Sunday, June 29, 2014

Video: The 500 year-old voice


When French songwriter/musician Luc Arbogast sings it is as if you are listening to a voice from Europe's Middle Ages.

This video is of "Sefardic Song."


Monday, June 23, 2014

Interview on


Where are you originally from?

In which country and city are you living now?

How long have you lived in Spain and how long are you planning to stay?
8 years and planning to stay another 5 years at least [but probably longer.]

Why did you move to Spain and what do you do?
Many reasons, but largely because Europe (especially Spain) has the kind of history, culture and lifestyle that is one of the best in the world. I taught English and History at two international schools here part-time for a few years and also finished my first book, The Remade Parent. Now I'm working on a travel book about Spain while being a columnist and reviewer for Catalonia Today magazine...on top of teaching local adults English in company mainly.

Did you bring family with you?
Yes, my wife and son have always lived with me. I couldn't have it any other way.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Difficult at times. Sometimes it feels like (even after 8 years here) that the transition is still continuing but I'd lived in Japan for 3 years (and England for 2 years) before coming to Spain so it was not so hard.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
No, it wasn't easy and still isn't. I don't socialise much with expats either though.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
The food and wine is exceptional and the weather is good for most of the year so it is great for outdoor types. Apart from Barcelona, the regions are wonderful if you have the time to visit them. I think Toledo is incredible, as is Granada too, but there are real gems like Asturias or Galicia which are often neglected by visitors.

What do you enjoy most about living in Spain?
The sun, the seafood, the people I work with (usually!) and the family-friendly nature of public life. I love the tranquility of the little town we live in but Barcelona never fails to stimulate the senses and feed my curiosity.

How does the cost of living in Spain compare to home?
Home is here in Spain but compared to Australia food and drink is much cheaper though other costs are often higher.

Unless you have independent wealth or are very lucky (or well-conected) you'll need some savings to live on at times.

What negatives, if any, are there to living in Spain?
Of course there are negatives such as cultural clashes and some people prejudging you but the positives (still) outweigh the negatives for me.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Spain, what would it be?
Experience as much of the local culture as you long as it interests you.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Finances and dealing with the many layers of bureaucracy when you want to do even quite basic things related to housing, business or employment.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
As I say, home is here, but I'm sure that there would be plenty of reverse culture shock in going back to Australia one day, even just visting there for short periods I've noticed that.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Travel widely and see more than just the little area you live in.
  2. Learn to be functional in a relevant local language.
  3. Be prepared to earn less than you probably do already.
  4. Make sure that if you have kids that they have regular social and/or educational opportunities with local children (not just with other expats.)
  5. Try to not rely only on expats for your social life.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
It's a blog on social/public issues and cultural life in Catalonia, Spain and wider Europe.

I started it in 2009 and it now brings visitors from all around the world, which is great.

- See more at:

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"Gay cure" author's books for sale in Spain

"Some of the largest booksellers in Spain – Amazon, El Corte Inglés and La Casa del Libro – have started selling a dangerous book that teaches parents to "fix" their gay kids. 

 The author – an American doctor famous for promoting "gay cure" therapies globally – is in Spain for the launch right now.

He's spreading dangerous "treatments" that could push so many LGBT young people to self-destructive behaviour and even suicide.

Both national stores have policies that prohibit products promoting discrimination. Sign [this petition] now to ask Amazon, El Corte Inglés and La Casa del Libro to take off their shelves any harmful books that try to "cure" people of being gay. 

Together we can save thousands of lives and send a strong message to anti-gay groups who are trying to impose "gay cures" in Spain.

(Campaign held in partnership with Spanish organization COLEGAS.")

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"The way we are" - My latest article in the 10th Anniversary edition of Catalonia Today

I was a reader of Catalonia Today before I was a writer for Catalonia Today. 

My first memory of it (at that time published as a weekly newspaper) was being impressed by (now Editor) Marcela Topor's wonderful interview with the Catalan novelist Vicenç Pagès Jordà in an edition from October 2006. 

"Bad readers make incomplete citizens" was the title of the article and I kept it filed away. I also continued archiving all the editions when my own work began to be published. 

Last week, at random, I pulled out a copy and, as it it turned out, this one from November 2008 was the final weekly edition before the newspaper became a monthly magazine. 

In it I had an article about Barcelona teenagers addictions to mobile phones (which is maybe even more timely today) but it is the content of the other pieces in this thirty two page publication that really impresses me still. 

Catalonia Today then had such a great variety of voices, news stories and current information. In that particular issue a reader could open up the paper and be greeted with 'Long Term Resident' Matthew Tree railing against Franco or caressed with a softer story about the comeback of local Catalan donkeys (and here the focus was the beast of burden, not any political asses.)

Flicking through "The Week" section, anyone with decent English could learn about the situation of homeless people here or they might also read an update on the saga of Judge Garzon and his efforts to allow the opening up of mass graves from the Civil war times. 

Equally, this issue also gave the opportunity to get well-informed about pollution and Co2 emissions in the Tarragona region or to try and understand the reasons for 30,000 Valencians taking to the streets over the use of English in schools there. A special double-page report by Gabe Abeyta Canepa delved into the world of the Mormon church in this part of the world and detailed the work of the 132 missionaries who walk their shiny black shoes across Barcelona's streets.

Towards the back of the newspaper in the Review section Joseph Wilson did some fine work in the arts, culture and language areas. Apart from the original interviews also there, I was always struck by the page which gave a round-up of the fairs, festivals and other events across the whole of Catalonia. 

This made an impact on me because it showed that there was life (and even cultural life) outside Barcelona - a fact that is largely overlooked by both visitors and English language media. Catalonia Today was, and still is, the only print publication that routinely acknowledges the existence of a wider Catalonia outside the capital. It does this in a magazine that you can touch. 

It was the first Catalan newspaper in English and I am proud to be a regular part of it. Catalonia Today deserves at least another ten years,...if not more.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Review of "Between Two Fires" by David Baird

This book is exactly the kind of thing you would hope to find when you are aimlessly looking through the shelves in that slowly dying place called a bookshop.

Focusing mainly on the area around his adopted home town of Frigiliana, David Baird has used immaculate research to write in compelling detail about the "people of the sierra" - those who took to the mountains, some to escape, some because they had little choice and some because they had strong political opinions that could then only be expressed in a way that led them to be tagged by Franco's cronies as "bandits."

Here, we find a Spain that is almost impossible to recognise in the modern version of this country. As Baird points out, at the start of the 20th century the average person there lived not much longer than 30 years. 

It was an almost feudal land where even subsistence farming was only for the lucky ones. There was no public hospitals or public transport and mules and donkeys were the only way of getting any distance without walking in bare feet or simple shoes. 

It was a time of smugglers, travelling repairmen, mass illiteracy and child labour (often starting at 6 years of age.) Progress took the form of a single 30 watt bulb being installed in a house. After Franco's victory this part of the country also became the land of night-time curfews where anyone found in the streets after dark was automatically arrested.

It is unsurprising then that there was a significant level of support for the men who fought against authority. While some townspeople were kidnapped for ransom by the rebels it was the civil guard who were more hated but both sides were feared, and for good reason. 

To help the guerrillas, such as providing them food or clothes, was enough to be thrown in prison but to not help them at times meant to the outlaws that you were collaborating with their enemy and could then be a target for recriminations. It is in this sense that ordinary people were caught "between two fires."

Apart from the clarity of Baird's writing and his even-handed approach (which is a relatively rare thing in the highly-politicised arena of Spanish history) half of the book is given over to those who were intimately involved in the events of the time to simply tell their own versions. Their first-hand accounts are vivid, illuminating and often poignant.

In short, this book plays a crucial part in making sure that this war is not a forgotten one, at least to English language readers. 

This review was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, June 2014.

[...and also published at Good Reads and Amazon books.]