Thursday, 31 January 2008

Watch Out for Meringues during 'Dijous Gras'

Just before entering the supermarket I heard an egg pass me by. I was lucky not to be hit. The ban on egg throwing, which the police almost managed to reinforce in the afternoon, seems to have been forgotten since the sun set. I should have been more careful. This is the violent side to dijous gras (fat Thursday).

In the afternoon, Vilanova’s children had their merengada at Plaça del Mercat. Most of them had started early and were covered with a layer of soft meringue already when they arrived. And here they got more of the sticky white stuff, dumped on them in small parachutes from a hot-air balloon.

Tranquil adults will finish off the eggs by eating truita (omelette) and meringues – similar to what other cultures do on mardi gras. But for those who want more action, there is a merengada for grown-ups starting at midnight. It is probably stupid, but I plan to sneak out and have a look.

Step by Step

Our youngest son must like traditional Catalan clothes. For the first time this carnival, he did not protest when I dressed him up as a little comparser. Embroidered shawls for the girls and characteristic red barretines for the boys. Just like what loads of children and grown-ups will wear coming Sunday, when Vilanova’s Guerra de Caramels takes place.

Today at our oldest son’s school, an old tie of mine was totally ruined. He must have stained it on purpose. It is beyond rescue, even with the dry cleaner’s strongest chemicals.

In the meantime, the carnival atmosphere is building up. The Rambla still looks plain, but the alleys in the pedestrian area around C/ Caputxins all are full of decorations. Tomorrow, dijous gras, is when the carnival takes off here in Vilanova.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Back to Reality

Before the carnival started I had an idea about taking one picture a day of our children – every day in a new fancy dress. Now, I see my plans crash with reality.

In all honesty, our oldest son is thrilled with the carnival. This morning he happily put on a black cloak which his mother had made for the occasion.

But our youngest one seems untouched by the carnivalista spirit. Today, the children of his kindergarten were supposed to come in full fancy-dresses of their (parents’) own choice. Pirates, I thought, Children love to be a pirates.

Not our two-year-old. I am sure that he would have wanted the sword, but I did not even show it to him. And he did not accept any piece of the clothes when I tried to dress him up. His teachers managed to put on pirate trousers and a jacket - but not the headscarf and certainly not any make-up.

Tomorrow will bring yet another challenge!

Monday, 28 January 2008

The Carnival of Vilanova is Here

Carnival count down started last week for the small children. At our younger one’s kindergarten, last Wednesday, the children were to wear non-matching socks, last Thursday, a red painted nose and last Friday, a bow tie. Today, Monday, both I and the kindergarten teachers did our best to make our two-year-old wear all the things at the same time, but he can be quite stubborn. Well, he wore the socks in the end - it could have been worse.

For the four-year-old, the carnival started today with the theme 'necklaces'. Only yesterday evening did we realise how few big necklaces my wife was prepared to lend him for a day of rough play at school. Rapidly we made some by ourselves with coloured penne.

Carnival time comes with a lot of fun but, at least for parents, it means a bit of extra work as well.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

A Snack for the Poor

Every year, el Cim - our oldest son’s school - celebrates a Setmana de la Diversitat (Week of Diversity) when the pupils focus on issues related to inequality among the people of the world. This year, they talked about the scarcity of water so, among other things, the children collected money by symbolically throwing coins into a well.

Last Friday, Intermon Oxfam was invited to sell their fair-trade products in the school yard. Being Swedish, I could not help myself from smiling when seeing that the food which was being sold was white bread and chocolate bars.

I could have made a statement and suggested other snacks, more in line with the topic of the week and much better for the teeth. Instead, I let our son have the same treat as his classmates. Some would say that I have become indifferent. I would rather call it integration.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

How Safe is Barcelona?

It seems that international media has already lost interest in the raids against terrorist suspects carried out in Raval, Barcelona, last weekend. Here, the security situation is developing into a scandal. Yesterday, we heard the Councillor of Internal Affairs, Saura, say that there did not exist any imminent threats to Catalonia. Only a few hours later, did the police inform us that the original plan of the arrested foreigners had been to carry out suicide attacks on the Barcelona metro system during last weekend.

So, either Saura was trying to cover up an inconvenient story or he was not on top of a major issue under his responsibility – two alternatives equally easy to condemn. For a change, not only the opposition parties are up in arms. Ordinary people commenting on related news articles might differ in opinion but coincide being worried and concerned.

In the meantime, the Catalan government maintains its silence and the Spanish Minister of Internal Affairs reassures us that the terrorists were only training. Now, that feels much better.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Catalan Influences

I like to try to identify when one language influences another. Nowadays, our four-year-old consequently asks ‘Hur många år har du?’ in Swedish. Earlier in his life, he correctly used to use the verb ‘be’ here, but lately he selects ‘have’, like in Catalan.

There are other more ambiguous cases. I believe that phrases like ‘Det är sin bil’ as well as ‘Ingen får inte göra det’ (Nobody must not do that) are examples of when his Swedish is being adapted to Catalan grammar. But pronouns and negations are difficult to master, so it might well be that such errors occur also among children who grow up in Sweden.

A peculiarity is that he uses ‘(allt) för’ to mean ‘very’, as in ‘Det är för bra’ (That is too good). Is that because ‘too’ is a concept hard to grasp or is it yet another Catalanism? I assume that 'That is very good' can be expressed as ‘Això és força bé’ in the school yard. And ‘força’ sounds a bit like Swedish ‘för’, does it not?

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

On Playgrounds in Vilanova

In the newspaper, I saw that the residents of barri de Mar have made a demand to our mayor for more money to be invested in their neighbourhood. I do not claim that there is not any need for further improvements where they live, but consider that valid for most parts of the town. In fact, at least in one aspect, barri de Mar scores higher than the rest – they have the best children’s playgrounds.

Since our oldest son started to take gymnastics classes, we visit the north of the town every week and more than once have complained loudly about the lack of a decent area for a break around there. Not so any longer. The remodelling of Plaça de les Casernes has not only given us a nice place for a snack, but also a new favourite playground. I just hope that our children will not demand that we go there on weekends. The coast is more beautiful, after all.

The Origin of Xató

We in Vilanova i la Geltrú have an unfortunate talent to turn up in the national news for negative reasons. I am not going to comment on the latest tragic case, since it by no means can be said to be typical for this town.

Instead, I want to put the spotlight on two things which we can be proud of. The first is the Xató, a salad of disputed origin but as a good vilanoví, I am convinced that it comes from here. The second is the Xatonada – the day when some people compete in making the best Xató, but most of us just take the opportunity to have a plate of it together.

This year’s version took place last Sunday and the good atmosphere was enhanced by the weather and good music. True, for our children, the old location in the premises of the Railway Museum was more exciting, but my wife and I appreciated the move to Plaça de la Mediterrànea since the natural flow through the square created a very inviting feeling.

For possible Swedish readers, I want to stress that I am aware that bacallà (cod) is being heavily over-fished. But I really like this dish. And the Xatonada is only once a year.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Vilanova and Sitges: Worlds Apart

Carnival is a big thing in Catalonia and two neighbour towns in the small comarca Garraf stand out for their strong local traditions. The most famous is the carnival of Sitges. Attracting affluent 'carnivalists' from Barcelona and gays form the whole world, it has come to mean business. No wonder that it is packaged and organised in such a professional way.

Let us be honest, the Carnaval de Vilanova i la Geltrú is number two. It was obvious already today, when the program was presented. We come out on top in the enthusiasm and whole-hearted participation of local people, but admittedly are far behind in style.

If you come to Barcelona as a tourist, follow our carnival through the media while you enjoy the wilder party in Sitges. But, at least, visit us on Sunday, February 3. Few things match the spirit of les comparses in our Guerra de Caramels.

A Big Hand

In Wikipedia until now, Catalan has been found under the headline of languages which have 10.000 entries or more. Tonight, when I needed to check up on a detail, I could not find it. I am not very technical, so for a second I thought that the server was down. Then I realised what probably had happened and was almost nervous to raise my eyes, albeit as little as two centimetres. And there it was.

Thanks to alphabetical order, Catalan is now first in line of an exclusive club of languages which have more than 100.000 entries.

My thanks go to everyone who has contributed to this. Do not be discouraged by the fact that Volapük – a constructed language – is there as well. In my eyes, what you are doing is much more important for the status of Catalan in the world than anything I have seen from the Generalitat or other authorities.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Sant Antoni Abat: a Local Vilanova Holiday

Local holidays are a phenomenon in Catalonia to which Swedes are not used. They are nice for people who work in the town where they live but for many vilanovins, who commute to Barcelona, that is not the case. Who looks after your children when school is closed?

After all, the day of Sant Antoni Abat - the patron saint of animals - is only once a year. Historically on this day, horses and other animals used to be blessed by the priest and then made to complete three loops around the church, hence els Tres Tombs. Nowadays, Vilanova celebrates January 17 with a grandiose horse parade. It has looked more or less the same for over a century, but is highly appreciated, especially by children. Not ours, however. The youngest one fell asleep in his push-chair while his older brother kept on complaining about all the horse poo in the streets.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Where is the Action?

La Sala currently holds an exhibition around a flag which, 125 years ago, used to mark a change.

Back in 1883, some peasants were still celebrating els Tres Tombs but, due to secularization, most vilanovins had lost interest in it. In came people from the new middle class who had contact with Barcelona and understood to organize the event in a modern way. Dangerous animal races through the town were replaced by a classy horse parade.

They also introduced a new flag, but it was never accepted by the clergy. That is how it survived the civil war when, in 1936, the communists burnt down our main church and all religious symbols.

The horse parade remains popular today. But times change and violent animal races, like San Fermines of Pamplona, would probably attract an even bigger crowd.

Two Years, Four Words

I am not too fond of our youngest son’s tantrums. He explodes with anger every time a big Duplo figure can not come through the door of a minimal car or whenever a cardboard box does not understand that it is a hat and supposed to stay on top of his head.

As if to help my patience, his language is developing fast. Yesterday, I observed him looking in a picture book and I was amazed with the number of objects he already manages to name.

Recently he made his first four-word sentence in Swedish. “Stäng ‘dörra’, säger gubben” ("Close the door, says the old man"). Without its context it might seem odd, but anyone who remembers this story about the Bullerby children can confirm that that is what happens.

Today is our little darling's second birthday. Terrible twos. It is not as bad as they say.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Is the Tide Turning?

Maybe it is just that I am more observant when reading in my native tongue, but I think that the environment is being treated quite differently here than in Sweden. Swedish media are full of advice on how you make an ecologic dinner and travel in responsible ways.

In Catalonia, the negative effects of climate change are obvious. For example, natural reservoirs are now at so low levels that Barcelona might soon need to bring in water in huge tanker ships. In spite of that, environmental issues seem to be something for politicians to solve.

For this reason, a full-page advertisement in the latest Diari de Vilanova came as a positive surprise. It was a list of concrete measures on how we all can save water. True, the advertisement was placed by the ajuntament of Sant Pere de Ribes, but I have a feeling that the recommendations work in Vilanova as well.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Living History Through Old Catalan Dragons

Later this week, Vilanova will celebrate Els Tres Tombs and since it centres around animals, firecrackers are not very welcome. But these days are also our festa major of the winter and that simply cannot be a calm event. Tonight, before going out to see the cercavila (procession) of monsters, we put ear muffs on our youngest son. His older brother knows to put his fingers in his ears.

The dragon of Vilanova, those of la Geltrú and other local figures all took positions behind a famous visitor - the official replica of the dragon of Vilafranca. The original only leaves its museum for that town’s own festa major, since it is documented to have been in use from the year 1600, while paint analyses give reason to believe that it stems from the 13th century. Whatever we think about Catalans’ love for bangs and fire, it does have an amazingly long history.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Why We Will Visit Cosmo Caixa Again

Foucault’s pendulum, proving the rotation of planet Earth, was only the intriguing opening. Our four-year-old who had already visited Cosmo Caixa with school had told us how great Barcelona's museum of science was, but as typical parents we remained sceptic until we actually got here.

Visitors are invited to make experiments related to basic concepts like gravity and energy, but also look into the development of mankind. We originally came for the Planetari Bombolla but this turned out to be one of many scheduled activities. That did not matter. The permanent exhibition is huge, not only for those who come with easily distracted children. With entry fees as low as € 3, we plan to come back many times. Children are a wonderful excuse when you realise all the gaps you have in your own knowledge.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Girona is Not Barcelona

We appreciate Ryanair for their low prices and extraordinary geographic coverage. However, for a single parent, their low service level must be a challenge. Before taking off from Girona (Gerona), I had to queue for 45 minutes to pay for an extra piece of luggage and was happy to have my wife taking care of our children.

Seasoned Ryanair travellers complete the whole purchase process over the Internet and avoid having to pay any fees at all at the airport. Unfortunately, Internet check-in is not allowed if you travel with a child below two years of age, but with a €3 fee you can still obtain priority boarding and thus make sure to have your family seated together.

Ryanair's flights usually arrive here late in the evening so it is advisable to plan further connections in advance. Whatever the advertising says, Girona is not Barcelona.

Pride and Prejudice

Local TV is well developed here. Since Canal Blau is not yet digital, we nowadays miss their local news from Vilanova and Sitges as well as their quality children’s programs.

The metropolitan area's equivalent is Barcelona TV. This station must have good funding since they can broadcast niche programs like news up-dates on the Swedish ExPat community.

My wife and I are very happy to know the Agrells – successful entrepreneurs and well-known bloggers. But we are not too proud about how the two of us act in front of the camera when commenting on their nice Christmas party. Not to have to sign up for media training, we reassured ourselves that, most likely, not many people had watched the show this week. An SMS to my wife brought us back to reality. One of her colleagues had just seen her on TV.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Swedish – Catalan: Another 4 – 0

I negotiated with the four-year-old today. He was allowed to skip his gymnastics class today if he promised not to complain about going back to school. Fully aware that Swedish is his strongest language, he is a bit nervous about having to speak Catalan.

The two-year-old probably will be sad when I leave him at daycare tomorrow, but that will not be for language reasons. His teachers claim that he is one of the children who talk the most. Only two months ago did we consider his language development to be notably slower than that of his brother. Then he started to spurt, interestingly enough in both languages at the same time. However, I bet that he does not yet make up three-word sentences in Catalan and since he does so in Swedish the result is clear. Swedish – Catalan: 4 -0. Again.

When the Magic Kings of the Orient Came to Sitges

Christmas time is great in Sweden, but in Catalonia it is better. Our children were still excited about having met Santa Claus when it was time for the magic kings of the orient.

Yesterday morning we again found presents under the Christmas tree but already the day before did we welcome the kings in person. Last year we took part in the nice ceremony here in Vilanova, but felt that it could not compete with what we had seen in neighbouring Sitges one year earlier. There, Melchior, Caspar and Baltazar had arrived in a spaceship to the church by the sea. Possibly we were punished for leaving Vilanova and possibly the ajuntament of Sitges was saving money - the kings’ arrival this year was not spectacular. But who cares when your childrens’ eyes are about to burst with excitement?

Friday, 4 January 2008

Happy Children at Barcelona's Aquarium

The Barcelona Aquarium turned out to be a slightly pricy but exciting. We went there on a rainy day, so it was crowded with people but conditions for the fish were even worse. That is at least what I think, recalling how we used to calculate space per fish when we had a fish tank.

It must have been the heat inside the building that influenced my wife, but she immediately started talking about future holidays on exotic beaches. Going only by the fish in the geographically themed presentations, our next trip would go to the Red Sea, but it is more likely that fish around Cuba will meet her face snorkelling in their waters.

Neither of our children spent much time looking at the rays and small sharks swimming over their heads in the playground area at the end of the tour. Undoubtedly, however, this was the part they liked the best.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Foggy Memories of a Day in Lleida

Lleida is infamous for fog but it felt like a joke to suddenly enter into a foggy and frosty landscape right at the road sign which announced that we had arrived.

We would have loved to take a long break on the hill of la Seu Vella, with the magnificent view in front and the forcedly abandoned cathedral behind us. The cloister building, restored from having been turned into stables, gained in charm from being free from other tourists, but the rest of Lleida did not.

Like Lonely Planet had warned us, restaurants are scarce in the city centre. If we take our children here again it will have to be on a sunny day. It was -1ºC when we left Lleida and +8ºC when we arrived in Vilanova later in the evening. Having grown up on the Swedish west coast, we have had enough of cold rain.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Bland Grapes, Bland Montilla

We were fortunate to be invited to an intimate and well prepared New Year’s Dinner with fellow bloggers Junyents. As on earlier occasions, or friends treated us to interesting mix of culinary influences – cold and warm, traditional and modern, Swedish and Catalan.

As an exception, the local cava was replaced with a huge bottle of Moët & Chandon and the discussion around the table was more and more animated. Catalan president Montilla was criticised for being overly bland. He is a politician who can possibly hold together a coalition but who will never succeed in building international recognition for Catalonia. Is he still doing a good job? On that topic we had quite different opinions, but we did manage to agree that the grapes which my family had brought were too bland, as well. At least for grapes, that is not a particularly good grade.