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.
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,