The Lung Brothers

Hanging out at the extreme end of the long tail ...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Random Comments - Because I don’t Partake of the Twitter.

If that Pope Francis is so damn hip and modern, how come we haven’t seen him twerk on Youtube yet….?

Shouldn’t the young chap now change his name to Justin Imbiber…..?

So it turns out that Lindsay Lohan acts in movies too. Who knew…?

Ah Syria. Another country keeping up that proud tradition of genocide and moustaches.

To think that the US almost had a Mormon in the Whitehouse and for the first time, the nation could conceivably have had a Second Lady.   

Two thoughts occurred to me the last time I visited Ikea – firstly I thought about all the wooden furniture they build and the quantity of sawdust it must produce, then in the food shop I wondered what they put into all the cookies and crackers to make them so darn cheap and then…bingo!

I have new respect for French cinematic melodramas. I used to think that the films were sexist male fantasies because there was always this short ugly middle-aged man who manages to make young beauties fall in love with him. Ridiculous!...........and then Sarkozy and Hollande come along….

It turns out that most of the Chinese government bigwigs have been laundering money abroad. Well, gee whizz, slap my thigh, what a shock. I guess that might explain the three million empty Chinese restaurants in Barcelona that never seem to close…..


Monday, January 13, 2014

Catalan History 101: Or Why Backing the Wrong Horse Can Lead to Some Serious Long Term Hassle.

This year of our Lord 2014 will be quite a big deal over here in Barcelona. And it all started over three hundred years ago when a complete mongo was ruling the largest empire in the world.


At the end of the 17th century, Charles II was at the helm of the Kingdom of Spain which meant he had sovereignty over the whole of the Iberian peninsula, a massive chunk of the Americas, slices of the far-east, pretty much all of what is now Belgium and the Netherlands (Flanders) not to mention lots of juicy equity in France.

The problem was that thanks to successive generations of Hapsburg inbreeding, young Chuck was a frail, sickly halfwit with an Appalachian gene puddle and a face to prove it. Seriously, check out this guy’s portraits. He’d have been kicked out of the Rocky Horror Show.

So Spain naturally went to the dogs under his rule, he naturally died young and naturally he left no heirs despite being married twice. When he did die at the age of 38, the physician said his body “did not contain a single drop of blood; his heart was the size of a peppercorn; his lungs corroded; his intestines rotten and gangrenous; he had a single testicle, black as coal and his head was full of water”.  A walking argument against the monarchical system of government, it was probably just as well the poor bastard didn’t breed.


The noble soap opera of succession:

Before croaking, Charles had named Phillip of Anjou as his successor. Phillip was of the French house of Bourbon (not a pub) and was related to King Louis XIV. This potential boost in French influence made a number of other European powers very jumpy and even though Phil promised to cut all ties with the motherland when he became King of Spain, the English, Dutch and Austrians went to war in 1701 to prevent him from taking the throne. So began the war of Spanish Succession, a bloodbath that lasted 13 years, caused countless deaths and misery all over the world, practically bankrupted nations and didn’t make the slightest bit of difference in the end. 


Consequences for Catalonia:

The other pretender to the Spanish throne (Phillip’s competitor) was one Archduke Charles of Austria and it was his army that attacked and took Barcelona quite early in the war (1705). By 1712-1713 the war was finally winding down. It was becoming obvious that the Bourbon forces were getting the upper hand and the Brits were even talking treaties. However, Catalonia decided to stay loyal to the Hapsburgs and feared that all their self-rule would be removed if the crown went to Bourbon-controlled Madrid. So they decided to dig in, fight and hope that some European ally would eventually come to the rescue.

Didn’t happen.

The Franco-Spanish forces arrived outside Barcelona in the summer of 1713 but due to a lack of men and artillery, they had to hang around filing their nails until the spring of the following year when twenty thousand reinforcements arrived.  The locals fought bravely but inevitably the overwhelming Bourbon forces bust through the city walls at the end of August. The final standoff / massacre took place beside the Santa Maria del Mar church on the 11 of September 1714. This date (whose importance has unfortunately been co-opted by a more recent tragedy) is now the national day of Catalonia and represents the moment when the region lost its sovereignty to Madrid.   
Since that day the Catalans have been somewhat ‘limited’ by the rest of Spain. Their access to the riches of the new world was limited, their language was limited (especially under Franco’s rule) and a lot of decisions concerning how the region was run were made from Madrid. This caused a lot of Catalans to resent the rest of Spain and caused a lot of the rest of Spain to resent the Catalans - a charming tradition that has lived on to this day.

 After the siege, a natural distrust of the locals led the newly victorious forces to pull down 17% of the old town and use the stones to build a massive citadel in its place. Most of the locals who lost their homes were moved out to the large sandbank that had been forming over the previous centuries. This area became known as Barceloneta (little Barcelona) and all the new houses and streets were built long and narrow and positioned in the direction of the citadel. This meant that the soldiers in the fort could see down and if necessary, fire cannon down any street they wanted.  



Today there is a park where the fort used to be (Park of the Citadel), the area that was torn down to build the citadel is now the elegant Born neighborhood and Barceloneta is a hip place to stop for a tapa on the way back from the city beach.  When I first moved here, the beautiful abandoned Born Market was going to be converted into a library but then they found ruins of the old pre-siege streets beneath the floor and those plans were scrapped. It took almost two decades and went ridiculously over budget but they finally managed open the museum/cultural centre a few months ago. It’s actually not bad, but the library would have been more useful.

Catalonia has become one of the most productive regions in Spain and therefore a lot of the taxes from here are used to support the less prosperous regions of the nation - something perfectly normal within a contented federation of states, yet it’s something that chafes with the Catalans who feel they’re getting ripped off by Big Brother.  

Since Franco popped his clogs in the mid-nineteen seventies, there has been constant local political pressure to give Catalonia more autonomy with eventual independence as an end goal. The region has won a lot of concessions – a local government with a lot of clout, an education system that favors the Catalan language, a local police force etc. Yet it is mostly all those tax Euros going to Madrid that gets caught in the Catalan craw, especially now that the economy’s fallen into the toilet.

Since 2008, the local nationalist coalition has really been upping the ante. Wherever there are people suffering, there is usually some opportunistic politician looking for a scapegoat and the push for independence has served as a nice distraction from any local mishandling of the economy or giving away of public assets to your pals through privatization.

The nationalistic fervor that will come with the tri-centenary of the fall of Barcelona couldn’t have come at a better time for our current masters. Despite the gutting of the health system, the chronic decline in education and the reduction in assistance to the poor and vulnerable, all we can expect from 2014 in Catalonia is a lot of pomp, jingoism and vitriolic flag waving with Madrid painted as the cause of all evils.

The fact is, if Catalonia really wants to break free, fair enough. In the long term, it might not be a bad idea. However, being realistic in the short term, there will be a tough price to pay. The next generation will have to live through some serious hardship as the economy stabilizes. Spain might decide to stick a nasty duty on Catalan imports just out of spite. If the people are expecting the instant Utopia that the politicians are peddling, they’re in for a nasty shock. 

Another problem is that the European Union wants its Spanish debts paid and in the event of Catalan independence, it will need to know what proportion of this repayment will come from here. Nor is Brussels keen to encourage a whole lot of fragmentation across the Union – first Catalonia and next it’ll be Scotland, Corsica, Northern Italy and God knows where else queuing up for a divorce. They have already turned their back on the idea of Catalan independence with a statement last week where they fobbed off the problem as an “internal Spanish issue”.  

The Spanish prime minister has being criticized by his own people for not doing enough to combat the Catalan drive for autonomy but I reckon he’s cleverly playing the waiting game. The Catalan government keeps asking for a referendum for independence and he just keeps calmly repeating that it would be against the national constitution. Without support from Europe and continued inactivity, he probably reckons that the movement will blow itself out. He might be right.    

Personally I’m not too pushed either way. Being Irish, I’ve had more than my fill of radical nationalism. I figure that self-determination should be a right but that a people shouldn’t kid themselves about the immediate upheavals and hardships that will surely follow independence. If you really want it, you’ve got to be prepared to suffer for it, at least for a while.

Still, this year will probably grate a bit shrill. I’ll definitely stay home on the 11th of September.

It is curious to think though. If the Catalans had supported the Bourbons from the beginning of the War of Succession, maybe it would be Madrid protesting for independence and fighting to preserve the minority Spanish language.