Saturday, 27 December 2008

ENG: The Problem Behind the Catalan Normalisation Campaigns

My father is an advanced hobby carpenter, an interest which I cannot say that I share. Whenever he explains the benefits of a certain tool, I feel lost in his enthusiasm. Not because I do not understand the meaning of his words, but because I have never faced the problems which he can now solve.

I am confident that many foreigners feel the same about the policies related to the “normalització lingüística”. As immigrants in Catalonia we rapidly come across manifestations of the support for the Catalan language, but how often are we reminded about why a large majority of Catalan voters think that they still need to be in place or even reinforced?

An overview of the problem can be found in ‘Amb llengua o sense’ - a collection of articles by journalist and comedian Toni Soler. All texts were originally published in Spanish in LaVanguardia so there is no doubt that the author is completely bilingual, but he is above all proud of his mother tongue and therefore worried about its future.

I would say that the historical reasons for his concerns are those we foreigners know the best. Especially Latin Americans ought to have insight into how the Spanish crown used to deal with minority languages (Toni Soler cannot help joking about the ‘laudable cosmopolitan spirit’ which the American Indians once showed when changing for Spanish - so different from those stubborn Catalans). However, while most of us are content to know that the official oppression of Catalan ended after the Franco dictatorship, Toni Soler reminds us that it is not yet the everyday language of the masses of Catalonia, a status which it used to have as late as 100 years ago.

On top of that, two modern phenomena work to Catalan’s disadvantage. The first threat is the market forces; Spanish dominates media since a much bigger number of consumers can be reached in that language. The second one is immigration or, to be more precise, how immigrants integrate into their adopted country. Spain is among the EU countries which attract the most immigrants many of them settle down in Catalonia. Since Spanish, de facto, is the first and often only language of integration - especially so in the metropolitan area of Barcelona – Catalan is losing ground.

It is worth highlighting that Toni Soler disagrees with politicians who criticise foreigners for not learning the llengua pròpia. Instead, he asks why immigrants would want to learn Catalan and he answers himself that to give them a reason to do so is a task for the native speakers of the language (“Donar-los un motiu és cosa nostra.”)

After having convinced us about the uncertain future of Catalan, it is easy for Toni Soler to defend the needs for a positive discrimination of the language and call on politicians not to shy away from admitting that that is what today’s linguistic policies are about. I totally agree – once we immigrants understand the problem we will be much faster to accept the solutions.

A parallell can be made with my native Sweden: all Swedish politicians agree that it is not good if immigrants live in communities where they do not have daily contact with the Swedish language. Not by any standards could such a situation be justified by the fact that many of them speak English, that is, not if the goal is to integrate these newcomers. The efforts by Catalan politicians to build a united community are the same, but to integrate new comers into a bilingual context these must accept to learn two languages. If one of them is already much stronger (Spanish), I consider it logic to spend all public funds on the weaker one (Catalan).

I suggest that the Generalitat urgently commission Toni Soler to sum up his positive defence of Catalan in a short pamphlet to be handed out to all immigrants. It must include historical references supporting his message, but ought to be free from comments on day-to-day politics, since that will only confuse newcomers. And it must be printed in Spanish, English and Arabic, but not in Catalan. Catalan is not yet a language of integration into Catalonia. To acknowledge that problem is a necessary starting point if we want to improve the future perspectives of this language.

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Book details: ‘Amb llengua o sense – per què dimonis continuem parlant català?’ by Toni Soler, Columna 2008.

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If presented in a more straight forward language, as advocated by Toni Soler, I trust that immigrants would have a much bigger understanding of why Catalan needs to be the first language in the school system. That debate is as active as ever: LaVanguardia 1, Avui 1.

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Technorati tags: Barcelona, Bilingualism, Catalan, Catalonia, Spain, Spanish, Vilanova, Wirdheim

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

ENG: Merry Christmas

This picture was admittedly taken for my commercial activities with Puck Import and RFSU, but I think that it deserves to be published here as well.

And I just hope that what I have done is not illegal. Interestingly enough, nobody approached me while I was decorating a Christmas tree with condoms on the platja de Ribes Roges in Vilanova, although the beach was far from empty. If I would have done this in Sweden, I am confident that some stranger would have reminded me to clean up once I had finished.

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Same condom Christmas tree, different angle: 1, 2.

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Technorati tags: Vilanova, Wirdheim

Thursday, 18 December 2008

ENG: The Vilanova Christmas Crib 2008

Last Saturday, the christmas crib (pessebre) on the Plaça de la Vila was inaugurated with speeches and choir songs. During most of the year, Catalonia does not feel especially catholic, but then comes Christmas and for a few weeks everything changes. And it is so beautiful.

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Technorati tags: Catalonia, Vilanova, Wirdheim

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

ENG: European Praise for Catalan Language Policies

Far too many expats living in Catalonia have negative opinions about the language policies set up to revive the everyday use of the Catalan language, the so called normalització lingüística. I am therefore happy to see that what most of us can agree to be a neutral body - an expert committee set up by the Council of Europe - offers new perspectives.

The purpose of their analysis was to see how far the recommendations of the European Language Charter of 1992 – an agreement to support the development of minority and regional languages, ratified by Spain in 2001 - have been implemented and the outcome is highly encouraging for Catalonia. The experts judge that education systems need to be based on a ‘total immersion’ in the co-official language and therefore fully justify, for example, the use of Catalan as the first language in schools here.

Among all Spanish areas with co-official languages, Catalonia received the most positive comments since only the judiciary plus some state authorities like Renfe (the railway system) and Correos (the post service) lag behind in the use of the co-official language. In the autonomous regions of Valencia and the Balearic Islands, on the other hand, the experts conclude that education in the local language is not comprehensive and also that the authorities there were unwilling to provide all information requested.

What we foreigners have the opportunity to experience in Catalonia is probably one of the world’s most successful projects to protect linguistic diversity. I think that we have all reason to be curious rather than critical.

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Yes, I plan to link this entry to other media sources and, yes, I would have wanted to present more hard data but I am constrained by the fact that we still do not have broadband connection from home. Next year, I keep telling myself, next year things will be better.

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Up-date: Here are the sources: LaVanguardia 1, Avui 1,

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Technorati tags: Bilingualism, Catalan, Catalonia, Expat, Spain, Spanish, Wirdheim

Friday, 5 December 2008

ENG: World Premier: The First Catalan Condom

Press Release:

Condoms are good at adapting to your body, but so far they have not adapted to the linguistic realities of Spain. Now Catalans will have a condom which speaks their language. “This was long overdue”, says Erik Wirdheim, the Swedish entrepreneur behind the project.

The condom business is dominated by multinational companies with huge advertising budgets, but none of them communicates with Catalan speakers in their first language. “When infection rates of sexually transmitted diseases again increase among young people, condoms should be promoted in as many languages as possible, and certainly in Catalan”, says Erik Wirdheim. “Potentially there are 10 million Catalan speaking consumers and still – until now - product descriptions on condoms have only been available in Spanish.”

Erik Wirdheim’s company, Puck Import, S.L. (, is the official distributor in Spain and Andorra of RFSU - the leading condom brand in the Nordic countries. “So far we only sell small volumes but RFSU deserves better. Firstly, because our condoms go through more quality tests than those of the competitors. Secondly, because RFSU has an ethic profile – the profit is reinvested into an NGO which runs campaigns about sexual health.”

RFSU’s condoms in Catalan will be sold in pharmacies and specialty stores – “condonerias”. Until a Catalan web-page is launched, a list of where the products are for sale can be found on . Already today are they available at La Condoneria on Plaça Sant Josep Oriol in Barcelona.

Erik Wirdheim entered as a partner of Puck Import, S.L. in November 2008 but since 2005 he lives with his Swedish family in Vilanova i la Geltrú. This year he passed the Generalitat’s exams for the intermediate (B) level of Catalan.

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Technorati tags: Catalan, Catalonia, Spain, Spanish, Vilanova, Wirdheim

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

ENG: The Last Castells of 2008

That I still have a lot to learn in the world of castells, human towers, became very clear last Saturday. The Bordegassos of Vilanova celebrated their ‘día de la colla’ with the Minyons from l’Arboç as invited guests. Since the most famous teams have already ended their season, the event managed to make it to the headlines of Catalan national press.

The Bordegassos were the stronger team this day and completed (descarregar) all their top castells: first a ‘5 de 7’, then a beautiful ‘4 de 7 amb l’agulla’, followed by a ‘4 de 7’. After that I was hoping that they would make an attempt at a castell of 8 levels, but instead we were presented with a pillar. A ‘pilar de sis amb folre i manilles’ (a pilar of six levels of people standing one on one, but with the support of extra people on the second and third level) was what I saw and I was really impressed, although the team members themselves did not seem to take it very seriously. “No it was ‘La puta d’oros’ and in fact only five levels”, explained a girl from the team. I will not try to translate the name, but have learnt that most colles have a construction like this - a castell which does not form part of the official score table, but is more of a symbol of the team.

Later on in the afternoon did an article in the Bordegassos’ magazine make me understand that some of the members are happy that the team now sees itself as a “colla de set”, a team which makes towers of up to seven levels. During the last few years, the team has tried to live up to its old reputation by every now and then attempting a tower of eight levels, but the results have been disappointing. The castell season is over and for having accepted being a “colla de set” the Bordegassos can proudly look back at a 2008 when more or less every performance went as planned.

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I made a lot of films and photos during the “dia de la colla” and one day I will up-load them all. To the irritating fact that Orange still has not managed to re-establish our high speed connection at home, a new problem has been added: I have lost my camera somewhere inside our apartment. Let us see what comes up when I look through my sons’ many toy baskets.

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Up-date: And here they are, finally: my YouTube clips from this event.

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Technorati tags: Castellers, Catalonia, Human Towers, Penedès, Vilanova, Wirdheim

Monday, 10 November 2008

ENG: High Profile Castellers Meeting in Arboç

In the heart of the Penedès region, typically surrounded by wineyards, there is a small town called Arboç. Today, Sunday November 9, their local casteller team, the Minyons d’Arboç, celebrated their 50th anniversary. The plan was for it to be visited by a number of invited colles but it developed into a high profile meeting. Some weeks ago, the Castellers de Vilafranca and Colla Vella dels Xiquest de Valls as well as the Colla Joves Xiquets de Valls should have made a joint exhibition by teams which make human towers of nine levels (colles de nou). Since it was raining that day, someone decided that they should all make a new attempt in Arboç.

The casteller season is over, and already before the action started had we heard on the radio that neither of the teams would take the risk with nine levels this time. However, the weather was fantastic and the fact that Arboç is a small town made the event very intimate. The Bordegassos de Vilanova were there as well, and must have felt positively challenged by this opportunity to act together with the top teams.

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Encara tenim una connexió a la xarxa fatalment lenta a casa. Pas a pas pujaré fotos i clips – sobre tot el interessant gran castell que ha descarregat la colla Jove i que fins avui no havia jo vist mai. Si algun lector sap com fer-los una mica de pressió a Orange o a Telefónica (o als dos – de veritat no entenem qui és responsable) per que agilitzin el tema de tornar-nos banda ampla, digueu-me alguna cosa, si us plau.

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Technorati tags: Castellers, Catalonia, Human Towers, Penedès, Vilanova, Wirdheim

ENG: ‘Fira de novembre’ of Vilanova, 2008

During the last few days, the centre of Vilanova i la Geltrú has housed the traditional, multi-sectoral November fair (Fira de novembre), which I wrote quite extensively about last year. Just like last year, although my wife and I did not buy anything, we must admit to having passed by most of the stands and our two small sons love it. Both of them were thrilled to see the Rambla full of cars, and the older one was even more excited with the cranes. The tallest one held a cabin in which you were able to go 108 meters up in the air to see the town from above.

Again my favourite part of the fira were the stage performances – a great opportunity for those who are new here to learn about the activities and quality level of some sports clubs and cultural associations. Unfortunately enough, this year the main stage had been moved to a narrow space in front of the mercat, so those who took part had to adapt their shows to a limited space.

About 200.000 people are estimated to have visited the fira activities 2008 and, in spite of the "crisis", it had almost as many exhibitors as last year (191 versus 196). The big difference were the total absence of real estate agencies - as late as in 2007 there were a lot of them.

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Here below you can find pictures and movies of the fair in general plus parts of the performances by Taekwondo and Hapkido club Chois Vilanova as well as Flow Centre, the local academy of stage arts.

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Technorati tags: Catalonia, Penedès, Taekwondo, Vilanova, Wirdheim

Saturday, 8 November 2008

CAT: Optimista o boig?

En temps quan els mitjans de comunicació només parlen de la crisi financera i de la recessió que està vinent amb molta força, vaig invertir jo tots els meus estalvis a un projecte comercial. Sóc boig? Una mica, pot ser, però encara més sóc optimista.

Sempre he volgut tenir la meva pròpia empresa i enguany penso que ha aparegut una oportunitat. Es tracta d’una petita distribudora amb una gama de preservatius suecs com el seus productes principals, que venem sobre tot a farmàcies però també a oficines de planificació familiar i altres entitats públiques. No poc dir que va ser el meu somni de treballar amb condoms, no obstant això, el nostre proveïdor RFSU és una empresa tant ètica com solidària – tots els seus beneficis s’inverteixen a una ONG que fa campanyes sobre la salut sexual per tot arreu del món – cosa que sí m’agrada molt.

Ara comença un període plen de canvis a la meva vida personal. Amb el temps us prometo canviar tota la publicitat de l’empresa - inclouent, és clar, la nostra pàgina web - per adaptar-la també a la part de la clientela que prefreix el català. Però he de començar amb la venda. El día 1 de desembre és la diada mundial de VIH i sol ser una bona ocasió per recordar a tothom que la SIDA encara avui és incurable i que l’ús de condoms és la millor manera per evitar malalties sexuals.

Després de mesos quan em vaig sentir com un blocaire amb uns certs coneixements culturals i lingüistics però sense idees com per guanyar la vida de la meva familia, me he convertit a un simple venedor de condoms. Malgrat això tinc molta il·lusió i sento com se m’estan tornant les forces. Sí, hauré de fer moltes tasques bàsiques, però això no significa que perdré el meu interés cultural.

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Perdoneu-me si responc als vostre comentaris molt poc a poc. Encara no s’ha restablert la banda ampla a la nostra casa i, com podeu imaginar-vos, tinc molta feina durant els dies a la oficina.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

CAT: Descans de la catalanització

Per a la catalanitzció de la meva familia, la cosa correcta de fer aquest cap de setmana hauria estat de visitar la Festa de Santa Ursula a Valls, sobre tot com no vivim massa lluny d’allà. Lamento que no vam poder fer-ho - m’hauria agradat veure el derbi casteller que al final va guanyar la colla jove per descarregar el 5 de 9 amb folre. Tampoc vam ser a Sitges, on els verds de Vilafranca van participar a una altra exposició castellera d’alt nivell. I què vam fer en comptes d’això? Quasi no goso dir-ho: vam anar a Madrid.

Però vam anar-hi amb una excusa: al nostre fill gran li havia caducat el passaport i ja que ara es necesiten fotografíes que diuen ‘biomètriques’ només es poden fer a l’ambaixada i no cap al consolat suec a Barcelona. Vam aprofitar al màxim i planificar una barreja d’activitats per als petits – el Retiro i altres parcs – i per als adults – estones sorprenentment llargues al Prado i al Centro de Arte de la Reina Sofia.

La veritat és que vam passar un cap de setmana fantàstic. A nosaltres ens agrada tant el castellà com el català i encara que Barcelona és l’àrea metropolitana que veiem com la nostra, pensem que Madrid també és una ciutat preciosa. Com estrangers podem descobrir i fins i tot identificar-nos amb les dues cultures al mateix temps, sense haver de patir a fons els conflictes que existeixen entre elles.

I per no rebre’n una dosi massa gran del capital de l’estat, vam escollir un hotel fora, a Alcalá de Henares. Una ciutat que d’unes maneres sembla a Vilanova i la Geltrú i d’altres no, però a aquest tema tornaré en breu amb una entrada en anglès.

Monday, 20 October 2008

ENG: The 30th Anniversary of the Cursa Popular

Today, the Cursa Popular of Vilanova i la Geltrú celebrated its 30th anniversary, which means that it dates back to the first democratically elected municipal assembly, after the era of Franco dictatorship. With the slogan “a la cursa hi participem tots” (let’s all participate in the race), it attempts to reach out to the whole town. I have not yet found any confirmation whether the organisers, the Club Esportiu de Vilanova i la Geltrú reached their target of 3.000 participants, but personally I was positively surprised by the number of acquaintances we met.

This year, the race was split into three levels. The first was the cursa solidària, only 800 meters long so that everybody who wanted could take part. The second one was the cursa infantil for children and their parents and the third one was the main race. Most of the money collected through the participant’s fee of € 2 per person will go to a charity project called “Sport Aid” in Guinea and Guatemala, and to the campaign “one child, one ball” ("un infant, una pilota") aimed at the children of low-income households here locally.

Autumn is here and yesterday it was raining quite a bit, but today we only had a cloudy sky and thus perfect running conditions. After a minor personal fiasco in the main race of 7 km last year, I had decided to, this time, limit myself to run 1,5 km with our five-year-old. It was his first real competition and a great experience for both of us. The only family member who was not happy was the two-and-a-half year old, who also wanted to run. My wife immediately got the message and has already promised that next year we will all do this together.

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The winners of the 7 km Cursa Popular 2008 were Sebastien Cacond and Vinyet Noguero, in the cathegories men and women, respectively.

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Technorati tags: Vilanova, Wirdheim

Saturday, 18 October 2008

ENG: Lluís Companys – a presentation

Many Catalan towns have places named after Lluís Companys i Jover (1882-1040). The main stadium of the 1992 summer Olympics, nowadays home arena of the football club Espanyol, bears his name and there is a monument to his honour near the Arc de Triomf of Barcelona.

October 15, on the anniversary of his death, people around the country pay him respect. At the hour when he was shot, at 6.30 in the morning, the political parties Convergència and Esquerra by tradition organize torchlight processions on Montjuïc, but also here in Vilanova do politicians hold a local ceremony.

Lluís Companys was a lawyer by education but had made the decision to stand up for his beliefs in Catalan independence, republicanism and workers’ rights. This upset the authorities of the time, so at the age of 27, he had already been detained fifteen times and was considered a “dangerous individual”.

In 1931, he took part in the congress which resulted in the creation of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya and his personal reputation rendered the party a credible left-wing profile. After Francesc Macià died in 1933, Companys took over and from January 1, 1934, he was elected President de la Generalitat.

A few months later, he felt that the sitting government in Madrid was about to be taken over by monarchists and fascists and therefore proclaimed a sovereign Catalan state within a federal Spanish republic. That move was not appreciated, so the whole Catalan government was detained and Companys sentenced to 30 years in prison. His luck turned, however, and in 1936, when the Front Nacional (Frente Nacional in Spanish) won the general elections, he was released and took on the task to unite the republican forces within Catalonia.

Companys lead the Catalan government throughout the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Admittedly he felt less and less content with the central republican authorities, but a bigger problem was the advance of Franco’s nationalist forces. In 1939, when these entered Barcelona, Companys fled to France. There he set up an exile representation of the Generalitat, but Nazi controlled France turned out to be too dangerous a place. On a request by Franco’s regime, in August 1940 Companys was arrested by Gestapo and sent to Spain where a military tribunal rapidly sentenced him to death, basically for “being the President of the Generalitat”.

“You kill an honourable man. For Catalonia!”, are said to have been his last words and in European history, Companys is the only president of a democratic nation who has been executed by a firing squad. In spite of several promises to look in to the matter, the Spanish judiciary still has not annulled the sentence against him. It is not surprising that he is a symbol for Catalan nationalists of all colours.

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Sources: Wikipedia on Lluís Companys in English and Catalan, and on Fets del sis d'octubre in Catalan.

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Here is an Avui article on the small chances to annul the sentence of Companys. Opening cases of this kind risk to serve as legitimisations of those who once claimed to be judges, but in reality were nothing but assassins.

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I promise to take a better picture of Vilanova's Companys monument some day when there is not a FritoLays truck right behind it.

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Technorati tags: Barcelona, Catalonia, Convergència, Independence, Spain, Vilanova

Sunday, 12 October 2008

ENG: Exhibition by Betty Miller at La Sala

The American artist Betty Miller, who apparently lives here in Vilanova, currently has an exhibition called Revisió at the local Centre of Contemporary Art; La Sala (address: C. Joaquim Mir 12; phone: 93 816 90 01).

We passed by during a Sunday walk and really appreciated what we saw; first the interior of a classic living room decorated with painted copies of black-and-white photos and then old books which tell totally different stories after having been transformed into art. As I see it, Betty Miller’s works do not strive to be avant-garde but still, in a playful way, challenge some of our concepts of the world.

This exhibition will hang until November 16. Do not come to Vilanova only to visit La Sala, but if you are already here, it is well worth a visit.

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Saturday October 25, the artist herself will lead a family oriented work shop at La Sala, and November 6, she will show The Pillow Book by Peter Greenaway. We will try to take part in at least one of these interesting events.

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Earlier entries on La Sala: 1, 2, 3
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Technorati tags: Vilanova

Friday, 10 October 2008

ENG: Castellers de Sabadell Honouring Albert Salvany of the Bordegassos

Although Vilanova i la Geltrú is a lot bigger than our neighbour town Vilafranca del Penedès, when it comes to human towers we lag behind but, honestly, who does not? Having said that, the local Bordegassos are relatively content with their season this year, repeatedly assembling and bringing down castells with up to seven levels.

And things have been worse. Among Vilanova castellers the eighties are called la travessia del desert - ‘a walk through the desert’ in a free translation – and the fact that the tradition survived was largely thanks to its historic leader (cap de colla) Albert Salvany. Tomorrow, Saturday October 11 at 19.00, there will be an exhibition here to his honour, and except for the Bordegassos we will have the chance to see the Castellers de Sabadell, who finished in the 11th position of the Concurs de Castells last Sunday, and also the Colla Jove dels Castellers de Sitges.

Exhibitions of this kind are usually being held in the Plaça de la Vila, but the event tomorrow will take place in Plaça de les Cols, the original plaça castellera of Vilanova. Local newpaper Diari de Vilanova has not been able to find out which human towers the Bordegassos will try tomorrow, but let us hope they make a new attempt at reaching eight levels. And if they do not, we can be sure that the support from Sabadell will.

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Technorati tags: Castellers, Garraf, Human Towers, Penedès, Sitges, Vilanova

Thursday, 9 October 2008

ENG: Come On Time to the Concurs de Castells

Many people here will tell you that Catalonia is not Spain and popular culture often proves that they are right. Whether it is a folkdance exhibition or a dragon parade – public events tends to start on time. I know this and I knew that the bi-annual “Concurs de Castells” - the Championship of Human Towers - attracts at least 10.000 spectators, and still I thought that it would be enough to arrive at the Plaça de braus in Tarragona fifteen minutes before the beginning of the competition. How many people could possibly be there at ten o'clock on a Sunday morning?

So, I was quite surprised to find out that by then all seats were already taken - experienced spectators know that they are in for a long day. In the end, I had to cling to a railing, but I do not complain since I had a marvellous view of the many thousand participants in the arena, easily recognised as 18 colles (teams) thanks to their shirts in different colours.

This year was the first concurs after the re-modelling of the bull fighting arena and I certainly appreciated the shades which have been added on top of the building. Poor Castellers de Sants and the Joves from Valls plus the audience right behind them, who had to spend the whole day in the gazing sun.

Diades castelleres tend to take time and this is the longest one of them all and thus not an activity where you want to bring small children. Last Sunday the competition lasted for five and half hours and that was a big improvement since many times it has finished after 18.00.

Since - at least officially - you are not allowed back in if you leave the Plaça de braus, the kiosks should not have run out of sandwiches so early. By a strike of luck, I had put some snacks in my backpack, but returning spectators bring what I would rather describe as full meals. And why not? In the end, this is a festa, a celebration of community and team spirit.

The only times I felt that the atmosphere was not only good-hearted was when people booed the Castellers de Vilafranca for interrupting attempts - although that is fully in line with the rules - or when the judges approved their “torre de 8” as carregat (assembled). But we are only humans and maybe irritation is inevitable when one colla so overwhelmingly outperforms the rest. Let us hope that the vilafranquins will have a tougher match next time – the first Sunday of October in 2010.

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For those of you who are prepared to try your Catalan, here is a blog dedicated to the Concurs de Castells.

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Technorati tags: Castellers, Catalonia, Human Towers, Penedès

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

ENG: The Duels of the Human Tower Championships

Although all colles (teams) which take part in the “Concurs de Castells” are very good, most of them do not have any chances to be the overall winners. For that reason, it is not surprising that there are many competitions within the competition.

The technically most interesting duel takes place between the teams from Valls, which both aspire to be the best colla of Catalonia. Valls is located only twenty minutes away from Tarragona, so they always have a lot of supporters in the audience. This year, however, although the Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls and the Colla Joves Xiquets de Valls came second and third, respectively, many of us will above all remember how their castells fell apart. The Joves tried to repeat the beautiful “5 de 9 amb folre” which they made during the Diada de Sant Fèlix, but the top child (enxaneta) lost her grip. The Vella, on the other hand, managed to assemble (carregar) that construction as well as a “pilar de 8 amb folre i manilles”, but did not dismantle (descarregar) either of them.

The second duel takes place between the colles from Tarragona. While the “younger one”, Colla Jove Xiquets de Tarragona” had only had a slightly higher score than the “older one”, Xiquets de Tarragona” in the ranking during the summer, this time their performance was far better. With 1.713 points, the Jove finished as number four, while the Xiquets only as number nine (988 points).

The third duel is between the top colles from the Catalan capital and here I will allow myself to be provocative and predict that there has been a shift on the throne. The Castellers de Barcelona are older (founded in 1969) and have a more impressive track record, but it were the Castellers de Sants (founded 1993) who excelled in the Plaça de braus (1.388 v.s. 1.049 points). “Som SANTSacionals” ("We’re SANTSational") is a telling reaction which I have received on the YouTube-clip showing how Sants, for the first time ever, assemble a tower of 9 levels (3 de 9 amb folre; carregat).

The fourth duel, finally, is based on historic achievement rather than geography since it is between the Castellers de Lleida and the Xicots de Vilafranca (i.e. a second colla from the small town where the winners come from). Since the Xicots are from the Penedès area where I live, on any other day they would be my favourites, but I happened to sit right in front of Lleida during the championship. This colla had a higher ranking before the competition and won the duel with a small margin (1.049 v.s. 912 points) but what really made an impression on me was the happiness they radiated when achieveing things together. That is the true spirit of castellers – probably the most iconic symbol of proper team work.

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Here you can find the full result list of the "Concurs de Castells", Tarragona 2008.

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Technorati tags: Barcelona, Castellers, Catalonia, Human Towers, Penedès

Sunday, 5 October 2008

ENG: Vilafranca Again Casteller Champions of Catalonia

Sunday October 5, for the fourth time in a row, the Castellers de Vilafranca took home the title as Catalan Champions of Castells (the assembling of human towers). As of tradition, the competition was held in the re-modelled bull fighting arena (Plaça de braus) of Tarragona.

The Castellers de Vilafranca opened bravely by assembling a 9-level tower, dismantled via a so called needle (4 de 9 amb folre i agulla; descarregat) and then an 8-level human pillar (pilar de 8 amb folre i manilles; descarregat).

In the third round they presented a tower of 8 levels with only two people per level and without extra support at the base (torre de 8; carregat). This is a very difficult construction which has never ever been brought down in a controlled way and I my YouTube-clip reveals that I was among the spectators who thought that the vilafranquins did not even manage to assemble it this time.

After a long wait came the judges’ verdict; the tower was approved as “assembled” (carregat). The other teams (colles) were protesting loudly and only a re-run on the big TV-screens finally calmed down the emotions - we could all see that the top child (enxaneta) had, in fact, put down her feet before the tower fell apart.

Only the three best rounds per team are being counted to determine the final score, but to prove their strength, the champions assembled another 9-level tower without extra support at the second level (4 de 9; carregat). With a total of 5.997 points, the winners were far superior to the competitors and this was the second highest score ever reached during a diada castellera. It is worth mentioning that it is the Castellers de Vilafranca themselves who hold the record, since the Diada de Sant Fèlix in 2005.

The traditionally strong teams from Valls - the origin and still unofficial capital of the art of human towers - both failed to assemble their most emblematic constructions and therefore obtained surprisingly low scores. The Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls were second (2.619 points) and the Colla Joves Xiquets de Valls (2.046 points) was third. After them followed the Capgrossos de Mataró in the fourth, the Colla Jove dels Xiquets de Tarragona in the fifth and the Castellers de Sants (Barcelona) in the sixth position.

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Media links: Avui 1, LaVanguardia 1

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Earlier blog entry on the Castellers de Vilafranca.

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Technorati tags: Castellers, Catalonia, Human Towers, Penedès,

Thursday, 2 October 2008

ENG: Practical Information About the Human Tower World Championship

Sunday, October 5, will see the celebration of the World Championship (mundial) or, more modestly, Championship of Catalonia in the assembling of human towers (concurs de castells). As of tradition, the competition will be held at Plaça de Braus in Tarragona and starts at 10.00.

The list of participants is impressive. Ruling champions the Castellers de Vilafranca (Visca el Penedès!) are clear favourites, but can expect a good match at least from the Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls, the Colla Joves Xiquets de Valls and the Capgrossos de Mataró.

I can not help considering it a shame that a Catalan high profile event of this class is not better promoted in English or, at least, in Spanish. Most of the practical information is only available in Catalan and, honestly, I think it was luck rather than logic in my search which lead me to the organisers’ official web-page. There, after a while, I realised that information about ticket purchases (venta d’entrades; € 4, or € 5,50 if you make them in advance through ServiCaixa) can be found under the headline Serveis. Further down on the same page you will find descriptions on how to get there and links to relevant maps (veure mapa).

An alternative way of following the competition will be through the live broadcasts from 12.25 on Catalan TV 33. However, although I am convinced that I would learn a lot by listening to the commentators there, I have decided to go to Tarragona. This is, after all, a bi-annual event and an experience I certainly do not want to miss.

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Technorati tags: Catalonia, Castellers, Human Towers

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

ENG: Boycott Against Telemarketing Offers

Since my family moved here, several times have we been irritated by the many telemarketing calls we receive. Some years ago, the worst cases used to be people who tried to maximise the length of the phone call by making the most of the long vowels and slow speaking typical for Spanish dialects, but recently it is pre-recorded offers which make us feel the most offended.

My wife and I do not have anything against advertising, we just do not want to receive it by telephone. As a consequence of what has happened to us during the last few days, we will like it even less.

September 25, our Internet connection at home was interrupted and our provider promised an explanation and solution within 72 hours. Today, much more than 72 hours and many phone calls later do we finally know why. The reason makes me so angry that I have almost forgotten my frustration with’s slow service.

Apparently, we nowadays have a contract with another provider, but for privacy reasons, does not have access to their name. Interestingly enough, my wife and I do not know their name either. The technical staff at regret the situation, but inform us that some Internet providers are so aggressive to win new customers that they do not wait for their consent, but simply switch them over after having called.

Ingenious, is it not? According to, Telefonica will be able to tell me which this company is. Telefonica - lovely! Why do I have a feeling that the last telemarketing call I answered – and it was last week - came from them? Well, whoever has deprived us of Internet access can rest assured that I will do my best to spread negative publicity about them. And, from now on, I will not even start listening to what telemarketing people have to offer.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

ENG: The Walking Human Towers of Tarragona

Many Catalan towns have competitions between castellers during their festa major, but the one of Tarragona on the day of la Mercè (September 24) is unique. Here, proper castells have been assembled since the end of the 18th century and the town musters as many as four local groups; the Xiquets de Tarragona (founded in 1970), the Colla Jove Xiquets de Tarragona (1979), the Xiquets del Serallo (1988) and the Colla Castellera de Sant Pere i Sant Pau (1990).

The first task on this day is to assemble traditional human towers and the groups (colles) take turns to make two each at the small square Plaça de les Cols. If you observe the movement of the crowd from the top of the cathedral stairs, it feels like colour streams of violet, pink, blue and green flowing back and forward, since the groups are easily recognised by their shirts of distinctive colours. The pink (on a closer look striped red and white) of the original Xiquets and the violet of the Jove dominate the scene since they have the most members. These two are also the most experienced groups, regularly assembling towers with up to eight levels.

In the second phase of the program – els pilars caminants de Tarragona – the task is to assemble a pillar (pilar; a human tower with one person per level) of four levels, walk up and down the 20 steps of the stairs in front of the cathedral and then continue, still in formation, through the narrow carrer Major down to the Plaça de la Font and the town hall. The age of each colla determinates the starting order, but while the oldest two groups started first and therefore had more spectators cheering for them, it was the stability and speed of the later two which really made an impression on me.

This discipline must be a Tarragona specialty. I am not yet an expert in the area of castells, but I doubt that, for example, Vilanova’s Bordegassos would be able to do this, although they outperform Serallo and Sant Pere i Sant Pau in classic castells.

To me, the walking pillars of Tarragona added a new dimension to the art of castellers and easily make it to the top positions of what people interested in Catalan popular culture must not miss.
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Technorati tags: Castellers, Catalonia, Festa, Human Towers

SWE: Tarragonas vandrande pelare

Castells (mänskliga torn) byggs det runt om i hela Katalonien, men den 24:e september – när helgonet Mercè firas – tas den här kulturformen till en annan nivå. I staden Tarragona har det byggts mänskliga torn som vi känner dem sedan slutet 1700-talet och idag har staden fyra grupper med castellers. Två av dem – Xiquets och Colla Jove – är väletablerade och bygger klassiska mänskliga torn med upp till åtta nivåer, men alla fyra är specialiserade på den ”vandrande” versionen. I pelare (pilar) om fyra nivåer av människor ovanpå varandras axlar, vandrar grupperna upp och ner för de 20 stegen i katedralstrappan och sedan vidare genom de trånga gränderna ner till rådhuset.

I en av de bästa presentationerna över Kataloniens festes (festivaler och stadsfester) står det att många rörs till tårar när de ser det här. Det hände också mig när jag nu i år såg det för första gången. Aldrig hade jag trott att pelarna skulle kunna förflytta sig så snabbt. Detta är nästan mer fantastiskt än castellers i sig.

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I mitt inlägg på engelska skriver jag mer utförligt om de grupper (colles) som finns i Tarragona.

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Technorati tags: Castellers, Catalonia, Human Towers, Penedès,

ENG: La Cavalcada – Giants Parading Through Barcelona

Giants (gegants) and nans (midgets, also called capgrossos, ‘big heads’) are vital ingredients of any Catalan festa, and during la Mercè, I went to Barcelona to see them during the so called Cavalcada. That turned to be a good and a bad decision.

Good since this is an opportunity to see not only the giants of the city centre – King James I (Jaume I) and his wife – but also those of the individual districts; Poble Nou, Sarrià, Gràcia, Raval, Sants etc. I have pictures of more than thirty figures, although I left out most of the nans.

Bad because of the big number of participants; the route from Plaça de la Universtitat to Plaça de la Catedral is long and the groups repeatedly get stuck along the way. Therefore, the Cavalcada was not as intense and exciting as I had hoped for. “All the Colours of Barcelona” (Tots els colors de Barcelona) was the theme of the year but although I agree with the intentions – to stress that this is nowadays a multicultural environment – I can not say that traditional folkart is a good means to spread that message.

The Cavalcada is above all a children’s event, so next year I will make sure to bring ours. And I will limit our visit to the final part, when all creatures pass by the stage and line up in front of the cathedral, accompanied by speaker comments and music.

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Technorati tags: Barcelona, Catalonia, Festa,

SWE: Barcelonas jättar i kavalkad

Skyddshelgonets Mercès dag den 24:e september utgör kulmen på Barcelonas festa major (stadsfest). Ett av de traditionella barninslagen är kavalkaden (cavalcada) där jättar och ’storhuvuden’ (capgrossos eller nans) tågar genom den historiska stadskärnan. I år var paradtemat ”Barcelonas alla färger” som en anspelning på att staden har blivit så multikulturell.

I YouTube-inslaget beskriver jag slutet på kavalkaden, när alla jättarna äntligen nått fram till Plaça de la Catedral.

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Mer information om kavalkaden hittar ni i mitt inlägg på engelska.

Friday, 26 September 2008

ENG: Am I a Hypocrite?

You might be wondering why a person like I who am interested in Catalan Popular culture, have not come back with more reactions and impressions from the Festa de Santa Tecla in Tarragona or the Festa de la Mercè in Barcelona.

The reason is a sad as simple. Our broadband connection provided by currently does not work. I have allowed myself to publish this entry from work, but from there I will not be able to upload video clips and photos or do the research and spell checks which I – at least occasionally - demand of myself.

So, do not despair, those of you who want me to continue to share what I learn about the Catalan language and culture. I certainly have not lost my motivation for this project but, unfortunately, its most essential tool.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

CAT: La mestra diu que és xerraire – ho felicito!

Abans que el nostre fill gran tornés a l’escola no sabiem com hi reaccionaria. Ja que no parla el català quan nosaltres som a prop, coneixem poc sobre el seu nivell de la llengua. L’altre dia vam entendre que no hem de preocupar-nos del tema. “El teu fill és un xerraire”, va queixar-se la seva nova mestra. “I com parla? Que parla el català?”, vaig haver de preguntar, encara amb dubtes. Quan va respondre’m que “Clar que sí”, vaig haver d’agafar la má del meu fill i anar-m’en ràpidament. Espero que ella no veiés que gran va ser el meu somriure. “És que ella no enté que tinc moltes coses per contar-los als meus amics”, va defendre’s el meu fill. No vaig dir res, sinó vaig sentir-me molt content amb la vida.

Per al petit l’adaptació li està costant molt més, peró sobre tot per les hores quan no es parla. Durant l’estiu s’havia acostumat a fer una siesta de dues hores a una habitació fosca, fresca y tranquil•la. A la llar d’infants cal fer el mateix a una sala amb altres nens, molts d’ells plorant. El primer dia no va poder descansar res, i va tornar a casa amb un humor fatal. Després va anar millorant – cada dia una mica millor – fins ahir quan, finalment, va poder dormir una hora i mig. El resultat va ser fantàstic i jo diria que els nens confirmen el piràmide de Maslow. Si no es compleix el bàsic, no pot arribar-se més amunt. I al revés, si dormen bé, mengen bé i amb això segueix un bon humor per descomptat.

Monday, 22 September 2008

ENG: La Mercè in Ciutadella, Barcelona

The picture of the dragon on the roof formed part of Utan Ord (Without Words, in Swedish). Now pictures have been added in order to create a more comprehensive overview of what we experienced during the celebrations of la Mercè in the park Ciutadella, Barcelona, last Sunday.

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Here is a YouTube clip of the Barrenderos del Ritmo (Street-Sweepers of Rhythm, in Spanish).

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Technorati tags: Barcelona, Catalonia, Festa