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?

Questions about the Camino de Santiago

Writing about the Camino is turning out to be harder than I expected.  I don’t normally get writer’s block but something has stopped me up till now.

So let me write something quick and easy tonight – right now – without worrying too much about it or trying to get it ‘right’.  I’m going to answer a few questions that people have asked me, dealing with practicalities. Let’s see what comes out.

Where did you sleep?

Camino
there were three people snoring in this room

All along the Camino there are albergues, hostels run either by the church, by the local councils, or by private individuals. The private ones are slightly more expensive but only by a few euros. Generally you could expect to sleep in an albergue for 6-8 euros a night. Your bed will be in a dormitory unless you pay extra for a smaller room. The dormitories will have anything from 6 to 30 bunk beds and the rooms can be modern, clean and light or dingy, dark and cramped. It is best to get a lower bunk especially if you tend to need the toilet in the middle of the night.

Snorers are the main problem in albergues. We are not talking here about gentle snoring but it is almost inevitable that there will be at least one incredibly loud snorting, grunting, choking, room-vibrating snorer in every dormitory you visit. So you carry ear-plugs and you try to get to sleep before they do, and you practise loving-compassion and you accept that some nights you will be tossing and turning.

HOT TIP :  push the earplugs deep into your ears

How easy is it to get vegetarian food on the Camino?

Camino food
Albergue Verdi
Camino food
San Bol Albergue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not easy in most places but the bigger cities have greater variety of food. Every day there is tortilla – a thick omelette with potato and onion. But this is often what you eat at lunch time or in a walking break. You have to find something else in the evenings or just have tapas. Many but not all albergues have kitchens but remember that if you want to cook for yourself you may have to buy excess food and leave it behind.

HOT TIP :  making friends on the Camino means that you can share cooking in the evenings so a bag of rice or pasta will do for 10 people and a new bottle of oil will be useful for everyone not just you.

The best food I had was in Albergue Verdi in Hospital de Órbigo. The volunteers who work there were professional chefs and all the food was vegetarian and often grown in the garden outside. And we had a delicious soup at the Albergue at San Bol at the beginning of the Meseta.

Was your backpack hard to carry?

Camino backpack
All I need is on my back

 

Absolutely not at all.

I am a professional lazy walker and often rely on Pep to carry things when we go out hiking. I always imagined that because I have asthma it would be too hard to also carry a heavy bag. But on the Camino I carried my 7kg pack every day and hardly ever felt it to be a burden. On the one day it was uncomfortable, someone suggested I empty and repack it. This redistribution of weight transformed it from a heavy load to a feather light friend. I loved having all my stuff with me and enjoyed feeling I was carrying my own things. This was part of the freedom I felt – all I needed was on my back.

Did you meet interesting people?

Pelegrinos
Pilgrims but not walkers on the Camino

On the first part of the Camino which we started at Pamplona, I felt quite shy about meeting people. I was with my little group and although we didn’t usually walk together we had company for lunch and at night. It took me time to get used to the easy-going chatty atmosphere of the Camino. By the time we reached Santo Domingo de la Calzada I had met a few people I felt easy with and from then on I found more and more friends.

Of course it’s easy for extroverts but don’t worry if you are more introvert, people are friendlier and more relaxed as the road winds on. I remember the couple who walked hand in hand the whole way – they were returning to walk the Camino together after meeting there the year before. I remember the woman from Peru who was carrying her father’s ashes to Finisterre because he had died before he could walk the Camino himself. There was a young shy German lad who held back from a communal dinner so I suggested we sit together because I also felt awkward at these times. Everyone started singing popular songs like Blowing in the Wind and suddenly his amazing and powerful voice rang out over the dinner table. He was a professional tenor.   I promised to sing him a song in Catalan when we next met. But we never did meet again.

Camino Food
Singing at dinner

People come and go. We all walk at different speeds and unexpected things happen. Just as you get to know and like someone, you say goodbye one day fully expecting to see them again and then, they disappear over the horizon.

HOT TIP : If you meet people you like then get their emails or Facebook details early on and don’t assume you will find them again the next day.

HOT TIP : Don’t rush getting to know people. A lot of people talk about having a Camino Family but it all takes time to settle down. It is a long walk – there’s lots of time.

What problems did you face?

Of course there are also people you don’t like too much or who you find irritating. This was one of the special things about the Camino for me. I really tried to open to everyone and to notice myself when I started judging others. When I could remember to see everyone as if they were offering me a mirror to my own personality then I felt much easier. The main people that drove me mad were those invisible unknown women who left toilet tissue along the path after they had stopped to pee and those who threw their banana skins on the edge of the road. It was possible to walk for hours while fuming about this but when I noticed myself spoiling my own day in this way, I got out my plastic gloves and a bag and began to pick up all that I could see. I became the litter warrior and it turned into one of my happiest days.

Camino Warrior
Camino Warrior

HOT TIP : Even if you think banana skins and orange peel are organic, they actually take two or three years to decompose so it is still litter and leaves a lasting blot on the beautiful landscape.  Take a bag and carry your rubbish.

I had many other problems including my encounter with a bed-bug, my blisters, and the tendinitis that eventually stopped my walk.  I felt very emotional a lot of the time and had days when I laughed, cried and sang in quick succession. In my memory though the strongest thing that stays with me is the feeling of incredible happiness to be walking, to be free, to be out in nature, and to be doing something that I have dreamt of for so many years.

Camino
What I remember is joy

 

 

 

Living in Catalunya 6 – what’s it really like? Michael

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live abroad?

This is one in a series of interviews with people who came from other countries to live in Catalunya.  I asked them the same questions that people often ask me to see what different stories emerge. You can read them here over the next weeks.

MICHAEL’S STORY

living in Catalunya
And remember that Catalunya is not Spain!

 

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m an English teacher living in Barcelona, married to a Catalan and bringing up our child here.

How long have you lived here?

13 years

Are you working here and if yes, what do you do?

Yes, I’m an English teacher.

Three favourite things about living here?

Enjoying my family, my life and being a parent here. Enjoying the climate and the virtually permanent sunshine. Eating good healthy food and the whole experience of shopping and cooking fresh food (the clichéd Mediterranean diet).

Three things you don’t like about life here?

Corrupt fascist politics, politicians and businessmen. Pickpockets and the lax laws that make it easy for them to operate with virtual impunity. Mass tourism and the failure of the the city authorities to prevent Barcelona city centre from becoming a theme park (or perhaps that is in fact their goal).

What do you miss most about your ‘home’ country?

Being closer to my parents and family, and not being able to be there for them in times of need. The countryside, national parks and the smells and senses of being immersed in them. Being able to visit places I love with ease and frequency (ie. I can still visit from here, but the time I spend when I’m there has a premium to it which means I have to prioritise and therefore never get to do some of the things I love).

Three things you have learned about yourself or life since living in Catalunya?

That I can make it here, survive a new way of living, and come to love it. Many things unrelated to having moved here, but more to do with greater experience, wisdom, family and parenting, and having the privilege of living with a child and sharing their experience of discovering their world. That I had to stop eating croissants, ‘cos my cholesterol went through the roof!

What language(s) do you speak in your daily life here?

English and Spanish, whilst receiving but not producing Catalan.

Do you plan to return to your native country and in what circumstances would you definitely want to go back?

If I go back it’ll be related to caring for my parents, but not really for any other reason.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving to this country?

Take it easy!  Don’t expect your own standards of efficiency or punctuality, equal opportunities (don’t exist) or health and safety (what’s that?). Give yourself more time than you expected to have to, to soak it all up and find your place here. Learn about Catalonia and remember that “Catalonia is not Spain” is not a tacky slogan, it’s a reality.  Enjoy the adventure!

 

Have you read all six interviews?  Were there any questions you would have asked these people about their experiences? Do let us know in the comments and I will try to do a follow-up later in the year.

This post is scheduled to be the final interview for the moment but I have some more people who would like to join in with their stories so perhaps later this year I will make space for some more. It would be interesting to hear from more men, and from people from different countries or who have been living here for many more years. Let me know if you would like to contibute.

Meanwhile, follow my posts by signing up to receive them directly to your inbox and for more photos and information about Catalunya, click LIKE on the facebook page.

Thank you so much for your support and for visiting my blog

 


 

Living in Catalunya 5 – what’s it really like? Oreneta

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in Catalunya?

Or just to move abroad?

This is one in a series of interviews with people who came from other countries to live here.  I asked them the same questions that people often ask me to see what different stories emerge. You can read them here over the next weeks.

living abroad

Oreneta’s Story

Please tell us a bit about yourself ?

I’m a Mom, a Sailor and adventurer, a traveller and a teacher. Oops, that’s most of it in one.  I love a challenge and I love to relax, though I don’t get to enough.

How long have you lived here?

8.5 years.

Are you working here and if yes, what do you do?

Whew! yes indeedy! I have 4 jobs here, mostly though I teach English and I parent and I wife.

Three favourite things about living in Catalunya?

People, weather/food tied.

Three things you don’t like about life here?

The economy, the politicians, the corruption (see 1 and 2)

What do you miss most about your ‘home’ country?

Friends, family, wider range of food cultures

Three things you have learned about yourself or life since living here?

Geez. I still stink at learning languages, I still have tremendous stamina (good thing too that) and I still love my husband, all good.

What language(s) do you speak in your daily life here?

English and Catalan

Do you plan to return to your native country and in what circumstances would you definitely want to go back?

At some point, probably, we return every year for 2.5 months, and would like to continue to do so. If the economy melts down here or the politics get too firey, we’d move on.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving to this country?

Make sure you’ve got your financial ducks all lined up, cause the job market is terrible.

Oreneta also writes a blog which you can see HERE

This is the first in a series of interviews which I will be posting over the next few weeks. While walking the Camino my plan is to add another interview each week and also send short updates from my phone on how the walk to Santiago de Compostella is going.

Sign up in one of the subscription boxes on this page to get all these posts delivered straight to your inbox.  More news from the Camino will be sent to The Catalan Way Facebook page so click a Like on there and you can follow my progress.

Are there any questions you would ask someone about what their life is like after moving to an new country?  Let us know in the comments and we will try to get some answers for an updated post later this year.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Ducklover Bonnie / Foter / CC BY-ND

 

Living in Catalunya 4 – what’s it really like? Helen

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in Catalunya?

Or just to move abroad?

This is one in a series of interviews with people who came from other countries to live here.  I asked them the same questions that people often ask me to see what different stories emerge. You can read them here over the next weeks.

living abroad
just in case you need to head for the hills

Helen’s Story

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’ve been here for 11 years with my partner and children, following my partner’s quest for lifestyle change. Thought I’d integrate once I mastered the language, didn’t realise how big culture is in the way we live and feel. I like the outdoors so love the chance to live outside more, but I hate the hot summers.

Are you working here and if yes, what do you do? 

Yes, run a small rural tourism business from our home. Volunteer with Age Concern in Spain (previously professionally employed in the same field). Give shelter to abandoned animals.

Favourite things about living in Catalunya? 

Diverse environments and mainly wonderful weather, going skiing in winter, not working 9 to 5, tactile culture and gentler, safer environments in which to bring up teenagers

Three things you don’t like about life here? 

Bureaucracy, managing culture differences and feeling like an outsider more often than not, having less real friends less often. The flipside of not working 9 to 5 – longer hours, difficult work/life balance and being less financially secure

What do you miss most about your ‘home’ country? 

Retailing- supermarkets with lots of choice and competitive pricing.  M&S, TK Max, boot sales and charity shops- but the odd visit deals with that; popping in to see friends and family, familiar landscapes

Three things you have learned about yourself or life since living here?

Life is short so trying new things and getting out of the comfort zone is worth it, maybe.  ‘Can do’ attitude definitely required as challenges abound.  Real friends and shared cultural references are really important to have from time to time. Recreating or rediscovering your identity takes a time.

What language(s) do you speak in your daily life?

English, Spanish and understand Catalan which is spoken to me a lot. Plus French and German for the business.

Do you plan to return to your native country and in what circumstances would you definitely want to go back?

Not really, but aware that practically, if you have health problems and not enough resources to pay for care, ensure you have a reliable advocate, this is not a good place to be. I guess if I had no family here, I might be persuaded to go back if my immediate family were there.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving to this country? 

Plan well, and assume you (and any partner) are mortal, so include that in your planning of eventualities.  Expect there to be at least as many challenges as opportunities, downs as ups etc.. Give yourself an escape route, in case it doesn’t work out.  Learn Catalan

Visit Helen’s web site for more information about the holiday cottages.

This is one in a series of interviews which I will be posting over the next few weeks while I am walking the Camino. When possible I will also send short updates from my phone on how the walk is going.

Sign up  on this page to get all these posts delivered straight to your inbox.  News from the Camino will also be sent to The Catalan Way Facebook page so click a Like on there to follow my progress.