Letter from Barcelona (8): The inflated interpretations of an innocuous US Embassy communication about Catalonia.

Firstly, some backdrop to this: it is a known fact that the former Spanish Foreign Minister, José García-Margallo y Marfil, who served under Prime Minister Rajoy from 2011 to 2016, made ‘great efforts’ to talk to governments around the world in order for them to not speak up in favour of Catalonia having the right to hold a referendum on independence. Margallo himself admitted this only a few weeks ago on TV. ‘No one knows the favours we owe to a lot of people for making the declarations they made,’ he said. He also explained that it had taken up a lot of his valuable time and energy: ‘I was in the Baltic countries four times, and it is not that we have particular economic interests there … I have been to Canada, to the Vatican, I don’t know how many times … this takes up an enormous amount of energy.’ I think one can safely assume that Spain’s current Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, is equally anxious that other nations do not speak up in favour of Catalonia’s right to hold a referendum.

It is also a fact that the Catalan Government, particularly in recent months, has been very active in the international arena, seeking to drum up international support (and often simply awareness) for its bid to hold a referendum on self-determination, despite Rajoy’s conservative central government stating it is unconstitutional. Over the past few months, key figures (including Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont) have delivered speeches in Brussels, Paris, Lisbon and other European cities – whilst in London an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) has been created by 21 cross-party MPs ‘to keep members of the British Parliament abreast of the on-going debates and events about Catalonia’s self-determination and to help ensure that debate is carried out in the most democratic way.’ Catalonia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Raül Romeva, even remarked that, ‘Sometimes, there is more interest in discussing the Catalan question here [in London] than in Spain.’ So much interest, in fact, that there’s another APPG debate this Wednesday 19 April in the Attlee Room at the Houses of Parliament in London, with the subject being, ‘A Democratic Solution for Catalonia.’

For some reason, however, recent trips to the United States and discussions with US congressmen and a former US president appear to have been a step too far for the Spanish central government – and rumours have been circulating as to whether this triggered the communication concerning Catalonia from the US Embassy in Madrid last week.

A link to the simple, innocuous press note from the US Embassy in Madrid was released (and posted on Twitter), in Spanish only, last Wednesday 12th April. Just 3 simple paragraphs. The first and second paragraphs delivered the usual diplomatic-backslapping: Spain and the United States are united by history, common values, ‘global challenges’, peace and security, striving for economic prosperity, preventing violent extremism, and ‘Spain is a vital ally, partner and friend to the USA.’ The last paragraph, however, was used to ‘reiterate that, as we’ve said before, the US Government position is that Catalonia is an internal matter [my italics] for Spain.’ And finally: ‘We are deeply committed to maintaining a relationship with a strong and unified Spain.’

So … what really provoked this?

Just two weeks previously, Catalan president Puigdemont had given a talk on ‘Catalonia, Today and Tomorrow’ at Harvard University’s Centre for European Studies in Boston. The next day he’d been in Washington DC, meeting US Congressmen (two Republicans and one Democrat), before travelling to New York for further meetings with groups that have cultural ties to Catalonia. Then he was back in the USA a few days later, travelling to Atlanta to attend the Annual Executive Briefing and Presidential Reception at the Carter Center, where he also spoke with the former US president and Nobel Peace Laureate, Jimmy Carter, in a private meeting. His entire agenda in the US was organised in secrecy in order to avoid possible interference from the Spanish diplomatic corps.

The press note issued by the US Embassy in Madrid last Wednesday was curious for several reasons. At the moment, and since Trump’s presidency begun, there isn’t a US Ambassador in Spain – although the acting ‘Chargé d’Affaires’ is Krishna R.Urs. The fact that the press note was issued only in Spanish also appeared odd. Then there was the ‘coincidence’ that it was swiftly followed by a communication from the Carter Center, too, stating that ‘neither President Carter nor the Center was able to become involved in the referendum process.’ Whilst it was also peculiar that the US Consulate in Barcelona (the current Consul General is Marcos Mandojana) did not at least re-Tweet the Embassy communication, the most remarkable of all was the complete over-gloating headlines from the majority of the Spanish press.

ABC newspaper called it a ‘slap’ for Catalan independence (‘Bofeton de EEUU al Secesionismo Catalan’); El Mundo called it ‘humiliation’ for president Puigdemont (‘EEUU humilla a Puigdemont y defiende una Espana unida’); El Periodico in Barcelona said the USA was ‘turning its back’ on the independence process (‘EEUU da la espalda al process soberanista’); and the El Pais online English version stated: ‘US snubs Catalan independence drive in latest setback for separatists.’

I don’t think it is any of those, really.

Saying that ‘Catalonia is an internal issue for Spain’ is not a snub. On the contrary, it is recognising that it is an issue. Of course the USA will try not to get involved, in the same way they won’t get involved with the independence referendum on Scotland. Yes, of course Catalonia is an internal issue … but the real issue here is that it is not being resolved internally within Spain. Of course other nations will say they want a strong and unified Spain – they’re hardly likely to say the opposite.

This morning I spoke with David Connell, who is an Information Officer in the ‘Public Diplomacy Section’ of the US Embassy in Madrid. He was charming, but chose his words carefully, saying that the statement speaks for itself, and that it simply reiterated US government policy that already existed. He also politely explained that he wouldn’t and couldn’t comment on any other internal discussions that might ever take place, back and forth, between the Spanish and US governments. You can interpret that how you like.

Letter from Barcelona (7): Operación Catalunya and a ‘mamporrero’.

I think my Spanish is pretty good, and so does Olga – although there’s always room for improvement, especially with the imperfecto de subjuntivo, and I’ll always have a guiri accent. Olga is my ‘Spanish conversation’ teacher. We meet once a week for coffee in a hotel just off the Plaza Catalunya, and I talk to her in Spanish for an hour and a half about Spanish politics, whilst reviewing the newspapers. For Olga, I suppose it’s a bit like having her very own weekly Andrew Marr Show, although I don’t think she knows who Andrew Marr is.

Often a word or phrase crops up that I don’t fully understand. This week, thanks to politician Gabriel Rufián, the spokesman for the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), it was ‘mamporrero’. It’s not the first time my Spanish vocabulary has been enriched (if that is the word) by Mr.Rufián. His 8-minute speech on why his party would vote ‘no’ during the investiture debate of Mariano Rajoy in the Spanish Parliament back in September kept me going for weeks. Often when he Tweets something, I find myself Googling or reaching for the dictionary – but some words he uses don’t appear. I’m thinking of inviting him along to my weekly sessions with Olga but I’m not sure if he’ll accept.

On Wednesday, during the parliamentary enquiry into what has become known as the ‘Operación Catalunya’, Gabriel Rufián came out with some gems. The Operación Catalunya focuses on the alleged smearing of pro-independence Catalan politicians during the Spanish government’s last term of office. The questions on Wednesday were aimed at the former Interior Minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, and the former Director of Catalonia’s Anti-Fraud Office, Daniel De Alfonso. Whilst Fernández Díaz got away relatively lightly by being called a ‘títere’ (a puppet) by Rufián, the former Anti-Fraud boss was called a ‘mentiroso’ (liar), ‘gánster’ (you can guess that), ‘mafioso’ (ditto), ‘corrupto’ (ditto) … and mamporrero’.

I originally thought that ‘mamporrero’ meant ‘a person who clouts other people’, but thanks to the research of others using the authoritative online dictionary of the ‘Real Academia Española’, I discovered that it is a ‘person who helps horses breed, placing a colt’s penis in the mare’s vagina’.

Discussing this with Olga on Thursday, she seemed a bit embarrassed, and said I didn’t need to know the meaning of ‘mamporrero’ because I’d probably never have to say it. In a sense, she’s probably right. I can’t really imagine myself in any situation where I would end up accusing someone of being a person who helps horses breed, placing a colt’s penis in the mare’s vagina. I can’t really imagine any British politician standing up in the Houses of Parliament and saying it, either – (‘You, my right honourable friend, are the type of person who puts a colt’s penis in a mare’s vagina!’) – but you never know. Nigel Farage likened the EU Parliament to the mafia this week, so anything’s possible.

But the beauty of the Spanish language (and why I love it so much) is because the whole thing – that ‘person who helps horses breed by placing a colt’s penis in the mare’s vagina’ – can be summed up with just one word: ‘mamporrero’. Olga then said it wasn’t as simple as that. She explained that Mr.Rufián was probably using the phrase in a ‘suggestive way’, not necessarily related to horses, but perhaps ‘between men’. We decided not to pursue the definition further, because others were giving us odd looks.

On Tuesday, I interviewed Germà Bel in a debate for the ‘Our Future in Catalonia’ group in Barcelona, with the subject matter being ‘The Economics of a Catalan State’. Germà is a renowned Professor of Economics and a member of the Catalan Parliament’s ‘Junts pel Sí’ coalition group. It was a lively discussion, very well attended, and not an insulting word was uttered by anyone. Hopefully there will be more civilized discussions and ‘dialogue’ here in Barcelona. Watch this space …

Letter from Barcelona (6): Expats & Gibraltarians. Rajoy should focus on trying ‘dialogue’ with Catalonia instead of laying claim to ‘the Rock’.

It’s interesting how it has taken Gibraltar to shake things up a little bit. Since last night it’s been one of the top stories on BBC and Sky News, with the inevitable “rock in a hard place” headlines (ho-ho-ho). It is on the front page of most of today’s papers, here in Spain and in the UK: ‘Fear on the Rock: EU’s Gibraltar ambush’; ‘Future of Gibraltar now at stake in Brexit talks’; ‘Brussels takes tough stance on Brexit with Spain handed veto over Gibraltar’; ‘Rock bottom: May’s Brexit blunder sparks Spanish land grab’. The worst gloat, however, comes from Spain’s ABC newspaper: ‘The triumph of Spain’s position on Gibraltar irritates the United Kingdom’. Oh, and of course there’s Boris-the-buffoon already bellowing about his ‘implacable and ‘rock-like’ support for Gibraltar. That must really placate Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, the Hon Fabian Picardo QC MP, who’s been on every radio and TV news programme for the past 24 hours, proudly sitting in front of a photo of Her Majesty in his Union Jack adorned office. Boris will save and protect you, Mr.Picardo. Good old Boris.

Now, look, I know that Gibraltar is officially a ‘British Overseas Territory, ceded to Great Britain ‘in perpetuity’ under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 – and so, I mean, it really is British (and the 30,000 Gibraltarians have repeatedly voted to remain linked to Britain). But what about the San Miguel Bowls Club on the Orihuela coast in Alicante, adjacent to ‘Cheers Bar’ in the Urbanization of Eagles Nest? Only a couple of weeks ago The Guardian filmed there because it was ‘effectively a little Britain’ … ‘effectively a British enclave’ … and they were all suffering the ‘Costa Brexit’. What will happen to that British bowls club? Will Spain want to reclaim that, too?

Before I get loads of Brexiteer comments telling me that Gibraltar is not the San Miguel Bowls Club … er, I know. I’m trying to be a little ironic. But the fact that Prime Minister May forgot to mention Gibraltar in her Article 50 letter, described by many as an ‘astounding error’, is simply par for the course from now on, if you ask me. The whole Brexit ‘thing’ is a chaotic shambles and it’s going to get worse and worse. There is no plan. I repeat: There Is No Plan. There’s no plan for the rights of the 300,000 registered Brits living and working in Spain, nor for the rights of the 200,000 Spanish in the UK. The ‘rock bottom’ and ‘rock in a hard place’ Gibraltar Rock is just the tip of the iceberg.

Sitting here in Barcelona, however, I have one thing very, very clear. Spain, and in particular Mr.Rajoy, should focus on trying some ‘dialogue’ with Catalonia instead of laying claim to Gibraltar.

Letter from Barcelona (5): Since when has ‘dialogue’ been a ‘demand’?

I dreamt the other night that a 72 year old man called Mr.Margallo was begging and bribing me to stop writing anything nice about Catalonia. In exchange, he promised to drop all his plans to take control of Gibraltar after Brexit. Then I woke up. Or at least I think it was all a dream …

The truth is that it has been a bit of an odd week, although it started amicably enough.

On Monday an op-ed piece written jointly by Catalan President Puigdemont and Vice President Junqueras was published in El País newspaper. The heading of the article was ‘Let Dialogue Win, Let Ballot Boxes Decide’. Let’s focus on the ‘dialogue’ bit for now, as the word cropped up many times in the article.

There’s ‘no need for courts to become involved with what could be resolved politically’ they wrote, but that ‘Spain cannot even sit down at a table for a dialogue between the Spanish and Catalan governments.’ They continued: ‘There is not only a worrying absence of any will to create a dialogue, but also the fact that Spain keeps going in totally the opposite direction: indictments, and politicizing the courts while judicializing what is a political problem in a dirty war, with threats of exceptional measures against Catalonia.’ The article accused Madrid’s central government of hiding ‘behind the Constitutional Court, behind the Supreme Court and the regional courts, with no concern about compromising the separation of powers and the role of the courts as neutral arbiters.’

The article also made reference to those in Catalonia who do not want independence, but would still like a referendum to put the issue to rest. They claim that the ‘Spanish state has abandoned all Catalans, even those who don’t want independence.’ They asked for ‘political dialogue’ and a ‘political solution’. They reiterated that ‘in a democracy there is no right to refuse dialogue’. And they concluded the article stating that they were ‘already seated at the negotiation table. How long before the others arrive? Or will they even come?’

No, is the answer – at least that’s the message from Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy’s PP-led government.

That very same day, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría compared the request for ‘dialogue’ as a ‘demand’. In response to the article, she said that, ‘Dialogue is not what is being offered or asked for; a referendum is being demanded that goes against the Spanish Constitution, and that would deny Spaniards as a whole their capacity to express an opinion about what they want the whole of the Spanish nation to be. It is a demand by those who have a poor understanding of dialogue in their country.’

I don’t get it … I really don’t. Define ‘dialogue’. Define ‘demand’. I’ve re-read the article, in both Spanish and English. They write: ‘the scenario of an agreed referendum’ [ie, ‘agreed’ after ‘dialogue’] ‘is what we would like in Catalonia.’ That is their final aim, yes, but from what I understand, they’re not even demanding a dialogue to try and ‘agree’ an eventual ‘agreed’ referendumthey are just politely asking for dialogue. And they’ve been asking for it for a very long time.

I believe Madrid could quite easily have defused this entire situation several years ago by proposing something as simple as an external ‘seminar of dialogue’ (call it what you like) with a date ‘yet to be decided’ to discuss the ‘concept’ of the ‘possibility’ in the ‘future’ of a parliamentary ‘discussion’ which ‘might eventually lead’, subject to ‘conditions’, to a ‘potential’ parliamentary ‘study’ for the ‘future publication’ of a document to be entitled ‘The Outlines for a Possible Parliamentary Debate on Catalonia’ – or something similar. Isn’t that what politicians are supposed to do? Be ‘diplomatic’? Delay things as long as they can, if necessary, but at least be ‘political’ and show they’re up for some ‘dialogue’?

For heaven’s sake, Mr.Rajoy, talk to Barcelona about all this. Sit down at a table, any table, and start a dialogue. Even I’ll offer to mediate and moderate if you can’t find anyone else, but just do it – before it’s too late. In the meantime, stop treating Catalonia as the disruptive child in the Spanish classroom [The New European]. Stop banning Catalan politicians from public office for ‘disobedience’ (believe me, from an international perspective it is looking absurd). And stop fining people for speaking Catalan at Barcelona airport’s passport control (yes, it apparently happened).

And then there’s that 72 year old man of my dreams (you know what I mean), José García-Margallo y Marfil … but let’s just refer to him as Mr.Margallo.

Well, it turns out that he’s a bit of an old rascal, isn’t he? He was the Spanish Foreign Minister from 2011 to 2016, serving under Prime Minister Rajoy. He’s made a number of very silly comments in the past, mostly about Gibraltar, but he seems to have surpassed himself on the TV this week, revealing some worrying facts on the ‘El Cascabel’ programme on 13TV. It follows a debate he’d had in Madrid with the former President of the Catalan government, Artur Mas (who’s been banned from public office for 2 years).

On the TV programme, Mr. Margallo stated that when he was Minister, the Spanish government made ‘great efforts’ to talk to governments around the world in order for them to not speak in favour of Catalan independence. He said, ‘No one knows the favours we owe to a lot of people for making the declarations they made’. He even explained that it had taken up a lot of his time and energy: ‘I was in the Baltic countries four times, and it is not that we have particular economic interests there … I have been to Canada, to the Vatican, I don’t know how many times … this takes up an enormous amount of energy.’

Whether or not Mr.Margallo had been travelling to all these places on Catalan tax payers’ money or not is yet to be clarified. Or at least it should be clarified …

 

Radio in Barcelona: Animated GiF Podcast (1)

I was invited on the ‘Animated GiF’ show on RKB Radio Kanal Barcelona yesterday, hosted by the brilliant Carrie Frais and Deborah Gray. We talked about many things: the attack in Westminster, Brexit, Expats, Bowls Clubs, Escape Rooms, crime books and a TV series … and how long Russians spend in the loo. Here’s the podcast:

Letter from Barcelona (4): Surely The Guardian can make a better video of ‘expats’ in Spain?

In the 20 years I have lived and worked in Spain (in Madrid and Barcelona), I’ve always tried to avoid reading any British newspaper article containing the words ‘expats’ or ‘costa’ in the headline, especially if illustrated with an image of a sunburnt-tattooed beer-gut in Union Jack shorts, or someone vomiting on a hen-night in, say, Magaluf. It’s not easy to avoid it, though – even more so when the word ‘Brexit’ is thrown in alongside ‘expats’ and ‘costa’.

This week, I could sense something very wrong had been written about ‘expats in Spain’, simply from all the comments on social media. By ‘wrong’, I mean not totally ‘balanced’, nor totally fair or honest. When I traced the reason, it turned out to be a video, not an article.

Look … I am actually a ‘fan’ (if that is the word) of The Guardian (if it is possible to be a fan of a newspaper). I admire it. I always have done, despite a lot of Private Eye/Grauniad spelling mistakes. I know (or knew) people who write and work for it. As far as Spain is concerned, I also believe that The Guardian, at least traditionally, has been one of the best British newspapers in its coverage of historical, political, economic or cultural issues across the Iberian Peninsula. The Guardian has boasted excellent foreign correspondents in Madrid over the years, as well as historians and professors as regular contributors – experts in their field who have written authoritative works on Spain, or about the Spanish civil war, or biographical gems on Franco or Spain’s monarchy. So why, I wondered, did The Guardian descend upon the ‘San Miguel Bowls Club’, which apparently lies adjacent to ‘Cheers Bar’ in the Urbanization of ‘Eagles Nest’, on the Orihuela coast in Alicante, and then publish a 7-minute video, practically describing it as a definitive portrayal of ‘British Expats in Spain count the Costa Brexit’? (And the ‘Costa Brexit’, gettit? Very effing original. Did someone come up with that headline before actually shooting and editing the video?)

Above the video there is a quote: ‘Effectively, they are living in little Britain.’ Below: ‘How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit?’ Does The Guardian really, seriously, believe that the San Miguel Bowls Club on the Orihuela coast in Alicante is the largest community of British expats living in Spain?

The video starts off by stating there are approximately 900,000 British citizens living in the EU, with a third of them living in Spain. An ‘expat’ at the San Miguel Bowls Club is then asked to explain the difference between an ‘expat’ and a ‘foreigner’. ‘First of all, expats are British,’ he says, ‘and a foreigner is probably someone living from another country in Britain. They become foreigners. The British are never foreigners, wherever they go.’ He grins and laughs whilst saying all this, but he seems very serious. It is quite worrying, and it gets worse.

This lazy, shabby, almost cynical ‘video journalism’ from The Guardian tries to investigate how ‘the largest community of British expats living in Spain’ feel about their rights to healthcare, pensions and their British citizenship, which are all ‘hanging in the balance’ with Brexit. Where these expats live is ‘effectively a British enclave’ and ‘effectively a Little Britain’ – ‘they have British TV, British newspapers, British shops, British bars’. The expert-expat who can perfectly distinguish himself from a ‘foreigner’ goes on to say that where they live is in ‘posh ghettos’, and that they hardly speak to any Spaniards, and that many there ‘can’t leave the coast, because once they leave the coast, they can’t use English, and they can’t speak Spanish, so they are confined to the coast.’

The whole thing is hideous, and it is accompanied by soft Gypsy King-style background music … it is embarrassing, it is cringing. The worst bit, however, is when a red-faced beer-gut expat lounging around at the sun-drenched San Miguel Bowls Club says, ‘I voted for Brexit because I thought it was right for the country. What the UK needs is control of its own borders, its own land.’ When asked if he’ll move back to the UK, he laughs and points at the sun, saying, ‘No, I can’t take this with me!’ Well, I’m still trying to recover and come to terms with this part of the video. I feel traumatised. I can’t make sense of it at all. It baffles me.

Anyway … I’m not saying these pockets of ‘enclave’ expat communities don’t exist in Spain. They clearly do – and I’m sure they exist in France, Italy and Greece, too. But a newspaper like The Guardian could have at least come up with a more balanced video-documentary of ‘expats’ in Spain … surely? Surely? In fact I’d like to insist that they do.

I realise that the popular media only feel they’re covering Spain if they can also show a stereotypical backdrop of the beach, the sea and the sun, preferably with some paella, flamenco, ‘fiestas and siestas’ all thrown in. They see Spain as the ‘costas’, the south of Spain; they want to show expats in Andalusia or Murcia, and not in cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao or Valencia. But, hey, you Guardian video-‘journalists’, do some bloody research, at least.

If you need to be in Andalusia, then why not take your cameras along to somewhere like Marbella Rugby Club for the weekend, and see how ‘expats’ and ‘foreigners’ have integrated perfectly with the native Spanish down there for nearly 30 years, and in fact with the entire Federación Andaluza de Rugby (which means the Rugby Federation of Andalusia, for the benefit of members of the San Miguel Bowls Club).

Or take your cameras to film some of the ‘expats’ who have set up many excellent cooking schools or culinary tours and businesses in Andalusia, immersing themselves entirely in the local language and culture (as well as the region’s delicious ingredients, wine and sherry), all the time employing locals, collaborating with locals, living and working with locals. Go to Sotogrande, to Seville, to Granada, to Cádiz – see how the ‘expats’ and ‘foreigners’ have integrated there, setting up Spanish businesses, working with Spaniards, and even (God forbid) learning Spanish. I can point you Guardian video-journalists to film and interview Andalusian-based ‘expats’ working in the media, in PR, in advertising, in photography, in property, in finance, in law firms, even in the business of international polo, and I know they could all talk about healthcare, pensions, and ‘citizenship’, in perfect English and fluent Spanish. Or, hey, come to Madrid or even (dare I say ‘better still’), Barcelona …

You know, I’m not even sure about the word ‘expat’, which is why I keep putting it in ‘inverted commas’ (but I’ll stop now). I don’t know if we are really expats, foreigners or immigrants (and some of us, me included, often travel backwards and forwards to the UK, thanks to the low-cost routes). I personally like to simply refer to myself as a ‘guiri’.

Some of us expat-foreigner-immigrant-guiris I even like to label as ‘F-I-L-T-S’. I believe I invented the term – it was for an article I once wanted to write for a UK glossy magazine (but I won’t now, obviously). It’s not even that original – there was a term used for expats once called ‘F-I-L-T-H’s – which meant, ‘Failed in London, Tried Hong Kong’. I thought I’d identified a new species called ‘F-I-L-T-S’ … ‘Failed in London, Tried Spain’. Most of them were (or are) chinless, crushing bores – and for some bizarre reason they always seem to target me at parties, as if they know I will be sympathetic and listen to them. Some of them are even FILTHs who have become FILTS. They’ve Failed in London, Tried Hong Kong, but then Failed in Hong Kong and so finally Tried Spain. Good for them, but you know the sort (yah?).

Anyway, where was I … yes, Barcelona. The place to be.

Come here, you Guardian video-journalists, you. Come here. Come to Barcelona, come to Catalonia … we’ve even got a ‘costa’ here, as well, so you can also get some shots of the beach and sand (and calçots).

Here, I can introduce you to expat-foreigner-immigrant-guiri-FILTS who’ve not only integrated into the Spanish culture, but the Catalan culture, too. A lot of them could talk to you for hours about healthcare, pensions and citizenship, in perfect English, fluent Spanish, and some Catalan. I can introduce you to people who have moved here to work in the media, launch magazines and newspapers, start radio stations, work in graphic design or advertising – actors, comedians, musicians, DJs, film directors, casting agents – entrepreneurs who’ve organised comedy festivals, music festivals, short film festivals, or set up dance schools and performing arts colleges – health and therapy professionals who’ve set up dentistry practices, or yoga, pilates and mindfulness classes – pilots, lawyers, journalists, career-CEOs, cruise and travel reps, international trade executives, foreign office staff and diplomats – professional sports coaches, start-up venture capitalists, economists – people who’ve renovated old masias and created new businesses for events and weddings – builders, drivers, hairdressers, photographers, teachers, web designers, models, bar staff, charity workers … the list goes on and on and on …

Every single one of them has integrated, works or collaborates with Spanish and Catalan businesses, or employs Spanish or Catalan staff, and pays taxes, or sends their kids to local schools. These are the people creating jobs, culture and trade. Please do some research before you publish or illustrate any more expat articles with boozy-sunburnt Union Jack images. Talk to the British and Spanish Chambers of Commerce, the UKTi in Spain, the British Consuls or Embassy. Talk to the ‘Bremain in Spain’ group. Talk to the Anglo-Catalan Society, the British-Spanish Society … in fact talk to anyone other than the members of the San Miguel Bowls Club on the Orihuela coast in Alicante. Por favor.

El Punt-Avui TV (7) – The Catalan issue … plus the Dutch-Trump’s Amadeus-hairstyle.

I was invited back on ‘The English Hour’ again on El Punt-Avui TV this afternoon, a local Barcelona TV channel. Catalonia has been in the international news this week, after the former Catalan president, vice-president and Education minister, have been barred from office for up to two years. So it’s quite a serious discussion – and so it should be. But we still find time to discuss the Dutch-Trump’s Amadeus-hairstyle … Here’s the link: El Punt-Avui TV (7).

Here are some links to previous appearances on the same programme:

El Punt-Avui TV (6)

El Punt-Avui TV (5)

El Punt-Avui TV (4)

El Punt-Avui TV (3)

El Punt-Avui TV (2)

El Punt-Avui TV (1)

Letter from Barcelona (3) – I wasn’t ‘#JoHiEra’, but I know many who were …

There’s a social media hashtag of ‘#JoHiEra’ that suddenly became very fashionable and popular, especially in Barcelona, just before midnight on Wednesday. It’s Catalan for ‘I Was There.’ I couldn’t and can’t use it, however, because I wasn’t there. I can only invent something pathetic like ‘#NoHiVaigEstarPeròConecAMoltaGentQueSi’, which I think means, ‘I Wasn’t There But I Know Lots Of People Who Were’.

Look, if FC Barcelona are playing football, and they’re losing (it happens occasionally), then never, ever, ever leave the stadium (especially the Camp Nou) before the game ends. Do not leave in the 88th minute, for example, just to beat the traffic getting home. Do not even leave in the 4th minute and 39th second of extra time, even if Barcelona are still a goal down, okay? Or even two goals down. Just don’t do it. Ever.

I’m not saying that I did that. I was actually in London on Wednesday for meetings. But I’ve heard about some people who did leave the stadium just before the 90th minute, to beat the traffic home … and they must be feeling sick. God knows what hashtag they had to come up with: ‘Jo Hi Era But I Left Early And Now I’m Going To Kill Myself.’

Very special things happen at Camp Nou. Ask any Manchester United fan who was there in 1999 for the UEFA Champions League Final against Bayern Munich, when Sheringham and Solskjaer scored two goals in extra time. I know people who’d left the stadium before the final whistle that night, too, and they were heading back to Las Ramblas to drown their sorrows. In the end, however, I think they drank Las Ramblas dry.

Never leave. Never stop. Never give up. As FC Barcelona player Gerard Piqué explained perfectly after the match. ‘Sometimes miracles occur … but mainly when you persist to the end.’

If by any chance you have no idea of what I am writing about above, then I will briefly explain: one of the greatest nights (if not the greatest night) in the history of FC Barcelona happened on Wednesday, to put them in the quarter-finals of the Champions League (yet again). They scored 6 goals against Paris Saint-Germain in one of the most historic comebacks ever. It was magical, even on TV. Barcelona scored the first 3 goals in an hour, and then 3 more in seven minutes and 17 seconds. It was at 90 minutes + 4.39 minutes of extra time when they scored the final goal. 6-1 on the night, 6-5 on aggregate … after being 4-0 down from the first leg. Incredible but true.

Five minutes before the end, football commentators in Madrid, of course, were already saying it was all over. There’s a video going round of one pundit, Josep Pedrerol, pre-empting the final whistle, introducing his programme whilst the game was still being played, yet telling everyone that Barcelona were eliminated on the ‘Night of Champions’ programme with, ‘It wasn’t to be’. You’d never have Gary Lineker doing that …

I believe FC Barcelona play football in such a way that the spectacle should be enjoyed right to the very last second and beyond. The atmosphere in Camp Nou should also be savoured right up until when they turn the floodlights off. In the past I’ve noticed many Spanish supporters tend to trickle away ten minutes before the end of a match, providing their team is at least 4-0 ahead. In general, however, I think it is very rude to leave an event or ‘spectacle’ early … unless it’s a bullfight, of course, or unless you are Japanese … or both.

Allow me to explain:

Years ago, there was a bullfight journalist in Madrid, who decided to investigate why Japanese tourists always got up and left ‘en masse’, immediately after the third bull was killed at the city’s Las Ventas bullring (there normally being 6 bulls killed at each bullfight). It was nothing to do with the revulsion of the ‘spectacle’, however. No, he eventually discovered that Japanese guidebooks stated that 3 bullfighters take it in turns to kill 2 bulls each, and so once you’ve seen each bullfighter fight once, you’ve seen it all … and you can leave. The bullfight journalist compared it to visiting the Prado Museum yet leaving after only viewing one painting by Goya or Velázquez. Enough said.

Letter from Barcelona (2) – An open-top Bugatti … and flowers for Hitler.

They’re holding the annual Barcelona to Sitges vintage car rally today. I took part in it 23 years ago – in March 1994. For some reason we’d got involved as co-sponsors to promote the Spanish edition of GQ magazine, which we were to launch in November that year. I say I ‘took part’ – but all I had to do was sit as a passenger in the back of a beautiful, open-top Bugatti, sipping cava yet feeling car-sick as the old vehicle slowly weaved and chugged its way along the winding Garraf coastal road from Barcelona to Sitges, for over an hour under a blazing sun. Without wanting this to sound like Taki’s ‘High Life’ Spectator column, the only other passenger in the chauffeur-driven vehicle was Prince Giovanni de Borbón Dos Sicilias. Giovanni spoke Spanish, English, Portuguese, Italian, French, German, Polish and Russian (I kid you not). He was born Jean Maria Casimir Prince of Bourbon-Two Sicilies in Warsaw in 1933. His late father was the uncle of the previous King of Spain (Juan Carlos I, who abdicated in 2014). And here’s something else for you: when poor Giovanni was a toddler, he was pushed forward at a ceremony somewhere (I don’t know where) to present a bouquet of flowers to Adolf Hitler …

Giovanni was our glorified ‘society editor’ at Ediciones Condé Nast in Spain. He was also a gifted gourmet and food writer for Spanish and Brazilian Vogue, as well as a connoisseur of all the finer things in life – a man with many stories to tell, yet rather selfishly we often used him to simply ‘open doors’. For the veteran car rally he’d been wheeled out to officially signal the start of it all from outside the Barcelona City Council in the Plaza Sant Jaume – a sort of Spanish equivalent to a Prince Michael of Kent figure for the London-to-Brighton rally, I guess. How times have changed in 23 years. I doubt they’d want someone like Giovanni to do it now. In fact, come to think of it, I doubt they wanted him to do it back in 1994, either – but they’d be much more vocal about it now.

The competition side of the rally is not based on it being a race or a measure of velocity, but the uniqueness of each vehicle’s age or appearance, as well as the costumes of the drivers and passengers to mirror the age and spirit of the time. Giovanni already mirrored the age and spirit of the time. He also looked as regal as you can get, almost like a cartoon character. He had the long Bourbon aristocratic forehead, nose and teeth, all of which went on forever, and he was crowned with neatly trimmed, swept-back silver hair. He was tall, and always immaculately attired, but for the rally he was kitted out from head to foot in Sherlock Holmes gear, complete with cape and hat. It was his own gear … not fancy dress.

So anyway, there I was, sitting in an open-top Bugatti, on the coastal road to Sitges, alongside a man dressed as Sherlock Holmes, who’d once given some flowers to Hitler … and I was wearing an old, smelly, itchy tweed jacket, and it was a hot day, really hot. And then when we finally reached the chequered-flag finishing line in the Passeig de la Ribera of Sitges, I realised I had terrible sunburn from the Mediterranean rays, but it was only on the left side of my face. With his colourful culinary vocabulary, Giovanni said I looked like a half-sliced, well-grilled tomato. We remained close for several years, but he died in Madrid only 6 years later, in December 2000. He was 77.

On Wednesday evening, I was invited to Camp Nou by a good friend to see FC Barcelona put 6 goals past Sporting de Gijón, who could only score one. As Real Madrid could only draw with Las Palmas later that night, Barcelona went top of the league, and it has remained that way after last night’s games, too (after Barça beat Celta 5-0, and Real Madrid won 4-1 against Eibar). Real Madrid still have a game in hand, of course, but it will go to the wire, as they say. Barcelona’s coach, Luis Enrique, officially announced he will be leaving at the end of the season after Wednesday’s game. After a 6-1 win and going top of the league, it was probably the ideal time to announce it.

The atmosphere inside Camp Nou was superb, as always – this week helped, perhaps, by more than one badge-wearing exec from the Mobile World Congress, all trying to take the best photos or videos with their … yes, mobile phones. The MWC attracted 108,000 visitors from 208 countries to Barcelona this week, and it will stay here until 2023 – maintaining the city’s reputation as the mobile nucleus of Europe.

The battle between Madrid and Barcelona continues to intensify in the courts, too, with various on-going trials against Catalonia’s pro-independence politicians. On Monday, the former Catalan President’s right-hand man, Francesc Homs, was brought before the Spanish Supreme Court in Madrid. ‘If putting out ballot boxes challenges the (Spanish) state,’ he said, ‘I don’t want to be part of this state.’

And we have a new high-profile trial that has started in Barcelona this week, too, into the alleged corruption at Barcelona’s Palau de la Música concert hall, eight years after the investigations first begun. Watch this space …

Letter from Barcelona (1) – Carnival season in the Spanish courts

It’s carnival season here. I don’t mean the pre-Lent boozy processions. I mean that the Spanish courts are hosting a carnival – an on-going circus, to be frank – almost a total ‘masquerade’. At least it seems like it.

This week, Iñaki Urdangarin, the brother-in-law to King Felipe VI of Spain, was found guilty of embezzlement, fraud, ‘influence peddling’ and tax crimes by the provincial court of Palma de Mallorca, in what became known as the ‘Nóos’ trial. He’s been sentenced to six years and three months in jail. The sentence may be appealed before the Supreme Court.

The Nóos Institute was set up by Iñaki Urdangarin and his former business partner, Diego Torres (himself sentenced to eight years), as a non-profit foundation specialising in sport and leisure events. Between 2004 and 2006, they fraudulently obtained inflated contracts worth over €6 million from the Balearic Islands government, secured without public tenders. The money was then funnelled out of Nóos’ accounts and into their own pockets via a series of shell companies.

Urdangarin, a former Olympic handball player, allegedly leveraged his position as a member of the royal family to open doors within regional government structures. His wife, the princess Cristina de Borbón, was acquitted (of course) of tax fraud complicity, although she still has to pay a fine of €265,088 for benefitting, ‘indirectly’ and ‘unknowingly’, from illegal gains.

The verdict was delivered more than a year after the trial had begun in Mallorca. Cristina is now back in Geneva, where she and her husband were sent (with their four children) in 2013, primarily to be kept out of the spotlight, but where she now also does something or other for the Aga Khan Foundation. Felipe VI of Spain removed Cristina and his other sister from royal duties when he became king, and he also stripped Cristina of her ‘Duchess of Palma’ title once she prepared to face trial.

Iñaki Urdangarin, believe it or not, is also back in Geneva – at least for now. In fact he was in Geneva whilst the courtroom in Mallorca delivered its verdict. Confusingly, prosecutors had originally asked for a 19-year prison term for Urdangarin, but he’s now being allowed to remain in Switzerland, instructed to present himself before the relevant authorities there just ‘once a month’, and he’s also been ordered to keep everyone aware (ie, the court) of any movements he might make ‘outside of the European Union.’ No mention has been made that Switzerland is not actually part of the European Union, or the fact that Urdangarin is a Spaniard living there only because of a personal and (royal) family decision. But there you go. Until the Supreme Court ratifies the sentence (or it is appealed), he will remain free, and he will remain in Geneva. Silly not to.

The shabby and somewhat controversial handling of the Nóos case, however, has a more worrying backdrop to it all. The public prosecution service in Spain is fast becoming an object of mistrust, given the constant suspicions of ‘pressures’, ‘interference’, and of the central government’s influence in the Spanish judiciary system, particularly across the regions and provinces of Spain. Most recently, the outgoing chief prosecutor in the region of Murcia, Manuel López Bernal, has spoken out about ‘intimidation’. Bernal is being relieved of his post, after complaining about ‘intolerable’ pressures. Suffice to say he’s just been investigating a corruption case involving the Murcia president for alleged crimes in the construction of a local auditorium …

Meanwhile in Barcelona, the ‘politicalization of justice’ rolls on relentlessly. The Parliament’s President, Carme Forcadell, and three members of the Parliament’s Bureau have been accused of ‘disobedience and perversion of justice’ by Catalonia’s Public Prosecutor for allowing the referendum’s proposal to be put to the vote. Actions have now been brought against Anna Simó, Lluis Corominas and Ramona Barrufet, all from the governing cross-party Junts Pel Sí but not against Joan Josep Nuet, from the left alliance Catalunya Sí que es Pot (don’t ask), even though he’s also part of the Bureau. Why? The Public Prosecutor considers that Nuet didn’t aim to launch any ‘political project which disrespects the Constitution of the 1978’ … but presumably the others did, therefore. So there you have it, in black and white.