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.

The big cat running out of lives

Por: | 29 de octubre de 2014

1386531176_891184_1386604840_noticia_grande

For the iconic Iberian lynx, 2014 is already a record-breaker. Sadly, for the world’s most endangered wild cat, the landmark is nothing to celebrate. So far this year, 19 animals have been killed following collisions with cars, the highest annual total since records began.

Add to that a further 14 which suffered the same fate last year and an average of 1.5 are dying on Spanish roads every month. That represents a staggering 10% of the entire species (based on a recent global population estimate of 332).

The elusive creature favours dense woodland, and scrubland away from human activity, feeding almost exclusively on rabbits. But a 40% decline in its main source of prey due to disease has forced the cats to travel further afield in search of food. This has resulted in a greater number of lynx encountering vehicles on roads in Andalucía, where the species’ two known breeding populations live. It’s happening so frequently that road deaths have become the biggest cause of non-natural lynx mortality in Spain.

Conservationists claim the deaths are having a catastrophic effect on lynx numbers and have lobbied for road improvements aimed at protecting the felines. They have been highly critical of the Andalucían regional government, which they accuse of failing to fulfil its obligations under EU law.

Andalucía’s public works ministry, for its part, has pledged €1 million for the construction of specialised lynx crossings and for the upgrading of existing roadside fencing. The work, which has yet to start, must be completed by March 2017.

The regional government department is a partner in Life Lince, an EU-funded lynx conservation scheme, which aims to restore the cat to its traditional range across Spain and Portugal.

Today the species is restricted to the Sierra Morena and Doñana National Park, but once roamed large tracts of Castilla la Mancha and Extremadura, as well as Portugal.

But the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) blames authorities for a three-year delay in agreeing to improve four lynx-death ‘black spots’ on roads in Andalucía. The issue came to a head earlier this month when the campaign group wrote to the European Commission outlining its concerns. The letter states that Spain has a duty as a member state of the EU not to obstruct corridors that allow the geographical distribution of the Iberian lynx. It also accuses the regional government of failing to install crossings that allow for the safe passage of the lynx, and of not maintaining fencing.

“It is unacceptable that the European Commission is investing great efforts in the conservation of the lynx, through the largest project ever created, and that outcomes are being compromised because of the public works ministry,” said Juan Carlos del Olmo, secretary general of WWF Spain. “We have been demanding for some time that the necessary measures be urgently implemented so that the lynx and other protected species can cross highways safely,” he added.

Despite the recent decline, lynx numbers have increased steadily in recent years, from a low of 94 in 2002 to more than 300 in 2014, due largely to concerted conservation efforts. But the distinctive animal, which remains on a list of critically endangered species, faces an uncertain future.

Let’s hope the next record to be broken by this alluring creature is of an altogether more positive nature.

Picture credit: El País

Majorca’s mountain challenges

Por: | 20 de octubre de 2014

Majorca's mountains, perfect for cycling

You probably know that Mallorca is a big favourite with cyclists, but perhaps you didn’t know that it’s also becoming a destination for charities to raise significant amounts of cash through “Challenges”.  A couple of weeks ago 25 cyclists of varying abilities and sizes, and ages, gathered together and took on some serious mountains over a three day challenge, covering 300km to raise money for Great Ormond Street Hospital. Led by Dan Marsh from the cycling concierge company, Marsh Mallows (www.marsh-mallows.com) and facing climbs of four to six per cent gradients up the Tramuntana Mountains, stretching along the backbone of the island, the adventure certainly gave the visitors a taste of the toughest terrain Majorca has to offer, and some of its fantastic culture. The main group participating came from CAPITA (who are in the business process management and outsourcing solutions business in the UK). They travelled over as a big team and are on target to raise a whopping £50,000 for the famous children’s hospital.

The ride was photographed by Oliver Neilson. Dan Marsh told me about how the event went.

  Dan gives a briefing

“We broke the adventure up into three day stages” Dan told me,  “Firstly we had a “Prologue” which was a 30km ride with a 360m vertical climb including a timed category 3 climb of Coll de sa Creueta mountain (4km, 193m vertical at 5 per cent). The next day we did a flatter stage: 145km with 1,350m vertical climb, but including another category 3 climb of the Ermita Bonay, 3.7km, 187m vertical at 5 per cent. And the last day was the big one, the Tramuntana mountain stage; 140km with 2,400m vertical climb – including the category 3 Coll de Soller mountain (4.9km, 253m vertical at 5.8 per cent) and the timed category 1 Puig Major mountain. Soller to Monnaber tunnel (14.2km, 821m vertical at 5.8 per cent)”. Now, if you are a cyclist living in Majorca then you may have attempted some of these climbs, or even do them every weekend, or alternatively wouldn’t dream of ever, ever trying and think they’re all mad. It must be pretty tough to keep a group of people of mixed ability and fitness together, and indeed frustrating for everyone involved, if one group want to shoot off at top speed and the others can’t keep up. But Dan, has a technique to allow everyone to go at their own pace, “On day one the riders climbed Coll de sa Creueta, this was an exercise to assess their fitness as their recorded times seeded them into 3 groups.  Then each group had two guides, who coached and guided them for the next two days. We work with very experienced and talented guides including John Sowerby owner of BICI Metrics bike fitting in Mallorca & Juan Horrach ex-pro rider for team Katusha.”

You're smiling now....

Day two sounded quite fun, mostly because it was on the flat. I’m not sure that I would cope well, or even have the will to try the steep mountain climbs that they were doing. “Yes, the next stage was our long, flatter stage. In terms of distance and vertical metres climbed, it is similar to Ride London 100. The terrain is undulating, and with a likely head wind for the first part of the day, it was always going to be a challenge! It took them into the heart of Majorca and combined some of the quieter country roads with some of the more popular cycling routes. 

“The day kicked off with a 5km ride along the Bay of Pollensa. Passing through Can Picafort and then inland onto the rolling roads to Petra. Here they tackled the main climb of the day, up to Ermita de Bonay (a monastery built in the early 1600's) at 301m above sea level, the bird’s-eye view from the top allowed them to see the Bay of Pollensa, with the backdrop of the Tramuntana Mountains in the distance. While it is a short 3.5km climb averaging 5 per cent (10 per cent in places), it will gave them a taster of what to expect the following day. The route then passed the villages of Vilafranca, Porreres, Llucmajor and Randa. Then we quickly descended into the town of Montuíri. From there, we headed to the town of Sineu and the afternoon refuel stop at Son Matgi outdoor velodrome. Before they arrived back to the hotel they headed towards Llubi, Buger and then to Pollensa town. The final road is straight and undulating – which is a killer for energy, so they really worked hard on this stage.”

Straight up!

Saturday on the other hand did not sound like much fun at all. But then this is why these guys were sponsored to do it: it’s not supposed to be easy. ”The final stage was all about the mountains. The route took them along the valley floor and through the vineyards of Binisalem and Santa Maria. Then we headed towards the lovely village of Bunyola and into the Tramuntana. The 4.9km of the Coll de Soller going north was a nice loosener before the main event. At the top of the Coll de Soller we stopped for lunch and admired the panoramic views over Palma before the real work began!

“Following 61 hairpin bends and the technical descent into the amphitheatre of Soller, we regrouped before we tackled the longest climb on the island – Puig Major. The 14.2km, which featured in Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins: a Year in Yellow documentary and part of this year’s Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) pro event, was a timed climb.” You can only imagine how hard it was for some of the less fit members of the group to get up that mountain, but they did it, and well done to them all. All in the name of charity and challenge.

The best part of going up is the going back down again, and they definitely enjoyed the 25km descent down to Port Pollensa and a celebratory drink in Tollo’s, where Bradley Wiggins headed following his 2012 victories in the Tour de France and Olympic Games. You can only imagine how sore their legs were the next day! But somehow they managed to hobble back to the airport and back to their lives.

As Mallorca continues to change and develop new offerings for tourism it’s wonderful to hear these sorts of events are not only helping our local businesses grow, but also benefitting good causes around the world. Dan Marsh is also involved in Calobra Fest which by the time of this article being published will have just happened. It’s a time trial up Sa Calobra, a steep and iconic 10km climb. It’s an exciting new event and one that they think will become very popular. Check out http://calobrafest.com

 

 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. 

NCFC

The look is one of pity, shame and quizzical uncertainty. I’ve come to know it well.

“But they are not in the Premier?” comes the inevitable question / riposte.

I shake my head. “No…”

But my audience is no longer listening. And I walk off, distraught at the impossibility of explaining my support for a lower league English football team to a Catalan.

Barcelona may well be a footballing city. But supporting any team that isn’t Barça - and at a push Espanyol - in the Ciutat Comtal is an experience akin to Sisyphus pushing his boulder up a hill: a series of futile frustrations, laborious disappointments and general indifference played out on an infinite loop.

The team in question is Norwich City FC, currently residing in the English second tier after a three-year stint in the Premier League. For the football fan in Barcelona, however, they might as well be playing on one of the smaller moons of Jupiter for all the attention they receive.

It was OK when Norwich were in the Premier League: there would be the occasional televised match on Spanish TV and Norwich would pop up from time to time on the news when they were handing a particularly vicious whipping at the hands of Luis Suárez.

(Yes Barça, your new player has, for some unfathomable reason, a whopping grudge against Norwich, last December making Premier League history by scoring a hat trick of hat tricks against the club. I have no idea why Norwich raised his hackles so. But if you could persuade La Liga bosses to let Norwich take part you’ll be guaranteed at least two goal fests a year.)

Admittedly, Norwich would rarely be part of the Catalan football dialogue when they actually won. But I took what I could get and the peak of the Barcelona / Norwich City crossover would see me in a city pub with as many as one other Norwich supporter, cheering on the team in a conveniently timed - i.e. nothing else was on - Premier League encounter.

But in the Championship, the stupidly named English second division, things are different. The 24 teams who battle it out there represent some kind of parallel footballing universe to the Catalans, who may well be aware of the logical possibility of an English second tier but will never experience its drag on their lives.

Maybe I shouldn’t care about such local indifference. The internet means I can follow Norwich’s matches from the comfort of my own bedroom, then drone on about their performance ad infinitum without troubling my front door.

But it is the sheer ignominy of the situation that really gets to me - the disbelieving pity in the eyes of the Barça fans as they try to work out why on earth I wouldn’t give up Norwich in favour of their own Champions League-winning, €100m spending, La Liga-record setting team.

“But you like Barça too, right?”

“Well, they’re OK. I prefer them to Madrid.”

Another look. “You’ll learn,” it says.

At other times it looks like the Catalans are deliberately snubbing Norwich. Both Sport and El Mundo Deportivo have 50-odd pages to fill with sport everyday - predominantly football - covering Barça news of such phenomenal banality it makes we want to go back in time and kill Gutenberg before he invents the printing press. So surely they, between them, could find a lowly paragraph for Norwich’s record signing / new manager / winning streak, among tempting “special” offers of Barça steak knives?

But no. Not a sausage. And I’ve pretty much given up looking.

Even worse is the lack of televised matches. Norwich matches are still, from time to time, on British TV. Those happy Barcelona pubs with Sky subscriptions could theoretically then still show them.

But they don’t. And if you have never experienced the despair of having your team’s all-important, table-topping local derby crowded out of the TV schedules by Stoke versus Hull and Getafe v. Elche then you can only take a rough guess at my pain.

Maybe I should be grateful for small mercies. At least Norwich have never lost to Barça. Manchester United have done so, several times and in several important matches over the past few years and my Manchester United-supporting, Sant Sadurni-dwelling friend is reminded of this by his in laws whenever they meet up on social occasions.

As such, you can understand his undisguised fury when his three-year-old daughter came home singing the Barcelona hymn after being taught it in nursery.

So if it comes down to indifference versus antipathy, I guess I’ll take indifference, sad and solitary though it may be.

You, Barcelona FC, can have your Champion’s League wins and world’s best player. We, Norwich City, have the world’s oldest football song, a celebrity chef owner and the Pride of Anglia title.

And I think you know what’s better.

Pieter Hugo_Kin: Images of a Fractured South Africa

Por: | 09 de octubre de 2014

Thoba Calvin and Tshepo Cameron Sithole-Modisane, Pretoria, 2013 Copia cromogénica, 105 x 139 cm © Pieter Hugo, courtesy Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York
Thoba Calvin and Tshepo Cameron Sithole-Modisane, Pretoria, 2013
© Pieter Hugo

South African photojournalist, Pieter Hugo (Cape Town, 1976), winner of the World Press Photo prize for portraits in 2005 and a finalist in 2012's Deutsche Börse prize, has a new series of his work on display at Barcelona's Fundació Foto Colectania until 10th December. Unlike his previous commissioned projects in neighbouring African countries such as Ghana, Botswana and Nigeria, where the award-winning series The Hyena & Other Men (2005) was set, here Hugo 'comes home' to his native South Africa, a place that he calls, 'fractured, schizophrenic'.
    Hugo has explored the relationship between documentary and art in previous work but in this new series makes a more definitive break with photojournalism's rules; its pseudo-objectivity, its emphasis on the hard, fast, visual statement. In taking on a country as vast and complex as his own, one that leads research in the fight against the Ebola virus, yet where many still adhere to the belief that illness is related to witchcraft, Hugo offers no conclusions. Instead, he cites German filmmaker Werner Herzog in his proposal to offer a more genuine 'experiential truth'.
    The word 'kin' evokes family ties, close and distant, historical and emotional. The images on show include members of his family, his wife Tamsyn pregnant with their second child, his parents Lize and Gideon in bed, 'dad with his hangover like every day', Ann Sallies, the woman who worked for his parents and 'who raised me'. There are casual encounters, too, most of whom he 'met in bars' and who agreed to pose for him. Landscapes and still life images also contribute to what at first appears a wholly eclectic display, were it not for Hugo's own presence in them, a distinct 'way of looking' that draws them all together.

Daniel Richards, Milnerton, 2013, Copia cromogénica, 103 x 82 cm © Pieter Hugo, courtesy Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York
Daniel Richards, Milnerton, 2013 © Pieter Hugo

As a tall, white South African Hugo reluctantly personifies his Dutch colonial heritage, and despite his easy-going manner he is quickly guarded, as if self-consciously aware that his nationality, appearance and profession combined place him in a position of untenable responsibility.
    Brought up, 'in a household full of artists', Hugo took up photojournalism by default: 'in the apartheid era there were only photographs that spoke about the social and political situation of the country. Yet I realised very quickly that I didn't enjoy this way of working, that of stepping into a state and quickly getting a picture that gave you a sense of context and meaning and filing it that same evening...'
    Kin represents the uncertain conclusion to a slower 'process' that he started eight years before; a time, he says, 'when I was feeling incredibly frustrated and conflicted by the place I lived in. So I thought, let's look at this place, let's look at it hard and really take it on and engage with it.' The result: distinct images that beguile with their harmonic compositions, their painterly vertical or horizontal formats, their earthy colour schemes and almost varnished appearance. Yet come closer, and a sense of conflict is never far beneath the surface. Subjects, though complicit, seem wary, suspicious or even hostile, as if demanding understanding yet offering back only half-truths. Wide empty spaces around them are designed to 'allow the images to breathe', says Hugo, yet they may also seem to press upon them, diminishing or threatening to subsume them.

Green Point Common, Cape Town, 2013 © Pieter Hugo Copia cromogénica, 105 x 135 cm © Pieter Hugo, courtesy Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York
Green Point Common, Cape Town, 2013 © Pieter Hugo

Tradition and modernity make uneasy companions. Hints of the contemporary banal: a plastic shopping bag, a frilly bedspread, juxtapose with incongruous tartan suits, evocative of another time, another place, or pristine tribal outfits that seem kitsch in their modern setting. In the landscape, Green Point Common (2013), the branches of a tree are swept violently right with the push of a one-directional wind, as if climatic conditions align with equally powerful historical forces.
    'When I started working as a photographer I was trying to situate myself in the environment that I was in, and 20 years later it's what I'm still doing,' says Hugo, who admits that the sense of resolution that he'd hoped Kin would bring has eluded him. 'I've failed ... I've ended up even more conflicted,' he says. 
    Yet the success of Kin is that it transmits exactly this dilemma, and with extraordinary clarity. Hugo's need to find his place in a society so deeply divided, where people, 'seem to speak a different language'. His awareness that he too contributes to this divide as much as he bridges it, empathising with the woman taken from her own family to raise him yet hiring someone like her to look after his own kids. Kin feels like a reintroduction to South Africa, a country so easily vilified or romanticised. But this time it is one made with the door held open.

------------------------------
Pieter Hugo_Kin_ @ Fundació Foto Colectania, Barcelona until 10th December 2014 
@ Fondation Henri Cartier Bresson, Paris from January 2015
all photos © Pieter Hugo, courtesy Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, Nueva York
For more of Alx Phillips see: www.lookingfordrama.com 

El País

EDICIONES EL PAIS, S.L. - Miguel Yuste 40 – 28037 – Madrid [España] | Aviso Legal