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 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

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 @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 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:

Nestorian Epiphany

Por: | 28 de abril de 2011


For the past 10 days, over this holiest of weeks, the boom of thunder has for the greater part replaced the thud of the devotional drums that usually ricochet along the ochre millennial walls of the old city here in Caceres. Floating above the din alternately created by pattering rain or rattling snare drums, two distinct yet intertwined sounds have been heard, the shuffling of thousands of tourists' feet and that sweet ka-ching of working cash registers in times of crisis.

These seemingly disparate sounds had been creating a bit of mental cacophony here in the heart of a rather soggy Extremadura, that is until the other day when a curious headline or two in one of the local papers suddenly merged all those different sounds into some sort of commingling harmony.

I was surprised to read, given the timing, the unsurprising news that there had been a 50% decline in seminarists since 2006 in the land of the conquistadors, something I would bet is not unique to this corner of Iberia. Turn the page to find, 'Tourists, more recreation than religion', again strange with the thickening devotional fervour in mind, but there was still no coalescence until I came across a piece on a Chinese buddhist who was devoted to the so-called Black Christ, a 25-year-old procession that is now one of the most popular here in the city.

Caceres 1

The three pieces fused and became a ringing eastern minor chord that suddenly brought to mind a near-forgotten history from the vast steppe of Central Asia via an exhibition offered at the British Museum. The satori was a figure of a Nestorian Christian or Church of the East saint, from Samarkand, that could have easily been mistaken for a seated Buddha, that is if it weren't for the crosses that he is wearing.

But how does the man-made steppe out here next to Portugal connect with the one that stretches beyond the Caspian Sea?

Semana Santa, for me, has always represented an essential Spanish dichotomy. Year round, the beautiful churches across the country are invariably deserted save for the soon-to-be-wed, the about-to-be-dead and the paying-to-be-led tourists all of whom willingly top up the coffers. I've yet to meet a Spaniard who actually takes the Pope at his word on things like condom use and cohabitation before marriage. They might respect his opinion, but given the two options... Yet come the blooming of spring, the growing brotherhoods burst at the seams while solemn standard bearing communist mayors march front and centre with a hooded retinue and civilly-wed actors give opening speeches to the unblinking.

The two scenarios are hard to reconcile, but if there is one thing about Semana Santa, it's popular, and that in the purest sense of the word. Writing back before the civil war, the journalist Manuel Chaves Nogales tells of the people of Seville, in alternating years, disobeying both the republican government's and church's ban on processions. Each year the venerated images got their spring airing whether authorities liked it or not. The recent dispute in Madrid shows that things have not changed as much as some would think.

Now here was this successful Chinese businesswoman, owner of restaurants and spas, staring out of the paper expressing her devotion to the fourteenth century crucifixion figure that is paraded every year.

There's a warped line of thought these days that tries instil the belief that Christianity is somehow a western invention. From Benedict to Aznar, we constantly hear about the Christian roots of Europe but forget that while Israel may participate in Eurovision, Bethlehem is decidedly found on the same continent as Beijing. From that iron age manger, the gospel not only spread north-west to Europe, but south-west to Ethiopia and east to Persia, branching into India, Central Asia and finally reaching China in 635 via the Silk Road. Multilingual merchants spread the word from Aleppo to Xian, gathering souls and making a profit along the way. For Nestorians weren't hampered by a missionary-only outlook to proselytizing, if a gold piece were to be made, rules could be bent and even dogma could be overlooked.

Atheists may one day march on Maundy Thursday. Perhaps, though even more unlikely, laws may be passed that would strengthen the secular nature of the country, making such marches unnecessary. Locally recruited seminarists may also one day fall to zero, increasing the likelihood of grandparents listening to mass given with decidedly Polish or South American accents. But this local businesswoman was like the Nestorian merchant-missionaries fifteen centuries ago along the Silk Road, though in reverse, the image of that piece in the British museum come to life out here along the silver road. As long as the thuds remain popular, the shuffle and cash-ing will continue to syncretically blend into harmonious notes.

Time to dispel doping doubts

Por: | 27 de abril de 2011

Is Alberto Contador guilty? Is Spain's latest Tour de France hero a dope cheat? Ahead of the upcoming hearing at the CAS sports arbitration tribunal, I would argue that this is not the point. If the aim of sporting organizations is to rid professional competition of doping, the laws have to be applied equally across the board. What if every weightlifter, sprinter and cyclist – especially the latter – was listened to when they said “it must have been that meal way back when”? Stake out the steak, seize the peas, source the sauce… 

Here's the beef: a banned substance, in this case a growth hormone called clenbuterol, showed up in the cyclist's samples. With no material evidence to support the steak story, Contador is effectively asking the authorities to take his claim on good faith. Unfortunately for Alberto, cycling's reputation is already rotten to the core. Contador should take his punishment; the same bitter pill many other unfortunate or misguided athletes have had to swallow in the name of the anti-doping battle. The challenge is to come back from a ban and prove people wrong by winning clean. 

Of course, Contador's story of tainted meat bought at random in an Irún butcher's, taken to the team's hotel in France but consumed only by the race leader and the Spanish contingent of Astana riders may be true. In this other debate, that of Alberto's honesty, being played out in the media, it would also seem fair to listen to the Basque stockbreeder's association, which rejects outright the possibility of the illegal (not just for sporting purposes) hormone showing up in meat from that region. The chances of this happening, they argue, are rarer than any Latin meat lover's sirloin. Then there is the tangential implication of a young Contador at the disgraced Liberty Seguros team in the Operation Puerto doping ring to be factored in to any weighing up of probabilities. Intriguing as these circumstantial tidbits are to report on, they are ultimately irrelevant to the doping case in hand.

In the absence of a full judicial probe which could sink its teeth into issues of whether the Astana team's solitary steak story stands up, the only evidence that matters is the lab test. The quantity of clenbuterol found is extremely small but that could be explained by the theory that the hormone was a rogue trace that turned up in the cyclist's blood after a mid-race transfusion. Given that such auto-transfusions have become a favorite modus operandi among doping athletes, as shown in the Puerto and Greyhound investigations in Spain, this possible explanation of Contador's result has to be taken seriously.

Fairly or not, the international sporting community has its suspicions about the remarkable Spanish success story of recent years. While sensationalist claims in sports papers such as L’Équipe about Rafa Nadal doping have a distinct smack of envy, some of the goings on within the country’s institutions do serve to foment misgivings. Spanish cycling in particular seems to have been engaged in a cover-up for years. In 2004, ex-Kelme rider Jesús Manzano gave a detailed confession of the chemical life of a modern-day cyclist to the As sports paper, a vision that was entirely borne out by the Operation Puerto police probe two years later. But one of the many athletes implicated in Puerto, Alejandro Valverde, had to be investigated by the Italian Olympic Committee, while Spanish justice and sporting authorities managed to allow the wealth of evidence from Puerto go stale.     

Under pressure to take a firm line, Spain’s cycling federation at first recommended a one-year ban for Contador; a reasonable compromise perhaps given that a two-year penalty is possible. Then there was the prime-ministerial tweet out of turn. With days to go before the final verdict was given, Zapatero decided to float into the fray, opining on his Twitter feed that “there is no legal reason to sanction Contador.” Known for his trademark pointy eyebrow symbol in Spain, foreheads were certainly furrowed across the world after this intervention and Contador's subsequent absolution in a country which was already under suspicion of leniently looking the other way in the anti-doping fight while celebrating an exceptional period of sporting prowess.

The latest example of this apparent lenient streak was served up in the case of Alemayehu Bezabeh, acquitted last month by Spain’s track & field disciplinary authorities of intention to dope while on his way to receive a transfusion of his own blood, extracted a month previously, in the company of former mountain bike champion Alberto León who was to commit suicide after the details of Operation Greyhound were made public.      

The Marx Brothers

Por: | 19 de abril de 2011

Marx brothers harpo harp 1 

With Easter approaching, as a generalist my thoughts turn to things universal. To God, politics as played out in Spain and words. Bear with me.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. And the Word was (…), inging in from the outer reaches of the Universe, on its own, cold as stone. And then the lawyers, the politicians, the journalists (generalists) took it over and made it their own for reasons of self-interested obscurantism. In short, there are many ways to lie, but all with the objective of depriving people of knowledge. 

 There is certain etiquette to lying, but the primary rule is that it must be an exercise purely in style with total disregard to content. Aesthetic considerations dictate that there be a least an element of plausibility to the lie. The intimacy that binds together a liar and the person to whom he or she is lying otherwise dies a death. There is no greater moral affront than to be lied to by a stubborn, bare-faced liar whose audience knows he or she is lying and knows that the audience knows. And there are also entertaining lies and lies that hurt. Without the capacity to lie, life would be probably be unbearable.

 There are also different types of liars. There are those who try to engage you with Prufrock’s tedious arguments of insidious intent. There are those whose love of prolixity in their desperation to be proven right drive their audience to despair. I have half-read Ulysses at least half a dozen times, and Karl Marx, the man from Prussia with the big bushy beard, spent an eternity trying to explain what man has known for an eternity that: “Greed will be the death of us.”

 And there are also those so overwhelmed by the dangers of clarity that they sink sputtering into a miasma of linguistic discontent. A fine example of verbal catatonia was the Popular Party chief in Andalusia Javier Arenas’ take a few years back on the debate on the new Statute of that large, mountainous, semi-desert region to the south.

 “ My objective is to recover the agreement, that as regards the denomination of Andalusia, that myself and Chaves (Manuel Chaves, former premier of Andalusia) had, in the sense that Andalusia is a nationality within ‘the indissolvable unity of Spain, our common indivisible homeland.’ The rest is a trick, because when someone tells me that they want to promote the Andalusian national reality within the unity of the Spanish nation, the only national reality that exists is called Spain.”

 All of which goes to prove that despite what the little boy may have seen, the Emperor is indeed wearing exquisite rags. Bravo Mr. Arenas. I wish to nominate you as an honorary member of the Marx Brothers family. Have a night out at the opera on me.

 Driftwood:  Now pay particular attention to this first section because it's most important. It says, "The party of the first part shall be known in this contract as the party of the first part." How do you like that? That's pretty neat, eh?

Fiorello: No. It's no good.

Driftwood: What's the matter with it?

Fiorello: I don't know, let's hear it again.

Driftwood: Says, "The party of the first part shall be known in this contract as the party of the first part."

Fiorello: Sounds a little better this time.

Driftwood: Well, it grows on you...Would you like to hear it once more?

Fiorello: Ah...Just the first part.

Driftwood: What do you mean, the party of the first part?

Fiorello: No. The first part of the party of the first part.

Driftwood: Alright it says the umm..."The first part of the party of the first part shall be known in this contract as the first part of the party of the first part, shall be known in this contract...LOOK...why should we quarrel about a thing like this. We'll take it right out eh? (Tears off sections of contract.)

Fiorello: Ha, ha it's too long anyhow! (rip rip) Now what do we got left?

Celestial stuff. But the Marx brother with the wig of curly blonde hair, the one who played the harp, and the one who was closest to God was Harpo, because like the Big Man Upstairs, he never said (…).


Unity against ETA: Spain deserves better

Por: | 14 de abril de 2011

Spaniards don’t deserve ETA. Who could deserve such a mindless gang of murderers? There was a time, perhaps, when ETA fought Franco in the name of Basque independence it was also doing so partly in the name of the other Spain - the one that was squashed in the Civil War and the dictatorship. But the transition to democracy brought a whole raft of political freedoms and the open-ended system of regional autonomy, eventually allowing Euskera to be taught in schools and Basques’ taxes to be spent in the wealthy region, among many other dramatic changes.

ETA should have changed. By continuing to assassinate and bomb it was now against all Spain and guilty of the worse kind of bigotry - the kind of prejudice the terrorists thought they were themselves opposing. Murdering under democracy was no longer even arguably a case of killing a certain kind of Spaniard to benefit the whole of Spain, but rather killing any Spaniard (a person in a supermarket or in a seaside resort) in order to advance the Basque cause – the cause of the Basque Country for the Basques, regardless of who else might live there. 


It took some time for Spaniards to come together in rejection of this disgraceful violence. Among the elements of the hangover from the Franco era were mistrust of other groups in society and the ferocity of political divisions, something which ETA was able to exploit until the 21st century brought with it the antiterrorist pact between the Popular Party (PP) and the Socialists. In July 1997 the kidnapping and Demonstration in Madrid, 1997 murder of Miguel Ángel Blanco, a small-town PP councilor, played a key part in actively uniting Spaniards against the terrorist scourge. Fear was finally overcome by indignation. I remember a seaside street full of people, perfect strangers who had interrupted their beach holidays to march in protest at the ETA ultimatum: Blanco would be executed if all ETA prisoners were not moved to Basque jails within 48 hours. I felt better about the Spain I lived in during that silent protest and no doubt millions of Spaniards did too. I remember vividly seeing on television Basque Ertzaintza policemen present at a demonstration symbolically pulling off their balaclavas so their faces could be seen – by the terrorists. The time to huddle in fear and be tempted to seek protection in political rivalries had long passed.

Now the group is weaker, and even, it seems, destined to disappear in the near future. This is something all Spaniards should celebrate, so to see the PP again play political hardball with the scraps left over from the peace process embarked on by Zapatero five years ago seems offensively unscrupulous. Particularly when, since that failed initiative which naturally contained some difficult compromises and a touch of skulduggery in order to actually get ETA to sit down and talk, the Socialist government has overseen an unprecedented persecution of ETA, both in terms of the hundreds of arrests made and also in the legal struggle to keep the terrorists’ political allies out of state institutions.

Crime should not mix with politics. True. Judges should be completely independent from politicians. That would be nice. But in the here and now of today’s Spain, it is far from the case, as is demonstrated week in week out by controversies over the selection (by politicians) of judges to occupy the panels of the leading courts and squabbles between magistrates of differing associations. Politically motivated violence, however, cannot be truly defused by police work, and the antiterrorist pact recognized this by stating that the government of the day should be supported in its full control of policy in this area. The PP should be silent. Spain deserves better.

The Spanish Labyrinth

Por: | 13 de abril de 2011


On April 7, 2004, just a few months after my daughter was born, on what I vaguely recall was a balmy night in a Madrid suburb, I watched Deportivo La Coruña mount an epic comeback to defeat AC Milan 4-0 in the return leg of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal after having lost the first match 4-1.

It was 3-0 at half time after goals by Pandiani, Valerón and Luque and I felt an amazing turnaround by Super Depor was on the cards. But as the solitary foreigner in the neighbourhood bar it seemed to me that I was the only person interested in the match.

When Fran scored what turned out to be the winning goal in the 76th minute I excitedly alerted other people to the fact, only to be met with indifference. That struck me as curious at the time, but I did not give too much thought to it.

As a Scotsman, I follow the progress (I use the word ironically) of any Scottish team that manages to make it to the European football arena, even though I am not from Glasgow, support neither Rangers or Celtic, and feel strong antipathy to the Protestant-Catholic divide. It seems to me this innate, often unquestioning, support for things Scottish forms part of the national psyche, which at times is taken to extremes. Last summer in a raucous bar in a fishing village in the northeast of Scotland I watched the locals, some wearing the German colors, vociferously cheer on Germany as it humiliated England in the last 16 of the very same World Cup won by Spain.

Yet when Iniesta scored the winning goal for Spain against Holland in the final of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, sealing victory for a national side with a wealth of talent that for years had seriously underperformed, everybody all of a sudden felt very Spanish, with many proudly donning tops proclaiming the fact.

The motive behind this train of thought (I again use the word ironically) was an off-the-cuff comment by a neighbor, a decidedly left-leaning Madrileño, as we walked our children to the local school. He told me he was reading the Anglo-Irish writer and Hispanophile Gerald Brenan’s work The Spanish Labyrinth, which he said made him question what it meant to be Spanish. “What a country! What a country!,” he lamented. In his seminal work, Brenan remarks: “Regional variations have led to the growth of strong local patriotisms, which whenever the power of the central government is relaxed, come to a head.” Brenan, who supported the Republicans in the Civil War, perhaps would be writhing in his grave to know his comments place him firmly on the side of the Popular Party, with its appeal for national unity against the power of the regions.

But surely one’s sense of national identity is intricately linked to one’s sense of history. And there is a growing debate on this in Spain. On the one side there is the argument that the Reconquest by Ferdinand and Isabel was to wrest back Spain’s Catholic heritage from foreigners. On the other, there are historians that argue that what took place was a civil war that set Spaniard against Spaniard with the aim of establishing a nation state that belied the reality of what at the time was the only truly multicultural country in Europe, with those of Jewish and Muslim faith the neighbors of Christians. In an interview a few years ago eminent Spanish historian Francisco Márquez Villanueva remarked: “It still bothers people if you say that Boabdil (the last King of Granada) was as Spanish as Isabel of Castille.”


It strikes me that Spaniards national identity comes strongly to the fore only at times of adversity when there is a common foreign enemy such as Napoleon or Holland as in the case of the World Cup. The rest of the time those “regional patriotisms” Brenan refers tend to hold sway. Although they also live in countries with strong regional differences, the Germans and Italians seem to have a stronger sense of national identity than the Spanish despite the fact Spain established a nation state long before Germany and Italy did.

While the Transition may have rightly answered the historical vindications of Catalonia, the Basque Country, Navarre, Andalusia and Galicia it seems to me it also created a jigsaw puzzle that at times seems unsolvable. At a time when the central government is trying to rein in the spending of regional governments to convince the markets of the country’s solvency, the question of the ultimate shape the territorial map of Spain takes is perhaps a key political debate that awaits resolution.

That might mean moving from a de facto self-federal system to one more aligned to the German lander overseen by a Senate that is finally given some real political teeth. The idea of Catalonia separating from Spain seems untenable to me. In the meanwhile, for as long as I live here the maze that is Spain will never cease to amaze me.

Reworking titles

Por: | 12 de abril de 2011

Destino-ocultoReleased last month, the intriguingly titled The Adjustment Bureau is a romantic sci-fi movie adapted from a short story by legendary author Philip K Dick and starring Matt Damon. In Spain, though, the film is known as "Hidden Destiny" (Destino oculto), the kind of instantly forgettable, easily interchangeable title normally reserved for early 90s erotic thrillers starring Shannon Tweed. Does, say,  “La agencia de ajustes” really sound so bad in Spanish? 

These day movie titles aren’t subjected to such free translations as they used to be, with distributors more likely to offer a direct rendering or just stick with the original – to wit, we've recently had La red social (The Social Network) and Cisne negro (Black Swan) or The Fighter and Toy Story 3 in Spanish cinemas.  

But at least the old rejigged titles had a certain amount of imagination: remember "With Death on The Heels" (Con la muerte en los talones) or "Red Telephone? We're Flying to Moscow" (¿Teléfono rojo?, volamos hacia Moscú)? That’s to say North by Northwest and Dr Strangelove

Anyway here are a few more renamings of classics to peruse: 
"Land However You Can" (Aterriza como puedas) Airplane
"The Price of Power" (El precio del poder) Scarface
"Knight Without A Sword" (Caballero sin espada) Mr Smith Goes To Washington
"Hidden Youngsters" (Jóvenes ocultos) The Lost Boys
"One of Ours" (Uno de los nuestros) Goodfellas
"Life Sentence" (Cadena perpetua) The Shawshank Redemption
"Until His Time Came" (Hasta que llegó su hora) Once Upon A Time In The West
"In Between the Dead" (De entre los muertos) Vertigo
"The Ghosts Attack the Boss" (Los fantasmas atacan al jefe) Scrooged
"Zombies Party" (Zombies party) Shaun of the Dead
"Chihiro’s Journey" (El viaje de Chihiro) Spirited Away
"Death Had A Price" (La muerte tenía un precio) For A Few Dollars More
"The Legend of the Indomitable" (La leyenda del indomable) Cool Hand Luke
"All In A Day" (Todo en un día) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Any others people would like to share?      

Let’s hear it for the co-operative

Por: | 11 de abril de 2011

As more and more Spanish companies take advantage of new labor legislation making it easier and cheaper to lay workers off, pushing official unemployment figures beyond 20 percent of the workforce, perhaps the time has come for the country’s 4.3 million jobless to think about a more cooperative approach to job creation.

After all, a highly successful model is close to hand.


Based in the Basque town of the same name, the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation (MCC) is the world’s biggest co-op system with more than 85,000 worker-owners employed in 256 companies, and who produce the Orbea bikes that won gold at the Beijing Olympics, along with Fagur fridges, Brandt ovens, Eroski supermarkets, or the forthcoming electric City Car.

The Mondragón model was developed in the 1940s by Roman Catholic priest, Father José María Arizmendi. It started with a school, a credit union, and a shop, all owned by workers who each had an equal share and vote. The three-in-one combination allows the cooperative to rely on its own resources for finance and training.

The worker-owners cannot be fired. Quite the opposite, through regular assemblies, it’s the workforce who hires and fires their managers, as well as deciding strategy and policy. As the worker-owners accumulate resources, they can encourage the formation of new co-ops, indirectly through their bank and directly through their firms, and bring them into the overall structures of MCC governance. This is how they grew from one small shop to 260 enterprises in the past 50 years. Finally, if a worker-owner retires, he or she can 'cash out,' but the share cannot be sold. It is only available for purchase by a new worker-owner at that firm.

This last crucial point was developed by Arizmendi from his studies of Catholic social theory, as well as the works of Karl Marx and the English co-operativist Robert Owen. A worker-owner's ability to sell his or her share to anyone was a flaw in Owen's approach, Arizmendi decided, since it enabled outsiders to buy the more successful coops, turning their workers back into wage-labor, while starving the other less successful co-ops of resources. Under Arizmendi's new approach, only four out of the several hundred MCC coop ventures have failed during the half century since Mondragón began.

What’s more, the workers themselves decide on the income spread between the lowest paid worker and the highest paid manager, which currently averages about 4.5 to one. (Compared with more than 400 to one in the United States and Britain.

And as even the IMF now admits, the extreme gap between rich and poor was a key cause of the global asset bubble and financial crisis, and is highly damaging to the social fabric of democracies.

Not that Mondragón wasn’t hit by the 2009 slump in machine tools, car components, and its other specialist sectors. In response, its cooperatives took pay cuts of up to 20 percent, and drew lotteries to lay off workers for a year, on 80 percent of their pay.

Faced with sharp decline, cities in the US rustbelt have sought help from Mondragón to create co-ops, hoping to emancipate itself from a Wall Street that hollows out companies by draining their cash and shutting down plants.

In late 2008, the MCC and the million-plus-member United Steelworkers (USW) union announced an alliance to develop Mondragon-type manufacturing cooperatives in the United States and Canada.

More than half a century after it was set up, Mondragón is alive and well, and generates 3 percent of industrial output in the Basque region and generates annual sales of E24bn. Almost 60 percent of its heavy production is exported.



Dog killers on the loose

Por: | 08 de abril de 2011

Some insane person or band of loonies is going around poisoning dogs at certain parks in Madrid. It is happening in the district of Valdebernardo, where residents say that at least four dogs were killed over the last month after eating or smelling rat poison that someone has left out. The police have already been alerted but this is the type of complaints that is repeated over and over again in the Spanish capital where sick individuals believe that contaminating animals is an annual sport.


Last year, in Malasaña, a popular barrio near Madrid’s center, at least five dogs died from venom that was purposely left out. Two years ago, in La Elipa, in the southern reaches of the city, people complained to the police that their pets were getting sick at a neighborhood park. Dog-owners have begun to put muzzles on their pets during their walks.

Traditionally, Madrid isn’t a typical dog-lovers' capital compared to other European cities, where pets are allowed on the bus or inside bars. In fact, Madrid can be termed more of a dog-haters' paradise filled with many residents from rural backgrounds who grew up with the notion that animals belong outdoors in the country. It is unfortunate that these types of crimes go unpunished because it is difficult to catch these animal assassins.


A clear case of hamicide

Por: | 08 de abril de 2011


If I ever answer no to a certain list of questions, it would probably be worth checking whether the real Simon has been abducted by aliens and replaced with a robot. “Would you like a ham?” is one of those questions.

It was put to me at work last week, by a colleague, and prompted a spitting out of coffee mid-sip. What, like a whole jamón?

“Yeah we’ve been given one and don’t really like it.”

Don’t really like jamón?!

There is a fair argument that any guiri who has been living in Spain for more than a year should be automatically deported for letting that phrase pass their lips. Indeed, all vegetarians should abandon hope when they set foot in Barajas airport, as telling a waiter that you don’t eat meat will usually result in lashings of ibérico still turning up on your plate. (“Pero es jamón, no es carne” is the usual response to any complaints.)

Ever since I’ve been cohabitating with a gen-yoo-wine Madrileña, we tend to have a jamón in the cupboard, tucked up underneath its cloth blanket, its exposed flesh tenderly laden with moist fat.

I don’t claim to be any kind of expert, but for an Essex boy I feel that I am learning to wield a razor sharp, 15-inch ham knife rather well, and am getting a feel for just how the wafer-thin meat should be shaved off the joint.

Imagine, then, my joy to be presented with the unwanted ham from my colleague – and then imagine my shock at seeing what his American flat mates had done to it.




First up, rather than being delivered in the usual woven sack, which normally comes imprinted with the name of the fábrica and doubles up as a blanket for when the ham is sleeping, it was wrapped in a manky old pillowcase, complete with mystery stains. And then there was the handiwork. As Colonel Kurtz would say, the horror. It was as if the only thing they had lying around in the kitchen was a hammer and chisel, along with a little bit of sandpaper to give it that “just-scraped” look. We immediately sprang into action in the kitchen, donning aprons and sharpening implements after pinning the patient into place for some emergency surgery.

After prepping was complete, the first incision was made, a wedge-shaped cut toward the top of the bone as a prelude to the search for healthy, moist jamón, rather than the sad, dried out scar-tissue the sides of the beast boasted.

After 15 minutes of precision scalpel work, it looked as if the prognosis was good: we would be eating (albeit rather dry) jamón tonight – and despite the damage inflicted, the patient was going to last for at least a month (two weeks should my in-laws be round for dinner).




The moral of the story? Hams given as gifts should be carefully supervised – if they fall in to the wrong hands, tragedies such as the near-miss described here can occur.

I have hefted two hams to the UK in the last year, as gifts for my folks and for my aunt and uncle, and I’m pleased to report that not only did they survive the journey, thanks to some vacuum packing, but they lived a reasonably long life in that green unpleasant land, their bones being even boiled for stock once they had been stripped bare. 

To coin a phrase, a ham is for life, not just for Christmas.

But as a final word I shall step down from my ham high horse for just one second. In 2002, when I had only been in Spain for a couple of years, I was given a ham as a Christmas gift from the company I was working at. I confess, I did not have proper supervision, nor the tools necessary for the job (a saw, ham stand and very sharp knife, for the uninitiated). I did my best to hack off some meat from the leg, before wrapping it back up in its grease-soaked paper, and hanging it off a hook in our cramped kitchen, still in the bag. A few days later it had grown a bit of mold. Still being more guiri than Spanish at that time (after 11 years in Madrid I feel justified in proclaiming myself at least part Madrileño), I decided that a little bit of mold must be bad. And… it pains me to say it… I threw the whole bally thing away.

I still wake up sweating some nights at the thought of having metido la pata… in the trash.

So the floor is open: apart from desecrating a jamón, what’s the worst faux pas that a guiri living in Spain can commit?

Oh, and any ham-cutting tips are most welcome too...


Spain and Portugal: neighbors or strangers?

Por: | 07 de abril de 2011

ZP nad Sócrates 
It has transpired many a time over the years. A Spanish person begins to vituperate against the French and when I ask whence surges this boiling bile toward the northern neighbor, the answer comes with a shrug: "Well, they just ignore us." In recent years a rather flimsy tennis-based explanation may have tended to crop up more often, but at root, Spanish hostility toward our Gallic cousins seems to be essentially a case of feeling spurned: here we are, looking gorgeous, tanned at a lively bar in the summery south, and the French boy just shrugs and returns to his interminable conversation with a somewhat thickset German girl.

Well, this is the way things go. All countries have to focus more in one direction than others to keep their bearings. Britain looks across the Atlantic and France has always been more conscientious in its efforts of trying to provide a cultural lead to the landmass of central Europe (not to mention two or three other continents) than bothering to see what was stirring the other side of the Pyrenees. And, for several centuries, the truth is that it wasn't missing much. Now things are different, and the French attitude should change; naturally. But my point is not French guilt or otherwise regarding trans-Pyrenean dealings. No. I am looking further west from Irún and imagining a similar conversation in a café in Porto or Lisbon. “What exactly do you have against the Spanish,” I would ask. “Well, they just ignore us." And could ever a truer word be spoken? 

Living in Spain, Portugal might as well not be there, and any visit to Extremadura should come with a warning not to stand too close to the end of the known world. Anyone who pines for a drop of port at Christmas will know what I mean, with only the Corte Inglés gourmet store (if you have on near) offering a meager selection of the wonderful sweet wine. The languages are so similar and yet those flattened vowels are largely absent from the airwaves or the stage. With the death of Saramago, the Nobel laureate resident in the Canaries, a literary link has been lost. Ask someone living in Spain (and I include myself) to name a living Portuguese writer, and they will most likely flounder. 

Ibero-Socialists Zapatero and Sócrates seemed to enjoy a fraternal rapport, with much talk of a Madrid-Lisbon high-speed train route, despite the serious doubts over whether there is much desire for such a service. But how poignant that now, in Portugal's greatest hour of need, heartless neighbor Spain simply cannot be seen in her company for fear of confirming some kind of Iberian curse, proving that inferior coin is the inevitable order of the day south of the Pyrenean divide.

With the humiliation of following the Greeks and Irish in asking for a European bailout now seemingly inevitable, the Portuguese will hang their heads a little heavier as they walk down high streets where Zara rubs shoulders with El Corte Inglés (that’s how they get the port wine). The Portuguese seem to have little choice but to admire their successful and dynamic neighbor, and even ponder idly the possibility of an Iberian federation, as was supported by Saramago. A survey published this week shows that the number of people on both sides of the border in favor of forming a union between Spain and Portugal is actually on the rise.

Busquets and Ronaldo 

The latest Barómetro de Opinión Hispano-Luso, carried out by Salamanca’s Social Analysis Center, reveals that 46 percent of Portuguese (up from 40 percent in 2009) and 31 percent of Spaniards (up a shade from 30 percent), claim they would support some form of Iberian federation. It would certainly produce a strong soccer team, although Spaniards might blanche at the prospect of glory boy Cristiano Ronaldo ruining the all-conquering harmony of La Roja.

El País

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