Monday, 4 January 2010

Wirdheim in Vilanova 2010-1

I am sitting in the office and have just extended our opening hours for sales to the public. Sure, it is rewarding to have small children, but the long Christmas holidays have increased their voice levels to a point where we were all better off if I leave the flat every now and then.

A few days ago, we came back from Christmas celebrations with our relatives in Sweden. Unfortunately, my wife was ill and had to stay in bed for several days. Since neither the children nor I were infected, I hope it was swine flu – that would support my little theory that the rest of us have already had it. Anyway, I do not intend to have us vaccinated.

For a change we had a white Christmas on the Swedish west coast and our children could go sledding and build a snowman, a snow lantern and even an igloo. Finally do they have their own memories of the idyllic winter activities which they so far had only been able to see in movies based on Astrid Lindgren's books.

Not surprisingly, in Catalonia it is warmer and we celebrated a big part of New Year's Eve outdoors on a terrace, in a group dominated by our fellow countrymen. The neighbours to the villa in Pallejà (Baix Llobregat), where we were, were most likely not impressed with the Swedish evergreens from the 80s which we were singing, but we had a lot of fun. A linguistic observation of the evening was that the children were playing in Spanish, although they all have at least one Swedish parent and all attend schools where education is primarily in Catalan.

By the way, our children have already learned to maximize the mix of cultures. First they are Swedish and ask Santa Claus (jultomten, in Swedish) to come with gifts, which he, of course, does. Then they are Catalan and remind us that also the Three Wise Men (els reis mags de l'Orient) are expected to bring them presents. I surrendered long ago. Firstly, because integration is important and, secondly, since Ebenezer Scrooge has taught me that Christmas is a time to be generous!

Vilanova i la Geltrú, the Penedès and Barcelona

Let me take the concept of generosity as an excuse to comment on the news of the last few days, since generous is precisely what we here in Vilanova are forced to be; the tolls on the motorway C-32 between Sitges and Castelldefels are some of the highest in the whole of Spain and with the beginning of the new year they have increased further. In Diari de Vilanova we see our mayor and others complain that we now have to pay € 5.33 when we go to Barcelona and the same amount when we return home. Some years ago I honestly thought that the many protests would result in a discount, but now I am hardened. We will simply have to continue to take the scenic old route, in spite of its dangerous curves and precipices down into the Mediterranean.

The Penedès, Catalonia and Spain

The price of train tickets, on the other hand, goes up even more, with a full 7% although the 2009 inflation was close to nil. With the year-end, the Catalan authorities (Generalitat) have taken over the responsibility for the commuter train (rodalies) and Joaquim Nadal, the responsible Catalan minister (conseller), promises improvements before end of the year. That will not be the case for us who live in the southern parts of the Penedès (to the south-west from Barcelona) since the frequency of local trains here depends on the long-distance trains and they are still operated by Spanish Renfe. The coordination of timetables will not be simplified now when two organisations have to cooperate on the railway line.

Spain and the EU

Within the EU, the turn of the year meant that Sweden has handed over the presidency to Spain. Personally, I believe that the EU's newly appointed, non-rotating president, Herman van Rompuy, will get a good start with the Spanish Prime Minister. Compared with leaders of other big European states, Zapatero (PSOE) does not have an exaggerated ego. Much less promising is the fact that Spain will now have to resume the efforts to make Europe the world’s most competitive economy (following up on the Lisbon Strategy, expiring in 2010). Not even European social democrats see Spain as a model when it comes to the labour market, do they? No, we will have to be content if Zapatero, thanks to cultural and geographical proximity, manages to deepen the EU's cooperation with Latin America and the Mediterranean region, respectively.

Catalan culture

Since we are already talking about culture and proximity, I will take the opportunity to recall that the EU's new regulations on the use of fire in public places have now come into force. Within the borders of the Spanish state, it seems that Catalans will be able to keep on cherishing fire and crackers as central elements of their festa traditions, but on the French side - in Northern Catalonia - it looks worse. The 'devil dancers' in Rosselló may have made their last proper performance. Good thing we do not live there now when I have finally gotten over my initial fear.

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Now, what is this?

A new year begins and that is a good time to reconsider how I use my spare time. By now, for quite some time, blogging has played a crucial role for my personal development. It motivates me to develop my Catalan and Spanish, hopefully maintain my English and, at the same time, seek new knowledge about society around me. It also gives me the opportunity to expose myself to those who do not yet know who I am.

When I look back on 2009, I am satisfied with how I have covered major events, local culture as well as politics. However, for a long time have I been looking for a structure to interconnect the individual posts. My event calendar was a first step in that direction, so that is something I will keep. To that, I now want to add something of a scheduled review. Last summer I ran a project which I called the Penedès news in English. Looking back, I am surprised to see how many texts I completed before I was bored, since it is relatively easy to pinpoint where I went wrong; the geographical limits were too narrow and I spent so much time gathering facts that I did not have time for analysis.

In this new project I would like to elaborate on the positive experience of the Penedès news – to give myself a reason to take interest and make summaries on a regular basis. The headline will simply be Wirdheim in Vilanova since it sends a signal that I do not pretend to be objective, nor adopt a global perspective. Although I am quite integrated in Catalonia, I will always remain Swedish, and even though I want to comment on all the levels of society, my only natural starting point is Vilanova i la Geltrú.

Furthermore, I believe that comparisons between Sweden and Catalonia can be of interest, especially this year. If nothing unexpected happens, the coming autumn will be intense with elections to the Swedish parliament, late September, and then to the Parliament of Catalonia, about one month later. For those who like political science, administrative changes can be expected already before that: In Sweden, a decision is due on whether my native Halland will have the right to remain a separate province (län, in Swedish) - thus not split up between the regions Västra Götaland and Skåne. In Catalonia, it should be made clear which vegueries will come about; for our part, whether Vilanova i la Geltrú will belong to the metropolitan area of Barcelona (àrea metropolitana) or if there will be a vegueria Penedès.

It is my dream to present these texts also in Catalan, but for time reasons I will begin with English and Swedish. Mid-February, after the carnival, will probably be a good time to revisit the format and make improvements. Unless I have the strength to keep it up until then, I might as well stop blogging altogether. Here we go!

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Background och references:

CAT: ElPunt – Sobre els peatges al C-32 i AP-7
CAT: ElPunt – La normativa europea i la cultura del foc
SPA: LaVanguardia – Joaquim Nadal sobre el traspaso de cercanías
ENG: BBCNews – Spain’s six months EU presidency

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Technorati tags: Barcelona, Catalan, Catalonia, Penedès, PSOE, Spain, Spanish, Vilanova, Zapatero,


Anonymous said...

Here's a little bit of taste of the tolerance that you will experience in this region:
A man violently insults all Spanish citizens in a TV show at the catalonian regional tv station, while the audience and host applaud, laugh and say "Very well". Welcome to the new nazi zone in the XXI Europe!

Erik Wirdheim said...


My first reaction was to comment on this video, but that is to waste time on a contribution which you want to share, but which does not have anything to do neither with this blogpost nor with my blog as a whole.

In case you think that I, Erik Wirdheim, show a lack of tolerance with Spanish citizens, and present a concrete examples from texts or videoclips made by me, I will be more than happy to try to explain my position.

Let me finally tell you that you will have problems to find Europeans with an avarage education - with the possible exception for a few Spaniards - who see similarities between Catalonia and the Nazi regime.

To pretend that there is any kind of connection is, in my eyes, to reveal one's own absolute misconception about world history and, which is worse, show a total lack of respect for the millions of people who were murdered by the Nazis.


Anonymous said...

Filipinas: ¿el futuro de Cataluña?. You Swedish are used to tolerate intolerance. We don't.

Erik Wirdheim said...


"You Swedish are used to tolerate intolerance. We don't.(SIC!)"

Please, help me to understand what you mean. "You Swedish..." - can you, please, with examples from my activities on the Internet show me where I am intolerant? Alternatively, please, give me examples of where Swedish society shows this lack of tolerance while Spanish society (or who are "We"?) does not.

Regarding your link: Possibly you are only here to promote your own blog. I accept that. However, if your aim is to somehow prove that there is a similarity between Catalonia and the Filipines, I honestly think that you need a more argued basis than a blog post.

Finally, the blog entry (your blog entry?) seem to disagree with the Filipine language policy since it makes it harder for the local people to compete internationlly, but does not seem to see much value in cultural and historical identity. If that is also your opinion and since I am a person who love languages I can only pity you for such a cynical point of view.