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.