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:

Seville’s a funny old place riddled with confusing contradictions. One minute it’s die hard religious tradition, all suits, black veils and pointy hoods. But the next, the very same followers of god are propping up a bar, knocking back cervezas before moving onto a very large whisky and coke. It’s kind of dizzying in its inconsistency, permissive yet conservative, rigid and yet anarchic. I’ve lived here for over 4 years and I am still none the wiser.

2015-03-15 17.26.48
Members of a Seville Hermandad (religious brotherhood) drinking outside

These perplexing dichotomies particularly come into play in the current battleground of noise control in the city’s historic centre. Seville is a social city, social in the sense that almost without exception people spend a large slice of their free time hanging outside bars with their friends and family. Back in 2012 it was reported that there was a bar for every 180 of the population, that’s roughly 4000 bars in total. Throw into the mix the Andalucian capital’s weather, which bar five months of the year, is flaming hot. And on a pleasant, balmy night there’s no place anyone would rather be than you’ve guessed it, drinking outside. Someone could open a bar with some ultra cool, stylish interiors and yet it would remain utterly empty as everyone squeezes themselves onto the pavement, doing what ‘Sevillanos’ do best, drink beer ‘en la calle´.

2015-03-15 17.24.20
Socialising the Sevillano way, standing up outside

And then there are the ‘veladores’ or outdoor tables. Even I if given the choice on a warm evening, will choose an outside table over sitting inside a bar or restaurant. It’s a no brainer and so most bar owners will squeeze as many tables and chairs outside their tiny bar to capture the trade from their tableless competitors. The trouble is in order to have outside tables, bar owners are supposed to obtain a special license which dictates the number of tables and the time until which they can be in operation, which apart from special occasions such as Semana Santa, is until 1am. As a result, many bars risk putting out tables license free, therefore avoiding restrictions due to their unofficial status and serve their rather loud customers until the early hours.

Veladores in summer

Emilia de la Serna, spokesperson for neighbours against noise action group ‘Plataforma Por El Descanso en Sevilla’ estimates that about 80% of the cities outside tables are unlicensed. ‘The situation is illegal but it is protected by the council who have stopped inspectors from going out after 2am or at weekends. For them noise that isn’t measured doesn’t exist’. Emilia who has spent a small fortune on turning her smart family apartment into what she calls ‘a bunker’ to spare herself and her family from the relentless noise emanating from the street below says, ‘you are abused in your own house. Someone else, in order to make money, has taken the control of your own life and is telling you when you are allowed to sleep, Someone else has taken the control of your children’s rights too. You have done nothing, you were happily at home and suddenly a new business started serving drinks outside, or organizing concerts under your bedroom’.

Last summer, the local council under the leadership of Juan Ignacio Zoido, announced a series of new regulations designed to crack down on the level of noise and appease the groups of neighbours campaigning for their right to rest in their own home. Numbering amongst the new rules were the headline-grabbing prohibition of playing dominoes outside bars, plus further restriction on public drinking and music in bars, but Emilia de la Serna remains unconvinced saying that the council ‘mocks their organisation’. She goes on, ‘they use us, they say "let´s sit down and discuss" and then throw any recommendations in the bin saying that any regulations have been born out of consensus’. It’s fair to surmise that Ms Serna is not happy with the state of affairs.

What then of the recent crack down by Señor Zoido on the activity of bars in noise hotspots the Arenal, Alfalfa and Alameda? On one of the most profitable weekends of the year, the last weekend before Christmas, the local police backed by the council, temporarily closed down twelve bars, eleven of which for permitting drinking alcohol outside their premises on the public street and one for exceeding its fire limit inside. The operation was, according to the police, as a result of a series of complaints made by local residents in all three areas, who were at their wits’ end following night after night of unbearable noise.

One of the temporarily closed down bars on a typically busy summer´s evening

But the bar owners affected don’t quite see things in the same light. Francisco Algaba, owner of Eureka in the Alameda, shut down for ten days over Christmas and fined 3000 Euros, has been left perplexed by the police’s actions. ‘The Police came at 9pm to the Alameda with a list of bars they had already decided to close. They said there were too many people outside and it was dangerous. It was Christmas for god’s sake, of course there were people outside. And why come at 9pm, what danger could be happening at that time? On any one weekend, according to these ridiculous unenforceable laws, you could shut down any bar in this city. So why did they choose us? I just don’t get it’. Algaba estimates that he has lost almost 30,000 due the closure, not to mention the 12 workers who found themselves jobless over the festive period.

The majority of the bars were reopened within two weeks after the police operation, but one in the Arenal ‘El Gallo Negro’ remained closed for two months and was given a fine of 6000. But in the last few days, a judge has overturned the action saying it was an ‘unreasonable case of making an example’, as normally in such cases if a fine is issued, it is not necessary to close down the business as well. So Zoido’s administration will have to cough up and cover all the bar’s costs accrued in the whole process; an expensive night’s work for both the bar owners and the local government.

Since Christmas then, there’s been a palpable air of tension emanating around areas such as the city’s main nightlife district the Alameda, with bars displaying signs urging their customers to consume their beverages sitting down and within the bars’ official designated areas. Something that is rather an impossible task due to your average Sevillano’s innate tendency to drink while standing up, where and when they please. So it was no surprise then that a few weekends ago, one of the Alameda’s most frequented and oldest bars ‘Café Central’ was shut down by the police in a similar operation to that carried out before Christmas.

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A very closed Cafe Central in the Alameda

On an average Saturday night at just after 1am it wasn’t unusual to see people still standing outside of Café Central drinking with friends. On such nights drinking after hours (the bar can serve until 1am) would have been greeted by gentle encouragement by the police to drink up and get on your way, but not this time. On arrival the police allegedly smashed the glasses of anyone in the vicinity of Café Central to the ground and forced them to enter the bar with the threat of a 100 fine for public drinking (regardless of whether they were customers or not). The bar itself has a license for up to 83 people, and following the actions of the police the numbers inside swelled from approximately 40 people to 144, thus exceeding their legal limit and giving the police the perfect excuse to close down the bar from immediate effect. CCTV images have been presented to the local government department involved in issuing licenses, with the hope that the actions can be revoked.  But for the moment, Café Central remains closed and its 12 staff without jobs.


Central empty
CCTV image of Cafe Central at 1.26
Central full
at 1.36 the bar is full after the alleged actions by the police

With just two months to go until the Municipal elections, it’s possible that these high profile bar closures form part of a campaign to curry favour with swing voters, who might just vote PP if the noise problem is seen to be tackled in some way. And according to the political party ‘La Izquierda Unida’ (The United Left),  there is indeed ‘more than a hint of electioneering,’ adding that ‘repression isn’t the solution’ and asking for ‘an agreement between all parties involved in the disputes’.

But I suppose my question is as an outside observer, can there ever be an agreement between parties whose interests are so diametrically opposed? It would seem it depends on who you are and where you live. Both neighbourhood groups and bar owners bemoan an utter lack of consistency on behalf of the council, so if they’re not defending the residents, the bar owners, or the revellers, then the question that begs to be asked, whose rights are they defending?

As an aside here, it’s interesting to note that strong religious traditions such as Semana Santa (Easter) and general religious processions and holidays, receive a ‘get out of jail free pass’ when it comes to noise restrictions. Even though between the marching bands, the rockets going off in the street, the general throng of the crowds and the packed bars, you’d be hard pressed to find anything noisier. Something that to many makes an utter mockery of the poe-faced noise abatement rules introduced in 2014.

Bar owner Francisco Algaba, a young man during the Franco era, sees the tough stance taken by the conservative local government in conjunction with the police as having more sinister tones. ‘This is a persecution, it’s worse than the inquisition, worse than Franco. It’s anti-constitutional’.

It remains to be seen how events will play out between now and the municipal elections in May, but for many it all forms part of a greater fabric of repressive policies being implemented by the Partido Popular at large, encroaching on the civil liberties of those that might stand in their way of their re-election later on in the year.  

The 10 enduring mysteries of Spain to a foreigner

Por: | 09 de marzo de 2015

Cash machine 2 - carlos rosillo
Credit: Carlos Rosillo

I recently celebrated my 40th month as a resident in Barcelona, making me officially over the Spanish hill. To celebrate, I decided to reflect on the 10 continuing mysteries of Spanish life, the kind of puzzles that keep me up at night and make me forget the milk on a trip to the supermarket. 

Here’s to the next 40 months then - and here’s hoping we can finally crack these enigmas.

1) The irregular advertising quandary 

Televisions programmes, as a rule, have regularly scheduled breaks in action during which the network can go to adverts. These, typically, are to be found half way through the programme or at a comforting, regular division like thirds.

Might it make sense, then, when showing imported TV programmes to schedule your adverts to coincide with these friendly breaks?

Yes, of course: the vast majority of the world.

Why on earth would you want to do that? Spanish television argues (and Antena 3 I’m particularly looking at you.) 

In fact, the scheduling of advertising breaks is one of the most troubling puzzles of Spanish life. A two episode block of The Simpsons on Antena 3 at 2pm should be the perfect accompaniment to a lazy lunch and resulting digestion. Except Antena 3 inserts ad breaks at such brain-changingly odd times it makes the whole thing into some kind of weird endurance test.

A typical Simpsons episode double bill on Antena 3 will go: opening credits; six minutes of adverts; first episode scene one; seven minutes of adverts; the rest of the two episodes crammed together with no room to even make a cup of tea.

It’s baffling. Maybe Antena 3 thinks this is the best way of getting us to watch as many ads as possible. But if this was the case, then wouldn’t The Simpsons US creators have already thought of this? Wouldn’t other TV networks around the world have copied this innovation? Wouldn’t TV as a whole look entirely different, in fact?

2) The newspaper knife enigma

What is it about newspapers that makes people want to buy knives? Is the news so bad it makes us yearn to slice our own throats? Are the recipes within so delicious that they positively demand the fresh slicing edge of new metallic fury?

I don’t know. But one thing is certain: in Spain, publishers definitely think newspapers and knives go together. In fact, barely a month goes by without some newspaper announcing that this Saturday in the kiosks they will be offering eager readers the opportunity to buy a complete set of steak knives alongside their morning paper for “only” €12. 

Who buys them? Why is it always knives? What kind of crossover is there here? Reader, I’m as baffled as you are…

3) The Barça knife baffler

… and talking of knives, why on earth would even the most ardent of Barcelona FC fans want to buy a set of knives emblazoned with the Barça logo? A T-shirt? I can see that. A duvet set? I suppose so. For a child.

But knives? Who wants to think about football when slicing a lettuce? Who wants to get all upset about dodgy penalties when chopping a tomato? But such dodgy logic certainly doesn’t stop papers like Sport perennially offering up Barça knife selections up to its readers, usually for “only” seven tokens and €10. 

I would imagine these knives, like much football merchandise, are designed to show off your love of the club. But who ever sees your knife collection? Seriously. Your intimate family, maybe. And they already know you like Barça. You can hardly take your knives out to the bar in the vague hope someone will see them and cut through the blackened silence of solitude by talking about Alves’ red card.

The same, incidentally, applies for Madrid melon peelers, Valencia vacuums, Espanyol espadrilles etc.

4) The cash machine conundrum

The Spanish economy may have picked up slightly of late, but I can’t help thinking it would look a lot better if banks and businesses were only able to break the eternal cycle of cash-based frustration that is engendered by cash machines not giving out low denomination notes and shops never having change for €50. 

It just doesn’t work. And many is the time I’ve decided I could probably go without that little snack / newspaper / cup of coffee rather than enrage the poor shop keeper with my €50 note.

I, like most people, don’t necessarily enjoy going to the cash machine. It’s not one of those little treats, like a small pack of peanuts or a nice sit down in the park. I see it, in fact, as a task to be endured, albeit a small, eminently manageable one.

As a result, when I do go to the cash machine, I try to get out funds that will last me for at least the week. And that would be fine, were said cash machine not trained to spit out as fewer notes as possible, preferably in the kind of high denominations that get infuriated local shops gobbing in your morning baguette.

It’s become some kind of game: €90 is good because you’re guaranteed some 20s. €130 is loads of 20s - unless the cash machine also does 10s. €100, however, is the big bust, coming inevitably in two €50 notes. Go straight to shop keeper shame. Do no pass Go.

Maybe some people would see this kind of mental wrangling as fun. I am not one of those people.

5) The indoor football inquiry

Football I get. 22 people on a pitch for 90 minutes of skilful bloodlust. Pick a team. Support them. Go wild. 

But what kind of football-depraved sociopath would you have to be to follow indoor football, a kind of life-size Subbuteo which appeals to the same kind of instinct as writing really small on a piece of paper just to see how many words you can fit?

A Spanish football depraved sociopath is the answer to that one. And don’t get me started on beach football.

6) The August obscurity

“Gone on holiday,” the sign read on my local launderette. “Back in September.”

I checked the date. I checked it again. But yes, it was August 1 and the launderette was taking the month off. As I would soon find out, far from being the kind of once-in-a-lifetime month-long blowout, this is in fact the norm in Spain.

Yes, people in Spain - possibly even most people in Spain - take August off. And that’s all of August. Not three weeks in August. August.

You almost want to applaud. Who wouldn’t want August off? Not me. I’d love August off. But there’s something in me that’s far too British to do it. 25 days holiday a year is what you get. And you have to take that in week-long blocks for fear of your boss getting angry.

Pathetic, I know. So let us salute this troubling yet wonderful dedication to taking August off that the Spanish enjoy so much. Even if it does make getting your clothes washed something of a summer headache.

7) The Portugal paradox

Before I lived in Spain, I always assumed it was pretty close to Portugal. I mean, of course it is physically close; they’re both on the Iberian peninsula. But I assumed this translated into an enduring kinship and cultural closeness between the two countries.

I couldn't have been more wrong. It’s not like the Spanish dislike Portugal. They just sort of ignore it. Portugal’s never on the news, there are few Portuguese cafes and shops (at least in Barcelona) and you rarely hear Spanish people talking about their love / affinity / vague respect for Portugal.

I once asked my girlfriend about this. She just shrugged. 

This, I think, pretty much sums up Spain’s attitude to Portugal.

8) The strawberry anomaly

Strawberries are a summer fruit, right? They go with long summer nights, ice cream straight from the fridge and Wimbledon on the telly.

Not in Spain. No, in Spain, the strawberry - that eternal harbinger of warm summer fun - is considered a winter fruit. They allegedly grow in winter. And don’t even try to argue the toss over this one. I’ve tried and it simply does work.

In fact, I suspect that this may be simply Spain’s rather sophisticated method of reminding us how much hotter the weather is over here than in freezing Britain. Hey - Spain appears to be saying - our weather’s so damn hot we have strawberries in winter. Still missing your English breakfast?

9) The bakery brain breaker

People in Spain like bread. They like it a lot. A meal, my grandmother in law thinks, is not a meal without bread. And you will typically find a nice crusty baguette perched on the table when meal times come around.

Even so, the amount of bakeries in Barcelona is truly staggering. Within five minutes’ casual stroll from my house there are at least seven, with most supermarkets and corner shops also selling bread. How is that even possible? How much bread can one barrio cope with? And why do none of them ever have change for €50?

10) The pig fat puzzler

Seriously? You’re going to eat that? A slice of pig fat that looks like the bits you normally get rid of from bacon? When you’ve got all that other wonderful Spanish food you could be enjoying?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I give you panceta de cerdo, the main reason that vegetarians can keep on the straight and narrow in Spain, a disgrace to the concept of bacon and the most disgusting thing ever to put put in between two bits of bread and considered a sandwich since the invention of corned beef.

Theatre in Barcelona: A Game of Mirrors (Joc de Miralls)

Por: | 06 de marzo de 2015

Joc de Miralls. Ros RibasCircle Mirror Transformation (Joc de Miralls), by the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Annie Baker, is a sweet, funny and quietly tragic little play that shines light on the lives of five individuals who take part in a theatre workshop for beginners in a local civic centre. The title refers to one of a series of quirky group exercises that make up the play's mini-scenes. We join these exercises mid-way and leave before they end, so bit-by-bit we are asked to piece together the lives of each of the protagonists.
Directed by Juan Carlos Martel Bayod, Joc de Miralls is a fantastic version of the play, staged at Espai Lliure in Barcelona until 22nd March. The play is in Catalan but because it's contemporary language and relies much on silence and gesture, it's easy to understand. The American setting is transferred to a local one and the names slightly altered, this maintains its atmosphere of authenticity while establishing intimacy between the characters and the audience.
Each of the five has something to give and something to hide: the over exuberant Teresa (Aina Clotet) conceals her insecurity, and seeks support in doomed relationships with older men. Mopey yet intuitive high-school student Laura (Elena Tarrats) is haunted by the troubled relationship of her parents. Middle-aged carpenter Xus (Eduard Farelo) finds solace in the furniture he makes, and looks to others to bring meaning to his life. Their indefatigable instructress Martina (Isabel Rocatti) determinedly ploughs on through some rather misfired exercises, while her ‘ideal’ marriage to Jaume (Jordi Martínez) falls apart at the seams.
As Annie Baker said in an interview: “The way human beings speak is so heartbreaking to me—we never sound the way we want to sound. We're always stopping ourselves in mid–sentence because we're so terrified of saying the wrong thing. Speaking is a kind of misery.” (Huffington Post)
This is a play of such 'natural' stilted, self-edited conversations, awkward silences and impulsive gestures. There is both the strange intimacy that springs up between strangers, and the estrangement that can divide those in long-term relationships. Yet moments of joy, unexpected connections, and the sort of discoveries we make about ourselves only through contact with others, also occur as the play evolves, like life does, in little fits and starts. Without epic narratives or climatic moments of revelation, this is a theatre as close to life as life often is to theatre.

Joc de Miralls by Annie Baker, dir. Juan Carlos Martel Bayod
until March 22nd, 2015
Espai Lliure - Barcelona
Thank you Teatre Lliure and to Ros Ribas for the photos

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