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.

Don’t gamble with the smoking ban

Por: | 31 de mayo de 2013

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Spain needs jobs, but Spain needs laws even more.

Then again, this country already has laws, lots of laws. Some are good, some we might like less, and many are simply works of fiction. Madrid City Hall passed a law limiting access to the most polluting vehicles. That went up in a puff of thick, black smoke. The Coast Law made thousands of houses illegal, but there were no bulldozers to back it up. What about the Algarrobico for that matter? It is easy to get the impression that one day we will be able to book a weekend in the illegal monstrosity on the Almería shoreline. And anyone who has watched TVE lately will wonder if they were dreaming when they heard that ads had been banished from state television, with some programs having up to a dozen “commercial sponsors.”

The anti-smoking law, mark II (2011) made Spain one of the first European countries where the haze of tobacco fumes completely vanished from bars and restaurants. Aside from mass events such as pop concerts and venues where the clientele is so small that a clandestine pro-smoking consensus is reached, this is a law which has worked. Until now. Spain is so desperate to attract investment that it seems that the prime minister is giving serious thought to Sheldon Adelson’s request to waive the anti-smoking law for his mega-casino project outside Madrid.

This is unconscionable.

The biggest justification for the restriction on personal liberties that the smoking ban constitutes was the right of a person behind a bar or waiting tables to a healthy working environment. This decision having been taken by parliament and assimilated by society, there can be no going back, even if there is a perception that thousands of jobs depend on it. What else would be acceptable in the pursuit of foreign investment by downgrading Spanish labor laws? Could mines become profitable again if safety standards were eased? How about legalizing the process of coercion that makes slaves out of so many women in roadside brothels?

Spain’s problem is that it has a generally well-educated workforce short on career opportunities, without forgetting that the crash in construction has also left a large number of unskilled laborers out of a job. These are the so-called human resources that must provide the new areas of growth, not a magic wand from the outside which sends the country back to some previous legislative era - a kind of nasty medicine that ailing Spain deserves. Society is the result of the progress that has been made up to now. A single act of job creation for which the employment projections could yet prove to be wildly exaggerated and which will only last as long as there is a (subsidized) profit to be made and which cannot be bettered in another venue (next up, Albania or Greece?) cannot be allowed to trump the statute book. This business venture, while seemingly too large to ignore for politicians from Madrid (and Catalonia too in its day), is in effect a swaggering attempt to prove that democratic representatives are less powerful than billionaires. The former just do their talking for the latter.

What to say, though, to someone who lives in Alcorcón and sees no other prospect of securing employment? That there are more important things than the livelihood of individuals. In harsh conditions, Spanish society has disproved Margaret Thatcher’s boastful neoliberal claim that it does not exist. Solidarity is notably alive, and busy kicking against the screws of austerity. The country has kept its dignity, while finding new and thoughtful ways to question the political direction taken. Legitimate protest and a will to reshape the country. More law, not less.   

Photograph: Sheldon Adelson and Madrid regional premier Ignacio González. By Uly Martín.

Why Barcelona means freedom for tourists

Por: | 14 de mayo de 2013

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In the last few months I’ve been hit with the most curious sensation:  I’ve started to miss being a tourist in Barcelona.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve only lived in the Ciudad Condal for two years, so I’m hardly a dyed in the wool, sardana dancing Catalan. Nevertheless, Barcelona is where I live, work and pay taxes and it is where my daughter was born. And all this implies certain obligations.

It was not always thus: I first visited Barcelona in the summer of 1995 as a fresh-faced (ish) youth of 17 years old and was immediately hit by the city’s air of freedom. This freedom resounded in any number of inconsequential things: you could buy beer from the bakers and drink in the street; night clubs stayed open until when they fancied; and people on the beach undressed with no regard for the fact that they were at the heart of a major European capital.

Of course, knowing a city better does reveal many of its lesser-known charms, places and experiences you are unlikely to ever experience as a tourist. Nevertheless, I have found myself lately envying the endless tourists sunning themselves on the beach or queuing for the Picasso museum. In them, I see the same feeling of freedom I experienced some 20 years ago.

Why does Barcelona, home to staggering youth unemployment and a shocking number of bank repossessions, represent such freedom? It’s hard to say. On the one hand, for visitors from Britain the laws on things like selling alcohol and opening hours are far more relaxed. You will get told off by the police and possibly fined for cycling on the streets in London. In Barcelona, no one really seems to care.

Then there’s the place itself: cities on the sea and great ports always seem to possess a great freedom, as if the sea and the transitory population it brings cannot stand to be cooped up and enslaved. Barcelona, with both beach and port, gets a double helping.

It is in the politics too: Barcelona’s fierce left-wing history and spirit of independence – much like a sunny Manchester - can be felt in the city’s streets. It seems right, somehow, that Barcelona should be one of the last bastions of the anarchist movement in Western Europe.

Then there’s the football. Like it or not, Barcelona FC is key to how millions of foreign visitors view the city (not for nothing is the Barca Museum the most visited museum in the city). For anyone raised on the English Premier League, Barcelona play with a freedom of expression and love of the beautiful game that is entirely absent when Stoke face off against Fulham.

Many residents of Barcelona hate tourists. It’s easy to see why: they get in way when you’re in a hurry, take ages to order in bars and generally seem to be having a better time that you. What’s more, it is easy to sympathise with the residents of, say, La Barceloneta who feel they are being priced out of the area by the demands of tourism.

Despite this, I think tourists should firmly be embraced. There are the economic arguments, of course, with tourism bringing millions of euros into the city every year. More importantly, though, tourists serve to remind Barcelona of what it is: they come for the freedom of the city, to escape from the drab day-to-day of London or Paris and they come to relax in body and mind.

Tourists hold a mirror up to the city – a cracked and often distorted one but a mirror nonetheless. And in Barcelona it shows freedom.

El País

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