as it remains starless.

Abac's second star is merited but it seems a rum time to do it as it prepares to move house, while Commerc 24 deserves its star, although I doubt it is any better this year than it was last year or the one before.

But as my brother, who knows a bit more about this than I do, says 'Michelin are hugely unreliable outside France and no one should take them too seriously.' And right now Michelin wants its focus to be on Japan where it has just published its first guide with all the astonishing lateness of an England defender. A drastic uprating of Spanish stars at the same time would have thrown the spotlight off Tokyo. Or am I being too suspicious?

And boy has it worked. The multitude of stars showered on Tokyo's eateries had the cretinous end of the food writers such as the awful Jay Rayner slavering in awe at what a clever dick Mr Michelin is.

'Do the math' as they would say in Didsbury. As Nick points out:

'If Tokyo has roughly 12 times more restaurants than New York, London or Paris then if what Michelin is claiming is true it should have proportionally the same number of starred restaurants. But this is not the case either for the total number of stars or the number of three star restaurants.'

So bugger Michelin. Look instead at how many French cars cross the border into Spain (many on Michelin tyres) in search of great food at astonishingly low prices, served with grace rather than Gallic attitude, and how few are heading in the other direction. And look at the wonderful new restaurants opening in Barcelona over the next six months as listed in La Vanguardia last week.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Who would be Frank Rijkaard?

After two very comfortable and impressive wins, Barca took a terrible dive on Saturday and lost 2-0 at Getafe.

By all accounts they were dire, but to judge by today's local papers you would have thought they had just lost their 10th successive game.

Fans calling for Frank Rijkaard to go, to change things, to get a grip, sell Ronaldinho etc. I'm sure the radio chat shows had very much the same.

The place has gone mad. It will doubtless all reverse again if they win their next game but you have to have some sympathy with Rijkaard for this constant climbing up and down the outrage scale.

If he's bothered, he hasn't let on. Win or lose, he sounds so laid back he's horizontal, as if he's had a calming walk round the streets of Amsterdam with a nice joint and a bottle of Heineken. Sure, it might be better if he wielded the big stick a little more often, but it's a technique that has done pretty well so far.

Long live the king!

My admiration for King Juan Carlos knows no bounds. His compassion and dignity compared with the bunch of stiffs who head the British crown has been recorded here already.

This weekend though his stock rose hugely in my estimation when he told Hugo Chavez 'Why don't you shut up?' when the pompous and autocratic populist leader of Venezuela continually interrupted Spain's PM José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, at the Iberamerican council meeting. You can't imagine Queen Elizabeth doing that.

The vile Chavez compared Zapatero's predecessor Jose Maria Aznar to a snake and described him as a fascist. Zapatero politely pointed out that he had been elected twice by the Spanish people.

He might have added that Aznar never mounted a coup d'etat, refused to renew the licence of the nation's most popular television station or called for an end to presidential term limits, all of which Chavez has done. He might also have pointed out, as La Vanguardia did today, that Chavez once regarded Aznar as a buddy and rolled out the red carpet for him when he visited Caracas in 2000.

The left adore Chavez because he stands up to 'the man' i.e the great Satan of the United States and is in some way 'right on' even when he speaks for seven hours at a time outlining his tedious philosophies. But you start with Chavez and you end up with Robert Mugabe, usurping and clinging on to power no matter the consequences for your country.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

its songtime

happy birthday to dad
happy birthday to dad
happy birthday to da-ad
happy birthday to dad


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Ben did it!

After six months of hard work, Ben heard today that he had got in to University College School in London. He'll go there in September 2009 when he is 13. It's an incredible achievment and we are all very very proud of him.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Go Sox!

When it comes down to it, there are really only three sports teams in the world worth supporting - Manchester United, FC Barcelona and baseball's Boston Red Sox.

All three represent (on the field) what is best about sport. The endeavour is to entertain, and attack rather than defend. All three have traditionally favoured attack over defence in the belief that if they concede four (runs/goals) they have the means to score five or more.

All three have traditionally also pushed their hugely loyal fan bases to the edge by winning things the hard way. Why play to your full ability and win easily when you can play like idiots, go behind and recover in the last stages of the game?

It has not always worked. In fact all three teams have underachieved massively at the highest level over the years. Barca and United have only won two European Cups each while their biggest rivals Real Madrid and Liverpool have won nine and six respectively.

The Red Sox meanwhile won five World Series before 1918 and not a single other one until 2004, while the hated New York Yankees won 20 or more.

Then on Sunday night, they won their seventh Series. And lo, the world is a much better place as a result ...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A brave man

Pasqual Maragall is the man who made modern Barcelona.

As Mayor for 15 years from 1982 he brought the Olympic Games to the city and oversaw its transformation from a sleepy and crumbling port to the cool, modern and wonderful city it is today, one that has attracted thousands of people like me to come and live here.

He also spent three years as President of Catalonia, overseeing the region's new autonimy statute, before he retired last year.

Yesterday he got up and, with his wife by his side, announced that he had Alzheimers and would be spending much of his time now in the fight to bring attention to, and combat, this terrible disease.

It was an incredibly brave thing to do and the coverage in the papers this morning was both moving and extensive, with praise and sympathy showered on him by political allies and enemies.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Today I am 18,260 days old...

which means in two days time ... (you can work this out in excel)

Motor racing as it should be

I took a very nostalgic trip to Montjuic on Sunday (along with 250,000) others to see a special festival to mark the 75th birthday of the now defunct racing circuit which winds around the beautiful park.

Among the historic cars which lapped the circuit were a dozen F1 cars from 1975, the last time a Grand Prix was held there. Not only was that the time that I followed F1 with a passion, but it was in many ways a golden age of racing. No pit stops, no tyre changes, no computers - just close racing around wonderful road circuits such as Montjuic, Spa, Nurburgring.

All gone now. In fact Montjuic in 1975 marked the beginning of the end. The drivers threatened to strike becuase of the poor safety features and raced only under threat of having the cars impounded. After 25 laps, a car left the tracks, leapt the barriers and killed four people, two of them spectators. The era of road racing was over.

Barcelona still has its Grand Prix of course on the Catalunya circuit, an event that brings millions of euros into the city each year.

It's a very strange business. Under Franco, the sport was very much the preserve of the Nationalists, organised for and by rich playboys, dukes and counts. I doubt there was much of a Republican presence there.

Today you'll see the nationalist and socialist Catalan leaders hobnobbing with the likes of Bernie Ecclestone and dangling baubles to ensure he doesn't take the franchise away from the circuit to some other part of Spain. Most peculiar.

so we did go mushroom picking ..

in the right place ... in the lavansa valley in the shadow of the Pyrenees
at the right time ... in mid October
with the right guide ... a friend who knows her poisonous from her edible

and we found ... eight.

so dry has it been in September that the mushroom season just hasn't happened yet and probably won't now. It's still 20+C and sunny and the chestnut sellers are due out on the streets any day now.

One day autumn will come ...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

La Vanguardia has a redesign

And very nice it looks too. I’ve written here before about what a great newspaper it is and this week’s redesign makes it even better.

New colour presses have prompted a much better use of bigger photos and graphics, while the overall size has been cut down to the same as El Pais. Large elements of the former design (co-authored my Milton Glaser I learned) have been retained but it all looks crisper, brighter and more modern.

What I like about the paper is it doesn’t beat up its readers each day by screaming at them how awful their city, their region and their country is. Instead it explains it to them and let’s them come to their own conclusions.

It reports soberly and crisply on difficult issues such as immigration, violence against women, education, spiralling housing costs and so on. Its journalists see themselves on a mission to explain, rather than sound off and bend the facts to fit their viewpoint. International news is at the front and the sugary stuff about royal children kept to pink pages in the middle.

It’s a sharp contrast to London’s Evening Standard which has until now beaten its readers into submission about how foul their city is, how dreadful their mayor is. It’s depressing and apparently they have now embarked on a mission to be more upbeat.

Local papers should never be unquestioning cheerleaders for their city. But they have a duty to reflect the way their readers enjoy themselves as well as telling the story of what can be improved. Any publication worth its salt should like its readers but not many do. La Vanguardia is one of the few.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

It may be the last day of September but ..

.. it was 27C today which was hot enough for us to head to the beach and actually go swimming. and it wasn't bracing cold either but genuinely pleasant to swim in.

They've had the first flurries of snow in the Pyrenees but its not getting much cooler for a few days yet. The Catalans, great mushroom pickers, are getting worried that it is too warm and too dry for a decent crop. one good reason to pray rain ...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

If you live in this world, you're feelin the change of the guard

Much passing of batons at Barca.
As we celebrated the Camp Nou’s 50th birthday yesterday and admired Norman Foster’s stunning redevelopment plan (albeit more than a little redolent of the Allianz Arena, created by Herzog & de Meuron, one of the competition also rans), more fundamental changes are happening on the field.

Ronaldinho has now been substituted three games in succession and was ‘rested, injured,’ for the game against Seville on Saturday night. The inverted commas refer to the fact that while the Barca management claim he has an injured foot, other evidence points elsewhere. He has been partying hard with games looming, cutting training and went absent for three days after the Lyon game last Wednesday. Foot my arse, as Jim Royle might say.

Ronnie was benched on each occasion because, as El Periodico put it ‘his head was still talking but his feet weren’t listening.’ From being the ignition of every Barca move he has become the constipated channel through which each attack is slowed down to a juddering halt of short passes, many of them misplaced. He’s not happy and Rijkaard seems to have taken the giant leap of not putting him on the team sheet simply because he is who he is. His Christmas will be in Milan, I suspect.

Into the breach has stepped Leo Messi, who, along with Manchester United’s Ronaldo, can be the only true claimant to football’s George Best mantle. Against Lyon and particularly against Seville, he has become the fulcrum of the team – the ‘straw that stirs the drink’ as baseball great Reggie Jackson described himself within the New York Yankees. He powers the team forward, playing off, at different times, his midfield base of Deco, Toure, Xavi and Iniesta.
The Catalan crowd has already started to see this and can’t get enough of it. In two games he has scored three times and engineered an own goal, each greeted by the crowd prostrating itself en masse in praise.

The king is dead, long live the king. The old one will be buried in full military honours, rather than humiliated and shoved out of the back door, so great has been his contribution. Messi, touchingly, held up 10 fingers for Ronnie’s shirt number when he scored on Saturday and dedicated both goals to his great friend.

Welcome to the Messi era, one that will hopefully grace Norman Foster’s magnificent makeover for many years to come.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Lancashire, tra la la la ...

I know that most readers of this blog 1) don't give a shit or 2) don't understand or 3) both but it is worth recording the fact that my beloved Lancashire may win the County Cricket Championship this week.

Like all the games in this quaint tournament, it will be played over four days in front of crowds that rarely creep into three figures. But they haven't won this tournament since 1930-something and there will be Mancunians of a certain age all over the world who will be thrilled if they do.

I shall keep you posted ...

A good lesson

High drama in Ben's football game on Sunday. 10 minutes into the second half, the ref blows up, flounces like a drama queen several times and storms off the pitch, ball in hand.

It turns out he had been taking sustained abuse from the home team coach (not Ben's team) who claimed that one of Ben's team mates should have been sent off for following through on the goalie.

The ref clearly had enough and off he went. After 10 minutes of marvellously comic confusion, he was persuaded back but only if the coach was banished to the stands. The game carried on and the kids got a good lesson that you shouldn't abuse the ref.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Take me out to the ball game …

Ok it wasn’t Fenway Park but on Friday night we had hot dogs, beer, warm evening sunshine and baseball.

It was the opening game of the European Baseball championships being held here and Ben and I popped up to the rather beautiful field on Montjuic to watch the opening game between Spain and Great Britain.

‘I think you’ll find the British to be a mixture of Australians, South Africans and American college boys,’ said an American woman on the way in, while I suspect the Spanish team had a few Latinos in the squad. Some of those on the field had made it to the minor leagues in the US.

There are 10 teams here with the Dutch the hot favourites, so far walloping 33 runs past the Czech Republic and Austria without reply, both games being curtailed by the sport’s splendid mercy rule.

It was great to be there. There was a rinky-dink opening ceremony with flags, VIPs, a song and the national anthems.

The game was pretty good, played well enough to remind you that, along with cricket, baseball is one of life’s higher callings. Britain won, 12-8, since you ask.

Yet another great Barcelona cocktail bar

There are two remarkable features about Milano. The first is that it is on Ronda De la Universitat, one of this city’s unloveliest thoroughfares which links Plaza Catalunya and Placa Universitat. Five lanes of traffic, inter-city bus stops and crap expat pubs. You get the picture.

The second is that it has been open for three months and looks like it has been there for 30 years. Set in an airy basement, it’s all polished wood, racks of the best spirits, barmen in white jackets, red plush couches and unobtrusive jazz. And they do a damn fine gin fizz as well as well as, in homage to its name, a host of Campari-based cocktails.

Talking of which, I am grateful to the new St John restaurant cookbook for the recipe for a Bicicletta – a mixture of white wine, Campari and ice. The recipe cheerfully suggests experimenting with the proportions. In the interests of science I will do so and will report back.

A car crash happening

When is a nation not a nation? When it’s Catalonia.

With exquisite timing, just a few days before Catalan national day, Spain’s football governing body has decided it will ban a friendly ‘international’ between Catalonia and the USA next month. The excuse is that it comes just a few days before a Spanish international friendly, which seems a little lame.

The row threatens to run and run and will no doubt get a good airing at the national day demos and festivities on Tuesday when the separatist hotheads will claim this as another piece of Madrid imperialism. The Catalan political elite will look on in uncomfortable silence. It’s the policy of the Generalitat to encourage Catalan national teams in all sports but they also have compromises with Madrid to keep.

But should Catalonia have its own national football team? It’s every bit as much a country as Scotland and Wales (in terms of language, devolved politics and cultural identity) who have their own teams.

The big difference of course is that there is no Great Britain team for Ryan Giggs to represent in the way that Carles Puyol and Xavi turn out for Spain (albeit with the Spanish flags on their socks neatly tucked out of view).

Logically then the Catalan players should elect to choose to play for Catalonia or Spain – as too should the Basque players (the two ‘nations’ played each other earlier this year which turned the Camp Nou into a rip-roaring cauldron of independent nationalism. And why stop there, when Spain is wholly composed of autonomous regions?

Taking this to its logical end, we’ll have 17 Spanish regions entering the major tournaments, none with a realistic chance of qualifying.

A young boy’s dream …

To go on the pitch before a game at the Camp Nou and be photographed with the Barca players.

More pictures here

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The blog is back!

Almost three weeks of holiday are winding to a close and pretty good they were too. Better than that in fact. Blissful, trundling the old family car across mainland France, Italy and Corsica with scarcely a traffic jam in sight. And not a single airline check in queue … and we were still all talking to each other at the end of it.

Corsica completely knocked us out. The landscape, the town of Calvi, the beaches and the blue, blue sea all came as a complete surprise, as did the very good food and wine. It’s a place we’ll go back to again and again.

The weather was also sensational there which is more than can be said for much of Europe. Britain’s summer has never happened while much of France has also suffered in the cold and rain. Becca and I came back to Barcelona for a brief sojourn and drove through one thunderstorm on the Costa Brava and endured two more back here.

The Catalans who went to the seaside for August have endured grey skies and wet beaches, those who went to the Pyrenees to escape the heat have been buying jumpers. Our chicken seller in the market says she went to Ibiza for a week and had one nice day.

The Big Heat of August has never come and La Vanguardia says air conditioner sales are down 60-80%. Now it’s stopped raining it is a lovely 75F but cool in the evening. This after the Winter That Never Happened …

Through it all, Tony Wilson died. While all the noise has focussed on his ‘Mr Manchester’ music fame, I knew him when he was a much-loved friend of the family back in the 1970s.

While all my school contemporaries were wallowing in the heavy metal trash that was Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and (God save them all) Yes, Tony would burst into our living room, grab the record player and put on Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen, both billed as the ‘fucking future of music’ (or perhaps ‘the future of fucking music’ – time clouds his exact words). He was right and I have a lot to thank him for.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Summertime slow

Like a dying swan, Barcelona is ever so graciously wilting in the heat and winding down for the summer.

Our local market is 80% shut as is the baker, the grocery and many other shops. Parking spots are in abundance even though all residents’ bays and pay and display are free for the month.

The biggest noise is of people banging on the doors of dry cleaners as they realise their clothes are locked up for the month. ‘I love it being so quiet here in August,’ said one friend. ‘It’s just a shame everything is shut.’

We are off on our holidays tomorrow in the car to Italy, east and west, Corsica and mainland France. Very green aren’t we? I love the idea of no airports after 50+ journeys a year, no packing to fit, nothing to catch. We have boats to chase at some point but not tomorrow.

Meanwhile yesterday was pretty special as it marked the 20th anniversary of the first time Sarah and I kissed (aahh!) and look what became of that. We marked it by going out en famille to eat tapas at Txakolin, one of our very favourite joints, and then to see the fusion flamenco band Calima play in the palm-tree strewn garden of the graceful and charming Atheneu club. Here’s to the next 20.

Meanwhile my early 50th birthday present to myself arrived – the rental for one year of two top-class season tickets for Barca. Not cheap but you are only 50 once. I am truly blessed …

Holiday well and will be back towards the end of August …

Saturday, July 21, 2007

You think you have it bad ...

One week in England and it's fair to say it's not been our finest of trips.

Changeable weather at best and, on Sunday and Friday, monsoon-sized downpours. Ben has a hugely irritating mouth infection and our house in Ludlow has been letting in water. It took Sarah five hours to get back to London on Friday, escaping entrapment in the many flooded towns of middle England by the skin of her teeth. We saw half a day's cricket at Lord's today between the downpours.

Still, let's be thankful. Here are two other travelling parties that fared worse than us.

The first is the family group that booked our house to celebrate the parents' ruby wedding anniversary.

The children made it but the parents marked 40 years of wedded bliss with 85 others on blow-up beds in a school in the small Gloucestershire town of Ledbury where they were stranded by the floods, missing the special dinner they had booked at one of Ludlow's finest restaurants last night. Yet today when I spoke to the wife, she was hugely cheerful and completely without bitterness.

Worse perhaps was Chris Anderson of Wired/Long Tail fame. His Holiday from Hell as described on his blog needs no embellishment:

I'm just landed back in the US after what was, hands down, our worst vacation
ever. It was supposed to be a nice week in the UK with family, a week
in Normandy with the kids to speak French and then home. But everything
went wrong. We knew things were going to be funky when we tried to do all the
flying on frequent flier miles and could only get coach seats with extra stops
on inconvenient days, including red-eye legs. And we knew that I wouldn't have
Internet access in France (scary!). But it got oh so much worse.

I'll just list some of the catastrophes and you'll get a sense of my last 19 days. First,
that weird rash I had on my arm just before we left turned out to be Lyme
Disease (from a tick bite three days earlier). Fortunately the
rash looked like a blood infection in the hours before we got on the plane
so I went to the ER and they gave me an antibiotic prescription, which happens
to be the same way you treat Lyme Disease. So there was nothing to do but just
suffer what turned into a full-body rash, a fever, flu symptoms
and chronic joint pain. But that lasted for ten days, during which I was
just useless.

Then there was the small matter of the rain. It rained Every.
Single. Day. For 19 days. It rained in England (widespread flooding, and the
wettest June in history). It rained in France (also the wettest June in history,
and a good start on the wettest July). When we got back to England, it rained
some more. Those of you who tried to watch Wimbledon have a sense of what it was like.

Then the airlines lost our luggage TWICE. Once permanently. We had to
wear the same clothes for two week and share two toothbrushes between six
people. (Yes, I know we could have bought more toothbrushes, but they were eight
euros each at the airport and we refused on principle).

Then the youngest girl got head lice.

Then airports were attacked in the UK, so every check-in turned into a two-hour ordeal. The kids refused to speak French.

Indeed, despite a whole week of drilling in that very country, the youngest one still couldn't even remember the word French.

Now I'm at the airline lounge in Boston, waiting six and half hours for my flight home to San Francisco.

The only good that came from this fiasco is that it was so decisively terrible that I may never have to go for a whole-family vacation in Europe again. It's road trips to Tahoe and the beach from now on. Hurray!

Monday, July 09, 2007

The great outdoors

The days have long been good and warm here but now the evenings are following suit.
So time to join the open air cultural pursuits that make Barcelona such a fine place to be at this time of year.

First to the Montjuic Castle which sits atop of the city, for Sala Montjuic where they show a series of around 20 films on a big outdoor screen during July, all in original language.
5 euros to get in, 2 euros for a seat and Moritz beer and Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream on sale.
We went to see Singing in the Rain en famille. Ben fully in accordance that Make 'Em Laugh better than the title song and indeed, probably the best song and dance routine ever made. Smart boy.

Then last night to the Festival Grec, a summer series of plays, music and dance set mostly, but not exclusvely in the stunning Greek amphitheatre (above) in the same park. Gorgeous flower gardens, and as ever, they do these things well here with food and refreshment stalls dotted around the grounds.
Our schedule meant that last night's was the only event we could get to at the Grec and much as I love jazz, Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood, were several miles the wrong side of freeform funk for my liking (and make that several hundred in Sarah's case).
You half expected John Thompson fromJazz Club on The Fast Show to come on at and say 'Nice'. But you could never beat the setting

Friday, July 06, 2007

Goodbye to George Melly

'George Melly the jazz singer, author and raconteur who has died aged 80, leched, drank and blasphemed his way around the clubs and pubs of the British Isles and provided pleasure to the public for five decades' - The Daily Telegraph.

It would be remiss of me to let the death of George Melly pass without any comment.

The phrase 'They don't make them like that anymore' is much overused but that is truly the case with Melly. Apart from being a wonderful jazz singer, he was in his day one of the keenest chroniclers of popular culture, an expert on surrealism, cartoonist and general all-round icon of the louche pop/jazz/art demi-monde that was London and in particular Soho in the 1950s and 1960s.

His hair-raising lifestyle, long on drugs and multiple sexual personas and rather shorter on the feelings of others, is beautifully chronicled in the memoirs of his long-suffering wife Diana which will make the perfect summer read if you haven't got hold of it already.

I saw him many times in concert, always in his pre-Christmas residence at Ronnie Scott's, always finding time to go in case each gig might be his last.

As the years of good living took their toll, George's sets became ever shorter until the last one where he did about 20 minutes tops, sitting down wearing a rather sinister eyepatch. But he never failed to leave without several standing ovations from a packed house of devotees.

You then staggered out from Scott's to the Bar Italia across the road, stinking of cigarette smoke and having had too much crap wine and appalling food (the club is rather more upmarket these days). On more than one occasion one of our party was truly tired and emotional because, as Goerge might have said 'Someone had done them wrong' and they had attenpted to heal their wounds with too many office party gin and tonics followed by too much of the club's cut-price Valpolicella.

But it always was the most wonderful way to start Christmas in London.

PS Plentiful obits including The Guardian and The Times, which also supplies the following priceless piece of information:

'At school, Melly wrote, he once seduced the future Sunday Telegraph editor Sir Peregrine Worsthorne on a sofa, but he said that he found a 78rpm record by Bessie Smith was far more satisfying.'

Saturday, June 30, 2007

God bless the Casa Tejada.

You've been away for the best part of 10 days, your plane is an hour late and there is the traffic jam from hell just trying to get out of the airport. So it's past midnight when you get home, the fridge is empty and you're starving.

What you need is to live round the corner from Casa Tejada. It is the bar de barrio that every neighbourhood needs. It stays open from breakfast until 2am, serves Moritz beer, has Barca games on its big screen and serves a wonderful variety of tapas and main course dishes throughout. What more could you ask for?
It's busy during most of that time and deservedly so.

After hot footing it round I was soon tucking into a delicious plate of sauteed bacon and sprouts, a side order of pan amb tomaquet and a large Moritz, served in an English style dimpled pot. I think, though I am not certain, that this is the in joke of one of the barman who has spent time working in England. It seems to be the only one in the place and I usually end up getting it.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Il est arrivee

At one stroke, one of my two favourite teams signs one of the greatest players on earth while my other faces an opponent enfeebled by his absence ...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Calla, calla!

Or shhh... the words of my wise friend as we got terribly excited about Barca winning the title. Cruising against Nastic with Real losing and wobbling against Majorca, it looked like it could happen.

It didn't of course and probably a good thing too. The local sports papers delivered a sumo-sized volley of invective this morning reflecting on the team's dire season. From Spanish and European champions, strengthened by some high-class signings, to winning nada is some feat.

The papers' verdict? Blame the club regime, blame the manager, blame the players - a message that would have been just as valid had they won the title and one that would have been completely lost in a celebratory mayhem of cava, beer and tickertape.

So it may well turn out for the best. Twelve years ago, United came second in the league and cup but won nothing after two years of success.

Alex Ferguson responded by selling three galacticos - amid huge controversy - and rebuilding the team around youth with immediate and huge success. Frank Rijkaard could do a lot worse than follow suit.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Catch up

The heat is officially on as Barcelona's summer begins and it's time to do summer things like go up the mountain for a late cocktail or picnic on the beach.

This weekend the Sonar festival is on and next week the schools are out. Then it is San Juan when everyone stays up to party all night. It's a calendar as fixed as any London summer season.

And yes the football season is still not over. While the 2008 English fixtures are published. La Liga still has one game to go with Barca desperately hoping that somehow Real Madrid will find a way of tripping up at home to Majorca on Sunday. After last Saturday's 18-second Greek tragedy, anything might happen.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The voice of youth

Off to Primavera Sound to see the emerging young rock stars!

First up, Jonathan Richman, 56 just a few weeks ago!

And then, Patti Smith, just the wrong side of 60!

And sadly not getting to see The Durutti Column and Vini Reilly, 54 in August! Or indeed Robyn Hitchcock, who's just beaten him to that age!

They don't make them like that anymore.

Smith in particular was sensational and set the place alight as the sun went down over the Barcelona Forum.

And last, and yes, least, Shitdisco!

We wandered off and stopped at one of the beach bars on Bogatell beach on the way home. As we lay on the sunbeds and looked out to sea, a very full, very yellow and completely wonderful moon poked its head above the horizon and rose within a matter of minutes.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Into every life a little rain must fall

From the BBC:

Reunited rock group The Police began a five-month world tour in front of
20,000 fans in Vancouver on Monday, 21 years after their last major concert.

The Spanish invasion

Cruising down London's Regent Street today and you pass in order ...

Massimo Dutti

It is indeed a Spanish/Catalan invasion...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A great newspaper does different things

Another reason why I love La Vanguardia is this - today's front page features the five main mayoral candidates in today's election. The paper took them down to the beach yesterday and got them to take off their shoes and jump up and down on mini trampolines to round off their very details but colourful campaign coverage.

Can you imagine any other country in the world where they would do this? Or indeed can you imagine any politicians whose spin doctors would let them do it? Fantastic stuff.

Two new discoveries

1) Calima, one of the most extraordinary bands I have heard/seen for a long time - a sort of rap/gipsy/latino version of flamenco that would have taken the roof down last night at the Ciutat Vella Flamenco Festival but for the fact that we were in the open air.

But they had large numbers of the crowd on their feet playing a music that was uniqely vibrant with at times only a distant connection to traditional flamenco. Of the 10 band members, only two come from flamenco's traditional heartland of Andalucia, with the rest coming from, among other places, Cuba, Bulgaria, Barcelona and Venezuela. Sensational.

You can hear some their music here.

2) The Olympic and Sports Museum. Just opened in the shadow of the old stadium in Parc Monjuic. Ben and I went up this afternoon and were both pleasantly surprised by the quality of the exhibits and the lovely design and layout of the museum, with some great artefacts, pictures, videos and displays about the history of the Olympics and sport itself. The section on the Barcelona games is particularly good, focusing on the great design thought that lay behind the games. Well worth the detour.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bloody Awful

Or British Airways as it is usually known.

I tried booking a flight for Monday week and saw BA had a really cheap flight at £60 one way. It was there on their own site and on various agencies and aggregators. It was there yesterday and there again today.

And when you try to book it? It doesn’t exist. BA says it ‘has just sold out’ (repeatedly) while the 3rd party sites say there is some sort of problem. You wonder if this is some sort of switch and bait operation where you are lured into the site and then settle for something rather more expensive.

Ring the BA phone line and they have no idea. They have nothing to do with the website and cannot see what you are seeing. This is not so much pathetic service as disturbing. If its telesales and online systems are not aligned then this company is in big trouble.

I fly 95% of the time between here and the UK with Easyjet and never have a problem like this.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


And so here endeth possibly the most disastrous four days in Barca's footballing history.

On Thursday they managed to give a way a 5-2 lead in the second leg of the Spanish Cup by losing 4-0 away at the modest Getafe. Now United have lost by this margin to crap teams and been knocked out of Cup games by who knows who. But throwing away a 5-2 lead in a second leg? No one in Barcelona had bothered to watch the game believing it to be a foregone conclusion. Cue vitriolic headlines.

Tonight, they waent one better. A home game, a big crowd prepared to forgive, a shot at redemption. Instead they virtually threw away the league by missing a hatful of chances against a dull Real Betis before letting in an 89th minute equaliser. And not any old equaliser - while Betis took a quick free kick, the entire Barca defence stood around discussing who was buying the first round of drinks tonight.

As Betis walked the ball into the net, the white hankies came out. The pañolada, the ultimate expression of fan anger, came out, along with 'fuera, Laporta', although quite what the President (two titles, one champions league) could have done about such defensive salckness, goodness only knows.

Making things worse, far worse, is the role of the city's second team, Espanol. Not only did they blow a 3-1 lead against Real Madrid last night to lose 4-3 but they are also appearing in the Uefa Cup final on Wednesday. It does not get much worse than that ...

Monday, May 07, 2007

Two wonderful and very different bars

... which we happened across on a very beautiful Saturday morning

1.Bar L'Electricitat. A bar del barrio in the best sense of the word in probably the most down to earth quarter of the city, Barceloneta, tiny narrow streets of laundry-adorned flats tucked in between the flash-harry redevelopments of the Port Olimpic and the Marina. Great tapas (manchega cheese and almonds), full of locals drinking beer and red wine at 11am on a Saturday. Wine dispensed from barrels in the corner at absurdly low prices and decor last renovated around 1955. Not my photo above but sums it up completely. Just across the square from the district's beautifully renovated market at Sant Carles 15.

2. La Caseta del Migdia. On the very top of Montjuic, high above the seam and just past the gigantic castle that so many Republican activists failed to come out of in the Civil War. Possibly the city's most laid back bar with an open air sound system, hammock chairs and a barbecue.
It's not unknown to the guide books but you have to be reasonably determined to find it and get there. Blissful on a sunny day, it looks almost unmissable when its sunset sessions open in June. Check out the Flickr photos here

Double champions!!!

1. The obvious one. United. Just a wonderful feeling, more so for it being so popular among football fans at large - a rare feeling for a United fan. First, because of the wonderful football we have played this season and second, because there was a genuine fear that Chelsea's bottomless wealth and greed would wipe out any meaningful competition.

I'm glad to see Mourinho has promised United a guard of honour on Wednesday night. Well done. It would be fun to see United play a game of two halves. The first half, just zip the ball about and give them a demonstration of how to win the title. And in the second half, take off the key players and pass the ball to Chelsea. Score a few own goals. Put Scholes between the sticks and Van der Saar up front. Lose 5-0 to show them it's all too late ..

2. The real champions. Ben's team, AE Les Corts UBAE, clinched their local under 12 championship on Friday by beating hot rivals Salesians Rocafort 5-2 in the last game. They now go onto the next stage to see if they can defend their Catalonia championship. Ben was sidelined with his ankle injury but was there to cheer his mates on and take part in the celebrations.

Above is a photo from the team's website of Ben in the team strip. The caption reads 'our latest signing, A player formed in the ranks of Manchester - a great addition'. Indeed.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

United: the impossible dream

This song is over
I'm left with only tears
I must remember
Even if it takes a million years

As Pete Townshend would have put it.

Or to look at it another way, it has been The Impossible Dream - the label given to the Boston Red Sox baseball team in 1967 when a losing team of hopelessly low expectations played beyond their wildest dreams to come within an inch of the sport's top prize.

Sounds familiar? Who would have thought back in August we would have made it to the edge of the Champions League final, and still be on the edge of the domestic double, after two years of dreary hopeless football? And produced one of the most amazing nights of European football ever seen, anywhere?

Other consolations from last night:

  • We lost by a country mile - no lousy decisions, shots against the post, lucky saves - against an amazing team.
  • We played really badly. No excuses
  • Chelsea lost as well
  • The two bottles of Ferret Guasch rose cava that Pepon brought round

Thursday, April 26, 2007

It's youth recognition week on this blog

The Landers in Barcelona Blog is taking a stance against the traducing of our youth as a bunch of good for nothing, drug addicted, TV obsessed, YouTube gawping lazybones (sounds fun actually, where do I sign up?).

Yes we're introducing our own Youth Recognition Week. So step forward the following members of the extended Lander Clan, who each deserve a case of Vodka alcopops!
  • Ben for bravely suffering some nasty pain as he struggles around on crutches, having badly sprained his ankle on the futbol sala court. Not fun at all
  • Rebecca for writing this wonderful, funny, warm and wise post on her Blog which gets far more visits than this one.

  • My nephew William for completing the London marathon in intense heat and despite a hugely nasty injury. Double points for raising tons of money for charity. See above as he auditions for night of the living dead

  • His sister Jules for landing a teaching job at an inner London primary school. Her pupils will end up running the country

  • My nieces Rose and Rachel who are having to revise in the balmy English early summer for important school exams.

I know what you'll be doing this summer

The ultimate work life balance?

Read here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


a fantastic second half come back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 3-2 thanks to rooney's 91st minute winner

half time depression

losing 2-1 to milan. updates as justified later

Thursday, April 19, 2007

That Man Messi

Last night Leo Messi of Barcelona scored one the greatest goals of all time; if it wasn't, then it ranks first equal with the one scored by with his compatriot Diego Maradona's goal against England in the Mexico world cup of 2006.

You can see the goal here scored against Getafe, in the first leg of the Spanish Cup semi final at the Camp Nou.

Looks familiar? Some genius has run the two goals side by side and you can take your pick. They are spookily identical.

The Barcelona papers have gone berserk today about the young genius with pages of pictures.

El Mundo Deportivo inevitably goes for 'The foot of God'. La Vanguardia helpfully analyses both goals with the following numbers:

  • Messi beat five players, covering 48m in 12 seconds, taking 10 touches with his left foot and three with his right.
  • Maradona beat six players, covering 62m in 11 seconds, taking 12 touches with his left foot only. I always said he would never make it being so one footed.

The genial Messi dedicated the goal to his ailing compatriot.

PS I wasn't there, but I did get to the bar where it was showing some 20 seconds before it happened.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Top news of the day

From the BBC:

Cristiano Ronaldo has signed a new five-year contract with Premiership leaders Manchester United.

The 22-year-old Portuguese winger has ended speculation over his future after being linked with a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona.

"I am delighted. I spoke with Sir Alex Ferguson about my future and everyone knew that I wanted to stay," he said.

"I am very happy at the club and I want to win trophies and hopefully we will do that this season."

United boss Ferguson added: "It is fantastic news, it emphasises the point that Cristiano is happy here and that he is at the right club.

Much as I would have loved to see him live every fortnight here, I would have been heartbroken at the thought of him leaving United - and in any case he might well have ended up at Real Madrid.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The consequences of one man's blog

A blog can trigger a whole bunch of events. Here's one example that has affected me personally.

On the face of it, EuroTelcoblog was a blog of little consequence - the online diary of a telecoms analyst in London, James Enck with a deep penchant for the hardcore telco world of, as James himself puts it, 'metropolitan fiber assets and portable/mobile broadband.' It was however written with a great deal of style and wit, usually both as rare as hen's teeth in the telco world.

It's an area of peripheral interest to what I do but I happened to read it one day just after I moved to Barcelona and noticed a link to another blog run by a French consultant turned businessman in the city named Yannick Laclau. Anxious to make some contacts here, I emailed Yannick and arranged to meet.

Not only did we become good friends, but he has been extremely generous in both suggesting new ideas for Citywire and introducing me to other people here. Two of these also became good friends and when they sadly had to leave town, we inherited their rather beautiful and very flat in one of the nicest parts of the city - which is where this is being written from.

For James, meanwhile, his blog has had even bigger effects:
I got an email out of the blue from the fund manager who was ultimately
responsible for bringing me onboard at my future employers. He had stumbled
across the site and found it useful ... This eventually led to
some face-to-face meetings and culminated in a formal recruitment process'
He has a new job in a top investment bank. His new employer is a little more
strait laced about keeping blogs so EuroTelcoblog closes today.

So good luck in the new job, James, and thanks from all the Landers.

United 7 Roma 1

Yes it really did happen. I heard from one friend who was there, balanced by another who missed the whole lot on a plane to the US. Enjoy

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Lite, lite, lite

India Knight, usually, though not always, on the ball, is on form in the Sunday Times about the UK's 'lite' culture - cheap food, cheap clothes (pace the mad scrum at the opening of the new Primark in Oxford Street) and two-week rehab at the Priory.

The emphasis of price over value is now pretty endemic in the way Britons eat, shop and live. I'm 3/4 of the way through reading Tescopoly which details the way Tesco has been bulldozing its way through Britain's towns and cities, all in the name of price, and the damage it causes - to communities and local shops but also to the food growers at home and abroad who it bullies into providing its notion of perfect uniform supplies at ever lower costs.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

This week I have been mostly reading ...

Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North. I've always thought Stuart Maconie to be a great DJ and this marks him out as a terrific writer.

He goes back home to explore the North from his native Lancashire to Yorkshire and the revival of the cities devastated in the grim 1980s from Manchester to Leeds and Newcastle to Liverpool. He flies the flag for a part of Britain much maligned by the metropolitan media moguls of London while avoiding being mawkish or sentimental.

As he points out the media often treats the North as being 'out there' - another country. The newspapers have nearly all closed their regional offices, sending London based reporters up when a sink estate goes up in flames. Why, he asks, does the BBC have a north of England correspondent but no south of England correspondent?

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. A tiny novel but every page is made to sweat. The story of a doomed couple in the confused early 1960s, played out in slow motion like an inevitable car crash. Saturday was Britain 2003 in one day. This book is Britain in 1962 in one ghastly honeymoon night.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Happy Easter from Ludlow

We're spending semana santa at our house in Ludlow. And blissful it is. It has been two years since we have been here and when you spend that amount of time away from such a special place you fear that everything will have changed for the worse.

Well there's a new car parking regime but that aside the butchers, the bakers and the food shops all remain as do most of the restaurants with a few additions.

The one that has got away is Shaun Hill's Merchant House so we did the next best thing and visited his new restaurant The Glasshouse in Worcester. Well worth the detour as M. Michelin would say - really good British food, especially my veal kidney and black pudding (or the 'murder special' as my non red meat eating daugther put it) and the highly inventive twists on treacle tarts and rhubarb fool which we had for pudding.

It remains extremely quiet as befits Britain's first slow town. You can still fire a shotgun down Mill Street at 5.05pm and not hit anyone. We eat our usual Ludlow diet of hot cross buns, pork pies, Hereford cider and Scotch eggs. The sun shines every day. We go cycling and walking and sleep like babies every night. Happy Easter from us all

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Big Easy

One of the nice things about living here is that going out and enjoying yourself is so easy.

It's the hassle factor in London that always bugged me; ordering an expensive cab and wondering if it would turn up, factoring in the unreliability of public transport to get to a film on time or locating and paying through the nose for car parking.

Here the public transport works, taxis are cheap - it's hard work to pay more than €10 from mountain to sea - and the city is littered with huge and cheap car parks. Indeed car parking is that much cheaper following a new law which makes it compulsory to charge by the minute - it's often up to two hours in London. So we picked someone up today from the airport, parked for 20 minutes and paid a grand total of 27p.

And you can get into the best bars without being vetted, negotiating bouncers, being a member or being presumed to be a criminal and having your credit card kept behind the bar.

Last night I went out with some Catalan friends and ended up at the Ideal Cocktail Bar (Aribau 89) which forms a neat triumvirate with my established favourites here - Boadas and Dry Martini.

All are heavy on the wood, the leather, the barmen in white jackets and bow ties who know one end of a cocktail shaker from another. And very fine gin and tonics they mix too.

It rounded off a truly lovely evening which was to celebrate the promotion of one of my friends across government departments.

The cocktails followed one of those great Catalan pica-pica suppers of manchega cheese, serrano ham on tomato bread, small fried fish, patatas bravas and steak and chips, all dished up in the middle served up at La Moreneta (Cartagena 234) which is well worth dropping in on if you are near the Sagrada Família.

Bicing in Barna

There's a great new initiative launched in Barcelona today - Bicing.

It's a municipal scheme to encourage bike usage. You pay €24 a year for a card which allows you to unlock a bike from a fleet of what will eventually be 1,500 bikes sited at 100 stations around town.

You then pay 60 cents an hour for two hours and €3 an hour after that, all charged to your credit card. It's €150 if you don't bring it back within 24 hours at which point you might as well keep the thing and spray paint the Bicing logo and keep it.

How cool is that?

Cricket is more popular in Barcelona than football

Well some aspects of cricket and some aspects of football.

The papers here are covering the Bob Woolmer murder in reasonable depth. And why not? It's a cracking story on any level and there is indeed a sizeable Pakistani community in Catalonia. Of course they have to fill in the back story about what cricket is and how Pakistan losing to Ireland was like Barca losing to some stiffs from the 4th division.

Meanwhile the Football Story That Died through Lack of Interest is the England v Andorra game being played here at the Olympic stadium next week. Around 13,000 fans will be in twon apparently and will be joined at the stadium by some 400 Andorra supporters and a handful of neutral residents.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Nose news is good news

Thanks for all the calls and emails re the nose.

Which gives me the chance to use the headline above. It is much better now and the steristrips bandages should be off in a couple of days.

Another blissful weekend ahead of the cold spell now making its way across Europe which should bring us more snow in the pyrenees. highlights:

- a first visit to the wonderful Museum of the history of Barcelona. A wonderful
collection of the ruins of what was Roman Barcino. Beautifully laid out if a
little too large.
- Seeing the Arctic Monkeys live. Yes we were probably the oldest people there but nothing wrong with that. There were some 3,000 people younger than us going mad at Razzmatazz. Great music though as Sarah says, nothing that the Clash weren't doing 30 years ago.
- Going to the beach today at Casteldefells with friends for a truly teriffic paella at Patricio's, one of the moste emblematic beach restaurants in these parts. No booking for the outside tables so you get there at 12, grab some seats and read your papers
until they start serving at 1.30. worth every minute of it.

- ah yes. Football. 8-1 and 8 great goals at that. Four for United and four for Barca. Even better, as we speak, Real Madrid at home are barely scraping past Nastic 1-0, bottom of La Liga by some distance and with a man sent off. As one disgruntled fan puts it on the bulletin board in a rant directed at Madrid manager Capello:

fuera!!! fuera!!!! fuera!!!! yo ya saco mi pañuelo blanco delante del pc!!!! jajajajaja

'Out! Out! Out! I have my white hanky out (the traditional F*** off sign in Spain) and I'm waving it in front of the PC'

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I've been a bad blogger

Mea culpa. the last two weeks have been a void filled by travelling, getting a very nasty virus, friends visiting and some deeply depressing football by Barca.

One door closes and the next one slams in your face - that sort of thing. And literally in my case yesterday when I walked full on into a glass door and broke my nose. Blood everywhere and now feeling very tender with ice packs etc etc.

Immensely cheered last night my Messi's third, last gasp goal, which secured a vital draw in a hell for leather, harum scarum classico against Real Madrid, a game in which the two managers saw fit to dispose of their defences.

But the sun is shining and Ben scored his first goal for his futbol sala team so there is much to be happy about. More soon.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hot media news

From DWPub JournAlert, a service on what's happening in the media.

Teddy Bear Times has merged with Teddy Bear Club International Magazine, published by Ashdown.

Dolls House and Miniature Scene has incorporated Dolls House Projects. Janet Kirkwood is editor.

two good results last night

Man U 1 Lille 0
Ben's futbol sala team (his debut) 11, opponents 2

make that three
PSV Eindhoven 1 Arsenal 0

let's hope for a fourth tonight at the Cam Nou!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Samuel Eto'o and Nina Simone

I now see it. Samuel Eto'o, gifted football striker, is the new Nina Simone, chanteuse, pianist and diva.

Like Ms S, Samuel is moody, petulant and given to massive sulks that from time to time explode into torrents of abuse directed at the ones he supposedly loves. Just like Nina in fact, who was given to missing her own concerts on occasion when she wasn't in the mood.

On Tuesday, Eto'o hijacked his own charity awareness event by letting rip at his manager Frank Rijkaard, his teammate Ronaldinho, former Barca officials and the cat who the groundsmen emply to chase the field mice. Sanctions seemed likely followed by a likely exit at the end of the season.

Then yesterday, Valentine's Day, peace and love reigned again at the club. Some nice diplomatic footwork by club captain Carles Puyol calmed everyone down. Samuel shook Frank's hand, hugged Ronnie and resumed training. Let's hope he sits down at the piano again and scores some goals. he's been out through injury for several months and Barca need him badly.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

News from here

It’s been a long gap since the last blog so here’s a quick catch up.

Despite the Al Gore like temperatures and the lack of snow, Sarah and I snuck off to Masella for a couple of days of skiing. The Gods of artificial snow had laid down enough of the white stuff for blue runners like us to use and we got enough of the buzz, scenery and mountain air that we could have wished for.

Ben meanwhile went off on ski week with his school to Andorra, came back having a brilliant time having jumped over moguls and skied reds backwards.

We had our first night at the Barcelona opera at the stunning Liceu. Not just any run of the mill work but Verdi’s epic Don Carlos which runs to five hours in its full five acts. That meant the performance started at 8pm – almost a matinee by Barcelona standards – and finished as the clock struck one.

There was some weak singing – especially Don Carlos – but the staging of the (Vienna State Opera) production was amazing. It switched between original and modern settings including a surreal interlude in a 1960s suburban house which had the Catalan audience booing.

Even more extraordinary was the royal gala party which was stages as a modern televised event with the guests arriving through the theatre’s main entrance, up the stairs, through the magnificent hall of mirrors and on into the auditorium where the guest of honour were marched up the central aisle and on to the minimalist set where a black tie cocktail party was in full swing. That the audience did love.

The incredible spring like weather has returned – 18C and above. Sadly, Sarah and Ben were in rainy London but Bex and I had a great time; a long walk on Saturday morning through the nicest and quietest streets of the old city.

We found a beautiful doll’s house shop where the miniature details extended down to tiny newspapers and racks and miniscule umbrellas and cakes. We then dropped in at our favourite cheese shop (run by Scotswoman Katherine McLoughlin) and meandered down for lunch at Txakolin, which remains our tapas venue of choice.

It was also a good weekend for old and new. Old staples - Boadas for cocktails and Jamboree for live music (last night was Cuban rumba singer Xiomara Laugart, for a measly 12 euros) - and new finds - Dostrece in the Raval for late night copas and Arroseria Xativa, 10 mins walk from where we live, for the best paellas/rice dishes in town.

And tonight? Eto’o and Messi are back for Barca at the Camp Nou.

It doesn’t get much better than that …

UPDATE: just back from the game. they won 2-0 and looked pretty sharp indeed. Messi ran around for 20 mins and started to look the business. no eto'o yet.

biggest cheer of the night was for Barca's basketball team beating Real Madrid in the Spanish cup final in Malaga. Basketball is the second most important component of Barca bu it's fair to say that there would have been a smilar cheer had victory been chalked up in any other club sport such as indoor football, hockey or baseball, or indeed in any event where there is a winner and loser eg tiddlywinks, donut eating ...

'Madrid, cabrón, saluda al campeón ... ' as folk round here like to say ...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Fiestas aren't just for summer

We were walking last night through Gracia (one of Barcelona's more Bohemian neigbourhoods) after watching Flags of Our Fathers (v recommended if a little bloody in parts) when we came across one of the district's largest squares packed with people, a huge bonfire in the middle and knots of people barbecuing sausages and steaks all around.

It was, we found out today, la Fiesta Sa Pobla, which apparently began some years back as a cultural interchange with Majorca. Why they fixed it for late January who knows. But it did get everyone out on the streets on a cold saturday night ...

Adios, porteras

La Vanguardia today has a nostalgic look at the decline of the portera - the apartment block door men and women. 40 years ago there were 11,000 of them, today the numbers are down by 75%. Electronic security systems and the advent of working mothers have been the main causes.

Many blocks, like our old one, now only have live-out porteras who work mornings, Monday to Friday. Our new block, altogether grander, has the magnificent Jose who works 8-8 on weekdays, with the traditional long break for lunch and siesta between 2-5pm when he pops into his flat on our premises.

Smartly suited while on duty, Jose handles all the deliveries, takes all the rubbish out, polishes the handle of the big front door (literally), sorts the post, helps take the shopping up and liaises with the many live-in chicas (maids) and visiting workmen. A committed Barca fan, he also leaves his copy of the Sport newspaper for all to read when he has finished with it. At weekends he is replaced by another portera, as are the others on the street, who seems to be very second division and possibly not unaquainted with the joys of alcohol.

We wouldn't do without Jose. But it has to be said that for an awful lot of the day he has very little to do and plenty of time to read La Vanguardia and Sport.

One day no doubt the flat owners of the building will look at their community service bill and wonder whether Jose might do fewer hours or even have the security part of his job done by the closed circuit TV system which is already in place. But let's hope that doesn't happen for a while.

The furs are out

It's chilly - hardly Arctic and still very sunny - but at least it is cold enough for the good ladies of Turo Parc to get their furs out after the exceptionally mild winter. And they have done so in droves; I counted at least six on the way to the paper stand this morning. There are two or three fur shops around hear and neither they or the wearers seem at all worried about being attacked by the anti-furistas as would be the case in the UK. And very fine they look too; these two dears are just on their way back to their flat for a nice cup of tea and a pastry after a none-too-taxing stroll around the park.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A big weekend for football

Today Liverpool vs Chelsea which saw the Roman Empire further disintegrating. Great stuff.

Tomorrow its Arsenal vs United at 5pm followed by a very quick dash down Avenida Diagonal to the Camp Nou to watch Barca play Gimnastic of Tarragona, a team that thrilled every Catalan last year by winning promotion after 50 years and will break their hearts by going straight down this year; they have won just one of their first 18 games.

Gimnastic are 13-1 against to win the game. Pretty good odds in a two horse race until you consider that they lost the last away game with Barcelona 10-1 back in 1948.

The end of the Indian summer?

It was around 67F today and yet again beautifully sunny - the latest in an Indian summer that has lasted for almost four months. Beautiful for us, disastrous for the ski slopes.

The forecast is for a big dip in temperatures and rain. We all need it and hopefully it will bring some snow for Ben's school ski trip. We shouldnt worry too much- spring is not far away ...

What's in your paper?

Spanish newspapers, like those elsewhere, are facing falling sales and the drift to the web. But they are fighting it in some rather intriguing ways.

Extras are big things here, but rather different from the give away DVDs and CDs you find in British papers. I find those rather strange ways of getting people to papers. They are expensive, require large sums of TV advertising to promote and seem to have little long-term effect. If you buy The Times only because you like its 40 Diva Hits CD you’re not likely to buy it again.

Here you have to work for your extras, either by collecting coupons day by day or ponying up some extra dough. Last Sunday, for example, you could have had the following:

La Vanguardia – a very fine stainless steel kitchen ladle, part of a 12-piece weekly set. Four coupons from papers during the week plus 50 cents. I am collecting these religously.

El Periodioco - A free album for historic photos of Barcelona. The trick being that you have to buy the paper every day for two months to get the pictures to fill the album

El Pais - The first in a series of Jazz CDs at €1 with the rest twice a week at €5.

ABC – The first in a series of kids' DVDs, €5 each.

The sports papers are not excluded. One of the two papers that follow Barca here is offering the ‘authentic’ Barca jacket and the other one the ‘real’ one. Either way you need something like 28 coupons to go and get one.

Some of these offers are fairly upscale. You can get a volume of the Larousse encyclopaedia with La Vanguardia every week and from tomorrow, a CD and book set on the great operas of the world. Papers here still have some notion of trying to better their readers rather than just feed them pap about Big Brother.

As a result the newsagents of Barcelona sometimes resemble junk shops with CDs, books and egg whisks. But it does seem a better way of engendering loyalty than just giving away endless DVDs …

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The elements of a perfect weekend in Barcelona

  1. Peerless weather - blue skies, sun, 16C all weekend
  2. A holiday weekend - three kings - so no shops open
  3. saturday morning walking along the Passeig de les Aigües in the Collserola hills above the city
  4. saturday afternoon on the beach in town
  5. saturday evening watching another Powell Pressburger classic I know Where I'm Going
  6. And then catching the 2nd half of Zaragoza - Seville, one of the best games of the season
  7. Sunday morning with the papers on an outside table at the Bar Sandor in Plaza Francesc Macià, "sin duda la mejor terraza de Barcelona."
  8. Sunday afternoon cycling along the Diagonal cycle path to Parc Cervantes along with a 1,000 children trying out their new bikes
  9. Then a great FA Cup Tie watching Henrik Larsson score his first goal for United. How they miss him here.
  10. to wit, Barca could only draw a nasty fixture at Getafe, sans Eto'o, Messi, Ronaldinho, Deco and more
  11. But Real Madrid lost
  12. er, that's it ....

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Dear Three Kings

It is Three Kings on Saturday, which is when all good Spanish children get their real presents. Forget Christmas Day, this is the big one.

All this week La Vanguardia has been printing a selection of letters to the kings from children where they specify what they want and why. They are cute as hell. I especially like this one from Miguel, 6, who starts off pleading for his baby brother.
I'd like it if you bring Sergio lots of games, although he has been very naughty.

OK. enough about naughty Sergio. Now me:

I've been very good and I'd like a book on the planets, a batman, a robot, a remote control car, a remote control motor bike, a Spiderman, a Superman, a sword and a videogame.

Some good news

1) The number of deaths on Spanish roads dropped 10% last year - including a 15% drop from when a UK style points system was introduced in July.

2) Cava sales have recovered to previous levels after being hit in 2005 by the prissy metropoltian elite who took umbrage at Catalonia's new autonomy charter. Which shows they're either too feeble to make a boycott stick or they like cava too much.

Buried among the storms and the New Year

was the news that ETA - allegedly in peace talks and having declared a ceasefire - let off a huge car bomb at Madrid on Saturday which meant that two innocent Ecuadoreans never made it into 2007.

As the La Vanguardia columnist put it today:

ETA has now eliminated two dangerous enemies of the Basque people. That just leaves six billion people on earth.

Nice work guys.