Sunday, November 28, 2021

New German government calls for European ban on biometric mass surveillance

Sunday, November 21, 2021

VIDEO: Evading eviction in one of Europe's most densely populated cities (L’Hospitalet de Llobregat)


"On the border with Barcelona, L’Hospitalet de Llobregat is one of the most densely populated cities in the EU and home to a large migrant community. 

Dedicated to protecting the most vulnerable members of this fringe society, a group of young volunteers set up Sindicat, a renters union that is working relentlessly to counteract the housing crisis engulfing the often undocumented residents." 

VIDEO here.

Read more from director Irene Baqué about the genesis of the group, and the documentary, here

Thursday, November 11, 2021

"Death cafes" -- An interview with Catalonia convenor Jordi Abad Lalanza

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today, Nov. 2021]

Q. What do you think is the most important thing people should know about Death Cafes?

They are informal gatherings where we talk about death related topics. It is a space of complete trust. It’s non-therapeutic and we let our thoughts and emotions flow.

Q. This year is the tenth anniversary of Death Cafes at an international level, with the first one in London. How many have been held in Catalonia and when did they start?

It is my personal initiative. I started in February 2019 and we had 12 meetings up to March 2020, when we stopped due to the pandemic. Subsequently, I have held 7 more virtual meetings.

Q. Why did you decide to organise these meetings?

My personal story is that I’ve had several losses that have marked my vision of life and death. From 2007 to 2015, I’ve been attending oncology patients at the end of life in their homes. Then in 2015 I finished my Social Worker studies and later I did a Masters in palliative care. I am currently working in end of life care. My major concern is that this society does not talk about death. It’s a taboo and I want to break this taboo, inviting people to do that.

Q. What kind of people come to death cafes and for what reasons?

Usually the average age is 40 and up, but we have also had young people. There are many reasons, mainly just curiosity, but also there’s interest in talking about death and not being judged for it. It’s not a grief management group, but people find that they’re respected with the freedom to talk about death and everything related to it.

Q. How do you run your cafes?

As an organiser, you should have questions or topics prepared to be presented. That makes the session more dynamic. The role of the moderator is to ensure that the conversation is safe and that everyone can participate, and the most important thing is to never be judged for your thoughts or emotions.

Q. At last count there have been 13,099 Death Cafes in 80 countries, why do you think they have been so popular? 

There is always an interest in everything to do with death, as the last taboo. It is true that in British and American culture, these encounters are easier. In Mediterranean culture I think there is much more reticence.

Q. One attendee at a meeting in the US said that "most of the sessions are full of people laughing and having fun.... You meet strangers and talk about an intimate topic that most people can't even talk about with their family." Do the meetings in Catalonia actually include fun?

There are moments of everything, of attentive listening, of seriousness, but there can also be moments of humour and positive expression. People also enjoy themselves and share joy as well as funny situations about death.

Q. In a broader context, what do you think have been the impacts of the pandemic on bereavement, grief and funerals, and the effect of these changes on mental health and well-being?

I think that not being able to say the usual goodbyes to our loved ones will make grieving more complicated to manage. Death has been visualised, but in the end if it hasn't happened to you, it will be statistics. I think it affects our mental health and wellbeing, but I think society penalises people who have suffered a loss and bereavement will be poorly managed.

Q. Do you think there’s really such a thing as the much-talked-about “closure” after death? Is a good death possible?

A good death is how you want it to happen, so it is important to think, talk and write down how you want it to be if the time comes (advance directives). It’s a very personal thing and can be confusing but for me it’s being able to be with my loved ones, to have them respect my decisions, to have control of the situation and to be able to leave with everything spoken about and with a lot of love. There is never closure if we truly have love for that person. At the beginning it is an intense pain but as time goes by, this person remains in our memory, not with pain but with gratitude for having known and enjoyed him or her.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Moroccan-Catalan writer Najat El Hachmi talks to Mona Eltahawy about freedom


"The daughters of Muslim families in Europe must face different challenges to defend their individual freedoms and their emancipation as women.

On the one hand, the patriarchal traditions that come from their country of origin, intimately linked with religion.

On the other, the onslaughts of racism from the far right, which discriminates against them whilst calling for them to be relegated to second place as foreigners.

Finally, there are two revived phenomena that make the process more difficult: Islamic fundamentalism and a certain relativism. In the face of all this, what they want is a genuine freedom, unconditioned by origin, class or identity."

See more from original source here.

Monday, November 1, 2021

New centre in Barcelona for Plural Masculinities


"The Plural Masculinities Centre is a new municipal facility which is opening to foster a diverse, positive and plural perspective of masculinity, helping to generate different collective perceptions from the strictest and outdated meaning of “being a man” or “behaving like a man”. 

Greater flexibility in the perception of masculinity paves the way for promoting healthier and more equal relationships and doing away with binary-based stereotypes.

The new centre is an open space for citizens and will carry out its projects in conjunction with organisations linked to masculinities, through three areas of action:

  • Education: boost awareness among young people through work with the education community, taking into account formal and non-formal education alike. This action must allow for work on different models of masculinity with children and teenagers, and also to address parent models and ways of exercising masculinity with parents and adults.
  • Culture: foster the creation of pieces and spaces at cultural facilities in the city which address this area, with projects which allow them to reach the general public and open up the debate on the problems of hegemonic masculinity.
  • Sport: this is a social sector where the stereotypical role of masculinity has a strong presence, meaning work will be geared towards collaboration with sports organisations to conduct training and awareness campaigns.

The centre is located at Av. Marquès de l’Argentera, 22, and has a team of ten specialists. The premises include a large multi-purpose room and shared facilities with the Men’s Support Service for the Promotion of Non-Violent Relations (SAH).The annual budget for the new centre is 1.3 million euros.

The idea behind the opening of the Plural Masculinities Centre is to develop public policies on gender which include men and offer reflection from the perspective of masculinities in two ways: firstly, to highlight the benefits for men in the construction of positive and respectful masculinities, and secondly to get men to commit men to the change towards equal gender relationships.

Debate on masculinities with the Decidim platform

In a move to facilitate open debate with the general public, a specific section has been created on the municipal participation website Decidim Barcelona, to work on masculinities jointly and connect local people with experts and organisations in this area. Initially, the project has three different spaces: introduction and perspective, open debates, and city agenda and resources on masculinities. Campaigns and communication initiatives will also be designed to reach out to young people via social media."

Read more from source at Barcelona's local government here.

Friday, October 22, 2021

"More than teaching" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

[Photo of a 1-to-1 lesson by ANDREU PUIG]

Dear reader,


It seems I have misled you and that I was wrong about something I suggested in this column last year. 

In an article titled “House closed” that was published in November, I wrote about how across Catalonia the International House chain of language schools folded and this meant that the owners made a decision to sack all 300 employees. 

That left them still only technically employed because they were all being unpaid but also unable to claim unemployment benefits.


This was in addition to the shutting of Merit School in Barcelona and several others I used to work for. (I won’t name them here.) 

With these separate closures creating what I saw as a collective tragedy, I inferred  without actually saying it  that from the Covid pandemic, the entire English-as-a-Foreign-Language (EFL) industry was highly likely to get flushed down capitalism’s stinking toilet. Not quite.


What is the case though is that teachers who still have jobs are being forced to do more for less.


Most people’s idea of a teacher is someone who stands in front of a blackboard or whiteboard and talks at a class. That’s what they see; just as what I see of a nurse is someone who walks into a hospital room and checks on me when I’m a patient. 

Of course, there’s a great deal more to it for anyone in both those jobs.


“Whenever two or more are gathered in education’s name” EFL teachers will usually talk about how we are practically social workers/counselors or even a kind of friend to our students. 

This is one aspect of my work that I really enjoy and it’s especially popular in 1to1 classes where some students divulge the most personal things without any colleagues around. Last week, I faced a student in an online class in tears about her recent divorce. I’d known her for two weeks.


In the recent past, I’ve also listened to male students confess their infidelities and tell me how they’re hiding ongoing affairs. I’ve had a female student come to class and spend repeated hours filling me in on how her husband manipulates her and tracks her movements. 

These are a few of the more dramatic examples but a normal part of the job is hearing and absorbing complaints about coworkers, bosses, or the government. We are seen by plenty of students as educators but also as people who can be trusted because we’re not a fixed part of their workplace. 

At other times, it seems we’re like travelling salespeople who visit your office to spruik the health-giving properties of the English language. All this and much more.


But we are doing more, for less, as I said before. Pay rates have been pushed down even further by ‘client’ companies who dictate to smaller ‘academy’ language schools from what their budgets supposedly allow them to afford in these hard times. 

This financial burden has often been passed on to teachers who, already trapped in a low-paid industry, are being paid an industry standard contract rate of around 15 euros an hour. Before taxes. 

When my family and I moved here in 2006 ago I was being paid 21 euros an hour at an international secondary school. (A house cleaner in Catalonia is generally paid around 10 euros an hour this year. In cash. No taxes but also no social security.)


Precious few EFL academies pay higher than the norm and plenty of employers pay even lower, now incorrectly claiming it’s cheaper for teachers to work at home via online classrooms. 

And travel costs for petrol, trains, metro and buses going from the inner city out to Sant Just or Martorell or Terrassa? That’s been quietly forgotten about or scoffed at when requested.


I’m also doing more admin for the 5 different companies I currently work for. I have a couple of better paid private classes and I’m happy to have work again after a barren summer. 

But I’m not happy to do at least an hour every day of putting class data into each academy’s separate system. That’s on top of planning teaching sessions or writing student reports: all unpaid tasks totaling up to another hour every day.


And here’s a cost comparison for historical context. The price of petrol has gone up by 50% since we moved here in 2006. I don’t think I need to tell you about the jump in costs of rents in Barcelona or the price of electricity going up by 36% in the previous 12 months.


More work for less? Oh, yes.


[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, October 2021.]

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Severe Poverty Rises From 4 Million To 6 Million in Spain


"In Spain, four million people were living in severe poverty in 2018. Now there are more than six million. According to the Caritas and Foessa Foundation report, the impact of the pandemic is “devastating” and more than 11 million people now live in a situation of “social exclusion”…’"

Of course we can't ignore the global capitalist system which is now in a state of new techno-feudalism as a major reason.

Read more from source here.

[News story first found at the superb aggregator Business over Tapas. ]

Sunday, October 10, 2021

A winter of malcontent in Europe

I support nationalisation of energy industries because...

"The current energy crisis highlights a lack of robustness in the system. 

Many countries have reduced their coal and nuclear capabilities as part of political and environmental plans. Together France, Germany, Spain, and Belgium alone have pledged to close 32 nuclear reactors by 2035. Thus reducing their possible backup energy sources...

The crisis is already here and we’re starting to see the effects. Governments are already stepping in to [supposedly!] protect their citizens. 

France is going to give a one-off payment of €100 to those struggling to pay their energy bills. Greece is looking to provide subsidies. Italy is offering a support package worth €3 billion. The UK is going to increase the cap on the amount that energy providers can charge their customers to try and keep the market afloat."

And Spain...?

Read more at original source, The Good Information Project : here.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

"Berliners To Vote On Expropriating Housing From Powerful Landlords"

 "Berlin’s efforts to lower the fast-rising rents in Germany’s capital city have led to a referendum which could expropriate and socialize almost a quarter of a million apartments primarily from Deutsche Wohnen, the largest real estate company in Europe and one of the largest companies in Germany."

Read more here.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

"So, how was your summer?" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine


When people ask me this question I’ll be able to say it was unique. I had some novel experiences. 

Because the Spanish government doesn’t seem to have the ability to get its Social Security department to pay welfare benefits properly, I was one of the millions of unemployed who received nothing from them.

Like most private (or non-government) teachers in August I had no income.

This meant that the only state support for my household of three adults was a voucher for 100 Euros that I could spend in our little village’s only food shop. Still, I’m grateful for that. The town council helped.

Of course, it didn’t stop me worrying about the possibility of losing our house. That’s another new feature of 2021 but not confined to summertime.

What else? Well, we didn’t travel anywhere. We couldn’t afford it. Same as last year and the year before that. Instead, I spent hour after hour looking for the best place to sell some of my wife’s inherited jewellery. My mother in law’s gold bracelets paid for some of our mortgage.

I also put some time into a new hobby: persecuting myself and my wife and son to only use electrical appliances during the low-charge periods of the day, 2pm to 6pm. 

Of course, it didn’t work. Our electricity bill has gone up anyway. But we’ve almost stopped eating meat and drinking tea (the real, expensive stuff) so that might help even things out, do you think?

But surely I did something worthwhile? Yes. For my one glass of it a day, I found a bottle of wine I can actually drink that costs less than 1 euro. Also, I kept beavering away on my first novel. It’s getting close to finished. Nice. I watched my son with his girlfriend and I was proud of him. Also very nice. (She’s moved in so now there’s four of us.) 

As well,I walked here and there. It was free. Nice, again. It meant I discovered new patches of nature and parts of nearby towns that I hadn’t explored before: Pacs del Penedes and it’s Roman aqueduct in the medieval shade of a leafy forest, the thickest vines on the side of unfashionable Santa Margarita i Els Monjos and yet more wonderful Roman arches next to Sant Jaume dels Domenys.

All those in silence and with no one else around to distract me.  I went home and learned a lot reading Doris Lessing then dreamed about going to a restaurant again one day. It’s been more than 18 months since we did that.

On top of those fun and games, I enjoyed the heat of the sun. I always do. There was a part of me though that sometimes thought of that melancholy Bob Dylan line. “It’s not like the sun that used to be.”  

In short, while on a reluctant holiday, I tasted the stale, acrid taste of relative first-world poverty, or at least the sensation of sliding hundreds of metres towards it from what was once a comfortable middle-class existence. Surely, this is “The New Adventure” of the 21st century.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, Sept. 2021.]

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Brazil resistance documentary launch by Helios Molina in Barcelona


Filmaker Helios Molina says, "I'm presenting/launching a documentary along with a debate at the Athenaeum Enciclopedic at C/- Reina Amalia 38 (Raval) Barcelona on 30 Sept at 18.30. It is about how the extreme right entered Brazil and will be with various artists from Rio de Janeiro and the resistance. The doc is 1h08 + debate following on how to cope."

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Another 5 Star Review for "Slow Travels in Unsung Spain"


Reader Review 

Reviewed in the United States on August 31, 2021

"I enjoyed reading this book by someone who obviously loves Spain. His observations are 
insightful, and particularly to me because it is the view of someone outside the culture, looking 
in. These are not small towns for the most part, and many are off the tourist track, so the author
is giving us a unique view.

It is a little wordy and more literary references than I prefer, so I would like to see tighter editing
in future works, but still a valuable read."

See this Amazon reader review here.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Timecheck (from Oakland, CA United States.) I do love 
Spain, most of the time...But sometimes she makes you disillusioned too!

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Podcast: "Catalonia: Squatters, Eviction and Extortion" [Crossing Continents]

A balanced and moving podcast with a real sting in the tail.

"Spain has a history of squatting. 

After the property crash of 2008 many families were forced to occupy homes that did not belong to them because they could not pay their mortgages. 

Now a darker side to ‘okupacion’ has emerged. 

Organised crime has seen an opportunity. Some flats in Barcelona have become ‘narcopisos’ - properties used to process or sell drugs. 

Other empty properties have been ‘sub-let’ by gangs to families who cannot afford a commercial rent. And the pandemic has spawned a new commercial model – extortion. 

These are cases where squatters occupy a property and demand a ‘ransom’ from the owner of several thousand Euros before they will leave. 

Enter the controversial ‘desokupa’ companies – firms run by boxers and bouncers who will evict unwanted 'tenants'."

Producer / Presenter: Linda Pressly Producer / Presenter in Spain: Esperanza Escribano Editor: Bridget Harney

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

"Books about Spain" -- a listing

I'm proud that my book Slow Travels in Unsung Spain has just been included on on a "list intended for those who want an overview of Spain and the Spanish, particularly directed at those who are considering moving to the country."

The full list of selected books can be seen here.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

A living in Spain guide


[Image of Catalonia:]

I was sent this Spain expat guide recently by their editors. 

It's a mixture of quite useful links, info about relocating, daily life and the bleedin' obvious . 

Worth a quick look if you want some basics and a bit of specific advice.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

"iSpy with my little eye: Apple’s u-turn on privacy sets a precedent and threatens everyone’s security"

Image credit: Electronic Frontier Foundation (CC BY 3.0 US)
"Apple has just announced significant changes to their privacy settings for messaging and cloud services: first, it will scan all images sent by child accounts; second, it will scan all photos as they are being uploaded to iCloud. 

With these changes, Apple is threatening everyone’s privacy, security and confidentiality...

EDRi [[European Digital Rights] and other civil society groups have been warning of the risks of these proposed technological ‘solutions’. 

Despite the laudable goal to protect children, these changes in fact introduce measures that make everyone less safe by creating a ‘backdoor’ into our private lives. 

With Apple blessing these privacy-invasive technologies and the adoption of the recent interim CSAM legislation, we are deeply concerned that these practices will be normalised and promoted further by other companies and by policy-makers. We call on Apple to abandon these proposed changes and to step up against corporate and government surveillance."

Read more here.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Maria says not so fast! -- A voice from rural Spain

 (Definitely worth reading to the end...)

"Last Wednesday, I went to refill my blood pressure medication. The pharmacist told me that the prescription had run out, and that I needed to renew it. So, when I came home, I went online and tried to make a phone appointment to renew my medications. But there was no opening until today, Tuesday. 

Last night, I got a call from a phone number with so many digits, that it was either the health service, or the bank. It was the local clinic, telling me that my appointment to renew my prescriptions was cancelled, and that it would be rescheduled for the 3rd of August, next Tuesday. The problem? There were no doctors in the afternoon this week. 

Excuse me? No doctors? There are no substitutes for doctors who are on a much-needed vacation? Or who are sick themselves and can't come to work? Exactly. There are no subsititute doctors. At the end of July. With tourists teeming all over the place. With the probability of more than one serious accident happening in the afternoon. Oh, but the receptionist (substituting, himself, for the regular one) explained that in that case there was a doctor on call. One doctor..."

Read on here.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

"Let there be profits" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine


September 14, 2010, 5pm. I’m pacing in little circles outside an office on Carrer Igualada in Vilafranca del Penedes.

I’m the last person in a queue.

There’s half a dozen people in front of me and we are waiting for the door to this electricity company to open. (Does it really matter which energy company? Is there any real difference between them?)

Finally, we are inside the tiny waiting room. The four seats are taken so I stand next to another customer. We are “esteemed clients” a sign on the wall says.

After 20 minutes I get a seat and after another 25 minutes I am sitting in front of a harassed employee named Xavier. We have come to know each other’s faces quite well over the last 6 weeks since I’ve had to persist in my visits there every week. He is always polite, sympathetic and vaguely sad. He shrugs a lot. I tap the bones under my eye. (They’re called sockets too aren’t they?)

November 2, 2010. The electricity in the house we bought (with a bank mortgage) in a small town near Vilafranca back in August is flicked into life. Here it’s called ‘la luce’ or ‘light.’ Let there be light. Please.

Fast forward almost a decade to May 4, 2020. A few months into the Covid emergency, this power company reports “a more than doubling of first-quarter net profit to 844 million euros compared with 363 million in the same period last year.”

January 2021. Media report: “Electricity bills increased by 26.7% in the first days of the year compared to the same period of 2020, according to consumers' rights association Facua.” This follows frequent power outages across Catalonia, with municipalities affected including Barcelona's lowest income neighbourhoods of Raval, Badalona and Torre Baró. 

June 5, 2021. A demonstration in the Catalan capital’s Plaça de Catalunya is in full voice. The gathered are protesting what they say is clearly going to be a jump in electricity prices coming from a new peak and off-peak billing system.  A media source says: “The increase could be 8.5% for some households but as high as 27.3% for others depending on the supplier.”

The Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) is arguing that small households and businesses are likely to suffer the most. Those who work at home during the day (including this journalist) are also at risk of increased energy costs. Social media jokes about ironing after midnight don’t seem especially funny to me.

But a promise has been made. There will be “savings for 19 million consumers already on a plan without hourly rates.” To me, this is about as believable as their other promise. The 9 million customers who had hourly based pricing will supposedly now have their bills rise by only around €2 a month. 

What seems more probable to me is that with the Covid 19 pandemic starting to show signs of fading, the three big energy companies are using this time as a good excuse to create a so-called “new normal.” Apparently, normal service (ie. poor quality service) is to be resumed as soon as possible, except at higher prices for millions of consumers who are unable to afford it. 

There is of course a simple solution to the above. It’s called nationalisation. A government, elected by a majority of voters, runs an infrastructure system on behalf of all the population, for the populations’ sole benefit, not for investor profit. It would guarantee lower prices. 

Radical? I don’t think so. It’s been done plenty of times before.


[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, July 2021.]