Sunday, 29 March 2009

Diet Diary: Day Seven

The Journey Ends


Breakfast: Fried eggs with toast and coffee - sue me!

Lunch: None - see below

Supper: Yesterday's leftovers.

Snacks: None

Mother Hubbard knows nothing! If she hadn't been procreating so much, she'd be fine. Spare a thought for this poor Year Abroad student, forced to feed on the remains of his delicious meal from yesterday. Actually, spare nothing for me: I was planning to have the leftovers for lunch, but didn't because I got up at 4pm. I couldn't be bothered to make the chile sin carne (a little pun for all you Spanish speakers out there) I'd been planning for the entire week, but no matter, I'll have the proper thing sometime next week.

On the plus side, I'M DONE: What's more, I made it! I did not give in to succulent, protein-filled murder temptation, and avoided meat for an entire seven days! Part of the abstinence may have been due to lack of funds, but who cares! I still managed to spend a LOT less on food, this week, anyway, by buying new ingredients and avoiding expensive meat. I'm toying with this becoming a regular monthly thing, but I'll have to give that one more consideration. If I do, I'll probably not give up on chocolate and wine as well, since I had no comfort for the week.

Anyway, my final verdict is that vegetarianism is not for me - I always knew that - but a little change in diet every now and then can do a world of good. I do feel healthier (psychosomatic...?), but I've also been craving the dead animal for pretty much the entire time. I will not miss the régime...

Never mind your conscience, Lisa; just eat it!

News Brief: 23/03/09 - 29/03/09

Headlines and Interesting Stories This Week

Click on the images to be redirected

GM Chairman to Leave US Carmaker
"The chief executive of struggling US car company General Motors - Rick Wagoner - has agreed to step down..." - I can't tell you the amount of Wild West puns came to me when I read this one. "Head 'em up, roll 'em out, Rawhide!", or "Wagons roll!", anyone? How about my favourite: "Off the Wagon"?

Madonna to Begin Malawi Adoption
"Madonna has arrived in Malawi to begin the process of adopting a second child from the african country..." - One slave wasn't enough?

Madoff UK Offices in Fraud Probe
"The UK offices of disgraced US financier Bernard Madoff may have been significant in his fraud, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) believes..." - Well, what a surprise! I spoke about this man earlier, here.

Spanish Town Cancels Bullfighting
"The residents of a small town in central Spain have voted in a referendum to cancel their annual bullfighting festival because of the economic crisis..." - Qué pena, as we don't say about cruel pseudo-sports.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith Embarrassed by New Expenses Row
"The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, apologised today (29/03/2009) for an expenses claim which included adult films watched by her husband..." - I laughed my head off at this one; whoever said politics was seedy?

The "Revolution" Starts Here as 35 000 Pack the G20 March
"They hoped for 10 000, but in the end more than triple that number turned out on London's streets for the biggest demonstration since the beginning of the conomic crisis..." - Good for them, but will G20 listen? What's that in the sky? It's large, pink, and has wings!

It's a Wrap!
"Wearing a hijab and following fashion is all about layering, says Jana Kossaibati. So what do you do when the weather gets warmer?" - Err, TAKE IT OFF!

Transsexual Man Expecting Twins Sparks Ethical Row
"A 25-year-old transsexual man in Barcelona has announced that he is pregnant with twins, prompting debate in Spain about the ethical use of reproductive technology..." - Ah, live and let live. If Ricky Martin can, anyone should!

DISCLAIMER: All articles in Spanish only

Morrocco Deports Four Spanish Missionaries on the Grounds of "Proselytism"
"After Shiíte muslims and gays comes the turn of evangelists. Morrocco today deported five evangelical missionaries - four of whom are Spanish - condemning their "proselytism". The fifth is German..." - A "missionary" tends to proselytise. What did they expect them to do? Cakes don't come for free, you know!

Biden Assures that Spain is a "solid" Ally Despite Disagreements Over Kosovo
"'The relationship we have with Spain exceeds any disagreements we may have over Kosovo. Sometimes there may be a lack of adequate communication, at least on one side, but I am certain that there will not be any impediment in our alliance despite having disagreed over Kosovo'..." - Jeez, we get it, Joe! You're friends, and you agree to disagree!

Image of the Week
Parliament turns its lights off for 60 mins
Source: BBC News

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Diet Diary: Days Two - Six

The Journey Continues...on a shoestring

It all went wrong, three days in! I stuck to not eating meat, but the problem was I just wasn't eating! I literally starved through Tuesday and Wednesday, as I pretty much ran out of money, food and ideas. It picked up again on Thursday, when I had a Spanish omlette (eggs and potatoes, basically) for lunch and a lovely rice, tomato and olive concoction, seasoned with herbs and spices and served in lettuce leaves.

As for Friday, lunch had to be bypassed, since I only had half an hour between classes, and hadn't made anything in the morning. Supper was good old British Fish and Chips, but with a twist. I avoided my usual lashings of unhealthy ketchup, and used vinegar instead. I also had a plate of salad, made up of lettuce, tomatoes, Manchego (Spanish) cheese and olives, dressed in a homemade vinaigrette.

Most breakfasts have either been toast and/or eggs with coffee and/or fruit juice.

Saturday's menu was also sans lunch, since I got up at 5pm (I'm tired at the weekend!), and I just ate toast and eggs with a couple of glasses of apple juice. However, in keeping with the theme of healthy and simple with a touch of the extravagant, supper was another rice dish: seasoned curry-rice with lentils stuffed in baked peppers, served on a bed of salad. Mmm, who knew vegetarianism could be so filling?

Goodbye Lenin

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid...

Anyone remember Harry Enfield's character Tory Boy, the teenage conservative? That was in part a parody of William Hague, who spoke at the 1977 Conservative Party conference at the age of 16. Hague notably went on to become leader of the party from 1997 to 2001. Now, we have Jonathan Krohn. What a sweet young man! While we've all been busy jumping up and down at Obama's triumph, and thanking sweet providence for the exit of George Bush and the prevention of Sarah Palin having access to any nuclear codes, the young conservatives have been preparing their next weapon. We may laugh now, but I wouldn't be surprised if this fourteen-year-old were to rear his ugly head in the future. Who knows, maybe in a Presidential election sometime in the near future, Mr Krohn will be a candidate. Let's keep our eyes open, shall we?

The Fourth Pillar

Jade Goody: 1981-2009

So, Jade Goody is dead. Well, excuse me for sounding callous and uncaring, but so f@*king what?! She lived her life in front of the cameras, using the media to create a franchise out of herself and, barring a short stint in celebrity wilderness as punishment for showing her true colours, made a lot of money out of it for herself. Fine.

She said she wanted to chart her death as a means of raising awareness and in order to provide for her sons' welfare: both very worthy motives, but what made her think she was qualified to force us to hear every detail of this horrifyingly tragic process - a process which happens to millions of people worldwide and never gets as much coverage unless it happens to hit someone in the public eye? Goody's idea of raising awareness was by having noted lying slimeball Max Clifford as her publicist (who, of course, never got a cut of the profits, and supposedly did it for the love of his client), and allowing cameras to cover her last moments with her family and those close to her? How much of the money she raised went to cancer charities, organisations which spend a large amount of their budgets on awareness campaigns? I honestly can't say, since I was so sickened by the whole media circus I chose to ignore it as much as I could.

Unfortunately, this was made increasingly difficult, the closer Ms Goody careered to her death. Reports of her every move were posted everywhere in British media websites, and when the moment finally came journalists were on hand, presumably having been on standby ready to tell the whole world and his wife about what her last words were.

I expect some readers will be thinking "oh, this is far too cynical - the poor woman was doing her best to ensure her sons had a good future, and other young women would get checked out earlier." Quite right: I am very cynical, but not so much of Jade's motives, but rather of those who were probably thanking Allah above for afflicting such a contentious tabloid figure with the illness. One only needs to read the columns, blogs, obituaries and random comments to see how much the discussion has centred on the woman, rather than the illness itself; and if I were one of her sons, I'm not sure I'd want to be known as son of "Jade Goody, the Big Brother contestant who was everywhere for half a decade, was ignorant and racist for a bit, said sorry, then died of cancer".

All of a sudden, Jade has become a tragic figure, hailed as "brave", "courageous" and "daring" for dealing with her death in such a way, sometimes by the same people who derided her for not knowing basic UK geography and who Saddam Hussein was, and looking like a fat, ignorant working-class pig. This girl, who was once a sign of Britain's decline is now the Best of British, flying the flag for all those suffering women who didn't have the money or "influence" to raise awareness. If Jade was "brave", what, exactly, were these other women?

My best friend has lost three family members to cancer, one of whom was her father. An acquaintance of mine, here in Spain, is now dying of cancer. Excuse me if I seem a little angry at the thought of this woman being lauded as some sort of champion, since the truth is she has done nothing for fellow cancer sufferes nor the fight against the illness, but spent her last moments cashing in on her life, as she had been doing ever since she first hit the British television screens. People are still suffering, some are lucky enough to survive, others not so lucky. The only real way to combat cancer is to support charities which fund research and promote healthy lifestyles.

Click here for a link to Cancer Research UK's website; or here for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

Moral Decline...?

"Monster": Josef Fritzl

On Thursday the 19th of March 2009, Josef Fritzl was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Unless you've been living on another planet, you'll be aware of the crimes he committed ("kept his daughter in a cellar and fathered her seven children", according to BBC News). So, justice has been served and moralilty has been vindicated, despite this "horrifying" affront to society's sensibilities. Yay for us good citizens: all perverts are disgusting (boo), and we should all pat our backs for sending this man to the hell he deserves - and let's spit at him while we do so.

I've read several reports and spoken to people who are more keen on enjoying this man's conviction, as if the law were some sort of tool for expelling undesireable elements in society, rather than being used to debate our own ideals and on what this thing we call society should be based on. Don't get me wrong, I'm just as pleased as everyone else that this case has been resolved. However, in my review of the film The Reader, I pointed out the comment made by one character about the common misconception of society being based on what is morally right or wrong, instead of what is logically sound or debatable. Earlier in the Fritzl saga, people were horrified by the idea of him being admitted into a psychiatric facility instead of being sent to jail, for fear of him "getting away with it". Now, in what way is being sent to a psychiatric hospital a means of "getting away" with anything? Ask anyone who has had the mispleasure of being sectioned, let alone thrown in a padded cell, and you will soon discover that the experience is hardly a holiday. It isn't a health farm or hotel: patients are routinely examined and pumped full of drugs to keep them docile or in attempts to "cure" them of whatever they suffer, and many are trapped withing their own minds, unable to connect with the real world. Of course Josef Fritzl is mentally ill: he raped his own daughter for twenty odd years. that is not the same as robbing a bank, fraudulent activity, or murder. It is far more chilling because of its irrationality.

However, society is more keen on seeing him placed in prison as punishment, when in actual fact, prisons were originally put in place as a means of rehabilitation. When prisons were introduced, there was a far greater and more terrifying penalty called the death sentence: this was the ultimate punishment. In time the death penalty was abolished in most places, since local and national governments accepted the fact that even the "worst" criminals were capable of achieving redemption. The introduction of asylums and psychiatric facilities for the criminally insane was another development in the search for effective means of rehabilitation, as a way of ensuring the safety of both society and convicted offender. In modern times, though, prison has taken the place of the death penalty in our concept of punishment. "Lock them up and throw away the key" has become our way of protecting ourselves, while those convicted are "left to rot in jail".

In the summer of 2008, my friend Chris directed a devised play dealing with these issues. Chris was also my housemate at the time, and we often spoke about the project while he was researching the topic of crime and punishment. There isn't enough time or space in this blog for me to highlight the amount of problems in the current running of Her Majesty's Prison Service, and I imagine that similarities abound in most western countries. The point is that prisons are horribly overcrowded, several inmates should actually be in psychiatric facilities, and almost all are constantly mistreated since they are no longer human.

Josef Fritzl is not going to survive his prison experience, and goodness only knows what kind of treatment he'll be subjected to by guards and fellow inmates alike. Does he deserve that treatment, even though he did a terrible thing? I think not, but I'll leave the debate open...

Monday, 23 March 2009

Diet Diary: Day One

The Journey begins...


Breakfast: Hard-boiled eggs and coffee

Lunch: None - see below

Supper: Potatoes, hake (fish) and sliced tomato; dressed in olive oil; seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano

Snacks: None - abstinence makes the heart grow fonder

Since I pretty much messed up the beginning of the week by waking up at a shockingly decadent 5pm, I ended up missing all of today's classes and bypassed one meal altogether. That was not the kind of change of routine I had in mind. As for the rest of the so-called "meals", starting out on my week of vegetarianism was not too painful, since I'm still eating eggs and fish (going vegetarian was mad enough, without having to resort to loopy vegan). The lashings of seasoning helped overcome the fear of tasteless food, too. All in all, a pretty manageable day; if I can arrange three meals, tomorrow, I might even survive the week...

Goodbye, Ms Richardson

Natasha Richardson, Actress. Born 11 May 1963; Died 18 March 2009

Five days ago, the acting and entertainment industry was stripped of a member of its aristocracy. Natasha Richardson, member of the legendary Redgrave acting dynasty (daughter of Oscar-winner Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson, granddaughter of patriarch Michael Redgrave), died from injuries caused by a skiing accident, a few days previously.

Her family history - with stage and screen performance coursing through her veins - and documentary evidence in the shape of several films and reviews of her performances in the West End and on Broadway had enabled Richardson to prove her mettle and escape the cynism surrounding her priviledge as a Redgrave. Younger audience-members may recognise her as Lindsey Lohan's mother from the 1995 Disney remake of The Parent Trap and Jennifer Lopez' bitchy rival for Ralph Fiennes' love in 2002's Maid in Manhattan, but it is to be noted she won a Tony Award in 1998 for her portrayal of Sally Bowles in the then Broadway production of Kander and Ebb's classic Weimar Era musical Cabaret. Indeed, despite her constant work on screen, the stage was Ms Richardson's spiritual home, and she continually worked in plays throughout the world.

You can read The Guardian's obituary here, and the BBC's report of her death here.

Ms Richardson, you will be greatly missed...

Sunday, 22 March 2009

News Brief: 16/03/09 - 22/03/09

Headlines and Interesting Stories This Week

This week's contributors: Click on the logos for redirection

Brown Issues Iran Nuclear Warning
"Gordon Brown has warned Iran it faces a 'clear choice' over its nuclear programme - and urged it to let the world help it get civil nuclear power..."; BBC News

Brown: I should have done more to prevent banking crisis
"PM accepts 'full responsibility' and declares pure free-market era is over..."; The Guardian Online

Pressure Grows on Madagascar Head
"Madagascar's opposition leader has said he has a mandate to lead a transitional government, hours after troops stormed one of the presidential palaces..."; BBC News

Obama "outraged" at AIG Bonuses
"US President Barack Obama has expressed anger at $165m (£116m) bonuses pledged to executives of bailed-out insurer AIG, calling the payments 'an outrage'..."; BBC News

Crack open the bubbly darling, this is a vintage recesion
"The economy may be heading south, debt levels are soaring and uneployment is mounting - but Britain, it seems, is still in the mood to celebrate..."; The Guardian Online

What's Up, Joaquin?
"Last month a rambling and bearded Joaquin Phoenix shambled onto David Letterman's chat show and announced he was quitting movies to go into music. Is one of Hollywood's finest actors losing the plot, or is it just a reality show stunt?..."; The Guardian Online

Older Than 22? Then You're Already Past It
The Guardian Online

Of course constantly praising children is bad for them. Let's get those lovely red marker pens out again
"It might help children to learn that there's nothing wrong with not being good at everything..."; The Guardian Online

Universities Push For Higher Fees
"Many universities in England and Wales want a sharp increase in tuition fees..."; BBC News

Pope's Condom Stance Sparks Rows
"Several EU states have criticised Pope Benedict for saying that the use of condoms could endanger public health and increase the problem of HIV/AIDS..."; BBC News

Mad Cow Disease

An Animal Rights Activist, yesterday

I'm going to come straight out with this: from tomorrow (Monday 23rd of March 2009) I'm going vegetarian. There, I said it!

No, I haven't lost my wits completely; I still love meat, whether it is murder or not. This is all part of my revitalised fitness drive. Remember those New Year's resolutions? Well they're still applicable, and I'm going to work on No 1 with a drastic change in diet, to see if it'll work for me. The two main objectives are to clear out my bowels and find other sources of protein. What makes this challenge particularly interesting is the fact that Spain is pretty much Land of Pork and Beef, with the concept of vegetarianism being: "oh, so you only have chicken, then?" It's part of why I love this country so much. However, my indulgence in dead animal has been bordering on the downright hedonistic, so I'm going vegetarian for a week.

Seven days without meat: can I do it? You'll see, as I chart every gruesome detail in my Diet Diary. I've gone mad before, so let's see if going cold turkey (couldn't resist) will have any similar effects. Stay tuned.

No, you're not mistaken; this is a GENUINE vintage Valentine's Day card...

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Desperate Scriptwriters

The Cast of Desperate Housewives: (L-R) Terri Hatcher, Dana Delaney, Marcia Cross, Felicity Huffman, Nicolette Sheridan, Eva Longoria

Something happened to my favourite American export. Well, quite a few things happened. First, better series came along in the form of The Wire, The West Wing, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development and Carnivale, along with several others. Second, there has been a resurgence in quality British drama, in the shape of State of Play, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, and one-off dramas on BBC4. Thirdly, since the series began, I have had to deal with more and more challenging academic and extra-curricular activities: new friendships forged at sixth form and specifically university, as well as intensifying my involvement in student drama has left little time to give to television. Finally (and as much as it pains my heart to say it), Desperate Housewives is no longer any good.

Let me explain. The programme is now running into its fifth season, but a lot had happened to the four main protagonists during the four preceding seasons. Susan and Mike finally got together and had a child. Bree lost Rex, but finally found real love in Orson, after the breakdown of her family. Lynette overcame her insecurities about her abilities as a mother, as well as adjusting to a new family member and surviving cancer. After numerous affairs, a miscarriage, divorce and reconciliation, Gabrielle and Carlos' materialism and greed finally got the better of them, resulting in the loss of their money and Carlos' sight. New housewife Katherine Mayfair was introduced and became a staple of the team, replacing the exasperatingly fun Edie Britt, who had pretty much stolen every other woman's husband at least once. Long-standing plot elements were tied up; mysteries were solved; themes both serious and silly were explored; and the regular season thrills were provided again and again. By the final episode of season 4, it seemed there was nowhere left for the show to go. Then this happened...

That's right, a jump-in-time in order to leave the season on a cliffhanger, and create more questions than had been built up over the previous four years.

The problem with this kind of televisual gadget, though, is that it can give a little too much freedom to the writers and exectuives working on a programme. I say too much freedom as though it is a bad thing: in a way, it is, if that freedom is only going to allow said writers and execs to tie themselves up in knots; or, to employ a more apt metaphor, use the rope to form their own nooses. The problem I think I really have with Desperate Housewives is that though the programme is still aesthetically good - production values, costumes, set and techinical elements are all just as high-quality as ever - the standard of story as well as its telling has noticeably dropped. I suppose I should take the opportunity to warn any readers who have yet to watch season 5 that I will be writing quite a bit about the storylines and major plot points which may spoil the experience of watching it.

Let's start with the first "change" highlighted in the clip, above. Gabrielle appears to have fattened up a bit, and has children - an event she'd pretty much supposed impossible after her miscarriage in season 2. It turns out that in the five years which have passed, Carlos' "super sperm" was able to penetrate the walls of his wife's uterus. Twice. Faced with this massive change, she has adjusted, selling her designer dresses and shoes, and resorting to working as a maid. Then, after another "bump on the head", her husband miraculously regains his sight, and is pressured into going back into his high-flying job, earning the family millions of dollars again.

Bree has become a successful businesswoman, having set up a catering business with her best friend Katherine and written a cookbook. However, she has stolen recipes, become harder and colder to Orson, and has pushed her friends away. Once again, she is effectively alone and suffering self-confidence issues, turning briefly back to her alcoholism.

Lynette has to deal with her sons' increased delinquency, and when one is faced with charges of arson and manslaughter, she goes to some shocking lengths in order to secure his safety.

Katherine's daughter has married and moved away to Baltimore (clearly never having seen The Wire), and has a child. Katherine's sense of redundancy has overtaken her, until she takes up with Mike, Susan's ex-husband.

Which leads into the final "shock". Once again, Susan is incapable of holding onto any type of relationship, and is with another man.

So, more mysteries, or pretty much putting characters back to square one in order to secure the continuation of a series which semed to have run its natural course? For me, it's definitely the latter. Firstly, the season mystery this year wasn't much of a mystery. I worked it out at the end of the first episode, and had my suspicions confirmed in the pre-titles sequence of the halfway episode. Next, the scenarios presented at the end of season 4 were not completely followed through in the beginning of the fifth season. In fact, I'd go so far as to say there were lazy inconsistencies. In the above clip, Katherine's daughter has only just been proposed to. We're supposed to expect that a few months later, they've been wed, moved halfway across the country and had a child? Of course, it's possible, but not very likely. And why are Gabby's children different? I'm not just talking about the obvious recasting, I mean the differences in the names.

And as for the characterisation? what the hell has happened? Or, rather, why have all of the characters regressed to the people we met at the beginning of the series? Susan has lost the happiness she seeked; Bree is cold and unfeeling again; Lynette cannot control her children; Gabrielle is selfish and materialistic. The only real differences are in Edie, no longer a slut and mellowed by her husband, and Katherine, who has gone from rival of Bree, to best friend of Bree, to resentful employee of Bree, and now degenerated into ridiculous bit-part. Most unfortunately, with poor characterisation has come a noticeable drop in acting-quality, too. Terri Hatcher and Nicolette Sheridan were never the most talented of artistes, but they seem to have resorted to nothing but a variety of frowns and open-mouthed shock faces to convey the corresponding emotion. Marcia Cross and Felicity Huffman, who have always been the best actresses in the show (as proven by their having the most dramatically-potent storylines over the years), have not lost their touch but certainly look a little bored in this series, as there seems to be nowhere left to go but back to their original characters back in 2004. The only real improvement has been in Eva Longoria. Stripped of her make-up and pretty figure-hugging wardrobe, she has been allowed to show that she can indeed act. However, with the reversion to her character's original draft, it seems that Ms Longoria's wings will be clipped after being given the taste of freedom for a brief while.

With all my moaning about "it's the same as in season 1", one might confuse this for misguided complaints about a show which flew slightly out of control by the fourth season. Not so, though: this is not a case of "back to basics". I mentioned earlier that the quality of the writing had slipped. No longer have we any subversion of expectations (Orson's Evil Mother: I should have smothered you in your crib when I had the chance!), but a resort to every character having nothing to say but bitchy epithets (Gabby to Susan: It's not my fault you haven't taught your son to grow a pair and fight back!). The dead narrator Mary Alice's observations at the beginning and end of each episode have gone from being subtle references to each housewife's struggle with broader implications, to blatant summarising of the episode's story, as if we needed a recap of the past forty-five minutes.

One final observation is the lack of minority representation in the programme. We all know suburban America is a haven of WASP ideals, and in one can't really expect too much from a series set in its midst. However, the original parody of the series was its inclusion of the Solis family: the "token Mexicans" who are rich, successful, and just as suceptible to the trappings of their white counterparts. Even the gays have gotten their oar in, with the development of Bree's son, Andrew, and the introduction of Brad and Lee. But not since season 2 has there been a black family in Wisteria Lane. Presumably this is because the impact of the Applewhite family has turned the Lane's residents against anyone remotely brown: after all, Betty Applewhite was imprisoning her mentally-ill six-foot monster of a son in the basement, while her other son was a salacious girlfriend-murderer. After having that kind on your doorstep, who wouldn't invite the KKK round to tea...?

In short, the problem with the decline of this once-sublime satire is that it has too many characters to deal with (extended family members and marginal neighbours making constant recurring appearances) and it has slowly become the very genre it set out to satirise: Desperate Housewives is just another glossy, stupid soap opera. Sex and the City for the suburbs, and that is a real shame...

I see I'm not the only one...

Friday, 20 March 2009


Some fictional gay people, yesterday

I can always smell them on me, after.
The musty, musky midnight husk
Of shame wraps round me.

Invisible. Impenetrable.

From the inside out
I scream.

I never notice during, though,
As if the lust and end result
Were better not discussed

'Til later. And still

From the inside out
I scream.

It's not enough to wind, to grind,
To pull and push and cup and suck.
There must be more, surely?

And so, when done,

From the inside out
I scream.

"That's him!" He'll do. For now. But no.
My mind, always unsure, will tell.
And then I'm back to One.

Just me; just me.

From the inside out
I scream.

February 14th 2005: I came out to my best friend. A year later, I had already become slightly disillusioned with mainstream British Gay culture, and fed up of meeting men for nothing but a quick blowjob before exchanging names. One night, I wrote the above poem, the first I'd ever written. This is the first time I've "published" it. It was also the first of a series of random poems I wrote between the ages of 18 and 20, and I'm not really sure why I am posting it up, now; but depending on what people say, you might see a few more of my personal favourites. I've pretty much abandoned poetry, since I'm not much of a poet and prefer writing prose and prosaic dialogue.

On Valentine's Day 2010, I will have been out for five years. Funny how some things never change, and yet I am am a very different person today...

Film Review: Watchmen

(L-R) Jackie Earle Haley, Matthew Goode, Billy Crudup, Patrick Wilson, Malin Ackerman and Jeffrey Dean Morgan in Zach Snyder's Watchmen (2009)

Before I begin, I must confess I've never read the graphic novel Watchmen, written by Comic Book geniuses Alan Moore (V for Vendetta and From Hell, also adapted into excellent films) and Dave Gibbons. I hadn't even heard of it until last year, and maybe that means I'm not really very qualified to write this review, but I have been told the film is pretty much an exact reproduction of the original in film form, so I feel adequately informed enough to at least try.

Watchmen is, essentially, excellent; but that isn't to say I had a few problems with it. In short, for a film which advertised itself as a look into the social and psychological implications of a world in which superheroes actually existed - intervening in John F Kennedy's assassination, the Vietnam war, which led to the repeal of the term limits for Presidents and allowing Tricky Dick Nixon to get elected for a third time - I didn't feel there was that much more characterisation than in most films of this type.

Normally, I wouldn't care, since I'm a big fan of ostentatiously bombastic vigilantism enacted by a messed-up individual who won't let some event in their past go (cue Batman). However, in recent years there has been a doing away with the superficial "he's a hero, he's good, he doesn't need to be psychoanalysed" thoughtlessness: most notably in the brilliant X-Men films, in which the mutants are very clearly reviled by the "ordinary" people they protect and care for; the generally dull Superman Returns, the Kryptonian who is still fighting for "truth and justice" but no longer "the American way"; everybody's favourite emo, Spiderman; and, of course, the caped crusader himself.

In this new age of postmodernist complex superhero angst, you'd think a film of Watchmen would have fit right in, being an early example of such a convention. The problem, though, may be exactly that: this film comes after the modern versions of other comic-book (or grapic novel, whatever) adaptations, and this undermines the impact of the story. Younger and less knowledgeable audience-members such as myself are already used to this treatment of the hero. In The Dark Knight, the age-old reading of the hero and villain being direct opposites and therefore two manifestations of the same personality was underscored right from the very beginning: The Joker and Batman are obssessed with each other because each is the other. The X-Men are capricious, squabbling teenagers who become capricious, squabbling adults; their own mentor having had an age-old rivalry with his former best friend bred by differences of opinion over how they should use their powers. Spiderman is haunted by his uncle Ben's mantra "with great power comes great responsibility", and cannot successfully reconcile his two lives as geeky science student and cool crime-fighter. Even Superman himself has a rough time of it: led on a wild goose chase after the remains of his home planet, returning to prove himself to a human population which feels betrayed, and almost killed outright by his arch enemy. What makes Watchmen all that different?

The real appeal of this film seems to be the history of the story within the canon of the genre: the original format, it's break-the-mould popularity reputation, and the long-drawn-out hype has preceeded the film itself. Though the film is good, better even than some of its recent counterparts, one feels unimpressed by its treatment and simply enjoys how good it is without feeling anything more. Unlike the graphic novel, the film has not shone as the ultimate example of how the sub-genre should be presented, but rather as another good example of how it should be presented. In a way, that is a good thing: maybe now we can expect superhero films to be more complex and questioning, and for that, we can still be grateful to Watchmen.

Four Stars.

The characters as originally drawn...

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

It Never Ends!

M.C Escher's Relativity, far less confusing than any Spanish bureaucratic process...

Some of you may remember my earlier post about being stuck in bureaucracy hell. Well, the plot thickens. After a night of staying up against my will, and possibly witnessing a crime, I woke up late, rushed to the Interior Ministry building (the advantage of having been there so many times, now, is that I know the fastest route), realised I'd left my passport at home, and had to call my housemate out to bring it to me, before being processed and told that I would have to wait FORTY-FIVE DAYS before I'd be able to collect my ID card! Which means I won't be legal until early May! I'm moving back to the UK in July...

It would be funny if it were happening to someone else.

Jonathan Pryce in Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985): Even the totalitarian bureaucratic nightmare vision of this film doesn't come close to what I've been through...

Monday, 16 March 2009

Film Review: The Reader

Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes in Stephen Daldry's The Reader (2008)

I saw this film two weeks ago, but it's taken me this long to finally write my review. There are two main reasons for this: first, I've been very busy (books don't read themselves, you know) and had to organize quite a bit, for the coming months; the other reason is that it has taken me a week to collect my thoughts on the film and its topic, and a week to work out how to write them out here. Let's hope the friut of my intellectual labour is ripe.

Ralph Fiennes plays lawyer Michael Berg, who as a 15-year-old boy in the late 1950s meets and embarkes on his first love affair with a woman twice his age, Hanna Schmitz, played by Winslet. As Berg comes of age, he falls in and out of love with Schmitz in the space of a year, eventually losing contact with her until she resurfaces when Michael is a law student as a defendant in a war crime trial as a result of her having worked as a concentration camp guard. However, Hanna is guarding a secret she feels more shameful than her past; a secret which, paradoxically, could help her at her trial.

Naturally, as a film about the holocaust from the non-Jewish perspective set in post-war Germany, its main argument centres around the theme of guilt and culpability, and the role of the law in determining who is to blame. It successfully manages to look at a Germany devastated and desperate to absolve itself in the eyes of the rest of the world as a country which committed a terrible mistake. The horror of the post-war generation towards that of its parents and teachers is particularly startling, and I certainly thought the immediate anger was powerfully represented. In one scene set in Michael's university, the teacher argues from a legal perspective that even though there is such thing as a morality based on right-and-wrong, society does not judge its behaviour on this, but rather what is legally sound. Therefore, if an argument supporting the extermination of sections of society is popular and convincing enough, then legally there is nothing wrong with this. In a later scene, an angry student counter-argues with the typical emotional response, summarising that the law can be wrong, and even dangerous. The teacher agrees, and yet urges Michael to take his knowledge of Hanna's secret to the court on the grounds of it being evidence and warning him not to allow his anger to condemn her to an unfair sentence. Michael refuses to take this advice, effectively allowing Hanna to suffer the rest of her life in prison. The issue is thus scaled down and subverted, forcing members of the audience to question not only their opinions of German guilt but also consider the extent of their humanity to those who showed none themselves. As far as I was concerned, my sympathy lay with both the victims of the holocaust and with those like Hanna, so easily duped into what is now generally regarded as such an ugly movement.

Unsurprisingly, Winslet is excellent, and undoubtedly deserved her Academy Award for her performance; though not her best performance, Winslet has certainly now established herself as a member of a very special club, and not a moment too soon. Special mention should also go out to German actor David Kross who managed to effortlessly portray the progession from 15-year-old Michael's naïvety to his more worldly anguish as a 22-year-old law student. Though Feinnes was equally good, his role in the film felt minimal in comparison, which was a shame, since his performance was elegantly nuanced, quietly delivering his lines with strong overtones of a man who finally understood what his teacher at university meant about the changing tides of legal morality.

My only real problem with the performances lies with what was very likely to have been a decision made by director Stephen Frears (of Billy Elliott fame). Why oh why, in an English-speaking film, did the characters speak with German accents? Such blatant signposting felt unnecessary and jarring, serving only to undermine the otherwise very good directorial influence, and cheapened the overall feel of the film, at times making it seem more like a feature-length episode of 'Allo 'Allo. This didn't go unnoticed by my Spanish friends who watched the film with me, and complained about their difficulty with understanding the dialogue without the subtitles.

Nevertheless, The Reader is a good, solid two hours of intelligent entertainment, worth watching, if you're into that sort of thing.

Four Stars.

Our Fair Ladies

Sisters (Doing it For Themselves), Yesterday

I'm writing this post for two reasons. First, last Sunday (08/03/2009) was International Women's Day, recognising all of the contributions women have made to society, technology, progress, and human development, and continuing the debate of the position of women in the world. Secondly, as a response to a couple of posts placed by my good friend ka-os|theory (he gets everywhere, these days). But all in good time.

International Women's Day: someone else can debate the fairness of having a day for women, and an entire month for Black history and LGBT history; I choose not to have an opinion on that. However, isn't it nice to know that there is at least an agreed time to recognise the achievements of our ladies across the planet? After all, they've spent plenty of time being considered the "weaker sex", "companion" etc. Nevertheless, as one of my teachers has pointed out, women have of course been an active part of history, throughout, it's just a matter of perspective and assessment.

Which leads oh so beautifully into my second - and probably more interesting - focus. ka-os|theory recently wrote two blog posts. The first was more or less his anger at the relationship between the gay man and the straight woman as a "fashion accessor[y]" for straight women. It is, in his mind, essentially "dangerous", because she will eventually want a man to give her babies, and he will provide the non-predatory company that she needs until then, and promptly drop him like a hot turkey baster. An interesting theory, on the surface; but ka-os|theory knows I disagree fundamentally with him on the grounds that not every gay man is the same, nor is every woman. Now, of course, he understands that, but he argues that the majority of straight woman/gay man relationships are essentially master/slave. Also not untrue, but still a huge generalisation. He subsequently gets very annoyed by women like Kylie, Madonna, Beyonce and the cast of Sex and the City, and their swarms of adoring gay fans.

Now, while I agree - the cast of Sex and the City ought to be rounded up and shot: "SJ-P" cannot act; sue me, Sarah, I'm sure a public enquiry will prove me right - I have an essential problem with his dismissal of these women and the men who celebrate and admire such figures. Kylie, Madonna and Beyonce - the talent debate aside - are commercial performers. If there's a profit to be found in one market, then they are going to milk that cash cow until it's as skinny as Kate Moss at 60. All's fair in a capitalist world, unfortunately. They don't have to produce good music in order to make money. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the "music" nonetheless, as long as you recognise this: I don't condone any form of hero-worship, regardless of whether the hero is straight, gay, or anything in between.

Also, think about these women who supposedly see their gay friends as accessories. If they really see other people as commodities, then there is a problem with them, and, as ka-os|theory points out, their accessories should use thir brains, and free themselves from this destructive type of relationship.

That said, I will reiteraite my earlier point of not every gay man and every straight woman being the same. Among the number of people I consider friends, the highest demographic are straight women, all of whom are vastly different from each other; they are closely followed by an equally diverse bunch of gay men; trailed by a relatively small number of straight men (I don't know very many lesbians, but they're welcome to apply for friendship - vacancies are open). I most certainly am no-one's pet. Indeed, my very best friend in the world is a woman, and I'm proud to say I know her. She is the person who knows me best (better than my dad, the only family member I'm still in contact with), andwe tell each other everything. She respects me 100%, and would never consider me as anything less than an equal. Needless to say, the feeling is mutual. I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case for most straight woman/gay man friendships.

And another thing: I like Kylie, Madonna and Beyoncé! They ain't art, but at least theccy're good fun.

Professor Germaine Greer: Fun Feminist (yes, such a thing does exist...)

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Sunny Santander*

My Summer Villa

So, this weekend getaway location was Santander, on the north coast. My friend Emilio has a five-bedroom (yes, FIVE; and four of them are double-sized) flat five minutes from the beach, so he ocassionally invites a group of friends to spend some time there. Thanks to the commodity, company and clement weather (20ºC with a medium strong sea wind, thank you BBC Weather Website), a lovely time was had.

*Apologies for the not-my-usual-standard-of-wit title. It's late, I'm tired, and it was the first thing to pop into my head...

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Black And White? Shades of Grey!

An Interracial Family, Yesterday

Apparently, there's this big debate over whether a man with attractions to certain racial types is a racist or not. Everyone's yabbering on about it, from my good fried ka-ostheory (or whatever it is, these days; I can't keep up with his furious rebranding) to relative acquaintance Metroboi (sorry, but it's true; that's not to say there is no chance of becoming a friend, though...). Now, I have linked to their respective musings on the matter, but if I might be allowed to throw my two pence worth? Tough; I'm going to, anyway...

Firstly, the way I see it, there is nothing wrong with two white men banging each others' brains out. Nor is there anything odd about two black men doing the same. Nor two latinos, two asian guys, or two penguins. Well, maybe the penguings. Mixing up the recipe is always fun, too: one black and one white; one black, one asian, or latino, or one asian one white. The truth is IT DOESN'T MATTER. Where it gets tricky is with tastes. (I'm not counting the penguins, by the way: that is wrong.)

Metroboi is black, and he only likes white boys (feel free to correct me, if I'm wrong, by the way); in his own words, he "find[s] the look of black skin against white skin oh so sexy". I would agree, actually, and it so happens that the majority of men I have "known biblically" were white. However, people like he and I have frequently been scorned, ridiculed, and even ostracised by other black gay men on the [ludicrous] grounds of "turning your back on the race", or somesuch flimsily-constructed argument. Ka-os already breaks down why it is so on the grounds of the difference between sexual orientation and sexual attraction, so read his piece for elaborations on that theme. Metroboi was called a racist: it is the use of this word in this context which I want to scrutinise here.

Firstly, let's look at what the lexicographers at Oxford say about the word: -
Racism 1) the belief that there are characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to each race. 2) discrimination against or antagonism towards other races.

Hmm, yes, I can see how being attracted to a member of another race can be seen as discriminating or antagonising them...

So, it doesn't stand up to empirical research and evidence. How about connotations? Well, in this case, one might argue the whole "black/latino men have HUGE penises" myth (and it is a myth) is racist. I would agree, to a certain extent: I can't tell you the number of times I've been asked about the size of my manhood, and after a while one does start to feel judged by one anecdotal attribute pegged on to all who happen to share the same pigmentation gene, and this certainly fits in to the first definition given by the dictionary. However, even here, there is a certain amount of flexibility. For starters, we're talking about connotations, which means, no-one actually knows, nor is able to prove that all male members of one race have smaller or larger body parts than any other races. In any case, anyone who goes looking for guys with big dicks is probably not going to care about what colour it is, as long as it's some hideous monster capable of poking your eye out at forty paces. Also, people often confuse attraction to one race for a particular trait as racist, because it excludes the possibility of anyone from outside that race possessing it, too. For instance, I'm quite fond of latinos for their skin colour. Does that mean mixed-race (black and white) guys don't have that tone, too...? That was a slight cheat, seeing as the history of Latin America is a big old "melting pot" of races, from history, anyway. But the point still stands. One trait commonly attributed to a race can be found in those of other races: I knew a (straight) man who had the blackest nose and lips you'd ever seen. Finally, people who have problems with other people not fancying them on the basis of race have personal issues, and really should learn to face up to that fact. I don't give a damn if someone fancies me or not, just because I happen to be black; someone else will, and maybe because I know who Dennis Potter, David Hare and Peter Shaffer are, instead, and not because of who I was born to.

Which handily leads me to my final point - also hinted at by Ka-os. I have noticed that a lot of black people who are irritated by interracial relationships tend to bleat on about racism and use it as a magic get-out clause for a lot of things, underlining a particularly ironic hypocrisy. According to them, they are victims of racial abuse if told to get off the bus for bad behaviour by a white driver; they are victims of racial abuse if they are denied entry to a club for wearing the wrong footwear; and they are victims of racism if they hear a joke about black people. And yet these same people will not bat an eyelid when they use their version of the "reappropriated" word "nigger", despite the historical connotations; or have no problems persecuting white rappers and white people who dress with baggy jeans and wear bling with the word "wigga"; or even calling another black person a "bounty", or "coconut", because they are interested in "white" pursuits, such as the arts, literature, classical music, or simply don't sound as though they walked out of the woods and into civilisation at eighteen and don't eat like the wolves who resided there. Double standards? You bet your black ass.

Please note: this is not only a black problem, either. I can only use this frame of reference, but I'm told by my American friends of hispanic origin that similar issues have been circulating among the latino community, too.

So there you have it. Metroboi and I are not racist, just because we aren't attracted by other black men. We would, however, be perverts if we were turned on by penguin-on-penguin action...

Sick: Two Gay Penguins being "married", in China, apprently

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

What's in a Name?

Don't you just LOVE bureaucracy?

I don't want to criticise Spain. Really, I don't; but how can I not when it gives me so much to work with, so much which simply cannot be ignored?

The main bugbear I have is with Spanish bureaucracy. I had foolishly hoped that today would be the last of a series of battles with officials who live amongst papers, stamps, files and other assorted stationery. However, as I should have expected, disappointment was around the corner; and I had to queue to find it.

Let's start from the very beginning: travel with me all the way back to Spring 2008. The first signs of stress came with the expiration of my Nigerian passport (we won't go into why I don't have a British one, that's another story entirely). Not only would I have to renew that, but also obtain a visa for studying in Spain, what with Nigeria not being a trusted country (any country outside the EU - and some of the ones inside - isn't looked on with favour by most Spaniards: yet another conversation for another day). The process of application for a visa is, frankly, ludicrous. First, one must call, or send a letter requesting an appointment. At this appointment, one brings all the appropriate documents corresponding to the type of visa required. Then, one pays a non-refundable fee of 50 pounds (of course, these things don't come for free) before having an interview, during which one presents the multitude of documents, is approved (hopefully), and must then wait a month for the return of their passport.

Upon arrival in Spain, someone with a student visa must apply for what is known as a Tarjeta de estudiante, which serves as an official ID card.

Let's rush past the details of my visa process, just so you understand why I hold a special contempt for the Spanish style of bureacracy. There was no official document detailing how to apply for a student visa, so I asked for a toursit visa appointment, and decided to speak to them personally about it at the appointment, hoping they would redirect me to the department which dealt with students. Instead of this, I was given a list of documents to bring in, and told to return in mid-August, when I would be in Edinburgh. Thanks to the help of one secific senior member of staff (María Cruz, you will be forever in my heart), I was able to push this back to September, after my return, and she effectively fast-tracked my application in order for me to arrive in Spain on time. When I did arrive, I found I was only given a visa lasting three months. When I called the various government departments, and spent a lot of time and money travelling around the city, I finally found the building, only to be told I would have to call a special number to arrange an appointment; so I did, being given an appointment falling on a date FIVE MONTHS after my arrival in the country, and two months after my visa was due to expire. I was told not to worry about this, and that I would not be deported as an illegal immigrant. Fine.

Fast forward to Thursday the 26th February. I have two classes at university I will have to miss, for this all-important appointment. I arrive ten minutes early, forms filled in, documents all collected, photocopied and compiled in order of importance. I collect the separate payment form (remember, nothing comes for free), fill in it, and wait. 14:00 - my appointed time - nothing happens. 14:15, nothing. 14:45, my ticket number blinks on the screen. I go to the desk, have a friendly chat with the woman sat behind it (in Spain, nothing gets done without first having a friendly chat: no friendly chat, no service). She surveys my documents, selects the ones she will actually keep - that's right, of the documents presented, some of which I had to run around and chase after, all of which I spent a considerable amount copying, and all of which I was told on the phone were "vital" to my appointment, only three were actually necessary, the totally implausible reason being that "we tell people to bring it all, because they would forget, otherwise". Finally, she notices a "discrepancy": the name on my passport doesn't correspond with the name I use in my everyday activities, and the name which is registered in letters from both my Spanish and UK universities. Or, rather, the name I use in everyday activities is a shortened form, and preferred by myself, of the name in my pasport! The similarities are clear, and the photos are the same: of course they are, they are of the same person!

So, what is the upshot of this? I had to go into the foreign students' office at my university, on Monday, and request a certificate claiming that the person stated on the passport (with full name copied and passport details pastered all over it) is indeed a student of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. I now have another appointment in two weeks' time, at which I present the same documents (in case I forget, presumably), and go through the whole rigmarole all over again. The good news is that I don't have to wait as long, but the bad news is I have to pay 5 euros more than I expected.

So, Spanish Bureaucracy = (Time + Money + Energy) Wasted = No result whatsoever = 2 x (Time + Money + Energy) Wasted.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

"I'm sorry. He's from Barcelona..."

The Main Entrance to Parc Güell, one of Antoni Gaudì's many masterpieces

Barcelona! City of Catalan Splendour! Host of the 1992 Olympic Games. Birthplace of lauded actress Margarita Xirgu; footballer Cesc Fàbregas; writer Laura Freixas; patriarch of the Bardem film dynasty, Rafael Bardem (whose grandson, Javier, played tortured artist Juan Antonio to Penélope Cruz's jealous, mad bitch of an ex-wife, María Elena in the recent film Vicky Cristins Barcelona, set in the city); and spiritual home to possibly the greatest Art Nouveau architect Antoni Gaudì.

weekend break.Cosmopolitan, metropolitan, and internationally renowned for its architecture, climate, and strong sense of history, culture and identity, you can do far worse than to pick this place for a weekend break. And yet, this week, I came back from this same city none too impressed.

Why? The answer has already been given: Barcelona's "strong sense of history, culture and identity" is too strong.

Let me give those of my readers who are unaware of Spanish history a little bit of background context. The nation of Spain is made up of several Autonomous Communities (think States if you're from the US, or counties - but with more devolved power, like Scotland and Wales -if you're from the UK; apologies to other nationalities, but you probably know what I mean, by now). Not all of these communities originally spoke what we non-hispanics call "Spanish": there are in fact five idividual Spanish languages, the most common being Castellano, spoken by all native Spanish Speakers. The others, Catalan, Valenciano, Euskara, and Gallego are the original respective languages of the communities of Cataluña, Valencia, País Vasco (Basque Country) and Galicia, each with their own special literature and history. Like other modern European countries, such as Italy, Germany and the Baltic States, several attempts at unification have been made and subsequently unmade. Unfortunately, also like Italy, Germany and the Baltic States, Spain suffered terrible suppression under the fascist dictator Francisco Franco during the mid-twentienth century, throughout which much was made of Spanish "unity" by stamping out any elements of non-castellano dissent. After Franco's death, and the transition to democracy, autonomy was restored to all the Communities, and the other four languages became officially recognised by the 1978 Constitution.

Now, put yourself in the place of someone from one of these non-castellano communities. Imagine being forced by the state to not recognise your history, culture, heritage and language for forty years, the legal penalty being a spell in prison. Then imagine the liberty afforded by the end of such a regime and the attempt by a democratically elected body to appease you. You're naturally going to want to make as much of your right to expression as is possible. I'm all for this, but there is such a thing as going from one extreme to the other. Is it right to go from having all road signs and street names in castellano to catalan without any compromise (ie putting the two languages up)? Is it too much to ask of a local shopkeeper to speak to a non-hispanic visitor in castellano (spoken by 322 million people worldwide, ranking as the second/third most spoken language), when he has spent most of his life learning that language as "Spanish"? Or should the shopkeeper belligerently speak catalan (spoken by 9.9 million and ranked 88 in the world) because he has that right? After forty years of being told not to speak your regional language, you're going to want to at least play with it when democracy says you can; but do you run the risk of excluding those who can't? On the other hand, is it right for the rest of Spain - specifically those from the capital, Madrid - to speak disparagingly of catalans, just because historically the two cities have always been rivals? Furthermore, is it fair to call someone born in Barcelona Spanish or Catalan, but not both?

This is, of course, part of the age-old debate over identity: what defines us, how it is expressed, and whether it gives us the right to include or exclude. Yes, it is true that the Catalan and Basque people suffered greatly during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 and the subsequent oppression under Franco, especially when one considers that such vehement oppression was directed at these people because of their strong regional identities. And yes, these people do have a right to celebrate twofold the victory of liberty and the true sense of unity discovered by sharing and expressing their language. However, I have been to both the Basque Country and Cataluña, now, and I can tell you this: for all the press coverage given to the Basque separatist group ETA in national and international news, I never once had trouble reading a street sign, or asking for batteries in a shop. In Vitoria, a small city in País Vasco, everything was in Euskara, Castellano and English; in Barcelona, capital of Cataluña and second largest city in Spain, the only place I found even two of those languages were on the metro and in the tourist spots, along with French, Italian, German and Chinese. If I approached a local, they spoke to me in English (if possible), or Catalan, before grudgingly consenting to speaking Castellano!

Not one to feel excluded, I had a short conversation on the matter with Nacho, a friend of mine from Madrid with connections to the city. It turns out that all classes, from infancy to university education, are taught in Catalan, with Castellano as a second language. All official documents are written and submitted primarily in Catalan. Job interviews are conducted in Catalan. Working in the public sector is credited on a points system: if you have a professional degree, you have a certain number of points; if you have been working at a place for a certain number of years, you receive a certain number of points for every three years; if you are able to speak Catalan, you are automatically awarded 15 points. Therefore, hypothetically skeapking, a student wanting to leave his pueblo in Andalucía (the southern, Castellano-Speaking region) and study in Barcelona would be studying in his home country, but in a second language; also, the best surgeon from Madrid would be hard pressed to find a place in a Barcelona hospital, let alone compete with the best surgeon from Barcelona in a job interview, who would automatically have more points than him anyway. Finally, considering that Barcelona is the most popular tourist spot in Spain, and up until a few years ago boasted the best local economy in the country, such inward practices and ideals seem like protectionism on the worst, most dangerous scale. As someone who now finally considers Spain to be "home from home", I felt I was visiting another country, not another city.

Even so, on La Rambla, Barcelona's main tourist street, one can't move for seeing souvenir shops selling crockery, posters, t-shirts and other assorted tack adorned with bulls, bullfighters, flamenco dancers, and even Real Madrid Football Club insignia! For most non-Spaniards, Barcelona is Spain, not Cataluñya, and the vendors are willing to exploit this as much as any other from towns up and down the country.

For a long time, Cataluña has flirted with the idea of total independence of the Kingdom of Spain, and every time it has been fought and contested in the Parliament, the debate has either been defeated or dismissed. Now, though, it seems like there is no need for such debates. The catalan language dominates the government, public life, and everyday culture. Cataluña has gone from being part of the diversity which makes Spain so interesting to a place which has distanced itself entirely from the rest of the country, while receiving the economic benefits of protection by the a constitution which cared enough to recognise its local sovereignty: it is an independent nation in all but name.

La Sagrada Familia, Gaudì's other masterpiece