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.

Carolina López: 'We are still drawn to the irrational, the magical'

Por: | 25 de septiembre de 2014

The more we try to make sense of our world, the more we crave the weird and the wonderful. Metamorphosis - Fantasy Visions in Starewitch, Švankmajer and the Quay Brothers, a new exhibition at Madrid's La Casa Encendida from 2nd October to the end of the year, draws us into the dark imaginations of two individual and one twin set of artists, all of whom work or worked on the fringes of film, animation and art. As its curator, Carolina López Caballero, explains below, the show developed in continual dialogue with its protagonists and 'puppet masters', the artists, Jan Švankmajer (1934) and Timothy and Stephen Quay (1947), and Irina Starewitch, the daughter of stop-motion animation pioneer Ladislas Starewitch (1882-1965). The effect is a deliberately disorientating yet revelatory experience – the kind of show that you go into, but never really come out of.

Carolina Lopez interviewed at the CCCB, March 2014Who are these artists? 

CL: Most of us will recognise something of their work, they are massively influential. Yet they remain obscure, marginal, so protective of their visions that they might spend a decade fighting to find funding. 
Ladislas Starewitch was Polish. He held onto his Polish passport despite moving around and eventually settling in France in the 1920s. He spoke six languages, and you find as many Russian and Polish elements as French ones in his films. He became hugely famous but he never went mainstream. 
Jan Švankmajer is from Prague. He's 100% Czech and his art is inextricably linked with its capital, the 'magical city' of André Breton. He still lives there. 
Timothy and Stephen Quay are American. They studied graphic design at the Philadelphia College of Art, where they came across some amazing posters by Polish artists and became absolutely fascinated by them, by the designs, but also by the worlds they discovered within them, of theatre and art. This was, of course, the pre-Google age. They moved to London and enrolled at the Royal College of Arts. Almost immediately upon their arrival they took a trip to Poland. So while all these artists are from different places they meet in the same place.

Jan Švankmajer, Frame of Conspirators of Pleasure, 1996, Courtesy of Athanor Ltd. Film Production CompanyWhy bring them together in one show?

While often associated with the ‘creative animation’ world, these are all 'artists' in the less categorical sense: they make films, they work with their hands, and they draw on a myriad of literary, cultural and scientific references. I wanted to engage the wider public by exploring these references and also making links between the artists. Also, I think, nowadays we are increasingly drawn to the irrational, the poetic, the magical! And these artists are fascinated by those times when art and science merge, that vein that runs through history, from the Renaissance through the 18th century spirit of discovery, into the 19th century Romantic fascination with feeling and the darkness of human nature, all the way to 20th century symbolism and surrealism. Their desire is to transform, to 'metamorphosise' all these references into something coherent, complete, aesthetic. 

Quay Brothers Domitorium - The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, QBFZ collectionWhat are the big themes of the exhibition?

The Cabinet of Curiosities 
After I went to Prague to suggest the show to him, Švankmajor wrote me this wonderful letter saying that he envisaged it like a huge cabinet of curiosities. He said, 'at museums you learn things, but with a cabinet of curiosities you experience them'. Museums tend to impose a 'rational' order on exhibits by putting the same sort of things together, we wanted to juxtapose different kinds of objects: a Goya print with a shell; a painting with an African mask, inviting imaginative narratives between them. Švankmajer created his own cabinet of curiosities for the show. He brought 150 objects over from Prague that represent some 10% of his own private collection! 

Forests and Fairy Tales 
We start and end with a forest and a fairy tale. At the beginning, the 'simple' fairy tale narrative is introduced by Starewitch and from there the discourse gets increasingly sophisticated, moving into what you might call the ‘anti-fairy tale’, the anti-narrative until the Quay Brothers' installation, which is what they call 'a forest within a forest'. Almost all of Švankmajer's literary references are Czech: Kafka, but also Edgar Allen Poe and (Goethe's) Faust. The Quay Brothers draw on Polish writer, Bruno Schultz, and Robert Walser's novel Jakob von Gunten inspired their film, Institut Benjamenta (1995). There is a line of dialogue at the end that goes, '...am I living in a fairy tale?' which brings us back to the beginning of our show.

Ladislas Starewitch at his work table, c. 1923 ©Collection Martin-StarewitchScience and Imagination
All the artists touch on science. Starewitch was an Entomologist yet brought dead insects alive. Švankmajer loved the 'moment' of alchemy, the 'spark' of transformation. The Quays are fascinated by anatomy and museums of medicine, and also disease - defying the push for perfection. They've made three 'documentaries' on the theme, two of which are on display. Then, rather than bring anatomical pieces all the way from the Mütter Museum (College of Physicians) in Philadelphia, we decided to find pieces that we thought the Quays would like from here. We worked with the Catalan Museum of the History of Medicine where we found that beautiful 'Venus' with the necklace, which they loved!

Art and the Unknown
The Quays were really into the 'Monsù Desiderio' painting (Les Enfers, 1622) they had a postcard of it and I asked them if they'd like the original and they said, 'Wow, yes!' So we got it from Besançon (Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie). When Jan saw it he started gesticulating like mad, we got the translator and he said 'Thank you! Thank you!' it turned out to be one of his favourite paintings and he'd never actually seen it in real life before! We also incorporate Spanish works previously unknown to the artists: the Goya's, yes, but also the photographs of Joaquim Pla Janini and Josep Massana.

Quay Brothers, frame of Street of Crocodiles, 1986 ©Koninck Studios LtdWhat kind of experience is this for a visitor?

These artists are used to working on and in their own uncontaminated world; their vision is intimate, unique, a 'world on a table top', as the Quays put it. We try to recreate this while offering a visitor enough clues to orientate her or himself. So the show is linear in that we introduce each artist in turn but labyrinthine in that its structure is invisible. We filmed interviews of the artists in their studios to draw the visitor into their world, and while we include captions on exhibits with further information, we keep them small and out of the way. We also wanted go beyond La Casa Encendida itself, so we got in touch with other museums in Madrid, the collections of which fall within the universe of these artists. We're working with Museo Lázaro Galdiano, which also has an amazing collection, the Museo del Romanticismo (Museum of Romanticism) and the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (Museum of Natural Sciences) – all of them are really excited to be involved.

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Metamorphosis - Fantasy Visions in Starewitch, Švankmajer and the Quay Brothers
La Casa Encendida, Madrid - 2nd October 2014 until 11th January 2015
Read more by Alx Phillips: www.lookingfordrama.com

What goes around comes around

Por: | 17 de septiembre de 2014

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Some might say that Richard Krugel is crazy; others may say he is brave. I think he must be a bit of both to even think of attempting to swim (yes, swim) around the 360 kilometre long coastline of Majorca, but that is exactly what he is intending to do this month to raise money for The Allen Graham Charity for Kidz. This swim, which has never been done before, will be taken in an anti-clockwise direction, starting and finishing in Portixol.

Richard will be traveling from South Africa early next week to prepare and intends to start the swim on September 20th. It will be the first time he has been in Majorca after leaving a decade ago.  “I was working in the Super Yacht Industry in Majorca when on 4th July 2003 I got the news that my brother, Ewald, had died back home in a motor car accident.  I couldn’t get a flight back to South Africa immediately so friends of mine took me to a quiet beach where I could cry, we drank a bottle of cognac, and I got the idea to dedicate a swim around the island to the memory of my brother.

“After my brother passed away I stayed with my parents for a month, I returned to Majorca after the funeral, but somehow it was never the same again, a piece of me had been taken away. In 2004 I returned to South Africa, I have been here ever since. The idea had always lingered in the back of my mind that I would return. I now work as a trader in the Futures Market: it’s difficult, but I love it, I don’t see it as a job. The idea of the swim remained a dream for me, until I heard of some other friends who had done a swim in Africa of a similar distance, this rekindled my idea and I started to train.

Excersise4

“I’ve now been preparing for the past 3 years, lost weight, got a coach who helped me not to burn out, and got involved with Rosemary and Joanne from The Allen Graham Charity: they’ve been helping me to organise all of the paperwork and permissions for the swim. The thing which will really motivate me to keep swimming will be raising money for this charity; I really hope everyone will sponsor me.”

Richard is in a strict training routine, swimming for between three and six hours a day, six days a week. “If I had been doing another sort of job I wouldn´t have been able to train the way I have, the US markets open at 3.30pm so that leaves me the whole of the morning to swim and spend time with my children and my wife.”

“What do I think about when I am swimming? I just shut my mind off, the first two kilometres are the most difficult, once you are in a rhythm your arms go numb and you just keep going. It is really important to visualise what it will be like, what the start will be like, and visualise the end when you get out of the water. You can get into a meditative state, that makes it easier. The more tired you get, the longer it takes to get into that zone. Apparently I will be a zombie for the first seven days and then I will get better according to my friends who did the Madagascar to Mozambique swim. They say I will sleep a lot and eat a lot. I’ve been doing feeding practice in the water as I am not allowed to touch the boat during the stages, if I did so I would be disqualified. I will be taking energy smoothies, and supplements, and I have been getting B12 injections as training this hard really lowers your immune system.”

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“It’s called Mallorca 360 because of the distance in kilometres that I will have swum by the end of the challenge. I’m aiming at covering 20 kilometres every day with the intention of completing the swim in eighteen days, weather permitting. But rather than aim at distance I am swimming in blocks of time. I decided to come over in September because the sea temperature and weather is good for swimming at this time of year. Instead of saying how many kilometres I will aim to complete in each stage I will be doing it in blocks of time. Three hours, then two and then finally a swim of one hour. Three hours of swimming is quite a heavy strain on the body and the mind. I don’t want to swim during the dark; I really need to have sunlight, to have daylight. That’s the plan at least.

“I will be trying to swim from a beach towards another beach each day but there are a few places on the island where it won’t be possible to get to a beach at the end of the day so I will have to get on to the boat, take a GPS location reading and then start from that same point the next day. The open water swimming association have categorised this as a “stage swim”. For it to be recognised as a record you need to swim every day even if the weather is bad so I have to get into the water every day from the day I begin.

“I’m really looking for people to participate in this with me; I am hoping for people with Stand Up Paddle boards and Kayaks who can travel beside me, it will help to make me more visible to other vessels and give me much needed support: both physical and moral. I have also have a support boat which is sponsored by an old boss of mine; we’re going to have a traditional Majorcan Llaut which moves slowly. And I will also have a land based support crew who will be in communication with radios to bring me my supplies for my rest periods.

“I am quite nervous. The magnitude of this has begun to hit home now. But I’m excited as well. My head’s there. If I can complete this it will be one of the three swims I want to do. I want to swim across the English Channel and swim across False Bay in Cape Town, which is like the English Channel, just with 100% more sharks.”

To contact Richard visit www.agrahamcharity.org or https://www.facebook.com/palmademallorca360.

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. 

Independence not patriotism for Scots and Catalans

Por: | 15 de septiembre de 2014

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As a Scotsman - or a man born in Scotland, anyway - living in Barcelona I’ve had more than my fair share of the independence debate.

It used to annoy me. I disliked the way people would assume I supported Scottish independence based on nothing more than my nationality and I found it galling that many Catalans would draw on the example of a country they knew little to nothing about (even down to assuming Glasgow was the capital).

More importantly, though, I saw the independence debate as fuelled by a patriotism for which I have no time and sympathy. Patriotism, I’ve always thought, is for football matches, when it makes sense to pick a side. Otherwise, feeling proud of the achievements of people born in the same patch of land hundreds of years before you feels ridiculous at best. 

Certainly, Scotland is a beautiful place and has birthed some remarkable people. But I feel no more right to claim the work of poet Robert Burns - who was born and lived most of his life in Scottish towns I’ve never even visited - as somehow my own, than I do with the work of Cervantes.

Don't get me wrong: defending shared values (as is sometimes put forward as an argument for patriotism) is important. But defining values on a national level never seems to work and I'd like to think I have more in common with socialist French President François Hollande than Eurosceptic UKIP leader Nigel Farage, just because he's British. 

Much of this unpatriotic feeling is down to my itinerant British roots, which - typical to many people of that seafaring isle - spread their tendrils over the globe. I was born in Scotland, my parents were born in England and my grandparents were born in Scotland, Ireland and China. I’ve lived in Scotland, England, Paris, Madrid and Barcelona and it was here, in the Catalan capital, that my own children were born.

I could, technically, play football for England, Scotland and Ireland, the latter a country I’ve visited for the grand total of one day. I speak with a southern English accent and I’ve never even been to Northern Ireland, one of the four countries that makes up the United Kingdom, whose passport I hold.

The idea, then, of fighting to create a separate country in 2014 when we are so bound by cross-border politics and political and cultural union, seemed rather futile and I resented the patriotic edge of many of the pro-independence arguments. 

Recently, though, I’ve changed my mind: while independence for national pride remains a pointless struggle for me, independence as a way to bring about wholesale change in society makes a great deal of sense.

Consider, for example, a Scotsman who is opposed to Britain’s ownership of nuclear weapons (as well he might be, with the UK’s nuclear arsenal based on his doorstep in HMNB Clyde). With Britain’s three major political parties all committed to keeping this nuclear force, the only realistic way in his lifetime to bring about a non-nuclear Scotland would be to vote for Scottish independence, thus forcing the British army to relocate. 

A vote for an independent Scotland, then, becomes less about patriotism and more about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make real change, to start again and see what exactly a country should be like in the 21st Century, freed from thousands of years of conservatism.

“If this [Scottish independence] happens, we are going to see the birth of a new nation, not forged in war or fighting, but peacefully and by consensus,” one Scottish friend of mine said on Facebook. “I'm so happy to be alive at this time!” 

Is this naive? Possibly. But what kind of sad world do we live in if we can’t even admit the possibility of peaceful change?

Many Catalans see this too. Of course, there are thousands of supporters of Catalan independence who hold their views because of simple national pride. But at the recent Diada I saw signs for “Independence and feminism”, “Independence and socialism” and countless other variations on the theme.

These are people who, like the Scot opposed to nuclear weapons, see independence as Catalonia’s best chance to do something different, to make things better for them and for their families and to try for a fairer world. Independence for them is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end, a way to bring about a better future that - wrongly or rightly - they don’t see happening within Spain.

Scotland goes to the polls this Thursday to decide whether it wants independence. As someone who lives in Barcelona, I don’t get a vote. Even If I did, like millions of undecided Scots I still don’t know where I would put my cross.

Whatever the outcome, though, I want to believe that things in Britain have changed for ever. The British government expected the “no” campaign to trot to an easy victory, propelled by the economic uncertainty of leaving the Union.  Instead the people of Scotland seized the chance to tell the wider world exactly what they thought of Westminster rule, stifling Conservative power and weakling Labour opposition, immigration scaremongering and nuclear force. 

Win or lose, then, the British political establishment has taken a bloodied nose at the hands of the independence movement. If the Catalans can do the same, then maybe all Spain might benefit.

'Academias Fachadas' are degrading the TEFL industry in Spain

Por: | 12 de septiembre de 2014

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There are few who would argue that la crisis hasn’t been the worst thing to hit Spain in the last decade, because it most definitely has. Yet out of the ashes of it all one industry has benefited immensely: TEFL.

Intensive exam courses that can equip young Spaniards with the means to escape their never-ending nightmare have become the cash cows of the trade. Such is the importance now placed on learning English that many reputable and certified academies are having to turn students away due to an insufficient preexisting level with which to tackle the strictly assessed B1 or B2 exams. It happens in the small academy where I teach in Granada on a near daily basis. 

The ‘B1’ (official intermediate-level qualification in English) and the B2 (official upper-intermediate qualification) are certified through several bodies, principally Cambridge Language Assesment and Trinity College London. The B1 tends to carry greater importance than the B2, since it is a mandatory requirement of numerous university courses, mainly those involving primary education.

Unfortunately, high demand has led to an inevitable popping up of shoddy language academies with little to no regard for the sort of integrity that is shown by legitimate competitors. That is to say, students who are more likely to solve the crisis itself than pass the B1 exam are being invited to try their luck, at a knockdown price.

Earlier this year, Andalucía’s official institution for foreign language teaching, ACEIA, announced that it would be taking action on the matter. Based on evidence that showed ACEIA integrated academies were being consistently undercut and the quality of teaching and pass rate in those culpable academies was much lower, ACEIA has presented an information campaign designed to offer consumers all the possible information and mechanisms needed to avoid such cases of blatant but often undetectable fraud. Borja Uruñuela, president of ACEIA, has labeled these centres ‘Academias Fachadas’– a rather fitting description.

There are numerous points suggested in the campaign, but some of the most key principles for consumers to consider are:

  • Whether there is a written and oral level test before a level is determined.
  • Whether the academy is fully licensed and its teachers are properly qualified and native or bilingual English speakers.
  • Whether the academy is insured and associated with a professional body with which consumers may take up issue in case they need to.
  •  Whether there are any hidden costs (textbooks, enrolment fee etc)
  • The existing percentage of students who have passed any official exams studied for at the academy.
  • The standard of resources available at the academy (digitalised classrooms etc).

Here in Granada, one or two academies fitting this ‘academia fachada’ profile had come to our attention, so we did what any self-respecting and industry-interested language school would do: we gave them a ring. Or rather, a Spanish friend of mine, posing as a prospective student, gave them a ring.

The objective was simple: grill whoever answered with a series of hard-hitting questions that addressed several of the key points outlined in ACEIA’s campaign. The first subject, which was offering clases superintensivos at €2.80 an hour, proved unreachable (lamentably), but the other, which, according to its flyer, offered a flat rate of €128 a month for ‘B1, B2 and C1’, yielded some telling results.

In short, a few of the principles did seem to be in place– a level test and native teachers, for instance –but most of our inquiries were met more imperviously than we would have liked. Questions about its teachers’ formal qualifications, pass rates and affiliation with any professional organisations repeatedly rebounded off a wall of ‘I don’t knows’ and ‘The director isn’t available at the moments’.

The €128 per month package (plus a €25 enrolment fee) apparently amounted to four 2-hour long classes per week, so, assuming there are 32 teaching hours in a month, that’s an hourly rate of €4.

Fully licensed, insured and ACEIA associated academies simply cannot afford to come down to that figure, and any unapprised, budget-conscious student will almost certainly plump for the more economical option.

There is, of course, another way of looking at it: some startups, whether legitimate or otherwise, often cannot afford to take the moral high ground, given that their loss will probably be a larger competitor’s gain, and often need to advertise lower fees in order to get a foot on the ladder. Nevertheless, students who are clearly well off the mark– 70% in the case of the B1 –still deserve to be told straight, rather than duped for weeks on end before failing abysmally and having their confidence shattered into a thousand pieces.

But what is the ultimate objective of the campaign? It’s not about closing these academies down– that is as impractical as it is idealistic –it’s about all academies competing on equal terms within the necessary legal framework and offering students honesty and every possible chance of success.

The integrity and guarantee of the absolute highest standards of Spain's TEFL industry depend on it.

 

Follow Josh Taylor on his personal blog and Twitter: @spain4pleasure

Watch Your Step

Por: | 08 de septiembre de 2014

 

Dog poster
All images courtesy of Aileen Hamilton

When you live in a city for four years, you get to notice some changes that are sometimes so subtle that they´re almost imperceptible. Back in 2010 I was new in Seville and as I meandered through the cobbled streets that were so beguiling and mysterious, I found that I could never wholly relax. Not for fear of falling victim to some opportunistic street crime, but more to avoid the very distinct possibility that my foot might unwittingly stray onto the soft, squidgy mass of a freshly laid dog turd.

There were some places that appeared to be high risk zones, including the very street on which I lived, which after being converted into a pedestrianized zone, found itself perfectly suited to owners escorting their beloved pets for their early morning business trip. So effectively I was living in a dog public toilet.

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I mean it isn’t any surprise that Seville’s streets are poo havens. Dog ownership has increased generally in Spain over the last few years, with studies estimating that there are currently up to 5.5 million dogs in Spain and with a population of 47 million, you do the maths. So at a guess there’s probably around 70,000 pooches defecating the streets of the Andalucían capital. And compared to the UK where even in urbanised areas many houses have small gardens for that late night/ early morning toilet visit, in Seville parks and gardens are comparatively few and far between, most people live in apartments, and when nature calls, it’s a quick dash down a few flights of stairs, a few strides along the street and what a dog’s gotta do, a dog’s gotta do.

None of this would be a problem (unless you ponder as I often do about whether a dog might really prefer a grassy knoll to relieve itself), if it weren’t for the fact that the whole poo picking up idea has been much slower to gain popularity than the exponential growth of dog ownership.

So, a visit to the historic centre can be a combination of staring up at the glory of the Giralda Tower while at the same time, picking your way through excrement lined pavements.

8 bienvenidas

Such was the experience of Irish Artist and Seville resident Aileen Hamilton. After eavesdropping on a group of American tourists bemoaning the fact that Seville’s beauty is spoilt somehow by the extraordinary levels of dog faeces, she decided to undertake an unusual photography assignment entitled ‘8 Bienvenidas a Sevilla’ in which she catalogues eight specimens of uncollected dog excrement found while walking around Seville’s cobbled back streets.

Says Hamilton ‘I wanted to highlight the contradiction between the beauty of the historical centre and the poo that smears it. And I wanted the piece to be a little ambiguous. Instead of explaining the problem or complaining, I presented it in a playful way, hoping to engage the viewer’.

And this ‘playful’ element is executed by the tiny, numbered flags carefully positioned in the excrement, emblazened with the official symbol used by the Spanish tourism to symbol ‘to add irony to the fact that the poo welcomes the visitors to the city’.

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But thankfully the potential damage to the city’s image, plus the health consequences of coming into contact with canine faeces has led to some affirmative action headed up by the Local Police and the Andalucian government’s cleaning firm Lipasam, who amongst other measures have installed 65,000 bag dispensers throughout the city. Earlier in the year they proudly announced that there had been a reduction of 45% in uncollected dog mess and 104 police reports filed against dog owners failing to compile with regulations.

And the truth is, now I come to think of it, Seville’s streets are a lesser shade of dog dirt brown, maybe because that civil duty, so close to my British heart, appears to be finally filtering down to the canine owning masses. I just hope the person whose dog’s welcome home present I nearly stepped in as I got out of my taxi on arriving back after a summer in bucolic exile, remembers to pick up after their pet in future.

http://8bienvenidas.blogspot.com/

 

The perils of being a busker in Madrid

Por: | 03 de septiembre de 2014

“It’s taken away the essence of the streets”

I’m sitting in El Gato Verde in Lavapiés talking to Dario, the flautist from one of Madrid’s most recognisable busking bands: The Swingdigentes. Playing tight (original) songs with break dance dancers and a nice line in audience repartee they are an act that has been honed on the streets. Dario, with his long black hair, winning smile and finely tuned flute chops is one of the most recognisable musicians on Madrid’s street scene.

 Two months ago in the Circulo de los Bellas Artes on Gran Vía The Swingdigentes headlined a night called Las Noches Bárbaras. The night is an annual celebration of street music. The irony is that The Swingdigentes are seen less and less on Madrid’s streets these days. They have been pushed to the fringes; one of many victims of the council’s decision to require buskers to carry a license and to ban the use of amplifiers and percussion.

Madrid originally considered banning busking completely. Instead they held the now infamous auditions in Conde Duque. Musicians had five minutes to convince two musicians and a member of the council that they were good enough to play on Madrid’s streets. The musicians on the panel were recruited from local conservatories. ‘They seemed very nice’ Dario says ‘but they had no experience of playing on the streets.’

 The combination of being judged by an unknown panel of judges with no relation to the street scene, the classification by the regulation of the music that they were playing as ‘noise’ to be regulated and the sheer emotional objection to the regulation meant that many street musicians didn’t even apply for the authorisation.

Since coming over three years ago from Mexico with his orchestra, Dario has supported himself by playing on the streets. Despite this he was one of the buskers who refused to apply for the licenses. His refusal is not that of the dilettante who didn’t fancy giving up an afternoon in the sun. It is the result of a deeply held objection to the regulation of street music by the authorities. What The Busking Project: a website dedicated to helping the busking community has described as the “wholesale privatisation of our public spaces” 

Of course, Madrid is not the only city in Spain to clamp down on buskers. The Swingdigentes have racked up at least twenty fines in their travels around Spain. In Ibiza their instruments were confiscated with the police demanding 240€ per instrument for their return. A crippling fine for anyone who makes their living playing in the street. It could have been even worse; the band managed to convince the police that the percussionist’s cymbal was part of the saxophone and thus avoided a separate charge for a further instrument. An amusing anecdote, but one that illustrates the disconnect between the musicians and the law enforcers.  Dario tells me in contrast the police in Madrid are not quite so heavy-handed and generally just move them along.

 Indeed, a brief walk through the centre of Madrid is enough to confirm that busking hasn’t been eradicated, not even close. But it has noticeably decreased and without any tangible increase in quality. As Dario says: “The people are the judges, if you are no good, you won’t get any money”  

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Sitges is Brighton on a pin head and all the better for it

Por: | 03 de septiembre de 2014

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The first time I heard about Sitges was when my one-time girlfriend told me about a club she’d visited there showing Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange - then unavailable in the UK - on a large screen above the dance floor.

Thus, the town entered into my thoughts as a place of improbable glamour, excess and mystery, a kind of bohemian hedonists’ paradise on sea.

Fast forward 15 years to the present day and Sitges is the town where my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles in law all live, a friendly, welcoming collection of people who wouldn’t know hedonism if they found it in the shower.

Strangely, though, this has only made the town all the more interesting for me. Sitges is a town of immense contrasts, where the public and private lives, tourist and local experiences, summer and winter are almost unrecognisable to each other, a place where Catalan tolerance and general skill for bumping along happily enough resonate. And if you don’t necessarily have to have grandparents-in-law there to realise that, it does at least help.

Sitges is ‘the Jewel of the Mediterranean’, a small seaside town built on fishing and wine; it stages one of Europe’s most famous film festivals; it is also, famously, “the gay city of Spain”, home to a wealth of gay and gay-friendly bars, home to Mr. Bear Sitges and a resplendent Gay Pride, including - why not? - a High Heels race.

For British people what Sitges most closely resembles is Brighton - an unorthodox seaside resort where people form the nearby capital go to escape the day to day. But while Brighton has some 273,000 residents, sprawling over a reasonably large portion of coast and hills, Sitges is tiny, home to just 30,000 people and 5,000 hotel beds, as well as the thousands of day trippers who arrive on the train from Barcelona, all packed into claustrophobically small streets. 

Sitges is like Brighton, then, but amplified and condensed, packed into a needle’s eye but no less exuberant for that. It’s a weird place, really, but whenever I mention this to my girlfriend, who grew up in Sitges, she just shrugs and says its was the perfect place to be young.

This shrugging seems typical of local’s responses to Sitges and its endearing strangeness and I find it very admirable. 

“Doesn’t it bother you that Sitges is always packed with tourists?” Shrug. “How can you drive a car here?” More shrugs. “And the noise from the clubs?” Shrug shrug shrug.

This happy shrugging also pretty much sums up local residents’ response to their town’s fabulously gay fame. Sitges was home to Spain’s first gay club, Trailer, in the 1980s and also plays host to the country’s oldest gay nude beach. Today it is known as one of Europe’s premier gay resorts, with 35 gay clubs, saunas and hotels listed on sitges.nighttours.com.

The locals - some of whom are gay too, of course - know all this. And their response is sanguine, barely batting an eyelid as muscled gay couples walk arm in arm down the street, stopping for a quick nuzzle.

Of course, in an ideal world, this should be nothing of note. No one should ever be judged on their sexual preferences and we should all be free to give affection as we see fit. 

But we don’t live in an ideal world and it is telling that stuffy insitutionalist British newspaper The Telegraph in its generally very positive review of Sitges warns readers who are troubled by “public displays of same-sex affection” to stay outside of the centre of town. Put it this way: I can imagine my own grandmother’s response to staying in Sitges and it wouldn’t be that happy.

My girlfriend’s grandmother, on the other hand, is delighted to call Sitges home. She’s lived there since the 50s and wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.

“Has Sitges always been similarly bohemian?” I ask, rather skirting around the issue.

She shrugs (of course). Yes, she replies, it started with the artists who came here in the 19th century.

And the gay visitors?

She shrugs again. It’s none of her business.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised by this: Spain is, according to the Pew Research Centre, the country that is most accepting of homosexuality, with some 88% of Spaniards saying it should be accepted by society (versus 60% in the US and 76% in the UK).

But for many British people Spain is still seen as still being a deeply religious place (rightly or not) and - as Pew points out - there is “far less acceptance of homosexuality in countries where religion is central to people’s lives”.

Sitges is the counter to this idea: a gloriously liberated little town, where grandmothers push shopping baskets down the Calle del Pecado (disappointingly not its real name) and the Corpus Christi Flower Festival joins Gay Pride in the municipal calendar.

Yes, it is expensive, jam packed with people and often impossible to find towel space on the beach. But in a world where only 1% of Nigerians think that homosexuality is acceptable, then Sitges’ famous shrugging might be a lesson to us all.

 

The Pets in Spain Charity

Por: | 01 de septiembre de 2014

'Pets in Spain' is a British animal rescue and re-homing charity based in San Fulgencio on the Costa Blanca, Spain. The non-profit organisation has a governing committee of nine members, a total membership of 63, while staffed by 130 volunteers. The vast majority of animals rescued by the group come from the Costa Blanca and Murcia regions. The charity collaborates with other organisations and individuals throughout the Iberian Peninsula. Pets in Spain also work alongside an organisation called, 'Veterpet Clínicas Veterinarias' (Trans. Veterpet Veterinary Clinics) to find new homes for stray and abandoned animals.

Lesley - Pets in Spain Web
Lesley (Pets in Spain Volunteer) with Patch the dog.

The charity believes that innocent creatures are falling through the cracks in the system. This might be due to either the increasing amount of stray and abandoned animals on the streets that the system cannot manage, or possibly due to negligence on the part of the local authority, if not the sum of both parts.

I met Mark Lewis (secretary of Pets in Spain) throughout June and July 2014, to document the charity's activities and investigate the current situation in regards to animal welfare on the Costa Blanca. He introduced me to charity shop staff, animal foster carers, adopters and a whole assembly of benevolent creatures. I also met veterinary physicians at the Veterpet animal hospital during August 2014 in the town of Guardamar del Segura and documented their collaborative work with Pets in Spain. Their joint work is explained on my slideshow, featured at the end of this article.

When, I discussed animal welfare issues among carers involved with Pets in Spain, one particular name arose. The name that emerged belongs to a private animal collection company called, 'Cereco S.L.'. Since, June 2011, Cereco S.L. has been contracted by San Fulgencio's current Partido Popular (PP) led coalition council to provide a stray animal collection service within the municipality. The aforementioned firm has woefully become the fly in the ointment, in the eyes of the animal welfare community in the local region. Although, Mark Lewis has conceded that the Cereco S.L. adoption initiative, endeavour to provide a good service, he feels the company's animal collection centre in Crevillente is an altogether different beast.

Pets in Spain - Pascalle's Son Web
A boy with his ferrets at a Pets in Spain foster home.

San Fulgencio's council has agreed upon a profitable business arrangement with Cereco S.L.. The company is paid per animal collected from the streets by the town hall. Mark Lewis said, "The contract is for €12,000 per annum, depending on the number of strays they (Cereco S.L.) collect. The more they collect the more the council has to pay. Once, they (the stray animals) are collected, the council then forgets about them. They're (the council) not interested in any follow-up or what happens to them (the stray animals)."

It shall remain a contentious issue; whether a local authority via a private company, discounts itself from providing adequate follow-up care for animals in their possession. If the council is thoughtless, does it become conveniently effortless for it to feel above reproach? The effects of indifference can be far worse than hatred itself. In some cases, it can result in the wholesale slaughter of countless innocent animals.

Mark told me that Cereco S.L., before destroying these strays; rarely coordinate their efforts with local animal welfare charities, associations or organisations in regards to finding new homes for these potential pets. He believes that Cereco S.L. soldiers on, without seeking a viable and acceptable end result for the animals.

After, being collected off the streets, the animals are transported in vans to the Cereco S.L. collection centre located in the town of Crevillente. Mark Lewis said, "One day each week at the collection centre in Crevillente, they close all the heavy doors to the public, usually on a Friday, to kill dogs and cats collected during the previous week, to make space for the next week's consignment. The in-house incinerator is fired up to immediately destroy the corpses and any evidence of previous owners. The Cereco statistics (death toll) are never made public."

Pascale Web
Pascale (Pets in Spain foster carer) with Zack the dog.

Cereco S.L. claims on their official website that they collaborate with a German animal welfare organisation, which can be found at this address - www.112dogs.de However, Mark said, " ...If you go to this page (webpage) and translate it, you will see that they do not mention collaboration with Cereco, in fact they condemn killing stations and the photo they have on the page, wait for it, was taken by me years ago... The German site must have lifted it (Mark's photo) from an English online article years ago condemning Cereco! I cannot see any Cereco dogs for adoption on the German site."

Mark Lewis believes that not only do animals die in the Cereco S.L. collection centre, but sometimes while being transported to Crevillente in the company's vans. He said, "La Marina urbanisation resident (Jose Serrano Gonzales) is just one of the many people that have denounced Cereco after his dog escaped from his garden in La Marina Urbanisation." I recorded Mark, who described how Señor Gonzales's pet had suffered, when seized by Cereco S.L. on that fateful day. Please listen to his short audio story featured below:

The Pukas Audio Story

Pets in Spain - Casa Pukas Web
A pet owner's sign commemorates the untimely death of Pukas the dog, who died in a Cereco S.L. company van.

Since, its launch in 2004, Pets in Spain have found homes for approximately 30 animals per month. It has a roster of temporary foster homes for pets in need as well as individuals who permanently adopt animals. Its work is endless and the organisation is always seeking donations at its charity shop. The group constantly advertises for more foster carers as well as other volunteers to add to their ranks. It has a strong presence on social media and constantly updates followers on its rescue activities and animals offered-up for adoption.

'Fundación Affinity' (Trans. The Affinity Foundation) is a Spanish non-profit organisation that promotes the positive role played by pets in society. The foundation stated in a recent study, commissioned by an online pet shop called 'Kiwoko', that one pet is abandoned every three minutes on the Iberian Peninsula. Consequently, the grand total of 150,000 animals are cast aside every year in Spain, which represents the highest number of domestic creatures abandoned in any European nation.

Fundación Affinity believes that the economic crisis has played a major role in 15% of these abandonments, where pet owners have underestimated the costs of keeping an animal and veterinary bills. The heavy number of abandoned pets has left animal shelters and local authorities overwhelmed. Hence, we may presume from these statistics that Cereco S.L. might be struggling to cope with the high levels of animals left on the streets. Nonetheless, Cereco S.L. has little reason to be prideful of its soldiering, when I'm told of their insufficient 'self-reliance'; because that might best describe a stubborn masochist at the helm, where the company is bound to not prosper on moral and ethical grounds.

Why has it not dawned upon Cereco S.L. to network regularly with animal welfare organisations and the local authorities to tackle problems that may ensue, which otherwise are insurmountable, when dealt with alone? Is red tape and tight budgets at the town hall imposing a death sentence on many helpless animals?

Rufus Rescue - Pets in Spain Web
Mark Lewis (Secretary of Pets in Spain), while rescuing an abandoned puppy.

Pets in Spain supports the belief that animals who are victims of neglect, abuse, or abandonment must not also be victims of bureaucracy. Furthermore, educated citizens with a good moral compass should support that belief and voice their opinion. It would be pertinent to say, “He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” -- Immanuel Kant.

Personally, before we can judge the heart of Cereco S.L., I would offer to help them respond to how the animal welfare community in San Fulgencio has portrayed them, because the lines of communication in such matters of life and death should remain open and transparent. In this particular instance, those channels presently remain silent, between Cereco S.L. and animal carers like Mark Lewis. Communication is one of the vital keys that may unlock those heavy doors, before the in-house incinerator is fired-up, again and again.

The audio slideshow is best viewed in Full Screen Mode:

By Paul Louis Archer: Paul Louis Archer Photography

If you want to help by donating to 'Pets in Spain', the charity's PayPal account can be found via this email address: info@petsinspain.info. Alternatively, you can visit their website www.petsinspain.com for other ways to donate.

The services offered by Veterpet Veterinary Clinics, including a pet shop, can be viewed by visiting their website: http://www.clinicas-veterpet.com

The services offered by the Cereco S.L. adoption initiative, can be viewed by visiting their website: http://adopcionescereco.org

 

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