Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Plague of the Pickpockets - Part 4

Okay, I promise to ease up on the pickpocket posting, but a recent article in the Guardian shows that the problem has started to make news outside of the local papers.  And in reading it, I was particularly appalled by the local authorities' response:
The authorities blame the press for the fuss, claiming newspapers are trying to oust Socialist mayor Jordi Hereu by exaggerating the problems of a neighbourhood that has always had prostitutes and petty crime.
“This press campaign is wrong,” said deputy mayor Jordi Carnes. “The number of petty crimes in Las Ramblas has not gone up.” He admitted, however, that the city wanted to shed a reputation as a place for drunken stag nights and hen parties. “This sort of tourism is not our target market,” he said. “There are over 24 hotels in the Ramblas, with three under construction, so we are talking about a prime location.”
So, let me get this straight. Despite eye witness accounts that verify Las Ramblas is getting more dangerous, and the fact that the prostitutes are no longer the charming street walkers they once were - it is in reality a plot to get rid of the mayor, the problem is the class of tourists and the solution is to raise the level of those who come to visit?

I don't know about you, but as far as I can tell: it's not the men and women coming from Europe who are doing the robbing and forcing girls to prostitute themselves, and I highly doubt some high-end tourist will want to visit a city where he or she constantly has to watch their belongings.

Typical Spanish politicians: deny the facts and blame others.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Gaudi Beyond the City

This little bronze man you see is the only statue known to exist of Barcelona's most famous architect - Antoni GaudiThe builder of the Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell and the Casa Batlló, his name is synonymous with the modernist period that makes the city's buildings seem more a fantasy than a reality.  Tucked away in a remote neighborhood called Sarria, I had no idea it even existed until last Friday. Same goes for this dragon gate of his:

Not to mention a church outside of Barcelona erected completely out of recycled building material both outside...

  and inside.

Plus, the most comfortable bench I'd ever sat on:

To see these and visit a village Gaudi took part in designing, you can plan it out before hand and use public transit, or spend a little money and take a tour on an air-conditioned bus, where your knowledgeable guide can also fill you in on a little bit of the city's history.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tips to Not Get Pickpocketed

As I mentioned in a previous post, sometimes the best way to avoid getting your pocket picked is to go where the tourists aren't.  Of course that's not always practical, especially for those coming for the first time, so here are some additional tips to help make your trip safe and crime free.

1.) Save the Passport.  An unknown fact: Almost all stores and restaurants in Spain will accept a US or UK drivers license for identification on small to medium size purchases.  If you really want to be sure, a color photocopy of your passport will suffice, so take advantage of the hotel safe and leave the real one there. 

2.) Button It.  Ideally, it's best to keep your wallet in your front pocket, but if you stuff too many things into yours like George Costanza, and need to carry it in the back: use the button.  I know most of my trousers have one, and as you'll find; undoing it ain't easy.

3.) Your Bag is Your Baby.  For the ladies who like purses: when you're in a crowd, keep it close to your chest.  Also, backpackers: take it off on the metro and set it in front of you.  A protruding rucksack is a tempting target and an annoyance during peak times.  Finally, don't ever leave your bags unattended.

4.) The Buddy System.  If you're in a sketchier neck of the woods, have a friend walk you to the metro or to a cash machine, and remember the more the merrier.  And, guys - be a gentleman and walk your lady friends home. 

5.) Walk like a Local.  Don't wonder around aimlessly with an open map in hand, because you're ripe to find help at the expense of your wallet.  Not sure where you are?  Step into a bar and sit down to get oriented; your feet will appreciate it.  A late night out?  Don't go wandering off the busy and well-lit streets and into the tiny dark alleys.

6.) Think Vegas, Baby.  Heading out on the town with some friends?  Take out cash beforehand and leave the card at home.  It'll help you not spend more than you planned.  And, if worse comes to worse and you've blown all your money, hit up a friend and pay them back the next time.

7.) Learn When to Say When.  One of the dangerous joys of Barcelona is that you can literally party twenty-four hours a day, which doesn't mean you have to.  Getting a happy buzz on is great; getting black-out drunk is an invitation to come home bruised and penniless.

Please don't get me wrong - Do not be afraid to visit Barcelona.  In my many years here, no one has laid a finger on me and I cut far from an imposing figure.  Still, it is a major city with a high rate of petty crime.  And, probably like where you live, there are neighborhoods that require more vigilance and others less so.  Just remember: you're on vacation, but that doesn't mean common sense takes a break.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Spanish Facts and Trivia

If you ever find yourself walking around a city in Spain on a Thursday afternoon, take a look at the menus outside the restaurants, and chances are you'll find almost all of them offer a plate of paella for one of the dishes.

The predominate theory for this custom can be traced back to Franco's time.  A fanatic of paella, Thursday was when he normally went out for lunch in Madrid.  Never one to repeat a restaurant, he instead paid suprise visits to various establishments, meaning that they all had better have paella prepared, or else face one displeased dictator, and so the tradition was born.

For those of you with a culinary bent, here's one recipe for the dish translated from Spanish. It uses chicken, instead of the more traditional shrimp, mussels, clams, and squid, but it gives you an idea.  Besides: the secret to a good paella is the rice.

  • 600 grams of rice
    1/2 chicken, diced
    2 artichokes
    2 medium size red peppers
    2 ripe tomatoes
    Crushed pepper
    One garlic clove
    1 herb of saffron
    Olive Oil (one glass, 1/4 liter)
    1/2 lemon
    A sprig of rosemary and thyme

1: Fry the chicken in the olive oil. Once fried, boil with 8 glasses of water.
2: Saute the artichokes and peppers together.  Once done, saute the garlic separately.
3: The garlic now sauteed add the rice and mix the two together, stirring occasionally and adding the diced tomatoes
4: Before finishing sauteing the rice, tomatoes and garlic,add them to the boiling the chicken, (it should be boiling for 30 min prior).  Squeeze in the lemon and add the artichokes and red peppers, with a pinch of pepper in addition to the parsley, rosemary, saffron, thyme and salt.
5: With the food now ready, place a large pan on the stove and add the ingredients.  At first use a high flame, lowering it after about ten minutes.  The total time for the rise should be around 20  mins (plus five more to set.)
It's now ready to serve.
Let me know how it turns out.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Plague of the Pickpockets - Part 3

My recent article about pickpockets on Expatica.com produced the following comment from Marc:
Yes, nice observation and I am afraid that you might not be too far off about the "conspiracy" angle. I have been her 6 years, and work and also play music every weekend in the center of Barcelona. I know many business owners here, and the common belief is that yes, city officials and the police are paid off by the "mafias" who control the street criminals to let those crimes occur. They are also paid off to let beer sellers sell their beers and paid-off to let the prostitutes on Las Ramblas, most of whom are just pick-pockets disguised as prostitutes to pick pockets and steal purses. When the "heat" gets too high, city officials call in the friends in the media to play a game of smoke and mirrors with the public, such as the last few weeks of daily articles in La Vanguardia placing most of the blame on the tourist! People wake up: Yes, maybe Madrid is keeping to0 much of your tax money. But your own Catalan politicians have stolen your city and have given it to the mafias. The snake that eats it tail...
 Then there was this from Tom:
I have just returned from one of my regular trips to BCN staying at a friend's flat off Las Ramblas. Walking home by myself down Las Ramblas (sober) at 1am on Friday night I was physically attacked 3 separate times in about 200 metres by "prostitutes". After the 3rd attack (suffering scratches and welts) I had to take refuge in a shop for a few minutes where the shopkeeper just shrugged at my plight. No police about. No one came to help me. It just seemed an accepted part of life on Las Ramblas. I was so distraught by the attacks I was home by 8pm every night for the rest of my stay. It has happened before, but this time was way beyond what I've experienced before. My friend is Spanish and hasn't had a problem. They target me as I look like a typical British tourist but there's not much I can do about that! I'm so incensed by my experience I'm thinking of starting a bout of letter campaigning. No point complaining if I'm not going to do anything about it! Any suggestions of who to write to?
While, I'm glad to know my mind's not playing tricks on me, I'm disgusted nonetheless that this is going on, and would like to hear about ways to put an end to this.

Any ideas anyone?

The Magic Fountains of Montjuic

If you find yourself in Barcelona one weekend this summer, make sure to check out the Magic Fountains of Montjuic - an impressive music and light show that takes place in Plaza Espanya Thursdays through Sundays. Starting at 21.00 during the summer, the spectacular runs every half an hour until 11.00, so you have plenty of options. And, best of all it's free!

Summer Time and the Livin's Easy

The sunny days and rising temperatures of the last few weeks has me daydreaming about summertime in Barcelona.  Right now the weather's perfect - warm and breezy - but soon the real heat and humidity will arrive, making trips to the beach and nights spent outside mandatory, unless you enjoy sweating profusely.

Of course the beach in Barcelona, and in Spain in general, doesn't only involve tanning and swimming, but also time spent at one of the country's greatest inventions - el chiringuito, which are the small bars you´ll find along almost all Spanish beaches.  The perfect spot to cool off and whet the whistle with cold beer, sangria or tinto de verano (red wine with either 7-up, Orange Fanta or lemonade) after roasting in the hot sun, many also serve traditional Spanish dishes like paella and tapas, in addition to such standards as sandwhiches and salads.   They aren't cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but that's the price one pays to sit outside in the shade and listen to the waves.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Calling All Artists

I'm looking for any shorts (max 5,000 words), flash fiction (1,000 words) illustrations, photos and general musings for a book to be published later in the year about Barcelona.  The only requirements are that they be about Barcelona and in English.  But don't worry if it's not your first language, I'll help you get them ready.

If interested in seeing your work published or if you have any questions, please e-mail: stories@frombarcelona.com

Saturday, May 16, 2009

It Must be the Air

A recent article in the Barcelona Reporter mentioned a CSIC study that found trace amounts of cocaine and LSD in Barcelona's air with higher amounts on the weekends.  It's not enough to get anyone high, but maybe it explains why last weekend I had trouble sleeping and kept seeing a two-headed midget in the closet.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Catalan Beers

With the hot days of summer upon us, there is only one drink which really quenches the thirst: beer.  Or as it's called here una cervezita.   The most common way to order this frosty beverage in Barcelona is either una caña (a small draft) or una mediana (bottle), but for those with a healthier appetite there's una jara (a jug).

The most common beers in Barcelona are Estrella, followed by San Miguel with Mahou a distant third, and while all are good and refreshing on a hot summer's day, they tend to be a bit gassy for me, and after three or four, I generally feel bloated.

The good news is that while Catalunya is famous for its Cava, it has also started producing some fine local beers over the last few years, providing a tastier alternative to the big two, and these are some of my favorites.

The most common of these cervezas is Moritz.  Found in many bars, it offers a distinct taste that, personally, reminds me a bit of gin, making it my least favorite.  Still, it's popularity cannot be disputed based on the number of people who have told me: it's the perfect beer for a hot, sunny day.

Glops was the first local brew I tried, and instantly fell in love with its malty, smokey, rich taste. Made in Poble Sec and launched in 2005, it's available in eight different flavors from a refreshing, easy to drink lager to a more substantial stout, with my favorite being the fumada.  Not a common beer by any stretch of the imagination, it's becoming more available every year, so if you see it in a bar, definitely ask for one.

My personal favorite, though, is Rosita.  Brewed just south of Barcelona in Tarragona, it comes in a lager, ale and stout.  Rich and flavorful, serving it requires a soft shaking to mix in the natural sediments that fall to the bottom and it's to be sipped, not gulped.  A recent entry to the Barcelona market, I've only found it at one of my locals, but given that it sells out quickly, I imagine it's only a question of time before it becomes a staple at some of the more popular drinking spots.

Finally, to try any of these, head down to La Cerveteca near the main post office off Laietana.  A great place with a wide selection of beers from Europe, the States, Australia, and other countries, it's the beer-lovers dream.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Time for Spanish Labor Reforms?

A recent article in the Economist paints a bleak outlook for Spain's employment future, ties it into the current labor system, and explains why the government has done little to tackle the issue.
Labour-market reform is perhaps the toughest of all. In some ways Spain’s labour laws are quite flexible. With almost a third of the workforce on temporary contracts, marginal workers are easy to shed by the simple expedient of not renewing contracts. That explains why Spain accounts for over half the additional unemployment within the euro area in the past year. The rest of the workforce is on Teflon-coated permanent contracts that make people difficult and expensive to sack. Companies inevitably choose staff to shed on the basis of how easy they are to fire.
Almost everyone favours reform. Such an initiative is urgently needed, with the government leading it, said a group of 95 academic economists in a letter. Mr Zapatero, however, does not share their sense of urgency. And labour-market reforms are not all that he is shying away from. The Bank of Spain recently issued a warning about a dwindling pension pot, suggesting it was time to push the retirement age above 65. Liberalisation of services provided by everyone from notaries and lawyers to veterinarians would help the recovery, said José Carlos Diez of Intermoney, a consultancy. “Whenever we have had a liberalisation plan, the economy has shown its potential for growth,” he added.
So why does Mr Zapatero not reform? Besides all the usual worries about strikes, trade unions and public support, his main problem lies in parliament. Last month his minority government lost its first parliamentary vote. Although the Socialists are only seven seats short of an absolute majority, they are struggling to find allies. Basque nationalist deputies are angry that a Socialist, Patxi Lopez, has just become their region’s premier. Catalan nationalists are similarly tired of the Socialist-led administration in their region. A fractious group of left-wing parties is not always reliable and unlikely to back tough reforms.
The article, unfortunately, leaves out a third, and increasingly more common way of working in Spain - the Autonomo, or freelance system; whereby the person, and not the company, assumes the responsibility for the payment of their social security taxes, in return for the ability to charge a higher hourly rate.

I'll write more on the different ways of working in Spain later, but the basic problem with the Autonomo system is that it is a flat amount of 320 euros to be paid each month, whether you earn a thousand or a million; and during times of no work, there are no unemployment benefits and the pension less than a normal person's.  While not an economist, it seems to me a fairer system would be to make it a percentage linked to income, and include benefits from this money for those with seasonal professions to minimize the effect on the current budget, offering an incentive to the millions who don't pay to join.

And yet, when I read the Spanish newspapers, I see no mention of this being proposed, or truth be told, any government initiative to stop the downward economic trend.  I hear only words and empty promises about how Spain will get better.  So once again, I ask; ¿Dónde está la rabia?

A Sunday Stroll

One of the beauties of Barcelona is the ability to walk out your door (day or night) and enter a world of surprises and strange sights that make you pause and wonder.  Yesterday, just so happened to be one of those days.

Stepping outside to a partly sunny afternoon, my ears perked at the sounds of brass and wind instruments floating in the breeze, and it didn't take me long to find out that they belonged to a band playing the music for the traditional Catalan dance called Sardana.  Taking a moment to watch, I was struck how different seniors are in Spain compared to the states.  Here, they are dancing and laughing, while most I know back home rarely leave the house, and seem to be counting down the days. It's really quite sad when you think about it.

Further up the street, I again found myself stopping and taking a moment.  This time it was a wooden door topped by a screaming griffin that caught my attention.  Not as ornamental as those in Eixample, it hinted at something more mysterious, like an occult bookstore that housed spells.  Of course, in reality it was an apartment building with normal residents, but the subject matter did make me wonder what the original architect had in mind, or what he took to decide on that design.

My thoughts didn't linger long on the door, this image had me getting the camera out to snap a the following picture:

A couple on a scooter with their small dog is just so Barcelona.  The only thing missing is a cigarette hanging from their mouths.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Brief History of Catalunya

I have to admit: Before I moved to Spain, I had no idea what a Catalan was, or that there was such a place called Catalunya.  I thought Barcelona was in Spain, and Spain was a country of - Well, I'm American - I didn't know what it was made up of, but I thought everyone who lived here was Español, and I never imagined it not being a unified nation.  How wrong was I.  I'd be interested in hearing if it's the same in Bilbao, Sevilla and Madrid, but at least living in Barcelona, I quickly learned that Catalunya was not Spain, but in fact it's own country, with its own language and culture, and that a small percentage here wouldn't mind returning to their independent status of yesteryear, because quiet frankly, many of the population don't care for the Spanish or Castellanos and the decisions made in Madrid.

Ignorant about its history and eager to learn more about my adopted land, I discovered through Wikipedia and conversations with my widowed neighbor Teresa that Catalunya was part of the Crown of Aragon, and it gained it's formal independence from France in 1258 with the Treaty of Corbeil; thus beginning the reign of Jaume (James) 1 and the expansion of the Kingdom of Aragon to include Valencia, Corsica and Sicily, and the promotion of Catalan language and culture throughout the territories.  A series of kings and queens followed, stemming from marriages among European princes and princesses, and then King Martin 1 died in 1410 with no heirs, resulting in King Fernando I of Castillo receiving the crown after the Compromise of Caspe.  Nearly sixty years later, the great Spanish empire was born after the marriage of Fernando II of Aragon and Isabel I of Castillo in 1469.

The presence of Castilian troops on Barcelona's streets two-hundred years later saw the Revolt of the Reapers in 1640.  Local peasants (tired of housing the Spanish soldiers who fought against France during the Thirty Years War, and seeing their resources used for a war waged from Madrid) rebelled on Corpus Christi Day, chanting: "Long live the faith of Christ!", "Long live the king of Spain, our lord", "Long live the land, death to bad government."  This led to the leader of the Generalitat Pau Claris declaring a Catalan Republic, and ended when his death created a power vacuum, resulting in the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 and the loss of Northern Catalunya to France, with Southern Catalunya again under Spanish rule.

The death of Charles II of Spain in 1700 and the lack of a heir began the Spanish War of Succession with two European camps claiming the crown: The French Bourbons and the Austrian Hapsburgs.  Sensing a chance for greater freedom from the centralized government of Madrid, the Catalans backed the Austrian contender for the throne; only to lose their special status as autonomous territories following the Fall of Barcelona on September 11 1714.  Catalunya was once again a province of the Spanish Kingdom with Madrid as its capital; this time ruled by Philip V, grandson of Lois XIV of France. 

The next two-hundred years witnessed Catalunya's rise as a major economic center of Spain and an industrial hub with the freedom to speak their language and celebrate their traditions dependent on the whims of whichever king sat on the throne in Madrid; and so it continued as the Great Spanish Empire slowly fell apart through a series of wars that resulted in loss of most of its territories, a period of Napoleonic rule, the return of the Bourbon king, and finally in the Second Spanish Republic that granted autonomy to Catalunya, along with the Basque Country and Galicia at the start of the twentieth century. 

In 1931, Spain once again found itself a proxy for greater European powers with the Nationalist Forces of General Franco backed by the Germans and Italians and the mishmash of opposition forces consisting of Anarchists, Communists, and Republicans supported by Russia and Mexico; with Britain, France and the United States sitting it out.  A three year bitter and brutal civil war ensued with brother killing brother, Catalan slaughtering Catalan, and son turning on father; and by the end, Barcelona found itself once again subjugated to the rule of Madrid with their language banned from all public institutions and mass media.  It was during this time and based on a history of local princes controlled by European kings that Catalan Nationalism came to be with some of its leaders tortured under the dictatorship.

Today, nearly thirty-five years after the death of Franco, Catalunya is one of the 17 autonomous regions that comprise Spain, with its language taught in all schools and used throughout the local government and in many businesses.  Yet, still the battles of the previous five hundred years are being fought; although, not through guns, but in political debates about how much control should be ceded to Madrid and in the constant promotion of the Catalan language at the expense of all others.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Plague of the Pickpockets - Update

Recently published a column on Expatica.com about the rising crime rate here in Barcelona.  Similar to an earlier post of mine, but with some new information relating to rumors of vigilante groups amid reports of police arrests for corruption.  Check it out.  The site is a great resource for Spanish news, plus other countries in Europe from the wire services and other expat voices, so definitely worth a bookmark.

Weekly Recap: May 2nd - 8th

The pandemic previously known as the swine flu, but now called called flue type-A, has stabilized and is no longer threatening humanity, joining SARs, foot and mouth disease and the bird flu as pandemics that never panned out (pun intended).  However, that hasn't stopped Russian authorities from banning the importation of Spanish pork pending certification that all products are free of any traces of the AH1N1 flu; even though you cannot get it from eating pig.

In some Spanish-US news, the investigation by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon into Bush Administration officials for their documented support of torture has provoked an editorial in the Washington Post, where the author (former U.N. Secretary John Bolton) likened it to "the Spanish inquisition," showing that it isn't only the Spanish who lack irony given that waterboarding (called toca then ) was one of the main ways the inquisitors converted the heathens.  Personally, the fact that Garzon is acting on his own and not through the normal channels smells a little bit like grandstanding, but if it keeps up the pressure on Obama to honor his word and enforce the rule of law, then I'm all for it. 

Locally, sports trumps all, and it was all Barça all the time with the thrashing of Madrid 6-2 at Madrid, and their last second heroics against Chelsea to see them through to the Champion's League Final.  Reports in England lable it a travesty and the competence of the referee is being called into question, but I also recall a phantom foul on Drogba that saw Barça reduced to ten, so the shitty refereeing went both ways.  And not to be undone, Espanyol continued its impressive run, beating Valenicia away and moving safely from the regulation zone.  Does this mean there is a god and he's a periquito?  Also, the Lakers are tied with the Houston rockets in what appears to be a bruising eighties style series.  For those interested in Badalona's own Pau Gasol's take on the playoffs and life in Los Angeles, he too has a blog .

Finally, a little insight into the leaders in Spain: With job losses of only 40,000 in April considered good news compared to the 120,000 in March and forecasts predicting twenty percent, news reports detail a recent government initiative that offers to continue to pay the unemployment benefits of Romanian immigrants in they sign a written promise to go back to Romania and look for work.  The Romanian Labor minster said few wanted to when they can live a more comfortable in Spain and still collect them.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Open thread

Been busy with day job and other things, so haven't been able to post much.  Should be back up soon.  In the meantime, feel free to comment on whatever you like.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Staying in Barcelona - The city center

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In a city as diverse and rich as Barcelona, choosing the right neighborhood to stay in can go a long way into making your trip either a pleasant experience or one to forget.  Each barrio, like most things in life, offers distinct advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you're looking for.  Wanna spend your nights bar and club hopping, and your days lounging at the beach?  Then don't stay near the Sagrada Familia; given it's a good hour walk, there's no direct metro line to either, and you're looking at a 15-euro cab fare minimum at night.  However, if you're interested in a little peace and quiet in a beautiful neighborhood after a hard day of sightseeing, eating and drinking - then it's the perfect spot.  So with that in mind, here's the low-down on the different barrios of Barcelona - starting with those around the center.

El Barrio Gotico (the Old City).  Topped by Plaza Catalunya with Las Ramblas on one side and Via Laietana on the other, it is in many ways the heart of Barcelona.  Getting lost in its hundreds of twisting, medieval, cobble-stone alleys and buildings during the day is a must, while at night the many bars and clubs attract tourists and locals alike, making it a great spot to taste Barcelona's vibrant nightlife.  That said: don't expect peace and quiet or modern amenities like an elevator, and be careful with your belongings.  Still, with it only a twenty-minute walk to Barcenoleta and the beach, and with a chance to stay in a classic setting like Plaza Real, it's a great location for those looking to literally be where all the action is.

Above el Barrio Gotico to the right is Plaza Urquinaona and the start of the Eixample Dreta (right) district. A mostly residential neighborhood that's surprisingly quiet at night, the apartments tend to be airy and spacious with elevators, and lots of natural light.  In and around here is a great location with the city-center a five minute walk and a metro station with lines to Plaza Espanya (red) and the beach (yellow).  However, the further you go into the neighborhood the more remote from Barcelona you feel and the longer it takes to get places.

Below Eixample  and on the other side of Via Laietana is el Borne.  Once upon a time, it was as seedy as el Raval, now it's one of the trendier barrios of Barcelona.  The buildings are a mix of old and new, making elevators and space hit or miss, while the neighborhood itself is full of hidden squares and cool little nooks and crannies with a happening nightlife for the posher crowd, but along with it comes the constant street buzz drunks stumbling home, and some petty crime.

Meanwhile, to the right of Plaza Catalunya is an area known as El Triangle, and one four-to five star hotel after another until you get to Plaza Universitat and the start of Eixample Esquerra (Left) with apartments similar to its namesake on the right.  The best advice I could give is look for places off the streets: Aragó and Muntaner, unless you like roaring scooters and cars for a lullaby.

Anyone got anything to add?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Summer Festivals

May has brought with it sunny days and growing buzz about this year's line-ups for the summer music festival season in Barcelona. For more information on ticket purchases, check out www.barcelonarocks.com. In the meantime, here's a quick rundown on the upcoming events.

The end of this month sees Primavera Sound´s return. Starting Saturday, the 23rd, and ending the following Sunday, the 31st, this year offers a great mix of groups and genres with the likes of Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, My Bloody Valentine, Neil Young and Ghost Face Killah among many, many others. Personally, I'm excited to check out my favorite groups of the past year, Deerhunter and the New Year on Saturday, and Duchess Says on the closing Sunday. You can buy either a three-day ticket for 155-euros or a one-day pass for seventy, depending on your budget. And, once again it takes place at the Forum with the Apollo night club serving as the opening nights' venue.

On June 18th Barcelona welcomes the start of Sonar - the world famous electronic and multimedia festival. Bringing with it an international crowd, you don't have to be an electronic music lover to enjoy the sites and sounds of a truly unique event. In addition to such Sonar staples as Jeff Mills and Richie Hawtinn (a late edition), you get a chance to experience the sonic experimentation of the Animal Collective, plus the return of Orbital and the one-and-only Grace Jones. A three-day, all-access pass costs 140-euros, while a single night-time ticket runs forty-eight. For thirty, you can buy a day-pass and explore the tents in one of the city's better venues. Tickets are limited and quick to go, so you better get 'em early.

Finally, Benicassim arrives on July 16th. Located outside Barcelona and closer to Valencia, it's three days of camping, drinking and other things, while listening to a line-up that includes the likes of TV on the Radio, Paul Weller, the Walkmen, and Nacho Vegas. You need to spend 170 on a four-day pass to get a camping space, and there's a limited number, so act quickly. Otherwise, there's the four-day, no camping pass for 120-euros or a day-ticket for seventy.  Just keep in mind it's about three hours from Barcelona.

And, for all those lovers of the softer-side of indy music, I'm sorry to report that Summercase has been canceled this year due to the economic conditions.

Weekly Recap: April 25th - May 1st

A week after making the headlines for calling the Jose Luis Zapatero dim, French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived with his wife Cala Bruni for an official state visit, along with the first reported case of the Swine flu in Europe, continuing Spain's ability to be the first in all the wrong areas.

So far, there have been ten reported cases of infection, but no deaths; although based on the amount of hype you'd think it was a new Black Death.  Meanwhile, the slaughter of 300,000 pigs in Egypt and an Israeli minister's anger at the unkosherness of the name has prompted the WHO to stop using the term "Swine flu" because: you don't get it from eating pork (italics mine). And, in other pig news, an Israeli Rabbi granted approval to use them to guard West-Bank settlements way back in 2003.

Locally, the Minister of Work and Immigration for the Autonomy of Catalunya expressed optimism at the economy and predicted improvement next quarter as Spain's second and third largest banks reported record losses and the IMF predicted the Spanish economy will shrink by 3% and unemployment will reach nearly twenty by 2010, continuing to prove the Spanish have no sense of irony.  From watching the nightly news, this has pretty much been the answer from all politicians who, when pressed with questions on the negative numbers, reply: "Look that's not going to happen, okay?"

And, in sports - Barcelona fell back to earth this week, struggling for a draw with Valencia last weekend and being held goaless at home to Chelsea in the Champions League; while Espanyol won, continuing its impressive run from the relegation zone, and the Lakers eliminated the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs, where they now go on to face Houston.

While, in other European news, the Dutch queen survived a premeditated attack on her life, when a car plowed through a crowd, killing four and injuring twelve, before smashing into a monument as her open top buss passed by.

Finally happy May Day everybody, enjoy the long weekend and if you're in Barcelona: check out La Feria de Abril - It's not as colorful as its namesake in Sevilla, but still a good time and gives you a taste of what it would be like.