Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

One dog and six puppies: be careful what you wish for

Por: | 14 de noviembre de 2014

Once upon a time there was an English woman living in Seville who dreamed of having a dog. But every where she looked she saw grey concrete, areas of dust passing themselves off as parks, and the sad sight of dogs crouching embarrassedly as they do their business on narrow pavements. And so the aforementioned English woman, sensibly decided not to have a dog or puppy, after all, dogs are meant for running through green pastures, bottoms in air and noses to the ground as they follow the scent of a rabbit or some such wild creature of the region.

Sometimes though she played at owning a dog, looking after a furry friend for a weekend while its owner was away, or taking others for walks when their owner couldn’t. But this just further acted to cement her position, until one fateful day when on just such an occasion of walking an incapacitated friend’s dogs, she came across a terrified, disorientated stray bitch, wandering lost on one of the main thoroughfares circumnavigating the city centre. What to do? Turn a blind eye and walk on? Or pick the little thing up, tuck her under her arm and save her from getting squished by the passing traffic.

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You may have gathered by now that I am that woman. And as I’m writing this piece, it’s not difficult to figure out the decision I made. What you won’t guess however is how I went from picking up one little dog from the streets of Seville, who is incidentally called Sunday, to now having 7 of them in my two bedroom flat. You see, dear sweet Sunday, little more than a puppy herself at just one year old, was about month pregnant, and after much soul searching and attempts to track down any owners, I decided to bite the bullet, give Sunday a roof over her head, and somewhere warm and safe to have her puppies.

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Dog abandonment is a serious animal welfare issue in Spain. The social networks are rammed with animal shelters trying to find homes for every variety of canine who has found itself homeless and more often than not badly treated and neglected. Even those that are lucky enough to belong to a loving home, experience a very un-Anglo Saxon style of animal welfare, where leads are frowned on and running wild in public spaces and on the city’s streets is de rigueur. This laissez-faire style of dog discipline comes at a price, one being a greater likelihood to find yourself squishing a freshly laid dog poo as the owner is no where to be seen, or more seriously can lead to extra incidences of unwanted pregnancies as dogs are left to ´socialise´ with each other without any supervision from their owners.

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At just over a month since finding Sunday, my life has been transformed. No more lie-ins until 10am, if I want to find my flat puddle free, it’s a matter of pulling on my tracksuit bottoms, throwing on a coat and stuffing my pockets full of plastic bags with a view to pounding those cobbled streets until she’s done what she needs to do and I scrape up any left over evidence. You see dog walking has become a rather functional activity, I couldn’t understand it in the past when I saw uninterested looking owners wandering the streets without a particular destination. But now I get it, in darkness at 7am in the morning or indeed last thing at night, the last thing on your mind is a nice stroll, it’s more a matter of ´let’s get this over and done with´ so I can get on with my day or go to bed.

But it’s not all doggie doom. Thanks to Sunday, I’m now part of a whole community I didn’t know existed. For one I’m now ´intimate amiga´ with all the doggie walking fraternity, from the widowed grandmother who lives for her Yorkshire terrier to the working class couple from the corner shop who regale me stories of their bull mastiffs. And when you throw taking in an abandoned pregnant dog into the equation, I’m practically a local celebrity. And that’s without even mentioning the joy that this precious little creature has brought to my life, from her total adaption to co-habiting with me, the ubiquitous rousing welcomes whenever I’ve been away from home, even if it’s just for ten minutes, to the privileged front row seat to the birth of her six puppies with all the accompanying miracles of nature. I wouldn’t change a thing.

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But the fact of the matter is that I am an English woman, living in a two bedroom flat in Seville with a dog named Sunday and six week old puppies, all of whom need re-homing before Christmas.

So this blog post is a personal plea, please spread the word of my quest, it’s a tough one, but not impossible. Join my group, share it with friends, and help me find these little cuties loving homes.

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If you´re interested and want more information about the puppies, check out the group on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/661742927275811/

 

 

 

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And so the Catalans voted and the heavens didn’t fall, Artur Mas did not levitate above the Palau de la Generalitat, grow horns or perform miracles, Spain didn’t collapse and the Spanish Destroyer allegedly moored just off the Catalan coast did not rain down death and destruction on us all.

In fact, what was maybe most striking about the vote on the 9th of November was how boringly normal it all was, just like any old vote back in Britain.

Our polling station was situated just around the corner from the Palau de la Música in central Barcelona, a helpful reminder of both Catalan architectural ingenuity and - as the centre of a recent financial scandal - the fact that Catalan leaders can disappoint like the worst of them (a useful thing to keep in mind during any political process, I find).

The lead up to the vote had been so long and engrossing that I was expecting fireworks, fights and electoral fury. 

What I got instead was two tables of tired looking volunteers, a photographer and some flimsy paper ballot boxes. My intention of voting secretly went right out the window when I realised there were no booths or even shady corners to retire to. So, in best school child fashion, I screened my piece of paper from infringing eyes by use of some judicious elbows and made my choice.

I’m not going to tell you how I voted. But I will say that the decision wasn’t easy. Nor was it helped by the rather vague question posed.

The ballot asked: a) Do you want Catalonia to become a State? (Yes/No); if you answer yes, there is a second question: b) Do you want this State to be independent? (Yes/No)

I surely can’t be alone in thinking this question is rather rather unhelpful. For what, after all, is a state? There is, apparently, no working legal definition. So Catalonia could, as far as I understand, simply call itself a state with no one able to prove it isn’t.

Maybe this sounds like nitpicking. Maybe it is: a Yes / Yes vote is obviously a vote for an independent Catalonia. A No vote backs the status quo.

But I’m a pedantic Brit and, among all the people I’ve talked to about the Catalan vote, no one has been able to explain exactly what a Yes / No vote - backing a Catalan state that isn’t independent - would mean. A Federal Spain, maybe? Or Catalonia becoming equivalent to Scotland or Wales within the UK - that is a country within a country?

Perhaps this ambiguity is fitting. After all, the whole vote has rather been defined by such uncertainty. Did Catalonia hold a referendum on November 9? A consultation? A poll? A survey? 

I’m still not really sure, with language being batted forward and back between the Catalan and Spanish parliaments like a particularly depressing game of tennis.

As I left the polling station I was struck again by how mundane the whole process had been. And then the thought struck: isn’t that just how it should be?

One of my favourite campaign slogans in the run up to the vote was “Votar és normal” - to vote is normal. It perfectly sums up how many Catalans see the independence movement: not necessarily for or against but eager to exercise their right to decide their own future, as is normal in a democracy.

And this was how the vote felt for me: normal, boring even, with little to raise the heartbeat above a gentle skip. This was just another vote, on another Sunday in another mundane school hall, just like you’ve done before and will do so again.

But isn’t that just the point? Voting on our future is what we do in democratic Europe. That’s not scandal, revelation or impudence. It’s the way things are. Boringly - and wonderfully - enough.

 

Tapeando in Madrid

Por: | 07 de noviembre de 2014

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 It´s Saturday and I am preparing to go bar and restaurant hopping. In normal circumstances this would be just another weekend in Madrid for me. These, however, aren´t normal circumstances. I have decided to put myself in the hands of the professionals: I have signed up for an evening with the Madrid Food Tour. I have chosen their Tapas, Taverns & History Tour, currently boasting a whopping 296 five star ratings on tripadvisor.es. The company has carved out a reputation as the people to see if you want an introduction to Madrid and its fantastic food. As well as the evening tapas tour they have two daytime tours, visiting bakeries, traditional markets, specialty shops and other treats in Madrid. Having always been something of a night owl, I have elected the tapas tour.  

Before the tour starts I grab a quick caña with James Blick, a partner and guide for Madrid Food Tour. He is affable, engaging and full of interesting anecdotes. In the course of our thirty minute conversation a wealth of topics are covered from the civil war´s unexpected coffee-changing legacy to why Spanish nuns use almond floor when they are baking. His passion for Madrid shines through, never more than when lamenting the loss of one of his favourite seafood places to the chain Lizarran: “Local bars are the culture of Madrid. Lizarran isn´t.”

 The beer comes with a small sausage as a tapa.  It winks up at me from the table whist we talk. I´m starving but I resist the temptation. I am saving myself for the tour.

 At 7:20 I make my way the Plaza Isabel II to meet up with Debbie, our guide for the evening. Resplendent in a natty red bag, with matching red scarf and lipstick she makes an immediate good impression. We meet the rest of the tour-ists. A couple from England over to celebrate a 30th birthday, a couple from Amsterdam a couple of friends from Canada, and the lovely antipodean Leisha, who is on paparazzi duties tonight.

After brief introductions we repair to the Taberna Real. Good news for me as my stomach is rumbling mutinously. It´s a grand old place; a mighty chandelier hangs from the ceiling and a royal harp and other artifacts from the Spanish court help to set the scene. We begin with a glass of vermouth, followed by some delicious Campo Real olives grown just outside of Madrid.  Then the waiter brings over two plates of jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn-fed Iberian ham) and the tour has begun. The ham melts in the mouth whilst Debbie explains, amongst other things, the eating habits of your average Madrileño, how to spot Iberian ham, and why the word "tapa" might have it´s origins in the actions of a quick-thinking Spanish waiter.

We finish up and go for a walk through the streets of Madrid. We make our way to the Royal Palace, a nearby busker strums Neil Young´s Heart of Gold in a decent stab at an Canadian accent. Darkness is descending and the palace is beautifully lit. It makes for a formidable backdrop as we have a brief philosophical discussion on when a room is a room and when it isn´t. (Debbie explains that the palace is described as having anything from 2500 – 3200 rooms, with no-one apparently able to agree on a fixed number.)

Calle_del_Codo_(Madrid)_01We continue to wind our way through the streets passing the possible burial place of Velasquez and Madrid´s beautiful old council house and jail in Plaza de La Villa. A small detour down the fantastically named Calle del Codo (Elbow Street) takes us past a nunnery whose occupants, Debbie explains, have received special papal dispensation to make and sell biscuits.  

Our next port of call is a restaurant that specialises in mushroom tapas. As we walk in a waiter with a smart white suit and an air of gentle melancholy catches the eye. This may or not be because a portrait of a younger (if not chirpier) version of himself hangs from one of the walls. In the backroom a doleful fifty-something plays eighties hits on an old electric organ. His version of A-ha´s Take on Me is a personal highlight. It is, needless to say, a brilliant place.

The mushrooms, cooked with olive oil, parsley, garlic, lemon, salt and chorizo are dynamite and washed down beautifully with Tinto de Verano. (Red wine and gently flavoured soda water.) Before we leave Leisha grabs the opportunity to take some photos of the barstaff. In contrast to the waiter and organist they are all smiles and pose happily as Leisha snaps away.


After the mushrooms we cross the road to a family run bar that has been serving Madrileños since 1867. Two brothers, who could scarcely look less alike, serve us boquerones (unsalted anchovies) filleted and marinated by their mother. We drink a delicious dry white albarín and then follow up with some off-menu homemade meatballs.

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Soon enough it is time to move on to our next port of call. We pass through more of Madrid, including the restaurant where Goya once worked as a dishwasher. Debbie has been living in Madrid for four years and works as a food blogger. Experience she uses to deftly keep us entertained with a mixture of Madrid´s history and personal insights.

The penultimate stop is Casa del Abuelo. Their speciality is prawns fried with their own olive oil, garlic, guindilla peppers, parsley and salt. Like a lot of Spanish food it is simple, but delicious. It stands on the raw quality of the ingredients as much as the skill of the chefs. We drink a sweet slightly fortified red wine made with grapes from a vineyard owned and run by the propietators.  It initially seems an odd combination but turns out to be just what the doctor ordered.

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Finally we end in Casa Toni, a cosy bar in the heart of Sol. We take a well-earned seat. Debbie orders us some drinks and the food keeps on coming. Pimientos de Padrón, marinated pork, patatas bravas, sweetbreads and to finish some biscuits cooked my barefooted nuns in Jaen. It seems that Spanish nuns like to cook biscuits. We have a good-natured chat around the table and before we know it, it´s time to leave.

Astonishingly four and a half hours have passed. The time has flown by and I leave stuffed, satisfied and with a great new set of places, facts and stories for when friends and family come to visit. 

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I went to meet a very impressive woman this week: Sandra Seeling Lipski. She is the founder and director of the Evolution Film Festival which is held next week in Majorca.  The festival will feature movies and documentaries (long and short) in English or subtitled in English, which have been created by film makers from all over the world. Sandra was born in Berlin, grew up in Majorca and then moved to New York and then LA to study and then work professionally in the acting and film making industry.

So why did you decide to start a film festival back on your island? “When I started I was 27 and very naïve and I just did it. An innocent! This thought had occurred to me why isn’t there a film festival in Majorca? Why not, it’s the perfect place, it’s central in Europe, the connections to get here are amazing. I just thought: I’m just going to do it, and that’s pretty much what I did. I’d never even done an event before, I just had that feeling that I needed to do this. My parents live in Majorca, and my brother has a business here as well so I was coming here regularly anyway, so I thought why not just bring a bit my LA life with me?

“The first year went pretty well: we had around 450 guests. I thought nobody would come, but somehow these people found about it, and it was a very international audience. And then I started to have people contact me asking if we would be doing a second year, even I wasn’t sure. But then I thought, okay, let’s do it again, and we had 1500 guests. The positive response was just overwhelming. There was a real festival spirit. People would go to the cinema and watch the movies and then go to the bar afterwards and talk about the films. It’s a conversation that gets started, which I love. And then meet up again and talk over coffee at the free morning events that we do. We will be doing some at Rialto Living this year: directors come, actors come and you can talk to them and be in this very casual environment and meet people that maybe you have always wanted to talk to. So I created these little get togethers and brought all of these movies here and somehow it just blossomed.

Tone Adsero, Director of Hotel Cort, Esperanza Crespí and Sandra Seeling


It’s not easy to do something like this is it?
“Of course, there’s also been the point where I’ve thought, well maybe I’m going to have to quit as there’s not enough money and not enough help and this, and this, and this. But somehow, it kind of just wanted to happen again. We have a fantastic new graphic designer who has come on board who has helped us to revamp our new logo and look, and that has helped us to attract new private sponsors who are really important. This year we have Hotel Cort sponsoring the rooms for the film makers, they are making it possible for them to have accommodation whilst they are here. We have Mercedes who are doing all of the transport for us, Rialto Living who are hosting the Café con Cine mornings. The Ayuntamiento have given us twenty bus stops where we can put our posters. And we have a fantastic relationship with the people at Teatro Principal, and Cine Ciutat. They love us and support us, it’s pretty amazing. They love the event, that’s it is young people and that it’s fresh and new. I’m not there yet where I want it to be, I need to be able to have a budget to pay the people who work on the festival next year so we’re looking for 2015 sponsors.”

Helium, the Oscar winner for Best short film 2014, showing at the festival.

What’s the process? “I start to choose the movies in March, and then come over to Majorca in May and speak to the sponsors, and then I come back for the six weeks prior to the festival. And I also organise the Los Angeles edition of the festival which is terrific promotion for the island, it introduces the island to film makers who may come over here and shoot a movie.”

How do you choose the movies? “The first year we had about 100 submissions, the second 150 and this year we’ve topped out at 230 submissions. I watch them all and choose from the programme from this. In this year’s festival we have 43 films! We have feature films, short films and documentaries, so we have a bit of everything. It’s an international festival. We are going to show three movies from local Majorcan film makers: Pep Bonet, Toni Bestard and Nofre Moyà. The films fall under the theme of “Cultural Differences”, how our society treats senior citizens, our relationships between humans and animals and nature, the power of music and an extensive offer of genres including drama, comedy, suspense and musicals.   They are all unique, and forty of the films are premiering for the first time in Spain. I chose them because they are socially and environmentally relevant, that touch upon themes which are in the news right now. ”

Druid Peak. The festival's opening film. PHOTO CREDIT Evolution Film Festival
What can we do to help?
“We’ve created this festival for you, please talk about it, get involved, come to the screenings, tell other people about it, make it yours, it’s for you”.

There will be a “warm up screening” on Sunday November 2nd at Es Baluard. The festival officially opens on November 6th with a gala at Teatro Principal. The festival screenings are all at Cine Ciutat until November 10th. There will be three “Café con cine” meetings at Rialto Living on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the festival. You can see the full programme of the Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival and buy your festival tickets online at www.evolutionfilmfestival.com. Tickets are 5€ or you can buy a festival pass for the entire event for €45. To read more articles about people on the island visit www.mallorcastories.com. 

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only English language daily paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki. 

The big cat running out of lives

Por: | 29 de octubre de 2014

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For the iconic Iberian lynx, 2014 is already a record-breaker. Sadly, for the world’s most endangered wild cat, the landmark is nothing to celebrate. So far this year, 19 animals have been killed following collisions with cars, the highest annual total since records began.

Add to that a further 14 which suffered the same fate last year and an average of 1.5 are dying on Spanish roads every month. That represents a staggering 10% of the entire species (based on a recent global population estimate of 332).

The elusive creature favours dense woodland, and scrubland away from human activity, feeding almost exclusively on rabbits. But a 40% decline in its main source of prey due to disease has forced the cats to travel further afield in search of food. This has resulted in a greater number of lynx encountering vehicles on roads in Andalucía, where the species’ two known breeding populations live. It’s happening so frequently that road deaths have become the biggest cause of non-natural lynx mortality in Spain.

Conservationists claim the deaths are having a catastrophic effect on lynx numbers and have lobbied for road improvements aimed at protecting the felines. They have been highly critical of the Andalucían regional government, which they accuse of failing to fulfil its obligations under EU law.

Andalucía’s public works ministry, for its part, has pledged €1 million for the construction of specialised lynx crossings and for the upgrading of existing roadside fencing. The work, which has yet to start, must be completed by March 2017.

The regional government department is a partner in Life Lince, an EU-funded lynx conservation scheme, which aims to restore the cat to its traditional range across Spain and Portugal.

Today the species is restricted to the Sierra Morena and Doñana National Park, but once roamed large tracts of Castilla la Mancha and Extremadura, as well as Portugal.

But the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) blames authorities for a three-year delay in agreeing to improve four lynx-death ‘black spots’ on roads in Andalucía. The issue came to a head earlier this month when the campaign group wrote to the European Commission outlining its concerns. The letter states that Spain has a duty as a member state of the EU not to obstruct corridors that allow the geographical distribution of the Iberian lynx. It also accuses the regional government of failing to install crossings that allow for the safe passage of the lynx, and of not maintaining fencing.

“It is unacceptable that the European Commission is investing great efforts in the conservation of the lynx, through the largest project ever created, and that outcomes are being compromised because of the public works ministry,” said Juan Carlos del Olmo, secretary general of WWF Spain. “We have been demanding for some time that the necessary measures be urgently implemented so that the lynx and other protected species can cross highways safely,” he added.

Despite the recent decline, lynx numbers have increased steadily in recent years, from a low of 94 in 2002 to more than 300 in 2014, due largely to concerted conservation efforts. But the distinctive animal, which remains on a list of critically endangered species, faces an uncertain future.

Let’s hope the next record to be broken by this alluring creature is of an altogether more positive nature.

Picture credit: El País

Authors (Bloggers)

Jessica Jones. Hailing from the north east of England, Stockton-on-Tees native Jessica has had a passion for all things Hispanic from an early age. She has lived in and written about France, Chile, Spain and Germany and has been contributing to the Trans-Iberian blog since 2012, when she moved to Madrid after graduating from Durham University.@jessicajones590

Joseph Walker. A graduate of Leeds University, Joseph is a sports journalist based in Madrid, and has written on and covered a wide range of events, from the Champions League to Gibraltar’s first ever UEFA match and Spain’s national rugby team. He writes columns for several websites and will pen his thoughts on the latest goings on in sports-obsessed Spain. You can find him on @joe_in_espana

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Jeff Wiseman is an experienced journalist and comedy writer. He was formerly editor of ‘InMadrid’, a monthly English-language newspaper in the Spanish capital, and has contributed scripts and sketches for radio and television in the UK. Published his first book, ‘Shawley Nott: Comic Tales from England’s Strangest Village’, in 2013.

Billy Ehrenberg is an Journalism MA student at City University in London. He lived in Spain for three years, in Granada, Madrid and A Coruña, translating and teaching English. He has written for The Times, The Western Morning News and The Plymouth Herald in the UK and has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2013. He enjoys telling stories with numbers and infographics, data visualisations and general statistical tomfoolery. He tweets from @billyehrenberg

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisf3757

Eloise Horsfield is a writer and translator currently based in Seville. Her work has featured in various UK nationals including the Daily Telegraph and The Sun. Originally from London, Eloise cut her journalistic teeth at the Olive Press, an expat newspaper on the Costa del Sol. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @EloiseHorsfield

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