In which country
and city are you living now? Spain.
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
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.
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
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.
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 can...as 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.
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.
are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
widely and see more than just the little area you live in.
to be functional in a relevant local language.
prepared to earn less than you probably do already.
sure that if you have kids that they have regular social and/or
educational opportunities with local children (not just with other
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.
started it in 2009 and it now brings visitors from all around the
world, which is great.
"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.
spreading dangerous "treatments" that could push so many
LGBT young people to self-destructive behaviour and even suicide.
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.
in partnership with Spanish organization COLEGAS.")
was a reader of Catalonia Today before I was a writer for Catalonia
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.
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.)
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
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.
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
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.]