Sunday, March 21, 2010

Off To Holland & Other Tidbits

Going to Holland for Semana Santa so little to no posting until the first part of April.  It should be a good time. More than anything, I'm looking forward to cutting some cheese at the famous Alkmaar market and tasting some good beer at the national museum.

For anyone looking for some spring reading, "From Barcelona Vol. 1" is now on its second printing and available for Kindle and other e-readers. Tell all of your friends to buy a copy and don't forget Sant Jordi is coming up. In honor of this moment, I've posted one of the more popular stories below to give those who haven't read it an idea of what to expect.

Finally, the big news locally over this weekend was French authorities mistaking vacationing Catalan firefighters as ETA members. I really wish it'd been another nationality as I'm sure there will be some new conspiracies out there in the blogosphere. Then again, it could be worse. I could still be living in the states where a rare moment of bipartisanship has seen the introduction of the Enemy Belligerent Act of 2010.

Have a safe, happy and dry Easter week!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring Market

If you're in the neighborhood of Poblenou this weekend, there's a spring market featuring local businesses selling artisan products ranging from food to crafts to beer. There are also activities for kids and musical entertainment. Below is more info:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Barcelona Artist - Agustí Puig

The LA Times ran a glowing article on Barcelona recently where it discussed its storied artistic history and mentioned some contemporary artitists who are maintaining this rich tradition. One such man is Agustí Puig whose work was the inspiration for Penelope Cruz's character in "Vicki Christina Barcelona" and was featured in the movie.

A painter, sculpture and photographer, Puig's stated idol is one of Barcelona's most famous adoptive sons, Pablo Picasso, who came here from Malaga as a teenager and his influence can be seen in the energy of Puig's work. Unfortunately, there aren't any current exhibitions of his in Barcelona with closest one being held at Messum's gallery in London.  So to give you an idea of his style, here are a few pieces of his:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Original Version Cinemas

To follow up on my last post, for those of you who prefer to watch movies in original version or V.O here, there are quite a few cinemas located throughout Barcelona. Now keep in mind, version original means whatever language the film is shot in plus Spanish or at times Catalan subtitles.

Yelmo Icaria near Port Olimpic probably has the most screens and specializes in blockbusters and the more popular movies out right now.

Cines Renoirs on the other hand tends to show more art house movies from not just the US and the UK but also from other European countries. It has two locations. Carrer Floridablanca near Sant Antoni and Les Corts in the Marina Cristina district.

Cines Verdi located in the neighborhood of Gracia near the Fontana metro station is similar to Renoirs choosing to show more independent movies rather than blockbusters.

Microcine Zelig near the Raval is not a typical cinema but more like a place to gather and watch cult movies or classics. The start time is always at 21.00 and the cost is three euros. They also do requests.

There are also some others but I can't recall them right now.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dub, Dub, Dub

Last week the NY Times ran an article on the government initiative here to dub fifty percent of non European films in Catalan. The stated goal of the pending bill is to help integrate immigrants into the local culture. Cinema owners disagree saying there's no demand and now is not the time given declining attendance. Meanwhile, American producers, who would bare the brunt of the impact, fear the additional cost of having to dub their movies not only in Catalan, but in Basque and Gallego too.

Personally, it seems like a twentieth century debate taking place in the twenty-first century. As the article states, cinemas are quickly going the way of record shops as more and more people choose to watch movies at home either legally or illegally. In order to overcome the objections of US producers, the local government is offering to pay the costs at a time when the region is running an ever growing fiscal deficit. But more importantly, the world is increasingly rewarding multilingualism and the best way to foster language development is not by dubbing entertainment into the local language but by showing it in its original version.

As a person quoted in the article said, there isn't the culture of watching films in original version with subtitles in Spain or Catalunya, however. Almost all content is dubbed whether it's shown in the cinema or on TV, on a Spanish station or a Catalan one. The result is people have little contact with foreign languages beyond what they study in class inhibiting their ability to learn. One only need to look at countries that generally don't dub and countries that do to see the benefits of watching content in the original version as far as the language acquisition abilities of its citizens.

I know during the time I taught English, I was always amazed at how people here could study a language for years and years and did well on grammar exams, yet when it came to produce or comprehend a simple sentence, they acted like they'd never heard it before. Some said it was a genetic defect that caused this discrepancy but at the same time I've met enough Spanish and Catalans who speak English well to know this is simply not true.

Like most things in life, what separates a person who speaks a foreign language and one who doesn't is mindset. It takes a certain openness and willingness to sacrifice immediate comfort for a long-term gain and watching dubbed entertainment runs counter to this. Since Catalan is now the vehicular language in most schools, it seems the question of what language to show movies in shouldn't be about assimilation but about preparation for a global, multilingual world.

So, perhaps instead of requiring fifty percent of all non European movies be dubbed into Catalan, a better bill would've required all movies and television shows, regardless of location, to be shown in their original language with subtitles in Catalan or Spanish depending on the cinema owner or the TV station. Maybe then the next generation won't think there's something genetically wrong with them.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Este Fin de Semana Estoy de Rodríguez

The above statement is what you say when your better half has left you home alone. It's similar to the expression, "When the cat's away, the mice will play." My cat, or cats, (the missus and the kid in this case) have gone down to see the grandparents and aunt so that means this mouse is fee to roam. Drinks with friends has already been planned but more than anything I'm looking forward to putting my feet up, snoozing and catching up on movies.

To take full advantage of this rare moment of peace and quiet, I won't be posting anything until Monday. I have to admit I'm lacking for inspiration anyway. Any ideas? Also, as there has been enough interest in Volume 1, the publisher asked me to start thinking about Volume 2 and I've posted a new short called "The Witch from Bilbao." It hasn't even been seen by my editor so be gentle and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spanish Valets

Accepts payment in kibble and / or bone.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Let It Snow

There are snow flakes falling outside my window today. A bit wet and so far not sticking to the ground, but pretty amazing nonetheless. The only other time I remember it snowing was six years ago. It's been a strange, wet and cold winter this year. I thought it was over because the city started to have the lazy feel of spring lately. Looks like we're in for one more storm. Brr.


It's late afternoon and still snowing at the beach and starting to stick. Incredible. Here are some pictures.

Getting Around Barcelona - Public Transport

Of all the cities I've spent time in, none so far matches Barcelona in terms of convenience and price when it comes to getting around. The metro here may not run with Swiss precision but you can generally expect the train to arrive a second or two around the stated time.

Here is a map of the metro, tram and local train lines. Don't let the chaotic layout fool you, it's not that confusing or difficult to master. For those visiting Barcelona, the most important line to be near is the L3 or the green line, which takes you to the city center, Passeig de Gracia, the neighborhoods of Gracia and Sants, along with Plaça Espanya and Parc Güell.

Unlike New York or London which has multiple zones, each a different price, Barcelona proper has only one, meaning you can travel from one end to the other for the same amount. And because of its relative small size, it won't take you hours to do so.

The stations aren't massive or confusing, but remember to insert the ticket with your left hand. The Passeig de Gracia stop is notorious for its three block tunnel, while changing at Plaça Urquinaona will mean climbing up and down stairs.

Personally, if I'm not pressed for time, I prefer to stay above ground and take the bus. They don't run with the frequency of the metro, but it's a more pleasant experience. It gives you the chance to see the parts of the city you might not otherwise and Barcelona is full of hidden gems. Some of the best days I've spent have been when I decided to hop off the bus at a random stop and explore the surrounding streets.

A single ticket allows you to use the metro and the bus, in addition to the local train service known as Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat. Located at Plaça Catalunya and Plaça Espanya, these trains are how you'd get to Tibidabo mountain, Montserrat, the US consulate, and many of the universities. Tickets can be bought either as a single or round trip. There's not always a person working at the window and sometimes even if there is, they'll point you to an automated machine to make your purchase. They don't always work, especially when it comes to reading credit cards, so keep some change handy.

If you're here for a few days, the T-10 offers ten trips at a reasonable price and can be shared so buying a few of these might make more economic sense than a daily or tourist pass. If the metro is you primary means of commuting, the 50/30 (fifty trips in thirty days) is an option, but I've always preferred the monthly pass. It'll ask for a number at the time of purchase and you can type in whatever is on the ID you carry around. For example, I use my California drivers license. It's best not to make a number up because there are checks periodically and if the number on the ticket doesn't match the ID, or you don't have one, you can be fined.

The TMB website is a great resource for planning you trips or if you want to know how to get to a specific location. It's available in various languages and all you'll need is an address or a well known land mark to find the right itinerary. At the bottom of the page is the time and the option to choose different forms of transport. The times are pretty accurate while the maps showing how to get from the location to the bus or train stop are simple and not too confusing.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Savage Waters of the Mediterranean Part 2

Passengers traveling from Barcelona to Genoa where caught by surprise yesterday when three eight meter high (26 ft) waves slammed into their cruise ship, killing two people. Below is some footage shot by an Italian tourist. Just another reminder how impressive and destructive nature can be. Is it me or does this year seem especially tragic as far as natural disasters already, namely earthquakes? First Haiti, then Chile. Next Cali?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Few March Events

For anyone interested in modern art, the big news this month is the reopening of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies which closed its doors two years ago for renovations. On the 5th, 6th and 7th of March, the museum will be free with special activities and guided tours.

Meanwhile, for music lovers, Julián Candón will be bringing his unique brand of pop-rock española to Sala Begood, which is quickly becoming one of the more popular venues in the city.

For those with an affinity for Flamenco, this is the month to visit with De Cajón Festival de Flamenco. This year they have a fantastic line-up that mixes famous artists in this genre with some of the finest up and coming talents. The concerts are being held at a number of venues across the city, from the world renowned Palau de la Música and El Gran Teatre del Liceu, to the more cozy and intimate surroundings of Luz de Gas and Teatre Joventut. Ticket prices vary depending on the concert and venue, but full details are available at The Project website.

Some of the highlights include performances by María Toledo, Alba Guerrero, Alba Carmona, La Shica, José el Francés, and Augustí Espin, who all take to the stage in Luz de Gas. Jorge Mesa performs his piece “El Pirata” in Apolo [2], while Tomasito play in the larger Sala Apolo. Los Planetas will be bringing their exciting brand of flamenco/rock fusion to the Palau de la Música, which will also host a concert by Antonio Canales and Amador Rojas. The legendary José Mercé plays in El Gran Teatre del Liceu, and Camerón take to the stage in Teatre Joventut.

As always for a short term Barcelona apartment, visit At Home rentals.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Working Freelance in Spain - Updated and Expanded

Expatica ran an article at the end of last year on how to become autónomo or freelance in Spain and I couldn't help but start laughing at the line: "The procedure of going freelance is fuss-free as you can be registered as self-employed within one day." Have they actually ever done it? Leaving aside that fuss-free is not generally a term I'd use to describe the Spanish bureaucracy, the process of becoming freelance is particularly famous here for what a pain it is to do.

This is the cover for the form known as "Modelo 036." Actually, it's more like a book, spanning nine pages of small print written in Spanish legalese that leaves even native speakers confused and consulting a lawyer. Not only must you fill it out completely and legibly in blue, not black, ink, but you must also go to three different offices which are conveniently located on opposite sides of the city. Considering they all open at nine and close at 14.00 Mon - Fri, completing this task with one fell swoop would require the super human speed of the Flash and no lines which is about as likely to happen as snow in August.

As anyone who has had dealings with Spanish civil servants can tell you, dealing with a funcionario as their known is a test of patience of biblical proportions. Notorious for their mala leche (bad milk or surly mood) and the law of falta uno (one thing missing) your first visit will probably end in failure with you being sent home after waiting in a long line for some reason that makes no sense. The best advice I could give is to think of it as a way to practice zen and take at least two copies of every form you've collected during your stay here, a stuffed coin purse for any unexpected fees or copies, and still plan on coming home at least once during the process with your head shaking in frustration at the absurdity of the situation. 

The end result of this process is the social security department deducts either 280 a month or 840 a quarter from your bank account regardless of how much you earn and in return, you get access to the national health care system, some protection in case of a work place accident, and a reduced pension whenever the Spanish government finally decides on a retirement age. You don't, however, receive any unemployment benefits or paid vacation for those periods when there is no work or everyone is on holiday.  

So is it worth it? Given the fact that private medical insurance costs around seventy euros a month, maybe closer to a hundred with dental, objectively and economically speaking, probably not in all honesty. Not too long ago, the systems that monitored social security taxes (the ones you paid as an autónomo) and the income tax (deducted by the company that hired you) weren't connected, so you could get away with paying the latter while avoiding the former as you built up a client base. You face the risk of the Spanish authorities coming after you nowadays, especially since the arrival of the crisis, so it's best to do it despite it not making economic sense.

On the plus side, working freelance generally means you can charge higher rates than what  contracted worker would get and pay a flat 15% income tax. With the help of a good accountant, you can write off some purchases like meals and travel cards as business expenses, getting some money back at tax time. Best of all, you are the boss and have more control of your destiny and time table. One of the common complaints of contracted workers I hear is that they often have to work their specified hours, whether busy or not, and also sometimes more depending on the work load or if their boss feels like prolonging the day to avoid the screaming kids and ragged wife waiting for him at home.

On the negative side, many freelance friends of mine have commented on the difficulty getting clients to pay for services rendered.  This was always a problem in the best of economic times, but has become particularly noticeable and more frequent with the economic downturn. The judicial process for redress is complex and expensive it seems. Meanwhile, there 't aren't many credit agencies that will buy off debt and seek to collect. But I have to admit my knowledge on this subject is tangential so feel free to correct or expand in the comments section. Still, I think the more you can get upfront, the better off you'll be.

I recently read in the Spanish press that the government is looking to fix some of the flaws with the system like offering unemployment benefits. I hope so because more and more people I know are becoming freelance given the current job market whether they directly pitch their wares or go through an agency. Also, as I mentioned before, it's increasingly how companies are hiring in Barcelona since they avoid the social security taxes or severance pay that they would pay to a contracted worker. 

So basically, if you want to work legally in Spain and expand your chances of getting hired, you'll have to go through the autónomo process and pay the taxes, which is neither fuss-free nor economically beneficial. The good news is that once you've done it, you won't have to worry about the authorities looking for you and it's relatively easy as far as paper work goes to activate (alta) or deactivate (baja) your freelance status depending on finances. Hint, hint, nod, wink.