The Catalan Referendum – people want the right to vote

Catalan, referendumIt is a rainy grey day in Cornwall and I am sitting down to write here after a very long pause.

What has forced me back to the computer?  What has broken the spell of the writer’s block that has hung like those Cornish clouds over my blog?

Today I am watching scenes in Catalunya that are bringing tears to my eyes.

There is a referendum due on October 1st. Have you heard about it?  Perhaps if you follow the news from Catalunya you will know that the Catalan people want to vote to say if they want to separate from Spain or to stay. You may even have noticed that the Spanish central government has banned this referendum and said it will not be allowed to happen.

But do you know what is going on today?  Raids, arrests, threats, interference in a peaceful democratic process which is bullying of the worst kind.

There are no attempts by the Spanish government to discuss, negotiate or try to find a peaceful resolution.

  • First Catalan politicians tried to change the constitution to create equality between all autonomous communities.   Refused
  • Then they tried to negotiate with the Spanish government to create a fairer financial arrangement.    Refused
  • They organised a consultation in 2014 to ask if Catalan people wanted independence. A referendum was banned by the Spanish government and even the consultation was not officially permitted to take place.    Banned
  • Charges were brought against the organisers of the ‘Consultation’ and the then President has been banned for two years from political life as a result. Banned

Some news in English continues to speak of ‘Catalan separatists’ as if they are a strange vocal group of nationalists who can be seen waving flags and shouting slogans. Others are more condescending and try to convince the reader that those who want the right to vote are angry left-wingers who want to cause trouble. More sympathetic voices may explain that there is a long history to this movement and that it is partly caused by the refusal of the Madrid government to negotiate or discuss the many grievances that people in Catalunya have about their treatment – financial, cultural and social – since the beginnings of democracy in Spain.

But from all that I know and have experienced these people are just people – hundreds of thousands of people. Not activists or nationalists or trouble-makers or extremists. Ordinary people with their families, their workmates, their neighbours and their friends.  People like you and me who want to vote because they have been pushed too far into a corner with no other option but to want to leave the entity called Spain.

Can we call it democracy when some regions are treated differently from others?

Is it democracy to favour some areas with funding and investment and deliberately deprive others (Catalunya for example) of proper roads, schools, health services? When Catalunya pays more in taxes than other areas but receives not just a shoddy return but a return which is intended to act as a punishment.

Punishment for what?  For being a wealthy area, for being Catalans with a strong and different culture, for having been strongly and bravely republican in the Civil War and its aftermath?

I believe that democracy allows people to vote and to have their voices heard. The referendum is only asking people what has been a question in the hearts of many for years.

“Do you want Catalunya to be an independent country in the form of a republic?”

But this question is seen as illegal.

The police are right now detaining officials in the Catalan government. They are raiding offices, confiscating written documents. The finances of the Catalan government have been taken under control by Madrid. Mayors from hundreds of towns have been harassed and threatened with arrest.

People are thronging the streets in Barcelona and calling for the right to vote.

And we who are looking on from outside, from the UK, or Europe or North America or anywhere else in the world, we need to be witnesses to this threat to democracy, to this bullying and violence. We are watching and need to send our support.

Pep Guardiola, the former coach of Barcelona Football Club said, “We are just asking that people be allowed to vote for a better life”

I say that the moment has come to stand up for democracy, for peaceful negotiation, for respectful discussion and for international support to those who want to vote.

One last thing I want to say is this. There are many people who love Barcelona – who have visited the city and enjoyed the Ramblas and the tapas and the beach. Perhaps the city has stolen your heart as it did mine.  But if you love Barcelona then you must support the people of Catalunya in their struggle to be free of an extremely oppressive and repressive regime. We cannot just be tourists who take what we want and then ignore the real life of those who live in that country. Please do one thing to send support.

Tweet your support with hashtags like #Catalandemocracy. Write something on Facebook to draw attention to what is happening today. Share this post if you feel inclined. Email the EU Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker as I did or write to the newspapers.  Or if you are in Barcelona then go and join the protests or offer to be an observer at the referendum.

Let’s stand alongside the Catalans today.

 

 

Photo credit: keith ellwood via Foter.com / CC BY

 

My Fantastic Catalan Sausages

I suddenly had the urge to write here.

It has been too long but I was wondering whether to continue or just stop.

I do still have quite a lot to say about life post Catalunya and of course there is the interesting sensation of being in my home country while my Catalan man is learning the ropes. I may be physically in Cornwall but a part of me is still in Catalunya, keeping that connection alive. I was planning to keep writing but when someone commented that maybe I now need to change the blog title, something in me sort of withered, as if perhaps I am no longer entitled to write under this name.

Do you know what I mean?  Have you done that?  Allowed outside opinion to deflate you?

Then I found this comment in my spam folder and it made me laugh. I want to share it here just before I delete it for ever.

Count me among the distraught souls who miss your fantastic Catalan sausages. The fennel flavour and the half salami’ taste made them truly exceptional. I am now condemned to wander the earth in torment. Having tasted Heaven once and now lost it, life seems no longer worth living . Please, please bring them back. I crave redemption!

So, just in case there are some of you wandering the earth in torment because you have heard nothing from the Catalan Way for months, here is my new post.

Reverse Culture Shock

I have only recently discovered this is ‘A Thing’

When you have lived abroad and then you come back home to a place that you have missed and kept alive in your heart, sometimes it isn’t quite how you imagined it would be.  All around you is the familiar landscape, the people and the shops, the language that you can speak effortlessly. But something has changed. Partly you, and partly them.

People have been living quite happily without you and especially if they felt a bit miffed when you left, they are apt to let you know that you are not indispensible. I have a friend who regularly ‘forgets’ to tell me about events and when I asked her why she replied “Oh we got used to you not being here”

Changes within you mean that you respond to life in a slightly different way. This can give a feeling of awkwardness as you fail to slot back into your old familiar routines.

It can be hard to talk about your past experiences lest it sounds like bragging. “When I was in Catalunya blah blah blah..”  So you learn to keep quiet and then feel that a large chunk of your life has mysteriously slipped down the plug hole.

It is so comfortable to be back in a well-loved and familiar place. You can settle down to watch the BBC news, eat in restaurants that serve vegetarian food as if it is normal, meet up with friends and how amazing – you understand everything that is said.

But, there is always something slightly askew.  And you have a horrible feeling that it is You!  It is subtle but disturbing. Like looking through a lense that is almost but not quite right. You feel like an outsider. You question yourself about how to behave and how to fit back in. Things have changed and because you weren’t here to change with them, you feel you are always caught on the wrong foot.

I found this list of things that people have described feeling when they return home after a time away

  • Boredom
  • No one wants to listen
  • You can’t explain
  • Reverse homesickness
  • Relationships have changed
  • People see ‘wrong’ changes
  • People misunderstand you
  • Feelings of alienation
  • Inability to apply new knowledge and skills
  • Loss/compartmentalisation of experience

Yes. I know those feelings.

On top of which people often ask you how it feels to be back.  I have to decide what sort of answer they are looking for. Do they want me to say it is 100% wonderful and I will never stray away again?  Do they really want to know?

And now there are a whole new set of people in a foreign land who have been left and who I want to keep in touch with but who I know are also getting on with their lives, perfectly happily, without me.

It is a weird floaty feeling.

Perhaps I just need to enjoy it. Rootless and more alone than before. At least I am free.

As for the sausages….I have now swopped them for a Cornish toasted teacake in the company of our lovely dog Zero. Cornish tea

Artur Mas Resigns – who?

One strange thing about leaving Catalunya and coming to live in the UK is that suddenly Artur Mas is totally absent from the television news.

Goodbye!
Goodbye!

‘Who is Artur Mas’ you may ask.

He is President of the Catalan Autonomous Government.

Or was.

After elections in September the result was not clear and discussions have been going on between the pro-independence parties in order to form a government and elect a new leader.

Today he has announced that he is standing down and someone else will be the main spokesperson for Catalunya.  Thanks to the internet I am able to follow the fascinating twists and turns of Catalan politics and I have been watching with interest the negotiations in the last three months as they tried to find an agreement between the various parties who are pro-independence and who together won a majority in the September elections.

The election was widely seen as an opportunity for Catalan people to show their public support (or not) for the creation of an independent nation.

Perhaps they would vote to split off from Spain!

They did vote overwhelmingly for independence parties but the agreed pact for this election brought together people with very different political perspectives . Artur Mas is the leader of Convergencia which is a liberal but fairly traditional Catalan party. At the other end of the spectrum is CUP, a small left-wing party which suddenly won more seats than ever before. They want to create a more democratic system, making decisions from the ground up through a system of local assemblies.

Artur Mas wears a smart suit. David Fernandez, the leader of CUP always appears in a tee-shirt.

We need to talk about this!

 

Decisions decisions

By a trick of fate, although they are a small party, CUP found themselves in the powerful position of being able to decide  who would be the new President.  Half of them wanted to support Artur Mas and half didn’t. This led to deadlock. They spent three months talking and consulting and a few days ago finally announced that they would never support Artur Mas for the top position. Some people were furiously angry that a small party would threaten the independence movement only because they refused to back the current leader. Others admired them for keeping their word that they would not sell out to the conservatives.

It’s been an exciting week if you are just watching from the sidelines. An extremely frustrating and stressful week if you are in the midst of the fray.

I imagine Catalan TV has been talking about little else but meanwhile here in the UK I have just switched on BBC News and they didn’t mention it at all.

It’s one of the lessons of living abroad – things that appear super-important to one person are fairly insignificant to another.  Where we stand may seem to be the centre of the universe but take a step to one side and you find that everything looks totally different. Of course we are all inter-connected and the breath of a butterfly in Catalunya will ripple across Europe in the end to touch us in Cornwall.

But….taking a deep breath and getting perspective on all of our troubles and worries is a worthwhile exercise.

When I travelled back to Catalunya in October just after the pro-independence election results I was wondering if there would be trouble on the streets as the Spanish government would want to repress any move to secede from the state.

Would there be tanks on the streets of Barcelona? Spanish politicians had made threats.

But of course all was quiet, talking was the order of the day and it continued through the December Spanish election which also ended in a muddle of indecision. They will also need a pact to form a new government.

This year should be interesting.

Apologies for any errors in my description of what is happening – I’m no expert but I do find it very interesting. And I do know a lot of people who really really want Catalunya to be an independent state – it is not a feeling that is going to disappear unless something hugely different happens in the way Spain is run.

  • Will the newly formed Catalan government declare independence?
  • What will Artur Mas do next?
  • Will the Spanish central government try to cool the passion for independence by negotiating new powers or even decentralising Spanish powers?
  • Will CUP disappear into the background now that they have lost credibility?

Any ideas?

Can I Come Home Now?

It is almost three months since I last wrote here.

I can’t  blame it all on Christmas so I suppose it was just me not knowing how to write about the weird experience of being back here in Cornwall, yet in such a different life.

We managed to move into the main house at the end of October and got stuck-in to painting walls and finding places to put everything.

Just as life started to feel a little normal and calm…..we decided to get a dog.

sennen beach, border colllie
Sennen Beach – collie paradise

On November 15th we went up to Surrey to view a young collie who had arrived in the Val Valgrays rescue centre from Spain of all places. How strange is that?

It all happened so quickly and I know we made a lot of mistakes like, not finding out if he was good with cats (not) or asking if he was used to being in a house (from his anxious chewing the first few weeks I think he wasn’t) but after a very short introduction we ended up driving back to Cornwall with Zero, a Spanish border collie.  Some kind of instinct leads you on but it’s a big decision and I don’t know how rational it was – more emotional really.

All the time I had planned to spend on organising life, preparing for work, reconnecting with friends, writing the blog was immediately totally swallowed up by the need to bond with and find ways to live with Zero.

He’s lovely of course.  He is a good one.  We were lucky.  And I am walking much more than I have since the Camino.

He stops me worrying too much about what next?  Everyone wants to know how Pep is coping with his first Cornish winter but really he seems ok.   I however am reeling from the shock of finding myself back in Cornwall, with no set routine, in my new/old house, with changed friendships, in the endless rain.

And the boot is now on the other foot – I am the one in my home country, speaking my language, with responsibility to help someone feel at home. You’d think I would know how to do it after my experience in Catalunya. But interestingly, it isn’t that easy.

Be open, share everything, don’t try to control everything, be patient!    I am trying.

Lovely Cornwall – beautiful, fresh, wild, friendly, ancient, stormy, mystical, familiar.

IMG_8777

I am here again.

What now?

Two Balnearis in Catalunya

I have never done this before and I doubt if I will again, but I went to two balnearis on one day!

BalneariI arranged to meet a friend in Caldes de Montbui as I wanted to visit the new municipal balneari at Plaça de Pau Surell.

She arrived late when I was almost finished so we went on to bathe together at Broquetas which I have written about before but was very happy to visit again.

I won’t do two in one day again.  Later that night I came down with a terrible cold. I think I did a bit too much cleansing!  These places are powerful.

Balnearis of Catalunya

As you may know I am doing a survey of the Catalan Balnearis  which are not well known outside the area. There are people who live here who also don’t know about them or how to go about visiting them.

There is a lot of information on the internet but it is generally very poorly translated into English. Here is an example from the Caldes tourist information:-

The spa tradition of Caldes de Montbui date very old as in Roman times was a spa town founded about hot springs that gush

However it is quite a good way of describing it – hot springs that gush – yes that is the wonderful miracle of these spas or balnearis as they are known here.

I am going to concentrate on the Catalan town of Caldes de Montbui because they have an especially rich history of mineral spas and a fountain where the gushing can be seen and felt – but don’t touch it – the water comes out at 76 degrees centigrade!

IMG_0079

Where is Caldes de Montbui?

It is about 30 km from Barcelona and is not on a train line but you can get there by bus or by car. It is one of my favourite Catalan towns and is well worth the effort – not just for the spas, but because I think the medicinal waters have a healing effect on the people who live here and it is very friendly and relaxed.

How many Balnearis are there?

Unless there are some secret ones which I haven’t yet discovered (which wouldn’t surprise me at all as I imagine people have the mineral waters flowing right into their homes) there are four balnearis in Caldes.

Broquetas, Vila de Caldes, Victoria and the ‘new’ one at El Safareig.

I have visited all four and hope you can visit one day to enjoy the fabulous healing and luxurious pleasure of bathing in mineral waters.  Here I will describe just El Safareig and Broquetas. The other two will follow later.

El Safareig

IMG_8309A few years ago I went to an art festival in Caldes called Miau which centred on the places where the mineral waters are available for everyone to enjoy. There are places called Safareig which were traditionally used for washing clothes and many generations of women have spent time there chatting and cleaning, and breathing in the minerals. And there are places to bathe.

One of the exhibitions was in an old dilapidated neglected safareig which was full of rubbish, forgotten, and covered in graffiti. We were invited to write down our dreams on one of the walls.  I wrote mine on the far wall in the photo above!

Here is one of the other safareigs used to this day.

IMG_0084And here is the view from this wonderful new place to go and bathe.

IMG_8313It  has been totally renovated and reopened as a place to take the waters. It is simple, beautiful, and priced so that everyone can come. I heard that the vision to reopen this place came directly out of the art exhibition of Miau. And especially an American woman artist called Charity Blansit. It was called Santa Esperança before and has a wonderful position between the allotments of Caldes and the church.

Follow this link for some more photos and information

There is a long slim pool of water with the jet bubbles at one end.Yes you have to share it with other people but everyone was very quiet and they only allow in a certain number every hour. I felt fine being there by myself.

It overlooks the vegetable gardens zone of Caldes with the mountains in the distance. On a warm day it would be good to sit out here.

IMG_8306The water pours in at a very hot temperature into a bath where they warn you not to bathe – but thankfully as this is not nanny Britain, they do not fence it off in any way. I suppose it must be mixed at this point with cooler water and then it flows into the long pool.

IMG_8310I took only a bathing costume and flip flops. You don’t need a bathing hat. I bought a paper towel which was ok but next time I would take my own.

It cost 5 euros for an hour.

Totally fabulous and if I lived in Caldes I would be there every week.

To reserve a place go to http://www.visiteucaldes.cat/safareig-termal/or you can go there directly and see if they have space. It is behind the church.

 

Broquetas Balneari

This is one of the old modernist balnearis that is a pleasure to walk around in your dressing gown,  feeling you are inside a historical setting.

IMG_5115It is right in the centre of Caldes de Montbui, opposite the famous Lion fountain

IMG_5119The Romans loved it here.

IMG_8323I have been there twice before and enjoyed it every time.

It is not that easy to understand the booking system, even speaking and understanding Catalan as I do.

I usually ask for a ticket for a circuit but in this hotel there are so many choices that I think the best way to book is for a bateig. (bat-edge)  Bateig means christening and in this case means you have a bath in a large pool and then two treatments of your choice.

However, we arrived rather late for this so we ended up having just the bath in the pool. This cost 31 euros for two people and also includes the option of swimming in the outdoor pool which is also mineral waters.

IMG_8330Here you need bathing costume, flip flops, towel, no hat required but a dressing gown is essential for walking between rooms and you can either bring one or hire one for 6 euros.

St Thomas le Bain
One of my early spa experiences

For me bathing in the mineral waters of Catalunya is a spiritual experience. It is healing, relaxing, softening, centring. I feel connected to the earth and to all the people who have used these magical places over the centuries. All the balnearis are different and bring different energies to the surface. The waters have been on a long journey down to the deep places of our planet, taking on minerals and heat as they flow, and then they surge up in very special places like Caldes, where the waters gush.

To finish I must just way a few words about Caldes.  This is a very friendly place. People seem relaxed and happy. We went for a beer and tapas at a local bar and there was a man playing cello outside the church. Many people stopped to listen and to drop in a few coins. The music was soothing and beautiful.  Every time I have visited there has been something special to enjoy.  My recommendation to everyone – whether you are a visitor or a resident – come to spend some hours in Caldes and even better, take the waters.

If you would like more information about the balnearis then please do contact me here. I am happy to give more detailed advice and suggestions and am planning to write a leaflet about the spas which will tell you all you need to know in order to plan a visit to one.

If you do a search here on the blog for ‘balneari’ you will be able to find lots more information.

Do let me know if you have visited a balneari here in Catalunya. What was it like for you?