Tuesday, May 01, 2007

It's May 1, International Communist Day, and so we don't have to go to work. When I came over here twenty years ago, Mayday was still a big deal; they had big old parades and demonstrations and stuff. After the Soviet Union folded, Mayday lost importance, probably due to a loss of Soviet funding (yes, the Spanish Communist Party and the PSUC were both financed by Moscow), and now nobody pays any attention at all.

In fact, we should probably start a movement to get Mayday kicked off the holidays list, and add something like Sant Jordi. The way it works in Spain is that there are 10 national holidays (New Year's; Reyes; Good Friday; Mayday; the Assumption of the Virgin (August 15); Columbus Day (often called "la Virgen del Pilar", October 12); All Souls' Day (November 1); Constitution Day (December 6); the Immaculate Conception (December 8); and Christmas. Note that there are two days dedicated to the Virgin, and three if you count Oct. 12.) Then your region gets to set four days, which in Catalonia are Easter Monday, Saint John's on June 24, the Catalan National Day on September 11, and St. Stephen's on December 26. Your city gets to set one, which in Barcelona is la Virgen de la Mercè, September 23.

Down with Mayday! Make Sant Jordi a holiday!

Meanwhile, a building collapsed in the old city of Palencia this morning, and it looks like a major tragedy. The trigger was a gas explosion. At least six people are dead and several more are missing, with 15 more injured people in the hospital. This happens occasionally in Spain, old, poorly constructed buildings coming down, often set off by a gas explosion, which in turn is often set off by an electrical fire. This one was about 50-60 years old, they said. Spain has a modern building code and inspectors and all that, but there are still a lot of older buildings that don't meet today's safety standards, especially not the electrical wiring. We had to rewire the last place we rented; the electrician told us that the wiring was original, and that the building dated from the '30s. We also have to rewire the house in Vallfogona, which of course was built before electricity, and so has a real primitive wiring job, a total chapuza when it was installed back in the sixties or whenever and actively dangerous now.

Pasqual Maragall is apparently going to bolt the Socialist Party. He's pissed off that the deal that Zapatero cut with Artur Mas of CiU to get the Catalan statute passed by the Spanish parliament included his own defenestration as regional premier. Therefore, he lashed out at the Zap-Mas statute, calling it "not worth the effort." Maragall is trying to float something called the European Democratic Party, which would apparently be something like the American Democrats. He is trying to recruit "centrists" in Italy and France to join in the fun. This will go nowhere.

Feature stories about the US in La Vanguardia: Eusebio Val has a lightweight Sunday piece on the deer problem in the US. He mentions that one thing Spaniards often like about the US: "American life may surprise a European by the intense sensation of nature that one feels even inside large urban areas," mentioning squirrels and rabbits and such critters. Here in Barcelona there are no critters but rats, pigeons, and a few other birds, and there aren't that many of them out in the country, either.

Andy Robinson is all pissed off that rich people in Manhattan can afford expensive organic food but working-class people in Nebraska shop at Wal-Mart. He points out that many people in Nebraska are fat, and that a lot of food sold at Wal-Mart is processed crap. Of course, many people in Catalonia are fat, and a lot of the food sold at my local Caprabo and Dia is processed crap, too. Some of the canned meat products Dia sells wouldn't pass for human consumption in the US, and my cats won't eat them, either. 52.7% of Spanish adults are either overweight or obese, which means that rather than eating the "Mediterranean diet," they eat the frozen-lasagna-and-beer diet.

(To be fair: It's generally easier and cheaper to eat well in Spain than in the US, especially if you do most of your own cooking, and very especially if you actually like the "Mediterranean diet". Note that word "generally," as you can also eat extremely badly in Spain. Important exception: Non-Mediterranean ethnic restaurants are generally better in the US.)

I've noticed that the Antena 3 evening news seems to be rather more populist than TV1 or TV3, and it runs a lot of good film footage even if the story's not too important. Where do they get this footage? US local news. They run stories about four-alarm fires in Chicago and tornadoes in Texas and bank robberies in California and the like, since US local news always has a crew wherever anything happens. (Spanish news generally doesn't. They always show up when the riot is already over.) Antena 3 viewers are shown a portrait of American life that is much more--exciting, shall I say--than it really is.

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