Sunday, July 5, 2020

"Barcelona’s Epic Tourism Boom Is Over..."

Apart from the great news that Spain is to prohibit the docking of cruise ships ‘indefinitely’ there's the prediction that the crisis well and truly underway in the tourism sector, is going to get worse, particularly in Barcelona.

Some local people are undoubtedly happy about this but we can only hope that the reliance on tourism in the economy also ends. Then I and many others want to seet moves towards other, better paid employment.

(These stories and many others can be found at the hugely informative Business Over Tapas weekly news service. They give me no payment, BTW.)

Saturday, June 27, 2020

"Both Wise and Valiant" -- Women writers in Spain's history

María de Zayas, novelist of the Spanish Golden Age
 "Centuries ago, Spanish writers challenged gender norms and barriers...

An exhibit at the Cervantes Institute in Madrid focuses on some of the most important — but largely ignored — women writers of Spain's 16th and 17th centuries.

Think "Spanish literature" and you might come up with "Don Quixote," by Miguel de Cervantes. But there's so much more to classic Spanish lit than "Man of La Mancha."

That’s the focus of "Both Wise and Valiant," an exhibition at the Cervantes Institute in Madrid, which looks at some of the most important — but largely ignored — women writers of Spain's 16th and 17th centuries. 

The exhibit opened in March but closed due to COVID-19. Now the exhibit has reopened and will be on display through September.

“What is surprising is that we haven't known many of these female writers until very recently," said Ana Rodríguez-Rodríguez, curator

“What is surprising is that we haven't known many of these female writers until very recently. They are better known now, in the academic world, but not so much for the greater public. I think that’s something we have to keep working on, and that’s the idea of this exhibition,” said curator Ana Rodríguez-Rodríguez, who is also a professor at the University of Iowa..."

Read more (and listen to a podcast of the story at PRI here.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

"Sant Juan:" An explosive night

One thing that shocked me soon after moving here was that there are parents in Spain who are quite blasé about letting their young children play with fireworks. 

We personally witnessed a very nasty example of this at our first Sant Juan’s Day celebrations, over a decade ago.
A (then 5 year old) friend of my son’s had been allowed to play with firecrackers by himself for several hours and with little direct supervision by his parents.

This boy was standing very close to a small bonfire in the square where we were and he threw some kind of cracker into. 

As was likely, it exploded, injuring a girl nearby as well as damaging this boy’s face and eyes. My wife had the presence of mind to throw water in his eyes and he was rushed screaming to a hospital for treatment. 

Judging purely from the size of the blast from the fire, I would say the boy was quite fortunate to have not suffered permanent eye damage. 

(Perhaps the only pleasing result from that is that because our son also saw this happen to his friend, he still has a strong fear of firecrackers years after the event.) 

Another who shares these concerns is Juan Pedro Barret, the head of the burns unit at the Vall d'Hebron hospital in Barcelona. 

Doctor Barret is fed up of seeing injuries caused by the misuse of fireworks, including the need for hands, fingers and feet to be amputated.

He believes that the night of San Juan is always one of the worst times to have to be on duty in the accident and emergency department. 

According to him there is a constant flow of injured people but that after the mid-nineties when safety measures improved the number of those seriously harmed has decreased somewhat.

In one El Pais newspaper poll (of 2165 people) 70% supported the placement of restrictions on festivals with fireworks due to danger.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

"Weightless" -- My latest article for Catalonia Today magazine

What is wrong with this scene?

Excited children playing together in a Barcelona street, their parents standing nearby watching, chatting, smiling.
Of course, only a few months ago, there was everything natural, normal and perfectly ‘right’ about this everyday picture. 
Now (at least at the time of writing) the responsible adults in the scene are breaking the law and can be fined for it. Something that was as wholesome as a summer day suddenly became an awful sin.
So, how are people in our part of the world dealing with this and other similar flips of fate?
One person who has a sharp insight into how Catalonia is coping at the moment is Australian psychologist Leigh Matthews [pictured above,] owner and founder of Therapy in Barcelona. In mid-March, flying back to Barcelona after visiting the Alhambra for her 43rd birthday, she travelled from the pleasures of Granada into a city under lockdown.
Leigh believes that Covid-19 has all the ingredients of the kind of collective, traumatic crisis that she routinely deals with on a personal level in her work: the element of surprise, a threat to essential aspects of life and loss of control.
She says she is able to bear witness to the stories of her international colleagues and clients. In her opinion, they bring expat powers of adaptability and a comfort with ambiguity to difficulties that are firsts for everyone here.
As a comparison, the current number of infections in Spain stands at 264,663 and deaths at 26,620 whereas Australia’s are at 6,941 and 97. “This disparity is great,” Leigh says. “Here we are tormented with a huge toll and suffocating restrictions, but Australians, with their elaborate economic rescue package and comparatively mild threat, are also gripped with uncertainty, grief and exhaustion from groundhog days of confinement.”
To Leigh, the pandemic reminds her of the engineers charged with saving the lives of the astronauts in the Apollo 13 space capsule almost exactly 50 years ago. They solved the crucial problem of making a square filter fit into a space that had only been designed for a round filter. 
In her view, what governments in Catalonia and Spain have to face is something very similar to the Apollo 13 scenario.
She believes the question for the authorities is essentially the same one for many people: doing what is possible. “Identify a problem. Throw the resources you have to deal with it onto the table and figure out how to manage the problem. Variation in contagion and death rates aside, we all face the “Apollo 13 exercise” daily – fumbling for solutions to working from home while crisis schooling, mastering the Virabhadrasana pose in online yoga and simultaneously managing stress, grief, trauma and death anxiety with the menace of infection and economic impairment looming over us,” she says.
“As a psychologist I can give you the shopping list of coping strategies. I can tell you there is resilience to celebrate, but resilience is intersected by privilege and the domestic, political and economic theatres we inhabit. The cohort of people in my life are well resourced, but the pandemic is as multitudinous as each story of every person living it. Many stories won’t have an Apollo 13 finale. They came up with something adequate and so can we, even if it’s just wearing a mask to take care of others or writing a “new normal” that embraces everyone.”
Personally speaking, some days I feel the gravity of the situation holding me down. On other days, like the Apollo 13 crew, I am weightless. I almost float.
[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, July 2020.]

Saturday, June 13, 2020

On beating Corona, a new order and kindness...

[Photo: Lluis Romero]
Author and journalist Matthew Tree's latest penetrating article in Catalonia Today magazine (published under the title "Ringing in the new:) 

"Last month, Maria Branyas, the oldest woman in Catalonia and indeed in the whole of Spain, and possibly in the whole of Europe, hit the virtual headlines when she survived a coronavirus infection at age 113. 

(She had also got through the First World War – during which the ship taking her and her family back to Barcelona from the United States was almost bombed -; the 1918 ’flu pandemic; the Spanish Civil War; and, of course, Franco’s wretched four-decade dictatorship). 

This extraordinary woman, born in San Francisco in 1907 and now resident in the Pyrenean town of Olot, broke the isolation of quarantine by tweeting clear and coherent messages to all and sundry, in one of which she said, re Covid-19: “I believe that nothing will be the same again... You will need a new order, a change in the hierarchy of values and priorities, a new human era.” 

She’s by no means the only person to think that the post-virus world will be completely different from the one we used to be used to. 

For example, Xavier Farràs, a professor at Barcelona’s Ramon Llull University, also sees major changes ahead, such as the ascendance of Chinese-type methods of social control and a huge increase in the number of people working at home. 

The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek agrees that there will be no return to normality, and foresees the emergence of “a certain form of communism”. 

By contrast, a good friend of mine in London thinks that hardly anything will change, except maybe a certain reluctance for people to pay a lot more for a coffee served in a café when they’ve got used to making their own at home for a sixth of the price (and the same goes for any other drink you care to mention). 

The French writer Michel Houellebecq has stated publicly that absolutely everything will go back to normal. 

For what it’s worth, I was firmly in the ’nothing will change’ camp until I stumbled across an article entitled ’Greed Is Dead’ in the Times Literary Supplement by the economist Paul Collier, in which the author points out that ’Economic Man’ – a term coined in the 1950s to describe the type of person who does well in capitalist societies by putting greed and selfishness to economic advantage – is on the way out and indeed, must be frog-marched to the door if the rest of us want to survive. 

Recent studies of the evolutionary origin of successful human communities have shown that homo sapiens sapiens is a uniquely social species that functions best when it’s able to weave a “vast web of kindness and mutual obligations” (Collier dixit). 

In other words, exactly the type of web in which the successful capitalists of today would be unable to avoid throttling themselves to death. In a nutshell, we are genetically programmed to be prosocial, to exchange information and assistance without a profit motive, and to thus develop the ’collective brain’ we call culture, which is essential to future human progress. 

Needless to say, any aberration from this ethical model based on mutual aid is precisely that: an abnormality, a deviation, a mistake. 

Our business model of the past couple of centuries is thus a freakish wrong turn along which those who take it are given a licence to be bad, with fatal consequences: wealthy capitalists, far from being social successes, are as impossible to integrate into a healthy society as are psychopaths. 

These recent discoveries are the result of an increased overlapping of scientific disciplines (by way of example, one of the scientists Collier quotes is a professor of ecology, biology, sociology, medicine, data statistics and biomedical engineering), which have now made it possible for us to take a much better look at the still fairly blurry Big (Human) Picture. 

It could well be that the impact of Covid-19 will finally enable us to see it so clearly, we’ll be able to detect the devil in the details – and deal with him."

Sunday, June 7, 2020

"A dream of trains..."

I have a love of trains. They feature in my latest book, "Slow Travels in Unsung Spain" but this Australian guy has also written and dreamt about them during lockdown...

"Sleeper trains, after suffering a decline in the first half of this decade, are making a big comeback in their European heartland after Greta Thunberg’s climate activism..."

Read more from source here.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

(1 min video:) "Covid19 Appeal: Food & vital supplies for migrant workers in Southern Spain"

"Migrant workers, providing fruits and vegetables to UK supermarkets, have been confined to the cramped settlements in Southern Spain where they live due to recent social-distancing laws, often without access to running water, basic sanitation or food.

Ethical Consumer (here) appears to be an organisation that looks to publicise bad business practice. ‘Learn how to use your spending power to help change the world for the better’, they say."

Original source: (the highly informative) Business Over Tapas.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

"Lockdown loaded" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

[People outside after easing of health restrictions. O. DURAN..jpg]
The decision to send at least four million “non-essential” workers back to their jobs on April 13 strikes me as an extreme mistake. A dangerous one. 
This was a Spanish government move and was opposed publicly by Catalan president Quim Torra. He (and little ol’ insignificant me) will have been proved to a significant degree, right or wrong by the time you are reading this article a few weeks later.
If I’ve been shown to be mistaken then I humbly apologise to Mr Sanchez and that means you can stop reading my words from here on in. But in my opinion, which is also the opinion of countless medical and scientific professionals, the risk of so many people returning to workplaces, public transport, cafes, restaurants, street pavements, parks and everywhere else in between, is too many million risks to take.
This is because Mr Sanchez’ decision is highly likely to lead to another jump in coronavirus cases, including the numbers of people needing specialised medical treatment. That, as we have already seen this spring, puts unbearable stress on those masked heroes we have been applauding (and grossly underpaying) in the public hospital system. Again, they too are facing possibly being infected and even dying themselves.
Going back to work ‘en masse’ simply means that new cases of Covid-19 infection here are added to the existing ones, multiplying and magnifying the pandemic’s devastation. This is easily avoidable by continuing the quarantine period. That’s my argument.
Tragically, countries across southern Europe, and most especially ours, have failed to learn from the much more successful strategies used in places such as Korea, India, and New Zealand. There, they tested huge numbers of the population and applied more restrictive quarantine measures a whole lot faster, sooner (now longer) and comprehensively.
In essence, they took the threat of this invisible killer extremely seriously and their cautious-minded leaders were not afraid to act in the entire public’s interest. They put people’s health ahead of any concerns about costs to business or the national budget.
Meanwhile, as the virus ebbs and flows across the globe, one thing that will not be saved is the living conditions of so many in Catalonia and wider Europe. Unless of course the historical idea of spreading wealth more fairly and collectively takes off again and our representatives see the merit in it. There are plenty in the shrinking middle class and suffering working classes who are desperately hoping for genuine economic change as a result of these troubled times.
Unfortunately, we can seemingly forget that the European Union will really help out. As progressive pan-European DiEM25’s Yanis Varoufakis recently commented, the Eurogroup’s underlying message to a large majority of Italians, Spaniards, and Greeks ,etc (given that 97% of the €500bn “stimulus” package is new national debt) is that it must all be repaid through further austerity via new cuts to each nation’s budgets and services. This burden of course falls most harshly on the very citizens who can afford it the least.
Out here though, in Penedès, where I live, the farmers in the vineyards continue to go about their business of being in the “business of pleasure,” as I heard a French wine producer call it. After all, the grapes don’t know how to self-isolate. They don’t understand the gravity of the spring they have just sprung up in. And it seems to me that this year their leaves seem bigger and greener, earlier than I’ve ever seen them.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, May 2020 and is dedicated to the memory of Theresa-Eunice “Terry” Parris (1926-2020).]

Sunday, May 10, 2020

"MICRODYNAMICS 2020, Xavier G Solís" -- (Art in a time of Covid)

"The state of emergency confined me to my workshop, where I was putting the final touches on an installation that was to open in Barcelona on March 27, 2020. Coronavirus. I felt the collective pain touching my skin, clouding my heart.

Now in lockdown, I rediscovered a series of unpublished engravings I had made with a steamroller almost ten years ago, when the anti-austerity movement took over the country’s public squares.

Now, they revealed subtle meanings within the universe of the dynamics of abuse of power in which I had conceived them: predators feeding off disorder, sinister economic forces emerging, figures making invisible threats, examples of arrogance and cruelty.

But there are also many examples of creative solidarity. The anonymous bravery of unprecedented sensitivity that comes from looking after one other.

And in the light of coming together in this forced coexistence, I reanalysed the entire series and noticed that the engravings had grown."

More videos of his work here.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Guest post by Antoni Cardona on the Corona virus: "Imagine"

The lockdown that we have been suffering through these days could easily generate a lot of questions about now, of course, but also about the next period of the future.

I think that maybe the first issue is the psychological effort that every individual has to make to maintain normal mental conditions, or at least to try to overcome a number of challenges.

First of all, I’d like to say that I have a lot of confidence in Science in the abstract sense, but the Scientific World gives me very little belief in it because it is very often controlled by political and economic Power. I hope and expect that the mysteries of Coronavirus and its infection of human beings will be clarified in a few months and some treatments and vaccines will probably be discovered but  more in the long term.

 Researchers, health and social care, some government decisions -as people live in confinement or making the face mask compulsory-, all this will help to stabilize the expansion of Covid-19 illness around the world and achieve very low levels of newly affected people and death. We have to take into account the great number of government mistakes and indecisions in some other countries. How long will be needed to finish with Covid-19? What will be the final death toll? How much impoverishment will people have to suffer?

            On the other hand, I don’t trust countries – neither their governments and politicians - nor in global Economy. It’s very well-known that some countries intend to defeat their rivals or enemies, not so much by directly spreading viruses. Instead of that, these countries, generally rich and powerful ones, can try to suffocate their opponent's economy, steal or pollute their natural resources, prevent access to new knowledge and so on.
Moreover, in some supposedly democratic countries, people have their rights limited and the Power is extended, centralised and militarised. All of this is done with the excuse of fighting the Enemy, the Virus.
I’d like to imagine the world, humankind, having the ability to learn the lesson that nature has been given to us. After thousands and thousands of dead people, hundreds of thousands of infected people, millions of people having lost their jobs or seeing their incomes decreased, after all that, we can expect at least two possible ways out. One would be very bad and the other would be excellent.

The evil way out would be that Power in different countries acts as it is defined in the Shock Doctrine [by Naomi Klein.] To take advantage of shocked people (sad, disconcerted, scared or perhaps ill people) by way of the big disaster, then the Power cuts off a lot of social benefits, causing a regression of human rights and democratic values in general. For the people being hit like this it’s very difficult to notice the magnitude of the tragedy that is falling down onto them.

The best way out would consist of people reacting against the pandemic and its associated causes, such as the feeling of depression, fear, general impoverishment and the tendency towards a totalitarian society. How could people lose their fear of the authorities and their orders without being paralysed by the terrible Coronavirus threat? That’s the question.

My wish is that people, confined or not at home, look for imaginative solutions to empower themselves and go back to all kinds of  organisations in different fields and countries.


Born in 1949, Antoni Cardona is a retired doctor, specialised in Psychiatry, who worked in different public health institutions.
At a very young age, he started writing poetry but later made the decision to more often concentrate on creating short stories.
Over a number of years, Antoni trained in various writing techniques at the Aula de Lletres de Barcelona then the Escola d'Escriptura de l'Ateneu, also in the Catalan capital.
He has contributed a story to each of the following literary collections: "Setze Petges" (2004), “Edició Especial” (2011), a food-themed title "Contes per menjar-se'ls" (2015) and “Passió pel conte” (2018).
Antoni has received a number of prizes at literary competitions such as the Narrativa del Col·legi de Metges (medical association.) Other awards for his short stories came from the professionals of the Taulí Hospital in Sabadell and the Crime Fiction Festival of l'Espluga de Francolí.
Desoris endreçats” (“Ordering disorders”) is his first solo publication.


In this book of short stories you will find characters, some of whom are everyday people, and others that are difficult to come across in the streets.
These are characters who are suffering in silence or maybe without being fully aware of their pain and having different ways of coping: irony, indifferently acting in an off-hand manner, making life-changes, feeling desperate and intense hopelessness or even somehow adapting to their disasters. 
There are those as well who attract danger and play with it. The reader will also encounter characters that cause the cruellest suffering and physical hurt with contempt for their victim. 
Watch out too for those who operate using subtle over protection.

Monday, April 20, 2020

"Who owns London's golf courses?"

[Beckenham Place Park, a former golf course turned into a public park by its owner, Lewisham Council.]
"Half the golf courses in Greater London are owned by councils or the Crown Estate, a new investigation by Who Owns England can reveal. 
The findings add further impetus to growing calls for golf courses and other private green spaces to be opened up to the public during the coronavirus crisis, so that there is more space to safely exercise in...
              [Golf courses (red) vs existing public parks & gardens (green) in Greater London.]

The lockdown has highlighted how access to nature is a fundamental human need – there’s mountains of evidence on the physical and mental health benefits of getting outdoors – and the fact that this is a matter of social justice: people in deprived areas have smaller gardens and less access to green space.
In the context of this emerging debate, let’s take a look at who owns London’s golf courses, and whether they could be readily persuaded to open up to a wider public.


To uncover who owns London’s golf courses, I took Ordnance Survey’s Greenspace dataset, extracted just golf courses, clipped this with the GLA boundary, cleaned up a couple of errors in the dataset where polygons overlapped, and measured the area of each course. I then cross-checked the resulting 131 golf courses against Land Registry’s Corporate & Commercial dataset to uncover the owners. The full results are in this Google Spreadsheet.
Here’s the headline findings:
Golf course owners in Greater LondonAcresPercent
Corporate / private5,12245%
Crown Estate8538%
Split 50/50 council & private owner3633%
Unknown ownership:2702%
Total11,310 acres100%
Whilst most of the corporate owners are simply fee-paying golf clubs, there are also some intriguing names, including:
  • Harrow School;
  • Dulwich College, who have commendably already opened up their sports fields for the public;
  • Imperial Tobacco’s pension fund, owners of Selsdon Park golf course (who knew Big Tobacco cared about outdoor exercise?);
  • and Du Parcq (Jersey) Ltd, owners of Brockley Hill Golf Park, registered in the offshore tax haven of Jersey.
The Crown Estate own golf courses at Hampton Court, Richmond Park, and Eltham, amongst others.
But to me the most interesting owners are the councils. Hillingdon, Enfield and Barnet are the top three London councils who own the most acres of golf course. And Bexley, Brent, Bromley, the City of London Corporation, Croydon, Ealing, Harrow, Havering, Hounslow, Kingston, Lee Valley, Lewisham, Redbridge, Richmond, Sutton, Waltham Forest – together they own thousands of acres of golf courses. They could all be opening this up immediately, if they chose to, to create more space for safer exercise. So why don’t they?
If you’d like to see this change, please sign and share my petition!"
Source here.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Video: "ADULTS IN THE ROOM" (Trailer of Costa-Gavras' film of Yanis Varoufakis' book)

"Behind closed doors, a human tragedy plays out.

A universal theme: a story of people trapped in an inhuman network of power.

The brutal circle of the Eurogroup meetings, who impose on Greece the dictatorship of austerity, where humanity and compassion are utterly disregarded.

A claustrophobic trap with no way out, exerting pressures on the protagonists which finally divide them. A tragedy in the Ancient Greek sense: the characters are not good or evil, but driven by the consequences of their own conception of what it is right to do.

A tragedy for our very modern time."

WATCH the trailer here.