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.