lunes, 26 de marzo de 2012

The Catalan identity (part 1)

Apart from sunbathing, drinking sangria and napping in the afternoon my activities while on year abroad in Spain include writing a so-called ‘year abroad research project’ on a chosen topic. Pick a topic, research it well, write 6000 words in Spanish. Easy peasy. So I chose what seemed to me like a fascinating issue that can be deeply investigated, did some basic research still in England and flew to Spain all happy and excited about it. I had my master plan plotted: go to museums, read newspapers, prepare questionnaires and do interviews, I’d be done way before the deadline in May and then I can just sunburn my happy face on the beach. Little did I know in reality my topic is a cheeky monkey. Not to mention I was being optimistic about the time: for Erasmus students it is a law of nature to do things as late as possible. Luckily I’m one of those who work better under the pressure, so that has been my excuse for the last couple of months too. The point is, somehow I managed to choose one of the most controversial and difficult topics – identity amongst young people in Barcelona. My job is to find out if they feel more Catalan, more Spanish, both – or none of those. I decided to focus mainly on the language as it’s a great part of one’s identity but also for pragmatic reasons – words limit won’t let me write about much more than that.
So, having in mind my dry theoretical research, I expected to obtain quite balanced results confirming my expectations that the target group would decide their identity is dual. So far only one person said so. It seems like patriotism as such does not really exist in Spain – or maybe it does but only in Madrid although I’m guessing even there people are more proud of being madrileños than of being Spanish. So – local identity seems to be a more popular concept in Spain. The problem with Catalonia is that it is more distinct than any other region – which is perfectly understandable considering its independent traditions in the past – and quite desperate to become a separated country. Up until now I haven’t met one Catalan person that wouldn’t agree – at least to some small extent – that Catalonia should be a rightful independent country. Yet, it doesn’t mean that my respondents describe their identity as totally ‘Catalan.’ And, as I expected, no one described it as ‘Spanish.’ Some said nationality is about where you were born, some said it’s about where you love to be, about the culture, about the background… So, at this stage of my work I can be nothing but well confused. Catalan, not Catalan, Spanish, not Spanish, both or neither? Investigation in progress. 

domingo, 18 de marzo de 2012

Las Fallas in Valencia

Like a million other people on the 17th of March I headed to one of the biggest Catalan cities, Valencia, to participate in the annual festival – Las Fallas. It’s a celebration of fallas, massive dolls-constructions-kinda-thing which are later burnt.

First we went to see La Mascleta which I can only describe as a LOT of noise. Responsible for it were firecrackers, fireworks and some crazy pyrotechnicians. Firecrackers followed us all day long and – against all the health and safety rules - even children played with them. I held my breath anytime I saw a child exploding one. The party went on all day. There were parades with musicians, girls wearing gorgeous dresses and children with flowers. What will never cease to impress me in Spanish festivals is enthusiastic participation of the citizens: the elderly, little kids, teenagers – everyone gets involved. I don’t think I’ve seen such sense of community in any other place so far. 

The fiesta culminated in one of the best bonfires I have ever seen.
The fallas were actually really nice too, impressively creative. There were caricatures of   politicians, an Elvis, lots of animals…

And the city itself, at least the bit we managed to see, is pretty, spatial and palmy, just to my liking. 

It is definitely worth going there again to discover some more of this city – and to enjoy the beach which is supposed to be fantastic.

lunes, 5 de marzo de 2012


Although it is never included in the top 10 things to see in Barcelona, the district of Gràcia is definitely worth visiting. The moment you sidetrack from Passeig de Gràcia you enter a totally different world. Gorgeous buildings and tens of squares, loads of trees and narrow streets distinguish this barrio from all the others. Although there is no Sagrada Familia, no beach, nothing to make tourists come here in – or maybe for this reason exactly – I would probably choose this place to live, if I was to live in Barcelona.

Gràcia used to be an independent village until late 19th century and some people, especially those whose families have lived there for generations, still do not consider it a part of Barcelona.

The atmosphere in Gràcia is truly unique. Rather quiet, rural, decadent. It’s full of cafes, bars, bakeries and shops. What particularly caught my attention were obviously candy shops. Dangerously for my waist and wallet I have to pass one of those every week. It’s cheap and pretty well-stocked, and by now I have probably tried every kind of Haribo and fudge. Twice.

The second type of stores I cannot pass by indifferently are clothes shops. If you fancy enriching your wardrobe with something new and unique – this is where you should head. Spanish brands, such as Zara, Pull&Bear, Stradivarius or Mango are definitely amongst my favourites but I remember one morning when on my 15 minutes way to work I saw two girls wearing exactly the same jacket I had bought a couple of days earlier. Little boutiques in Gracia offer more original clothes, and although quite a lot of them promote casual hippie style, you can easily find elegant suits, cute skirts and slinky dresses.
Sometimes you can bump into a real treasure island, like this shop me and Alicja ( found the other day. The quality of their shoes probably leaves much to be desired but for Erasmus students what really matters is that the price consists of a single figure.

Another thing young financially-limited people love about Gràcia are its squares, particularly the most famous Plaza del Sol. It is the destination for summer botellóns – mass open-air drinking. It’s a more economical way to get merry and although technically not legal, botellóns are rarely disturbed by the police.
Finally, I have to mention Gràcia’s celebrations. The most important one is Fiesta de Gràcia, celebrated in September. Inhabitants decorate streets and then choose the most beautiful one. There are stalls with drinks and foods, concerts, games and general happiness. 

Another interesting festival took place on the 3rd of March, La Festa de Sant Medir, known as ‘the Sweetest Festival’ because of 100 tons of sweets given away during the parade. Unfortunately I arrived too late and all that was left were wrappers…