No huge news around here. The Portuguese government has resigned and general elections will be held. Carod-Rovira and Bargalló are acting like irresponsible demagogues as usual; Bargalló went so far as to claim that the grass-roots boycott of Catalan cava going around in Spain-in-the-Ass* circles doesn't exist, which is a rotund falsehood. Maragall hasn't said anything comprehensible recently. Oh, sure, he's talked a lot, but as far as making sense goes, well, he hasn't done it. There's a good bit of Cataloony campaigning against the proposed European Constitution, all of it on the grounds that Catalonia just don't get no respect.
Look. I am in favor of the European Union because I think it is positive for the people of Barcelona, Catalonia, and Spain. We are not England; we have no particular form or tradition of democracy (England's evolved naturally over several hundred years, in a form very different from the democracies of Continental Europe) that is worth saving. In fact, the current government is the only decent one Spain's ever had. Our current democratic system here, fairly new and untried, is strengthened by being part of a supranational democratic organization. As for our independence, let's face it, we're not independent now. We depend economically on the EU and for security on the US and NATO. As one of the medium-level countries of the EU, we stand to benefit by the strengthening of ties with both wealthier and poorer European nations. Regarding European competition with the United States, I think a strong, united Europe is in everybody's interest. No matter how crazy the French get, they're not going to declare war on the US. We have too much in common; we form part of the same civilization. And I can't imagine an EU with Poland, the Czechs, the Estonians, and the Hungarians in it that's going to be too anti-American. Or, for that matter, the Danes, the Dutch, and the Irish.
Now, if I were the British, I would prefer to be part of the EU regarding trade and commerce and the like, but I would not give up my national independence, especially regarding international and defence policy. Britain is really independent. It can defend itself and it is mostly in charge of its own economy. I would not surrender any of this independence to the Continental Europeans. Free trade, yes, but not too much more. What I would actually prefer to see (and I know it's nearly impossible) is some formal alliance of the English-speaking countries, including the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and perhaps South Africa, Singapore, Ireland, and former British colonies with democratic governments.
*As per Joan's request, we have a new phrase. A Spain-in-the-Ass is a radical, obsessed Spanish nationalist, the equivalent of a Cataloony. Moderate Spanish nationalists do not fall into this category any more than moderate Catalan nationalists fall into the Cataloony category. A good test for determining who is a radical nationalist and who is a moderate is George Orwell's. Orwell said, more or less, that a radical nationalist is a person who looks at every issue through the prism of his national group and especially obsesses over the relative prestige of his group. Radical nationalists tend to be very big on symbolism, by the way, said old George. He went on to define the word "patriot" as someone who loves his country and its culture but has no desire to force his ways on other people. I would call Orwell's "patriot" a moderate nationalist. And I would call people who try to tell other people what language they must speak radical nationalists--i.e. Cataloonies and Spains-in-the-Ass.
By the way, before you get the idea that here in Barcelona we fight over language all the time are wrong. I don't think I've ever seen an argument between two people over what language they should use. Ordinary people here get along just fine, whichever language they are truly native in. (Tests for what your true native language is: In what language do you count and do simple mathematics? In what language do you pray? In what language are your words "right" and "left"? In what language do you talk with your mother? In what language do you talk with your children? These tests aren't infallible, but indicative.) You occasionally hear morons who are normally three chatos to the wind in a local bar proclaim that everybody ought to speak Catalan or vice versa, and he'll have a few specious and aggressive arguments to back up his position, but that's fairly rare and most people just ignore the loudmouth.
By the way, here's Iberian Notes's official Guide to How Much Catalan You Need to Know to Live Here, Assuming You Already Know Spanish.
-The numbers. Not too hard.
-The confusing system of telling time.
-Basic pleasantries ("Good morning", "Please", "Thank you", and the like. Not too hard.
-A list of about fifty everyday words that are dramatically different from their Spanish equivalent: blau, taula, vermell, cadira, pastanaga, forquilla, oli, formatge, poma, pernil, fill/a, gos, fotre, cullons, etc. (blue, table, red, chair, carrot, oil, cheese, apple, ham, child/son/daughter, dog, fuck, balls, etc.) Not too hard.
That should be enough to get by. Most people will figure that's plenty good enough and not hassle you about not knowing Catalan. They will then switch to Spanish. And, come on, learning those few things isn't too much to ask; it's no more than I'd have to do if I went to England and started having to say "kip" and "fag" and "petrol" and "slag" and "chav" and "cheers" and "quid" and "pissed" for drunk and "mad" for crazy and "sod off" and "wank" and "fookin' cunt" all the time.
For practice listening to Catalan, watch the news on TV3. You should be able to pick it up pretty quick, in a few weeks. In addition, TV3 will piss you off so much that you'll have more motivation to learn exactly what they're saying so you can write e-mails to them calling them Cataloonies.