Thursday, December 20, 2007

R rated shitting log

I have never been a Tió person. Even though I am fully aligned with many of the scatological Catalan traditions like the “caganer” (shitter) who occupies a privileged spot in my Nativity display, I never fell for the shitting log (Caga Tió). When I was a kid, some of my 100% Catalan friends got their presents on Christmas Eve through the log shitting methodology, but hybrids like me, were hooked to the cleaner Three Magic King tradition.

I have to give credit to the previous dictator Franco for having devised a plan to eradicate Catalonia as a nation by favoring the relocation of a massive amount of people from other regions to dilute the Catalan sentiment and convert Catalonia into a blended combination of Spanish traditions. He was quite successful in his attempts, but died too early to fully succeed and the Catalan seeds started to re-grow in the 1980s. I am not totally sure what globalization will bring to us. The vast majority of those who moved from other regions to Catalonia are now Catalans and have embraced the Catalan culture and language and their children have no ties whatsoever with the regions where their parents come from. It is unclear to me what’s going to happen with the 1 million foreign nationals who migrated to Catalonia in the last decade. I see most of them very interested in transforming Catalonia into what they thought it would be, instead of adapting to what Catalans as a people want Catalonia to be. I think that the way the Catalan government reacts to the situation with things like Catalan immersion or obligations on Catalan signage is understandable, but often backfires. Strategy is more important than tactics if we want to win the battle against homogenization.
Anyway let’s go back to the shitting log tradition. The poem below was recited by the kids who gathered around the shitting log while hitting the log with a baton. At the end of the process, the Tió would defecate all kinds of presents for the children and adults rejoicing:

Caga tió/Shitting log,
Tió de Nadal/Christmas log
No caguis arengades/Don't shit herrings
Que són salades /‘cause they are salty
Caga torrons/Shit nougat
Que son mes bons!/Which is much better

A couple of months ago, I was in a hotel in Japan watching a late night show, while drinking a glass of rice sake to try to compensate my jet lag, I saw a TV advertisement which made me long for the shitting log tradition. I am in my mid forties and my continuous trips, long haul flights, jet lags, meetings and teleconferences any time of the day and often nights, have partially eroded my stamina, what translates directly into a poor sex life. My problem is not ED, it is just exhaustion and the Japanese R rated ad seemed to address exactly my requirements. I was able to find a video clip in one of the video sharing sites (I have edited out the steamiest scenes to still have a remote chance to become a Catalonian Politician). On Christmas Eve, I will hit hard my shitting log and hope that the present will be there at the end of the night. You may want to try the same. I do not understand Japanese, but my assumption is that neither the guy nor the girl come with the piece of equipment.

Mid Age Crisis Aid

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Las Vegas in Los Monegros

It is no point being a visionary, if my Catalan audience does not want to follow me. Most probably I am already too American, too market economy oriented, too focused on the private sector, against a welfare society which penalizes hardworking people and pampers the lazy.
I am often blasted in the Catalan forums when I propose a dramatic downsizing of the government, free enterprise, reduction of the welfare benefits for those who are healthy, but simply do not want to work. I still think that the government should provide a cushion for the needy, senior citizens, children and sick people, but that's it.
But today I will not elaborate about my political views, I will do that step by step, today I want to talk to you about a missed opportunity.
When in December 2005 I was in my room at the MGM hotel in Vegas, I had a dream. I looked trough the window and I saw the flashing hotels superimposed to the desertic background. It reminded me of Los Monegros. I used to cross Los Monegros when I was a kid. We visited, from time to time, my mother's relatives who lived near Saragossa. I still remember crossing the Monegross when I was 4 or 5 in my father's olive green Seat 600. It was in August and the car was literally boiling. The temperature outside was 110 degrees and inside 120. My father stopped at the roadside, somewhere between Alfajarin and Bujaraloz. The Guardia Civil stopped shortly after. My father told them that we had a problem in the car, it was hot as hell. The police inspected the car and found the problem. I had activated the heating. There was a lever to activate the heating under the passenger seat. While playing in the rear seat, I had turned it on. In the 1960's kids did not wear safety belts, just played around without any restrictions.
I also remember that when the Americans made it to the Moon, my grandmother used to tell me that it was all a sham, that she heard that American military film crews based in Saragossa had been seen filming in the Monegros, months before the Americans landed in the Moon. I was a kid and I believed her.

I also remember that in my mother's village, they would call us catalanufos or something similar and they tried to hurt our feelings by saying that we spoke a dialect. They did not offend me (they would now), I thought they were village people and I was coming from the civilization. For a strange reason, my mother always talked to me in Catalan. Most probably because she thought that I would have more possibilities of success if I was bilingual. Almost everyone spoke only Spanish in the 1960s Hospitalet de Llobregat where I grew up.

From the MGM hotel I imagined that I was back in Los Monegros and I thought it would be a great idea to encourage Catalan businessmen (and women) to invest in Los Monegros to set up a Las-Vegas-like leisure complex. I also encouraged them to set up a bullfighting rink, since I was sure that bullfighting would be banned in Catalonia with the new Estatut. In March 2006, I published a post with my recommendations, it was called Las Vegas II.
Unfortunately, no one in Catalonia followed my advice. We could have made millions. It would been the ideal complement to Catalonia, like Vegas is to California. The reality is that a group of International investors has recently unveiled its plans to start a Las-Vegas-like leisure complex in Los Monegros, exactly as suggested by me. Since I proposed the idea two years ago in my blog and my blog was licensed under a Creative Commons Attibution, do you thing I have rights to some royalties? I will check with my lawyer.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Resign in Spanish and in Catalan used to be “dimitir”

When I was a student at the Institute of North American Studies in Barcelona, our teacher, an interesting guy called Donald from Cocoa Beach Florida, spent a couple of lessons talking about things which sound similar in English and Spanish, but have different meanings. The most vivid example I remember is the word molest. As many of you well know, “molestar” means to disturb in Spanish. Some Spanish speaking people, however, have the tendency to say, “may I molest you?”, instead of “may I disturb you?”, what in some instances can bring them some trouble, since the connotation of molest in English is mainly related to making indecent sexual advances. The other word I remember is the word resign. The correct translation for resign is dimitir in Spanish (and also in Catalan. I know that in Catalan you can also say resignar, but let’s forget about it for the purpose of this post). Donald explained with multiple examples that when someone resigned, he or she was giving up an office or position and that we should not confuse the word resign with resign oneself to something.
After 30 years I have realized that Donald was wrong, that the word “dimitir”(resign) has been eliminated from the Spanish and Catalan dictionaries and that the only words left are “resignarse/resignar-se (resign oneself to something, to submit (oneself) passively; accept as inevitable).
Yesterday was Thanksgiving day and I was able to spend a couple of hours reading all the Spanish and Catalan internet press and I felt like crying. The situation in Catalonia is deteriorating so dramatically, but no one is taking any responsibility. I already mentioned in my previous posts the situation of the infrastructures and that the incumbent ministress Magdalena Alvarez (the spell checker wants me to change the word ministress by mistress, I am impressed by Microsoft!) is holding on to her post. Emulating John Stark’s famous sentence “Live free or die”, she said “antes partía que doblá” an Andalusian phrase that could be translated as “rather dead, than kneeling” And here we are, the infrastructures suck and she is a happy woman. Today she opened a new tunnel that connects France and Spain. It is ahead of time, as it was fully financed by the private sector. Unfortunately it connects nothing with nothing, because neither the Spanish side of the High Speed train, nor the French one, will be ready in many many years, but there she was, on the border, smiling and cutting ribbons, while tens of thousands of Catalans suffer every day from the ailing infrastructures. The Catalan disaster will position her very very well in the next elections when she is said to be a candidate for Malaga. Problems created in Catalonia are great credentials in the rest of Spain to become a public official.
But is she guilty of all this? No, not fully. The only group of people responsible for the debacle is the Catalan politicians, especially those in the “tripartite” (Montilla, Carod and company) who did not have any master plan for infrastructures in Catalonia. How can you measure progress if you have no plan. I heard Carod saying exactly that, “we have to admit that we had no long term plan in infrastructures” Quins collons! (translated as beep). And they are all still there, getting richer and richer and sending the kids to private schools.
That leads me to the last point I want to discuss today: the last report of the Jaume Bofill Foundation shows that Catalonia is trailing the rest of the countries in the European Union and even the majority of Spanish regions in terms of education. The only two countries which are worse than Catalonia are the two super powers Portugal and Malta. The biggest fiasco is in the secondary education where the percentage of drop-outs is extremely high. In a normal country the secretary of education would have resigned. Education is a fully transferred competence, so we cannot blame Madrid for this. However the guy responsible, Ernest Maragall, brother of the one who is even more responsible Pasqual Maragall, has said he has no intention to resign, that they were aware of it and they will take urgent measures. Urgent measures!!!. Once again, those living in Catalonia will have to resign themselves while our politicians pocket as much money as they can in a nation that collapses.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Labeling in Catalan: right or vanity?

Prior to me going to Barcelona, I had decided that I would only buy products labeled in Catalan during my vacation. I do not mean products labeled only in Catalan, I think labels in Catalonia should be in Spanish-Catalan-English or Spanish-Catalan-Galician-Basque. In my first visit to the supermarket, I saw plenty of bilingual labels. However, the two languages were not Catalan and Spanish, as you may assume, the labels were in Spanish and Portuguese.
I thought that as consumer, I had the right to choose. I thought that labels would be in Catalan because millions of Catalan speaking consumers demanded it, and companies would want to make customers happy by addressing their specific needs, not because of the threat of fines. But I was wrong. Very soon I realized that if I wanted to stick to my plan, I would die of inanition after a couple of days. There was almost nothing labeled in Catalan and I started to wonder why.
After giving some thought to the situation, these are my conclusions:

  • Catalan consumers in general, Catalan and Castilian speaking, do not value labeling in Catalan. I have seen many comments in several e-newspaper forums, where people said, “I would not spend a single cent to have labels or DFUs (Directions For Use) in Catalan”, “Companies will leave Catalonia if we ask for these things”, etc. We will go no where with this kind of mentality. We have to demand what we believe is right. Both Catalan and Spanish speaking should demand bilingual labels for all products sold in Catalonia and, at the beginning, they should be willing to accept a small mark up to get the machinery started. I also remind you that most of the jobs created by the requirement to have customer facing interfaces in Catalan cannot be outsourced: call centers and translation services cannot be moved outside the Catalan speaking territories. Conclusion: if we Catalans do not value it and demand it, companies will not voluntarily go through the extra effort.

  • The anti-Catalan sentiment in Spain is unbelievable. Very few people understand that the only way to keep Catalonia in Spain in the long term is to embrace its diversity, support it and promote it. It is interesting to see that the anti-Basque sentiment is far milder, despite the fact that Catalonia has almost always used pacific methods to defend its rights. This anti-Catalan sentiment prevents companies from labeling products in Spanish and Catalan for its distribution throughout Spain. Many people in Spain would not buy bilingual labeled products if they noticed that Catalan is one of the languages, no problem if the other language is Portuguese or English, but Catalan, no way, and many companies do not want to run the risk of boycott for distributing products with Catalan as one of the language on the labels. Isn’t it sad?

  • The third issue is collusion. I am convinced that there is a certain level of collusion among companies operating in Catalonia to avoid labeling in Catalan. I cannot prove it (I hope a whistleblower will bring this to light one day), but I am convinced that a number of companies have agreed not to label in Catalan to avoid that if one company does it, it will get a much bigger market share and the rest will have to follow. Browse in internet and you will find by yourself. SEAT advertises in Estonian in Estonia (click here to see). There is only 1.1 million people who speak Estonian, and most of them speak Russian too, but SEAT spends advertising dollars to tailor the offer for the Estonian. Seat is a Catalonia based company, but its only website in Catalan ( is only addressed to Andorra. It is disheartening.

  • Finally, I think that there is a total lack of pride among the Catalan business people. In my previous blog, in a post called "Catalonia, a country without cojones", I explained that Freixenet sells cava in USA, without any reference to Catalonia, Barcelona or even Sant Sadurni d'Anoia. A couple of weeks ago, I ran of out "cava" and in my home, there is no celebration without Catalan "sparkling wine", so I rushed to the liquor store and the only one one I could find is the famous 1+1=3 (I had never heard it in my life). At least this one had a translation of the brand to Catalan “u més u fan tres”, but no reference to Barcelona or Catalonia. I repeat again, a country without "cojones".

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Barcelona: business city or third world?

This year’s Cushman&Wakefield survey ranked Barcelona as the number 4 European city for business, after London, Paris and Frankfurt (Madrid was 7th). The survey has very nice words for Barcelona: "The Catalan capital has been one of the fastest risers in the ranking since ECM was first launched in 1990. This goes to support the view that the more a city is perceived to promote itself, the more it will be perceived as a good business location". However when you study the survey, you immediately realize that there are reasons for concern, Barcelona ranks first in quality of life for expats, but does very poorly in infrastructure, level of English and preparedness of the local workforce. In another words, the expats have a lot of fun (“s’ho passen de conya”), eat well, enjoy our mountains and beaches, but the local workforce does not meet the standard, cannot speak English and the infrastructure sucks.
I would agree to almost everything, except to the lack of preparedness of the workforce. It is true that the English level is poor, but if I see how Catalan expats do overseas, pretty well in general, I have to conclude that our universities are not that bad and, in addition to that, we are fast learners.
As you know, English and infrastructures are my pet peeve. I have been hammering it since I started my first blog Catalonia, Politics and Supply Chain. Catalans pleeeease learn English, do not forget your Catalan and Spanish, but pleeeease learn English. That’s the only way to get multinationals back with real jobs that cannot be outsourced.
But let me tell you my experience with infrastructures. When I left Catalonia, in 1992, I was proud of my city and my nation, Catalonia, the transformation in the 80s had been amazing. This summer I went back as every other year and I had to face a debacle, an airport with absolutely no organization, displays with the wrong information, the luggage took for ever to appear and if you dared to ask, they would look at you, as though you were a criminal. In the security check area, the tables were not connected to the scanner, so you had to carry two or three trays in your arms, in addition to your other personal belongings. When I suggested to the female Guardia Civil to connect the tables and the scanner so that we could push the trays instead of struggling to carry them, she told me: “no nos lo han mandao d'arriba” (we have not been told from “above”). Give me a break. I want to go home to Boston.
From the airport I went to my old neighborhood in Gracia. Most of the district had no electricity and you could hear very loud generators trying to pump up some electricity to the apartment buildings. We avoided the train, because it broke down all the time, leaving commuters stranded a couple of days a week. Then I decided to go to the Costa Brava, to Calella de Palafugell to be exact, and it took us more than three hours. We were moving at an average speed of 10 m/h and we still had to pay 10 bucks at the toll booth. The last straw was my trip to Montserrat. Even though I am not what you would call a devout catholic, I revere the Mother Mary of Montserrat. Whenever I go home I go there to pray and ask for protection for my family and me. But the bridge that leads to Montserrat had collapsed and I had to take a detour. But I got there and it was worth while. I always feel so much peace in that Basilica and this time I went there with my two little ones.
It would be very easy to blame the central government for all these mishaps, but I will not. The only people responsible for this chaotic situation are the Catalan politicians, a bunch of inept and conceited individuals whose only interest is power. They could not care less about the Catalan people. The PSC just follows party lines, even if, in many occasions, those party lines seriously damage the interest of the Catalan people, ERC continues to lick the PSC’s ass with the only objective of being somewhat relevant while Catalonia crumbles, and CiU is the most clear example of “botiflerisme”, betrayers by nature, losers, mediocre and unprepared.
My style is not to blame Madrid for our situation. However, when I read today's Antonio Burgos’s article in ABC, Catalonia, Third World?, I felt like a bitch who has to pay for the bed too. Thanks God I am American. I am flying to Pittsburgh on a Sunday night while my iPOD plays my favorite song Photograph from Def Leppard.
But in 2017, God willing, I will come back to Catalonia as the catalon-IAN politic-IAN. Please leave something left for me to build on.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Catalan American

At the beginning of this year, 2007, I decided to apply for American citizenship. I have lived in the States for almost a decade, I have American children and we like the country and the people. It was then when I created the entry Catalan American at Wikipedia. Periodically I have to go back and re-do it because some people change it, but that's OK. This is the definition as it appeared today at Wikipedia:

"Catalan Americans are residents of the United States who acknowledge Catalan ancestry and self-identify with it. The group is formed by Catalonia born (Spain or France) naturalized citizens, their descendants and, to a lesser extent, citizens of Catalan descent who came from Latin America and still acknowledge Catalan ancestry.
The Catalan or Catalonian ancestry is identified with the code 204 in the 2000 US census, with the name Catalonian. According to the census, the number of Catalan Americans is 1738 individuals. The census also indicates that in USA the Catalan language is spoken by 1660 people older than 5 years old.
In the US census, People of Catalonian ancestry are listed in a group called «Hispanic (Including Spain)», however most of them do not agree with this classification, since they do not consider themselves as Hispanic. Only Catalans of Latin American origin and few of Spanish origin call themselves Hispanic.

2000 US Census ethnicity
2000 US Census Languages "

The vast majority of Catalan Americans I know, do not consider themselves Hispanic. Unfortunately Catalans are cataloged as Hispanic in the US census, unlike the Basques who are Western European. So if you are French Catalan, Andorran, Portuguese, Gibraltarian or Basque, you are Western European, if you are a Spanish Catalan, you are Hispanic. The fact that our mother tongue is Catalan and not Spanish, and that Catalans were not allowed to go to America until the XVIII century, seems to be irrelevant for those who created the categories in the census. It is clear that the Basque shepherds who migrated to Montana were able to lobby their way out of the Hispanic bucket.

It is always good to go back to history to understand our culture. Let me quote a paragraph of Queen Isabel of Castile's testament where she clearly states that only her kingdoms of Castile and Leon will benefit from the newly discovered world, America.

"OTROSÍ, por quanto las Yslas e Tierra Firme del Mar Oçéano, e Yslas de Canaria, fueron descubiertas e conquistadas a costa destos mis reynos e con los naturales dellos, e por esto es rasón quel trato e prouecho dellas se aya e trate e negoçie destos mis reynos de Castilla e León, e en ellos e a ellos venga todo lo que de allá se traxiere."

Anyway, this week I became an America citizen and I am really happy about it. It took place in one of the most historic venues in the United States, most probably the best. Now I am a citizen of a country I chose, a country that treated me well and where people respect me. I am now officially an American of Catalan ancestry, a Catalan American, proud of my American citizenship and proud of my Catalan ancestry.

I was moved by the judge who held the oath ceremony. She said: "many of you come from countries with long history and rich culture. Do not forget it, do not forget your language either and teach it to your children, but embrace wholeheartedly our country, our values and our language, English.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Blog under construction

A new blog will start in the fall 2007.