Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hasta la Próxima Vez

Well, I have one more full day in Catalunya left.  I just finished up my last two interviews today, for a grand total of 35 interviews…which is 15 more than I needed!  This trip has turned out to be a very successful one, both personally and professionally.  Personally, I was able to travel throughout a country that I love very much and explore new places that I didn’t get a chance to see the first time around.  Last year, I was over here and I needed to get out and see the rest of Europe, but I didn’t really see much of Catalonia.  Over the last 3 weeks, I was able to visit the capital of each of the 4 providences of Catalonia and some other really cool sights like Montseny (a large mountain range) and La Costa Brava (the beaches of Northern Catalonia).  Professionally, this trip has confirmed for me that I am pursuing the right career.  My research gives me the opportunity to travel, see new places and talk with locals about the things that matter most to them.  Travel + Meet new People + Being Paid to do it = my dream job.

However, before this trip I would it would be a perfect balance between work and play, but it actually turned out to be more work than I thought, though I’m not complaining at all.  It took a lot of time to coordinate all the interviews, seeing if all the people from the town could meet on the same day but at different times, getting to the places, and then finally doing the actual interview.  I would come back to my hostel at night pretty tired and if I had a day off of interviews I would only visit one or two things because I was just so beat.  And then while I was over here, I had to finish up editing my Fulbright application, so that (hopefully) I can come back to Spain next year and teach English for an academic year.  It doesn’t help too that I scheduled my return flight for the day before classes start; Wednesday I have class from 9:30-3:18…luckily my last professor is my thesis advisor, so hopefully he’ll understand if I pass out in the middle of his class, jajajaja.

And this is why I didn’t get a chance to write in my blog in as much detail as I did the last time around, and for that I’m sorry.  But of course, I will be more than willing to tell everyone about my trip if you just ask me about it ;)

So the plan for tomorrow is to wake up at around 10-11, do a goodbye tour of Barcelona (Parc Güell, Passeig de Gràcia, La Rambla and the Gothic Quarter), head back to the hostel to eat and then head off to the beach town of Sitges, about a 30 min train ride from Barcelona.  I went to this town last year and really enjoyed it, but I didn’t get a chance to visit the beach.  So, I’m going to relax and work on a nice tan (to show off to everybody that I went to a place where there’s lots of sun, haha) until the sun sets, at which time I will drink a mini-bottle of cava (Catalonia’s champagne), toasting to a fantastic trip.  Finally, I will find a decent restaurant to spend the rest of my money at, because God knows I need a decent meal (I’ve been living off of sandwiches, salads and pasta the entire trip).  Tomorrow will be a good day, hopefully a very relaxing last day of summer.  I could use one.

As with the last time I left Catalunya:
  • I'll keep my blog open for students and those curious about Spanish and Catalan culture
  • If I receive a grant to teach English in Spain next year, I will start writing again
  • My photo albums of my trip, Catalunya '11, and Catalonian Nationalism (a carry-over from last time) are complete and ready to be viewed in their entirety :)
  • Drinking from Canalets again so that I am  guaranteed to return to Barcelona
Until we see each other again, fins després Catalunya

Monday, September 12, 2011

L'onze de Setembre

September 11th, is a dark day for both Americans and Catalans alike.  On September 11th, 1714 Spanish troops seized the city of Barcelona during the Spanish War of Succession and made the Catalans surrender.  Over the next few years, the Spanish king banned the Catalan language and basically just suppressed the hell out of Catalonia.  So it’s for this reason that on September 11th the Catalans celebrate their National Day, aka “La Diada.”

I was fortunate enough to see La Diada last year, it was during my first week in Barcelona.  Last year I went to an organized event by the Generalitat (Catalonia’s government) and got to walk about their parliament building.  This year I took a walk around Arc de Triomf, where they have a big Catalan flag with the blue triangle and star (the flag for Catalan independence) hanging between the arc.  Around the walk from the Arc to the Parc de la Ciutadella there were many stands selling all sort of Catalan nationalist items, like flags, pins and scarves.  There was even a booth headed by two Basques, because some people view Euskadi (the Basque Country) and Catalonia as “brothers,” because they are both distinct nations within the Spanish state.  I thought it was a nice show of solidarity that a few Basques showed up to celebrate the National Day of Catalonia.

The main event of the day is the laying of floral offerings on the monument of Rafael Casanova, who was commander in chief of Catalonia during the Siege of Barcelona in 1714.  Because of his resistance to Spanish forces he’s become a symbol of Catalan nationalism and for this reason the people of Barcelona pay tribute to him on their National Day.  When I was there, the castellers (Human Tower builders) from my old neighborhood of Sants were there, paying tribute by building a mini castell and placing their floral offering onto the statue.

Later in the day, I meet up with my Catalan friends and we walked around looking at the stands and then later watched one of my favorite Catalan groups, Obrint Pas.  All around me it seemed like everyone was either wearing the independence flag or had a sticker on their shirt that had some reference to independence from Spain.

Now some of you may be wondering, “why do so many Catalans want independence, they’re Spanish after all.”  The answer is that many of them don’t feel Spanish at all, they are only Catalan: it’s their language, their culture and their way of life.  Catalan culture has castells, pa amb tomàquet and cava while Spanish culture has bulls, gazpacho and sangría.  One participant summed up it perfectly when he said “Spanish culture is the culture of the center and south of the country, they don’t incorporate aspects Catalan and Basque culture into the national ‘Spanish’ culture; so why are people surprised that I don’t feel Spanish, my culture is not represented in Spain.”

Furthermore, many of them feel like Spain is constantly repressing them, saying you can’t do this or that.  The most recent example is the decision by the courts that Spanish is to now be the language of the classroom, alongside Catalan.  Since the 80s, Catalan has been the vehicular language in the K-12 education in Catalonia, which is to say that every subject (except Spanish) is taught in Catalan.  The argument for this was that every child that comes to Catalonian schools, whether they be 6th generation Catalans or child of African immigrants, will learn to speak Catalan in order to promote the use of that language and to facilitate integration into the community.  Very few people had problems with this method of “linguistic immersion” as was shown in poll after poll.  However, three families demanded that their children be instructed in Spanish, brought their case to the courts and won.  What the Catalans fear is that with this decision the Spanish and other immigrants to Catalonia are going to have their kid instructed in Catalan, while the Catalans will continue to be instructed in their native language.  This could be problematic for two reasons:

a) It will endanger the Catalan language.  In the 70s, there was a massive amount of immigration from the poorer regions of Spain to Catalonia and the children of those immigrants learned to speak Catalan.  Today, those people don’t identify with the region where they parents are from, they are Catalan and are from Catalonia.  It’s their culture, it’s who they identify with and it’s partly due to the Catalan immersion they received as a kid.
b) Having the parents either chose Spanish or Catalan for their child will create a division within the kids, which is possible to last for a life time.  No one wants to split the kids into two groups because this will just foster more negative feelings towards one another.

Through my interviews I’ve noticed that people in Catalonia are just fed up with the Spanish government.  They pay view high taxes here which then goes to the Spanish government to be divided up amongst the other Autonomous regions in Spain; of course, Catalonia receives very little of that money back.  They don’t have control over taxes like the states in the Unites States do and they want more control over their money because they have things they would like to improve in their country.

Basically, I think the best way to sum all this up is with a great metaphor from my friend Laura: “Spain is like the parent that keeps on saying ‘no, no don’t do that, that’s not allowed’ and Catalonia is like the child.  If you keep on hearing this over and over what are you going to do when you’re 18?  ‘Bye guys, I’m fed up with you, I’m outta here.’”

Here are some videos I took and you can also check out my pictures in the Catalan Nationalism photo album that I started last year.

The Castellers of Sants:

Singing "Els Segadors," the national anthem of Catalonia:

Obrint Pas (a very pro-independence group) performing "Seguirem" off of their new album Coratge, near the Arc de Triomf on La Diada:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Week Two Update

So, I’m in the middle of my second week in Catalonia and my research project is coming along very nicely.  I’ve gotten some really great interviews, in terms of what I’m looking for and also it’s interesting to me to see the wide variety of opinions I get when I ask the same questions.  For example, I ask every participant what the significance of FC Barcelona’s slogan “Més que un club” (more than a club) is.  From my experience over here last year, I came to view the phrase as an expression of Catalan nationalism, which is to say that FC Barcelona represents Catalonia as a nation since their own national selection team is not officially recognized when they play in international matches.  However, some participants have been telling me that the phrase is in relation to how FC Barcelona represents Catalan values such as hard work and humility, while others say that it’s because those who support Barça are part of a family, a community of people who come together to support a common cause.  I’ve gotten 14 interviews so far, with about 10 more scheduled for later this week, so I’m going to have more than what I need :)

For sightseeing, I’ve done plenty of that over the last few days or so.  I stayed in Barcelona for the weekend and just did some re-sightseeing of L’eixample and the Gothic Quarter.  I also went to a few of the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc show’s, which in the summer is when the fountain is set to music and lights.  This year, one show was set to Disney songs….en español (I got a good laugh out of that).  Also, on Saturday I went to Las Arenas mall in Plaça Espanya, which was not finished when I was in BCN last year.  Basically, the city took an old bullfighting ring and converted it into a mall (since you know, bullfighting has been outlawed in Catalonia as of the 1st of this year).  The mall had some pretty nice shows and a great view of Plaça Espanya at the top level (I also got a great buy on a FC Barcelona t-shirt here, only 13€!)

As for going outside of Barcelona, I did so on Sunday and Monday.  On Sunday I went out to Lleida, the capital of the western providence of Lleida (naturally).  There wasn’t really much to do in the town (I was joking with one of my friends that it’s like the Toledo, OH of Catalonia).  For this reason, I was surprised that they actually have a tourism office in the town.  The only thing to really see was La Seu Vella, which is an abandoned cathedral on top of the city’s hill, a monument you could see for miles away.  One thing that really surprised me about the city was the amount of immigrants (mostly Africans and Muslims).  They definitely seemed to outnumber the Catalans in the city and I found out from one of my participants that they come here to work in the fields.

On Monday I went to Girona, which is again the capital of the Girona providence.  This city was definitely a lot more interesting than Lleida as it was so much more beautiful.  A river divided the city and for a few blocks on each side there are different colored houses lining the river.  It’s better for you to look at my pictures than for me to describe it because unfortunately I don’t know much about the history of all the buildings, as I didn’t take a guided tour of the city.  The coolest part was that you can walk on top of the old city’s wall and it gives you great views of everything.

Yesterday, I went back to see my old host mom (Lita) and it was an incredibly surreal experience.  She greeted me with the traditional petons (kiss on each cheek) and then we went to the living room to talk and catch up.  Her mom is also staying with her this mom and José was there too, so it was great to see them again too.  The first thing my host mom commented on was how apparently I look thinner than the last time she saw me (that or my large shirts give the impression that I’ve lost a lot of weight, hahaha).  When I was talking with them it was just like old times, my Spanish was flowing perfectly and I could understand everything they were saying.  José even brought up our old inside joke on how I my tongue gets tied when I try to say “A reveure,” Catalan for “see you later.”  Lita remembered that my favorite dish is tortilla española, so of course she made that for dinner.  I also meet the new girls who are staying with her this semester and gave them a little bit of advice and told them about my time studying abroad.

After dinner, Lita told me that she had a problem with her laptop and asked if I could look at it.  She told me that I was going to laugh a lot when I saw her problem and I did…apparently, her background is a picture of me and my sister on my birthday, with stupid expressions on our faces and Lita didn’t know how it got there nor how to get it off.  What’s even funnier is that the picture is zoomed in mostly on my sister’s face, with her eyes bulging out at you.  I laughed quite a bit, it’s funny to think that for the last couple of months every time Lita starts up her computer she has to stare at that picture of my sister and I.

Shortly after that I had to say goodbye to everyone and this is where everything quickly turned bittersweet.  It was tough saying goodbye to all of them again, especially since one year ago yesterday was when my roommate and I moved into Lita’s apartment.  So needless to say on the metro ride I was feeling a mixture of emotions.

I feel better today and since I have no interviews scheduled I think I’m going to do some more sightseeing and get a tour of the Palau de Musica Catalana, a modernist-style music hall that is famous as being a staple of Catalan architecture.  Next week, on Sunday I’m going to be with my Catalan friends celebrating La Diada, the National Day of Catalonia and then on Monday I’m off to Lleida again to do some more interviews.  Hopefully I should have some pictures of Barcelona up this week by Friday, and pictures/blog about La Diada on Tuesday/Wednesday of next week.

Until then, “a reveure”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Week One Update

First blog post from the field!

The plane ride over was not very good.  There was a pair of children 3 seats ahead of me who would randomly start crying, I’m guessing because their ears were popping.  Also, I had this old guy next to me who was insistent on putting his knee/leg on my side…even though I was taller than him.  Of course the kicker in all of this is that I didn’t really get any sleep, maybe 2-3 hours max because it’s really hard for me to sleep on planes.  So after an 8-hour flight, we arrive in Barcelona and I realize that I haven’t spoken Spanish since my last Spanish class, which ended in June.  Joder.

After waiting in the exchange line for an hour, I take the bus to Barcelona, transfer to the metro and go to my hostel.  The hostel is in a very residential area of Barcelona, on the opposite side of town from my old host family.  As I’m walking through the neighborhood I start to feel this really weird sensation, like I’m in this surreal dream (and not in a good way).  I didn’t really feel excited to be back.  I think it’s because I was sleep deprived and dehydrated because after that Sunday and Saturday of rest and getting everything set up (phone, internet, scheduling interviews for that week) I felt much better.

So far I have interviewed 8 people, which is more what I thought I was going to get in the first week.  Only 3 of those interviews were in Barcelona so for the other ones I had to travel outside BCN to other towns to interview the people: one in Reus (Monday), two in Figueres (Tuesday) and two in Tarragona (Wednesday).  The interviews have been going very well so far, the people are very happy to sit down and share their beliefs and opinions on Catalan culture, politics and language.  I’m also finding what I came over here looking for so that has been a big relief for me.

Needless to say, I’ve had some bumps along the road so far.  A major sticking point has been my Spanish.  As I said, as soon as I got off the plane I knew that it would take awhile for it to come back to me.  I went to Vodafone to set up my Internet and phone on Saturday and literally my mind could not form a coherent sentence in Spanish.  Furthermore, my mind couldn’t process anything the guy at the store was saying so I left frustrated and defeated.  However, my Spanish is finally coming back to me, not to the level I was at when I left but it’s getting there. 

One good thing is that I’m starting to feel like a Spaniard/Catalan again.  When I first got here on Saturday I felt like a fish out of water again.  This feeling started going away yesterday, when I had a very successful day of interviewing three different people and thinking “hey, I was able to navigate myself through three new cities I’ve never been to, without any problems; that’s pretty cool.”  So, por fin, I feel comfortable again walking around the city and confidant that I can blend in with everyone else to the best of my ability.

Now, on to the sightseeing!  I didn’t do any in Reus because I was more concerned about getting my first interview and making sure everything went ok than about checking out the city.  The first sightseeing that I did was in Figueres, which is home to the Salvador Dalí museum (which the artist actually designed himself).  Although the museum didn’t have some of Dalí’s more famous works, the place still had a very interesting collection: a combination of drawings, paintings, sculptures and jewelry.  I did also see a little bit of Girona that day because I had a scheduled interview there but unfortunately I got lost in the old part of the city and didn’t make it to the interview; also, as I was very tired and frustrated, I left the city without taking many pics.  Yesterday I was in Tarragona, which was the old Roman capital of the Hispania providence.  My last participant for that day gave me an informal tour of the old part of the city as well as the city’s history museum, which was in the Roman city’s walls.

Tomorrow, I’m going to do some sightseeing around Barcelona; even though I’ve seen all these places it’s still really cool to go back and visit them.  Then on Sunday I travel to Lleida and on Monday I will be in Girona to do some more interviews.  Hopefully that means I’ll have more pictures up by next Tuesday/Wednesday and maybe even another blog post by then, ¿quién sabe?

Speaking of pictures, the ones I’ve taken so far are up on the side bar under the title “Catalunya ’11.”  ¡Qué los disfrutes!