Friday, 27 November 2009

Written After Having Taken A Deep Breath

Okay, so I maybe got a little carried away in the last posting - however, I do assure you that the quotes I reproduced were (as far as my dodgy Catalan is concerned) accurate. More depressingly, they were pretty representative of the vast majority of comment threads I've read in the past couple of weeks.

The current situation is acting as a lightening rod for anyone with a gripe against demographic change in their community, to the extent of the President of UE Poble Sec blaming the football team's lack of supporters on immigration. To quote from the editorial of our excellent local paper, Zona Sec:

According to him (Pedro Venero, president of UE Poble Sec for more than 30 years), it is impossible for a neighbourhood "full of foreigners" to identify with a club of people of all the life [gent de tota la vida].

Gent de tota la vida is an expression for people who have always lived in a particular area, and I suppose could be loosely translated as indigeneous residents. Venero's comment is a bit rich, when the Sec's recent improvement in form has been put down to our new - Rumanian - signing, Raducanu. And the idea that recent arrivals can't get excited about their new local team is simply laughable - and something I'll deal with in more detail in my next post about the glorious Sec.

Essentially, what seems to be being said in one way or another is that Poble Sec used to be a great place to live, it isn't any more, and it's mainly - or completely - the fault of new arrivals to the area - particularly foreigners, with Africans, Dominicans and Pakistanis taking the full brunt of the blame - although (perhaps quite reasonably) more monied newcomers have been blamed for inflating property prices and rents. 

But the main complaints seem to be centred on noise - yelling and loud music, mostly, youths hanging out in the street, urinating in public, drug consumption and dealing, and crime in general. I even saw a comment that was highlighting the large number of rapes now occuring in broad daylight in the barri. That was as much news to me as I imagine it is to the police.

In fact, a friend pointed out the following quote in an issue of La Vanguardia, a respected and fairly moderate national daily:

The neighbourhood association (of Poble Sec) wants to draw a clear line between its demand  (for un barri digne - whatever that really means) and any taint of racism or xenophobia, but...

(there's always a but, isn't there?) clearly links the problems of the neighbourhood with the large increase in immigration.

In other words, it's all the fault of us immigrants, but the association doesn't want to be racist or xenophobic about being racist and xenophobic. So that's all right then.

Thankfully, if you want to find local voices opposing this point of view, you don't have far to look. As I briefly mentioned in the previous post, the wonderful local blog Un Balcó Al Poble Sec , written by long-term resident (thus, I suppose, part of the gent de tota la vida) and author Júlia Costa has a highly reasoned and far-ranging recent post that deals with the whole issue, gripe by gripe.

Zona Sec has a far more reasonable, sensible and conciliatory attitude than the more sensationalistic national press, and mis-guided (let's be diplomatic and not call them bigoted) self-styled community leaders. In addition, I've also read a  few comment postings online that stand out from amongst the sea of rage, such as the following:

I live in a building with 48 flats and 4 are occupied by immigrants (who) curiously have a higher level of behaviour than some of the indigenous residents and I speak with some understanding (when I say) the cause of poor public behaviour was already here before the arrival of immigrant families... the blame for the natural bad behaviour of this country is being falsely attributed to those from abroad.

Julía also makes some similar points. Amongst other things, she mentions that there was a huge amount of immigration - from other (non-Catalan speaking) parts of Spain in the Seventies - and, until the big clear-out for the Olympics, slums peppered the whole of Montjüic, which had a profound effect on the area. But everyone seemed to get on well enough, despite the fact that there were up to 40,000 people without electricity, running water or sewage disposal living on their doorstep. 

A surprising fact was that, in the Eighties, there were a lot of heroin addicts in the area and a fairly menacing atmosphere from gangs in some parts of Poble Sec. In other words, life hasn't always been wine and roses in the barri. In fact, according to Julía and many other residents I've spoken to (and I agree whole-heartedly), the neighbourhood is a very safe place indeed. And it sounds as though this wasn't always the case.

Another accusation levelled at recent arrivals is that we are taking over the shops and bars, and forcing local residents out of their homes. Not so, says Julía. It is certainly true that many small businesses are now owned by immigrants - there are Chinese, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Dominican, Italian and British - run bars and shops in Poble Sec, for example - but many of these had previously been abandoned by indigenous owners, often remaining boarded up for months or years before being taken over and re-vitalised by foreigners. 

Now, there are shops open at all hours, many with exotic new products never before available in Poble Sec, that the more adventurous locals can take advantage of. As for forcing people from their homes, it appears that before the recent wave of immigration, younger locals were already leaving the area in droves. We've simply plugged this population gap.

And as for the issue of urine and filth on the the streets, I'd like to weigh in here myself and respectfully suggest that a good deal of it come from the legions of pet dogs - mainly walked by indigenous locals. Noise can be a localised problem, but there are laws to ensure that consistently noisy bars can be closed down. In fact, there are also planning appplication procedures before a bar, club or restaurant opens that give citizens in the vicinity the opportunity to stop a potentially disruptive venue before it becomes a problem.

Another issue is drug dealing, which even from a casual stroll around the area is clearly taking place. My questions are - who are buying the drugs - is it just immigrants? Or do Catalans enjoy the occasional jazz cigarette or line of nose-candy, also? And if we agree that street dealing is not only illegal but also unwelcome - why can't the police spot dealers as easily as I can, and arrest them? If they have a policy of containment, it would have been nice of them to have told the residents about it at some point, would it not? 

Sunday, 22 November 2009

In The Ghetto

Volem Un Barri Digne! reads the slogan. It means We Want A Decent Neighbourhood and is a common sight on signs hanging from the balconies of parts of El Born, El Raval and other barrios of Barcelona, where the residents feel aggrieved by the incivisme - poor public behaviour - in their community. The chief concerns are noise, public urination, drugs and prostitution. 

So it was with some amazement that I read that this slogan was being imported into Poble Sec at the instigation of the Unió d'Associacions de Veïns and is now being hung over the balconies of a few flats in our barri. Worse still, this - according to the press -  indicated a rending of the social fabric of Poble Sec, as this (as yet notional)  lack of respect for one's neighbours was being blamed on - you guessed it - us immigrants.

It didn't take the usual suspects to long to join the (largely non-existent) dots. Newspaper and web reports were quick to pick up on the meme, and soon the online comment threads were seething with racist hatred directed against the uncivilised  üntermenschen who had turned Poble Sec into a cross between East Baltimore, the South Bronx and Compton.

In a later post I intend to make a more sober analysis of this unalloyed nonsense. But I couldn't resist the opportunity for scrawling a stream of angry and heavy-handed irony first. 

If you'd rather read a masterful point-by-point rebuttal of all the vile accusations the shit-for-brains commentators have been peddling  - and can read Catalan, I urge you to check out Julía's blog posting. In the meantime, here's my rant: 

A typical everyday scene in  the neighbourhood. 

Straight Outta Poble Sec

The truth is finally there for all to see - Poble Sec is being taken over and ruined by immigrants. Having lived here for five years, and spending most of our free time in the many bars and restaurants of the barri, attending many of its cultural events, and making friends with local residents, we were obviously completely blind to the fact that we were actually part of a wave of mutilation breaking over the neighbourhood, leaving a spew of whores, junkies and dealers, turds and pools of piss, all cavorting (or fighting) to an unholy symphony of screams, shouts - and bachata

Thankfully, highly educated, balanced and free-thinking individuals, posting comments on articles such as this in La Vanguardia, plucked the scales from my eyes - and I’m now thoroughly chastened from the realisation that I and my fellow foreigners have generally screwed up the Earthly paradise that was Poble Sec before our detestable arrival. I hang my head in shame - and if you are not a full-blooded Catalan and currently sucking on the teat of Barcelona’s infinite generosity, I urge you to do so, too. 

As ‘Una Altra del Poble Sec’ helpfully points out: 

c. Blai is taken by a legion of dirty, disgusting Dominicans, lazy unemployed and criminals. The Pakis (sic) do not reach the same levels of degradation. IMMIGRATION IS A CANCER. Do you understand now??. If we do not solve the problem NOW, voting for a RADICAL change, this riffraff will soon be able to vote…

There is a similarly courageous vanguard of free-thinking progressive radicals in any culture, and - sad to say - they are disappointingly shriveled minority. A much more watered-down view was taken by the original press articles,  which seemed to be championing the concerned citizenry, with headlines such as Poble Sec Joins In With El Raval To Ask For A Decent Neighborhood, pointing out what must be obvious to anyone with eyes to see that it is currently NOT a decent barrio. And as a result of this rising and historically unique phenomenon of poor behaviour - centering on c. Blai, Tapioles and Blasco de Garay, with supporting roles from Plaça de Bella Dorita - the president of the Unió d'Associacions de Veïns del Poble-sec, Jordí Bargall has sensibly taken upon himself to speak for the entire community in order to communicate the message that: 

this is not the neighborhood that we want... the increasing problems (are) bad public behaviour, drugs and the increase of immigration.

Of course, needing to pander to the liberal élite values that so perniciously cling to any talk of the invading hordes, Bargalló does not make the all-too-obvious connection between the immigrants and other curses inflicted on the barri. Thankfully, many of his sympathisers do not mince their words in the same way - as we have seen. 

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Magic Arm Is Playing At My House, My House... is Camera Obscura, who he supported a couple of nights ago at the Sala Apolo.

If looks could kill... singer Tracyanne Campbell casts a pensive glance to the audience at the last gig of Camera Obscura's European tour - in Poble Sec.

We'd read some pretty negative things about Camera Obscura's live performances online, so despite the fact that French Navy from the current My Maudlin Career is one of the records of the year - THE record of the year, according to Mrs. HD - and Let's Get Out Of This Country is one of my favourite albums of the noughties - we had pretty low expectations as we set off for the gig on Monday 9th November at the Sala Apolo. We were imagining a twee, non-comital performance of a band going through the motions. As it turned out, we couldn't have been more wrong.

Tim (left) and Marc (right, wearing"Nixon" basball cap). 

The venue had been well chosen. Plush velvet curtains atmospheric lighting and an air of bye-gone opulence that mirrored CO's deep, multi-layered retro sound with its heavy air of mournfulness. It did not suit the support act of the evening one bit, however, who might have looked more at home in some dingy subterranean art-house gathering. 

Magic Arm is usually just Marc Rigelsford , his battered guitar, keyboard and loop pedal. But tonight he was joined by Tim Cronin on trumpet. Tim was also to provide some brass to the main act later on. Magic Arm has been fêted by no less than Marc Riley, and the Fallen 6Music DJ's endorsement was not misplaced, as I hope the embedded video demonstrates. And on the night he not only put on good performance but was unfailingly courteous to the crowd, even if in the opinion of this reviewer he might have looked more at home performing at La Papa .

Magic Arm performed this, a great cover of LCD Soundsystem's Daft Punk Is Playing At My House and about a dozen more tracks, which I'm sure you'll be able to find on his MySpace or Facebook pages. Next up there was a lengthy tuning up session of CO's impressive selection of guitars (above) by the roadies, and a chance to enjoy a few €4-a-pop beers from the bar.

When the main act came on it was a revelation. Lead singer Tracyanne dominated the band, all of whom were a lot older than I was expecting (which may  explain the knowing 80s references in a few of their songs) were anything but twee. The sound was as good as on record, and Tracyanne endeared herself to the crowd by asking them to 'make more noise than Madrid'. There's a very funny amateur video of them performing Lloyd I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken online, but I'll leave you with a more professional attempt to capture the glory that is If Looks Could Kill. 

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

A Treat At Tapioles 53

Delicious pan-fried salmon, asparagus & tomato.

Tapioles 53 is a fairly expensive place to dine out - or rather is was until a few weeks ago. Up until then Sarah Sothart cooked up whatever she fancied every evening to a strictly reservation-only clientele, using ingredients from Barcelona's best markets, often supplemented by produce from her parent's farm out in the Catalan countryside. As a result of these great ingredients and enviable kitchen skills, Tapioles 53 has an excellent reputation, and given the €50-per-head-forgetting-the-wine price-tag it it has been one of many places on our nice-to-try list almost since we came to the barri.

That was until a few weeks ago when we realised that as well as offering coffee and cake, there was a menu del dia on offer. Cheapskates that we are, we've taken advantage of this golden opportunity three times now, and have been consistently impressed at the quality of the dishes. The menu is €9.90 incl. IVA, three courses and a glass of wine or beer. And there's usually a small plate of olives or other nibbles thrown in free.

Every time we've ordered white wine, which is a deliciously autumnal Mas Collet which is also available at €2 per additional glass.

Below are some of the dishes we've tried - the availability of which will completely change on a daily basis. I urge you to check out this culinary treat as the restaurant seems to have very few customers in the middle of the day, and it would be a shame it Tapioles 53 went back to an evenings-only operation through a criminal lack of lunchtime interest.

Main course: Pork loin wrapped in bacon, topped with mustard mayonaise, and served with chips.
Verdict: moist pork, crispy bacon, creamy-sharp mayo and outstanding fries.

Starter: Mozzarella, maize and tomato salad. Verdict: marinaded buffalo mozzarella really raises this salad's game, whilst a great dressing ensures an instant classic.

Main course: Pork and wild mushroom stew. Verdict: Don't let the appearance put you off. This rustic combination is quintessentially Catalan and great insulation against the winter chill

Starter: Rigatoni bolognese. Verdict: How easy is this to get so wrong? Just check out my review of the Café Picornell  to find out. No problems with the Tapioles version, however.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Read This Post Or The Kitten Gets It

One of the many strays that populate Montjüic.

If you've ever read my other blog, you'll know that I have a soft spot for cats. In fact most non-human mammals have a snug little place in my soppy middle-aged heart, so it was with some trepidation that I went along to the  fifth Salónanimaladda a few weeks ago. The yearly event is attended by various NGOs concerned with animal welfare, animal lovers - and their pets.

But the stars of the show are the many dozens of dogs, cats - and this year a couple of ferrets - that are in need of adoption, and one of the main aims of the whole thing is to find loving homes for these animals.

The tactics used to procure new owners are pretty direct. Firstly, the animals are on display on the various stands run by the attending NGOs. In addition, there's a parade of homeless dogs a few times a day. The dog is led out along the catwalk while an MC gives us the full sorry details of its life to date, its character, and what sort of home would be ideal for it. I've embedded a smashing report on the proceedings from BTV .

The organisers also encourage school trips to the show, and so unsurprisingly many animals end up with a new home - a huge victory for pester power . And according to ADDA , the vast majority of adoptions are successful, so the organisers' tactics seem more than justified.

Barcelona, like most cities has a problem of abandoned animals, and many of the cats get ditched on Montjüic and other areas. Kind-hearted locals can regularly be seen distributing food and water to the needy cats, many of which are confused and disorientated after being dumped, often at an early age.

Obviously after a very short while areas can become over-run with semi-feral cats producing litter after litter. These colonies often live in waste ground between buildings or in the central patio of a manzana, or on the roofs of lower buildings. They can make quite a mess, and one hell of a racket, so there is often a lot of tension between the pro- and anti-cat residents.

Thankfully, organisations like Progat can act to mediate between the two factions. They also try to bring a colony's numbers and health under control by sterilizing cats, and advising those looking after the felines. And if you follow the above link, you'll see that they also have a large number of cats in need of re-housing - sometimes the last resort when a cat isn't fitting into the rough-and-ready life in the colony. Progat even screens urban moggies for FIV and other diseases, which affects a shockingly large proportion of abandoned and feral street cats as it often spread by the bites and scratches inflicted in territorial disputes and other cat fights.

If any of this information has tugged your heart-strings sufficiently, I urge you to find out more about these organisations, get involved, adopt or simply donate to ADDA or Progat - or both - so they can continue their good work