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:

People of the Year

Por: | 27 de diciembre de 2011

How do you choose a person or movement of the year? That was the question that a colleague and I at Iberosphere faced when selecting our Iberians of 2011.

Should it be an individual who achieved the most in their chosen field, whether that be winning sports trophies, securing an electoral triumph, or earning huge sums of money? We felt that while success was an important factor, it was not the only gauge. Influencing or reflecting society –a difficult thing to measure, admittedly– was the more important issue. Those that we chose were included because we felt they had the biggest impact, for better or worse, on Spain or Portugal during the last 12 months.

There is also the question of how you compare individuals from different fields. A soccer coach is a different animal to a politician. The former’s victories and defeats are usually more tangible than the latter’s. And what about bankers, writers and film stars? Surely they are just as much a part of public life.

We wanted to reflect the breadth and variety of Iberian life, rather than just focusing on the economics and politics that so often seemed to dominate 2011. So anybody from Spanish and Portuguese society was eligible to make our long-list. Deciding on the short-list –of one winner and five runners-up– was more difficult.

Spain’s indignados movement were the most obvious choice. Their protests began after those of the Arab Spring to the south, but preceded and influenced those that took place in other developed countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States. The momentum of the indignados, or 15-M, has waxed and waned since their famous May uprising, but in many ways they faithfully reflect the concerns of millions of Spaniards.

What about Mariano Rajoy? We considered his inclusion, but ultimately the leader of the Partido Popular did not offer any surprises in 2011. As expected, he secured a comprehensive general election victory. But he did so by refusing to offer policy detail, keeping a relatively low profile and letting his Socialist adversaries lose votes through their mismanagement of the economy. In fact, we felt there was another figure in his party who was a more interesting and worthy choice for inclusion.

We also felt that Rajoy’s Portuguese counterpart had a stronger case to make the shortlist, due to the more dramatic circumstances in which he came to power.

Besides these figures, a Basque political group, a writer and a footballer were among our Iberians of 2011. Many people might agree with our choices. But hopefully, many others will tell us why they disagree.

Bullfighters and Nut-jobs

Por: | 15 de diciembre de 2011


Yiyo was the last bullfighter to be killed in Spain, in 1985. After he’d driven the sword through the bull’s heart, the final act of the bullfight, the bull took issue and drove a horn through Yiyo’s heart, splitting it in two. The matador died almost instantly though had the presence of mind and sense of occasion to announce, “The bull has killed me.”

I was meeting James under Yiyo’s statue outside Las Ventas, Madrid’s colossal red brick and Andalusian tile bullring. Crowds milled as black rainclouds hunched overhead. James arrived. He’s a tall American university professor who has lived in Madrid for a very long time. I’d heard from a mutual friend that James is an aficionado, a lover of bullfights. So I asked James if he’d take me. He said he didn’t go much anymore, but was always happy to take someone to their first corrida.

We entered through the Big Door, a tall and broad Moorish keyhole of a gate. The barking of young men renting cushions and the cackling of old men smoking cigars echoed in the dark corridors around the ring. James said before we went through we needed cushions and beer. As we queued for the beer, I told him I’d been boning up reading Hemingway’s bullfighting treatise Death in the Afternoon.

He nodded, “Hem’s book is dated, but it’s a classic.”

In the amphitheatre we sat on our cushions, drank our beer and hoped it wouldn’t rain. James said I had bought good seats. The arches, the concrete seating, the plush royal box and the round pit of sand in the middle - everything was gladiatorial and ancient. I said to James bullfighting seemed shrouded in mystery - so bygone and ritualistic. And that Hemingway had said that while watching my first fight I wouldn’t know if it was good or not. How do you know? What does a good bullfight look like?

“It’s like pornography,” James replied, “you know it when you see it.”

Trumpets sounded and things got underway. This was a typical bullfight - each of the three matadors, prancing proudly in a tight suit of glinting gold, fights two bulls. And each fight is a carefully timed sequence of events - first the picadores on armoured horseback pierce the bull’s neck with long spears, next the banderilleros on foot pierce the bull’s neck with short spears, and then the matador goes to work with his red cape - dominating and controlling the weakened but provoked animal. Finally the matador, with a sword thrust through its heart, kills the bull.

If the matador fights well the audience waves white handkerchiefs to ask that he be allowed to cut an ear from the dead bull, as a trophy. If he fights very well he may be allowed two ears. And then two ears plus the tail et cetera. By that point the matador is almost guaranteed the ultimate honour of being carried into the street on the shoulders of the crowd. At Las Ventas that means being carried out the Big Door.

The opposite of being carried triumphant out the Big Door is being carried bleeding off the sand. Gorings are common. There’s Yiyo who got the horn through the heart. Then there’s the Frenchman on YouTube who got one up his bum while running away from the bull (he lived, though probably wishes he was dead). And last year a popular Spanish matador, Julio Aparicio, was gored through the throat. The horn exited perfectly out Julio’s mouth, cleaving his tongue in two. He survived, just, but still looks a little peakish (and in denial - post-goring he told Der Spiegel that he considers himself a friend of the bulls). And James told me I should keep an eye on the news over summer. Inevitably, in some village in the dark depths of Spain, an old man, a spectator, will be killed when a bull jumps the fence of the village bullring and lands in the crowd (and on the old man).

But only the bulls died in our drizzly bullfight. And when it was bad, and it was mostly bad, the crowd booed, whistled and waved green handkerchiefs. A green hanky is waved to demand the bull be replaced - if it is lame, cowardly or in any way not noble. This happened twice - one was lame (it tripped early on) and another was cowardly (it tried to jump the fence and get the hell out of the ring). And the first two bullfighters weren’t much better - artless and plodding with the cape. One section of rough looking spectators was especially critical. They waved their green hankies and yelled complaints like “Festival of Children!” and “Festival of Cockroaches!”

“Those guys are always here,” James said. “That’s the hardcore section.” Then he added, “I used to sit there.”

But when the third bullfighter, Tejela, came on, it became good. And when it was good, the arena went silent. My questions to James were hushed by the cigar smoker in front. And as the bull passed through Tejela’s cape, the matador’s feet firmly planted, his body swinging, his bottom clenched and feminine, I briefly saw what they came for. There was beauty in the way he moved. Soon the silence was broken by cries of “Olé” from the hardcore section. And then cries of “Olé” from everybody as the bull charged back and forth, passing inches from Tejela’s puffed chest. James bristled and yelled “Yeah!” each time the matador flicked his cape over the horns. Tejela looked set to be carried out the Big Door.

And then it all fell apart. At the moment of the kill, Tejela drove his sword into the bull but immediately pulled it out. The crowd gasped. James gasped. I wasn’t sure what had happened. Was it intentional?

“No!” cried James. “You’re not supposed to do that!” Tejela again lined up his sword and again drove it into the poor animal. And again he pulled it out. The crowd booed and whistled. The matador’s fortunes had reversed entirely and he now looked more likely to be booted out the Back Door. On his third go, the sword held and the bull died.

Tejela hung his head, embarrassed. As the bull was dragged off the crowd applauded its carcass. The bull had showed nobility. The man hadn’t. But that the man lived and got paid, and the bull killed and eaten, seemed a strange way to award success.

We drank afterwards in a bullfighting bar across the road. It was lined with photos of cocksure matadors and bulls’ heads, with their forelegs intact, charging out from the walls. James asked what I thought of the fight.

“Impressive and tedious,” I replied. “Out of place and out of time.” The hardcore guys came in, pushing past and wedging me between the bar and their stomachs. “And it seems the preserve of the Spanish right-wing. Of fascists,” I whispered. James shook his head.

“Not true,” he replied. “It’s a myth that aficionados are only right-wing nut-jobs. There are plenty of left-wing nut-jobs as well.” He ordered another couple of beers and added, with a laugh, “Spain is full of nut-jobs.”

James is a Madrid-based writer (

How the Beach Boys made me discover Barcelona

Por: | 13 de diciembre de 2011


I recently bought a Beach Boys CD in Barcelona. Nothing too outrageous about that, you might think, except the experience left me feeling like I’d been trying to buy some arcane anarcho-pornography or obscure adaptor plug rather than a common household item.

It was not, in short, a happy experience and led me to draw some fairly damning conclusions about the Catalan capital, which turned out – happily – to be wrong.

The CD in question was The Smile Sessions by the Beach Boys.  Its release was the culmination of 50-odd years of work for the band and their record label and, for me, would put to bed 20 years of searching through bootlegs in record fairs in an attempt to put together the legendary lost album. I was genuinely excited.

The problem was, where to go? I wanted a physical CD and I wanted it yesterday so the obvious answer was a high-street store. I could buy the CD quickly and be back at home in California pop heaven before the hour was out.

But where? The logical idea would have been to look online but by that point I had already left the house in a whirl of excitement and I didn’t want to go back. Besides, I reasoned, I’d been in Barcelona a few months and had yet to get a whiff of a record store in all my roaming.

You may think this a particularly stubborn view  - and you’d be right. But it was not entirely without foundation: I lived in Madrid for nine months at the start of the millennium and the record shopping there never threatened to rise above satisfactory. I figured that the on-going desolation of the music industry, which has led so many record shops in England and the US to close their doors, would have had a similar effect in Spain.

So I went to FNAC. Now, I’ve always quite liked FNAC – there’s something about its chirpy orange colouring that appeals and it is normally a reasonable place to shop for electronic knick knacks.

I was all the more surprised, then, to find its music section cowering at the top of the store like something out of Dawn Of the Dead.

No one was there. Well, not quite no one  - one or two customers were huddled from the cold in the international section - but the contrast with the rest of the busy store was marked.

There was more to it than that, though: the racks of CDs seemed apologetic and dull, as if they couldn’t understand why you weren’t at home on Pirate Bay. There was no pizazz, no touch of excitement, nothing to suggest that the next record you bought could just change your life. Just stacks of CDs and the odd record looking bored and out of place. No wonder no one buys CDs any more, I thought: even the shops can’t be bothered.

Nevertheless, I had a mission. If the Beach Boys had taken 50 years to finally release the record, the least I could do was look for it. So I tried: I searched new releases, catalogue, international, box sets, even jazz but was out of luck. I wanted to ask an assistant but I have a fundamental fear of mixing English words with Spanish – do you add an accent or not? – so didn’t want to try.

Yet just as I was about to pluck up the courage, there it was: Smile.

I’d like to say the album I’d taken 20 years to find was waiting for me bathed in a heavenly light. But it wouldn’t be true. Instead, there was one copy dumped unceremoniously on the counter. I took it and ran, tucking it into my bag as I left the shop as if I had bought something shameful.

Two weeks later I wrote my first blog for this site. The subject was downloading and the Spanish live music industry and it generated some debate.

Particularly interesting was one commentator who claimed that the cost of CDs was known to be very high in Spain. A thought went off in my brain: maybe this was it – maybe this was the vicious circle that was killing off music sales in Spain: high prices led to people buying fewer CDs, which led to fewer record stores, which led to higher prices.

It was a eureka moment. Except it turned out to be wrong.

I was weighing all this in my mind when, a few days later, I decided to have another look at the record shops of Barcelona. There was nothing particular I wanted to buy this time but I had a free morning on my hands and fancied a wander. I had heard rumours, too, of the odd record shop survivor, hidden away in Raval, but I didn’t expect much.

A quick Google search revealed Calle Tallers to be my best bet, so I set off in lukewarm pursuit.

The first shop I encountered confirmed all my worst fears: hidden away at the start of the street, the shop housed a reasonable stock of T shirts, flags and badges but the only CDs I could find were hidden away in a box some way above head level at the back of the store. There seemed no way to buy them, let alone browse, so I skulked outside unhappily.

And turned, almost immediately, into Discos Castello, a proper record shop: the kind you’d recognise from your misspent youth; the kind where exciting music is playing, where stacks of exotic CDs promise a world of titillation and where you can find albums from bands you never even knew existed. It was like returning to my youth.

Here were new albums! Here were old albums! Here were the Beach Boys! Here was a lovely stack of dusty vinyl to have a rummage through! Here were reasonable prices and a friendly-looking owner! It was heaven indeed on a Monday morning.

Even better, Castello turned out to be no fluke: the same street revealed two more excellent record stores, including Revolver, which sprawled over two locations, and each with a reasonable amount of people nosing around, despite the early hour.

I was delighted. To put this into perspective, central London, arguably the European capital of music, has just five record stores and two of them dedicate increasingly large amounts of space computer games as time passes.

I left the last store in Raval chastened and wondered what I’ve learned.

Firstly, I concluded, I don’t have to go to FNAC any more to buy my CDs. I’m sorry FNAC but I may pop in for some headphones at some point nonetheless.

Secondly, it’s all too easy to misjudge a city on some imagined fault, when you haven’t investigated properly and to draw the wrong conclusions.

Thirdly, and most importantly, whatever may happen to the music industry, somewhere in a dodgy side street in Barcelona there will always be a few record stores run for the love of music, where you can wander in, have a leisurely browse of the CDs and maybe even discover something new.

It’s part of a curiously international language of music buying, with stores the same from Budapest to Barcelona, and I can only salute them.

 Beach Boys picture 2011 of Brian Wilson Archive




Milk and honey (guilt free)

Por: | 08 de diciembre de 2011

Most Brits and other folk of Anglo-Saxon stock complain bitterly of the sterilized, long-life milk which tops up cafés con leche in Spain, or, still lukewarm from the supply of Tetra Briks in your larder, provides a suspiciously insipid pool for your flakes to float in. So do I. But what was more disturbing for me was the amount of packaging I started to feel responsible for when I moved to Spain. You can get "fresh" (simply pasteurized) milk in many supermarkets, but it still comes in a carton or a plastic bottle. In a household where two or three liters are absorbed on a daily basis, the guilt factor piles high for someone who "likes to think he is green... at heart."

In the UK, it is still possible to have milk delivered on the doorstep in good old glass bottles, which are collected for reuse the next day. My most recent experience of that, in London, was that what used to be as British as a back-alley dance scene from Billy Elliot had become a pricey "lifestyle choice," basically because very few people were now choosing it. As a consequence, gone was the near-silent, low-emission (it does have to be charged) milk float, that whirring, gently clinking companion of the dawn, and in was a diesel-fueled harbinger of the rush hour. The milk was reliably fresh on the doorstep, but it was hard to feel reassured that the household carbon footprint was shrinking, given the number of miles that little truck had to do to empty its load.

But back in Madrid mivavca has an answer. Straight from the family farm 50 kilometers north of the capital, the company dispenses milk from its own machines. You can buy an empty bottle (glass or plastic) if you come empty-handed, reuse them next time around or bring your own Aquarius container - but make sure it's a liter; that's how this fresh milk comes out when you press the green button: 1 liter for 1 euro.

SP_A0064Fed up with the shockingly low farm-gate price for milk, dairy farmer Álvaro de Miguel decided two years ago to keep back some of his output and take over the whole process himself, from cow to mouth. He got the idea of the vending machines after seeing a similar venture in Italy. But the switch was expensive. The pasteurizing equipment alone cost 30,000 euros, with more money required to fit out a suitable building to house it on the family farm near Navalafuente in the Madrid sierra, where he keeps 200 cows outdoors, except for milking time: "Cows are much better off loose than in closed barns," De Miguel says, adding that most dairy cows in Spain are kept indoors in cubicles all year round as "there isn't enough pasture to feed them outdoors." He means there isn't rich enough pasture to keep a large enough number of cows in one compact space to make the venture profitable, because the wholesale price is too low for farmers, and too low for the poor cows to roam in a field. But milk, however tasteless, is cheap.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, de Miguel recalls, you could get traditonal milk delivered to the doorstep. "We are fighting so that fresh milk makes a comeback," he says. But mivaca is a small enterprise, and there's a good chance you won't have a machine or a supplier (Sánchez Romero supermarkets are a client) nearby. Good luck if you do!

With honey, however, the problem of perishability does not exist, and I have found a supplier where they are more than happy to refill your pot to save on waste. Casa Pajuelo at number 95 Calle Atocha is a buzzing hive of amiability and, more importantly, a place to find a mind-boggling array of different honeys and other natural products such as herbal infusions and spices. My favorite so far is chestnut (castaño) honey, which is almost caramel-sweet like maple syrup. But the 'brezo' is amazing in a tangier way and the Holm oak is another aromatic favorite. All of Pajuelo's inexpensive honeys are delicious and the taste is sweeter still when it feels like you are doing the right thing.


El País

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