Thursday, April 24, 2014

Modern Spain and Australia: a lecture at the Uni of Barcelona

I will be giving a [public] talk at the University of Barcelona next Wednesday. 

As part of the Tricontinental Lecture Series, I will be speaking about the cultural, societal and other differences (and similarities) of modern Spain compared to Australia.

My talk will take place at 6pm in the Historic Building (Access via C/- Aribau) Room 2.2, on Wed. 30 April. 

Everyone is invited.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Figueres...but not as we know it


An insightful and illuminating piece of writing [in English] by novelist Vicenç Pagès Jordà revolving loosely around Figueres, a Catalan town most famous for being the birthplace of Salvador Dalí and home to his museum.

Pagès Jordà covers subjects as wide ranging as pataphysics, the mathematical beauty of the Bay of Roses, the first ever submarine, ironic faith and ridicule as desperation.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Spain as one of the most equal for housework and gender?

Apparently so!

"The OECD compiled data from national surveys of men and women ages 15 - 64, both single and married. Hours spent on childcare were included as unpaid work for the few countries that had comprehensive statistics.

In Scandinavian countries like Norway and Sweden, government regulations keep work hours to a comfortable 37.5 per week (40- to 50-hour weeks prevail in other European countries)."

[Source: here.]

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Catalonia’s School of Shepherds

Photograph by Joan Alvado/Nar Photos/Redux
With Catalonia´s unemployment high, a different kind of school is attracting an increasing number of students from urban areas...

"Sheep have grazed mountainous northeastern Spain for 6 million years, but 20th century industrialization led to a dramatic decline in the number of shepherds who tended them. 

For the last six years, Catalonia’s School of Shepherds has worked to keep the ancient profession from disappearing.

Students start with a month of classroom study in a rural home in the Pyrenees. Then they undergo four months of practical training with a veteran shepherd, who gradually gives them responsibilities with a herd. 

About 80 percent of students complete the course, and more than 60 percent go on to work in livestock farming.

A new shepherd on a farm that provides food and lodging earns about €680 ($936) a month, and €900 to €1,200 without room or board. 

A mountain shepherd—who may tend thousands of animals in a busy summer—earns as much as €2,000 a month."

Source: here.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"Land, bread and peace of mind" - My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

Photo: Javier.
If any political slogan ever summed up the basic needs of the human animal, it was Lenin's call to revolution in Russia almost a century ago: "Peace, Bread and Land!" 

Today in Europe, would these essential elements be much different?

The "land question" is still one of the biggest for the average person only partly because we all must have some kind of shelter from nature's more extreme forces. 

How we are housed, where we are housed and by what means we pay for our housing partly decides how much stress you have to live with or how much comfort you live in. 

If you are renting, the landlord or landlady remains as critical a figure as they were a century ago and despite theoretically better legal rights for tenants, gross exploitation of renters continues in Barcelona, just as it does in Paris, London or Milan.

If you are fortunate enough to be paying off your own dwelling to the bank (as my partner and I have been doing for the last three years) then there is obviously the pressure of ensuring that your income is enough to do this every month...while also putting food on the table. 

Sometimes, I wonder if there is still an echo from feudal times in this great housing dilemma. 

In England for example, it is simply scandalous that an estimated 50% of total land there is still unregistered. 

This means that approximately half the country is owned by families who have inherited large areas of green fields that are not available for possible use as housing. It creates the bizarre fact that English cities are severely over-crowded and the price of a basic flat is well out of reach of the average person.

In Southern Europe the high cost of renting or buying (compared to wages) at least partly explains why in Scandinavian countries only about 4% of 24 to 35 year-olds are still living with their parents. 

In Spain this figure is 37.2%, in Portugal it is 44.4% and in much of Eastern Europe around half of young people have not left the nest. We are witnessing generations who are being denied real independence in their lives.

But when it comes to what is being eaten in and outside the home there is also great inequality. In Spain, the massive rise in demand for donated/charity food has been well documented in the media here and in England there has been an almost 400% increase in the use of so-called "food banks" over the last two years alone. 

I recently explained to some adults I teach that the American slang word for money is "bread," and this gives a particular relevance to the saying that "The more bread you have, the less shit you have to eat."

Strangely enough though, it is now the case that nearly 40% of food grown in the United States of America is never eaten (as their public broadcaster PBS recently discovered.) 

Even allowing for the fact that the average North American consumes more than four hundred times more resources than an African does, the stark absurdity of these numbers cannot explain away how vital food is to our quality of life.

Simply put, land and bread make up a large part of what we call "peace of mind."

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, April 2014.]