We stopped off in Berga on our way to Barcelona. It’s a mediaeval city with a strong history of republicanism. In May 2012 for instance, the town council declared King Juan Carlos to be ‘persona non grata‘. Nobody’s likely though, to be keen on a king who goes elephant hunting in Africa as his country plunges ever deeper into recession.
Now its cause of choice is Catalan independence. I’m not going into the arguments here. Though sauntering along various Ramblas on a September evening as friends and families pop into a bar for a drink, or to a restaurant for dinner, it’s hard to accept their definition of themselves as an oppressed people; or to take entirely seriously their view that they and, for instance, the Kurds, are all in it together.
Mooch up and down the narrow alleys of Berga with us and look at the posters, the slogans, the street art which are such a feature of this town. A young man stopped me as I was snapping away. ‘We don’t all think that way here’ he said. But he admitted that he was in a minority .
A Catalan MP suspended and imprisoned for his part in the illegal independence referendum of October 2017.
Feminism and socialism are frequent bedfellows with the Independence movement.
I’m lying of course. Even I can’t do a degree in three weeks. But ….. I have been a distance learner at this seat of learning, and I’ve loved it. I’ve exchanged my 1970s student life, putting the world to rights in the refectory or the students’ union bar for on-line discussions with Anglophones with the hugest variety of life experience. I’ve exchanged echoing lecture theatres for my own study, where the lecturer delivers his or her piece at exactly the hour that suits me, and repeats it on demand. I’ve exchanged official reading lists for comments and suggestions from fellow students, based on newly discovered shared interests.
All this is thanks to FutureLearn. They publicise courses on every subject you can think of, and lots that you can’t. Some are paid-for courses right through to professional qualification or degree level. But many of them are not. Universities in every continent run short free courses and they want us to be their students. If only I’d seen Hanyang University’s Introduction to Korean before we went two years ago!
Castellers, or a human tower, in front of La Sagrada Familia (Wikimedia Commons)
A plea for independence alongside the Catalan flag. A common sight all over Barcelona – and Catalonia generally.
It didn’t begin well, and I whinged to Emily that I’d signed up to a piece of propaganda from the Catalan Independence movement (‘What did you expect’?). In fact however, we’ve had an overview of economics, history, literature and the arts and popular culture and it’s a solid grounding for further study.
What’s made it has been the fellow-students. I’m sure some people do what’s set in front of them and are happy to leave it at that. It’s probably all they have the time or inclination for. For a hard core of us though, it’s our colleagues that have made the difference. The civil servant in the Welsh office at the time when their bilingual policies were being developed; the Catalan who observed that there is no ‘standard’ Catalan, so in the media, do you use the language of the Balearics, the North West or the Central provinces, or even (who knew?) the Catalan spoken in Alghero, Sardinia ? The Irish chipped in, and Swiss Germans, and other linguistic minority groups. All this provoked lively discussions about language, and languages that have been suppressed (as Catalan was, unsuccessfully, and as Occitan was in France, largely successfully). Every topic has had us helping each other out. Most of us are woefully badly read in Catalan history and literature, so we share ideas about more accessible material. Away from the lectures, the tutors barely show their faces, and that’s fine. It is a free course after all, and we have proved that self-help works. In just three weeks we’ve established a learning community where we have given something, and taken a lot, and are the richer for it.
I’ll be on the look out for my next free course from FutureLearn soon.
Last month, as faithful readers know, we had a day in Sitges. It was perfect. The sun shone, the sea sparkled, and we sauntered along its clean wide sandy beaches.
All was not as it seemed though. In just five minutes, from the apparently uncontaminated sands, we recovered these: mainly plastic straws and bottle tops, many disintegrating into the shards and fragments now wreaking such havoc in our oceans. And this is a ‘clean’ beach.
On a happier note, here’s a parakeet in a palm tree. The high prices of housing in this fashionable holiday destination don’t worry him. He has all he needs to build a home simply by fossicking around among the palm trees’ tall fronds.
Plot the story of my life through the places I’ve lived, and you can see a theme. Textile towns.
I went to university in Manchester, sometimes known as Cottonopolis because of the cotton industry that thrived there throughout the 19th century.
One of the cities at the forefront of the cloth-making industrial revolution – wool and flax in this case – was Leeds. I’ve lived there too.
Then in France, we lived in Laroque d’Olmes, a town whose prosperity depended on the woollen textile trade, snatched from it in the twentieth century as wool lost out to more modern fibres which were in any case increasingly manufactured in Asia.
And last week, in Barcelona, we stayed in Sants. In the 19th century this area, like so many others in Catalonia, turned out the cotton-printed calicoes so popular in Paris at the time. It was a busy industrial town that only became part of Barcelona towards the end of the 19th century. Now much of its industrial past has been re-purposed or flattened. Here’s the Parc de l’España Industrial – once an enormous textile mill.
Parc de l’España Industrial
Parc de l’España Industrial
Parc de l’España Industrial
We loved being here. Though so near one of Barcelona’s main stations it’s assertively non-touristy. People live, work, shop and enjoy themselves without having to tussle for space with a whole lot of trippers rubbernecking their way along the crowded thoroughfares.
Our street had everything from a fish restaurant (choose your own fish from the marble slab), an alternative book shop, a handy mini-mart, a design studio to – inevitably – several bars.
The street where we lived for a week.
Early in the day in our neighbourhood square.
Every morning we did as the Catalans do before they set off for office, market or shop and had breakfast in one of them. I developed a passion for wholewheat croissants, which are light, flaky and utterly delicious.
Neighbourhood restaurants made few concessions to Spaniards, let alone foreigners, displaying their menus in Catalan: this is a separatist area.
Party HQ for one of the political parties with Father Christmas abseiling into view.
We shopped in the independent shops (the only surrender to globalisation that we could find in the entire area was a solitary Burger King: it was refreshingly under-populated) and sauntered round its two thriving markets. We’ll be back.
Mercat Nou, Sants.
Sorry about the poor quality of this photo of Mercat Nou. My phone was in a bad mood.
Another bright sunny day, so the seashore beckoned again – in Barcelona this time.
First though, we visited the MuseuMarítim, located in the impressive DrassanesReials, the mediaeval shipyard dating originally from the 13th century. It was remodelled time and again till the 18th century, when it fell out of use.
Our main memory of this engaging and beautifully curated museum is of the impressively reconstructed galley ship the GaleraReyal of 1568, and all the instruments, arms, ordnance and documents associated with such a warship.
What about this? Thirty oars each side, each manned by four slaves. These men toiled for hours and hours each day, shackled to the same spot for the entire voyage. They worked, ate and slept here, puddled in their own excrement. A ship such as theirs could never surprise the enemy. The smell preceded it by several knots. The exquisite ornamentation of this vessel, rich in symbolism, loses some of its allure against this background.
The whole of the dockyard area is rich in history. Here are just a few pictures, and from the more recently developed Port Vell.