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.

"I don't want them to feel alone"

Por: | 27 de mayo de 2015

 

Devastation


When the earthquake (with a "moment magnitude" of 7.8 ) shook in Nepal on the 25th of April, things started to move in Majorca as well. Saskia Griffiths, a yoga teacher who lives here, felt that she needed to do something to help the Nepalese people, little did she know that her action was about to set off a chain reaction.


Saskia Griffiths: I've done modest fundraisers for organisations that have touched me before, I did one for "Tu Importas Mallorca" at Christmas time for example. So when the first earthquake happened in Nepal I knew I wanted to do something. I decided to organise an outdoor public yoga session with my colleague David Lurey. We had just nine people attend. We did gentle yoga, partner yoga, meditation, kirtan (chanting and singing) and prayers for Nepal. By the end of the session passersby and the class participants had put 400€ in a hat for Nepal.

How it all started
"That was on the Saturday and I thought that was that. But by Monday I had been given a total of 750€! I knew that I would have to find the way to get the money to Nepal. Originally I had intended to send it through a charitable foundation. But when I investigated more thoroughly I realised that I wasn't happy with how the money was going to be channelled to Nepal and I was concerned that it would not get to the people who needed it. So I spoke to a friend of mine, Reena, who is originally from Nepal to ask her for advice. Reena told me that I should speak to her nephew Vivek who lived close to where the earthquake had hit, so I did. As it turned out before I had made contact with him he'd already started to help, he'd been out clearing boulders to get help and relief to remote villages around Kathmandu.

Vicki: Have you ever been to Nepal?
Saskia: Nope, never!

Vicki: What's Larpark like? Do you know?
Saskia: The village of Larpark is 2100m above sea level and is very typically Nepalese (Gurung). It was at the epicentre of the first earthquake and has been completely devastated: all 611 wooden-roofed households, gone. The villagers have moved upwards to safer grounds and dispersed into five new locations although most of the elderly have refused to move to other places. While Larpak is at an altitude of 2100m, the currently highest migration settlement is up to 2700 metres at Mamchi. It is remote, and treacherous to get to with a 1,5 trek and no roads, but it's vital that emergency supplies and support reach these vulnerable people. Some of the sons of the village, who now work as trekking guides, have returned to help their families: Suman Gurung, a professional mountain guide who was born in Larpak village, had been on a trek in the Tsum Valley and was also trapped in the mountains as the earthquake struck, but immediately teamed up with five other friends from Larpak who also work in the trekking sector to head out to their birthplace and lend a helping hand to their fellow villagers, and family members.  Due to the sheer remoteness of the village and lack of vehicle access, official government relief or international community has still not reached this village. He along with his team were the first to provide relief materials to his suffering villagers with limited funds provided by friends and family, in Nepal and abroad. 

Saskia keeping track of donations
Vicki:
Have you found it easy to raise the money?
Saskia: People have been calling me all the time telling me they want to give money to Nepal. By the end of the first week I had another 1210€, then another 1885€! Now I have just had another big donation of money and it's in constant growth! It's amazing how much people want to help Nepal! I've been keeping track of every donation in my notebook, and sending photos to the people who have donated of the things that their money has bought.

Vivek unloading supplies
Vicki:
How have you been communicating with Nepal?
Saskia: Incredibly 3G and 4G is still working so it has been really easy to stay in contact with Vivek. He sends me photos and updates every day of where the money is being sent, he even sends me photos of the receipts. It's been amazing to be able to show a photo to someone who has donated money: "Look this is where your money has been spent". It's been an incredible experience for me as well. Vivek's wife is pregnant, very, very pregnant, she's due any minute. They live in Katmandu and originally he was supposed to be opening a restaurant as a new business. But all of this has taken a backseat now as all he wants to do is get the supplies to the people in need. The other day we were speaking about how to physically get it up the mountain to where they have moved to, I suggested a helicopter, and off I went to find a way to raise the money for a helicopter, then when we spoke again Vivek had conferred with the other people he's working with and they had decided rather to spend the money on a tractor, and had decided that a helicopter was too expensive. But I can't make those decisions you see? It has to be down to the people whose lives are being affected. They are getting themselves organised now which is good because the official aid agencies are still not moving in as they said they would. Vivek sent me a photo of a big consignment of Red Cross goods just sat at the airport embargoed! Nepal does not have a good reputation for honest politicians unfortunately.

Vicki: What kind of things do the people need?
Saskia: Vivek has been buying tents, medication, soap, sanitary pads, food packs, essential things to keep the people healthy and fed. When the second earthquake (7.3 on the scale) came on the 12th of May he went quiet for a couple of days, he said he needed to stay at home in his sturdy little house in Katmandu and be with his family. But now he's out again every day working to help the villagers. But soon a much bigger challenge is coming, there will be, as there is every year, a monsoon. This will bring with it infection. We need to get clothing, blankets, housing materials, chimneys, wood, sanitary arrangements, safe drinking water, medical care, food supplies. It seems like a terrible dream, but we also need to be thinking about schooling for the children as well, they have nothing up there now.

The camp
Vicki:
It must be a terrible situation, they are so isolated.
Saskia: The earth has been shaking for three weeks. They are still experiencing three or four aftershocks every day, can you imagine how frightening that must be? Vivek is very worried that the money will dry up before he's finished helping these villagers, "What will happen when they forget?" I told him that I wouldn't forget. If you get inspired then you can really do amazing things. The thing I want everyone to get out of this is that you really can do something to make a difference, if you want to help then you really can. I asked myself, what is the one thing that I would personally want if the earth had been shaking where I was for the last three weeks, the answer is ´stability´. So I am going to keep going, sending whatever money I can, whether it is 5€ or 5000€,  given to me by a cleaner or a millionaire, every single cent I am being given is going to help these people whose lives were changed in an instant.

Vicki: Why do you think people have responded to the call for funds so readily?
Saskia: I think the Nepalese people appeal to us Westerners. Nepal is a Buddhist country. They are not materialistic, they are very simple, pure, honest. They are a really compassionate people. They have minimal needs. They don't see the point in having lots of stuff, they see the point in having friends, praying, of family, of caring for each other. They are not like us. I just don't want them to feel alone.

More than 8,000 people have been killed, more than 19,000 injured and countless more made homeless in Nepal. They are living in the open air in tents. The monsoons and winter season are coming. If you feel the call to help then please get in touch with Saskia on saskiagriffiths@googlemail.com 

 

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It all started with the toes. Or the lack of them.

One day I casually asked my Sitges girlfriend what the Spanish for ‘toes’ was. My Spanish has been improving steadily since moving to Barcelona in 2011. But the odd word still obstinately fails to arrive.

“‘Dedos de los pies’,” she responded, raising an exasperated eyebrow. Or ‘fingers of the feet’, if you’re taking a literal view on things, which is turned out I was that morning.

“Fingers of the feet?” I asked, infuriated. “That’s not a real word. They’re useful things, toes. So why doesn’t Spanish have a word for them?” 

We could, of course, have left it there. Probably we should have done. But, no, the rubicon was crossed.

“Spanish does have a word for ‘toes’,” my girlfriend responded. “It’s ‘dedos de los pies’. Now let me get back to studying.”

Maybe it was the heat outside, or the two young children who wouldn’t let us sleep. But I wasn’t having that. “That’s not a word for ‘toes’,” I argued. “It means ‘fingers of the feet’, which is a different thing entirely. Why doesn’t Spanish have a word for ‘toes’?”

My girlfriend sighed and went back to her work. But if you thought that was the end of it then you don’t know the half of our relationship. A week later, when I was at my most vulnerable, my girlfriend attacked. “What’s the English for ‘madrugar’,” she asked, her face a picture of innocence.

“To get up early in the morning,” I said, not giving it a second thought.

“You see!” my girlfriend said excitedly. This is the most dangerous of all her tones. “There’s no English word for ‘madrugar’. You loser.” And she walked off triumphantly.

I was stumped. There is no English word for ‘madrugar’. And yet - if stereotypes are to be believed - aren’t we British fond of getting up early? Why the linguistic hole?

Despite this, I thought I was on pretty safe ground generally with the argument. English, I had always believed (and, I suppose, must have heard somewhere) has more words than most world languages thanks to a rapacious appetite for foreign imports. 

We’ve taken ‘bungalow’ from Hindi and ‘amok’ from Malay. We go to a café for a coffee and take our children to British kindergarten. Surely English is bulging with words? As for Spanish - it doesn’t even hard a word for ‘become’! (Come on - not really…)

Such rampant word incorporation is, of course, partly a result of Britain’s colonial past. But it helps that the UK has no real equivalent of the Real Academia Española in Madrid, no institution ultimately responsible for deciding which words are English and which aren’t. 

The Oxford English Dictionary is about the closest British analogue - and every year there is a great hoohah when it announces its “Word of the Year”, giving new linguistic respectability to the likes of ‘selfie’ (2013), ‘credit crunch’ (2008) and ‘chav’ (2004). But the OED - while hugely respected - is not a government organisation like the RAE and has no legal power.

Besides, the British have a great history of making up words: Shakespeare did it, coining some 1,700 words including ‘eyeball’ (A Midsummer Night's Dream), ‘skim milk’ (King Henry IV, Part I) and ‘grovel’ (King Henry VI, Part II), giving hope to inventive linguists ever since.

Surely, then, English must have shed-loads of words with no Spanish equivalent? 

I threw myself into research with a very useful Guardian article providing some ammunition. Alejandro Pareja, a translator from Madrid, claimed that after translating some 203 books from English into Spanish he could find no easy translation of ‘insight’; Lucy from Marbella said that she had spent six years trying and failing to translate ‘to have a crush on someone’ into Spanish. I was, at least temporarily, winning.

It couldn’t last though and in the end, no matter how much I tweaked the search terms, Google kept on throwing up articles that outlined brilliant Spanish words that have no English equivalent. 

There was ‘anteayer’ (the day before yesterday), ‘entrecejo’ (the space between the eyebrows) and ‘empalagar’ (to disgust with too much sweetness) from spainkate.com; the Huffington Post weighed in with ‘desvelado’ (unable to sleep or to be sleep deprived), ‘friolero’ (someone who is very sensitive to cold) and ‘sobremesa’ (the moment after eating a meal when the food has finished but the conversation is still flowing at the table). My own girlfriend weighed in with ‘quinquenio’ (a period of five years).

English, it is true, has given us many technical terms that are now deployed in other languages. But faced with Hispanic terms as poetic as these it seemed the argument was lost: I was the loser my girlfriend had always believed.

Except, of course, I wasn’t (or not in this case anyway): language isn’t - or shouldn’t be - a competition and the more I learned of the richness of Spanish, the more the language delighted me and the more I could revel in the work of Cervantes, Gabriel García Márquez et al.

Besides, as Shakespeare himself once put it: “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Well said William.

 

IMG_0249
Around 8 million people are expected to visit Barcelona in 2015.

As the summer sun starts to come out in force and the high-season crowds descend on Barcelona, the city famous for a remarkable tourism-led rejuvenation is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis over how to manage the millions of people visiting it each year. Nowhere better illustrates this than the Barceloneta, a former fisherman’s quarter now at the center of a lucrative tourist trade that continues to boom amid an otherwise sluggish economy.

The Barceloneta flags that seem to hang off every other flat, and the somewhat less-ambiguous “Cap pis touristic (no more tourist flats”) signs, may go unnoticed by the casual visitor, but it’s hard to spend long in the neighborhood, or any other central part of Barcelona for that matter, without realizing that something is afoot in Spain’s most-visited city.

Last year Barceloneta erupted in spontaneous protests as thousands of furious residents organized protests against the “drunken tourism” they claimed was making life in the once-peaceful neighborhood impossible. Crowds berated tourists for bad behavior and demanded an end to Airbnb-style short-stay rental flats that they said were turning residential buildings into “youth hostels.”

Since then the city council has responded with a string of measures – community police patrols, a direct line to report disturbances in tourist flats, greater regulation of tourist flats – but the discontent continues, and the anti-tourist flat signs are only increasing.

According to Sergio Arnás, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood and spokesman for La Barceloneta Diu Prou (Barceloneta Says Enough!) campaign group that organized last summer’s protests, little has changed and further protests are almost inevitable.

He said short-stay tourist flats remain widespread and many people are forced to share buildings with noisy temporary neighbors. The result, he said, is plenty of sleepless nights and a simmering frustration in a once-tranquil neighborhood.

“But we’re not campaigning simply against anti-social behavior. Tourist flats bring insecurity and property speculation to the neighborhood,” he told me.

 

 

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"No more tourist flats," reads a sign in the popular beachside Barceloneta neighborhood.

Arnás echoed what many other resident have told me in recent weeks: tourist flats and drunken behavior are only symptoms of a deeper problem – the unsustainable numbers of tourists visiting the city each year.

Across Barcelona there is unease at the influence of so many visitors. In each neighborhood the specific complaints vary, but the cause, everyone seems to agree, is the mass-tourism model adopted by local authorities more than two decades previously.

In the Gràcia neighborhood residents have occupied a building that was set to become the latest in a string of hotels to open in the area, claiming that the recent surge in tourists was pushing up prices and forcing locals out. In its place they have opened a housing office to assist people facing eviction — Catalonia suffered more than 22 percent of the 68,000 evictions carried out across Spain in 2014. Outside the office a large banner reads: “One more tourist equals one fewer neighbor.”

Similar protests have taken place throughout Ciutat Vella which holds the most hotels, while the areas surrounding top attractions Park Güell and Sagrada Familia have also witnessed protests by neighbors who feel inconvenienced by the city’s runaway tourism success. The famous La Boqueria market is another point of conflict. Following complaints from stallholders, authorities have banned large tour groups at peak times in an effort to lure local shoppers back to the market.

But while tourism is being blamed for an increasing laundry list of problems, the sector remains essential to the city’s economy – representing between 12 and 14 percent of the municipality’s GDP.

The challenge facing Barcelona’s leaders is to find a way to harness the industry without alienating residents and allowing the city to become a jaded tourist trap, or, the “new Venice.”

Barcelona’s tourism sector has been one of the principal topics in the run-up to municipal elections on May 24.

Recent surveys suggest no candidate will win enough votes for an outright majority, but the two leading candidates – incumbent Xavier Trias (CiU) and Ada Colau of the Barcelona en Comu coalition – could hardly be more opposed in their plans for the future of the city’s tourism industry.

Trias has presided over years of sustained growth for the industry and record-breaking numbers of visitors – 7.5 million in 2013 – and shown support for the hotel lobby’s aim of reaching 10 million. Aside from a few minor issues, Trias insists, the city’s tourism model is a success.

Colau, in contrast, has warned of a “tourism bubble” and described the current tourism model as “out of control.” She has also waded into the heated debate over so-called tourist flats, suggesting owners should be encouraged to convert the properties into social housing, a move likely to find stiff resistance from the vocal supporters of the model who claim Airbnb rentals offer an important means to pay the bills.

A conference organized by the Asociación Catalana de Profesionales de Turísticos (Catalan Association of Tourism Professionals) last week highlighted the complexity of the problem as politicians from all the major parties attacked varying aspects of the current tourism model.

“The protests in Barceloneta last year are a symptom that something is not working,” Sara Jaurrieta of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) told the conference.

Many others shared her analysis, but there was no consensus on a solution.

Whatever the result of the upcoming elections, it is clear the new administration has a challenge on its hands if it’s to preserve the city’s golden goose of tourism while avoiding a repeat of last year’s protests.

El País

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