La natación sincronizada

La obra de teatro de Mar Gómez Glez, Bajo el agua, imagina el escándalo que pasó en el mundo de la natación sincronizada española justo después de los Juegos Olímpicos de 2012.

Tres artículos y una entrevista reportan lo que pasó en realidad:

 Anna Tarrés

Una perspectiva desde dentro la comunidad deportiva

La carta que expone los insultos

Entrevista con una nadadora del equipo

La historia de la natación sincronizada en España y el sitio oficial:

La historia de la natación sincronizada

La Real Federación de la Natación

Autonomy and Anarchy

I do not mean to suggest that Catalunya is in a state of anarchy.

I do wish to remind myself that historical memory can inform politics today.

During the Civil War, an ideological conflict, the anarchists, some of whom committed anticlerical murders, were associated with the Republicans centered in Barcelona.

The central government’s decision to send in the National Guard to shut down the October 1 referendum elections, with a focus on Barcelona, reminded me that Spanish elected officials, and maybe a few citizens too, may still harbor fears of a Catalan uprising.

I do not believe the October 1 referendum elections amounted to an uprising and the Catalans who chose to leave their homes to vote did not deserve the forceful shutdown of the elections they endured. Did the Catalans have the right to vote on the referendum? Maybe not. But what good did it do to disrupt the process by force?

The central government’s decision to unleash the National Guard on Barcelona’s voters served the public relations function of making it appear that the referendum voters were staging a dangerous revolt. Hence old perceptions of Catalans as anarchists may have been inflamed.

The President of Catalunya, who never declared independence, has refused to rescind his independence movement. Madrid has used Article 55 of Spain’s constitution to seize control of Catalunya’s government including the Catalan police (Mossos d’Escuadra) which group, it is judged, colluded with the separatists by not supporting the National Guards’ use of force.

The upshot is that Catalunya is no longer an autonomous community. The formation of autonomous communities in 1978, nineteen in all, was a major step in Spain’s transition to democracy. Each “autonomía” has a parliament from which a president is named.

Without autonomy, Catalunya will not fall into anarchy. But it will be difficult for Madrid to call regional elections from outside Catalunya and ensure that the majority of seats points to a leader not for independence. In other words, I do not how fair the electoral process will be from inside or outside Catalunya.

If Madrid appoints a president it risks further painting Catalunya as a region of anarchists. This perception could have far-reaching consequences for Catalunya’s image in Spain and in the world.

If the Catalans were anarchists, they would not generate 18.9% of Spain’s GDP (Catalunya’s economy is roughly the size of Finland’s).

Who will compromise?

President Rajoy’s position is inflexible. He will invoke Article 155 of Spain’s constitution to take over Catalunya should it declare its independence. He may even arrest pro-independence Catalan leaders.

King Felipe seems intractable as well. As my students and I concluded from his speech in which he did not mention the violent force used by the Guardia Civil to prevent voting on October 1, the king calls for unity but does not offer mediation or dialogue at this time.

The mayor of Barcelona, Ada Calau, has requested mediation to no avail.

The president of Catalunya, Carles Puigdemont, who has also been asking for mediation after his early announcement last week that he would call for Catalunya to separate from Spain this week, is set to speak to the Catalan parlament October 10.

I believe any viable compromise will come first from Puigdemont, and I do hope that he provides an opening for dialogue, by not unilaterally declaring independence.

This term, “unilaterally,” which appears widely in the news covering the story of Catalunya, can be interpreted and contested differently.

I believe the referendum vote was invalid because it was disrupted.

Spain’s central government believes it was illegal from the outset, and therefore unconstitutional.

So “unilaterally” means that Puigdemont might declare independence without a voter or legal base for doing so.

Where is the king?

Spain is a parliamentary monarchy and a socialist state despite the conservative party now in power. Mind you the conservative party never did win the majority of seats during two national elections.

The only political strategy I can imagine for the Civil Guard’s actions in Barcelona on October first – and this is no justification – is that Madrid’s government wishes to cause such disruption during voting that the referendum results cannot be called valid in the end. Again, means do not justify the end in this case.

And where is the king? His voice is noticeably absent during the police state operations in Catalunya.

After two national elections failed to determine a majority of seats in parliament, leaving Spain with uncertain leadership, the king carefully negotiated continuity and parliament agreed that the current president should remain the president of Spain.

I wonder how the king reflects upon this president’s, and his conservative party’s, extreme measures to disrupt the referendum vote in Catalunya.

And we are back to the question of democracy. Madrid holds that the Catalan referendum is not democratic because it is unconstitutional and therefore illegal. Catalunya holds that any ballot process for its sovereignty is democratic.

Do the majority of voting Catalans wish to be a Republic? We will not know the answer based on this vote because the chaos brought on by the police intervention has been great (Madrid blames the Generalitat for forging ahead when told to stop).

Remember that Catalunya was a major stakeholder in Spain’s Second Republic, 1931-1936, and defended this Republic during the Civil War, 1936-1939. Historical memory does play a role in how citizens approach questions of identity, even ninety years later.

Catalunya lost the Civil War, then its identity was repressed and obscured during thirty six years of dictatorship. It became an autonomy, as did other regions in Spain, when the king’s father guided the Spanish transition to democracy, 1975-1982.

What will the king say about October 1, 2017? I am waiting on his word.

La jornada de reflexión

A student asked me, are you worried? I said, no, there will be no violence.

Spain’s central government has made a tactical error in calling in the Civil Guard to prevent voting on the independence referendum October 1.

The polls are located in schools where children are staying overnight with their parents to ensure that the polls stay open. Madrid has ordered the Catalan police to close the polls without force. I do not believe there will be violence against the families camped out at the polls.

Yet pro-Spain vandals have destroyed at least one poll, and painted nationalist graffiti on the place to call for unity.

What is nationalism? It is a narrow definition of who belongs and who does not. This is what makes me worry, and not just for Spain.

The referendum vote is illegal because Spain’s constitution prohibits the separation of the country’s seventeen autonomous communities. They are called autonomous communities, or “autonomías, to respect each autonomony’s identity(ies), whether cultural or economic. This policy of pluralism is the glue that holds Spain together.

Calls for unity are tricky in this context. Yes, Spain is united but it is also diverse. It is also democratic.

Pro-independence Catalans shout that Madrid does not respect democracy.

I believe Madrid does respect democracy, especially the king, but sending security forces is not the wisest strategy in my view.

Let the Catalans vote yes on referendum, then take legal steps to prevent the secession on the grounds that it is anticonstitutional.

Closing polls with children on site will not further Madrid’s position or aid reconciliation between Madrid and Catalunya.

Besides, in Spain the day before elections is a day to reflect on the vote and its issues. All propagandizing must halt, by law. Protests and police on the streets are not a day of reflection.

El Ensanche (Aaron M.)


El Distrito del Ensanche es el segundo distrito de Barcelona. Lo ocupa la porción central de la ciudad y es el distrito más poblado. Durante el siglo XIX, murallas que lo circundaron y la situación política impidieron de crear nuevas instalaciones. Pero en 1855 un periodo corto de gobierno progresista proveyó la oportunidad para colapsar el urbanismo medieval y empezar los proyectos de expansión. La Ciudad de Barcelona seleccionó un ingeniero llamado Idelfonso Cerda y su ideología consideró la salud de la ciudad y los ciudadanos. Él empleó una estrategia de diseño que utilizó mediciones específicas de carreteras y edificios para proveer la ventilación excelente y la luz del sol para todos los habitantes. Este tema es evidente en los bloques octagonales que eran llamadas “manzanas” como muestra la ilustración.

El Ensanche es el hogar de arquitectura impresionante. Por ejemplo la Sagrada Família, diseñado por el arquitecto famoso Antoni Gaudí, es una basílica increíble con torres enormes y un estilo gótico que ha estado bajo construcción desde 1882. Es fácil para detectarla en la ilustración. Otro edificio de Gaudí para visitar es la Casa Milà, un edificio modernista y muy atípico con influencias biomorficas. Todos los edificios de Gaudí son Sitios de Patrimonio de UNESCO. La Casa de les Punxes es una otra obra de arquitectura que fue diseñada por Josep Puig con un estilo gótico y medieval con ensanchamientos modernistas. Tiene seis torres coronadas por sendas agujas de forma cónica y decoración floral en piedra. Es fácil para viajar por Ensanche a pie o por automóvil, pero es difícil encontrar un lugar de estacionamiento a veces. Otras opciones son viajar por bicicleta o por el metro, tranvía, o autobús.



January marks thirty years ago that I lived and studied in Barcelona. I lived in the Sagrada Familia neighborhood (but never entered the cathedral), went to classes at the University of Barcelona, visited friends at their flat in the Raval, escaped to Sitges each Tuesday during the bus strike, and ate falafel in the Plaça de Catalunya every weekend in the early hours of the morning before going to bed.

Jordi Pujol was the president of the Generalitat de Catalunya (and later I named a cat after this leader who served from 1980 to 2003, Jordi) and catalans had been free of Franco’s regime for a decade. Everywhere “catalán” was heard, spoken and seen.  The separatists had already formed but I observed that the assertion of independence was mostly expressed linguistically and culturally. At the University, for example, the professor of the art history course I was taking chose to teach it in Catalonian.  This classroom experience, and the friends I made who spoke to me in Catalonian, is how I learned to understand the language.  But I used Castillian to reply or write course work.

I have not returned to Barcelona since my study abroad semester there because I never felt at home.  The homestay from hell was a trial to be sure but the city itself felt unwelcoming to me.  The double language conversations in all places, including my homestay, were engaging but ultimately exhausting, I think, as I reflect back today.  Even my first hour in Barcelona was stressful – a taxi driver at the airport who pretended to not know the address I gave him in Bona Nova and who drove circles around town to increase his fare.

My college adviser had strenuously warned me that Barcelona was not the place to learn Castillian but I overruled him, withdrew from school, and attended the program through another university.  The academics were life-changing but the city was overwhelming.  To be fair, I had never lived in a city that large and the culture shock literally choked me on the smoggy streets during my daily walk to class.  Anti-American demonstrations were more common than separatist rallies.  I spent one 24-hour period in my homestay apartment out of fear.  Crowds protested (rightfully so) the U.S. bombing of Libya and it felt scary to be an American in that metropolis.

Still, the Catalonian language grabbed me and did not let me go.  I considered Catalonian Studies for my Ph.D.  The independence movement that has taken hold in Catalonia fascinates me, but strictly as a scholar.  Today I identify myself with Castille and Madrid, a city I would be willing to make my second home.



Tapas for Donna

Cuándo tapear

  • Bars, cafés and cafeterías are open for your first coffee and your last glass of wine before dinner; they are open to professionals, retirees, families, young couples and students – that is, everyone
  • Spaniards go out for tapas before the big meal at 3pm because the Spanish breakfast is so light
  • Spaniards go out for tapas between 5 and 11pm during the “paseo,” a leisurely stroll through the streets (which can include shopping) with family and friends
  • It is not unusual to visit 5-15 bars during the “paseo”
  • Bars, cafés and cafeterías usually close by midnight and do not serve dinner
  • Bars that open after midnight serve cocktails, play loud music, and do not offer food; they charge a cover
  • Clubs for dancing, “discotecas,” open at 2am and close at 8am; they charge a steep cover
  • Go out for “churros y chocolate” or “falafel” before bed if you stay out till sunrise

Cómo tapear

  • In bars, cafés and cafeterías every beverage, hot or cold, alcoholic or non-alcoholic, is available except cocktails
  • Sherry is fun to order: “fino” or “amontillado” is dry and cold; “oloroso” is sweeter and room temperature
  • For a quick, single serving sangría-like drink, order “tinto de verano” which is “vino tinto” mixed with “Fanta limón”
  • During the “paseo” Spaniards order at the bar and remain standing up
  • Sometimes you have to wade the crowd and issue gruff commands to bar staff for the best service:  “Oye, dáme un vino tinto y un pintxo”
  • A free tapa or pintxo is frequently served with your drink
  • If you want a plate for sharing with 3 people or more, ask for a “ración”
  • Beer is ordered by the size of glass:  “una caña” holds 6-8 ounces and “una copa” holds 12 ounces or so
  • Ordering tapas is easy if you don’t speak Spanish because they are displayed on the bar counter or listed on a big menu – just point
  • Don’t leave Spain without trying:  croquetas, chipirones, patatas bravas, jamón serrano, pulpo gallego, tortilla, aceitunas, gambas al ajillo
  • In busy establishments, bartenders keep track of how much to charge you by the size and color of plates or the number and colors of toothpicks served with your tapas
  • If you sit down for service, maybe at an outdoor table, expect slower and more formal service; refuse bread if it arrives because it will be charged to you
  • At the bar or seated at a table, pay at the very end, asking directly and gruffly, “Cóbrame, por favor” or “La cuenta, por favor”
  • Tip very lightly for table service, maybe 5%
  • Tip nothing for service at bar counter
  • All water is bottled; order with or without “gas”

Dónde tapear

In general, stay off the beaten path by exploring safe neighborhoods where locals go.  Bars located on main thoroughfares are for tourists, with exceptions.

In Barcelona

Strolling down the Ramblas to the urban beach, Barceloneta, is a good idea, even visiting Mercat Boquería on your right hand side (if you are facing Mediterranean) but keep close to the Market without penetrating its surrounding neighborhood; on your left hand side is the Barri Gòtic which is worth exploring for its rustic wine-drinking establishments (and underground Roman ruins) if you take care around Plaça Real known for drug use

In Madrid

The neighborhood between El Paseo del Prado and La Plaza Mayor boasts more taverns than all of Norway; use Calle de las Huertas to guide your stroll

Leaving the Plaza Mayor, the Cava de San Miguel and Calle Cuchilleros streets hold amazing possibilities

For an after-hours experience, there are several ice-bars in Madrid worth visiting

In Sevilla

For the best, authentic nightlife cross the Isabel II bridge to visit La Triana, turn right or left at the end of the bridge for great tapas bars on the Guadalquivir River; these bars serve food late into the night.  Order “sangría” here, not in Barcelona or Madrid.  If you are lucky, a flamenco performance will spontaneously erupt from the crowd

In Granada

Calle Navas is a must-stroll because it is wall-to-wall tapas; locate la Plaza de Carmen on Calle Reyes Católicos; then walk through plaza to this street spur

Another fun neighborhood can be accessed by leaving the Plaza Nueva on Calle Elvira and strolling down side streets; if you are headed uphill this means your ascending the Albaicín neighborhood which is mostly residential and not one hundred percent safe at night

Strolling downhill, by crossing Calle Gran Vía de Colón, you will discover bars and shopping together in this upscale commercial district where the Cathedral is located; visit the Plaza de Bib-Rambla for lots of choices

Stores in Spain are open 10-2 and 5-9, generally.