Saturday, December 20, 2014

"Peaceful, but menacing: German xenophobia"

"Calling themselves Pegida, or “patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident”, since October they have marched through Dresden every Monday. Their numbers are growing: on December 15th 15,000 protested. Their slogans of xenophobic paranoia (“No sharia in Europe!”) seem bizarre in Saxony, where only 2% of the population is foreign and fewer than 1% are Muslim.
The marchers make no attempt to explain their demands. Convinced of a conspiracy of political correctness, they do not speak to the press. Few bear any signs of neo-Nazism. They have eschewed violence. What they share is broad anxiety about asylum-seekers (200,000 in 2014) and immigrants."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Putting down Orwell

It's a genuinely encouraging development to see that with Hispabooks there is a new publisher for works from Spanish authors because the English-language world benefits from this.

I dislike the title of this article though. 

To put down Orwell is a mistake. Yes, his book "Homage to Catalonia" is now dated (in a few parts) but his other writing, especially his non-fiction essays are still insightful and highly relevant. I do agree that it's absurd to build up a picture of Spain only from people like Hemingway.

Chris Finnegan mentions a number of books I'd like to read. He could just as easily have also mentioned two fine authors originally from Barcelona - Eduardo Mendoza and Juan Goytisolo, whose autobiography I finished reading recently and highly recommend on a number of levels.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

"The best of times?" - My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

Has there ever been a better time to be alive in the history of our tortured, super-intelligent species? 

At the press of a few buttons we have virtually all the accumulated knowledge of the last several hundred (or is it thousand?) years available. And it is available fast.

We have the answers to a billion conceivable questions and we can communicate almost instantly with the majority of people on the planet, language barriers excepted. 

For many of us, our taste buds can be stimulated by the food from dozens of cultures who, just a few short years ago were out of reach, either geographically or economically. 

In this increasingly mixed European society, young people have started to grow up sitting next to others from Asia, Africa and assorted parts of the wider continent and for them this is as natural as mother's milk.

On top of all this, there is a gentleness that in so many senses did not exist just a generation ago. 

A man can be intimately involved in the care of his baby or child without automatically being a figure of gossip or ridicule. He can be the main cook for his family and not be thought of us somehow suspect. 

Finally too, homosexuals are more accepted or at least tolerated in the majority of circles, rather than being chemically castrated as some were less than seventy years ago (in the UK for example.)

Today too, there are increasing numbers of people who are not only acknowledging their own depression or mental illness but are speaking openly about it in public forums and in the media. 

Such a development was virtually unthinkable merely a decade ago. 

Equally though, the average women in the developed world has a wider horizon than ever before. Her place in the workplace is now barely questioned at all, though she may still be paid less than a man or have trouble getting a full-time position or promoted according to her ability.

Yet despite this progress, despite the modern mind being freer from superstition and religious dogma than probably any time in history, what do we also have?

Underneath the shiny towers of vanity there is a great, putrid sewer stench of injustice. 

There is the distinct sensation of a nausea without relief and that comes from having both your eyeballs open and your ears unblocked. Anyone who chooses to not be ignorant knows, as Leonard Cohen wrote, "the deal is rotten." 

And all those signs of enlightenment that came to view in the the first half of the 20th century now have a faded quality and there is a hollow ring to the chants, songs and poems of social movements.

Throw into this mix the fact that the warming of the earth continues at pace. 

It is only those who genuinely don't understand or politicians who have been bought out by the polluting industries that do not accept the truth of the overheating globe that we walk on. 

Or think of the wealth that flows through financial systems. Shockingly, the 85 richest people on the planet now have as much money as the poorest 3.5 billion. 

And what else?

There's the vacant look of history's books
Slave labour and murder thy neighbour
Greed as a virtue and carers that hurt you
This is the present we have

We see the limp hand of the state and rape-a-date
The power of one at the point of a gun
And the good times are back with daily Prozac
This is the future that right now we have

See that liar's smile when the truth's on trial?
This is the justice we have.
Living and laughing in ignorance bliss
We have fashioned a world exactly like this.

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

New English language theatre in Barcelona

"Marie’s Crisis Cafe is a new play. It’s set in a piano bar run by Marie with help from her friend Beauridge. On the surface the bar is just a regular place where people, like Grainger, drown their sorrows – and tourists sing to fit in. 

Dig a little deeper, and it’s also a place where troubled souls are fixed. And so life continues day in day out, until Thea shows up out of the blue… Drama, humour, despair and hope with a touch of the surreal in the modern age."

See poster for details.