Category Archives: Hot Debates

Rio… it’s nice, but it’s no Barcelona

So guess who just got back from Brazil? Yep a little bit of studying Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro, a bit of Carnival in Recife / Olinda, and then some travelling around the south, to natural wonders like the island of Ilha Grande and the spectacular cascading beauty of Iguazu Falls…

So anyway, there I was, sitting on the beach in Ipanema, with my amiga, Karina (with whom I used to live a couple of years back in Poble Sec – in Flat number 2), probably – along with Copacabana – the most famous city beach in the world, when we both looked at each other and went… “meh”.

Not too shabby... but wouldn't you rather be in Catalonia?

Not too shabby… but wouldn’t you rather be in Catalonia?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice spot, but I guess in Barcelona we are just too damned spoiled. Ipanema, with the Dois Irmois mountains rearing up at one end and its long stretch of natural sands, is certainly more beautiful than Barceloneta, or any of the Catalan capital’s other city beaches; but here in Brazil the sun was too hot, the water effing freezing, and the people – both I and Karina agreed – a lot less easy on the eye. (I don’t care how small your thong is, if you’re 120kg it ain’t sexy). Karina was somehow less fussed, but I also couldn’t help wistfully recall that in Spain topless sunbathing is also a lot more common (in Brazil it’s illegal in fact, as far as I can tell).

So having set these two great coastal cities up against each other, let’s look in a little more detail at the pros and cons of both, a bit like in my Amsterdam vs. Barcelona post, from a couple of years back.

Weather

Well I was only in Rio for three summer weeks, and whilst I like the heat it was too def. too hot even for me! Sitting on the beach before 4pm, without an parasol, was akin to torture. Plus, when the sun wasn’t beating down, it rained a helluva lot. Meanwhile Rio de Janeiro’s mild winters might be nice for some people, but little in terms of changing of seasons (at least from what I understand) strikes me as being a bit boring. Barcelona meanwhile has got just about the perfect climate. Loads of sunshine, but only a couple of months where the mercury can rise a bit uncomfortably high, plus just enough of a winter for you to appreciate summer all the more. One, nothing, BCN.

Looks

This is a no brainer. Rio may have those majestic mountains and dramatic beaches, but architecturally speaking and even the nice areas look like Barcelona’s ghettoes, whilst its ghettoes (of which there are many) are, predictably, puss-filled eyesores… albeit fascinating ones, with surprisingly good vibes and parties. The legendary Copacabana district is just mile upon mile of high rise flats and hotels, whilst Centro has at most “a scattering” of nice-ish buildings. Overall I’d say Rio scores a paltry and highly disappointing 2/10 for architecture, vs. a pretty much perfect 10 from Barcelona, which combines Gothic beauty and modern marvels (W-Hotel, Torre Agbar, MACBA and @22) with its signature Modernista look, orchestrated by Antoni Gaudi, Domenech i Montaner and chums. What’s more Barcelona also has the coast, Montjuic mountain plus Collserola range in the background, so even when you factor in Mother Nature in Rio’s favour, I’m scoring this Rio 5/10, Barcelona 9.5/10 – and therefore 2 zip to BCN.

Nightlife

Things get a bit closer in the nightlife section as Rio has a raw energy and excitement that Barcelona simply can’t match. The nightly congregation in Lapa district of both princes and paupers intent on revellry, the sheer unpretentious authenticity of clubs like Rio Scenarium or Democraticos, that are not following any trend, but are busy being uniquely Brazilian, are hard to beat. And then of course there’s Carnaval… a party beyond a party that stretches into a way of life for almost four weeks (forget the official “four days” cited by your guidebook). Still the entrance fees for some of the clubs – ironically the most boring/identikit ones – were ridiculous, you have to take a taxi everywhere (and Rio is huge!) for safety reasons, you have to present your ID at almost every club so they can log your details (tedious!), plus you get a bullshit card for drinks and have to pay on the way out (crap system!). Overall I think I prefer Barcelona’s nightlife for accessibility, price and diversity, but I’m gonna call it a draw because that’s just me getting old and lazy.

People

I’d been told many times that the Cariocas are very friendly, but breaking down the locals into the two genders (I’ll risk the wrath of LGBT campaigners and ignore the ladyboys of Lapa for now… suffice to say they were a little too friendly) and I’ll say the men were only particularly friendly when they wanted to hit on the girls I was with, the gay men when they wanted to hit on me, and the Rio girls were not especially friendly at all. I tend to find in countries where guys aggressively hit on women the whole time (basically all latin cultures, if you’ll excuse the lazy stereotyping) girls are standoffish, because basically they have to be, to stop every mofo hitting on them. This was definitely the case in Brazil where the ladies were pretty lukewarm for the most part. (I’m sure it would be different if I had more Brazilian friends and was being introduced as a persona grata… but most of the time I was hanging around with international people from the language school I was studying at and any interactions with Brazilian women were as a stranger). Anyhow Catalans are not much better… I can count on one hand my Catalan friends in BCN, as they tend to keep themselves to themselves, so I’ll just put this down as a draw too. Who knows, maybe I just need to improve my social skills?

Crime

My biggest gripe with Barcelona is the constant state of paranoid alertness one needs to be in to fend off the plague of pickpockets that afflict the city and shows no sign of abating. This however pales into insignificance versus the very real threat of Rio of being held up by knifepoint or gunpoint. I only really felt safe walking around at night in Ipanema and Copacabana, and even then I’ve been told I shouldn’t have been walking around in Copacabana. It’s not quite as bad as some people make out… I escaped Brazil without incident after 3 weeks in Rio and 7 in the country… but you can never quite relax.

Things to To

In Barcelona there’s always a vintage market, gallery opening, craft beer festival, street party, open air cinema or electronic picnic to attend… plus there’s the beaches, mountains, wine region (don’t forget the winter/spring pilgrimmage that is the Calcotada!). You can never be bored in Barcelona! It’s hard for me to judge Rio on this one… with all the tourist stuff I was trying to do, plus learn a bit of Portuguese and attend all the Carnaval parties I was rushed off my feet! But would there be the same amount of fun events for a resident living year around in the city? I’m guessing no… whilst hipsterdom can be a bit tedious, not to mention pretentious, at times, undoubtedly it has led to an amazing array of original events and new trends in Barcelona that tend to only happen in cutting edge “first world” cities like London, Berlin, New York and BCN. There’s no poetry brothel in Brazil!

Language

I’ve been in Barcelona several years and famously (amongst my polyglottal friends) failed to master Spanish. The lack of linguistic purity in the city (many residents of course speak Catalan as their first tongue, whilst a not inconsiderable number speak Mandarin, Punjabi, English, German, French as theirs) hardly helps matters. Brazilian Portuguese is a very sexy language and I love the Carioca accent. Moreover were I to move to Rio, I would actually need to speak Portuguese… unlike in Barcelona, where English gets me around almost without a hiccup. I’ll give this one to Rio.

So there you go… 5:2 and, even if the scoreline is a fraction misleading, this has turned into quite a comprehensive victory for the Catalan capital. I half expected to fall in love with the samba city and settle down to a new life coaching the Brazilian women’s volleyball team, whilst writing the sequel to Blame It On Rio in my spare time. However it was a case of absence makes the heart grow stronger, and even in the face of undoubtedly one of the most magnificent cities in the world (…and any negativity about Rio is purely relative!), Barcelona simply kicks way too much culo to think about leaving just yet.

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Barcelona Apartments vs Hotels

Right just a little idiot’s guide to booking apartments in Barcelona, and the verdict on whether the pros of ditching hotels for home comforts outweigh the cons. As with all good idiot’s guides I’ll leave it ambiguous as to whether the eedyot is the person who needs to read a guide about booking an apartment, or the person who bothered to write the guide in the first place… Shall we just call it an honourable draw?

Booking Apartments vs. Hotels

Cost: Whilst hotel prices in Spain decreased by 2% in 2010, Barcelona is still one of the most expensive places to stay in one of the world’s most touristic countries. In other words, rooms ain’t cheap. According to my top secret sources the cheapest you could expect to pay for a double room would be just over 40 euros per night – and that would be a lowly one star room in January! The average price of a five star room in October is 190 euros, with 170 euros about average over summer (I’ve no idea why October came in as the priciest). For a 3 star room March to October you’re looking at 90 euros a night, so 45 euros each. The cost of apartments vary wildly, but with so many agencies entering this competitive business you’re in with a good shout at saving some cash. Whilst no reliable statistics are available on flat rentals a browse around the sites of some of the top providers (more on them later) reveals that nearly all have apartments available from 20-25 euros per person per night, going up to around 40-50. If you’re planning on staying for a number of nights that could turn into quite a saving!

Convenience: Hotels are pretty convenient, with the obvious pros being that you just need to turn up hand over your passports and let the cute receptionist usher you to your (almost) always lushly turned out rooms. Taxi drivers know how to get you home at night (useful when you’re sloshed, after overdoing it in the Barcelona clubs), breakfast is on hand in the morning, and that same receptionist can be a fountain of a knowledge – and may even hand you a map for exploring the city. Plus there’s a debonair feeling of being a high roller as you rock in and out of the hotel foyer and empty out the mini-bar…. However apartments to have some advantages too. Ok it can be a bit of faff getting and returning the keys (most decent agencies make an effort to make this as painless as possible however), but once you’re in you’ve got your very own home in Barcelona. Ok trashing the place is probably not a good idea, but if you do get lucky at least you can bring your victim back to the lair without any dirty looks, or worse still being turned away with a “no guests allowed” policy thrust in your face. Plus having your own kitchen, and sometimes washing machine etc, can be a big advantage if you want to save some money on eating out, or give your socks their annual bath.

The Verdict: Overall apartments definitely win on cost, so if that’s a deciding factor there’s your answer. For convenience it may depend a little on how long you’re staying. The drop in and out service hotels provide is probably easier for a short stay, but for three or more nights having your own place – and your own rules – can make up for the lack of room service. Bear in mind that most apartment agencies have luxury pads on their books with all the mod-cons of a five star hotel… so you needn’t forgo your roof-top Jacuzzi!

If you do go down the flats route, here are some respectable outfits recommended by our friends at Barcelona Life… you can check out their reviews and public opinions etc by clicking on the links below (this list has been updated in January 2013:).

Barcelona For Rent – Agency with 130 flats in great locations around the city.
City Siesta Barcelona – No damage deposit required so perfect if you want to trash the place (pls. don’t!).
Oh-Barcelona Apartments – One of the biggest and best rental companies in BCN.
Apartment Barcelona – Not the most imaginatively named firm, but they do have over 500 places where you can take up temporary residence around the city.

Click here for an A-Z list of accommodation in Barcelona.

Catalonia vs. Spain: A Resident’s Perspective

Before I moved into my shitty flat in Poble Sec, I lived in an even shittier flat in Eixample. One of the reasons I moved into the latter in the first place was because the Catalan/Spanish guy who was to be my future housemate seemed like the kind of cool and sensible companero de piso one would want to live with. Ok he had a few scary tattoos, but he spoke fluent English, had lived in London and was willing to waive the small matter of a deposit which I didn’t have… Needless to say we soon became firm friends.

As is inevitable when you live in Barcelona one topic of conversation that would crop up during late night beer/smoking/DVD sessions would be Catalan national identity and how the region as a whole fit into Spain – sometimes not very comfortably. Albert (as my friend is called) always had something intelligent to say on the matter, which was a refreshing change from some of the blind fervour of a lot of the pro-Catalan/anti-Spain sentiments you often get when you are stupid enough to broach the subject.

A few months ago Albert forwarded me a short paper he wrote for an assignment he was set whilst polishing his English in California (no, he didn’t meet, or shag, Katy Perry, I already asked…). The subject of his paper was the ongoing Catalonia vs. Spain debate and – a few spelling mistakes aside – I definitely found it as insightful as anything I’ve read on the subject. So, with his permission, I’ve reproduced it, mildly proofread (I’m tired!) but unedited. It’s a work of personal reflection much more than rigid academia, but I for one found it very interesting and a worthy call for common sense…

The Senseless Dilemma

Introduction

What you are going to read in the following pages of this final paper could be seen a social problem, catalogued by office-rat sociologists, encrypted by statistics and published in boring magazines for specialists that will never be read by the people who are actually affected by this issue.

I want to propose a different way to approach to this delicate matter.

I want to explain through my personal experience, and the experience of other people I know, what are the current relationships between young Catalan and Spanish people, what are the issues, and a brief explanation of the current situation. And I couldn’t have chosen a better day. In the following 48 hours (28-29th Nov), the two most important events of the year are taking place in Barcelona, the capital city of the Catalonia autonomous community within Spain: the elections for the Catalan parliament and `El Clasico´, the football match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.

For some people who don’t understand Spanish culture it could sound ridiculous that this soccer match is even mentioned, but for those of us who live in Spain it is definitely not and it is one of the topics I’ll try to explain for the best comprehension possible of this big lack that affects the freedom, peace and happiness of our society.

1. What is Catalonia? What is her status inside Spain?

Spain is divided in 17 ¨autonomous communities¨ (literal translation), each community has her own government and parliament and representatives in the Spanish Senate in Madrid. All of them have the same legal rights and status inside the country. But there are 3 regions that in terms of language and history have their own national feelings. Galicia (in the north-west corner of the country), the Basque Country (in the central north coast) and Catalonia (in the north-east corner). We are going to focus in this last region today.

Catalonia has aprox. 7.5 million inhabitants and her role inside Spanish
economy is crucial. In fact the two more economically developed regions in Spain are Catalonia and the Basque Country, which by chance are the two strongest separatist regions of the country. Did I say by chance? Well in fact there are a lot of people from Spain’s other regions (obviously not very happy with these desires towards secession) who state that the intentions of those states aiming for independence are based mostly on avarice.

To make a long story short, Spain’s economic system tries to get the money from the richest areas of the country to invest it on the poorest areas (similar to E.U. system). At first sight this system seems fair, but the reality is that is creating lot of social tension inside the country. Catalonia is treated like any other community and most of the money from her taxes is invested in poorest areas of the South. A lot of Catalan people are not happy with this system, but in order to make the matter more complex there’s a disturbing fact: nearly the 36% of Catalan population are (or descend from) people from these poor areas who moved to Barcelona and other Catalan important cities in the 1960s.

2. A hard new life. Personal opinion.

This fact obviously turns this situation into a very complex matter. All this Spanish people who came mainly from the southern regions of Spain and Galicia, were established in huge suburbs creating the current metropolitan area of Barcelona. They came to Catalonia looking for a job and an improvement in their standards of life. But it wasn’t that easy. This first generation (my grandparents’ generation) had to work extremely hard to provide the following generations a better life. They worked mainly in industrial sector (men) and as maids (women) for the rich Catalan bourgeoisie. Fortunately the second generation (my parents’ generation) had the chance of studying, getting better jobs and even some lucky ones create their own small business.

The life in these suburbs was not different from the life in their origin
regions; they had friends from the same hometowns and continued with their cultural expressions (flamenco, typical foods, etc). Most of the people in the first two generation didn’t even learn Catalan. But then the situation changed for the third one.

The third generation (my generation) grew up in the early 1990s. We learnt Catalan at school and we know how to use it at native level. Nevertheless, is not commonly used, especially in the relationship between the people at the suburbs. Our generation enjoys great standards of living thanks to the efforts of our past generations. We have the same opportunities and preparation that the traditional Catalan people. But what about the feelings?

Well, we could say there’s mainly three different ways of thinking:
• People who feel Spanish and rejects all kind of Catalan independence.
• People who feel as Spanish as Catalan (or in very similar levels)
• People who feel Catalan and rejects Spanish oppression.

At this point I think it is fair to reveal what is my personal opinion on this matter. Broadly speaking, I could consider myself on the second group. I always introduce myself as Spanish person from Barcelona. I’m proud of belonging to Spain, not in a patriotic way, but I love the people, the places, the foods and the way of living that makes our country a great place to live. And at the same time I love the culture, the language, the joy and the determination of the Catalan people. And I would never treat anyone different just for the community he is from, as I wouldn’t do it for the country he is from. I’m mostly a peaceful guy who doesn’t take too seriously politics and just want to meet interesting nice people. Unfortunately, seems this is a rareness these days.

3. Relationship between young people.

Spanish and Catalan politics are playing a very dangerous game these days. They like to place themselves in a clear position and radicalize it to attract as many voters as possible. The result is that they are increasing tension between the population of the country, which has reached dramaticl levels due the economical crisis that affects the country. This tension can lead you to very unpleasant situations. Like being introduced to another Spanish person and been instantly rejected when you reveal where are you from. Or being insulted by a stranger just because your name is Catalan. People that don’t even know what are your political feelings. Never mind. You’re Catalan, you’re out.

4. More than soccer.

This tension is well represented by undoubtedly the most important popular event in the country: El Clasico. The match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid is definitely more than football. It’s seen by many people as a battle between Catalonia and the central evil power of Madrid. OK, it’s true that there’s lot of FCB supporters in Madrid and vice versa; and OK, it’s true that many of the players from both teams are not even Catalan or Spanish. But the people, the supporters see it on that way. It’s proved that all these mentioned tensions, usually hidden and politely covered, become wild and unleashed when this match is taking place twice a year, one in Barcelona and another one in Madrid.

All the political class and the hot shots attend the game, and they all make their statements before and after the game on the TV, egging the people to support their teams as they would defend their hometowns in a war!

Fortunately most of the people are smart enough to forget all this bullshit and simply spend a great time enjoying a beer with his friends watching probably the best two soccer teams in the planet. (Editor’s note, except Arsenal).

Conclusion

The tensions between Catalan people and Spanish people are not brand new; they have been taking place in the last few centuries. The reasons and interpretations have been smoothly adapting through the times. To the rejection suffered from Spanish population, in our case (my case and the closest people I know) we have to add the rejection of the traditional Catalan people, who contemptuously call us ¨charnegos¨, a slang term used to talk down about the descendants of all this people who one day came to Catalonia looking for a better life.

On one hand this makes me feel worse, because I feel alone, lost between two people. On the other hand it makes me keep balance, as I would never radicalize my opinions as I feel I don’t belong to any of these two factions.

And finally it makes me feel stronger. Strong and determined to not fall in this silly game created by interested politicians, who use the ancient nationalistic feelings to keep the common people conflicting in the benefit of a few. Because when they try to radicalize the people and they talk about secession `balkanization´ and civil war they are obviously not thinking for the benefit of us, the people.

But I’m confident and hopeful that in the 21st century people are smart enough to avoid all these kind of confrontations. I really hope so.

Albert Rodriguez, 29th November 2010

Amsterdam vs. Barcelona

Right just got back from a little hols in Amsterdam and I must say, damn that’s a fine city! It’s also a travel writer’s dream what with the colourful goings on of the Red Light District, the chilled coffeeshops (this is where you can smoke weed legally in case you’re out of the loop), romantic canals, bikes, boat houses and seemingly infinite supply of cool restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

Of course my current home of Barcelona boasts more than its fair share of attractive qualities (hence why I came here in the first place!), but even so it did get me thinking whether I’d be tempted to ditch mincing about on the beaches of BCN for a life of trundling around canal-side paths on my city bike, crawling around cafes and coffeeshops enjoyably intoxicating myself, and no doubt ending the majority of my nights in the bed of a 6ft-tall Sylvie van der Vaart look-a-like. (After watching Black Book, I’d also settle for the more modest charms of Carice van Houten. Hopefully she’s listening – Carice?).

Time to bring the two heavyweight cities together in an epic battle, to decide which of these two metropolises will claim me as one of their honoured citizens…

Weather

Whilst I did enjoy the melancholy skies, humid air and autumnal smell of damp leaves that greeted me in Amsterdam, it really did rain a hell of a lot. Then it got cold. My ears nearly fell off on one bike ride. Overall, whilst Amsterdam’s climate wins points for atmosphere and romance, only a masochist would opt for that ahead of the glorious weather in Barcelona, with its nearly perma-blue skies, well-behaved temperatures and general LA vibe. First blood to BCN!

Nightlife

It’s hard to judge from just a long weekend, but if what I saw in four days of Amsterdam’s nightlife was representative then it boast much more variety and invention that the often two-dimensional Barcelona nightlife (which is basically either posh house club, or alternative student rock/cheese rubbish). Yes the bars mostly close at 1am (although some continue til 3) and the clubs from 3.30 to 5am, however as the Amsterdammers go out a full two or three hours earlier than the Barcelonins then it’s just the same amount of partying – only done earlier. The jury is still out on this one, as Barcelona does have its hip places lurking in hidden corners and surprise events…. hmmm we’ll call this a draw until I get to do more ‘research’ in the ‘Dam!

People

A hands down win for Amsterdam! The Dutch people are actually friendly. Dear Catalans you should try that sometime! But seriously, whilst foreigner-ennui has killed any interest that the Barcelona locals might once have had for their guests, it is still possible to make friends with the locals of Amsterdam who are open, unsnobby, helpful and just damn nice! Oh and the girls are all tall, thin and cute. What is it about girls on bicycles that is so sexy???

Crime

Whilst my local Dutch host assured me that bicycles get stolen all the time and he had been mugged twice, I have to say Amsterdam felt like the safest place in the world. At least compared to a nighttime walk in El Raval. I saw plenty of unlocked bikes and people even daring to hang up their coat on a coatstand… instead of the paranoid clinging onto possessions that is necessary in every bar and restaurant in Barcelona. Plus, despite its reputation for sleaze, I was accosted by far less prostitutes, drug dealers and thieves in Amsterdam’s Red Light District than I usually am in Las Ramblas – plus at least the prostitutes are good looking! (A bit too good looking… just what does happen behind those red windows???). Another victory for the ‘Dam.

Things to do

Well Amsterdam has museums aplenty, canals to cruise down, a great park in Vondelpark for hanging out in during sunny days, plenty of cool markets and naturally loads of bike paths…. but still can’t really touch Barcelona in this respect. What with the city beaches, Park Guell and Park Ciutadella (to name the biggies), a constant stream of fiestas and festivals and concerts and events (many free!), not to mention an abundance of day trip possibilities and even the Pyrenees mountains if you fancy skiing, Barcelona really is the dogs’ cojones when it comes to entertainment and cool things to do! Oooh it’s getting tight…

Language

I’d rather learn Spanish, Catalan and ancient Greek than take on the Dutch language! I couldn’t pronounce a single word, despite my host’s patience. Advantage Barcelona? Not necessarily, as everyone speaks fluent English! But then it is nice to think that one day, even if it takes five years, as an expat you will be able to speak the local dialect at some stage. If I went to Amsterdam that would almost certainly never be the case… I’m going to award this one to Barcelona!

Its Amsterdam 2.5 points vs. Barcelona 3.5 points! Looks like I’m staying put for a while yet. You lucky lucky people.

Noise Restrictions

A recurrent theme of my adventures in the realm of Barcelona’s nightlife has sadly been one of party-pooping noise restrictions. WTF! This is Barcelona! In Spain! The city is supposed to be one of the most party-mad in the world and what’s more Spain is famous for being noisy – from the constant roar of motorbikes to mujeres shouting at each other from various balconies.

I’ve already heard of numerous fantastic venues which have been shut down thanks to noise restrictions, such as Danzatoria, a posh paradise up in the hills (which has had to relocate and hence lost it’s appeal), La Terrrazza (thankfully re-opened but with decibel reductions) and the legendary La Paloma, which starred in the film L’Auberge Espanol and was supposedly the best night out in the city (naturally I got here too late!). In fact La Paloma soundproofed itself and even employed mime artists to try to get punters to quieten down – but to no avail. Residents complained, and it seems they are winning every battle in destroying the nightlife around here.

Not that I’m unsympathetic to residents of noisy neighbourhoods. It can be a pain to live on a noisy street, and no one likes to have their sleep disturbed more than me, but some of that is part and parcel of living in the Old Town I’m afraid. There’s always double glazing and earplugs!

More annoyingly recently (I’m talking about my personal experience now!) has been the habit of neighbours complaining about house parties. Really quiet and boring house parties at that! I mean come on. There is a difference between being tormented by a nightclub that pounds 130bpm until 6am every weekend and your friendly neighbours having one soiree a year – for f@ck’s sake, suck it up for one night and let the kids have fun!

IMHO it seems that the very people who enjoyed the revelry of the 90s and the no-holds-barred good times have grown up and got grumpy and are not so happy to let the next generation do the same. I say this as a relatively old and grumpy git myself. We’ve already got strict licensing laws on bars and clubs, destroying much of the magic of all night escapades in Spain, not they’ve passed a law banning happy hours – for health reasons. But this trend of complaining at every raised voice past midnight flies in the face of everything that is Spanish… ie. the live and let live, good times, late night culture!!! (Ok there may be more to Spain than that, but that’s why we’re here right?).

A balance has to be struck. Nightlife is an important aspect of any city, for the local economy, for quality of life, for tourism… not to mention for keeping the population growing. Pandering to every Senor Meldrew will rob the city of much more than a quiet night.

Hmmm. I’m filing this under ‘Hot Debates’, even if it is more of rant… feel free to disagree thus making the post a lot more debate-like!

World Press Photo 2009 in Barcelona

I remember at some point during my teenage years I was watching a kids’ programme in which the protagonist (some kind of fox/girl hybrid if I remember correctly) decides she wants to become a photojournalist. She turns up at various disaster scenes and as houses burn down etc she’s happily snapping away and other pseudo-human animals lives are in danger… realising that she can’t simply do her job while people are dying she comes to her senses, throws the camera away, and does the right thing by helping rescue them.

I obviously took the moral of the story to heart because when I went to the World Press Photo Exibition in Krakow in 2008 and again in Barcelona in 2009 (currently on at the CCCB), I couldn’t help but recall the animated fox-girl would-be photographer who decided it was only right to lend a hand rather than passively chronicle people’s demise, no matter how news-worthy, for a paycheck…

It’s a very simplistic way of looking at things perhaps, but I can’t help thinking that maybe some of the photographers whose work was exhibited at the World Press awards should rent out this particular kids cartoon on DVD. In at least five or six of the photos I saw, I couldn’t help thinking – ‘what the fuck is the photographer doing… whilst this young girl gets beaten to death?’ Of course there is definitely a need for brave photographers to be involved in dangerous situations as objective bystanders and reporters, and each situation is different… more often than not no doubt it’s dangerous enough for a photographer to be getting valuable evidence of an atrocity unfolding, let alone taking on a group of armed thugs with nothing but a tripod to defend himself… but there was something horribly narcissistic about this exhibition. You could almost imagine the photographer of the bloodied and beaten guy, with a militiaman’s boot crushing his neck, closing in on the scene (to within a touching distance judging by the angle) and saying “oi mate, I know you’re about to die and that but can you just hold that expression for a moment longer, it will make a great shot… I’ll probably win a prize for that.”

I just found it hard to buy that so many of these artfully shot, carefully considered pictures were all taken by brave humanitarians desperate to expose the evils of the world to a privileged public. So much of it felt opportunistic exploiting of other people’s miseries to win plaudits and promote their own careers, with maybe a brief afterthought about what happened to the dismembered/bereaved/poverty stricken subjects of their photos. All of the shots went far beyond documentary, and it makes me nauseous to imagine the camera-wielders own reactions as they check what they’ve filmed at their comfortable hotels and high five one another and celebrate the artistic merit of what they’ve captured. Which, unbelievably, will later be further celebrated by an event that actually ranks these photos and bestows prizes – up to 10,000 euros I read on Reuters.

And I can’t exempt the audience either. Here we were – weyhey a free exhibition! – whiling away a Sunday afternoon looking at what is essentially art fabricated out of real human misery. The creation of something diverting and beautiful based on suffering.

Not of course that all of the photos were about deaths and beatings! There were plenty of great documentary pieces that didn’t raise any ethical alarm bells in my mind, and there was some also fantastic wildlife and sports photography. But with so many strong images from troubled parts of the world, a large chunk of the exhibition makes the visitor a kind of voyeur of pain and grief, portrayed by photographers whose motives I am not privy to… but somehow can’t trust. Not when documentary has become art, and prizes and money are at stake.

I’d be interested to hear anyone else’s opinions (please comment below), and this article (the story was told to me by two separate people at the exhibition, after I shared my reactions) is of interest…

Should Skateboarders Grow Up?

I used to own a skateboard. I was 12. They were the all the rage at the time. Possibly it was still the 80s, I can’t remember that far back and my maths is crap, but undoubtedly Back To The Future had a lot to do with it. Anyway the point is I grew up and I put my skateboard down and I became a productive (ahem) member of society.

Imagine my surprise then when I rock up to Barcelona and find that not only is the city full of skateboarders, but half of them are older than me! Or at least in the same age bracket. 14+.

Can you really expect the world to take you seriously if you roll up to meetings (or anything for that matter) on a children’s toy? How much will it cost in laser surgery to remove those ridiculous tattoos when (or perhaps I should say if) you grow up? And before you have another go at landing that frontside board slide can I just ask you if you’re covered for dental treatment in Spain?

skateboarding-barcelona

Ha ha

Despite the scornful looks I dish out whenever passing MACBA however the craze for skateboarding in Barcelona is still going strong and kids come from all over the world (especially from countries with a high rate of fashion victimitis, such as US and Sweden) to mince around the city. Apparently Barcelona is ‘blessed’ with very flat roads and pavements.

Anyhow, maybe I don’t like skateboarding because I was seriously shit at it, or maybe it’s because it’s fucking dangerous and I’m a pussy, or perhaps it’s simply that everyone who does it is a knob. Whatever the reason, I’m going to continue to look down on the pathetic individuals practicing their skills on Placa Universidad (and punch anyone who sends their board flying at my ankles) – even if they are older than me.

If you have a wildly different opinion on the matter, and are sentient enough to string a sentence together, feel free to add the yang to my ying…