Sunday, April 17, 2005

I don't normally deign to go out of my way to write posts responding to critics in the Comments section, but I am going to make an exception in this case. I am annoyed by people who accuse me of insulting Barcelona, Catalonia, and/or Spain. I would not live here if I did not like it. As a matter of fact, I could earn a lot more money if I went back to the States, assuming my mental health held up.

To demonstrate that I have written many positive things about Spain, let's pick two months more or less at random, one from the early days of this blog and one from recent times, specifically avoiding "big news" months like the Iraq war, the March 11 bombing and subsequent election, and the November 2004 US election.

Here's some stuff from June 2003.

I have been accused of speaking scornfully of Catalan intellectuals. But, come on, if this is the best they can do, no amount of scorn is unjustified. And remember, Baltasar Porcel is the Official Catalan Candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Wouldn't it be great if they actually gave it to him one of these years?

OK, that actually was pretty snarky, but we are talking about Baltasar Porcel here.

As I've said before, Iberian Notes does not take sides on the Spanish Civil War. We're in favor of the victims and against the killers. That means we detest both sides, the revolutionaries and the reactionaries, equally.

That should take care of those who call us Francoists.

They actually had a cool anti-war protest here in Barcelona. First there was a manifesto that was a typical anti-Yankee tantrum, but then they read Lysistrata, the comedy by Aristophanes in which the women of a city at war refuse sex to their husbands until they stop the war. Well-known local actors, to whom I will give no publicity, were the readers. That's pretty classy; I much prefer Greek theater to the normal fare at a demo.

Isn't that pretty tolerant of me?

One of the reasons I appreciate Spain is its tolerance for cannabis use. I think it might be because all working-class men and most middle-class men over about 30 years old have done military service, and they learned to smoke dope in the Spanish Army. No kidding. There wasn't anything else to do, and Spain controlled northern Morocco (including the Rif, where more dope is grown than anywhere else in the world) until 1956 and the Spanish Sahara, due south of Morocco, until 1975. Spain still controls Ceuta and Melilla, outposts on the coast of the Rif, and the Canary Islands, just a few miles off the Moroccan coast. Andalusia is a short boat ride from the heart of the Rif. All these guys who were in the Army smoked dope, and they learned from personal experience that it's no big deal. Therefore they don't think it's some sort of evil monster.

See? I said Spain's policy on cannabis was better than America's.

I love Barcelona. I really do. Hey, just a couple of days ago it was Corpus Christi, and they have a cool local tradition: on Corpus, in the fountains in the city's several medieval cloisters, they place an egg on top of the spout and the water plays with it; I assume the inside of the egg is blown out first. Anyway, though, the egg is continuously held aloft by the water spouting up. It's called "l'ou com balla"--"the dancing egg". It's pretty to see inside the cloisters at Santa Anna or Felip Neri or Sant Pau. But I bloody well hate the verbena de San Juan, St. John's Eve. San Juan is a big holiday in Catalonia and they blow off tons of fireworks and everybody goes out and parties their asses off. There is an excellent fireworks display every year, but my problem is that every single kid in Catalonia is blowing off hundreds of firecrackers per second even as I speak.I don't like big crowds or loud noises. They make me nervous. They frighten the cats. And I don't like party nights when everybody goes out and gets wasted en masse. It's amateur night, a whole lot of people who aren't used to drinking hitting it way too hard and getting smashed and puking all over the place and starting fights and generally acting like a bunch of morons. Conclusion: If you like going out and wandering the streets and getting trashed and spending lots of money and being subjected to sharp loud noises and getting puked on, San Juan is your night. I will admit that the city's fireworks display is pretty spectacular for people who like that sort of thing. But except for that, I stay home on the night of San Juan.

That's pretty positive, isn't it? And the part that isn't positive is affectionate toward everybody but drunks. Also, anybody who doubts I know my way around town ought to be convinced by that little post.

This article from the Telegraph about street crime in Barcelona is sadly all too true. Muggings, pickpocketings, and purse-snatchings are much too common. Tourists who appear to be well-off are the main--really only--targets. Locals are rarely molested. The main culprits are Arab street kids. This is not racism. It is a fact. Holes in the Spanish legal and judicial system prevent us from either locking up the little bastards or deporting them. Yes, they were born poor--they now have plenty of ill-gotten cash and flashy name-brand sports clothes--and have had crappy lives. No, that doesn't give them the right to victimize those people who were not born poor and have not had crappy lives.

That isn't positive at all. However, if you read the whole post, some of which will piss you off, you will see that it is CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. That is, it identifies a serious problem and calls for action. It is not bitching for the sake of bitching. It shows that I care, because if I did not care I wouldn't have wasted my time alerting people to something that very badly needs to be fixed.

Anecdote. A couple of years ago I was in KC and I went to get my drivers license renewed six months before it ran out. The clerk down at the DMV got a little suspicious and asked why. I replied that I was going abroad and just wanted to make sure I had a valid license. She asked where and I said Spain. She said, "Oh, you'd better watch out in Barcelona, it seems like half the people who come in here for new licenses got robbed in Barcelona." If the first thing that comes to the mind of a typical, standard American, a clerk at the Kansas Department of Motor Vehicles, when she thinks of Spain, is "Barcelona is dangerous" and not "Spain is beautiful", then we've got a problem, Houston. Over and out.

This is another paragraph from the same post. Is this criticism constructive or not? Do I want to make things better or do I just not care?

Aznar, however, is scrupulously democratic and has been so ever since he discovered sensible conservative politics during his university days. If he were American he'd fit well into the moderate Republicans. He'd be rather left for a Republican on government spending issues. Aznar might also fit in pretty well with the Democrat "far right", but those Charlie Stenholm Texas wheeler-dealer guys might be too corrupt for his taste. See, one of the things Aznar did was to clean up the Spanish conservative wing, getting rid of old Franquistas and local caciques. The most famous to fall were Cantabria's Juan Hormaechea, who did some jail time, and the PP's Balearic confederation, up to their eyeballs in corrupt construction-development sleaze. By the way, several notable people who later joined the Socialists also worked in the government under Franco. To be fair, these were "technocratic" administration rather than ideological guys--somebody's got to take charge of the country's finances, for example, whether we've got a dictatorship or not. Two examples are former economics minister Miguel Boyer and the late former foreign minister, Paco Ordonez. Boyer has now jumped the Socialist sinking ship and is considered close to the PP.

Is this a reasonable conservative take on recent Spanish politics or not? Remember it was written while Aznar was still in power, in June 2003.

This damn Gibraltar thing--the Spaniards consider Gibraltar España Irridenta and they want it very badly. They consider the current situation, with Britain owning Gibraltar, intolerable and unacceptable. They also know they can't go to war with the Brits over this. So they continually pressure the British, and everybody else who might have some influence over them, to turn over Gib. Now, the problem is that 99% of the Giblets don't want to be turned over to Spanish sovereignty, and the British can't just turn 'em over without their say-so. This isn't like it was Hong Kong or something. Or, more accurately, Spain ain't China. Next thing the Arabs are going to start yelling for Gib to be turned over to them, since they did, after all, hold it from 711 to 1492, while Spain only held it between 1492 and 1714.

I wouldn't call that positive or negative. It's history. Is it unfair? Am I lying?

American Movies Most Overplayed on Spanish TV: 7. All those slapstick parody movies with Leslie Nielsen 6. Those damn Chevy Chase vacation movies 5. Thelma and Louise 4. Fried Green Tomatoes 3. Those pieces of crap with Clint Eastwood and the ape 2. The Shawshank Redemption 1. Mississippi Burning

What's wrong with that?

We preview Barcelona life in the immediate future
by Alan Murphy and John Chappell

All Barcelonans will be obliged to appear naked at the Diagonal Mar Fine Arts and Sustainable Urbanism Peace Camp at 6.25 AM tomorrow for the inauguration of the “International Workshop on Gender-neutral Encounter on Clothes-Optional Peace and Arts Sustainable Governability Project for Solidarity”. Organic pita bread and garlic-lentil casserole will be served for breakfast. All citizens must bring their pita-bread ration card, from which two Forum Solidarity Points will be subtracted.Those with “NO TO WAR” already tattooed on their left buttock cheek will be exempted from the Semiotic-Workshop on Body Messaging this evening. Those who have not yet fulfilled their solidarious commitment will have the message tattooed this evening. All citizens with surnames A-M will report to the Rigoberta Menchu Tattooage and Ethical Body-Piercing Commissariat at the site of the Lenin Barracks in Plaza Espanya by 22.00. Those with surnames N-Z will report to The Jose Saramago Forumization and High-Colonic Enema Institute, at the Port Olympic, also before 22.00. Failure to comply will result in obligatory attendance at the Sustainability of Solidarian Forum-Thought, to be held at the Manresa Rock Quarry from August 1-31 2004. As you all know, our right buttocks are being reserved for the “ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE” message to be inscribed there for the gala Closing Ceremony. Expect another directive on this during September.

Yours in solidarity,

I thought that was funny. I understand if you don't, but it's not offensive or anything.

Now here's one for Andrew Sullivan's Sontag Award. It's Paul Auster, who is very popular here among our local Illustrated and Enlightened--a good rule of thumb regarding fiction is if the Barcelona critics like it, it's probably a bunch of pretentious crap.

OK, that was pretty snarky, too, but I stand by it. I agree that the New York and London critics are equally obnoxious.

Auster, by the way, shows his philistinism regarding Spanish culture when he states he is going to Madrid to meet Pedro Almódovar and then to Granada to see Lorca's house. Oh, jeez, has any American ever heard of any Spanish writers except García Lorca, who is massively overrated and is still known--not read by anyone but Spanish lit majors, though--today largely because of the manner of his death? Trust me, people, forget all that crap about how Lorca reaches down into the soul of Spain and puts the depth of sensitivity of the pueblo de España into words on the printed page. Spare me that "Verde que te quiero verde" stuff. And I personally wouldn't bother crossing the street to talk to Almódovar. We'd have nothing to say to one another. He would hate me and I probably wouldn't like him.

See, my point here is that I LIKE, admire, and respect Spanish culture--there's so much more in Spanish lit than Lorca that most English-speakers know nothing about. I don't like Lorca. Of other 20th-century Spanish authors, I prefer Unamuno, both Machados, Juan Ramon Jimenez, Pio Baroja, Josep Pla, Eduardo Mendoza, even Miguel Hernandez and Camilo Jose Cela and Merce Rodoreda. Among many others. Spain's 2oth century literary record is excellent. And I don't like Almodovar, but I wouldn't like him if he were, say, Bulgarian either. The guy who really gets dissed in this post is none other than American author Auster.

There's bad news today regarding two of Spain's biggest social problems, illegal immigration and domestic violence. Nine immigrants drowned when their raft sank off the Canary Isle of Fuerteventura, the island closest to the Moroccan coast. So far in 2003 ten rafts are known to have sunk, with 67 confirmed dead or missing and presumed dead. These statistics include 15 drowned off Fuerteventura in January and 12 drowned from a raft found between Tenerife and Grand Canary in February. Yet the Spanish media go wild when a truck full of illegal Mexicans get found dead somewhere in West Texas. The problem in both countries seems to be the same to me; more people want to come to Spain and the US than, at least some believe, either country can handle. As long as that attitude persists, there will be illegal immigration and some illegal immigrants will die, since illegal immigration is by definition dangerous and full of low criminals likely to take your money and dump you in the sea under the pretext of guiding you to the promised land. By the way, Iberian Notes strongly supports the execution of "coyotes" who abandon their "clients" to die. That's first-degree premeditated murder with the aggravating factors of extortion and breach of promise. Hang them. They're scum.

More than forty people have died in Spain this year as victims of domestic violence. Yesterday, in the crummy part of the Sant Andreu working-class area of Barcelona, a man beat his common-law wife to death with a hammer. The two were fiftyish alcoholics. They had met seven months ago and she invited him to live with her, since he had nowhere to go. The two argued and fought all the time, according to the neighbors, and threats of violence were heard several times by different witnesses. The cops spent a lot of time breaking up fights at their place. Once she locked him out and he took off all his clothes and pounded on her door until three in the morning (there's the pacifism and tranquility of nudism for you). She finally got a restraining order. Not much later he jumped her from behind when she opened the street door to her apartment building; he was waiting inside and clubbed her to death with a hammer. She had been out walking her dogs. The reporters point out that the dogs, found in a state of shock by the woman's body, immobile and trembling, were the only so-called irrational animals in this story. This, of course, is another case of premeditated murder with aggravating circumstances, including violating a restraining order and breaking and entering to get into her building. There's no insanity defense since he knew what he was doing and knew that it was wrong. Hang him. He's scum.

This is not insulting. This is news. These are social problems. I point out that the same problems exist in America. I also slam the hypocrisy of certain elements of the Spanish media on this question. Well?

One Spencer Tunick, a New York "artist", called upon the people of Barcelona to come out and get photographed nude en masse. 15,000 people signed up and 7000 actually came out--at four in the morning--to get naked and get photographed on Avenida María Cristina near Montjuic. They're saying it's the "greatest collective artistic nudity" in history, breaking the record of some 4000 naked leftovers from the Sixties set by Tunick himself in Melbourne. Anyway, at 6:20 AM, Tunick decided the light was correct and posed the crowd two different ways, lying on their backs and curled up in a fetal position. He was finished by 7:45.

Says our intrepid reporter, Justo Barranco, "The most generalized feeling was that it was strange that the situation didn't seem strange," "We, all together, feel surprisingly like brothers and sisters," "Blai, a young teacher who came with his boyfriend, said, 'I thought it would be like a dream in which you wake up and you're naked and everyone else is too'," "People began doing "the wave" and shouting 'No to the war'," and "(Tunick) reminded us of the paradox that in Barcelona his work is celebrated as an "artistic happening" while in his country, the United States, and in his city, New York, it would have been considered a crime."

Oh, geez, here it is again, that part of the American Black Legend that says we are puritanical philistines. Nobody would have said boo if Mr. Alleged Artist put on his show in Central Park as long as he had a municipal permit, which they would have given him in the holy name of Art. It's New York. They've seen everything. This would be no big deal there, certainly not front-page news in the local newspapers. If he'd tried to put this crap on in Central Park, though, the Great Unwashed would have stood around in enormous crouds hooting and hollering and generally making fun of the stupid assholes who get up at four in the morning and get naked in the chill dawn in order to promote the notoriety of (and make money for) a fraud calling himself an artist. Our New York volunteers would not have enjoyed themselves nearly as much as the collection of pseuds, wannabes, and phonies who make up our city's element of the Illustrated and the Enlightened and who showed up at Montjuic.

Is it not a good thing to make fun of these people? I mean, come on, standing around naked for almost four hours before dawn is not very smart.

Manuel Trallero, the Vangua's gadfly, blows the whistle in his column in today's edition in an article titled "Catalunya racista".

"One of the most extraordinary things that has happened recently is that the so-called Plataforma per Catalunya has managed to win City Council seats in several Catalan municipalities, among them Vic. The fact that a xenophobic and racist organization has obtained such a result has seemed to all of us the most normal and natural thing in the world. No one has been screaming to the heavens or rending his garments. As usual in Catalonia, nothing happens around here.There is a perverse logic according to which, if there are immigrants, the logical result is racism. Racism in Catalonia is no longer socially looked down upon, it's not politically incorrect anymore. The attempts of the media of communication to hide their heads under their wings have failed.It isn't just that Mr. Anglada has won his first council members--Mr. Le Pen started off in France in exactly the same way--it is that anything goes against the immigrants. From the president of the Generalitat (Jordi Pujol) who blames them for the possible disappearance of Catalan--blames them, precisely those who just got here-- and who minimizes the violence in Can Anglada over and over, to the (racist) public statements of his honorable wife (Marta Ferrusola), or those of the former leader of the (ultraCatalanist) Republican Left, Mr. Heribert Barrera, who still holds his well-deserved medal awarded by Parliament, or the evacuation of a few immigrants camped out in the Plaza Catalunya, decreed one summer by (Communist) vice-mayor Mrs. Inma Mayol ("Chemical Inma") while the real mayor was out of town, while the workers of the Sintel company, all white, of course, camp out on the Paseo de la Castellana in Madrid as long as they feel like it.We've accepted that all this is normal, habitual, everyday, and that it forms part of us, ourselves. That is why Mr. Llauradó has committed the offense of raising suspicions when he denounced that Mr. Bassat did not use his second surname in order to hide his Jewish origin. This is an attack of, pure and simple, anti-Semitism, which anywhere in Europe would have provoked an enormous scandal, but here has been unnoticed.We still have the consolation that, if the cases of woman-battering are higher in Catalonia than in the rest of Spain, it is not because we Catalans are stupider and more violent (más energúmenos) than the Spaniards, but because our women are braver in calling the police. We Catalans, according to some, are seen as racists because we admit it, while the Spaniards keep their mouths shut. All I can say is good for them."

That is pretty critical. Manuel Trallero wrote it, not me.

Can we pass a law forcing members of the Basque Nationalist Party to be those who clean up the blood and guts and human hands blasted onto rooftops that ETA leaves lying all around Spain? Yes, Mr. Zugazugatxoia, that's you. Please pick up that severed hand and carry it down, the coroner is waiting, and then use these paper towels to mop up the blood and collect the bone fragments. Now may we have your reaction towards the latest ETA atrocity? You still seeking to remedy the root causes of the discontent of the oppressed Basque people, who are as wealthy and privileged and free as any group of people in the Western world, before worrying about arresting murderers and breaking up their support groups? Don't puke all over that hand, we need it for evidence, and we hear the widow wants to bury it along with the rest of her husband later.

That was pretty critical of certain people. Anyone out there disagree with me? Anyone deny that this post shows I hate ETA and care about the people who are ETA's victims and who deserve to live?

(In my mother-in-law's village, Montoliu de Segarra, they shot the priest. He was apparently fingered by two locals who were in the POUM, and a POUM hit squad came down from Cervera. My mother-in-law really detests the POUM even though it was Franco who put her dad in prison. She kind of gets the point of the brutality of the Franco regime--she hates Franco, too, but in a different way--but she doesn't understand the seemingly random killing of the POUM. --JC)

That's history. And my mother-in-law's real feelings.

Here's part of a fisking of a piece from Slate. My comments are in parentheses.

The first wave of oppression followed the Carlist Wars of the 19th century, after the Basques supported the losing cause of the pretender Don Carlos. (Because the Basques were reactionary rural Catholics and so was Carlos. They lost a lot of their autonomy after the defeat of the Carlists, but "oppression" is a pretty loaded word.) Things got much worse under Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who came to power after the Spanish Civil War and outlawed the speaking of Euskara. (Franco's dictatorship was unpleasant but not horrible, and speaking Basque at home and in private, and at church or among friends was never outlawed, nor could it be. By the Fifties published works in Basque were appearing again and a network of ikastolas, schools that teach both the Basque language and nationalistic politics, had been founded.) This repression led to the creation of ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna—"Basque Homeland and Liberty") in 1959. (The above is a pretty cheap-ass justification for turning loose a terrorist gang to kill as it pleases.) Though the Basque region was granted considerable autonomy after Franco's death, a small faction of separatists, (how about the T-word? Where's the T-word? The ETA are a bunch of Ts) who believe their culture is threatened, continues to fight for complete independence. There have been 839 people killed as a result of ETA attacks since 1968. (About 839 too many.)There are about 600,000 fluent Euskara speakers in Basque Country today, with the vast majority on the Spanish side, and another 400,000 speak Euskara as a second language—there has been a tremendous Euskara revival in Basque schools over the past two decades. (Still, most students in the Basque country study in Spanish, and most people who aren't born into a Basque-speaking family stay with Spanish. About a quarter of the Basques, maximum, can communicate in Basque.) A sign of the Basques' pride in their tongue is their word for themselves, Euskaldunak—"possessors of the Basque language." (That won't save you from getting murdered by the ETA, though, as José María Korta found out.)

Any complaints about my commentary? Any lies there? Any doubt that my sympathy is with Jose Maria Korta and the other ETA victims? Does anyone think I don't want to make Spain a better place? And have any of you done as much as I have to condemn terrorism? Remember, people around the world read this blog, 200 to 400 daily, and some of them are American and British journalists and diplomats and business people. I've affected their ideas. I've also received threats. Have you?

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