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.

English Improvised Comedy in Barcelona

Por: | 25 de octubre de 2016

For the past three years, and now a fourth, early November in Barcelona has meant one thing to me: IMPROV INTENSIVE with the BIG IF.

“Improv” or “impro” is short for “improvisational theatre” and the BIG IF is the biggest English-language improv festival in Europe. It’s organised by BIG, the Barcelona Improv Group, founded in 2011. The festival has been taking place in the Gràcia neighbourhood of Barcelona on the first week of November since 2013. This year it takes place from the 2nd to the 5th November. In it participants get the chance to take great variety of workshops and watch up to 5 different shows per night. These shows offer the audience the chance to see many kinds of improv styles and groups from all over the world, including mixers that perform for that night only.


The festival has grown enormously since its first edition in 2013. It started with 3 nights of shows and 4 rotating workshops during 3 days and round 100 registered participants, this year’s edition has almost 200 registered improvisers taking up to 29 different workshops led by 17 teachers from around the world and performing shows during 4 nights. The workshops delve on all kinds of performance skills applicable, not just to improv, but to acting in general. These include buffoon, masks, using soundtrack, musical improv, stage presence, storytelling, directing, and performing for children. The shows also present a great variety of styles and formats, making for an evening out in which anyone can find something to their pleasing.


Improv is a type of theatre in which the scenes and stories are made up on the spot, without script, props or anything but the quick thinking and connection between the players. The main point of improv is to “yes and” any situation that comes up. This means accepting what’s going on (YES!) rather than fighting it (negation), and then adding your own personal touch to it (AND…). It has a predecessor in the Commedia dell’Arte of the Italian Renaissance, with its improvised plays based on vague plot outlines and the use of stock characters. Present-day improv comes from the study theatre games for education and developed into a strong network with schools such as Second City and Improv Olympics. Quite a few well-known actors such as Bill Murray and Kristen Wiig started off doing improv.

BIG is the only English-speaking improv group performing regularly in Barcelona at the moment that also offers improv classes and team building workshops for businesses. However it’s far from being the only improv group in the city. There are many other Spanish- and Catalan-speaking groups in Barcelona such as Impro Acatomba and The Modestos which will also be performing during the BIG IF.

In Madrid there are also many Spanish-speaking improv groups (ImproMadrid, Jamming, Impro Impar…) and one English-speaking group. This last one is called MAD Improv and has been going on since January 2014, started by a former BIG performer Benjamin Nathan-Serio. And if you can’t find an on-going improv scene in your town you can always start it yourself…

Photo credit: Alessio Carone

Why would a country reject peace?

Por: | 17 de octubre de 2016

Hundreds of people gather for ‘The Peace Concert’ on Monday in Bogotá.

Voters march for peace days before the referendum / LEONARDO MUÑOZ (EFE)

I lived in Colombia when Scotland rejected independence from the United Kingdom. This became a sort of a joke to some of my Colombian friends there, “Why would you campaign for independence all these years just to reject it?” they asked. I remember being sent a meme saying ‘Viva la independencia..! Sigamos siendo una colonia inglesa!” (Long live independence… let’s continue to be an English colony!)

Two years on, people outside of Colombia are asking similar questions about the Colombian peace referendum. Why would a country with such a tragic history - a 52-year-long civil war which has caused 6.9 internally displaced victims - vote against peace?

It’s not a decision as simple as a 'yes' or a 'no', as the referendum required it to be.

For many Colombians who voted against peace, the deal was too lenient on the FARC and granted the rebel guerrillas too much political power.

Another major factor is the ongoing influence of Senator Uribe over the Colombian electorate. Álvaro Uribe Vélez was president from 2002-2010, and the current president, Juan Manuel Santos, initially served as a Minister of Defense under him. With Uribe’s support, Santos succeeded him. However, the two fell out due to their diverse attitudes in quelling the civil war. Their distinct approaches towards peace have divided public opinion. This culminated in Uribe launching a campaign against Santos in the 2014 election. Santos won narrowly, and Uribe remains his main political rival, staunchly against the peace negotiations.

El expresidente Álvaro Uribe habla a los medios después de votar, en Bogotá.

Uribe, moments after voting NO / GUILLERMO LEGARIA (AFP)

Uribe is the at the head of the ‘No’ movement. His father was murdered by the FARC and he is not forgiving of the rebel factions' past. Conversely, Santos claims forgiveness is the only way to achieve peace.

The 'No' campaign targeted different Colombian communities. For example, while the Catholic church leaned in favour of peace, the Evangelists were largely influenced by the 'No' campaign. One example of this is Oswaldo Ortiz, an Evangelist 'digital pastor' and prominent online personality who claims ‘only peace can be achieved with God.’ For many 'No' voters, Santos’ acceptance of the FARC was too far away from religious principles. Saying ‘No’ was a way to combat increasingly liberal influences. Additionally, Santos’ appointment of the openly gay politician Gina Parody as the ‘Yes’ campaign coordinator was interpreted by the ‘No’ campaign as a way to threaten conservative family values through the peace treaty.

Another motivation to vote against the peace deal was a fear of becoming like neighbouring country Venezuela.

If you look at an infographic of how regions of Colombia voted, there is an obvious correlation between areas worst affected by violence voting for peace, while those more distant from conflict areas voted no.

Uribe is a controversial figure, and an unpopular one for victims of the conflict. His methods of stopping the FARC were violent, and many believed that Uribe himself encouraged paramilitary activity to take down the FARC. It was largely fighting between FARC and other rebel groups that caused innocent deaths and civilian displacement. Victims of this do not wish to return to Uribe’s hard-line tactics, preferring Santos’ measured and diplomatic approach in securing peace.

Santos saluda el aplauso recibido tras conocerse el Premio Nobel de la Paz.

President Santos received a Nobel Prize for his peace efforts / JOHN VIZCAINO (REUTERS)

After the referendum outcome, Santos initially announced that a cease-fire would remain in place until the end of October. Since then, thousands of Colombians have marched for peace in Bogota and other locations throughout the country. Perhaps as a result of this, the cease-fire has been extended until the end of the year. 

Even if Colombia voted 'yes', it would be a small step towards peace. While the FARC is Colombia's largest guerrilla group, armed rebel groups and narco bacrims are still active in areas around the country. Peace talks with the country's second largest rebel group, ELN, have been announced for later in the month. 

Last week, President Santos was awarded a Nobel Prize for his peace efforts. It is hoped that this recognition will help the Colombian public come to an agreement in a resolution of the conflict. 

Susana Medina: Object Lessons

Por: | 05 de septiembre de 2016

Anglo-Spanish author Susana Medina gives three lessons about three objects, which relate to three different identities and three stories. This audio slideshow explores and studies her relationship with objects in a similar fashion to Susana Medina's literature.

When Susana Medina speaks, her voluptuous lips resemble a place to rest. Salvador Dali’s powerful Mae West bocca sofa comes to mind. When Susana and I met earlier this year, we were discussing the power of objects, the main theme of her latest novel. The book is called Philosophical Toys and it's her debut novel written in English. The story explores and studies our relationship with objects, masterfully interspersed amid a plot that leads us to London, Spain and Mexico, while the reader discovers many engaging characters, some of whom are collectors of objects and inquire about the enigmatic nature of the things. Playfully concocted, her novel is both a celebration and critique of our relationship to objects from fetishes, to curios, to commodities, to objectum sexuality, to our becoming cyborgs through our addiction to technology.


"Susana Medina's writing displays a sense of elegant engagement with a minatory world, the prose is both spare and lush, and there's a commendable tension about the enterprise."

Will Self (novelist and journalist)

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Susana Medina with her latest novel, Philosophical Toys (click on image to view hi res photo)

Susana Medina has written and published poetry, a novel, stories, essays and a cinematographic script. She has made two short films based on Philosophical Toys, Buñuel’s Philosophical Toys and Leather-bound Stories (co-directed with Derek Ogbourne), and received numerous awards, including the Max Aub International Short Story Prize. Other works include Red Tales (bilingual edition, co-translated with Rosie Marteau) and Souvenirs del Accidente. Her work is featured in Best European Fiction, 2014, Dalkey Archive Press. Born in Hampshire, England of a Spanish father and a German mother of Czech origin, she grew up in Valencia, Spain, and has lived in London since 1989. Susana's work is published by Dalkey Archive Press, a publisher of fiction, poetry, and literary criticism recently relocated to Texas in the United States, specializing in the publication or republication of lesser known, often avant-garde works, as well as major international authors in translation.


"A shockingly beautiful innovative voice in which the sublime and laughter are perfectly matched."

Andrew Gallix (editor-in-chief of 3:AM Magazine, writer and academic)


During February of this year, Susana and I recorded a podcast interview. We spoke of her writing, childhood, collectors of objects, Cinderella's lost slipper, superstition, animism, parallel universes, fashion, fetishism, social media, politics, biculturalism and cyborgs, among other subjects. The podcast can be heard by clicking on the link below:


The Susana Medina Podcast Interview


"Susana Medina is a genius!"

Deborah Levy (British playwright, novelist and poet)


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Susana Medina in her studio with a pet (click on image to view hi res photo)


Susana Medina's website

The novel entitled, Philosophical Toys by Susana Medina is published and sold by Dalkey Archive Press as well as Amazon and other good bookshops.

Derek Ogbourne's website

Reportage, Photography & Post-Production: Paul Louis Archer Photography

Audio slideshow music and sound design: Daniel Fisher & David Austin

Craft beer: the sole winner in Spain's economic woes

Por: | 23 de junio de 2016

The tour is so overbooked that Jaime Riesgo, 29, splits the group in two and leads one half to the basement of his La Virgen craft beer microbrewery. Business partner and wife AnaElena Coelho, 30, takes charge of the remaining attendees.

“We have doubled production each year since we opened” Riesgo tells me, who after being introduced to the world of microbrewing in San Francisco began producing arguably Madrid’s most popular craft beer in 2011. “This year we’re due to brew 4,500 hectolitres of beer. We have the capacity to make 40,000 hectolitres.”

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La Virgen has seen sales double each year since opening in 2012. Image: Alec Herron

In Spain, it’s not just La Virgen that is seeing sales of craft beer bubble over. Between 2008 and 2016 the number of microbreweries in Spain grew by more than 1,600%, four times more than the second highest growth rate, in Czech Republic.

While Spain continues as the world’s number one producer of wine, squeezing 22.6 million hectolitres form its vineyards in 2014, the Mediterranean country climbed to sixth position that same year in the league of European microbrewers of beer.

Putting a solid reason to the sudden growth in beer full of flavour and brewed with care, is difficult to define with certainty. However, the correlation between Spain’s hop revolution and the start of the economic crisis in 2008, which pushed the country's unemployment rate above 20%, is more than coincidence.

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Craft beer production grew more in Spain than any other European Union country between 2008-14. Image: Alec Herron

“People have had to search for a different way to do things. The little money people now have, they want to spend on what makes them happy.” Explains Jaime, as we sip one of La Virgen’s summer-inspired Pale Ales ‘360’. “But I believe the culture of craft Beer is here to stay.”

With just 21 craft breweries operating in 2008, the drinks industry in Spain was dominated by a small number of large brewers whose regional sales had been cemented by government policy during the Franco dictatorship. Madrid was Mahou, Cataluna the territory of Estrella Damm, while Cruzcampo held the South.

In Madrid, trendy neighbourhoods such as Malasaña, Chueca and La Latina were among the first to open their doors to smaller brewers. In April, the second Lavapiés Craft Beer Festival was held supported by 27 bars and two stores. In June, the third Madrid Beer Week hosted tasting sessions, classes in brewing, brewery tours, beer markets and product presentations across more than 140 locations.

Separated into columns headed by state flag, Birra y Paz proudly displays Spain’s regional variety in craft beers. The shop opened in Madrid’s upmarket Retiro neighbourhood in 2013, as one of the first shops to sell craft beer outside of the capital’s central streets.

Birra y Paz
Birra y Paz was one of Madrid's first craft beer suburban stores. Image: Alec Herron

“Right now we’re in a phase of catching up with countries that have been producing craft beer for much longer than us,” says Maria Paz, who runs Birra y Paz with her husband, Miguel Angel. “Six years ago you hardly heard of craft beer in Spain.”

Since Spain’s economy went into deep recession in 2008 and unemployment has soared to above 20%, hundreds of thousands of Spaniards have left the country to seek opportunity elsewhere. Alongside returning with a taste for products inspired outside of Spain, Maria believes the crisis has encouraged the country’s food and drink entrepreneurs to stand on their own two feet.

“People, who have lost their work, have had to look for a new way of making a living and some of those with knowledge of how to brew beer have seen an opportunity to make money,” says Maria, whose own interest in craft beer began following several trips to the Czech Republic. “Most of our customers are young, open-minded and well travelled.”

As the tour at La Virgen’s Madrid brewery wraps up, Jaime explains that Spain is not destined to remain globally famous just for its wine. “Sixty years ago there wasn’t variety in the wine you could drink in Spain and in reality, the wine that existed was pretty bad,” says Jaime, whose own father recounts how the country took a taste for the grape during his lifetime. “The people of different regions changed the culture of wine in this country. I think the same is now happening with beer.”

Every rep counts

Por: | 27 de mayo de 2016

Rob Martin Squat Cleans with an audience.  Photo Credit Vicki McLeod Phoenix Media  (11)
Any El Pais reader who practices the fitness regime and sport of CrossFit will know about "The Open", "Regionals" and "The Games". They are yearly international events to find the fittest people in the world.  The process started with "The Open" which is exactly that, anyone could enter, and many thousands of people from around the world did. It was over five weeks, every week there was a new qualifying test to do which was announced on the Thursday night, giving you until Monday evening to complete it and record your score. You either did the test in a CrossFit affiliate (such as CrossFit Mallorca in Son Bugadelles Santa Ponsa in Mallorca where I train and where these photographs were taken over the course of the Open) or you could do it independently and video it. There were some astonishing entries from competitors around the globe, including athletes with disabilities, beginners who are giving it a go despite being many kilos overweight, or suffering from some debilitating disease, elderly people, and of course the elite athletes that personify the sport. My personal favourite was a young man in Romania, Barni Böjte, who executed the various workouts which made up the qualifying entries at his family's farm. His videos (which you can see on the website featured chickens, dogs, and the interior of a barn. There's really no barrier to it: even I took part. Sport hasn't been a serious part of my life since I was a child, so, it came as quite a surprise to me (and to anyone who knows me) how much I have been caught up into the world of CrossFit. Looking at it dispassionately I can see the appeal: it's a community, it has its own language (AMRAP, WOD, EMOM), its stars and legends, and even its own clothes range: there's a world that has built up around the practice which was developed by its founder Coach Greg Glassman over several decades. Glassman was the first person in history to define fitness in a meaningful, measurable way: "increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains". He then created a programme specifically designed to improve fitness and health.

Cathy Clarke's handstand push ups, no pasa nada. Photo Credit Vicki McLeod Phoenix Media  (8)
CrossFit is "constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity". By functional movements they mean body movements that you would do in your everyday life, like sit down on a chair or reach up to put something on a shelf, or carry your food shopping. These are the core movements of life. These movements reflect aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more. By employing a constantly varied approach to training, functional movements and intensity it leads to dramatic gains in fitness. The community that has spontaneously arisen when people do these workouts together is a key component of why CrossFit is so effective, and has given birth to a global network of CrossFit affiliates that now number over 11,000. It harnesses the natural camaraderie, competition and fun of sports. Overall, the aim of CrossFit is to forge a broad, general and inclusive fitness supported by measurable, observable and repeatable results. The programme aims to prepare you for any physical contingency—not only for the unknown but for the unknowable, too. The specialty is not to specialise, and instead prepare for the unexpected.

Sandra and Megan mid squat cleans and still smiling. Photo Credit Vicki McLeod Phoenix Media  (13)
Although CrossFit challenges the world’s fittest, the programme is designed for universal scalability, making it the perfect application for any committed individual, regardless of experience. Trainers will scale the weight load and exercise intensity, but they won’t change the programme. The needs of Olympic athletes and ourselves and our grandparents differ by degree, not by kind. This is why I can turn up at 7am every morning and train alongside people who are much, much fitter than me, we will do the same workout within the same time frame, but we will work at different intensities and weights. So for example a typical Workout of the Day (WOD) could be an AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible) in twenty minutes. You might be asked to complete 10 burpees, 15 wall balls and 20 kettle bell swings, but the weights of the wall balls could be 4, 6, 9 kilos, or more, and the kettle bells could be anything from 6 to 32 kilos. And the repetitions might be scaled as well, you might find yourself being told to reduce the reps on some workouts. It all depends on the WOD, which changes daily.  You don't have to attend an affiliate to take part in CrossFit, there are suggestion on the website everyday for your training, and many helpful videos and articles. I personally wouldn't have achieved anything without the motivation, encouragement, and support I get from attending my local "box" (that's what they call the place we train, although some people might train in garages, or on the beach, or in car parks). All of the CrossFit Mallorca trainers and the other members are friendly, fun and becoming more and more like family to me every day, in fact I see some of them more than I do my own family some days.

This has led to me travelling to Madrid for this coming weekend to photograph the CrossFit Regionals. Athletes from around Europe and Africa will gather at the Caja Magica over the next three days to "throw down" and battle it out to find who should go to Carson, to the final test to find the fittest of them all. Only five teams, five men and five women can go.... It's a growing sport in Spain, and there are a few potentials who might stand a chance of going through, pitting themselves against the more dominant Northern European athletes. Many of them come to Mallorca to prepare and train in the spring and summer months in order to be ready for the extremes of temperature in California in July. 

These photos illustrate some of the different types of elements we were tested on during The Open 2016. Over the weeks we were asked to do muscle ups, handstand push ups, rowing, deadlifts, burpees, toes to bar, chest to bar, squat cleans and other seemingly impossible things, but everyone has done something, not just the fittest in the gym, but even I was able to put a score on the board. It didn't matter that I was not that fast, or that good, as at least I wasn't on the sofa watching the telly and drinking wine, I've been trying to do something for my body, which has also had a very powerful effect on many other aspects of my life. From dentists, to hairdressers, to engineers, to maintenance people, to mums, to dads, to teenagers, to professional athletes, to grandparents, we're all there, all trying, all sweating, not giving up. It's never too late to start, I was diagnosed last year with an L4/L5 hernia in my back and told that I would have to have an operation. I decided that I didn't want to take that option, and instead I took myself and my poor old body to the gym, found myself something I wanted to do, and made a commitment. Now I am more than 10 kilos lighter and last week I "deadlifted" 100 kilos, I might even send my doctor a photo! 

The Plight Of Spanish Hunting Dogs

Por: | 09 de mayo de 2016

“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”

 ― Immanuel Kant (German philosopher)

Annually, at the end of the hunting season, Spanish hunters have been known to lynch their unwanted hunting dogs by suspending the animals just above the ground from trees. Consequently, the canines desperately attempt to find a foothold. Hence, during suffocation, the poor creatures perform a macabre dance of death. The hunters are known to find this amusing and laugh at the dogs being hung to death. They call this annual death ritual, 'Piano Playing'. This is but one example of atrocities committed by the heartless, criminal mindset that taints the Spanish hunting community. However, rarely are criminal prosecutions successfully made against these hunters.


"The situation of dogs used in hunting is very dramatic and serious. We really need to act very quickly –  to educate the state administration, the police, more lawyers and veterinarians to make good reports of cases of animal abuse and protection, and to know the laws that they can link these to... I have found that in many cases of animal welfare allegation – where people have witnessed maltreatment, then (sic) if these cases do get taken up by a lawyer, that in fact (sic) they end up in files stored away and the case is closed, and the animals continue to suffer until they die of hunger, of their wounds or their disease. Or they die from their abuse – from being beaten or hung."

― Raquel López Teruel (specialist animal rights lawyer in Spain)


'Podenco Alliance' and 'Podenco Support South West' based in the United Kingdom, held a peaceful protest and photo campaign, which raised awareness of the dismal abuse meted out to Spanish hunting dogs. Many nationalities joined the protest in London, including Spanish representatives of 'Partido Animalista' (PACMA) and American citizens from 'Emerald City Pet Rescue' based in Seattle. A Facebook group with over 20,500 members called, 'The Million Paw March for Justice' were also represented. Similar events ran in conjunction with the London protest in Manchester, Glasgow and Spain. These followed on from demonstrations in Paris and Gettysburg, USA. More protests against the cruelty to hunting dogs will take place in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands in the coming months.


Podenco Petition - DSC_3450
Demonstrators and their dogs outside the Spanish embassy in London
(click on image to view hi res photo)


The protest march took place in London on 'May Day' (Sunday 1st May 2016) and focused on handing to the Spanish embassy a petition, alongside an extensive photo-card compilation of rescued Spanish hunting dogs. Each photo-card was captioned with an individual statement, briefly describing what had happened to the canines in Spain, before they were finally rescued and transported to a safe haven in Britain. Around, 250 UK-adopted Spanish rescue dog owners sent in their photos and stories for inclusion in the petition supporting Spanish hunting breeds.


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Demonstrators and their dogs outside the Spanish embassy in London
(click on image to view hi res photo)


Protest letters were also delivered, calling for an end to the cruelty, for increased animal welfare education in Spain, as well as the urgent widespread implementation of Spanish and European legislation to protect animals. Further, copies of the petition and photo campaign, were also given to 10 Downing Street; the official residence of the British prime minister, David Cameron.


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Protest organisers hand in their petition to 10 Downing Street
(click on image to view hi res photo)


May Day this year was earmarked for the day of action, because that coincided with the inaugural date of the 'International Day of the Podenco'. This observed commemorative day was designated by an organisation called, 'SOS Podenco Rescue' to raise awareness of podencos, the hunting breed that is abandoned and dies in greatest numbers in Spain, and yet is the least known outside of the Iberian peninsula. The dogs most often hung are the galgos or Spanish greyhounds. Podencos are used for hunting in packs in the more mountainous areas, while the galgos are used for hare-coursing in the flat areas. Podencos and other types of rescued Spanish hunting breeds were represented at the protest. The campaign organisers asked families, who have adopted abandoned Spanish hunting dogs in the UK, to work together and coordinate the event. It pro-actively spotlighted the cruel treatment of podencos, galgos, pointers, setters, Brittany spaniels, and bodegueros. All these breeds are abused in their lives and discarded in their thousands-upon-thousands every year in Spain.


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Rescued galgos and podencos at the demonstration in London
(click on image to view hi res photo)


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Rescued podencos march in London
(click on image to view hi res photo)


"The appalling treatment of Spanish Hunting Dogs strikes a chill to the heart; it is impossible to believe that a country as sophisticated and fine as Spain could tolerate such unforgivable cruelty to living creatures. I add my name to the many who are calling for this inhumanity to be stopped once and for all."

― Joanna Lumley, OBE (actress, author and activist)


Joanna Lumley by photographer Rankin
(click on image to view hi res photo)



Beryl Brennan, a long term advocate for the podencos and the galgos, has tried to estimate annual figures for abandoned and killed dogs of the aforementioned breeds. She has looked at the estimated annual figures for uncontrolled breeding of both breeds. Her calculations show the difficulty of getting hold of accurate figures. So many unwanted dogs will be shot by their owners or will die in the kill pounds; dogs 'round the back' that volunteers to the pounds never see. Furthermore, many hunters do not register their dogs as they are legally obliged to do.

In 2009, an organisation called, 'SOS Galgos' based in Barcelona, published on their website that 160 galgos were abandoned every day. That equates to an annual figure of 58,400 galgos abandoned or dumped in perreras (dog pounds) for killing, including reports of galgos hung in olive tree groves.

Figures for cazadores (hunters with galgos or other dogs) or podenqueros (those who specifically use podencos) are difficult to obtain, partly because there does not appear to be one overall federation governing the different hunting associations. However, uncontrolled breeding rates, abandonments and killings are at stratospheric levels.

Podenco Alliance & Future Initiatives


"Our work will focus on education for a cultural shift towards good animal welfare. Education projects will work with Spanish vets and the hunting community on animal health initiatives."

― Polly Mathewson (The Podenco Alliance)

Podenco Alliance hopes for a Spain, indeed a world that is steeped in compassion not cruelty. Alongside, campaigning for changes to the current cultural and legislative system that creates such suffering for hunting dogs, the organisation are planning to promote an educational based version of compassion to the Spanish hunters. Podenco Alliance’s primary aim is to work to help change the root causes that lead to abuse and re-education of animal cruelty offenders might be the key.


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Podenco Alliance members cradling dogs
(click on image to view hi res photo)


Ultimately, branding the hunters as evildoers, will not serve any party involved with resolving the dilemma of animal cruelty. Personally, those hunters that are called evil should be reclassified as mentally disordered offenders, who are presumed ignorant of their actions at best. However, the role of Podenco Alliance and its growing network of colleagues is not to assign fault to the hunters for their own shortcomings, nor do they want to judge them. Equally important, the organisation wants legal justice to prevail for the plight of the Spanish hunting dog. During, the May Day protest in London, Podenco Alliance, Podenco Support South West and a group of 16 supporting organisations called upon the Spanish government to take urgent steps to increase the implementation of existing animal protection laws, to create new laws and to educate for change.


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A podenco named Rosa at the demonstration
(click on image to view hi res photo)


Podenco Alliance, Podenco Support South West and SOS Podenco Rescue support the belief that animals who are victims of neglect, abuse, or abandonment must not also be victims of bureaucracy. Such organisations need help not only in supporting the animals, but in bringing its concerns for their welfare to the attention of the Spanish taxpayer and electorate as well as further afield.  


“You try your best to love the world despite obvious flaws in design and execution and you take care of whatever needy things present themselves to you during your passage through it. Otherwise you're worthless.” 

― Extract from the book called, 'Nightwoods' (2011) by American novelist Charles Frazier


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Rescued Spanish hunting dogs and their owners near Parliament Square in London
(click on image to view hi res photo)


If you want to support these organisations by volunteering, donating, purchasing charitable merchandise or adopting a rescue dog, please contact the appropriate organisation via its social media account listed below:

'Podenco Alliance' aim to help change the root causes that lead to so many unwanted animals experiencing the pain of abuse and abandonment.

If you want to help by donating to 'Podenco Alliance', its PayPal account can be found via this email address: [email protected]. Alternatively, please visit its social media accounts for other ways to donate or volunteer:

Podenco Alliance on Facebook:

Podenco Alliance on Twitter:

'Podenco Support South West' offers support to animal rescue organisations in Spain.

Please visit Podenco Support South West's Facebook account for ways to donate or volunteer:

'SOS Podenco Rescue' is a Spanish charity that rescues Podencos and finds homes for the breed by offering dog adoptions to the public.

Please visit SOS Podenco Rescue's official website for ways to donate, volunteer or adopt a dog:

SOS Podenco Rescue on Facebook:

'The Million Paw March for Justice' on Facebook; its main goal is to raise awareness about the plight of the galgo and podenco breeds in Spain:

'Partido Animalista' (PACMA) is a Spanish political party, who work for the defense of animals, the environment and social justice:

'Emerald City Pet Rescue' based in Seattle (USA) was established in 2013 as a non-profit organisation dedicated to rescuing, nurturing, and rehabilitating homeless and neglected animals:

Thank you to Beryl Brennan of 'Podenco Post' and 'Galgo News' for providing statistics:


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Animal activists with banners at Westminister in London
(click on image to view hi res photo)



Can George Orwell Teach Catalonia a Lesson?

Por: | 04 de mayo de 2016

Orwell in chair

In the clear yet cold winter of 1936-1937 a 33-year-old George Orwell found himself fighting on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.  He was to vividly record his experiences in Homage to Catalonia, one of the first-rate nonfictional books on the brutality of war. Now, with almost 50% of Catalans in favor breaking away from Spain, Spaniards are facing a possible fracturing of their country.  Absurd? Impossible? Illegal? Unconstitutional?  Well, Orwell had never imagined that the Barcelona he admired, where “the working class was in the saddle,” and where “there was a belief in the revolution and the future,” was to have “lies and rumors circulating everywhere, the posters screaming from the hoardings that I and everyone like me was a Fascist spy” in less than six months’ time.

No one is predicting that in today’s Spain fellow countrymen will be killing each other, and the Minister of Defense has said that Spanish military involvement will be unnecessary as long as everybody “fulfills their duty.”  But there are several salient historical and political parallels between what Orwell experienced in the Spanish Civil War and the current independence movement in Catalonia. 

Orwell was inspired by Barcelona’s revolutionary and egalitarian atmosphere in that December of 1936.  Anarchist flags were ubiquitous and former class splits had been disintegrated.  “There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.”  He joined the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM).

After spending the remainder of the winter and early spring fighting on the Aragon front, Orwell returned to an altogether different Barcelona.  The revolutionary resoluteness of the city had faded, food prices had skyrocketed without a matching wage increase and the dominance of the working class had vanished.  Orwell lamented: The “restaurants and hotels seemed to have little difficulty getting whatever they wanted, but in the working-class quarters the queues for bread, olive oil, and other necessaries were hundreds of yards long.”

There was an ominous feeling of distrust between the various Leftist factions.  The Kremlin-backed Communists carried out a deliberate campaign of misinformation aimed at the Anarchists, whose spirit of independence Stalin wanted to control.  “Various people were infected with spy mania and were creeping around whispering that everyone else was a spy of the Communists, or the Trotskyists, or the Anarchists, or what-not,” wrote Orwell.  Barcelona, with Orwell caught in the middle, fell into three days and three nights of street warfare.  When the street fighting had stopped, Orwell was off to the front again.  In May of 1937, his throat was pierced by a sniper’s bullet that almost killed him.  Back in Barcelona, he was greeted with news that the government had outlawed the POUM and had incarcerated, tortured and executed many of its members and sympathizers.  In a “horrible atmosphere of suspicion and hatred,” Orwell was deemed a traitor and the police searched his hotel room.  He and his wife eventually escaped to France.   Although he began as a selfless Republican—and remained a flinty socialist for life—volunteering in the battle against Fascism, “planned state-capitalism” and the Catholic Church, Orwell was forced to flee Spain as an accused Trotskyite conspirator whose true allegiance was to Fascism.  Orwell’s time in Spain—the “result is not necessarily disillusionment and cynicism”; rather, “the whole experience has left me with not less but more belief in the decency of human beings”—was essential to the ideas he would write about in Animal Farm and 1984.  He “suffered the premonitory pangs of a man living under a police regime: a police regime ruling in the name of socialism and the people,” wrote Christopher Hitchens in his book Why Orwell Matters.  Orwell “had seen Stalinist frame-ups and falsified denunciations at first hand.”   

Yet the infighting between the Socialists and Anarchists and the acrimonious rivalry between the Anarchists and Soviet Communists divided the Left in the Spanish Civil War and effectively led to Franco’s Fascist victory over the Republican forces for which Orwell had volunteered in first place.  There is a similar internecine struggle in today’s secessionist movement in Catalonia that is putting a future Catalonian republic in jeopardy, which in many ways mirrors the self-sabotaging of the never-to-be revolution that Orwell supported.

Voter turnout was at a record high of 77.4% in Catalan regional elections of last September.  With 48% of the popular vote, the two pro-secessionist parties, Together for Yes (JpS) and Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), won 72 of Catalonia’s 135 seats, giving pro-independence parties a majority in parliament for the first time in Catalonia’s modern history.  Catalonia Yes We Can (CSQEP), an alliance of progressive parties with Pablo Iglesias’s Podemos (We Can) at the helm, took 9% of the votes, getting 11 seats.  Although Podemos doesn’t support the already-passed parliamentary motion—a nine-point document calling for an 18-month unilateral declaration of independence and the formation of a republic—the party is in favor of holding a Scottish-style referendum to decide if Catalonia is to formally secede from Spain.  The Socialists’ Party of Catalonia (PSC), which finished with 13% and 16 seats, respectively, also has leaders that back the “right to decide.”  That the Popular Party of Catalonia (PPC), the Catalan branch of acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s fiercely unionist and anti-referendum PP, came away with only 9% of the vote and 11 seats is noteworthy.  Opinion surveys show upwards of 80% of Catalans in favor of holding a binding referendum. 

Carles Puigdemont, the leader of the Generalitat of Catalonia, whose party, Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC), fused with the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) to run together as JpS in the regional elections, has more ideologically pure independentista credentials than his predecessor, Artur Mas.  Puigdemont openly defied the Spanish state and tradition by becoming the first Catalan premier to take office without swearing allegiance to the Spanish king or the Constitution.  In fact, just last month, Puigdemont wrote in an op-ed article in the Guardian newspaper that “if Madrid fails to grant Catalonia a referendum, we will advance with the democratic mandate given to the pro-independence parties by the Catalan people. The roadmap we laid out prior to our own elections last September shows an 18-month timeline to prepare the laws and state institutions necessary for Catalonia to make the transition to independence with legal certainty following a referendum.”  (Remember: Because in Spain’s elections of last December no political party won enough seats to form a majority in parliament, new elections have been called for June 26.)  The current speaker of the parliament of Catalonia, Carme Forcadell, a secessionist like Puigdemont, took her new position by pronouncing a robust “Long live the Catalan Republic!”

So in the face of such public and political support, why haven’t the terms and date for a referendum been agreed, to say nothing of an outright declaration of independence?

One reason is that the pro-independence parties are bickering over details.  Neither the CUP and CSQEP are the POUM nor ERC and CDC are the Soviet Union, and, for that matter, none of them is the equivalent to the Spanish Socialists of the 1930s.  But they are engaging in an internal, Pyrrhic fight.   In reaction to the Spanish Constitutional Court’s decision of last November to temporarily suspend the 18-month separatist motion passed by the Catalan parliament, Neus Munté, the then-acting deputy premier, said: “The political will is to push forward the parliament’s mandate and the resolution that was approved.”  Despite Neus’s clear statement, the CUP countered by submitting a new motion that demands the “validity” of the previous motion for independence.  Francesc Homs, the Spokesperson for the Government of Catalonia, criticized CUP’s filing, saying it would only effectuate “ridiculous arguments” among supporters of independence.  CSQEP contends, on the other hand, that without a winning “yes” vote in a referendum, any creation of a new republic would lack democratic legitimacy. 

Disputes, moreover, about policy and procedure may be masking insidious competition for power and influence, echoing the bitter rivalry between the Anarchists and Soviet Communists.  The center-right CDC and the far-left CUP are allies in the centuries-old debate over the right of self-determination versus the territorial integrity of nation-states.  But they, along with CSQEP, are still competing for the same votes in elections, seeking party donors and trying to win or maintain the same contested seats and offices.    

Nor do the challenges facing the creation of a Catalan republic only come from within Catalonia. There are obvious adversaries at the national level.  Orwell wrote that Franco’s “rising was a military mutiny backed up by the aristocracy and the Church.”  The official position of the present-day Spanish Episcopal Conference (SEC) is that “policies directed toward the unilateral dissolution of [Spain] gives us great worry.”  Four Catalans, though, sit on SEC’s Standing Committee, and one of them, Lluís Martínez Sistach, the Auxiliary Bishop of Barcelona, supposedly speaking on behalf of the three other Catalan clergymen, said the Catalan Church “would be on the side of the Catalan people” if they opted for secession.  (Ironically, Teresa Forcades, a Catalan Benedictine nun, has become something of an international sensation for her cutting criticism of big banks, big pharma and inequality and for her radical approach to achieving a republican Catalonia.)

And of course there is stout political and social resistance to Catalonian independence outside of Catalonia. The PP, the party garnering the most votes in the last national election, is unwavering in its stance that the Spanish union must stay intact and maintains that a referendum would be illegal and unconstitutional.  The raison d’être of Ciudadanos (Citizens), a center-right party founded by Albert Rivera, a 36-year-old Barcelona-born lawyer, which, along with Podemos, has upended three decades of two-party rule in Spain, is the continued threat of Catalan separatism.  And Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), can attribute, at least in part, his two failed attempts to become prime minister to the fact that he was forced to try to form a coalition government with Citizens: It would seem that the PSOE and Podemos, two parties on the left, would have been more natural allies, but Podemos made a referendum in Catalonia a prerequisite for its backing.

Several of the most powerful foreign leaders have also weighed in against Catalan nationhood.  Just as Franco received financial, military and political support from Hitler and Mussolini, so too Obama, Merkel and Cameron have all publicly reproved Catalonian independence ambitions.  To be sure, said heads of state are not fascists.  Nor are the E.U., NATO or the U.N. totalitarian organizations.  But each of them has taken issue with Catalonian independence.  “A newly independent region, by the fact of its independence, would become a third country with respect to the [European] Union, and may apply to become a member of the Union,” said Margaritis Schinas, spokesman for European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, in September of 2015.  But is it fair or realistic to insinuate that Catalonia (and Scotland) would be put in line behind Albania and Macedonia as candidates for accession to the European Union

At the time of writing, however, 23 out of 28 EU countries and 24 out of 28 members of NATO have formally recognized Kosovo as a sovereign state.  And although many EU leaders, including Rajoy, Cameron and Merkel, were not in favor of Scottish independence, many were reticent to openly express their opinion.  Merkel, for instance, didn’t make hardly any public comments and when she did make one after the voting it was cagey: “Before, I preferred not to stick my nose in because I thought it was an internal process.  Now, I say that I respect the result and I say it with a smile.”  David Cameron, to be fair, has at least allowed Scots to vote in a Quebec-style referendum on their future. 

It is no surprise that Spain isn’t one of the EU member states to have recognized Kosovo as a sovereign state, because it fears that the Balkan country’s declaration of independence may set a precedent for Catalonia.  Unlike the sanguinary breakup of Yugoslavia and the Spanish Civil War, the tug-of-war in Catalonia is not violent.  But parallels can be drawn from Kosovo. 

Russia and the US may be the most self-serving and hypocritical countries apropos of sovereignty vs. self-rule.  According to Russia, any recognition of Kosovo’s independence disobeys UN charter on the grounds that it violates Serbian sovereignty.  But President Putin backed Abkhazia and South Ossetia in severing ties with Georgia and supported, in September 2006, a referendum—albeit illegal and internationally unrecognized—in which Transnistria voted to split from Moldova.  More recently, in another case of imperial irredentism, Russia has annexed Crimea, a former part of Ukraine.  This annexation occurred after a referendum in which Crimean voters were asked if they wanted remain in Ukraine or attach themselves to Russia, although the referendum, carried out under the occupation of Russian troops, was admittedly a piece of Kremlin gimcrackery. 

America, dissimilarly, rejects Crimean’s right to breakaway from Ukraine without consent of the national government in Kiev, asserting that Serbia lost its right to rule in Kosovo when it had turned to violence.  But America’s official position in recent bids for independence hasn’t been evenhanded: It has favored self-determination in East Timor and South Sudan but has been in opposition in Chechnya and Abkhazia.  And although the early United States was a child of revolution, cutting ties with Great Britain without her accord, the young republic’s civil war was fought to preserve the union of North and South. 

It is, however, accepted that the preservation of the American union was not the greatest good to come of the American Civil War; the war’s finest legacy was the abolishment of slavery.  And it is well-known, despite Orwell and his comrades’ efforts, that their side was defeated in the Spanish Civil War, resulting in nearly four decades of rule by the fascist regime of Franco.  But what is impossible to know is if the Republican forces hadn’t been weakened, to use Orwell’s words, by “the details of inter-party polemics,” if they would have won the war.  Equally beyond knowing is whether Catalan pro-independence parties will learn anything from Orwell’s experiences or continue jeopardizing the future Republic of Catalonia as onlookers go on “marveling at the folly of it all.”

A Taste of Honey

Por: | 13 de abril de 2016

Firabril El Perello honey Credit Gonzalvo Imatge
Honey: 'nature, health and wellbeing' Photo: Gonzalvo Imatge

‘Honey is like wine,’ says Rafael Muria Martí, president of honey company Mel Muria. ‘You need to let it rest in your mouth for a while and savour the flavours on your tongue – the sweet, the sour, the bitter…’

On the table in front of Rafael sits a smart matt black box containing four small jars of softly glowing honey. This is his company’s luxury ‘artMuria’ collection – artisan honeys derived from rosemary, orange blossom, the mountains and the forest, with a higher pollen content and more maturity than ordinary honey – on sale in a select group of shops across Europe, including London’s famous Harrods.

The artMuria collection
The artMuria collection of luxury honey

Rafael is the fifth generation of his family to work in the honey business. In the early 19th century his great-great grandfather Rafael Muria Queralt began beekeeping in the town of El Perelló. Succeeding generations followed the same path. Other families in the area took up beekeeping too and now El Perelló, a town that sits between the sea and the mountains near the Ebro Delta, is known as ‘lo poble de la mel’ producing, it claims, 60 per cent of the honey in Catalunya.‘This,’ says Rafael, pointing to the box of honeys with their different amber and ochre hues, ‘is better than a present of sweets. This is nature, health and wellbeing.’

El Perelló showcases its honey (along with olive oil and other local products) every year at Firabril, a fair which will be held this year on 16 and 17 April and which is expected to attract around 3,000 visitors and 200 exhibitors. El Perelló’s several big honey producers will compete with others from outside the area in what is boasted to be the oldest honey competition in the country.

Visitors can sample as many different honeys as they can stomach along with an enormous range of other honey-related foods: bunyols amb mel (little fried doughnuts with honey), coc amb mel (honey cake with olive oil and almonds), olimelada (a surprisingly delicious mixture of honey, olive oil, herbs and almonds) and many more. There will also be royal jelly, propolis, beeswax candles and natural cosmetics. And if all that isn’t enough, visitors can enter the draw to win their own weight in honey.

El Perelló’s bees are kept extraordinarily busy. Their year starts in early spring when the blue flowers of the rosemary are among the first blooms on the hills. Then the thyme and lavender need the bees’ attention. As the weather warms, El Perelló’s bigger producers put their hives on lorries and follow the flowers, driving south overnight to Castellón for the orange blossom, or, in the heat of mid-summer, north to the base of the Pyrenees to make the most of the mountain flowers. At the end of the year the bees come back home where the heathers on the hills surrounding the town flower longer into the winter than those in other areas.

Previous generations of the Muria family beekeeping
Beekeeping has a long tradition in El Perelló

While El Perelló’s climate and situation are important contributors to its success, the support of the town hall and the large number of honey producers creating a shared sense of tradition are equally significant. The role of the beekeeper is celebrated as an art. Simón Albiol Llaó, a Perellonenc who started his own independent beekeeping business six years ago, says it’s his passion. ‘Bees are magical,’ he says, ‘everything they do during their short life is marvellous. Beekeeping is addictive.’

El Perelló’s honey companies’ ambitions have really put the town on the map – you can find El Perelló honey not only in Harrods in London, but also in Switzerland, Belgium and even Japan (one of the town’s honey companies, Apícola Rossend Margalef, even has a section of its website in Japanese).

Rafael of Mel Muria typifies this forward-looking approach. His company recently persuaded the town’s bars and restaurants to hold their first ‘Ruta de la tapa amb mel’ where customers were offered a tapa featuring honey along with a drink for a few euros. After some initial reluctance (Rafael complains that some people think that honey is only for desserts or when you’ve got a cold), the chefs got to work and devised a selection of imaginative dishes including a mini pizza with aubergine, goat’s cheese and honey, a ‘xupito’ (shot) of romesco sauce with prawn and honey, and a pastry with bacon and honey-caramelised raisins.

Rafael says that the artMuria collection of honey is a tribute to his family before him, but at the same time he emphasises the future. The sixth generation – Rafael’s nephew – is now working at Mel Muria. ‘We are an innovative company,’ he says. ‘We are always creating something new.’

For the smallest producers too it’s a good business to be in. As Simón comments: ‘My work gives me strength and hope. I love the nature and the fresh mountain air. For me, this is the best job in the world.’

Have Lifepack, will travel

Por: | 12 de abril de 2016

What inspires an invention?  They say necessity is the mother of all invention. For Adrian Solgaard the tipping point for the creation of his new invention, a solar powered back pack, came when his friend was the victim of a crime. We met over Skype for a quick chat....

Vicki McLeod: How did this come to be? You've developed a solar powered, lockable back pack which can fit all of your day to day mobile office and work needs. That's pretty amazing!

Adrian Solgaard: I first had the idea in 2005 when I was 18, I was travelling on a train and I needed to sleep. I was irritated by the idea that I had to wrap my luggage around me to prevent it from being stolen by thieves. But it wasn't until 2015 when I was sitting with a friend having a drink, our bags where on the floor between our chairs and my friend's bag was stolen, that it tipped me over the edge! I started to source and prototype ideas, contacted factories and worked on getting the product exactly right. When I had finished the prototype I started on "Real World Testing" and got a tonne of consumer feedback. Now we're in the middle of our Kickstarter campaign.

VMC: Why a Kickstarter campaign? What is it?

AS: It's a way to get pre-orders for the bag, it's enabled us to gauge the reaction of the general public, and raise funds. It means that we will be in production this year with the bag as we have reached our initial goals.

VMC: Wow, that's so exciting! So when can customers expect to have the bag in their hands?

AS: If you have pledged money on the Kickstarter campaign then you will have the bag in October.

VCM: How is the Kickstarter campaign going?

AS: Really well, we've met our targets, now we are doing what's called "Stretch Goals" which means that we can unlock more options on the bag, by offering more colours for example. You can still order one.

VMC: What's so special about the bag?

AS: We're saying that we´ve reinvented the mobile office.

VMC: Big claim!

AS: Well, it's got a solar power bank which can keep your phone alive via a USB charger, everyone's phones run out of charge just at the crucial moment, but with this bag you won't be stranded. You don't have to worry about your smartphone battery dying, you can have it on charge in the bag. You can get up to 12 charges for an iPhone 6, but it's compatible with any USB charging device.

It's also got an integrated lock which means you can keep the bag locked up and keeps your stuff secure. The separate compartments inside the bag are for your work and life, so you can separate your work life from your underwear, nobody wants to get their socks out at a meeting do they?!

Then when you're out at the beach you can use the Bluetooth speakers to play your music. The lock also has a bottle opener on it, which is helpful when you're having a beer at the beach as well! The bag is weather resistant, and drop resistant (there are internal protective air cells to keep your laptop safe), and super organised. We've also designed it to have four hidden compartments so when you are travelling you can keep your important documents close to you and not worry about them being lost or stolen. The bag's zippers are also lockable. And another feature is the RFID protected pockets which keeps your credit cards and passport safe from identity theft.

VMC: How much can you stuff in there then? I know I have to have at least three bags wherever I go! One for the gym, one for work and a handbag.

AS: Well I can pack two shirts, two pairs of underpants, two pairs of socks, a tie, a belt, shampoo and lotion, toothpaste, deodorant, cologne, a passport, sunglasses, swim shorts, goggles, the solar bank and speakers in the back, and a 15" laptop, charger, mouse, two notebooks, three pens, headphones, my smart phone, glasses case, keys, wallet, loose change, USB charger and cables, loos papers, receipts, business cards and a banana in the front!

VMC: That more or less covers it! What about the kitchen sink? This isn't the first time you've invented something useful is it?

AS: No, I'm also responsible for the Interlock which won four international design awards and has been distributed to twenty eight countries.  That experience has meant that I've been able to get the Lifepack to this stage much more efficiently. There are two other people in the team with me who are crucial as well, Ashley and Chris, so between the three of us we've done well.

VMC: What's your connection to Majorca?

AS: I've lived on the island, right now I am travelling around a lot to get the Lifepack into production, but I hope I will be back soon. A lot of my friends who live in Majorca feature in the product promotional photos and we used Majorca as the location for the shoot.  Majorca's the perfect place for a Lifepack, so many people blend work with life and are on the move, it makes perfect sense.

You can read more about Adrian and his invention at:

To read more articles about Majorca visit

Putting Alternative Politics into Practice

Por: | 05 de abril de 2016

Che Mural  in Marinaleda (flickr)

‘But what’s the alternative?’ This must be one of the most common ripostes to anyone expressing dissatisfaction with the political, economic or social status quo. The retort, sometimes curious, sometimes withering, shifts the discussion away from criticism (which, given the current political landscape, could be performed by an attentive eight-year old) and toward constructive proposals for an alternative model - an altogether far more complex task.  

The fact of the matter is that many people recognise the folly in the way we conduct our lives, caught in what seems like an endless chain of labour and consumption, but very few are able to envisage, let alone adopt, ‘another way’ of living. But several collectives (communes, comunidades, call them what you will) across Spain are proving that there is another way, a feasible, ecologically sustainable, socially-cohesive alternative.  

Before going any further, it is necessary to dispel a few myths and shatter a few stereotypes. The term ‘alternative lifestyle’ typically conjures images of nudists growing their hair, practising polyamorous relations and smoking hashish to find their latent spirituality. While there are undoubtedly communities that function (I use the term loosely) in this manner, to label all comunidades as hippy, happy and hedonistic is to miss the point entirely. Most, if not all, comunidades are political projects – though some may resist this classification. I mean ‘politics’ in its widest possible sense – not the casta of bloated men in suits, shouting empty promises and lining their own pockets – but the real, tangible politics of organising society on a community level.  

These communities take many forms, and their political ideas are far from homogenous. Marinaleda, an Andalusian village of around 3,000 inhabitants, is one such ‘community’ proposing (indeed, living) a socio-economic alternative. Under the leadership of Mayor Sánchez Gordillo, a man who takes inspiration from figures as diverse as Che Guevara, Mahatma Ghandi and Karl Marx, the village has become a kind of ‘communist utopia’. In 1991, the people of the village were granted a 1,200 hectare estate by the regional government after nearly a decade of strikes and occupations. This land was then cultivated according to the central tenet of Gordillo’s philosophy; to create the maximum amount of human labour possible. Efficiency, that pillar of modern Capitalism, became a dirty word, abandoned in the name of collective good and human dignity. Land was managed by cooperativas and decisions taken communally. Crops were chosen not for their yield, nor for the European subsidies they would elicit, but on the basis of jobs they would create. Today, it is clear that Gordillo’s strategy has paid dividends; unemployment in the village is all but non-existent (compared to a 34% regional average) and the sense of community has never been stronger (the village has no police force, and, evidently, no need for one).    

Mayor Gordillo (youtube)

In Catalonia, on the outskirts of the capital, lies another comunidad, pioneering a slightly different approach (and with a slightly shorter history). Can Masdeu was a deserted former hospital falling into ruin until it was occupied by a collective of local and international activists in 2001.They set about creating their own ‘utopia’ – a self-sufficient, ecologically-sustainable project, a ‘creative act of disobedience’ against urban life and its limits. Using non-hierarchical decision-making structures, the squatters oversaw the transformation of the hospital into a vibrant, environmentally-friendly living space. Using old Roman sewers, they created an irrigation system that allowed the cultivation of organic foodstuffs in the former gardens (following a permaculture design). A decade and a half later, the Can Masdeu comunidad is still functioning – flourishing, even complete with an educational action centre (PIC – Punto d’Interacción de Collserola) that hosts workshops and discussions about the politics of autonomy, the necessity of community and the importance of ecological sustainability. 

Mealtime at Can Masdeu (wiki)

Despite the ideological differences evident in the above examples, they share several founding principles that are common to most, if not all comunidades. As the name suggests, they are typically built around a concept of community that often seems lacking in an increasingly atomised and fragmented modern world. Sharing is the key word here; be it labour, time or space, communal needs take precedence over individual concerns. Inter-generational solidarity is strongly encouraged in both cases. Public space is endowed with the importance it deserves, rather than neglected, and left for private enterprise to devour and undermine. Individualism and personal gain are roundly rejected in favour of nurturing a strong community network that provides support for all its members. 

A second key principle is that of respect for the land. In the case of Can Masdeu, this means organic produce cultivated in an ecologically-sustainable fashion. In the case of Marinaleda, this means farming in a sustainable, almost pre-Industrial manner, with a long-term emphasis on creating and maintaining jobs rather than maximising profit. Activist and campesino would no doubt differ in opinion on many subjects, but both would agree that the land is to be maintained and respected, not poisoned, exploited and destroyed.  

A third tenet is a wholesale rejection of globalism, and a corresponding enthusiasm for prioritising local and regional concerns. Most comunidades view globalisation as an overwhelmingly negative force, on both an ecological and social level. For all the economic rationalities and free-trade rhetoric, the globalisation of trade has had, and continues to have, a catastrophic impact on the environment. Buying products that have been shipped or flown halfway round the world because they are cheaper than local alternatives is in no way sustainable. Additionally, focusing on the global market at the expense of the local or regional equivalent has had a devastating effect on small scale agri-businesses, and played a significant role in the decline of ‘community’ by culling independent local producers. The comunidades try to provide an alternative; quality produce, locally grown at an affordable price. 

It should be pointed out that the comunidades are not a uniquely Spanish phenomenon. They are present, in some form or another, in most (if not all) European countries, and throughout Latin America. However, due to political, historical, and geographic reasons, the ‘ideology’ (as outlined above) seems to gain particular traction across the Iberian peninsula. A strong ‘anarchist’ heritage, a widespread sense of indignación toward the ruling elite, high unemployment, and an agreeable climate no doubt play a significant part in their popularity. A second important ‘footnote’ that follows on from the previous statement is that the comunidades are not suddenly becoming popular. They are not a fad or passing phenomenon, and to dismiss them as such would be both disingenuous and factually inaccurate. 

By the same token, to claim the comunidades solve the contemporary socio-political malaise at a stroke is hugely optimistic. They do, however, provide a legitimate critique of a socially-fragmented, environmentally-indifferent, increasingly globalised world. What’s more, their very existence demonstrates that there is another way, another well from which to draw ideas in order to build an alternative future.   


For a detailed account of Marinaleda in English, see Dan Hancox’ account  ‘The Story of Marinaleda, the Communist Village Against the World’. 

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:

El País

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