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:

A grape night out

Por: | 30 de diciembre de 2013

More than one hundred years ago, the grape-growing community of Alicante came up with a marketing masterstroke. It resulted from a particularly good year for their crop, meaning a surplus of grapes needed to be shifted. One can imagine the scene: several chaps, sitting around a table in December, with only the ticking of a clock breaking the silence. As they twiddle with their ink pens and discreetly avoid making eye contact, an occasional suggestion is put forward for the use of the excess grapes: “Coat them in glass as novelty marbles?”, “Ear plugs?”, or “Ammunition for catapults?” Then, one bright spark utters, “What about getting people to eat one on each stroke of the bell for the New Year, to bring luck and prosperity?” The grape-growers no doubt choked on their wine at the brilliance of the suggestion, just as many individuals would choke on their grapes in the years that followed. It was probably the pick of the bunch. A great grape idea.

However, as with many traditions, it's not without its risks. Whether it's losing a filling to the trinket in a roscon de reyes in Spain, or chasing a cheese down a hill in the UK, traditions seem to have developed on a 'no pain, no gain' basis. For those of you looking to undertake the challenge of eating twelve grapes for the first time, or just wishing for a safer experience, it pays to heed some basic advice so that efforts are not made in vine. Sorry, in vain.

Transporting your grapes to a New Year's Eve party or to a crowded plaza can be a headache. Remember: grapes are delicate – they detach from their stalks and squash very easily. A detachment perspective can be illustrated by picking up a bunch in a supermarket, which invariably sees several grapes bailing out before you manage to bag them and brings into question the existence of a grape skydiving gene.

Of course, in the hustle and bustle of a crowded new year plaza, you're not going to be popular if you pull out a few withered twigs from your jacket and comment, “That's funny – there were grapes on it when I left home.” To locate the missing fruit inevitably means jumping up and down like a maniac in the hope that they'll appear around your feet, or, in a worse case scenario, removing your clothing layer by layer. The grapes may well be found, but whether your friends will still wish to eat them may depend in which part of your attire they are located. Even if they remain attached to their stalks, the pushing, shoving and body heat from a party or plaza means by the midnight hour the grapes can look like a bunch of small, dry, sweaty prunes. They look even more unappetizing if your identity card or driving licence is stuck to them. Take precautions, and think tupperware container.


Grapes: delicate, delicious, yet deceptively dangerous. Photo: flickr (CC) Matt McGee

In a further marketing triumph, twelve grapes have long been available in tins, but remember that tins don't always open with ease. If you've trudged all the way to your local plaza, the question “So, who has the tin opener?” can really cast some gloom if all members of your party look blankly at each other. In the absence of the device, one brave soul will try to open the tin with his or her penknife, which usually results in access to twelve grapes and a severed thumb. Take a tin opener, and a small first aid kit just in case.

Having safely transported your New Year's Eve essentials, perhaps the most important advice can be applied to consumption. Unfortunately, there is a similarity in size between the simple grape and the much-needed human windpipe. First and foremost, remember to chew and swallow the grapes. Nowadays, the sight of your Uncle Pedro turning blue in the face whilst pointing frantically at his neck makes for a great youtube video pending the swift arrival of an ambulance, but we'll never know how many casualties have succumbed in the past, just seconds into the first day of January, with their final word being 'ten!', 'eleven!' or, heart-breakingly, 'twelve!'. Also, should any individual manage to consume the dozen, please remember that the last thing they need is a strong, congratulatory, 'well-done-mate', slap on the back, which is more likely to result in something resembling a famous scene from The Exorcist than a humble 'Thank you'.

On such a joyous occasion it would be shameful to finish on a sour note, so of course, more than anything else, enjoy yourself, have a wonderful night, and I hope that, if you'll excuse the pun, the evening lives up to grape expectations. And have a warm, happy and prosperous New Year too.

Chicas cover
For most foreigners, Spanish music exists in a hinterland bordered by the baroque beauty of flamenco and novelty dance hits first heard on holiday.

That may be unfair but as a result Spanish rock and pop music – which exists somewhere vaguely in between the two poles – gets rather overlooked. This is exacerbated by the fact there is no gateway drug to Spanish rock, no Beatles, Serge Gainsbourg or Kraftwerk to lure people in to the wonders of Iberian sounds.

As such, I found a recent conversation with Vicente Fabuel, a renowned Spanish record collector, author and album compiler, particularly enlightening. I first came across Vicente courtesy of ¡Chicas! Spanish Female Singers 1962 – 74, an album he compiled for the Vampisoul record label. It is the kind of record that dares the music fan not to buy it: here, it promises, is a world of music that you know nothing about and it may well be brilliant.

And it was. Across 24 tracks here was a wealth of soul belters, Iberian Motown, Argentinian funk, flamenco pop and Spanish psychedelia that opened my mind to an entirely new world of music. Throughout, Vicente’s excellent notes were there to guide me, introducing me to the “fascinating, mysterious and immense” Barcelona label Discos Belter and female duo Vainica Doble, who Vicente believes represent “the peak of Spanish musical culture”.

I had the good fortune to interview Vicente a couple of weeks later. He explained to me that foreigners - and even many Spanish music lovers - are often surprised by the Spanish musical history he has helped to unearth and subsequently highlight.

“Basically, in the UK people think of our music as flamenco in all its forms. The only big artists from Spain who went to Europe, Japan and the US were flamenco artists,” he said.

The Franco dictatorship, he explained, “didn’t help” in the diffusion of Spanish pop during the pop teen boom of the 60s. But he believes there is more to the story than that. “England was the capital of music (in the 1960s),” he said. “Music made in Europe always looked towards England. My impression was that culturally Britain was very hard to enter.”

Rather wonderfully, Chicas (essentially a collection of brilliant B sides from Spanish female singers that went overlooked at the time) represents just the tip of the iceberg of Vicente’s digging.

He has already compiled four volumes of Spanish soul music collection El Soul es una Droga and three volumes of rock / funk / soul compilation Sensacional Soul. He’s currently working on Volume 2 of Chicas and the first volume of a male equivalent (which he refers to as “Chicos”).

Even more intriguing for lover of 60s garage, is a compilation that Vicente is currently putting together, which he describes as a “Spanish Nuggets” (a reference to the legendary  - and hugely influential - Nuggets compilation released in 1972, which compiled singles from largely unknown US garage rock bands from the mid-60s).

“I think that will be a surprise,” Vicente explained. “I think it was the peak of 60s creativity in Spain.”

What’s more – and sensitive English music fans may want to cover their ears now – he believes that Spanish bands of the 60s were actually better suited to the noisy, proto punk format that Nuggets championed than the more refined R&B acts in England of the time.

Whether this is true, only the release of the album will tell. In any case, it doesn’t really matter. What Vicente has done – and done brilliantly – is to open up a treasure trove of Spanish music for the world at large to enjoy. His compilations may not top the charts but they can shape the impression that music fans around the world have of a Spanish music scene that has been overlooked (unjustly, it turns out).

And if his work helps just one more person to hear the wonder of Vainica Doble, then you feel Vicente will be satisfied.

“For anyone interested in the Spanish pop world, they have to see how the group (Vainica Doble) brings different types of music together,” he said. “They rival any of the great European pop music groups from the last 50 years.”

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