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:

Spain's other mass movement: the Catholic Church

Por: | 30 de junio de 2011

Anti-abortion protest 
There is a movement that can summon tens and even hundreds of thousands of its followers onto the streets of Spanish cities, and I am not talking about the 15-M protestors camping in squares and blockading parliaments. The Catholic Church has mobilized multitudes in recent years; against abortion reform, the legalization of gay marriage, and now it is again frowning with disapproval at government proposals to clarify the rights of terminal patients, even though the draft reform could by no means be called a euthanasia bill.   

"When we say that the legalization, directly or indirectly, of euthanasia is intolerable, we are not questioning the democratic organization of public life, nor are we trying to impose a private, moral conception on society as a whole," the head of the Spanish synod, Bishop Juan Antonio Martínez Camino, said this week. But he added that laws are "not fair merely because they are supported by majorities," while calling on the faithful to disobey any law which infringed on the "right to life."    

15-M wants to reform and purify the political system, creating a more transparent reflection of the popular will. The bishops want to put a straitjacket on legislators, arguing that a moral  force - that of their professed faith - stands above the will of society in general.

The bishops went even further in their attack on the so-called "dignified death" bill, saying that "such laws call into question the legitimacy of the governments which draft and approve them."  

15-M says a popular majority must be sovereign; the protestors express their disgust at self-serving politicians ignoring the needs of those they represent once in power. The Church argues that politicians cannot simply form parliamentary majorities and merrily dispatch reforms without taking into account "the right to freedom of conscience," which, it argues, "cannot be reduced to mere tolerance of religious practice." Legislation must be based on liturgy. How to avoid being reminded of the other religious fanaticism whose malign influence has so scarred the first decade of the 21st century?        

15-M says the powers comprising the state must be separated. The Church does well to keep its counsel on matters of institutional relations. The movement's chief bone of contention is the malign influence of party politics on the judiciary, whose independence is seriously compromised and constantly questioned, and the tendency of administrations (local and national) to stuff public and semi-statal bodies such as savings bank boards with cronies. But could this aim to re-found the state also be trained on the cozy relationship between government and the Catholic Church?   

In a supposedly non-confessional state, the Catholic Church gets six billion euros in state funds a year, half of which go to maintaining state-subsidized private religious schools. But public money also pays the salaries of bishops and priests, as well as Catholic teachers who work in public schools, military, hospital and prison chaplains, and even goes toward the restoration or maintenance of the enormous patrimony of the Spanish Catholic Church, the second-biggest owner of real estate after the government. All this despite the principle, included in the 1979 agreements between Madrid and the Holy See, that the Church was to advance towards self-financing.

Last November, three days after Pope Benedict XVI's most recent visit to Spain, Zapatero's Socialist government shelved its promise to strengthen the lay character of the Spanish state with a new Religious Freedom Law, thus preserving the special status enjoyed by the Catholic Church above any other faith. Mass power prevails. Or does it? Despite the fact that 70 percent of Spaniards polled recently by Metroscopia described themselves as Catholics, the bishops are the lowest valued of any institutional power in the country - below banks, multinationals and even the political parties. For now, 15-M is at least winning the popularity contest.       

Photograph by Uly Martín.


Camp's over - now go and get Camps

Por: | 10 de junio de 2011

The May 15 protestors are preparing to move on after a month in which those hastily constructed havens of campsite camaraderie redolent of bygone times, combined with logistical brilliance which was pure 21st century, have captivated the imagination of millions around the world. The Spanish Revolution has spread fast, but what is left at the center? How will the flame of Sol stay bright? Will the big bang principle of the center exploding into hundreds of neighborhood assemblies lead to the consolidation of a massive grass-roots movement, or will Sol turn out to have been a gigantic yellow dandelion, now dried and whose parachute seeds are drifting hither and thither toward ultimate oblivion?

The camp-out was perfect media fodder, but what we newshounds really want to see now is a focused campaign; a test of strength, even an easy victory will do. With small-town assemblies discussing complex political issues such as electoral reform, that next burnished day in the sun looks as if it might be a way off.

But when I asked one leading activist from the Sol protest whether this dispersal was wise he expressed confidence that it is "just a matter of time" before the seeds sown on May 15 grow into a nationwide movement with a well-matured manifesto. The hope is that a strategy will emerge from a vast consensus. Having waited so long for a youth movement to respond to the shameful lack of interest shown by the political class in the problems of Spain's youth, it seems reasonable to allow a little more time for the roots to sink deeper. But at the same time, 15-M has the momentum, and the next nine months of this lame-duck Socialist government - unwilling as it is to confront the protestors for fear of further alienating another segment of society and worsening its apparently inevitable defeat in 2012 - seem to offer dazzling opportunities for a campaign against the political class.

It might not be about left and right, but things will not be so easy when the Popular Party (PP) is in power. Such protests will be interpreted as predictable anti-government activity unless a visible fight against politicians' privileges and the lack of transparency and accountability is already in progress.     

Although one can only regret the second-worst outbreak of violence (after the initial attempt by Catalan police to clear Barcelona's Plaça de Catalunya) during the month-long campaign of protests, it is perhaps appropriate that Thursday's ruckus puts the spotlight on Valencia. Here is surely a sumptuous case for Real Democracy Now! A regional premier, Francisco Camps, who is about to be put on trial for influence peddling and accepting bribes from the PP's parasitic Gürtel business network; a city where popular barrios are bulldozed in the interests of the real estate speculators; a region where the public TV station is so bound and gagged it does not even refer to the Gürtel case; and where another patently corrupt PP leader, Carlos Fabra, spends public money on statues of himself at the entrance to the airport he had built in Castellón, where actual planes are nowhere to be seen.

Seething at the swearing-ins is certainly a good place to start the next phase of the May 15 movement. Maybe it will be a hot summer after all.   

Photograph by Carlos Rosillo. 

Preserving Madrid's ancient watering holes

Por: | 03 de junio de 2011

Long before the waterworks company Canal Isabel II was established in 1858, madrileños got their water from a network of subterranean galleries burrowed through the city’s rolling hills. They became to be known as the “viajes de agua” or water passages, and were first built in the 9th century. The entire network was about 125-kilometres long and Madrid residents were able to draw water at certain points along the route. Preserved remnants  of these qanats -– as they are known by the Arabic –- can still be seen, the most famous being the Fuente del Berro Park, one of Madrid’s oldest springs located in Las Ventas and tapped by Philip V, and Ocaña, which is still being used today by farmers and ranchers.

Unfortunately one is in a state of despair. The Amaniel qanat –- beautifully restored a few years back as the centerpiece of a hilly but dusty park on the Paseo Juan XXIII in Tetuán -- has fallen victim to graffiti and vandalism.


It was discovered in 2005 during work on a nearby development. Archaeologists from the Madrid regional community began to study the deep ancient brick-lined passages, uniquely preserved and hidden underneath the modern-day asphalt squeeze. But six years later it appears abandoned. Lack of both maintenance and security has encouraged the homeless to find shelter there at night. Qanatgrowth  Weeds and overgrowing shrubbery cover its façade, and the small creek, where water from the Cañogordo springs still trickles as it has for centuries, is contaminated with trash, plastic soda bottles and other debris.

El Amaniel is said to have been constructed sometime between 1614-1616 during, the reign of Philip III to bring water to his royal palace. Researchers from the University of Alcalá and Madrid Water Supply Organization of Canal Isabel II have written an excellent paper about the city’s qanats in English.

On a recent visit to the park, which is located right behind the back fence of Jefatura de Policia (National Police headquarters), I was disappointed to see how the condition of this fine historical site has worsened in such a short period.

Qanatwater The metal markers that tell the story of the viajes de agua and how the Amaniel qanat was used are ineligible, defaced by vandals using spray paint.The entrance to the main-arched gallery is also stained with graffiti. An old dirty bed mattress, apparently used by a homeless person, was nearby.

There is a children’s playground right in front of the site, but that hasn’t stopped the vandals from destroying this important piece of Madrid history. Historical preservation in the Spanish capital is one of the most impressive ongoing projects undertaken by Madrid officials. But it is perplexing that a recently discovered treasure, such as the Amaniel qanat, has been left to decay -– not by nature -– but by people, whose ancestors, perhaps, once relied on that well.


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