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.

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How many Spaniards have fled abroad since the start of the crisis? Many people may have a foggy idea that emigration has been outstripping immigration for a few years now, but the details are unclear.

Brain drain some say: these are the voyages of the lost generation, the educated jetsam of a exhausted economy washing up on Europe’s greener shores.

The United Kingdom, specifically London, is a preferred destination. Despite the precipitation, London has a loud and friendly Spanish community. But how big is it?

The exact quantity of young, or indeed older, Spaniards fleeing the crisis seems to be a pretty flexible bit of statistic indeed.

The figure depends, as they say, on the glass through which you view it, and the windows in the Spanish government seem somewhat rosier than their counterparts in the UK.

According to a recent study, La nueva emigración española (The new Spanish Emigration), by Amparo González-Ferrer, there has been some dextrous statistical gymnastics in play.

Start with the UK. Those with the checklists give a figure of 112,980 Spaniards living in the UK. Spain says 20,998. In Germany the figures are skewed too: 85,397 plays 17,074. Hmmmm.

So from whence the discrepancy?

González Ferrer says the Spanish government is looking at a narrow range of data. Rather than counting the number of Spanairds living in the UK, the Spanish authorities are counting only those who register at the embassy in London.

The problem is that for many registering is simply not a consideration. A visit to the embajada is not necessary to find a job or a place to live, and most people (perhaps 4/5) don’t bother.

All this leaves us fishing around for real figures as to the size of the worldwide Spanish diaspora, and González Ferrer’s report points us to 700,000 Spaniards since 2008, a conservative estimate by her count.

In the UK these data have Spain as the second biggest provider of immigrants, behind only Poland.

Anyone watching the heroic exploits of the English national team at Wembley last Tuesday will have heard the chanting of 25,000 Polish fans, making their voices heard in the country many of them call home.

As the crisis continues we’re sure to hear more Castellano in the streets and bars of London, Berlin and beyond.

Billy Ehrenberg is a freelance journalist who has written for several newspapers in England, including The Times and the Western Morning News. He tweets from @billyehrenberg. 

A dish served cold

Por: | 17 de octubre de 2013

I was pleased to read recently in El Pais that wolves have returned to the Madrid region, but began to hesitate a little upon one comment: “they are what we call good wolves”. My imagination immediately swung into action and alarm bells started ringing. Doesn’t a ‘good wolf’ sound a bit too much like a ‘pleasant panther’ or a ‘gracious grizzly’? Does the phrase, perhaps, make the animals sound a little too amiable? A ‘good wolf’ almost seems like a ‘good buddy’, to the extent that you start to think about hitting town on a Saturday night with your new-found furry friend, wolfing down a few beers, and then indulging in some embarrassing wolf-whistling, at which assumedly any ‘good wolf’ would be highly adept.

English idioms don’t do the wolf any favours. ‘A wolf in sheep’s clothing’, ‘to keep the wolf from the door’, ‘to cry wolf’ – none of these are teeming with positivity, and that’s without even touching on ‘werewolf’ or ‘wolfman’. Clearly, we don’t want to panic, but the headline of the wolf piece states, “Wolves return to Madrid 70 years after being hunted out”. So let’s get this straight: we hunted them down, but now they’re back. I say this isn’t about nature or chance; this is about revenge.

The article also mentions that the wolves have previously been “making sorties over the mountains” from Segovia. Sorties? So they’ve been checking us out? Probing our strengths and weaknesses before… an invasion, perhaps? To compound matters, we are then told, “their presence is a clear indicator that the wolf has found everything it needs to settle in the Madrid region”. Again, I could be reading too much between the lines, but that suggests that each wolf has already managed to obtain a DNI, an abono for the Metro, and even more remarkably, a job. You would have thought sending photos for the DNI or abono might have given the game away, although wolves have been known to dress up, particularly to fool children, in the past.

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"And by Christmas, the Plaza Mayor will be ours!"   Photo: flickr (CC) Serge Melki

Apparently, the wolves have already claimed the lives of 28 sheep and a cow. (You have to feel some sympathy for the lone cow, which must have been in the wrong place at the wrong time when a wolf cub said, “but Dad, do we have to have sheep again?”) In overall numbers, it’s too few to worry about, but it does mean that wolves are not yet ready to sit down at a table with a knife and fork, no matter how ‘good’ they might be. Improvements to Madrid’s natural areas have also resulted in the return of the vulture and the otter. Can the authorities not see, with vultures, wolves and otters, that the animal world has the tactical advantage of air, land, and river forces?

It’s not clear whether the vultures and otters are ‘good’, but to put matters in perspective, imagine sharing your sofa and watching TV with our three potential new friends. The way things are going, it could happen. With an otter, the biggest fear might be that it gets stuck between the cushions, because otters have that sort of shape. A vulture may well perch on the arm of the sofa, but I guess on the pecking and tearing front there would be little worry unless you were already dead. And a wolf? Well, let’s just say don’t get into an argument about channel-hopping. If the wolf wants to watch his cousins on an animal documentary, simply nod and don’t make any rapid movements. Invasions and revenge aside, as a Spanish friend pointed out, there is one other possibility. Perhaps the wolves are just arriving in time for a famous brand of turrón at Christmas?

Lovin' Lisbon

Por: | 15 de octubre de 2013

AMSTERDAM 172 to use
Photo Credit: Bon Voyage Magazine

LOVIN' LISBON
 
By Sheridan Becker
BARCELONA, Spain -- Most folks dream about winning $2 million dollars, not losing $2 million dollars. But the latter nightmare befell a Californian man who last week mysteriously left behind his wallet in the Madrid subway -- a wallet containing a check for $2 million.  It was lucky for the careless millionaire that he lost his wallet in Madrid. The wallet was turned in to authorities there, and reportedly will be returned to its owner, complete with credit cards and multi-million dollar check. In Lisbon, the wallet might have experienced a different fate.
According to a recently published Reader's Digest, wallets were left in various cities across the world to see how many were returned by good Samaritans. Surprisingly, Lisbon ranked dead last.  However, our family trip to Lisbon this past summer was criminally spectacular. Since I tend to travel with a crew of swashbuckling prepubescents, my experiences in Lisbon resulted in a few family-oriented insights and finds that I'd like to share.
 
AN ABSOLUTE MUST
Don't even think about visiting sun-drenched and colorful Lisbon, capital city of Portugal, unless you purchase either a 24-, 48- or 72-hour Lisbo Card. Your Lisbo Card may very well be the closest you will ever come to winning a lottery ticket. It allows easy, convenient access to just about every top-tier museum and historic site the city has to offer (no waiting in lines, whatsoever), as well as free and unlimited travel on buses, trams, or you-name-the-mode-of-transport. Here's a lucky number tip: Purchase your Lisbo Card in-person and request the family day card (for two adults and two kids under the age of 14), and you will be saving a few euros by the end of the day. Be sure to plan out your day accordingly and double check that your places of interest are listed on the Lisbo Card. Now, that's a winning ticket!
1-2-3 BAM!
Hop on tram Line 15, head out to Belém, and make a day of it if you can. When it comes to family-travel ease, Belém is a dream: All the top attractions the area has to offer fall within walking distance of each other. For example, there's Torres de Belém (Belém Tower). Built in 1515, Torres de Belém is to Lisbon what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.  It is the city's most photographed landmark. Nearby, you will find the Monument to Discoveries, which was built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. The monument represents a three-sailed ship ready to depart, attended by sculptures of important historical figures. Then, there's Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a elaborate and ornate monastery that began as a chapel built by Henry the Navigator around 1459, but was expanded upon from 1501 to 1601. It's nothing short of specatacular, and today, its main visitors entrance and wings house Portugal's Maritime Museum and the National Archaeology Museum.
Note: Be patient and wait around, if you can, to ride one of the few operating centennial wooden trams that head in and out of Belém parish.
BEST TART IN THE WORLD
In between all of the family fun, take a break and refresh yourselves with a delicious custard tart. I'm specifically referring to the world-famous pasteis de natas from the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. Since 1841, the bakers of Antiga Confeitaria de Belém have dazzled countless taste buds with their delicious custard tarts served warm with a light sprinkle of cinnamon. These magnificent tarts are treated like they're solid gold, carefully placed into decorative handmade boxes by staff members. Most folks slowly and delicately enjoy their tart while hanging around outside of the cafe. Don’t let the long lines fool you. The employees of the Antiga Confeitaria operate surprising fast. Speaking of speed, my kids and I swiftly learned why there is always a long line at Antiga Confeitaria de Belém: These tarts are so fantastic that they need to be eaten and enjoyed right on the spot. You'll want to buy them one at a time and then immediately savor them -- hence, the lines.
Alas, all good things must end. The sights are seen, the tarts are eaten, and I'm back in Barcelona again. But now that I've gotten to know my new-found neighbor Portugal a bit and enjoyed its lovely capital city, I look forward to my next trip "next door."
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Photo Credit: Bon Voyage Magazine Caption: Martinao, the oldest cafe in Lisbon, sits a few yards away from tram Line 15 that heads out to Belém.

Culture and crisis: A changing landscape

Por: | 08 de octubre de 2013

“People are spending on cheaper products, and on brands. We’re in the second group… a brand.” You may think that comment relates to clothes, perfume or any number of consumer goods, but Laszlo Baan is talking about museums. Baan is the director of Budapest’s Bellas Artes, and together with Gabriele Finaldi, the conservation and research director of Madrid’s Prado, a discussion is taking place at the Hay Festival in Segovia about the role of culture in a time of crisis. For the Festival, it’s one of a number of interesting diversions from its literary content. The venue can hardly be more appropriate for the old adapting to the new – Segovia’s San Nicolás Church, built in the 12th century, but with its interior now converted into a performance and conference space. Tom Chivers, of the UK’s The Telegraph, oversees the event.

Works by Goya or Velazquez at first seem a million miles from the vocabulary that abounds – ‘market position’, ‘public/private partnerships’ and ‘sectors’ – yet, as the speakers explain, these terms are becoming fundamental to preserve and develop the role of a museum in modern times. For Baan, the key is the provision of authenticity. “We are keepers of the past; the world is changing very fast,” he says. “How can we give values to the younger generation? Libraries will change totally; you won’t need to go to a library to read a book. But if you want to see the Mona Lisa, to experience authenticity, you have to go to the Louvre.”

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Gabriele Finaldi, Tom Chivers and Laszlo Baan.                                    Photo: Jeff Wiseman

Gabriele Finaldi, who previously worked for London’s National Gallery, joined the Prado in 2002. “We deal with how we interpret the past at the present time,” he adds. “In the old days we said that people visited twice – once with dad, and once with sons and daughters – but by creating rich exhibitions, we create the sensation that unless you visit often you’re missing out on important things.” Despite the recent financial upheavals, he believes that the museum’s founding ideals from the 1820s remain the same: preserving identity, engaging the public, education and the diffusion of knowledge.

A current challenge is marketing a museum’s valuable and important work, and presenting a case to politicians, public sponsors and companies for assistance with development and progress. The timescale of European politics, however, makes planning for the future a rocky path. “Politics is a short-term job,” says Baan. “Every four years politicians have to win an election, and it’s not easy if you can’t give them short-term benefits.”

Part of the hardship being faced, as Finaldi points out, is that museums and the service they provide are “difficult to quantify in financial terms.” It’s much easier for culture to become a priority in times of plenty, but to lose its priority when money is harder to come by. When he joined the Prado, the museum was two-thirds publicly funded, and one-third privately. Now, the situation is vice-versa. “It’s a significant shift,” he says. “We’re in a transitional phase.” In fact, the Prado’s annual accounts would be released a few days after the discussion, and would highlight problems.

As an example of the importance of art in a time of crisis, he draws on the story of London’s National Gallery in 1941, when the city was under the strategic bombing of the Blitz. “All the Gallery pictures were removed to a slate mine in Wales,” he explains, “but there was a public outcry. People were saying ‘we need our pictures’, and so Kenneth Clark, the Gallery director, accepts the cultural necessity and arranges that one picture is brought to London each month.” Every night the picture was taken to safe storage; but it satisfied the public demand and suggests that even in the worst of times cultural desires need to be nourished.

Potential can be found in the right strategy, particularly in mixed public/private partnerships, of which British museums have been at the vanguard. “As state funding has rolled back, private funding remains stable, with a small number of large benefactors rather than a large number of small ones. The model of a State-owned and State-funded museum is finished in this part of Europe,” says Finaldi. “In Spain, it’s going to be a mixed model. We’re in a period of cuts… but we have to argue that we are contributing to the net benefit from tourism and to the economy.” He also emphasizes the museum’s prestige, conservation work and research, the necessity to continue to offer times for free entry, as well as the art of diplomacy. “At the British Museum, they recently held a conference with Iranian specialists – two countries with political tension can come together to examine a millennial history that unites them both.”

Both speakers put their money on a bright future. “We have to be optimistic,” concludes Baan, and Finaldi agrees by verbally painting an enviable scene in the Prado. “We can exploit the virtual world, and we can also be exploited by it, but we can make the case for standing in front of Velazquez’ masterpiece ‘Las Meninas’ as the sun goes down, and say that it’s a unique place to visit.”

The clash of Spain’s culture and business

Por: | 03 de octubre de 2013

Siesta
Newcomers to Spain are often confronted by the leisurely way of Spanish life, and if expatriate weblogs were any indicator, Spain’s business culture would be characterised by siestas and slowness. Yet this Spanish stereotype belies a hard-working culture long established in Spain’s major cities and large companies. But as the transition is not yet consistent across the country, smaller companies still struggle to operate in a country where culture clashes with modernised work schedules.

New business owner Santiago Revert experienced this clash when he received a sizeable order from Germany just as Spain’s summer slowdown was starting to hit. He was less than ecstatic when he couldn’t find a logistics company to deliver the order on time. Many were closed for the summer.

Spain’s businesses are particularly affected during July and August when many small companies either shut down, have reduced staff or shorten work hours to finish at 3pm, more so in rural areas and civil services. “For us it’s an inconvenience because the other countries keep working,” Mr Revert said. “In some industries, they even tell you to pick up small orders yourself.”

Mr Revert became a joint business owner of furniture exporter Imoa last year. Yet even though his company has struggled to attract sales in Spain’s recessed economy, Mr Revert also closed for two weeks this August because his clients were doing the same. “We stayed open last year but we couldn’t do our normal activity because the decision-makers were not there. We would not be more successful if we stayed open unless our clients did the same. But for that everybody would have to get into the same philosophy,” he said.

The continued practice of closing for summer holidays stands against Spain’s economic contraction of 1.6 per cent in the second quarter, and one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe at 26.6 per cent. Mr Revert said, however, that crises and globalisation were forcing Spain’s market to slowly change.

“A lot of companies aren’t closing any more during August because they’re scared they won’t be around in September. But in the near future it will change more because the world is changing and it’s just not effective to be closed for even two weeks,” he said.

British expatriate Navinya Lee was also surprised when she took a job with an event management company in Madrid and found the company did not even have a schedule to monitor employee holidays. “There was such a large loss of time due to everyone taking holidays in the same months. Summer had a major impact as it seemed that the whole country came to a stand still, and you get a lot of 'out of office' replies. With everyone away, the lack of sales in those months affected our targets.”

Ms Lee said in her native country she was used to taking holidays throughout the year so work life could continue as usual. “The summer months should be no different to the other 10 months of the year. The world does not stop because it’s summer,” she said.

Tabarca Technologies CEO Jose Luis Cayuela, however, describes a work culture in stark contrast to the one often associated with the Spanish stereotype of extended lunch breaks, siestas, late starts, and long vacations. Siestas, he said, disappeared from his workplace more than 20 years ago, and his vacations were far from the ‘sacred Spanish summer’.

“Ten years ago I used to plan my vacation time to spend a full three or four weeks with my family at the beach. Now even my holiday time is split between working from 7am to 11am each morning and spending time with my family in the afternoon.”

“Even then, I’m always available through this,” said Mr Cayuela, waving his telephone.

Additionally, he said the practice of long lunches was relative to a workday of more than 10 to 12 hours. “I start early and finish just before dinner – Spanish time [9–10pm] – so it’s not a problem to use two or three hours for lunch. Sometimes I take just 20 minutes. We spend a lot of time at work so the productivity per hour is slower, but we might spend 14 hours a day so the final performance is not bad. The problem is we are not efficient uses of our time,” said Mr Cayuela.

Instead, he said he had experienced a large capacity of the Spanish working culture to reinvent itself to adapt to environment changes. “It’s very curious because we have the Latin Mediterranean culture, with siestas and a casual lifestyle, but on the opposite side we have the most successful and efficient companies in the world, such as Santander, Repsol, Endesa, Telfonica and Indra."

“We are not as disciplined as the Anglo Saxon people, but we have the capacity for creativity and self-innovation,” he said.

Mr Cayuela, however, said it would be difficult to mesh the contrasting sides of Spain’s working culture. “It’s a hard path because there are big gaps between the Mediterranean culture in provinces and the international professional culture in corporations. Considering that 95 percent of Spanish companies are smaller, the differences between the big and small companies are too high.”

Mr Cayuela, however, advocates that the Spanish culture has some positive points to add to the executive world. “If you are integrated in a multinational company and you take the best of that working culture and put in the Mediterranean side, the mix is very good.What we have to do is know what are our positives and negatives are, and try to reduce the bad things and take advantage of our values.” 

 

Photo credit: enjoylivingabroad.com

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