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.

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

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

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.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

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.

Welcome to the Cañada

Por: | 27 de junio de 2012

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Casa de Abdul: site of one of the first homes demolished in the Cañada. Photo: Pedro Martínez

I was cutting cheese the night before I went to the Cañada. A friend was over and I mentioned my plans for the following day. He pointed to the knife in my hand.

“You’d better take that.”

His comment, though said with a laugh, isn’t surprising given the picture that forms in the mind of many Madrilenians when they imagine the Cañada Real Galiana, a much-maligned and under-threat neighbourhood in the south-east of Madrid.

The next day, as our train pulls up in the suburb of Coslada, Susana, our guide, says, “Everyone thinks the people who live in the Cañada just throw stones at cops, sell drugs and steal copper.”

Susana Camacho works in the Cañada daily, helping its many marginalised Gypsy families. And one recent Sunday, as part of an international neighbourhood awareness initiative known as Jane’s Walk, she led twenty of us through it.

Seen from the air the Cañada is a strange sight; a narrow 15-kilometre residential strip — a single road bordered by houses and some businesses — that snakes through the landscape, following one of Spain’s centuries-old drovers’ roads.

It fell into disuse last century as livestock began being moved by truck and train. But in the 1950s Madrilenians put the ribbon of land to use again, planting kitchen gardens and orchards. Then, when the garden sheds grew into second homes, the government turned a blind eye. And soon word spread that if you built a house in the Cañada the authorities wouldn’t stop you, or make you pay for the land. Spaniards and immigrants, many of modest means, came in waves.

But now the fact that the 15,000 residents are living on land they don’t — and can’t — own is coming back to haunt them.

At the end of a narrow street in Coslada, a small sign marks the start of the Cañada.

We enter sector one.

The sectors — there are six of them — are a demarcation imposed by tax inspectors trying to make sense of the place in the 1980s. The settlement also passes through four towns — Coslada, Madrid, Rivas-Vaciamadrid and Getafe. The sectors are signposted, the towns are not. Fifteen kilometres from Puerta del Sol, these people live, literally, off the map.

In the early sectors, we pass a strange mix of self-built homes. Some are well constructed, with two storeys and vegetable gardens; others are crooked and precarious, the brickwork messy and sections draped in tarpaulin.

The streetlights and power lines were installed by locals, and electricity is siphoned off the grid.

Barking dogs shove their snouts through gates. Otherwise, the Cañada is quiet. With no footpaths or squares, residents stay indoors. The street is often a corridor, bound in by high walls that are sometimes topped with glass shards — homemade barbed wire.

And behind each home, beyond the Cañada, is open country.

The sealed road soon breaks up and we pick around wide, watery potholes. Susana points out gaps where houses used to be; homes that have been demolished.

In a dim makeshift hut in sector three, Pilar, a Gyspy woman, sits at a table. She and her husband spent the winter in this stopgap shack after the Madrid authorities knocked their house down last year. Behind their hut is an empty lot littered with wood and concrete — the remains of their home. It cost them €30,000 to build and they’d lived there eight years.

The demolitions began in 2007. Susana shows us why: to the west a network of roads twists around large, empty lots. Before Spain’s economy went belly up, residential developments were closing in on the Cañada. This land had become valuable. But the property bubble burst, the apartments were never built and the Cañada survived.

Also, locals started fighting back, hiring lawyers and boning-up on their rights. There hasn’t been a demolition for six months, except in the drug market in sector six.

But anxiety lingers. An old woman stops us further up the road. “Are they knocking a house down?” she asks, likely mistaking us for a social action group.

Services vary from sector to sector and each is fighting its own battles. In sector four, the local neighbourhood association has laid out morning tea. Lidia, the association’s president and a third generation Cañadian, describes life in the sector. It’s a picture of dysfunction.

They have no landlines, electricity is pulled off the grid and there’s no postal service. The lack of mail makes dealing with Spanish bureaucracy — registering your car, enrolling your child at school — all the more painful.

A few years ago locals bought truckloads of gravel to lay a footpath on the sector’s unpaved road. Their children, who walk to school outside the area, were getting to class mud-caked; wearing, Lidia says, the “mark of the Cañada”.

But before they could lay the gravel the Rivas authorities sent trucks and took it all away.

Lidia believes the authorities want to keep the Cañada unstable; thereby making the job easier if they decide to knock it down.

There is, though, an inkling of hope. A 2011 law gives the four towns a two-year deadline to find a solution to the Cañada. Locals want their land legalised. But the authorities could decide to clear the settlement.

And the Cañada’s image problem is frustrating. “The press only cover sector six,” says Rosa, the association’s vice president. But here in sector four, she says, their children play in the street and they leave their doors unlocked. “There are other parts to the Cañada, other realities.”

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The muddy trail goes on. We pass impressive homes, improvised homes, demolished homes, half-constructed buildings, construction businesses, scrap yards. The hodgepodge of materials and paints make this a colourful place.

Local men, Moroccan immigrants, sit beneath olive trees beside the road in sector five. Others pass on their way to prayer. Up ahead we hear children, a complaining baby, the creak of swings — unusual sounds in the Cañada.

At a small makeshift park, local Moroccan woman are waiting for us.

Last year two associations — Todo por la Praxis and Arquitectos Sin Fronteras — asked sector five locals what they wanted most. Somewhere to gather, they said, somewhere for their children to play. So the associations and residents built this park. “It’s humble,” says one of the architects, “but there are more benches and there’s more shade than the Plaza de Callao.”

It’s the only common space in the Cañada.

Three young boys play on swings made from old tyres. We sit on tyres dug into the ground and eat lunch beneath overhead tarpaulins. The local women pour us soft drinks and an old man offers tea from a beaten teapot.

After lunch, we head south into sector six.

The traffic becomes steady; from crapped-out cundas, crammed with hollow-eyed passengers, to late-model BMWs, to cop cars. Families, mostly Spanish Gypsies, sit outside their houses. They call out to us. They want to know what we’re doing. They laugh when we say we’re taking a walk through the Cañada.

This is the drug market — the decaying two-kilometre strip that taints the entire settlement. The drug clans arrived in 2007 and now each house is a shop, each shop operates 24 hours and each clan takes in around €30,000 a day.

Luxury cars park in the driveways of tumbledown houses.

Addicts drift about like phantoms, some so far gone their faces have collapsed. A man unwraps a tube from his arm and two others sit in the dirt, needles in their hands. Cundas line up in a row, a flash of silver as a passenger smokes heroin, the guy next to him knocked out.

One man, alone in his car, looks in better shape. He hides his face as we pass.

Dunes of rubbish amass beside the road.

We stop to pee at a white church marooned in the waste land. Three boisterous boys hang about, angling for a ride on one of our bikes. Susana knows them and asks how school is. They badger us for a cigarette. Instead someone pulls out a bag of lollies. One boy, about twelve, pretends to flash a gun.

“Give me one or I’ll shoot.”

The Cañada is full of kids. Susana works with many of them, organising play groups and activities, trying to give their lives some normality. Later, one little girl tells us she’d heard we’d come to the Cañada to play with the children.

Then, as abruptly as it began, the drug market ends. The junkies disappear and the road is quiet again, bar the odd cunda hurtling past.

Susana stops at a high point, with striking views of the sierras to the north. Just west of here, she says, is one of the sites Sheldon Adelson is mulling over for his €27 billion gamblers’ paradise. While the prospective plans for Eurovegas don’t include the Cañada, they run close. And it’s clear shanty-town-views are not what Sheldon has in mind for his guests.

The go-ahead would probably mean the dismantling of sector six.

Heading deeper into the sector, the road becomes debris-strewn and is flanked by sad shanty shacks, tyres holding their roofs down.

Section six is half the Cañada and, with public transport a long walk away, these people live isolated lives. Electricity cables run along the ground and many homes have no running water.

We pass three young girls swinging on a tyre out front of a brick house that’s either half-built or half-destroyed.

Slowly the homes and debris peter out and we come into lush country.

I ask Susana what needs to happen in the Cañada. “It’s like any other neighbourhood; it needs a school, services... a local bus even,” she says. “The authorities could do so much if they wanted to.”

She thinks for a moment.

“In fact, that’s something we haven’t asked for yet. A local bus. We'll ask for that next.”

A colony of storks sing cluck cluck from their enormous nests. We pass broad fields of yellow flowers and, after crossing the Manzanares, full from the spring rain, we finally reach the highway.

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James is a Madrid-based writer (www.jamesblick.com, @jamesblick78)

 

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With an estimated 400,000 Britons living in Spain, it’s odds on that at some point most Spanish football fans will come across the England football team, as it lumbers its way onto an inglorious quarter final exit at Euro 2012.

While England may have invented football – and still play a vaguely recognisable variant thereof – the sight of England hoofing the ball up the pitch then defending for 88 minutes may come as a shock to Spanish football fans reared on elegant passing play and finesse.

With that in mind, the Trans-Iberian blog presents a soothing guide to watching the England football team, for any football-loving Spaniard that may walk into an Irish bar or flick the remote control just as the three lions of England are hitting their unwieldy stride.

1)      Don’t expect finesse

To be fair to the England team, it hasn’t done so badly so far at the Euros, topping its group courtesy of two wins and a draw and earning a quarter final berth against Italy. In addition, Danny Welbeck’s match-winning goal against Sweden was probably one of the goals of the tournament so far, a deftly-executed back heel under defensive pressure.

But this should be considered the exception, rather than the rule. Generally, these achievements have come courtesy of some solid defensive work and hitting teams on the break. It’s not always pretty but as Chelsea demonstrated in the Champions League this year, it is a combination that can be effective when combined with a hefty dose of luck.

2)      Do expect drinking – and lots of it

England’s tendency to let teams attack and soak up the pressure means that supporting England can be a pretty stressful business. Drinking, of course, is neither big nor clever. But, frankly, after 20 minutes of watching England hold on for dear life in their own penalty area, you’ll feel like you need a drink. And not just a caña either. This is one very good reason why the English love to drink pints.

3)      Tactical talk is out

The pint versus the caña is not the only difference between English and Spanish football fans: in Spain supporters often debate tactics, dissecting their team’s performance with infinite finesse. English supporters, however, favour shouting, singing, swearing and anything in between. Tactical talk that goes on any longer than a protracted howl of “Shooooot!” is generally considered unsporting. Besides, it gets in the way of the shouting.

4)      Get ready for The Great Escape

And talking of supporters, yes that is a brass band playing in the stand as England defend frantically. And yes, they are playing The Great Escape (whose title probably tells you all you need to know about England’s tournament aspirations). This is the imaginatively named England Supporters Band, a group who have played in support of the England football team since 1996. They claim to have 151 songs in their repertoire but anyone who claims they have heard them playing anything other than The Great Escape is a liar.

5)      Lower your expectations

In previous tournaments, it was not out of the ordinary to hear England fans predicting their team would win. However, England’s disastrous performance in the last World Cup has dampened expectations to the level that this time no one expects any better than England’s perpetual quarter final exit. Perversely, this has meant watching England this time around has become a lot more pleasurable, with much of the horrible, grinding hope replaced by chirpy pessimism. If you do decide to watch any England games, then don’t make the mistake of suggesting to an England fan that 2012 could be the team’s year. Such dangerous talk invites hope and as we all know it is the hope that will kill you in the end.

6)      Play it cool

Equally, it’s probably best not to start pointing out the England team’s faults to any watching native supporters. We know England are defensive. We know we can’t keep the ball. And we know that no English footballer would make the Spanish team. We just don’t like to be reminded of it too often.

7)      But don’t forget, you are very welcome

England’s long and belligerent history means that the country has a great deal of rivals and this tends to spill over into football. Germany, Argentina, Scotland, Portugal and France are all considered grudge matches for England, which tends to result in a thumping English loss. Spain, however, are not one of England’s rivals. In fact, we tend to rather like Spain and Spanish football. This was helped no end by England’s recent one-nil win over Spain in an entirely pointless friendly match. So don’t be scared, as a Spaniard, of going to watch England. England’s awful problems with hooliganism seem to be firmly in retreat and you may even find some love beneath the towering beer bellies and sunburned shoulders.

 

 

Could going green get Spain out of the red?

Por: | 05 de junio de 2012

Dusk daisies
 (Photo: Charles Wardhaugh)

Today, 5th June 2012 marks UN World Environment Day with the ‘Green Economy’ as its theme.  As Spain grapples with 24% unemployment, a double-dip recession and a potential banking meltdown, should it even be thinking about greening its economy? Surely the environment should be the last thing on the agenda.

Actually now is exactly the time Spain should consider reviving its ailing finances through a more sustainable economy.  The monetary value of nature and the water, food, energy and clean air it provides, is enormous.  The resilience of the global economy is intricately linked to the environment; and the maths for a global green economy doesn’t just make environmental sense but economic sense. 

Eco-nomics

Each year, around the globe, we’re losing ecosystem services worth around €50 billion.  According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global energy demand will grow 36% by 2035, with the clean energy industry worth €5 trillion by 2015.  Overall costs of climate change will be equivalent to 20% of global GDP annually, while taking action now would cost only 1% of annual global GDP. Turning to the sea, the world’s commercial fisheries face collapse in 50 years unless current trends reverse.  In the Caribbean, coral reef destruction has meant a 20% decline in tourism revenues (equal to €240 million per year). 

Moreover, there’s evidence that green initiatives are bearing fruit.  The Brookings Institution reported that the ‘clean economy,’ in the US was employing approximately 2.7 million employees – more than fossil fuel companies and 4.5 million US jobs in clean energy are forecast by 2030. 

How could the ‘Green Economy’ help Spain?

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Green gold

Shifting to a green economy could become Spain’s new engine of development.  If Spain becomes a global leader in this area it stands to capture a share of the low-carbon energy market set to be worth €1.7 trillion by 2020.  It’s already way ahead of the energy diversification game compared to its European peers, getting a third of its energy from renewable sources in 2010.  This is partly down to Spain’s abundance of clean resources.  The most mountainous country in Europe with 4,964 km of coastline and 340 sunshine days make it one of the richest nations in sun and wind - ‘green gold’.   Spain is the world's fourth biggest producer of wind power  and an estimated 550,000 green jobs put it above the European average.  Companies such as Iberdrola are also linking with other countries in renewable energy partnerships.

However, despite this record, there’s evidence the government is not doing enough to foster green economics and may be backtracking.  The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says that income from environmental taxes form a smaller proportion of Spain’s GDP than any other European OECD country.  

Spain also needs to dismantle subsidies for fossil fuels.  According to Spain’s national grid, Red Electrica, coal subsidies doubled the energy output from coal-fired plants from 8% to 15% in 2011.  This year the government scrapped renewables subsidies and though reducing its subsidies to the coal sector, the industry will still benefit from €111 million.  Also Spain is forging ahead with oil exploration plans in Sevilla and Jaén at a cost of €8 million and prospecting off the Málaga coast in a 150,000 hectare plot.  Several campaigner groups have protested about the environmental impact and cost. 

Environment versus construction

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With a fifth of Spanish land and sea earmarked for protection, and half the land devoted to agriculture, Spain has a fertile and biodiverse territory, which if used sustainably would allow the country to cash in on rising food prices, increased interest in organic produce and eco-tourism.  However, the biodiversity and heritage of Spain is under constant attack. Recently the government announced plans to relax coastal planning regulations and unique biospheres that endangered wildlife depends on are under threat from development, habitat destruction and pollution.  The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Cabo de Gata natural park in Andalucía  is threatened by a megaproject on its perimeter.  Ecologistas en Accion claims the project ‘undermines environmental legislation, and violates the park’s classification as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.’

In San Lorenzo de El Escorial, home of Philip II’s magnificent monastery, the local council is trying to change regulations to enable the construction of flats near the monastery which could endanger the site’s UNESCO world heritage status - worth much in tourism revenues.  The local mayor claims the housing is needed for young people, but local environmental group, Entorno Escorial claim an existing subsidised housing project in the area  - Unamuno - still has unsold houses. The town council is already indebted and, to complete the housing project, will need a loan of €2 million, €1 million of which will go to the local Carmelite nuns for the land.  Meanwhile, local taxes have risen 14% this year and social services have been slashed.

Constructing ‘white elephant’ projects is the last thing the Spanish economy needs given its banking problems stem from bad construction loans.  One hopes Spain does not follow the path of biodiversity destruction seen in other nations such as the UK  

Worst polluter in Europe

Though Spain is a leader in wind and solar energy, according to European Environment Agency, Spain as a nation of petrol-heads was the only EU country to fail three out of four criteria tests for pollution.  Barcelona and Madrid were found to be the two EU cities with the greatest atmospheric contamination.  This causes 16,000 premature deaths annually and the proliferation of various respiratory diseases.  It also creates a significant cost to the tax payer in health service provision.

The ‘dead sea’

Spain is one of the highest consumers of seafood in Europe and industrial overfishing has led to political and economic crises.  Spanish fishing practices have exacerbated the situation as Spanish fleets have continued overfishing and thrown dead fish back into the sea when their catch exceeds quotas.  The good news is that action has been taken under pressure from the EU, with Spanish fishing chiefs agreeing to phase out discards over the next four years.

Will Spain do what it needs to in these tough economic times?

When the world’s most influential economies sit around the table at the Rio+20 conference later this June to hammer out sustainable development agreements, the environment ministry will have Spain’s future in its hands.  As Sr. Jiménez Herrero of Spain’s Observatorio de la Sostenibilidad says: ‘The environment is part of a valuable natural capital to be recovered and is, in the case of Spain, an important asset, since Spain is the most biologically diverse nation in Europe.  The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in line with the common position of the EU should boost its efforts towards achieving a global commitment aimed at achieving truly sustainable development globally.’

With over 50% youth unemployment, and figures showing Spain’s manufacturing industry is the worst performing in the Euro zone, Spain should grasp the opportunity to lead the green economy and benefit from a surge in green collar jobs.  Now is the time for Spain and Europe to set the agenda for transition to a green economy, stimulate desperately needed growth and create sustainable prosperity for the future.

Waves
(Photo: Charles Wardhaugh)

 

 

 

 

 

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