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:

Mosaics: Painting with Stones

Por: | 25 de febrero de 2015

“Making a mosaic is like painting with stones,” Livia Garreta, Barcelona-based mosaic artist tells us in her Gracia studio one January morning.   Hundreds of tiles, all glistening with colour are stacked against each wall; jaggedly cut pieces, no bigger than a finger-nail are spread across the table when we arrive. “When you make a mosaic, you know that it will last, it can withstand all the elements.” This she explains is why it was the material of choice for Catalonia’s modernist architects, and why the undulating roofs and dream-like façades of Barcelona’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudí are covered in mosaics. 

Portrait edited

Livia Garreta at work on a mosaic in her Barcelona studio / Sharmeela Harris

When you look at the scale of her restoration commissions (the Sagrada Familia, Palau Montaner, to name a few), and then the bite-sized materials Livia uses, often difficult to even pick up by hand, you begin to understand the care that trencadís, one of the many methods of mosaics takes.  Livia is sitting on one of the three chipped and scratched worktables in her studio on a January morning as she explains the long history of trencadís and her lifetime of experience working with it.   She explains that you can place mosaics on any shape or surface, meaning the possibilities in form, structure and style are endless. Indeed, Livia’s long run passion comes across, as she begins to tell us the story of trencadís and its place in Catalan history. 

Livia has had her studio for more than 25 years.  It is here that she prepares her restorations for many of Barcelona’s modernist masterpieces.  “It’s more complicated to restore a mosaic than to do it new,” she tells us, “you must do an investigation into the artist”. Livia is currently working on restoring the floor of Palau Montaner, a UNESCO World Heritage Site housing Madrid’s Government Delegation in Catalonia. It was designed by and named after another Catalan Modernist architect, Lluís Domènech Montaner, the man responsible for the striking mosaics on the Palau de la Música.

Studio edited

Livia Garreta working on a contemporary design / Sharmeela Harris

As Gaudí has become more popular, mosaics have become more visible.  Indeed, it is Gaudí’s kaleidoscopic dragon in Parc Güell and the façade of Casa Batlló that are made using the trencadís method.  Trencadís, however, was not created by Guadí and has over 5,000 years of history, amongst many other methods of making mosaics.  A few years ago Livia was handed responsibility for restoring parts of the mosaics in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s most iconic building.   

Livia originally trained in Fine Art in Barcelona and specialized in mosaics in Italy. Along with Gaudí, she sites Josep Maria Jujol as a strong influence.  She then points to the poster on the wall of the mosaic artist Lluís Brú, one of the best and most influential artists.  He trained under Montaner and was responsible for the mosaics in the Palau de la Música, as well as countless other pieces in Catalonia.  In turn, Livia has trained with the grandson of Brú.

Evidence of trencadís can be found on or inside virtually every modernist building in Barcelona. Buildings sparkle with their mosaic finish in the sun for the eight million tourists that visit the city every year. The art is so revered that trencadís recently gained the status of one of the 116 icons of Catalonia.

Cutting edited

Livia Garreta cutting tiles for trencadís / Sharmeela Harris

The 1980s saw many modernist buildings undergo massive restorations, and since then their place has been protected by the city’s strict preservation code.  This code has warned off property developers looking to knock down any modernist buildings, and has subsequently encouraged global brands to accept their importance.    Livia has work in the Museu del Modernisme Català in the centre of the city.  Even the McDonald’s next to the Sagrada Familia commissioned a large Garreta mosaic - a nod to the iconic decoration of Gaudi’s cathedral. 

There is a myriad of terracotta and clay patterned tiles on the left-hand side of the studio.  Sourced mainly from Spain, they generally serve as material for private projects in homes and restaurants, as well as large-scale murals and restorations. Livia also makes original pieces.  She uses other materials commonly found in trencadís mosaics, such as glass. On one side of her studio hangs an array of fish mosaics, subtly coloured with crushed glass to give a startlingly life-like scaly appearance.

Livia mostly works alone, designing and carrying out all the work herself.  She holds regular workshops in her studios for people of all ages and nationalities, receiving students from all over the world to learn the art.  Spending only a few days with her we soon see the close-knit community of artisan workshops that populate the area: sawdust drifting out of a small opening two doors down and people popping in from nearby tallers to say hello or exchange stories and products. Artisan workshops and independent stores are at the core of Gracia, and Livia’s work illustrates how important these trades are for the city and its identity.  Although Barcelona honours the region’s historical commitment to mosaics in its museums and galleries, the tradition continues to thrive. Through the work of contemporary artists like Livia Garreta, mosaics maintain a strong place in the image of the city. 

Coauthored by @christopherjfinnigan and Sharmeela Harris.  All photos are the property of Sharmeela Harris

For further information about Livia Garreta see her website She can be contacted at [email protected]

Surviving Madrid Fusión

Por: | 18 de febrero de 2015


Drinking starts early at Madrid Fusión.

First up delegates slam espresso at the Cafés Baqué booth. Then, as the day rolls on, the hours are marked by the change in beverage. Coffee gives away to cañas, beer evolves to wine and finally everything dissolves into fishbowl G&Ts. It’s all free of course, the drinks – and plenty of food – dished out by businesses who’ve paid for a stand to push their products to the posse of international chefs, industry pros and press who descend annually on this internationally-significant gastronomic conference and trade show.

This year’s theme is “Cocinas Viajeras: Una aventura por el conocimiento”. It’s one of those phrases that translates unhappily – Travelling Cuisine: An Adventure Through Knowledge? – but that suggests the fusion vein at the heart of today’s high-class cooking, particularly in Spain where international tastes and ingredients (especially Asian and South American) are de rigueur.

Last year I spent the three full days at the conference, and managed to suck out the marrow. I attended a bevy of talks, saw a surfeit of show-cooking and ate my weight in free stuff. But this year, with only one day, I’m doomed to flail about.

And my sense of dislocation is aggravated by the venue, the Palacio Municipal de Congresos. Like an Escher woodcut, it’s fiercely challenging to navigate. Wandering the building reminds me of shopping at El Corte Inglés – you always seem find yourself at the escalators going up when you want to go down.



First up, a wine tasting put on by the people from DO Ribera del Duero. While I have a professional interest in wine, it’s taxing tasting 15 at 11am with a straight face.

Initially I use the spittoon conscientiously. But after eight glasses I woozily wonder if the alcohol is seeping through the roof of my mouth. Then a dilemma – the tenth wine is a €100 bottle. Obviously I swallow.


And by the twelfth my tasting notes are on the fritz, my attention wandering. Up front, a boffin from South America keeps asking wandering, poetic questions about oak. A bullish bald American pulls rank, complaining too fiercely that the waiters aren't pouring sufficient wine for him to accurately adjudge aromas. And a sweaty journalist dashes in mid-tasting, sits beside me, sips at a glass, makes three notes in his notebook, eats all the bread sticks and leaves.

He is clearly trying to pull off the classic Madrid Fusión feint - be in two places at the same time. I feel his pain. Concurrent with the wine tasting, I’d also wanted to see chef Paco Morales' talk entitled “The Fingerprints of Al-Andalus in Haut-Cuisine”, followed by Mallorcan chef Andreu Genestra’s “Journey of a Spice Merchant” (when giving a talk, enigmatic titles are essential – I hope to catch a later presentation called “A Day on the Island of Jeju: Diving with the Haenyo Women”).


The tasting done, I meet up with my colleague Lauren Aloise over a glass of obscure Mallorcan white wine. She was at the talks I missed and brings me up to speed, as well filing me in on a presentation by an American chef that involved eating live jellyfish. I don’t really catch the gist.

But my ears do prick up when she mentions that several Spanish tourism bodies are serving free food on the ground floor.


Free food, or rather the hunt for free food, is a Madrid Fusión institution. It’s also a depressing site to behold and a demeaning act to engage in.

Coming down the escalator, I spot the seething mass. Like ants swarming around a dead bug. I swallow my pride and dive in, foraging up an excellent plate of migas, a tasty bowl of judiones and something that looks like a cigar. I also knock back a pisco sour from the Peru stand and wait patiently for a crunchy wafer filled with piquillo pepper cream from the Repsol Guide booth. The piqiullo pepper thing smells good, but the wafter snaps as I bring it to my mouth and the amuse-bouche shatters on the marble floor.










The feast continues on the trade show floor and companies are magnanimous in their offer of freebies. I try watercress that tastes of coriander, Alaskan salmon, candy-sweet jamón ibérico de bellota and a chilli dip with chef Albert Adrià’s face on the jar. And I notice the Madrid stand has lunged into culinary man's land by handing out Rodilla sandwiches. That'll show 'em!


As I’m digesting in the press room Ximena from the press department comes over and invites me to dinner the following night at the Ritz. I think she’s joking.


I finally reach the auditorium. This dark, studied space is Madrid Fusión’s holiest of holies, the event’s intellectual and creative nerve centre. It's where chefs prepare dishes, unveil techniques and launch projects – where gastro-prophesies are told.

And if one feels dirty after wading through the gastro-zoo outside, one comes here for purification.

Catalan superchef Joan Roca (from El Celler de Can Roca in Girona) talks about how he upped and moved his team to Latin America for five weeks, cooking, tasting, learning and teaching in Peru, Colombia and Mexico. And the crowd goes silly when he shows a video of his elderly parents eating his creations. It’s all very moving and inspiring, and I seem to recall him showing an equally moving and inspiring video featuring his mother last year.

There is, however, a stain on this place. Inside the auditorium people don’t fight for food. They fight for photos of food. Which is worse, and more violent. When a chef completes a dish it’s brought to the side of the stage, cueing a frenzied huddle of photographers, press and bloggers to leap in from the shadows, pushing, shoving and clawing to get a clean shot. I was one of them last year, but lacked the animal instinct and got few useable shots (see below). This year I keep my seat.

Madrid Fusión - 138

Madrid Fusión - 184


I begin to zone out. Sibling chefs Sergio and Javier Torres (of restaurant Dos Cielos in Barcelona) are doing some good looking food on stage. But as my attention drifts I become more fascinated by the man sitting in front of me who is filming the entire event on his iPad. His arms must be exhausted, his battery herculean. I message my wife to say I’ll be home soon.

The next night


I walk through Huertas to the Ritz. In the lobby, rich tourists sip cocktails and sink further into the plush sofas. The restaurant – Goya – is all Louis XV-esque chairs, deferential waiters and gentle piano. A softly-spoken Filipino woman approaches and shakes my hand. She is Verna from the Filipino Tourism Board. And dinner I learn will be an elaborate Filipino tasting menu, cooked by Margarita Forés, one of the Philippines’ top chefs.

Over three hours we move from fabulous Filipino ceviche to king prawns to the most righteous nugget of roast pork. Verna quietly explains each dish and the Dutch Master of Wine sitting beside me chooses what we drink (amid some handwringing on the Dutch Master of Wine’s part – the specially-printed menus are in Filipino, hamstringing his ability to pair).

The dinner is to celebrate that the next Madrid Fusión will not be in Madrid. It will be in Manila, this April. The connection makes sense: the country is a former Spanish colony (it’s named after Philip II), and the gastronomic overlaps are tantalising.

What’s more, like the Pompidou Centre being built in Malaga and the Guggenheim Museums that are being built everywhere, the name – Madrid Fusión Manila – deftly cements the event as an international brand independent of Madrid itself. And rather frustratingly for me and my sweaty journalist friend, it suggests that at Madrid Fusión you can, after all, be in two places at the same time.

James Blick

One Billion Rising In Mallorca

Por: | 03 de febrero de 2015

One Billion Rising
I met Mariella Echeverri this week. She is the co-ordinator responsible for the One Billion Rising event in Palma which has happened for the past two years, and this year’s is going to be even bigger she says. One Billion Rising is a campaign to raise awareness for the continuing worldwide issue of violence against women. It’s an opportunity for women and men to stand together and demand change. Here in Mallorca there will be a demonstration, gathering and public party on Saturday 14th February during the day in Palma de Mallorca. There will be representatives from women’s groups in Majorca, and Mariella hopes to have representatives from many of the official bodies as well.

We meet in a cafe, and Mariella and I huddle over steaming hot coffees whilst Palma shivers. What do you want to achieve from this? I ask her. “I want people to come away from the event asking, how can I help locally? Can I help my sister, my cousin, my neighbour? The real problem is that it is very difficult to get to the women who are already at risk, they are so scared and caught up in their situation they don’t know how to get out of it”. I ask Mariella why she organises the event every year, “I do it for my daughter. She is five. I want her to know that there is another way.” We talk about how even young girls are being pressured and influenced through social media and text messages, you don’t even need to be in the same room. “Young men are controlling their girlfriends by making them give them their passwords for Facebook, they are saying ‘if you love me then you will let me know everything about you, let me take that photo of you, it’s just for me, and they’re going to show their friends and bully and harass their girlfriends that way”. And then of course there is the use of physical, and sexual violence against women to control and subjugate them around the globe.

If you want to stand up and show support for women across the world, and demand the end of violence against women then please attend the event. It will happen on Valentine’s Day, Saturday 14th February. They will meet at 11.30am in Plaza Cort and then walk, dance, run, sashay and march to Parc de la Mar. Mariella’s hoping they will be accompanied by motorbikes to “Make some noise” then then once the group arrive at Parc de la Mar (in front of the Cathedral) there will be a huge Zumba event, speeches and chances to get information.

Will you be one of the Billion Rising? I hope I will see you there.


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.

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