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.

Pep Guardiola: credit Maja Hitij AP
Pep Guardiola: credit Maja Hitij AP

Unless you’ve been trapped under a particularly tardy rock you will doubtlessly have heard that Pep Guardiola, Catalonia’s most loved son and Catalan of the year in 2009, is to take over the managerial reins at Manchester City next season. There will, I’m sure, be more than enough help from his ecstatic new employers to ease Pep’s path into his northern home. But as a Barcelona resident who once lived in Manchester I felt obliged to do my bit, helping Pep out with a few useful pointers as the Catalan’s Catalan trades the Teutonic swank of Munich for the rain-washed home of Joy Division.

1) The Rain

Manchester, as Txiki Begiristain may have pointed out as he tried to persuade Guardiola to take the Manchester City job, doesn’t actually get that much rain. In fact, if you look at the statistics, it only gets 810 mm of rainfall per year, just 5mm more than Munich.

But there are lies, damned lies and statistics and this is one of them. I’m not saying that this stat is wrong, per se, but the problem with Manchester is not so much the amount it rains, but the way.

That’s to say, Pep, you can bid goodbye to the dramatic tropical rain storms that hammer Catalonia, in favour of a constant, annoying drizzle. And when I say constant, I mean it: it rains roughly four days out of seven in Manchester and it feels like more. And if Pep’s a fan of barbecuing - something the endless personal profiles over the last few days have oddly failed to address - then he’s plain out of luck, as organising a barbecue in Manchester is akin to a game of rainy Russian Roulette.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Manchester and spent many happy years there. But it’s not called the Rainy City for nothing. Look at it this way: there’s a reason Manchester has produced so many world-beating bands when Barcelona hasn’t: in Barcelona you can go to the beach for about six months a year. In Manchester, tucking yourself up in a rehearsal studio laying down the doom-laden future of music helps keep you out of the rain.

2) The Football

Manchester, like Barcelona, is very much a football town, home to two of Europe’s preeminent teams, while watching football is an obsession for many Mancunians. But people in England watch football in a very different way to the Catalans: there’s no delicate tactical chat; no love for endless passing and - heaven forbid - no watching five a side B side leagues on a Wednesday evening. Instead, there’s lots of drinking, shouting and calling up radio talk shows in tears. It’s pretty good fun, in other words. But perhaps not quite what the endlessly urbane Guardiola will be expecting.

Oh, and a word of warning, Pep: if anyone asks you if you think England will win the World Cup, just say “yes”, OK? Do not, in any case, launch into a detailed tactical takedown of all England’s flaws. That’s not what we asked. And we don’t want to know.

3) The supporters

The home crowd is one of the best things about English football, typically cheering on their team enthusiastically even as they limp to a nil-nil home draw to Stoke. But the big difference between Manchester City and Barcelona games are the away supporters. At the Camp Nou you might get about 100 of them and you’ll need a telescope to make them out. At the Etihad, they will number in their thousands. And, much as they will probably quite like you deep down, Pep, for the 90 minutes of a match you are pretty much fair game for whatever insults they might throw at you. So just keep cool when, rather than applauding your fluid tactical selections, the away fans remind you ad nauseam that you’re going bald and you love Coldplay.

José Mourinho - sorry to mention him, but it’s true - was actually very good at this, managing to see the funny side when opposing fans accused him of buying his smart new coat from Matalan. Try to do the same, Pep, and we’ll all be a lot happier.

4) The Food

England’s food is much maligned - unfairly so, in most cases - and Manchester plays host not just to exemplary haute cuisine but also the delights of the Curry Mile, where you will find 70 different restaurants selling an incredible range of South Asian cuisine at very reasonable prices.

Pep, please, take a trip to the Curry Mile some time. You won’t regret it. Just don’t try ordering a glass of champagne to wash down your curry. It’s beer with curry, right? And in many cases you can even bring your own.

On the other hand, tapas in England is generally rubbish. It’s not so much that English restaurants can’t make it but the end product normally costs such exorbitant sums that it somehow ceases to be tapas-y.

Pep, I’m sure you can afford it. But all the fun is hoovered out of a plate of patatas bravas when the price is nudging 10 pounds. Oh, and Pep: no one in Manchester has even heard of a calçotata. Sorry. So stock up next time you’re in Valls.

5) The Nightlife

Manchester has stunning nightlife and if Pep develops a hitherto unlikely affection for Detroit techno he will be very well served there. But it’s probably safe to say that the city hasn’t quite got its head around the late-hours drinking culture in the same way that Barcelona has. In fact, late nights in Manchester city centre can resemble a bizarre cross between children’s birthday party and boxing match, as hordes of revellers, drunk to their very foundations, lurch around, making jokes, telling their best friends they love them and spoiling for a fight. It’s like the worst of Barcelona’s Ramblas, robbed of its seaside joviality and force-fed cheap vodka-based drinks. It can be a lot of fun, Pep. But whatever you do, don’t try to jump the taxi queue as you speed back to your Cheshire home after a night at the theatre.

6) The Sense of Humour

My girlfriend is Catalan. We’ve lived together for five years. And only now does she just about know when I’m making a joke. Maybe in the next five years she might even understand them.

The English sense of humour, then, is far, far removed from the Catalan. So just smile, Pep, and pretend you’ve at least recognised someone is telling a joke, even if your admirable footballing brain has fogged over at the alleged humour laid down in front of you. And don’t laugh at your own jokes, either. That’s very much not done.

Most of all though Pep, enjoy it. Manchester is a fantastic city and you will be adored by the City fans. Maybe you’ll succeed in turning around the club’s fortunes, forging a Northern English Barça that will thrill and devastate in equal measure. Maybe you won’t. But you’ll get to hear some fantastic music, eat the best curry of your life and maybe even crack the dry Mancunian sense of humour. So who cares if it rains?

Faith1
Faith the three-legged pony in Barcelona.

The first pony in Spain to be fitted with an artificial leg has passed away, five years after her mutilated foreleg was amputated in a life-saving operation.

Easy Horse Care Rescue Centre co-founders Sue and Rod Weeding, who rescued the badly injured pony in 2010, said they made the heartbreaking decision to have Faith put down on the advice of specialist veterinarians.

Faith had lived happily for years at the Equihealth Veterinarios clinic in Barcelona, under the supervision of skilled Dutch vet Gasper Castelijins, who served Spain’s 2012 equestrian Olympic team.

But last October, Gasper reported that Faith’s good front leg – previously weakened by a severe case of laminitis suffered before her rescue – had began to fail.

“No expense was ever spared on Faith and she absolutely loved her prosthetic leg because it gave her freedom. The amputation was the right thing to do ­– it gave her a wonderful five years. She had companionship, mobility and lived pain-free in five-star accommodation,” Sue said.

“But it’s all about knowing when to let go. When it gets to the stage that a disabled animal is struggling and you can’t make it better, it’s time to let go. It wasn’t a decision taken lightly but obviously no one was prepared to see Faith suffer.”

Faith not long after her 2010 rescue
Faith the Pony, not long after her 2010 rescue.

Faith had been found in a dusty yard beside a Spanish farmhouse in 2010, her right foreleg deeply wounded after being entangled for days in a rope used to tie her to a tree.

She underwent months of intensive treatment at the Easy Horse Care Rescue Centre, near Rojales in the Alicante province, but her mutilated foreleg was unable to be saved.

Cookie-Faith-and-Sue
Faith the Pony with Easy Horse Care Rescue Centre co-founder Sue Weeding and Cookie the pony (left).

In February, 2011, Faith underwent pioneering surgery at Equihealth Veterinarios in Barcelona, where two surgeons worked for five hours to sever her right foreleg 7.5cm below the knee.

Faith was then fitted with a prosthetic leg specially made in the United States by Dwayne Mara of the Bayou Orthotic and Prosthetic Centre in New Orleans – the same skilled prosthetist who made the artificial leg that in 2006 saved the life of a famous American pony named Molly, a casualty of Hurricane Katrina, who was later attacked by a dog and lost her leg.

“We believe that every animal that comes to us, because of the pain and suffering they’ve endured, deserves a second chance at life,” Sue said of the decision to fight for Faith’s life.

“We gave Faith a good five years, which she deserved. She had the best and she inspired so many people worldwide. Faith has changed all of us a little bit.”

Faith2
After her life-saving operation, Faith the amputee Pony lived happily in Barcelona for five years.

Faith was put to sleep on October 29, 2015.

"Faith's death has been incredibly sad for us and we needed some time to privately come to terms with this loss before making the news public,” Sue said.

“Faith was such a special little pony who touched so many lives and of course we wanted to keep everyone who loved her updated on her case. We hope our supporters understand our decision to take a few weeks to privately grieve before publicly announcing Faith's death."

Now Faith’s artificial leg is set to help another amputee pony in France.

The prosthesis has been sent to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at the University of Lyon, where veterinarian Michael Schramme is fitting it for a 10-year-old Shetland pony named Iris.

Iris-the-pony
French amputee pony, Iris, who will receive Faith's prosthesis.

“Iris had been diagnosed and treated for a chronic foot infection for several years by the time she came to see us in October of last year,” Michael said.

“Our investigations showed she had a malignant tumour in the foot and that the only chance of saving her would be to amputate the limb above the tumour.”

Iris’s leg was amputated on October 30 last year, but a second amputation had to be performed slightly higher up the limb on November 20 after the wound became infected.

“Iris returned home for Christmas on December 20. During this time, we constructed a bandage splint from two pieces of PVC drainage pipe that we attached together as a splint to replace the missing part of the limb,” Michael said.

He said the Easy Horse Care Rescue Centre’s kind decision to donate Faith’s professionally made prostheses “will most certainly help” Iris regain her mobility.

Said Sue: “We are so happy that Faith’s prosthetic legs are going to help another little pony and that she and Molly the Pony have inspired other surgeons to continue this work to help others out there.”

Faith4
Faith the Pony at the Barcelona vet clinic where she lived for five years after pioneering amputation surgery.

An Idiot's Guide To The Spanish Elections

Por: | 22 de enero de 2016


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One month ago on the 20th December, Spain held, arguably their most interesting elections since the post Franco elections in 1977. Then as now, four major parties hoped to have a say in an uncertain political landscape.For decades, Spain’s two major parties had been the only game in town. Those who leaned to the right of the political spectrum voted PP, and those who leaned to the left voted PSOE. Anything else was that most pernicious of crimes; the wasted vote.

This year it was different; there were two new games in town. Podemos, a party unashamedly on the left, led by the endlessly energetic Pablo Iglesias. A self-defined Marxist with a knack for populism, a soft spot for Game of Thrones and, perhaps most famously, a terrible ponytail.

And Ciudanos a party whose supporters tend to be conservatives that approve of the policies of the PP but have grown weary of the PP’s steady drip of corruption scandals. The leader Albert Rivera, occasionally resembles a politibot created for the express purpose of leading a political party. He is young, clean cut, good looking, boasts a head of extremely presidential hair and is, no doubt, an expert at kissing babies.

So what has changed? What has allowed these political parties to become, in political terms: “overnight successes”. Spain is not the only country experiencing political upheaval, all across Europe new parties are challenging the status quo and getting results. To understand the phenomenon, it is instructive to have a look at recent events Greece where Syriza, another upstart party, swept to power in January 2015. Coming within two seats of an absolute majority. Syriza were the purest manifestation of a Europe wide dissatisfaction with the gradual transfer of parliamentary power to the EU.

With parliaments ever more limited in their actions, differences between political parties have lessened and the idea that faceless bureaucrats are taking the real decisions has taken hold. Syriza swept to power on the back of a promise to kick the hated Troika out of Greece. The resulting omnishambles did Podemos no favours as the PP were able to make a lot of hay from the Spanish electorate’s fears of Spain becoming the new Greece.

However, it also shone a huge spotlight on the power that government have signed away. Syriza were ultimately helpless to carry out their election promises despite a huge mandate from the people. People unhappy with this situation across Europe are increasingly turning to parties on the left and right, that would have been seen as too extreme to be electable in the very recent past.

 This graph shows the evolution of voting patterns over the course of the last three elections:


Spain_2015




The circles represent different regions in Spain, the larger the circle the larger the amount of voters in that region.The vertical axis shows the winners percentage of the vote. The change over the course of the three most recent elections is dramatic, the winner’s percentage of the vote has steadily fallen in the last two elections. This clearly reflects a growing plurality in the vote, which is only going to be good for new parties.

The horizontal axis shows the margin of victory as a percent of the second placed party’s share. Essentially how close the second placed party was to winning. The closer to zero the smaller the margin of victory. The large concentration on the left of the graph tells its own story.

Effectively, Spain’s political parties are winning their seats with ever smaller percentages of the vote and margins of victory. In short, Spanish politics is becoming increasingly volatile. It remains to be seen if the parties can come to an accord and avoid a second set of elections. The recent election of the PSOE’s Patxi López as the president of congress, shows that deals are being done in the corridors of power.

But if Spanish politics continues on its current trajectory the next general election, be it in one month or four years, looks to be the most interesting still. With the potential to definitively prove Rajoy wrong, with his dismissal of Podemos and Ciudanos as political flashes in the pan.

A View From The Campaign Trail: La Coruña

Por: | 16 de diciembre de 2015

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La Coruña's City Hall | Christopher Finnigan

It’s raining when I arrive in La Coruña, but I can still make out the campaign posters draped over the bridge — huge, staring faces looking out onto a country in flux . Mariano Rajoy on one side, Pedro Sánchez on the other. Both are in pristine white shirts in front of an immaculate white background and both are most probably somewhere in Madrid preparing for their impending televised debate later this evening, the last before Sunday’s December 20th general election.

I’ve just completed a thirteen-hour train ride from Barcelona to the northwest of Spain. In a rattling carriage that plodded its way across the country’s northern corridor, you wouldn’t have known a national election was in its final stage. In the countryside of Navarra or even in the outskirts of Leon, there were no men in white, leaning to one side, trying to convince you to vote for them by crossing their arms and posing intensely. None of the passengers were talking about the news that Spain’s two-party system is about to be broken either. Instead the man who was next to me was asleep, using his large chin as a pillow.

I find my hotel, drop off my bag and go for a walk around a town that is engulfed in campaign posters for an election just one week away. Galicia has a population of 2.7 million and like many other regions suffers from high levels of unemployment. While the national level currently stands at around 21 percent, here it’s slightly lower at 17 percent. I pass the harbour, a main source of economic activity, whose boats are being gently knocked together by the Atlantic winds. I duck into a bar with a monster-sized octopus in a tank and sit by the window.  After ordering, I look out to find another poster on the lamppost outside with Rajoy’ face staring right back at me.

Local polls predict the Popular Party (PP) will win 11 seats here, down from fifteen in 2011. However this seaside city is no longer the bastion of political conservatism it appears, instead it is instep with the dramatic social and political changes that are currently in motion across Spain. In May of his year, Marea Atlantica, led by university professor Xulio Ferreiro took control of the city council winning ten seats and 31 percent of the vote. Next week they will stand in a coalition with Podemos, under the name En Marea. The Podemos-affiliated party are set win two of the eight seats up for grabs in La Coruna. Galicia has 23 seats in play, six of which this left-wing coalition is predicted to win.

I find supporters of this coalition a few hours later on the other side of the city. The hall is full and some of the candidates for En Marera are on the stage. Purple balloons of Podemos hang above the blue banners of En Marea and there are teenagers on the floor sitting cross-legged in the aisles and a few even to the side of the stage. The guests mix Gallego with Spanish throughout the night as they lament what they see as slow and uneven economic recovery and the trend towards insecure and temporary jobs.

After an hour a few leave early and I follow them to find out why.  Maybe they are Ciudadanos voters who have come to check out the competition. Jose, 62 laughs at me when I suggest the idea and then goes on to tell me why he’s excited about this election. “We are living with the hope that we had after Franco,” he says, “and we can take democratic power back in this election with the people here tonight.” His wife agrees. Margarita, another one leaving early is a 62-year-old nurse tells me how the optimism for change that En Marea is creating has caught on with many of her colleagues.

The event continues and the candidates talk about a wide variety of topics. All address the domestic violence in Spain. Depending on which statistics you cite, between 50 and 100 women have been murdered by men this year. A key sticking point between Podemos-affiliated groups like En Marea and Spain’s other relatively new party Ciudadanos on this issue is legal reform. Ciudadanos have committed to equalizing the sentence guidelines for cases of domestic abuse. Currently sentencing for non-physical abuse begins at six months for men and three months for women. Several express their discontent at this tonight, arguing a change in the law is not going to help lower the murder rate.

As the event ends I speak with some of the younger members of the audience and ask them why they are not drawn to this other relatively new party that is doing very well with young people. Joel, a 19-year-old student is suspicious of their “neo-liberal agenda.”  Isabella, 18, tells me something similar. She’s from a family of Izquierda Unida voters but is supporting this left-wing coalition over other new parties; “it’s a new party but with the same ideas as the PP.”

In a restaurant after the event, the final debate, the ‘cara a cara’ between Sánchez and Rajoy is on in the background. A key event in the election campaign, the first and only debate Rajoy is participating in. Like the campaign posters the theme of white, as in some way representative of transparency, is once again present.

However seeing this debate after witnessing the energy of tonight, makes it look more like a business meeting between two CEOs. There is none of the excitement and enthusiasm for change present in La Coruña and across the country as the campaign trail comes to an end and Spain prepares for its most important elections in almost four decades.  

Christopher Finnigan tweets at @chrisjfinnigan

Sevilla Helps Syria - It started with a Whatsapp

Por: | 10 de diciembre de 2015

Cartel definitivo

Living in a foreign country, it´s easy to go through life as a passenger. Dipping in and out, buzzing around like a nectar drinking, humming bird, before flitting off into the sunset when the going gets tough. After all, for most Brits living in Spain, it´s the lifestyle we´re after - a more relaxed pace of life, long lunch breaks, nothing too heavy.

But sometimes that lightness of being can turn into a remoteness, a separation from whatever real life seems to consist of in that moment.

As someone who came to Seville to escape the heaviness of London life, at first living apart in a fancy free, Guiri world enchanted me. I was free to do as I pleased, with no one to answer to. But five years down the line, it just wasn´t enough. I wanted to contribute in some way to the city that had welcomed me with open arms, I just wasn´t sure how.

In May I tentatively dipped my toe in the ‘ giving back’ waters, when following the earthquake in Nepal, I was involved in a small way in a fund raising event that raised 11,000 euros in one night. On a high from the feel good vibes and camaraderie, I sent a whatsapp message to our group suggesting a follow up, secondhand clothes market. To which the response was ´Great idea, so you´ll organise it right?´ Begrudgingly, I agreed.

Refugee event
Some of the volunteers in action

 Summer came and went and the attention of the news reading public inevitably moved on to the next human catastrophe, which this year happened to be the mass displacement of Syrians from their homes, with hardened hearts softening at the sight of a small child´s body washed up on the shores of Greece.

It seemed we had no alternative but to redirect our event towards the Syrian refugees and while we were at it, why stop at a clothes market? ´Let´s go for the maximum fund raising potential and organise a day-long event with live music, bar, food, kids activities, alternative therapies.. Oh and you´re ok coordinating that Mary, right?´

Gulp. The words ´claro que si´ might have slid out of my mouth, but inside every inch of my being was screaming ´Nooooo´.

Luckily, it’s not just been me putting what at times has felt like an Andaluz ‘Live Aid’ together. We’re an international groups of Spanish, British (including fellow Trans Iberian Blogger Fiona Watson), Americans, Syrians and Nepalese, all united by the desire to make some small difference to an impossible situation.

Refugee event 2

But here we are 2 months later and this Saturday 12th December is the big day. With the name ´Mi Corazón sin Fronteras´ (My heart without borders), our group of ordinary Joes have put together an event that promises to at least double the amount we raised for Nepal, with proceedings going to the UN agency for refugees, ACNUR.

Taking place in the Cortijo building in the Alamillo Park, it starts at 10am with most of the chilled activities like Yoga, Tai Chi, Shiatsu etc happening before the live music starts at 1pm with local acts such as Bosco the FAKE, Emmett, My Yellowstone, Contradanza, Rigo Ochoa, Yomuri, Maria La Serrana, Cule & Cheyennes and Londoner Esther Weekes with her Flamenco/jazz outfit, Lucky Eye, playing until 8pm.

Plus there’s loads of stuff for kids like face painting, arts and craft workshops, bouncy castle and puppet show and for the adults a bar (obviously) and a middle-eastern tea area.

Tickets cost 3 euros, with a drink included. Plus an entry in the lucky dip, with the possibility of winning one of over 1000 prizes such as an experience for two in the Arab Baths, a night in a boutique hotel, dinners in some of Seville’s finest restaurants, cooking courses, hampers of organic products, to name but a few.

If you’re in the vicinity, come. If you’re not, why not organize your own?

For further information check out Sevilla Ayuda A Siria Facebook event page or our Facebook community page

If you can’t make it but would like to make a donation to ACNUR: LA CAJA RURAL DEL SUR, ES82 3187 0812 8110 9511 7824

 

 

 

 

 

Authors (Bloggers)

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 @chrisjfinnigan

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

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

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

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

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 daily English language 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.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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