Sunday, November 27, 2022

“Ugly Spain” – a book that provokes


"Why doesn’t the 1978 Constitution of Spain include the word “landscape”? 

Why doesn’t a Coastline Conservatory such as the French one exist in Spain

Why were more than 1,000 beautiful villages catalogued in 1967 in Spain, and now there are barely 100 are left? 

Why have democracy and the system of Autonomous Regions been seriously harmful to the landscape, and as a consequence, ruined in an irreparable manner the collective imagination?

España fea is a brillant study of the atrocities committed against the Spanish heritage from the end of the Franco dictatorship to today. 

With rigour and sensitivity it gives a detailed overview of all the absurdities undertaken on the Mediterranean coasts [from] the North, passing through “emptied Spain” and Madrid’s urban-planning disaster, and it analyses the causes that led to this cultural catastrophe. 

It reveals the strategy invented by ignorant and corrupt politicians and developers, with the complicit silence of a demobilized guild, that of architects, plus the indifference and ignorance of the intellectuals and the media. 

Nevertheless, the book also analyzes in detail some examples of a work well done, connecting with the best European tradition, in cities such as Barcelona or Santiago de Compostela, or in villages such as Albarracín or Vejer de la Frontera.

Starting from numerous interviews and uniting the journalistic chronicle, travel book and political essay, Andrés Rubio presents a truly original text full of nuances. Analyzing also the cases of France, Germany and Italy, it carries a Europeanist and progressive message in defense of the best qualities of the public, advocating for land-use planning as an essential weapon to affirm democracy."

Publisher's summary above found at Literary Rambles.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

"Europe’s best countries to drive in"

"Switzerland is Europe’s best country to drive in, new research has revealed.

Spain comes in seventh place, with 627 cars per 1,000 people, low road traffic deaths with 3.15 per 100,000 people and a good road quality with a score of 5.7 all adding up to a driving score of 76.36 out of 100.

The study by the International Drivers Association analysed several factors surrounding driving in Europe and scored 33 countries based on how congested the roads are, the quality of the roads, petrol prices, and how safe driving is.

It found that Switzerland is the best European country to drive in, with the country scoring highest on the list for its safety, with only 1.71 road traffic deaths per 100,000 people..."

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

History under foot

"Here lived Damia Aleixendri Curto, born 1909, exiled, deported 1941, Mauthausen, assassinated, 25.3.1942." 

(My photo of a plaque I found in a street pavement in Vilafranca del Penedes, Barcelona prov. 2022.)

More details here (in Catalan:)

Saturday, November 12, 2022

"Greater than skaters" -- My latest article for Catalonia Today magazine


A presentation at the design studio Casa de Carlota for creatives with special needs.

Climate change, habitat destruction, loss of biodiversity, ocean plastics, food insecurity and the list goes on. What can one person do? 

That’s a question that John French has been asking himself for nearly four decades.

He moved to Spain over 10 years ago and says he has found an answer that came from a most unlikely place. John is an artist and teacher now based in Catalonia. He lives with his wife and two children in the Poblenou neighbourhood of Barcelona, which he calls “the street skating capital of the world.” He is coordinator of MOSS Foundation BCN and a board member of MOSS Foundation Australia.

John grew up in the 1970s in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city. About 15 years ago, a group of skaters who are now in their 40s and 50s (but still skateboarding) would meet every week to ride the city’s new skateparks. It became known as MOSS or Melbourne Old School Skate Sessions. They had a water project in Africa and would use any money they made from events, competitions or t-shirt sales to build installations to collect rainwater for rural communities in Swaziland, now known as Eswatini.

MOSS is a completely volunteer organisation: no one gets paid and there are no overheads, no office or admin costs and 100% goes to the cause. It connects one community – that of skaters – with communities in developing countries by heeding their calls for support. MOSS works to meet their basic need for safe drinking water by using the talent and imagination of artists in Australia, Spain and beyond. By pulling these strands together, MOSS has funded over 25 water projects.

John says: “Every few months I visit the local skate shops and collect old decks [the plank-like part that the skaters stand on] no matter how trashed they are. I cycle home with 10 or so boards strapped to my bike rack and they are stored and recycled at the Instituto Barri Besos high school near La Mina in Barcelona. The school director Oscar Tarrega has been fantastically supportive. I have also encountered wonderful people like Wagner Gallo Rodrigues from Al Carrer skate shop who escaped gang culture in his native Brazil through skateboarding and managed to make it to Europe. He feels so indebted to skating that he is keen to put something back. He helps out preparing boards for the artists. Sara Millan also plays an important role liaising with the artists and delivering the decks.”

The process is this: the old skateboard decks that would otherwise go to landfill get restored in the school’s woodwork room. Usually the decks are so trashed that they are covered with a canvas – this material is also recycled from the folding sun shades from the city’s café terraces – then, once covered, or sanded, the decks are primed with gesso, labelled and ready for the artists to use.

After the first BCN show last year at Urban Addict, things are now set for a larger event opening on November 25 at Barcelona street art gallery, Base Elements, in the Gothic Quarter. Despite the 12 hour time difference, the Barcelona show will coincide with the Melbourne exhibition with decks specially created by 150 international artists to be sold online using an app. Once the bidding starts it then takes part all around the world. Some decks will sell for as low as 90 euros while those crafted by more established names can sell for thousands of dollars.

A UN report listed MOSS as the principal organisation supporting people in Swaziland in their struggle to adapt to the climate crisis. “So,” John says, “it seems that we’re doing something right and that in itself is empowering.”

MOSS are on Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin @mossfoundationaskaters. They respond to all enquiries.

(This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine (Nov. 2022) and was co-authored with John French.)

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Video: "Chaos in the UK! with Yanis Varoufakis..."

"Rishi Sunak has taken over as British PM, the richest-ever person to hold the job. He’s already promising austerity for the poorest, with public services like the NHS in danger as never before.
Sunak’s appointment comes after the disastrous Liz Truss (who was outlasted by a lettuce at 44 days), and the scandal-ridden premiership of Boris Johnson. What can British people – and those around Europe – expect from this latest (unelected) Tory government? And with a Labour Party incapable of representing common people, should progressives be adding to calls for early elections? "

Sunday, October 30, 2022

"Ana Gutiérrez, a forgotten resistance hero"

My friend, the wonderful British writer and journalist David Baird shared his knowledge of the maquis in the 
Frigiliana area of Malaga province (where he has lived since the 1970s) to help with this radio documentary.

From the source:

"The protagonists of history do not always appear in textbooks. Some have joined the ranks of those who anonymously give the best of themselves to change the course of life. This is the case of Ana Gutiérrez, "la Tangerina," tireless fighter for freedom in the darkest of the Francoist night.

RNE [Spain's Radio National] explores her eventful life and her whose determination in the defense of her ideals, like something out of a movie script.

Born in Tangier, Ana Gutiérrez was already a member of the Unified Socialist Youth before she came of age as an adult. For this she was arrested and paid for it with two years in prison and exile.

Forced to leave her hometown, she took refuge in Malaga, where she continued her militancy and took on more risky assignments, including spying and propagandist. Another two years in prison were the price to pay for her insistence on maintaining her struggle.

After being freed, Tangerina returned to the underground, this time as a supporter of the maquis settled in the mountains of the Axarquia in Malaga. There she also experienced a romance with Roberto, the legendary leader of the anti-Francoist guerrillas. For her it meant again two years in jail; but for Roberto, the [execution] wall.

After leaving prison, Ana Gutiérrez, still young, decided to rebuild her life, went into exile in Switzerland, got married and started a family. 

She lived there until, after her retirement, she returned to Spain and went to live in Nerja, in a house whose terrace overlooks the mountains where she risked her life for her ideals.

This documentary, with the agreement of Ricardo Aguilera, has had the invaluable collaboration of Salvador Magaz, son of Ana Gutiérrez, who has preserved a valuable body of documentation, key to the development of our work, and which is already the object of desire of historians. 

We are also accompanied by José María Azuaga, professor and researcher of the anti-Francoist guerrilla. 

In addition, we have counted with neighbors in the area and experts in the history of the maquis, as Adolfo Moyano or the British journalist and writer David Baird, both based in Frigiliana, who expand our knowledge about the guerrilla and its international context. 

The writer Mariví Ledesma, author of "La memoria olvidada" (Forgotten Memory), explains the harshness of those years. Vicky Fernández, neighbor of El Acebuchal, one of the villages that suffered the most repression during the war against the Maquis, gives us her testimony, as well as other elders of the area such as José Ávila, from Cómpeta, and Sebastián Martín, from Frigiliana, who keep a vivid memory of all that.

Thanks to all of them we have been able to recreate the circumstances in which Ana Gutiérrez, the Tangerina, wrote her story of courage and dedication that does not appear in any book."

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Sunday, October 23, 2022

"Early doors day" -- A poem

 (This poem was first published in Burrow here at Old Water Rat’s Publishing )

No photo description available.

soft lines 
of fog trees

not the desert
but quiet like the desert

we look at the stars to see 
what we come from

body not yet the enemy
light slowly befriends you

Monday, October 17, 2022

"It has now come to this" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

Cars and vans parked in a street. QUIM PUIG.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, Oct. 2022.]

The following is based on current and factual information…

How would you fancy sleeping in a car or a van?

Rather than the now antiquated 20th century idea of having your own bed in something as outdated as a house, for the price of two euros a day our new business in Barcelona will fulfill this fantasy for you. And for only 60 euros a month on a prime real-estate public street!

Naturally, there are those in the city council who want to curb your right to get your shut-eye shut out of buildings but they just don’t understand an adventurous spirit. Don’t let them tell you what to do and where you can and can’t do it. You work hard every day and you deserve what we call a “micro space” to match your macro dreams.

We are opening in a small, quiet and almost-deserted square in the Sant Andreu district. In the same location you can rub shoulders with customers of our beehive flats. On top of all that, for a mere 90 euros per month you can go inside, hang out on a plastic chair for the entire day, have a shower, store food, use the complimentary microwave, or even wash your clothes. Now that’s what we call livin’, baby!

Yes, it’s true that those small-minded lefty bureaucrats in the council have assured everybody that our operation won’t actually be legal but in the meantime you can make us your home. We’ve traded in the semi-legal shadows for years so we’re at home with that, even if you’re not!

OK, it’s not exactly what most people call home and it’s temporary but let’s not quibble about semantics. You need a mattress and we can rent you one. That’s just free-market capitalism in operation and who should stand in the way of your good night’s sleep. So, wind up the windows, click the locks on the doors and snuggle up for sweet dreams!

Oh, and another thing that you don’t need to concern yourself with. We admit that municipal tow trucks have already taken some of the sleeper vehicles away but this is just a minor inconvenience. In the unlikely event we are discriminated against again in this way, we’ll refund half of your fee and find you another vehicle to nod off in. You can’t say fairer than that, can you?

As for our premium accommodation we even have a waiting list for others to live in homes that are no bigger than three square metres. We acknowledge that at the moment those are also prohibited in Barcelona but they’ve got them in Japan and “anything-goes Madrid” so why not here too?

I know you’ve heard stories of paper thin walls and hearing other people’s alarms going off and being kept awake by neighbour’s snoring…but just relax. Humans can get used to anything. Eventually.

The truth is as simple. You just don’t have a right to human-sized accommodation anymore. Society can’t deliver this to everyone so some people need to learn that they aren’t lucky enough to be comfortable, secure or well-housed. A lie-down bed isn’t a right, it’s a privilege!

Monday, October 3, 2022

Destinations and returns

In Slow Travels in Unsung Spain, I needed a destination. 

One of the reasons I wrote the book was this man, the great author, Antonio Muñoz Molina. 

In Andalucia's Ubeda, his first hometown, I talked to one of his family then turned and headed to my own home in Catalonia. 

The long way.

(Read more of my latest book here.)

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Baldwin's Barcelona -- My latest article for Catalonia Today magazine

(Photo: Allan Warren)

The book must always come before the author,” said Nobel Prize winner, VS Naipaul. 

Unlike another genius such as James Baldwin, Napaul spent his entire brilliant, vicious life seemingly trying to prove himself wrong.

For Baldwin, words came first. By becoming a child preacher in his native New York City he avoided the Harlem ghetto.

He also soon found the power of images and a sense of himself as gay and American, an American “negro”: the mid 20th century polite English word for “black”.

(I remember the shock of hearing the other, offensive ‘N-word’ when my cousin in Sydney used it as the name for his pet dog. I was seven years old at the time but even then somehow I knew how wrong that was.)

On a wider tour of Iberia, Baldwin (who died in rural France in 1987) came to Barcelona six decades ago last May.

He met the poet Jaime Gil de Biedma and stayed in his basement in Carrer Muntaner – “blacker than my reputation,” he called it – and they spent seven frenzied days together with [current mayor of Hijar] Luis Marquesán.

Biedma wrote in his diary: “Life, since Monday, when I met Jimmy Baldwin, has been so hectic that today I find myself in a state of real moral and physical exhaustion, aggravated by the intellectual dullness that comes with an alcoholic regime such as the one I have been following.”

According to Marquesán’s biographer, Miguel Dalmau, they went to the picnic areas of Montjuïc, “where they saw the landscape of misery, the shantytowns in disarray on the mountainside.” Ultimately it all led to Baldwin’s new friend Biedma questioning himself about whether he was a coward.

Despite the stimulating week, it seems fair to say that the Catalan capital was a place of mixed fortunes for Baldwin.

As reported in this magazine in October 2019, the publisher, Lumen, “had asked Barcelona photographer Oriol Maspons to advise on publishing the book ‘Nothing Personal’ by James Baldwin and Richard Avedon, but his advice was ignored.

Hurt, he and other photographers published a signed ad in the magazine Destino, criticising the indifference shown towards a masterpiece dealing with the US’ racist and classist system.”

Fortunately though, one of Baldwin’s books, ‘Beale Street Blues’ has finally found its way into a Catalan translation, thanks to the publisher Edicions 1984 and the work of Oriol Ampuero.

He launched it along with professor and writer Josep-Anton Fernàndez on June 13 at the Sants bookshop La Inexplicable.

Baldwin’s work, like so many others, was censored in Spain during the Franco years, but Barcelona played another part in his local history when the US writer Nicholas Boggs was a recent writer-in-residence at Jiwar on Carrer Astúries (founded by two Barcelona residents, Mireia Estrada Gelabart and Moroccan-Canadian Ahmed Ghazali). Boggs spent his time co-editing and writing the introduction to a new edition of Baldwin’s ‘Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood.’

He is also continuing work on his manuscript in progress about love and race in Baldwin’s life and work at the Department of English at New York University.

I share Boggs’ fixation. It knocked me sideways when I read Baldwin’s novel, ’Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone’, during lockdown in spring 2020 and I’ve barely left his words untouched since then.

Reading James Baldwin (or listening to his captivating voice) is like having a fogged-up window wiped clean. Now the view can be seen for what it is, whether picturesque or hideous.

Baldwin’s penetrating work, too, is now starting to be seen more and more for what it is, both in Catalonia and across the wider planet.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, Sept. 2022.]

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Yet another ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ reader review of my latest book


Isidra says:

"This is an unusual travel book...

Being a Spaniard myself, I really enjoyed the mix of literary musings, historical facts and sightseeing that Hetherington offers...

As the title says, it's a slow kind of travel, one that allows for immersion and a nuance, very personal travelogue that mixes reflection, description and awe. 

It made me eager to start traveling by train!"

[Read the full Goodreads reader review here.]

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

"Unlimited Barcelona" -- 360 degree views that show the city from on high


Enjoying the great views (and later a glass of cava sparkling wine) at Unlimited Barcelona in Plaça Urquinaona.

Highly recommended! 

(Full disclosure: We were given a free visit and drink because of my journalism work.)

Saturday, August 27, 2022

El Cid lives on in small-town Catalonia

4 surprising tributes stamped into power-poles next to vines on the edge of town, Sant Cugat Sesgarrigues (where I live.)

El Cid (1045 – July 10, 1099), whose birth name was Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (or Bibar), is a Spanish national hero, a mercenary soldier who fought for the Spanish king Alfonso VII to liberate parts of Spain from the Almoravid dynasty and eventually captured the Muslim caliphate of Valencia and ruled his own kingdom. 

...He [also] fought for the Huddid dynasty for almost ten years, scoring significant victories against both Muslim and Christian foes."

Monday, August 22, 2022

"So, how was your summer?" -- My latest

A REpost because so little has changed if I am answering the same question this year...

Standing in a Spanish Doorway: "So, how was your summer?" -- My latest opinion co...:   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 ...

Sunday, August 14, 2022

New ⭐⭐⭐⭐ reader-review for "Slow Travels in Unsung Spain"


More reader's words I greatly appreciate:
"This is a nicely paced book.
He weaves in some Spanish history, art and modern Spanish literature...He keenly feels how it is for an outsider to be in another culture...
I highly recommend this book not just for travellers."

Slow Travels in Unsung Spain is available at virtually all online book retailers (including here.)

Saturday, August 6, 2022

"Who took away our food?"


"On Monday, the world’s eyes were on a ship leaving the port of Odesa — carrying 26,000 tons of Ukrainian corn, it was the first such shipment since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.


For months, every magazine and newspaper carried the same headline: A global food-crisis is looming. Record-high food prices had thrust millions into food insecurity and communities into poverty. Soon after Russian troops crossed into Ukraine, the price of wheat surged 70% and western leaders sought to tie the price increases to the war. Russia, in turn, blamed the US and European sanctions imposed against it, and Ukraine and Europe blamed the “blockade” of Ukrainian ports.


But the crisis of hunger predates the conflict. “Nearly one in three people in the world (2.37 billion) did not have access to adequate food in 2020” according to a 2021 report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). But, production and supply, especially of commodities like wheat, had not changed much at all. Well before the grains left the port of Odesa, the soaring wheat prices from February this year had already fallen — in mid-July, they fell to pre-war levels.


We produce more than enough food to feed the world’s entire population. Yet, our people are hungry. The spike in food prices this year, and indeed the years before it, was never about interrupted supply, not exclusively anyway — but about speculation and profiteering in the markets — a fact that has been ignored in all major reports about the food crisis from the World Bank, FAO, and other international institutions.


New data by Lighthouse Reports, a European nonprofit, shows that speculation in commodities markets is the dominant driver of the spike in prices, with speculators responsible for 72% of all buying activity on the Paris wheat market in April.


They create hunger because they can. Each year, tens of millions of subsistence farmers are forced from their land by multinational agribusinesses. This process — in its scale, almost unparalleled in human history — destroys sustainable agricultural production and forces people into slums, where access to food is dependent on prices and incomes. Poverty, not underproduction, causes famine.


They profit from our hunger because they can. The rising food crisis created “62 new food billionaires” in just 24 months since the beginning of the pandemic. These corporate empires do not trade in food — they trade in starvation.


For decades, popular forces like La Via Campesina have been fighting to build a fairer global food system. It can be done: The Indian farmers’ strike of 2020-21, which successfully overturned three neoliberal agricultural laws, gives us confidence about the power of people to resist the global regime of hunger. But to win, popular forces will need to go further — winning state power and wielding it to reclaim food from the jaws of those who profit from our hunger."

From Progressive International

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Claude Lanzmann: "Life at its widest"

[This article was first published under the title "Summer at its widest" in Catalonia Today, July 2022.]

15 summers ago (my first full one here) the CCCB, or Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona showed French-Jewish filmaker Claude Lanzmann’s “extraordinary diptych of the Holocaust.”

Coming after the critically acclaimed, monumental 9 and a half hour documentary, Holocaust [or “Shoah”] of 1985, the Barcelona screening was titled “Variations of what is real.” It was part of their Xcèntric program for 2006-7.

Led by the academic Jorge Seca, the films were subtitled in Castilian Spanish by a group of translators from the UAB, Autonomous University in Barcelona.

In the first offering, Un vivant qui passe (1997), Lanzmann tells the story of Maurice Rossel, the only representative of the Red Cross to visit the Terezin death camp and wrote a report stating that he had seen “no atrocities.”

In 1944 Rossel reported that it was in fact a “model ghetto” and noticed “nothing terribly wrong”. He also freely and repeatedly expressed his view that Jews had “a passivity that I couldn’t stomach.” 

In the longer follow-up reel, “Sobibor” (2001) Lanzmann examined another episode of the Holocaust: the attempted escape of 600 Jews (also including some Red Army prisoners of war) from a Polish extermination camp.

He did this “through the story of Yehuda Lerner [one of only 60 survivors] who was seventeen years old, when in a meticulous plan of rebellion he ordered a Nazi officer to smash his head with an axe.”

The film “ends with the triumph of the Jews’ murder of their Nazi guards and their succesful flight from Sobibor, but he does not follow the survivors [return] where some were killed.”

Lanzmann himself (who died 4 years ago this July) was often simply called a director.

In truth, he was a film producer in the widest sense of the word.

According to journalist Julia Pascal he was even “the movie-maker-as-spy, the Jew who pretended to be pro-Nazi in order to film the guilty.

In one long sequence, he posed as a Nazi sympathiser and secretly filmed an SS officer who confided his past.” In fact, after their subterfuge was discovered he and a female accomplice were badly beaten and it could have been much worse before they got away. 

Lanzmann created from his will, as a stranger to brevity, stapling it well below accuracy or exhaustive detail.

The memoir he wrote, titled The Patagonian Hare, was no exception. If you’re like me and an hour on the beach (or maximum two) is only doable with a good book and you want something different from the standard lighter or narrower reading, then this book is the polar opposite.

It’s a kind of stretched agony in many places. His battle with what becomes his life’s purpose, the telling of the most stomach-churning truths, is clear.

What shines too from the lines of his memory in top gear is his determination to never be resigned to a great silence, to never taste the poison of passivity. 

His is a reverence for life itself. Seemingly never belittled by doubt, he has made much of the crucial importance of Nazi victims being treated so that in contemporay times “they haven’t died alone.”

My hope for everyone reading this in a season of pure heat is that you find time to relax and enjoy all that you can, living with the spirit of a Lanzmann.

Monday, July 18, 2022