diumenge, 27 de setembre del 2009

Chords and lyrics that make beautiful songs (I). Manel.

The music of one of the concerts I enjoyed yesterday is still swimming in my head and sometimes I find myself singing bits and pieces of the song aloud as I am preparing lunch, as I am waiting for the metro to come, as I am walking towards the theatre to see a play, as I... It was such a lovely concert and it was for free. Good music, good weather at zero cost. What else could one ask for?

The stars of the concerts were Manel, a band from Barcelona which became famous last year when they won Sona 9, a music contest to promote new musicians in Catalonia. I think they deserved winning. Their lyrics talk about daily life, current things and some of them have a critical insight as well. And their music is just wonderful. They combine the sound of the guitar with the ukelele, the harmonica, the bass, the drums and the clarinet to play pop-folk tunes. Besides their songs, they also made completely new original versions of older Catalan bands.

Manel, band members

Manel have recorded one album, called "Els millors professors europeus" (The best European Teachers). I do not know exactly why they have called the album so, I can only tell the phrase is the title of one song and part of the lyrics of another.

"Els millors professors europeus", album cover

Following is a a little taste of some of their songs. I promise to translate the lyrics soon, it's a bit late today and the alarm clock won't forgive me tomorrow. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the music :)!

Manel - Al mar (To the sea)

Manel - En la que el Bernat se't troba (When Bernat meets you)

Manel - Ai Dolors

More on Manel at MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/gatmanel

divendres, 11 de setembre del 2009

Hang out your flags!

This morning, I woke up by 9:15. Usually, by this time, I should be already in the office working. But today is a bank holiday. It's Catalonia's National Day.

The curious thing about this date is that we remember the biggest defeat Catalonia had. Yes, we celebrate that we were on the losing side in the Spanish Succession War at the beginning of the 18th century, which supposed the end of many Catalan liberties in favour of a centralised government model.

But what was exactly the Spanish Succession War? It might seem that it was only an internal Spanish matter. But it wasn't: it also involved other European countries. Since the beginning of the 16th century, Spain had been reigned by the Habsburgs -or "Àustries", in Catalan- dinasty. They were a dinasty which came from Austria, or to be honest with history, from the Austria-hungary empire. However, in 1700 the then king Charles II died without offspring (he was always ill and he was mentally-retarded due to too close consanguity and royal endogamy). Then, succession matters started. Charles II was replaced by Joseph Ferdinand of Bavary, but he soon died too and the issue appeared again. Two kings claimed, for differents reasons, the throne to be legitimatily theirs: Philip of Bourbon and Charles of Austria.

Charles of Austria

Philip V of Bourbon

Catalonia took its position for Charles of Austria, probably because the Borbonic model was a centralised one, which would sure suppose the end of many priviledges it had (as it happened). Besides, Catalans had already had fought a war from 1640 to 1659. This war is known as "La Guerra dels Segadors" (The reapers' war), as it broke out in Corpus day (7 June 1640) when a group of Catalan peasants, armed with their sickles, entered the city of Barcelona and revolted against the count-duke of Olivares who represented the Spanish kingdom in Catalonia. Olivares had been abusing Catalans war resources for the war Castilla (Spain) was fighting against Borbonic France. There were too many troops on rural Catalonia, and the fields were devastated because of that. The peasants were indeed loyal to the then king Philip IV, but they were certainly annoyed to see their crops devastated, as this meant hunger. The war ended in 1659 with the Treaty of the Pyrenees, where Catalonia lost the now French area of the Roussillon, an up-to-then Aragonese-Catalan territory. What remains of this war in popular knowledge is the hymn of Catalonia, Els Segadors (The reapers)

La Guerra de Segadors breaks out (painting of 1907)

Well, after explaining why Catalonia took its sides with Charles of Austria, let's go back to what matters in this post. The Succession Wars broke out in 1701: Habsburgs against Bourbons. The war had also repercussions in Europe, therefore we can say it was an international war -well, to be honest, at the time Europe was in the hands of a few royal families who held power...so things were easily international matters.

War advanced and finally Borbonic troops won. Catalonia was severly punished. It was one of the last places to fall under Borbonic hands. But still, you might be wondering what the Catalan National Day has to do with that. Now that I covered the basis, let's come to the point (sorry, it is difficult to get to the point if you are not given the context first).

Towards the end of the Succession wars, by 1713 the Bourbons knew they had won (and they had the support of Borbonic France) and "invited" the city of Barcelona to surrender. Catalan institutions saw that surrendering would mean the end of their system, so they decided to resist. Troops were gathered and about one year later, Barcelona was placed under siege. It was a hard siege and resources soon finished. On 11th September 1714, Rafael de Casanova, the then head of Barcelona, had to surrender to Philip V's troops.

The siege of Barcelona

This defeat supposed, as I already pointed out, the end of Catalan institutions who were replaced by a heavy centralised system based in Madrid. The "Decretos de Nueva Planta" (The Nueva Planta decrees) were issued and Catalonia, as a losing side, was severely affected by them: not only Catalan institutions disappeared, but Catalan was not longer used in writing and of course , Catalans could not trade nor have a share in the wealth coming from Spanish Empire (or the "Americas") -note that this was the golden age of the Spanish Empire (in Spanish, "el imperio donde nunca se pone el sol" or in English"the Empire where the sun never sets").

Luckily, things have improved (well, after other hardships like Franco's dictatorship). We have been granted back some rights than we had on that time. But still, there is a long way to walk.

So what do we do every 11th September?

-We hang out a Senyera (the Catalan flag) over the balcony or the window.

-There are institutional acts, the main one being the flower offering to the Rafael de Casanova monument in Barcelona by the Generalitat president, the mayor of Barcelona and other Catalan political figures.

-Go to el Fossar de les Moreres in Barcelona, where many of the fallen of the 1714 siege were buried.

-If you are a very revolutionary Catalan fighter, organize reivindicative acts or attend them.

-Dance sardanes, the typical dance of Catalonia.

-Go to the official acts held in the Plaça de la Ciutadella in Barcelona.

-On 10th September listen or pretend to listen the speech by the Catalan president on TV3.

This is the president of la Generalitat of the TV3 comic show "Polònia".
Right after the official speech yesterday, the fake president appeared
making its own particular discourse. I cracked with laughter :D.

-Sing or listen the Catalan hymn "Els segadors" (right hand in the heart). When you listen to the lyrics it a very violent song related to the reapers who rebelled and related to rural life.

-Simply chill at home or take advantage of the day, or if it falls near the weekend, just take a mini-holidays. Like many people does and I am going to do: I'm leaving for the weekend with the 15.00 h train to Valencia. I feel Catalan, but I do not think doing all the above will make more Catalan, at the end all these acts are political and I must confess I am quite disappointed with Catalan politicians.

dijous, 10 de setembre del 2009

A spot for Andorra

A couple of days ago I was asked to translate a project from English into Catalan that required installing a new software programme.

After several hours fighting with the programme's version, I could successfully install it and I opened it to adjust the required settings for the project: language, filter, dictionaries, working file, etc. In a CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation) tool you usually have some place where you can set all this up. Most importantly, there must always be some place where to set the source -the language you will be translation from- and target-the language you will translate into.

So the first thing I did was setting working language and I was really amazed when I saw this:

It is really curious. Up to then, I never found Catalan related to Andorra in a translation programme. It made me think why that was the case, as I was used to see a Catalan flag whenever I set up a project to be translated into Catalan. And then I get the system: a language associated to a country where it is official. And Andorra is the only country of the world where Catalan is the only official language (the language you hear on the streets of Andorra is another matter...) and the programme's developers knew it. For other cooficial languages in Spain, namely Basque and Galician, there was a Spanish flag.

This case is really curious and also brings along some questions: it is correct to associate language and country? It is a good decision to use country flags in translation programmes? Well, that is not a really big deal for many people, that is true, but it kept me wondering for a while. For example, for the first question: there are lots of languages which are not only exclusive of one country. That is true, you can specify the region (as in EN_US (English, United States) but that does not solve the problem. To stay home, in Catalan, this region specification is not really necessary -variants are not so different among them (well, some would say Catalan and Valencian are different languages, but that is another thing to talk about in another post). Anyway, supposing no region is necessary for Catalan, what flag do we use? Andorran, Catalan, Valencian, Balearic, Aragonese, French, Sardinian? In all these places Catalan is spoken.

Anyhow, in this specific case I am showing you, software developers chose the language-country-flag association. I won't say it is good or bad, as everybody has its own opinion and can find good arguments for it. Above all, I was surprised and it made me smile. Andorra is a tiny country in the middle of the Pyrenees, and if, even Catalans in Catalonia do not usually remember that there Catalan has exclusive officiality...how are other less-related to Andorra countries are to thoroughly know about this fact? Well, in this CAT application, they had some recognition and their name and flag is used to represent Catalan.

My boyfriend is Andorran and when I told him this by mail he wrote in big bold letters: Graaaaan! (That's biiiiiig!). He says that, little by little, Andorra is invading Catalonia...of course, that only a joke between us...I hope :P. He added malevolous laughter after "Graaaan!".

dissabte, 5 de setembre del 2009

An incredible growth

Today I may sound a bit of a bore because I will tell you about facts and figures of Catalonia. I mainly do it because I think it will be somehow useful and will make you have a better statistical idea of Catalonia. I know statistics are only about numbers and generalisations but we always find in them a way to get a global idea of things. In the end, they are not so uninteresting...

Let's set for the trip to Facts and figures land then!

Population: growth and immigration
In 1900, Catalonia had a population of about two million people. After only 108 years, in 2008, the population has multiplied almost per 4. There are now about 7,365,000 people living in the area. How can we explain such an astronomical growth in such a short period? The answer is simple and logical: two waves of immigration, one in the sixties and the other one from the nineties till now (it seems to have stopped a little bit because of the current economical crisis).

Immigration in the 60s - INTRAnational immigration:
This first wave of immigration took place during Franco's time and immigrants were people inside Spain (mainly Andalusians, but also people for Extremadura, in western Spain) who set for Catalonia seeking for a job and a better life. They also set for Europe and went to work mainly in Germany. The difference with the Spaniards who went to Germany and the ones who came to Catalonia is that the first ones came back to Spain after some years, while the other usually settled in Catalonia, most of them in Barcelona and its surrounding areas.

The Spanish immigrants who came to Catalonia mainly came from rural areas, scaping from poverty. Catalonia, as one of the economic engine of Spain had a lot of industry and was far richer than other areas at the time. In only ten years, the population increased almost two million: from 3,888,485 in 1960 to 5,107,606 in 1970.

Some weeks ago, I watched a TV documentary about shacks in Barcelona during this wave of immigration. I knew that life for this people must have been hard, but I was struck of what some of them had to endure and how and where they had to live. There are no rest of these shacks in Barcelona now, as they were progressively swept away in the late seventies and the eighties, when the city was getting itself ready for its major event: the Olympic Games of 1992.

Immigration in the 90s and 2000s - INTERnational immigration:

After the first wave of immigration, the population kept growing in a less accelerated pace. But nineties arrived and new immigrants arrived. This time it is a more diversified immigration and not only a Catalan matter, it is a global phenomenon in the whole of Spain.

This time population also grew, but, although figures are also noticeable, they are not so high as the ones in the first wave of immigrants: from 1991 to 2008 the population in Catalonia increased from six million to the current figure of 7,365,000 million.

As I have pointed out, this time immigration is international. Mostly, immigrants come from:
- Latin and Southamerican (all countries, but a lot of them from Ecuador, Colombia, Perú, Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil). All of them, except from Brazilians do not have the added problem of language.
- Africa (Morocco, Gambia and Senegal mainly)
- Asia (China, Pakistan and India mainly)
- Eastern Europeans (Rumanians)

If all these people come in search of a better life, there is another group that come for completely different reasons. This group people are mainly from the European Union, Italians being the star group, followed by France and Germany.

Nowadays there are 974,743 foreigners living in Catalonia (legally), which represents a 13,2% of the total population. The figure includes not only the groups I've mentioned but people from other places as well.

This has indeed creating a "melting pot" in Catalonia. It is difficult to know if it is good or bad for Catalonia. It blurs "Catalan identity" but it also brings cultural richness. I think that the problem lies in that we haven't find the way to make our culture attractive. and the cultures of this people are so different that we don't really know how to handle them. We still need to learn a lot f rom each other. As a Catalan, I would ideally like them to integrate, to enjoy the culture here and to speak Catalan, but at the same time I understand why they don't.

On the other hand, immigrants have kept the population of Catalonia growing: the birthrate in Catalonia was of 0,8 children per woman in 2002 (by the way, I never understood why they put commas in birthrate...as if a woman could have half a child or a 75% child), and two years ago it had grown perceptilbly.

2009, however, has brought crisis and the number of newcomers is decreasing and some people are going back to their countries, to be nearer the ones who had been left behind when they parted. This tendency has been made evident with the decrease in the number of immigrant children registered to attend school (which will begin on September 15th, I think)

The funny ending note:
I still remember, that in my childhood and teenage years propaganda saying "Som sis milions", ie "We are six million" (I also heard a mockery, around year 2000-01, about that and related to the decrease in birth rate: "Per culpa dels condons som sis milions", which makes a funny rhyme and means "because of condoms we are six million"). This was a campaign launched by the then president Jordi Pujol in 1987, but it has survived time and it is still in the air, now with "Som 7 milions", just for the sake of making fun of it. Will we get to 8 million soon? Anyhow, the rhyme still works, but I guess that the campaign was thinking of "increasing the number of Catalans", as the party which launched them was catalanist...

Bibliography: Figures of population are taken from the Statistic Institute of Catalonia (Idescat),
at http://www.idescat.cat/pub/?id=aec&n=245
For a detailed account of immigration figures and origin of immigrants,
see http://www.idescat.cat/pub/?id=aec&n=272
Note: some information has been picked out from what I see living in Barcelona every day.

divendres, 4 de setembre del 2009

This is a bilingual place. Part 1

The gift of bilingualism
There is no native Catalan in the world who only knows one language. All Catalans are bilingual de facto and live with two co-existing languages, Catalan and Spanish. This is not, as many want to see, a problem at all -or at least it shouldn't. It is a gift, a richness we should benefit from at take advantage of. Not only because we learn Spanish, the 3rd most spoken language (but the 2nd in terms of native speakers) in the world, since we are little kids but also because, according to linguists, it is then easier to learn new languages when you know more than one.

Code switching
One of the most striking things for people outside bilingual areas where both languages are alive, is the fact that one can have a conversation in two languages at the same time: one speaking Spanish and the other Catalan, according to which language they feel more comfortable with. This of course, happens, but it is not the general rule. Usually, one of the two languages -I must say a lot of times Spanish- becomes the language of the conversation. For most of us this is not a problem, and switching between languages is something we do constantly.

It's there really 100% bilingualism?
So yes, bilingualism exists, but it is not a balanced bilingualism. First of all, people in Catalunya can have Catalan, Spanish, or both languages as mother tongues. Excluding the case of those who have two mother tongues and speak both at home normally, people usually have more command over one language. This is not something wrong or bad, it is just a fact and it is the most normal thing in the world.

At school we learn both Spanish and Catalan since we are kids (besides English, of course). In public life, despite the fact that Catalan is the main language in education (as the Catalan Government has competency over Education and favours the use of Catalan) most of the linguistic input out of the academic context is in Spanish (cinema, magazines, most newspapers, ads, food packages, music for teenager).

Feeling uneasy: the need to say more about it
By now you might have the suspicion that this bilingualism is not free of problems, mainly political but also linguistical (like everything-sigh). In this post I tried to be as objective as possible, but I found it quite hard, as I have very strong feeling of support for Catalan. I really feel I should write something more personal about it. It is for this that I have decided to split the subject in two. Therefore, I will write another more subjective post on bilingualism.