Monday, 23 October 2017

Nezhin and Lviv

This is my first opportunity to update my blog since Thursday and now it is 7.30am on Monday morning in Kyiv. I am staying for one night at the Ibis Hotel, then this evening I take the Skybus back to Boryspil. And then tomorrow morning at 9.50am I take the UIA flight to Barcelona.
During the day today, I will write about my short visit to Marta's town of Nezhin and then the weekend we spent together in Lviv. So much to tell you!
Needless to say, I am reading each day about the worstening situation in Catalunya and it fills me with alarm.
But, for the moment to more mundane matters of breakfast and buying a charger for my phone because I left mine in the train, together with my personal wifi hotspot. So the only connection online will be from the Ibis or Ligena Hotel this evening in Boryspil.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Travelling

I will be adding to this post during the day because I will be travelling from Boryspil to Nezhin and at the same time, events are developing fast back home in Catalunya. And I will write about that too. I think maybe my friends in the UK are worried about what is happening to me because it is filling the pages of the international press. I am getting that sick feeling in my stomach again.
Yesterday I checked out of my hotel in Kharkiv and Marina accompanied me to the airport, we spent a short time together before she had to go to teach and then I went through security. The flight was less than an hour and I was soon in Ligena Hotel in Boryspil. The hotel lays on a shuttle bus from the airport.
So I have started writing this in Reception as I wait for the bus back to the airport (about 15 minutes)...... The shuttle bus arrives at the top floor of the terminal building which is International Departures. I passed through the security at the entrance - it is strange to be here but not catching my regular flight to Barcelona, that will be on Tuesday. I took the escalator down to the ground floor and took the Sky Train into town. That is where I am now, waiting to depart.
About Catalunya, I am truly scared at what will happen. The value of my house has already dropped which might lock me into staying there whether I like it or not. Companies are leaving in droves. A man in business who voted for independence has just lost a big client in Germany. Now the reality of the reckless drive for independence is coming home. For a very long time, the independistas have been in denial about Catalunya automatically leaving the European Union. Now it is beyond doubt and there will be some very ashen faces among businesses which expected to continue trading freely in the EU.
Maybe today, Mariano Rajoy will trigger Article 155 but what if the Parliament in Barcelona physically prevents it? Or if a large crowd blocks the Parliament Building. In any case, I predict violent demonstrations in the streets because the chances are that Carles Puigdemont will be arrested for sedition. I will write later. I am taking a train at 1.30pm to visit my other friend in Ukraine, Marta. I am already missing Marina!
...to be continued

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Posing.... again!

Marina likes to pose as regular readers will know, so that's what we did on Monday. She knew an interesting building a little out of town to do a photo-shoot. I took about 300 photos in all (Nikon D7100 DSLR). I'm not sure where the photos end up, I am trying to persuade her to update her website with more photos.
After shooting the pictures, she went off home by taxi because she had an English lesson to give and I took a tram back to Heroiv Pratsi where there are two large shopping malls. I had a burger and Coke, I can't remember the price but the burger was about 50 euro cents. Admittedly is wasn't very big but by then it was about 4pm so I didn't want to eat too much. Later I took the Metro back to Sumska Street and my hotel.


Today (Tuesday) was less successful! Marina had booked two restaurants in 5-star Kharkiv Palace Hotel but I thought at first she was talking about a restaurant for this evening. But her intention was to shoot photos in each of the two locations but the hotel does not allow photos apart from those taken on a mobile, such as selfies of photos of plates of food I guess. To do a serious photo-shoot is 2000 uah for 2 hours (€64). I asked Reception if they had a lower rate for non-commercial photos but there was just one rate.
If it had been half that, I would have paid it (if Marina had allowed me) but 2000uah was quite a lot of money if we weren't claiming it on expenses! Marina wanted me to take photos on my phone but I felt that wasn't really honest seeing that only I would be eating anything and I wasn't really in the mood for eating anyway. Unfortunately we ended up arguing about it and went back to Hotel19 in not a very good mood! I think Marina was tired because, by then, all she wanted to do was go home, so we called a taxi for her. But it was a great shame because she had gone to a lot of trouble to get ready with dresses and makeup. It is no surprise that there is a big gap in outlook between a young girl of 27 in the east of Ukraine and an English guy of 74. Normally it doesn't matter but she just wanted to go for it and I felt that it would be unwise to attempt it because we could have ended up humiliated. That didn't bother her but it did me!!
When we arrived back at the hotel I asked at Reception what their rate was for taking photos in public areas and the answer was 500uah. We have taken lots of photos here in the past but we never have to pay because I am resident.





Monday, 16 October 2017

Bowling


I will add more words later! This was Sunday and the photo is of the fruit and veg market. 


The other photos are of Marina and her friend, Vika. We went bowling as you can see. We had so much fun - we were like teenagers and my age in years was quite irrelevant. We laughed so much in the restaurant afterwards that Marina was almost falling off her chair.





Vika ordered (Ukrainian) champagne but of course I paid for it together with the bowling, and the meal in the restaurant afterwards. If you have any lurking feelings about "buying friendship", then dismiss them instantly. I can promise you, this was a wonderfully moving friendship. The only stage at which relative age would be relevant would be in a sexual relationship but I am sure that you can see that this is quite different than all that stuff! Maybe they will find the husbands that they wish for but meantime, they had a great time with a guy who unfortunately is outside the age range (in years but not mentally). We will meet up again tomorrow for a farewell supper (I am writing this on Monday evening). And then I leave them to go and see Marta in Nizhiyn on Thursday. I will be a little sad because I like Vika a lot. To see her and Marina together gave me enormous joy.






Sunday, 15 October 2017

A view of Catalunya from Ukraine

I'm writing this on Sunday. Later I am going bowling with Marina and a friend of hers, Vika. I try not to think too much about the bad things going on back home. I don't read Spanish papers and there is no Spanish TV here. But I read The Times which, during the last week or two has been intensely anti-Madrid which upsets me a lot, because it is rather like supporting the illegal forces instead of the side which is attempting to uphold the law.
Most people reading this will know that Carles Puigdemont has been given a deadline of 10am on Monday (tomorrow) to make it clear whether he is actually declaring independence or not. It is not as though Madrid is asking him to decide, it is really to ask, who is calling the shots.
I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that I want to move out of Catalunya regardless of the outcome because I cannot stand the poisonous atmosphere which will continue in any case. It is splitting families and friends. In my case, although I try not to think this way, I feel upset with my friends who support independence whereas before, I was very happy to co-exist with people who felt differently from me. Maybe they will feel differently about me because I don't hide my wish for Catalunya to remain part of Spain. Now people associate remaining part of Spain with the police violence on 1st October although I share their opinion. The big difference is that I don't see that it makes any difference to the legitimacy of the referendum and independence, it is quite separate. Two wrongs don't make a right.
When I go back on 25th October, I have 3 weeks before I go to Thailand and The Philippines which will be another welcome relief from the upheaval in Catalunya. But some of that time will be spent in Valencia because there is a very good chance that I will make it my new home. The big problem is my flat which I own. In the short term, I would have to rent it out and use the income to pay the rent in my new home and hope that they more or less match but I have to pay tax on the rent that I receive. In the longer term I would want to sell and buy but what chance of selling my flat when there is so much uncertainty. I could have done without this but I am a great believer that out of something bad, there comes something positive. And I will be moving to Spain, real Spain, where people speak Spanish, where I won't get nagged for not speaking Catalan. And Catalunya can sink for all I care. Even if Puigdemont declares independence, Madrid will immediately apply Article 155 which takes direct rule and forces new elections. This will cause enormous bad feeling which may spill onto the streets.
I think independistas ought to spend a week in the east of Ukraine and then talk about freedom and more money going to Madrid than comes back. When Catalunya wakes up to all the money and commerce escaping to Spain, they may see things differently. 



Arrived!

I ended my last post boarding the plane to Kyiv. The flight takes 3 1/2 hours, it is a 737-800 of Ukrainian International Airways and the return fare is never less than €300. Ryanair attempted to break the monopoly about a year ago and Kyiv Boryspil Airport agreed but the powerful owner of the airline overruled it.They even started taking reservations.

These flags, Catalunya, Spain and the European Union are flying outside the terminal, will they still be there when I return?
The flight arrived 30 minutes late, so by the time I got through Immigration which is very quick, and went up one floor to Domestic Departures, and got through security, I walked straight through the boarding desk to the bus waiting below. I guess I could have made it if I had been 15 minutes later but is is a little too tight for comfort. And I could have asked to jump the queue for Security.
I met my dear friend Marina at Meeters and Greeters and we spent a pleasant hour in the bar close by before I started to think that I should be heading for the hotel. We took a taxi together and dropped Marina off at her home which is not far from the airport.
I had a meal in the hotel and they gave me a free ticket for their disco next door. By now it was well past midnight but I was an hour behind so I went back to my room to change into my trendy girly gear and spent about 30 minutes in there. The sound level was enormous so I couldn´tstick it for very long. In any case it is not music, it is DJ generated beat. The girls were beautiful and smartly dressed and the guys rather shy and wearing the kind of clothes that they would wear in the street. I hesitate to generalise but in Ukraine I often see this contrast between the sexes.
 I didn´t sleep well. At about 5am I was woken by a loud crash. For a moment I had no idea where I was. I think it was the disco emptying its bottles into a refuse bin in the courtyard outside. It took me a long time to get back to sleep ad I was woken again by stuff being emptied into the bin. I complained in Reception but they can´t change their room. I asked that they are quiet but I can´t depend on it. It´s terrible, going to bed half expecting to be woken at 5am with breaking glass.
I complained bitterly at Reception next morning and they promised to talk to the disco. I had some breakfast and went back to sleep for an hour and felt much better. I never need much to catch up. Marina and I arranged to meet outside Universitat Metro at 2pm, I was expecting to be eating somewhere, she told me that we going to a place with plasticine but first we were going to a fair. On the way we passed hand-prints of various celebrities. I have attached various photos. The fish were from the local river and were still alive, so obviously air-breathing, like lobsters. I decided to give that a miss. They were very strange-looking to me.















After the fair, we walked back towards the hotel and, very close to it in Shumska Street, we dived in through an unmarked door, down some steps and Marina knocked on a door. There was a small sliding window and a man's face appeared and demanded a password which fortunately Marina had prepared. The door opened into the most beautiful restaurant. It was if they didn't want customers. The walls were covered in thousands of sculptures in plasticine. We took a seat and Marina ordered for us because the menu was all in Cyrillic.




 We were given our plasticine kits and I chose to create a Union Jack. I had to look it up in Google Images because I couldn't remember exactly how it went. The food was brilliant, Marina chose salmon soup for me, we shared a piece of roast chicken and chips and finally had cherries in a dough cover. We also had ginger tea. The bill was 400 uah which converts to about 13 euros. This is typically Ukrainian, it was so quirky. And one could almost imagine in advance that they didn't take anything as normal as a credit card! The food was absolutely top-class.
By now it was about 5pm and Marina wanted to go home but before that, we continued down Shumska Street to Ave Plaza shopping mall which has been updated since I was last here. There is now an Intimissimo and Calzedonia. Marina wanted to look at the shops so we visited Intimissimo and one or two less expensive shops on upper floors but left without success. She took a taxi home and I walked back to the hotel, had a beer and then spent some time in the room before eating later in Abajour which is the hotel restaurant below ground. I thought about going to the disco again but it was 11pm, a good time to sleep and too early for the disco anyway!







Friday, 13 October 2017

To Ukraine to escape the stress

I am sure you will have read in the press what is going on here in Catalunya. On Tuesday evening at my Meetup group, we watched Carles Puigdemont declare independence rather half-heartedly and then withdraw it pending talks. Some hope of that. All parties that are offerig to mediate insist on talks being within the law.
Then two days ago Mariano  Rajoy stood up and gave Puigdemont a deadline to say whether he had declared independence or not. We are now inside that watiing period and I am going to Ukraine yet again. For some reason I have made this my second home, I don´t even speak the language. I am writing this at Gate E at Barcelona, a place that I know well. And I am fascinated to see Emirates to Dubai leaving at 3.30 and Avianca to Bogotá an hour after that. Another month and I will be on the Dubai flight going to Bangkok and Manila. And last November I was on the Avianca flight to Bogotá. Today I am going to Kiev and then taking a connecting flight to Kharkiv where my friend Marina will meet and greet me.
I am glad to be escaping the turmoil in Catalunya. I will read about it online of course but I will be able to feel remote from it.
My feeling is that the independistas are on the back foot despite their making huge capital about the police violence. Puigdemont is now under enormous pressure, not only from Madrid where the National Day of Spain was celebrated yesterday but also from the more fanatical parts of his coalition, namely the CUP who want him to declare independence unilaterally.... and now!
I don´t really know why he is taking the 5 day deadline right up to the line. To confirm one way or the other now would be to show that he is sure about what he is doing.  
 Madrid has made it clear that they will activate Article 155 if Puigdemont insists on declaring independence. Article 155 is direct rule of Catalunya from Madrid.
To add to the pressure on Puidgemont to back down, but risk the wrath of the CU, almost every country leader speaking out is telling him to comply with the law.
A few days ago, an article appeared in The Times written by John Carlin, described as an essay. Then at the bottom, it said, "John Carlin writes for El País". The article, like many in The Times was critical of all the things that El País holds in esteem, the unity of Spain, the King. I imagined that maybe he just wrote for them from time to time because the article would never appear there. I wrote highly critical comments. Yesterday it was clear that he was on the staff of El País but no longer. They took great exception to what he wrote and fired him. I read that news on the train coming from Girona this morning.
The flight will be called soon, it is listed as running 15 minutes late but that will still leave me time to make my connection in Kiev but I have to go through immigration and security again at Domestic Departures. Security here was excellent. They have scanners for reading the boarding passes and there is a huge area to prepare for the baggage scanners. Sometimes that can be rather a pressured experience because, apart from having to remember all the metial biits like watch and belt, all computers have to be extracted and placed in the trays separately.At Barcelona, this was a breeze, there was so much space and time in which to do it. I tried to check my case all the way through to Kharkiv but I always buy two separate tickets because on the return, I have to. Well, I can but it meanns getting up very early and I prefer to take it easy in Hotel Ligena in Boryspil.
The check-in counter would not let me do it, so I have the case with me here. I have to board now!
 

 

Monday, 9 October 2017

Manifestación

I'm sorry, I got rather behind with my blog! All day yesterday, I was in Barcelona! Look! These are all my photos taken with my S6 phone.

Later in this post, there is an interview with the Mayor of Celrà where I ask him about what would happen in a future independent Catatlunya.







 This guy also appeared in some newspapers



This march was organised by Societat Civil Catalana and was a great success, the number of people was far in excess of what the organisers were hoping for. And not a fascist in sight! That is a dig at the media which attempted to vilify the march by mixing in photos of a completely separate and very small march by the far-right. It is true that at one stage they came together (physically but not in opinion!) but only for a short while - they were quite separate but people try to paint the SCC as far-right but in fact it is apolitical, it is not a political party, it is an organisation to bring together people like me. I try to be cool and respectful when talking to people who do not share my opinion but one thing that does make me angry is the attempt to paint the Partidio Popular as far-right and fascist, an extension of the policies of Franco, often by use of manipulation of images on TV and in the press. It is similiar to the Conservative Party in the UK and it would have my vote if I had one just in the same way that I would vote Conservative in the UK. I argued with the Mayor of Celrà about this but I suppose, from the far-left of the CUP, everything appears far away to the right!




It was a wonderfully joyous experience, helped by the amazing weather. I thought it was rather mischievous to insert a picture of fascists in Madrid in the article in The Times. There will always be a small minority of people like that, but there was not a single "francismo" flag in the SCC march (I like the Spanish word, "manifestación", it suggest a kind of coming together). No way was it a "march"! It took us 1 hour to move 50m out of Plaça Urquinanoa, such was the vast throng of people. Various numbers has been discussed, up to 1 million, but the point is that the number vastly exceeded the expectations of the organisers. 


Buses were laid on. There was one coach from Figueres and Girona but it was fully booked so I went on the train like very many others. In any case, the hire of the coach is normally covered by contributions from the occupants. By the way, the high-speed train (AVE) whizzes down from Girona to Barcelona in 37 minutes, so it is quicker than going by road.

An Interview with my Mayor!

Today I rang the Town Hall and asked if I could hold an interview with Dani, the mayor of Celrà. He is CUP, the party on the left of the governing coalition here and staunchly pro-independence. We have always got on well despite our totally opposite views. We had a most interesting conversation and no holds were barred. There was one point when I got up to walk out because he had seen pictures of the two groups in Barcelona and accused the SCC of being far-right, fascist almost. This made me rather annoyed because he kept on pressing the point, by this time we were both on our feet. I insisted time and time again, "Two separate groups"! But it was all courteous and we continued our "interview" standing! In total, we met for about an hour and a quarter which was great! We parted on very good terms, that was so interesting!


I won't go into too many details but we covered all the grievances of the independistas, going back to 1714. We talked about the police violence on 1st October but I was totally in agreement that it was excessive. But I am afraid I preached to him about forgiveness because he still burns with anger about it and it drives the move for independence. This was one of the few times he stopped to listen to me, for most of the time, he did most of the talking. Ha, not a good listener, sometimes he interupted me. I can hold my own, I said, "Escucharme!" At times he spoke in Catalan but most of the time, in Spanish. That must have hurt!

I had brought a large paper pad with me and drew an independent Catalunya as a train leaving a station, its exit driven by all the seething anger and I asked what would happen a few kilometers down the track when the violence was a thing of the past and Catalunya had to make some money. We argued about taxation. I maintained that, because we all live in Spain during the larger part of 2017, the tax would automatically be collected by Spain in June 2018. He disputed this but it is a recognised fact the world over. 

We disagreed of course about the right to self-determination. I said that the UN charter gives this right only to countries under oppression. He argued that Catalunya had been under oppression for many years. I swept my hand towards the window with the sun was shining. There are many parts of the world where the sun does not shine.

I explained how Article 50 worked with Brexit but he thought that it could be applied to Catalunya because it is leaving Spain so I explained that it was quite different. I drew a hypothetical 2 year period following the expected declaration of independence and said that there would be no rules of engagement as with Article 50 but unfortunately I couldn't remember the phrase, even in English. I said before talks started on exit from Spain, the rules would have to be agreed. I used as an example, the size of the table, who takes part, etc. And that would have to be settled before talks started.

I then asked him about the possibility of mediation, possibly by Switzerland or The Vatican. Would Catalunya enter into talks without the pre-condition of independence? He said that, of course, it would be the subject, not flowers! So I asked what his response would be if the mediator come down on the side of Spain and declared Independence a no-go area. But there we reached a slight impasse. It was a kind of chicken and egg situation. In any case, he said that they had a mandate from the people so can't see talks happening, mediated or not. And he says that Rajoy refuses to take part in talks. Not true. What he means is that he will not enter into talks where independence is on the table.

We will see what happens tomorrow. I asked him, "Are you optimistic about a future independent Catalunya?" I explained that I was scared and would move to Valencia. He said with a smile that Valencia would be next. He is half serious but we laughed about it. I wish I had pressed him more about the future because when he talked about it, the subject became woolly and unclear with a conviction that an independent Catalunya would remain in the EU. It would never belong in the first place. I wish I had asked him about the various companies, including my bank, which are planning to move their head office to Spain.

At 2.15 I left and thanked him for his time. He knows Carles Puigdemont because Puigdemont was previously mayor of Girona but he said that he doesn't see him too often now which is hardly surprising! Apart from anything else, he probably stays in Barcelona during the week. I was hoping he would pass on a few tips from me!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Moving Money

Something which I never imagined would happen may actually occur, a unilateral declaration of independence. Possibly on Monday.

They got their referendum. So, all the court hearings, declarations by the Tribunal Constitutional, even the intervention of the Guardia Civil were as nothing aganist the determination of people who want independence (or at least the opportnunity to choose it)

I have been moving my savings out of Catalunya and into the main part of Spain but I'm reluctant to appear as though I am panicking. I went to see my bank manager at "la Caixa" this morning which is where all my regular transactions take place. He explained to me that CaixaBank has a vast web of branches all over Europe so it is not just in Catalunya. But he offered me an account in any city in Spain and I chose Valencia. And that is where I would go to live if things got bad here.

So I am creating an account there, but partly it is a kind of protest at the high-handed way that the Parliament is taking me on a roller-coaster ride out of Europe. It is a statement.


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Lull before the Storm

I have two Meetup meetings today, one was the regular Girona Grapevine for coffee at Hotel Carlemany this morning and the other is tonight. Normally it is on a Tuesday but it was moved to today because of the strike.

I cancelled it because there was no prospect of the bar where we meet opening. I heard later that one bar did try to open but it was forced to close by the crowd.

Now I am getting seriously worried and I'm moving my savings out of Catalunya. I wonder how many of the enthusiasts for independence are doing the same. I just hope it doesn't cause a run on the bank. At present the bank is backed by the Central European Bank..... for the moment. It would be wrong to call it "panic", "sensible", more like - I am doing it over a period of a few days and I even wrote a message to my bank manager to explain what I was doing. He is a very charming guy - too charming because he talked me into an investment a year ago that went wrong and I lost money. So I don't owe him any loyalty.

There is talk of DUI being declared in Parliament on Monday. That should be a stormy session. (DUI in English, unilateral declaration of independence, UDI.)

So what happens if that happens? Is Catalunya an independent country with its own borders on Tuesday? Of course not, there will be lengthy discussions with a hostile Spain. And Catalunya owes a large sum of money to Spain. And much of the infrastructure is Spanish, so Catalunya will have to buy such things as the railway. It will be like the current Brexit talks but in a poisonous atmosphere. Catalunya will, by merit of leaving Spain, will also be outside the European Union and that would happen quickly I guess because it would never be in it in the first place. The whole process horrifies me, I cannot believe this is really happening. Maybe on Monday they will back down but there are too many hot-heads in Governent to stand by and let it happen. I am thinking in particular of CUP who would want to nationalise the banks and my money with it (except that it will have flow the nest by then).

I spoke to a friend at Girona Grapevine this morning, I asked in mid-air where will the money come from to run this new country. Ah, he said that Catalunya would keep my taxes and not send them to Spain. But I explained that they go directly from my bank to Spain. Catalunya cannot get their hands on my income tax unless they do it by law. And maybe my response will be that you did not respect the law when you voted to leave Spain so why should I respect your laws? "I think I will pick and choose what I like just as you did." Hey, just see what happens if I try that!

 

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Tuesday means Meetup!

I run three Meetup groups in Girona but by the far the most successful is Girona Social Meetup - our Tuesday evening meetup has become very popular and the more people who come, the more it attracts because without exception everyone who comes along has an interesting story to tell. Most are a lot younger than in Girona Grapevine which has been going a long time anyway, about 16 years. So I call Girona Grapevine, "my older group". But the joke is on me because I am 74 although I don't feel like it. And this week, Girona Grapevine is attracting one or two younger people from Girona Social Meetup which will be nice. It meets on a Wednesday morning so it is bound to attract people who are retired. And for most who come, English is their first language or they speak it like a native.

These three photos show how Girona Social Meetup has developed over two years. It was rather formal at one stage. 



Then we used to meet upstairs in Catalano Taverna in Plaça de la Independencìa but it got rather noisy sometimes, especially if there was football on TV which would tend to start at 8.45pm. After that, during the winter of 2016-17, we met at Jim's Restaurant by Parcde la Devesa. We had our own space with one long table but it got rather noisy. We usually split into a number of conversations and it used to get rather noisy with them all competing against each other! The photo below is in Catalano Taverna.



And then during the summer of this year, we have been meeting outside Lapsus, also in Plaça de la Independencìa. As you can see, we were at the end of the "block" so we could expand quite a bit. Now we meet inside and there is a super space at the back of the bar where we can split between 3 or 4 tables. This works much better than one long table which I don't like very much (on the patio, it was great). And with several tables, I try to persuade people to move around rather than be in a static position all night. Everyone accepts my friendly bullying in good spirits! They say, "Well, you are the Organiser"! Sometimes they use the word, "boss" which is funny. There is a low ceiling with sound treatment so it is not too noisy. And I am always on the lookout for people who may be a little shy. I don't have any photos at the moment, I will take one or two this evening and put one on this blog.



Links for the Meetup groups are
http://www.meetup.com/girona-social-meetup
http://www.meetup.com/girona-grapevine



I run a writers' group also
http://www.meetup.com/girona-writers-meetup


A little more about the politics here....

I think the consensus between all parties was shock at the violence of the Guardia Civil. I mean, it was crazy. Dragging a woman by her hair, smashing doors of polling stations. (I didn't understand the logic of that - if they couldn't get in neither could the voters!!) But, of course, it is now being used as a political weapon as if to justify the independence movement, in particular on TV3 where it is repeated ad-nauseam. In my opinion, it is quite separate. It is not a valid argument to justify an illegal referendum, but that is what is being attempted. In fact, as time passes, the independistas will find their argument hitting the buffers of the European Union which is giving wholehearted support for the Government of Spain (at the same time, criticising the violence).

Today there is a general strike in protest at the violence so I'm not even sure if our regular venue will be open. But I'm determined that our meetup goes ahead so I just sent a message to my members to come anyway and we can decide what to do.

The Catalan Parliament plans to appeal to the European courts (The European Court of Human Rights because of the violence and the EU as mediator) but, of course, they will find short shrift form the legal process if they want mediation there, just as they did in Spain. But the EU will be more difficult to dismiss. Even if the EU does get involved, it will come out firmly on the side of the law. It is a strange cul-de-sac that they will find themselves in. Their only route was defying the law and the only way they can achieve their desired independence is to continue down that path with their rhetoric. To head towards the courts will be fatal. It is a strange situation. The news today is that the move for independence is on hold. But the promise was of a declaration of independence within 48 hours of a "yes" result. There will be many angry people, notably the CUP who are to the extreme left, politically.

On a personal level, I am a little more tranquil because, ironically, despite the actual referendum going ahead, and with a "sí" result, the independence movement will find its path more difficult now. Their best plan was to go ahead and declare independence which is what they had promised and what I was expecting (and it was the reason why I was walking aimlessly around Girona, very depressed on Sunday afternoon, hearing the sporadic cheering and clapping).

The second part of today was a little bit crazy. I had already looked up the train and bus times which were limited because of the strike but I didn't realise how totally comprehensive was the shut-down in Girona until one of my members sent me a message asking if out meeting was still on. I had already decided to go early to the bar but I caught an even earlier train at 3.30pm. I quickly saw for myself how total was the strike. There were lots of young people draped in flags or waving them in the air. I became rather despondent. I walked across town to Plaça de la Independecìa and all the bars and restaurants were closed. I asked around if they would open later, some said yes, others said no. And then I started to get a feeling that maybe we should be joining the strike also. Ostensibly it was a protest against the violence of Sunday but it rapidly became a big independence rally.

I sat at one of the tables at Lapsus to cancel the meetup but couldn't get a signal so I walked around the corner and sat on the steps of the Post Office (a popular meeting place). I got a signal and wrote a message to people who said they were coming. At one point two girls came from different directions screaming and hugged each other flying and my new expensive laptop very nearly went flying too.  It would have been wrecked.



Gradually a large crowd appeared from the direction of the hospital accompanied by a convoy of tractors. I checked with Sarfa when their next bus would be and they told me, 17.15 from the bus station. What they failed to tell me was that it was not stopping at Correos which is where I was. But as the crowd became very large, I started to work that out for myself, the bus would skip Correos because it would have got caught up in the convoy. I rang Sarfa again and told the person that I was at Correos, could the driver look out for me. "Oh no", she said, "it is only stopping at the hospital". (Now you tell me!) That left me with 10 minutes to walk there. I hoped the bus would be running late. I walked rapidly looking behind me at regular intervals. I saw the bus but I was still about 300m short of the stop. I put out my hand and then put my hands together in the form of a prayer! The driver recognised me anyway, he stopped and I jumped on board. If I had missed that bus, I would either have been stuck in Girona for 2 hours or forced to take a taxi.

If I every had any doubts about the collusion by the Mossos d'Esquadra in enabling the referendum to go ahead, they were dispelled today. When two of their cars moved through the crowd, they were applauded. As if to say, "You are our police force now, on our side". I mean to say, just think of that happening in the UK. And so the central Government had to send in the Guardia Civil because they could not depend on the Catalan police to uphold the law. And we all know what happened next. 

When I got home, I arranged a new meetup for the next day.


Near to the end of the day, the King spoke to me. It is exceptional for him to speak on TV apart from at Christmas. He spoke for about 10 minutes at 9pm. He said to people like me, loyal to the country where I live, not to be anxious, that I have the support of the whole democracy of Spain. He also spoke very clearly to the people who set out to destroy the unity and democracy of Spain.




 

Monday, 2 October 2017

The morning after

I started writing this at 5.30am but I often wake up early and then go back to bed. I have a stronger reason today for waking early. Needless to say, I am shocked. With two things. The violence in the streets with the excessive force of the Guardia Civil but also the violence imparted on my life by this illegal act. A cut face will get better but the damage to my life is far greater and will last longer. Not all violence is physical. Ideally, it would have been better to leave it to the Mossos d'Esquadra, the Catalan police, but they stood by and let it happen, in contravention with their obligation to uphold the law. So they could not be depended on. Imagine something like that happening in the UK, the police taking the side of demonstrators instead of the elected Government in Westminster.

After looking at some of the photos in the UK press, I do note that many of them show demonstrators, not people peacably going to vote, almost all of whom are young guys and they appear to be inciting the Guardia Civil. And many of the injuries in the list were very minor such as anxiety attacks. However I am not in any way attempting to justify some of the violent acts, especially at polling stations which as I said, shocked me but in some cases batons were necessary. And these made great photos for the front pages!
 
In any case, the pictures beamed around the world are manna from heaven for the Catalan Parliament. I am sure they would not say it publicly but this martyrdom is exactly what they were hoping for. I fear that two wrongs will make a right. These pictures are now being used as a powerful weapon against the Spanish State and the rulings of the Tribunal Constitucional will be lost in the newspaper headlines of a woman being dragged by her hair. I feel abandoned by both sides. (I added a photo of myself because this post is about me and how this vote affects me).


 (Photo, Kyiv, Ukraine)

But things will change and the photos will take second place to the cool hand of law when the new Catalan Republic starts to negotiate its exit from Spain and the European Union with me on board. But will they respect the European laws? Or do they only respect the laws that they like? I own an apartment here so it would be impossible to up-sticks rapidly and move to Spain and running my Meetup groups in Girona is a large part of my life. But there is nowhere in Spain where I would want to live. To get out of Catalunya would mean either going inland (and I like the sea) or going south, maybe to Valencia (but I like being near to France). I had thought of moving to France but I'm not sure it that would be allowed with my UK passport because it is under negotiation following the Brexit referendum. It would be difficult having to learn a new tax system but my French would  improve rapidly. And I would be living in a country with one language. Oh, joy! Somewhere near to Perpignan on the coast side, rather in the way that I do here, just outside Girona. And no Brits I hope because I like to be immersed in the language and culture of where I live. Sorry, I know that sounds snobbish.

At some stage, I may have to get a European passport because I feel European now - I feel abandoned by the UK also following Brexit, the result also skewed by lies (that word, "abandoned" again). It would be far easier for me to get Spanish nationality because I have lived here for 13 years and speak the language. But I guess I could live in France with Spanish nationality because both are in the EU.

And a Spanish passport would enable me to travel to many parts of the world just as my UK passport does at the moment. Incidentally, it comes up for renewal in September next year.

Since it is now becoming a distinct possibility, that I will be stranded in a small country, not recognised by the outside world, let us consider what would happen if Carles Puigdemont (previously mayor of Girona) declares independence. 

I imagine there would be complex negotiations with (a hostile) Spain. Much of the infrastructure here is Spanish, the trains for example. RENFE which runs the trains is Spanish and ADIF is Spanish and they own the track. There is an outstanding debt to Spain and that would have to be paid. There is no army, air force or navy. The list goes on and on and it horrifies me.Where would the money come from to run the new country? International trade depends on trade deals and, being outside the EU, it would have to start from scratch.

As a first step, I am moving my savings from (Catalan) la Caixa to my bank account in Spain. At the moment, of course it is just a symbolic gesture, a protest, because all my regular finances go through la Caixa and the branch is in my village, but it is a move that makes me feel a little better! BBVA is based in Bilbao, in the País Basque, so maybe I should have an account with Caixa Madrid just to be sure! (BBVA = Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argenteria).

I will add more to this post later or start a new post because there are bound to be developments during the day.


(I know this post sounds like martyrdom too but I just feel rather lonely. I could take the train to Madrid and beyond, maybe to Bilbao, join up with Meetup groups there. I have never been there. I have two Meetup groups this week, so I would be free from Wednesday afternoon.)

I added this later. I am watching TV3, a press conference with Carles Puigdemont. As one would expect, much political capital is being made of the horrific images of the Guardia Civil wresting ballot boxes from Catalans when all they want to do is to vote. I cannot believe it is so dumb. Could the Goverment in Madrid not see this coming a million miles away? I am sure this was their biggest fear, but the Guardia Civil is Spanish, under their control. Or maybe not.


I have been writing a lot in comments threads in The Times. Sometimes I write a comment and sometimes I write a reply if someone comments on my comment. One person called Bernie Bear wrote a reply which was really too long to reply to and he started with the comment. "interestingly....." which you can see below. I had a little bit of fun at his expense! I wrote the following in reply:

BernieBear: Thanks for your comment. You wrote, "Interestingly you have not touched on the role of the international community". Actually I went to get some lunch! You raised lots of points but, at some stage, I have to stop replying because I am really stressed over this. I have written more in my blog. I just wrote about the attempted vote in my village.

But people can "like" comments by clicking on "Recommend". Someone "liked" my little joke, his name was familiar, it was the journalist who wrote the original Times article. That made me smile! I always assumed that the writer of articles reads the comments section. But sometimes they get rather petty and personal. The threads that I have taken part in have been well-written in general. Today, 2nd October, the threads have become very long and convoluted. Not so much in response to the leading article which I quite liked. It criticised the heavy-handed tactics of the Guardia Civil but also pointed out that the illegal referendum had no basis in law. After all, this is only happening because of that abuse of the law.


 

Saturday, 30 September 2017

About 1-O

1-O of course means, 1st October. The day of the planned referendum on independence. I will write during the day about my village, Celrà and maybe Girona as well. 

This is the town hall (on the left) and the Civic Centre (entrance by the right-hand chimney).
The painting is in watercolour, 2004.

I just got back from Can Ponac which is the place for old-folks and that is one of the three locations that was intended for the vote. But I found a large group of people which, first of all, I thought were not able to get in. I knew that the police had come earlier but, in fact, they had come to cut the internet connection on which they depended. This seemed strange to me, why did they not simply check peoples' ID and count ballot papers at the end of the day? This was a weak link!

The mayor made an announcement on a barely audible hand-held loud-hailer. After a while, some people drifted away and I followed them. I fancied a coffee and there were tables serving hot dogs and drink. The atmosphere was relaxed and festive despite the frustration of not being able to vote. Maybe they hoped something would change during the day. I came back home to write up my blog but I will go back later.

I spoke to one or two people, two of whom I know quite well. One works in reception at the Town Hall, so I wondered if she had seen my email about the posters which so offended me. The message, like a mantra, from them was the same..... The referendum was totally legal, they have the basic human right to self-determination. The central governing party, the PP, are "francistas", the grandchildren of Franco. In other words they are the same. Extreme right. I asked one guy what party he would like to see in power in Madrid. He said, "none of them".

All my conversations on the subject are friendly and respectful, I may feel strongly on the subject myself but I hold back in order to maintain good relations.

But I get very depressed at the vast difference between the two sides. It is not like Brexit where people had different opinions, it is a total disagreement over the rules of engagement. That is the best way I can think about it. It is not about whether people want a referendum or not, it is about whether they consider it legal or not. That goes very deep. They see a basic human right of self-determination being denied. Sometimes the phrase, "self-expression" is used. Hey, that's OK. They can express as much as they like but, despite their deep belief to the contrary, they do not have the right to vote on independence. The same with Germany, Italy.....

I have just seen pictures of the Guardia Civil violently hitting people in the street and I am very shocked. There are reports on TV3 that they are using rubber bullets. I feel abandoned by both sides. The independistas who want to create a new republic which will float somewhere to the west of Portugal with no EU membership and no trade deals with the rest of the world and these riot police whose brains are conditioned by dealing with  violent extremists, not the nice, polite people of Catalunya. I wrote earlier, they genuinely believe that they have a right to vote. I respect that even if I think they are wrong.

These pictures will circle the globe and will pour gasoline on a fire which is many times more intense than the court judgements of the Tribunal Constitucional. Such is the modern world. Many people will jump on the band-waggon tomorrow. I am scared. Last year, I learnt that my passport will no longer be an EU passport, simply a UK passport. And now the place where I have made my new home is going.... I have no idea where.



I am going back to the town hall now. The railway station is right next-door so I will then take a train to Girona to see what is happening there. I will write more here later!
.....

They got their vote! When I went back, people were inside Can Ponac voting. This guy was very happy to have his photo taken but I promised to pixelate the three guys who were helping. But I don't think they were too worried.


They managed to re-connect the internet which they use to verify peoples' IDs. Later I saw two Mossos, the Catalan police but they were making no attempt to stop the voting. I think this was happening a lot, that the Mossos, if not supporting the vote were certainly taking a passive role.


They celebrated with a meal!

I walked aimlessly around Girona for an hour then went to the station for the train back to Celrà. On the platform I met a guy who I have got to know in Celrà, together with his young female carer. He had a stroke and is more or less confined to a wheelchair. His speech is very difficult to follow but he can read and use his hands. No one came with a ramp to help him onto the train but fortunately, when it arrived, it was one of the more modern versions with wheelchair access. Joan got up from the chair and I dragged him to a seat inside, his carer brought the wheelchair onto the train and sat in it for the short journey to our village.

When we arrived, Joan stayed in the chair and we dragged him onto the platform. I felt a muscle in my side twinging but it was soon OK. We went together to Can Ponc where he wanted to vote. When we arrived, the crowd parted for him to be wheeled down to the entrance and everyone burst into applause. I guess it was for my noble work in dragging him off the train (joking of course). I found it rather patronising, as though he had overcome great hardship to get there (maybe you think I am heartless but I write this story with a smile and I often stop to talk to him). When I used to push my mum around in a wheelchair after her stroke, we used to get sickly smiles from people passing by, "There, there... does she take sugar?" Fortunately the stroke didn't dim her mischievous sense of humour so we used to joke about it. Except that she couldn't talk.

I left rapidly and in passing I saw the mayor and he said, "Hello Steve". I replied back, "Hello Dani", but I confess it was rather cool because I blamed him for the offensive posters outside the Town Hall. I felt guilty about that afterwards. Maybe he didn't get to see my email. Normally our relationship is very cordial but, at the time, I was feeling very depressed about how things were going. And his party, CUP, was a chief protagonist.

To France again!

I had an interesting day yesterday. I know I have written a lot about the political situation here but my blog is really to cover anything that might entertain you! Especially when I go travelling.
Yesterday was a very short trip, to Perpignan. I have a choice of two routes, one is cheap and slow, the other is much more expensive and, certainly from Girona to Perpignan much faster. The down-side of taking the fast train is that I first have to go into Girona and sometimes there is not very much difference in the time. To buy a ticket at short notice is €33 but it only takes 40 minutes from Girona to Perpignan. The train is either a Spanish AVE which goes on to Toulouse, Lyon or Marseille or it is the French TGV which goes twice daily to Paris.
Yesterday, I looked up the "slow train" and saw that there was an R11 regional train to Cerbère at 11am. Perfect, because it takes one hour and there is a French TER regional train to Perpignan (and on to Avignon) at 12.30.
But this was most odd! The train arrived but on the wrong track, the "down" line in rail parlance, the track which normally takes trains down to Barcelona. We looked in puzzlement and walked down to the back of the train, scrambled across the tracks and onto the train in the last carriage.
Gradually I began to notice the screen in the carriage, it said "RG1 Portbou", not "R11 Cerbère". Portbou is the final stop in Spain before the train trundles through a short tunnel into France and stops at Cerbère. I decided that I must have made a mistake in looking up the trains because I don't normally take this train. I didn't have my timetable with me and the app on my mobile only showed future trains.
At Flaça, the train crossed over to a platform not normally used and I could see a freight train waiting for the track to be free in order to go in the direction of Barcelona.
I saw people in Flaça coming to enter my carriage but the doors closed before they could get on and they were left stranded on the platform. "Odder and odder," said Alice.
After Flaça, the train crossed back to its normal track - as on the roads, trains here go on the right. I got off at Figueres, not having had to pay for the ride. There was no point in staying on the train because it was going no further than Portbou. Just as I was pondering what to do, maybe spend a day out in Figueres, I heard an announcement which immediately made everything clear. It was for R11 to Cerebère! The train which I should have been on. The previous train was obviously running very late. The change of track was for a different reason I guess, maintenance for example.
I was very honest and told the ticket collector that I had come from Celrà... on two trains. I smiled but he didn't seem to enjoy the joke. In any case, it is only €2.95. Imagine! About 3 euros to go to France!
At Cerbère, I passed through a security check where I showed my passport, and crossed to the French side, picked up my ticket which I had already paid for online. €4.40. And I took the TER to Perpignan. The TER is much more comfortable than the rather basic Spanish train. Typically French, the interior is a pastel blue. (By the way, I usually carry a laminated photocopy of my passport with a notary stamp on the back to say that it is authentic. I use that as my ID because my Spanish ID is not a photo ID on account of my being a foreigner and I keep my passport safe at home. When I first arrived here my ID was the same as the Spanish photo-ID on a credit card format but later they downgraded the foreigners' ID, it is called NIE - numero identificar estranjeros.) On the high-speed train, there is no ID check between France and Spain. And none coming back from France on the low-speed train.


By the time I arrived in Perpignan, it was about 1.15 so I headed directly for Port d'Espagne which is where the Auchan store is located. Oh, I didn't tell you, the purpose of the trip was to buy wine! I was so happy to find that the flimsy little reloadable bus ticket that I've had at home for a long time still worked. I have had a credit of 10 journeys for about 2 years. I thought that they would expire.

Very strange, the students, who I asked where the number 11 bus stop was, replied that they didn't speak Spanish. I am sure I asked in French. So I said it again more slowly, "Ou est l'arrête pour l'autobus onze?" This time, success. I am sure I don't speak French with a Spanish accent, that would be most odd! Most of the time, I get my leg pulled over my English accent when speaking Spanish.
The rest of the afternoon was spent happily choosing wine. I had taken my shopping trolley and guessed that it would take 12 bottles which was about right.
I went back to Perpignan station to buy my ticket for the 17.11 to Portbou but there was a long queue in the ticket office and I was running a little short of time. I tried to use the TER ticket machine which is not the same as the machine for the main lines. It is like something out of the 60s. It has a screen but it is not a touch screen, instead it is operated with a rotating wheel like an arcade game. I felt sure I was wasting my time because, last time, it would only accept French bank cards (or cash). This turned out to be true. Now time was getting short and I didn't know the penalty for getting on the train without a ticket. The train was sitting outside.


I complained to a woman at the help desk nearby, saying that the machine - in French, bourne - was out of the last century. I said the it was an international station and yet the machine only accepted French bank cards. She responded with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders. I responded by mocking her with an English shrug of the shoulders.

I decided to get some change. I bought a fruit juice and got my change in euro coins. I went back to the machine and went through the same old rigmarole again. This time, it kept on rejecting my euro coins. Finally I got it to accept 7 euros (the fare was 6.80, more because it is peak time). It then gave me a message saying that it could not give me my 20 cents change and gave me a choice of things to do. Some I didn't understand but one was to quit and get my money back which is what I did.



I took a photo and went out to the train. The ticket collector was on the platform and he said that there would be an extra €7 to pay if I had no ticket. I showed him the photo of the ticket machine. He said to speak to the supervisor.  He grudgingly agreed to charge the normal fare but during the journey he never came to my seat, so I travelled back to Spain for nothing!

Later, when I looked at the photo of the ticket machine, I guess the correct choice would have been "Vous acceptez l'Avoir", in other words, accept the loss of 20 cents and print the ticket. But I was running out of time. Next time, I will make sure I have €7 in cash because I usually catch this train back home. Or, even better, €6.80!

I wanted to see how the political situation here is reported in the French press, well at least one newspaper. I picked up l'Independent in its local version. It has "Catalan" on the front page, meaning Paises Catalanes. But its coverage was surprisingly low key, an inside page and not even all the page. And this was very welcome, it was balanced and fair. Even in fact leaning towards support for the Government in Madrid. That was welcome after the unbalanced and emotive language of The Times in London.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

An Email

In response to the inflammatory posters in three Adjuntament locations (see the previous post, "Photos"), one of which adorns the Town Hall, I bravely decide to write an email. I didn't want an argument in reception so I thought it would be best to measure my words. I was careful to say that my objection was to do with the posters, not the referendum or independence. It is not a very large village and I often speak to the mayor, so they know me well.

Of course, I will add their reply if I receive one. I know why I'm doing this. Just one small victory would make me feel so much better, I feel rather crushed by the weight of opinion and propaganda over this whole event. It is to push back a bit and make a bit of space around myself.

Friends have suggested I move away during the weekend. I am sure there will be some kind of vote here, even if they print their own ballot papers. Many of the posters in the town were probably printed at home. There is a website with all the "Freedom" posters as PDFs. Nooo, I am staying here. I want to report here what happens each day, and especially on Sunday. For example, I don't know where they plan to vote. There are public meetings which I guess I could attempt to attend. But I wouldn't have a vote anyway so they would probably suspect me of spying. And they would be right!
 
Then after Sunday maybe I will take a break. It is stressful for me here, I'm writing this blog and also in The Times comments but there is bad stress and good stress. This is good stress because I am doing something positive and I love to write anyway. I still have my clunky keyboard from when I ran my company in the UK, which I love. I have two, with the Spanish symbols drawn on in indelible pen.

Here's the email.....

Hola,
Supongo sabes que no estoy en favor de independencia, tampoco el referendum! Siempre he mostrado respeto por tu opinión y espero igual tú conmigo. Pero los posters afuera de La Fabrica son inflamatorios. Es un sitio para todo del pueblo y no es justo tener algo tan fuerte. Creo que tienes un responsabilidad de cortesía por todo del mundo que vive aquí. Aún yo!:-)

Son en inglés.... porque? Me molestan aun mas porque les tomo personalmente. Soy el único inglés en Celrà.

"Voting is not a crime"? Nadie lo dice.
"Pistola, guns"?? Que dices exactamente? Nadie usa armas.

(Yo supongo, si los posters no se hacen directamente por el Ajuntament, son allí con su permiso).

He utilizado email porque no busco una respuesta y no quería una polémica en recepción.

con respeto, y saludos!
Steve 



EN
I guess you know I'm not in favor of independence, neither the referendum! I have always shown respect for your opinion and I hope you are the same with me. But the posters outside La Fabrica are inflammatory. It is a place for everyone in the village and it is not fair to have something so strong. I think you have a responsibility for courtesy to everyone who lives here. Even me! (and I added a smiley emoji)

They are in English .... why? They annoy me even more because I take them personally. I am the only Englishman in Celrà.

"Voting is not a crime"? Nobody says that.
"Gun, guns" ?? What exactly are you saying? Nobody is using arms.

(I suppose, if the posters are not made directly by the Ajuntament, they are there with your permission).

I used email because I don't require an answer and I did not want an argument in reception.




I was just reading some propaganda about Paises Catalanes. It is alarming. A declaration was made earlier this month in the "four cities of the Catalan Countries", Barcelona, Palma, Valencia and Perpignan. And it made its intentions clear, that this referendum is only the first step in reuniting the 4 "countries" of Catalunya. It spoke angrily not only about Spain but also the French government. The document is far-left politically. It is dynamite. Maybe I should publish it somewhere because I don't think people realise how fanatical these people are. But you can read it here and translate from the Catalan to English in Google Translate which works well.

The posters are here:
http://prenpartit.cat
 


The propaganda about the "new republic", including the declaration I described above is here:
http://prenpartit.cat/decidir-ho-tot/