Friday, 21 December 2007

Bon Nadal!

I usually send quite a lot of Christmas cards and were planning to do so even this year. During the sunny days of early December we went down to Platja de Ribes Roges to arrange a nice family picture.

Although I have been living in countries where palm trees grow naturally for seven years by now, they remain exotic to me. The same day we took the pictures, we ordered cards over the Internet, but still have not received them. Even if they turn up tomorrow Saturday, friends and family will have our cards late this year. We can not blame anyone else – it is we who have messed things up.

What luck that I can send out a greeting by means of this blog. Merry Christmas!

So Much to Learn

My wife and I both did our university studies at Lund – a small town with Sweden’s most beautiful cathedral. In there, during Advent, they build up their Christmas crib in an elaborate new way every year. That is quite an exception in a Protestant country where cribs tend to be aimed only for children and, honestly, very uninspired.

Here in Catholic Catalonia things are different. To house the biggest crib of Vilanova the local crib builders’ association erects a special building on Plaça de la Vila. This year they have created a mountainous landscape with real water in a little stream. Already before looking into it, my oldest son told me that there would be one oxen and one mule, not more nor less. That is apparently common knowledge. People like I, who thought that the holy family was the only critical detail, obviously have a thing or two to learn.

I Was Wrong

I have felt sure that Catalans would show their discontent with Zapatero in next year’s March elections. An opinion poll published today suggests that I am totally wrong. Catalans are worried about the state of infrastructure here, but do not seem to hold the government responsible. Instead, PSC reach their best poll figures ever.

Pro-Spain columnists will want to interpret the figures as a proof that there exists a silent majority against an independent Catalonia - both right wing Catalanistes CiU and left wing equivalents ERC get lower figures than in the latest parliamentary elections. However, this is contradicted by the fact that PPC, proportionally, lose even more and that newcomers Ciutadans do not seem to take off.

The only winners are in fact Zapatero’s socialists - a surprise Christmas gift from Catalonia.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Catalan Songs Better Than Swedish Ones

Last week my wife tried to convince our oldest son to take part in the Santa Lucia procession of the Scandinavian Club. She did not have a chance since he claimed not to like to sing together with other children.

That was last week. Today, he and his class put up their Christmas play. The story was about all the people and animals who come to greet the newborn in Bethlehem, but also about a spider who surprises everybody with the beauty of its golden web. Our son has talked a lot about this during the last few weeks. Time after time have I heard him rehearse the verses in Catalan by himself. In the play he suddenly had no problem at all to sing with the other pupils. We did not comment on it – we were too busy being proud.

A Little Dog Makes the Difference

We live close to Barcelona but Vilanova is laid-back and not very trendy. This we usually appreciate since it makes everyday life easier. Today, my wife and I had dressed up just slightly for our oldest son’s Christmas play. I am confident that strangers who noticed us on our way there, took us for visitors to the town, although we spoke with low voices.

On our way back we brought our son with us and then it is difficult not to reveal our foreign background. We only speak Swedish in the family and our oldest boy can be loud when he is in that mood. However, this time we felt totally integrated and I am confident that nobody who saw us doubted about where we live. Very few tourists bring their child dressed up as a cocker spaniel.

Monday, 17 December 2007

First Meeting with a ‘Live’ Santa Claus

Our two-year-old is being indoctrinated with the magic of Santa Claus. At home, his older brother cannot stop talking about him. On our short walk to kindergarten, we pass by two shops with mixed merchandize, and ‘Santa Claus climbing a ladder’ must be their best-selling product this year. To my oldest son’s disappointment, we are one of few Vilanova households who still do not have one hanging from our balcony. Now the same shops offer the ‘human size Santa Claus moving his hips while singing Jingle Bells’. I fear that he will soon start to turn up at school entrances and supermarkets, since it is obvious that many people are unable to resist buying anything which is cheap.

None of this mental preparation helped when the ‘live’ version visited the Scandinavian Club today. “Ledsen” (sad) was how our younger one summed up the event.

Rare But Regular Church Attendance

As most modern Swedish families, we are not actively religious. I have to admit that while living in Sweden, my wife and I never went to mass together. Still, here in Catalonia our children will grow up with parents who visit church regularly, albeit only once a year.

Saturday 14, the Scandinavian Club of Barcelona held its traditional Christmas mass. The simple but intimate German church (C/ Brusi), which we borrow for the event, was as packed as always. The program was a well balanced mix of a religious mass, a Santa Lucia procession, choir singing and psalms in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. I do not think that Scandinavian ex-patriates are more fervent believers than those who remain in our home countries. So, is it so that we are more concerned about maintaining traditions or do we only have a stronger urge to remind ourselves that we are not alone?

Enjoying a Sunny Christmas

We were not too happy to see our two-year-old breaking a flower pot as soon as he came out on the balcony today. Neither did we think it was a great idea for him to then play with the soil, but had to give in. It has, after all, been quite some time since he last had a chance to play in the sand and today it was really warm in the sun.

This year we are spoiled with a sunny December but at the same time go through the most traditional Advent which we have had for years. So what does this make me realize? Well, above all that we do not need snow for a true Christmas atmosphere. It rather is about experiencing it all from a child’s perspective. With a four-year-old who is old enough to observe, analyse and remember, but still young enough to fully believe in Santa Claus, we very much do.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

IKEA instead of Goethe

There is the German Goethe Institut, the British Council and the Alliance Française, all promoting these nation’s languages and culture to other people. The Chinese recently started up Confucius Institutes with the same mission. We Swedes do not have anything of the kind or, rather, that is how it seems at first sight.

In reality we have IKEA and I doubt that any other country’s institutions can match their rate of expansion. Very few of the products they sell are manufactured in Sweden, but we do not care. There still is something Scandinavian about their design and the botiga sueca as well as the restaurants offer some of our national specialties to the whole world.

This is where our chamber of commerce organizes its traditional Christmas party and lets us enjoy Corallerna’s Santa Lucia procession. A home away from home for Swedish ex-patriates.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Budesca at La Sala – a counterweight to the cold weather

Our local centre of modern art La Sala currently presents H2O aigua by Vilanova artist Joaquim Budesca. Other artists might paint dark, dangerous and dramatic seas. Budesca, as I see it, successfully limits himself to the play of sunlight and currents among stones in shallow waters. Warm colours serve as a reminder about the nice climate we have here. The current drop in temperatures will not last forever.

My oldest son starts to like La Sala, but the reason is the open space rather than the art in itself. Budesca did, however, manage to catch his attention with some rather abstract paintings in white and black - very different from the detailed and colourful pieces which were my personal favorites.

The exhibition will hang until January 20, 2008. It is well worth more than one visit.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The best thing about Catalan nationalism

In a few weeks, we will see the birth of an independent Kosovo, with the support of the EU and the USA. Interestingly enough, Spain happens to be one of the few EU countries which strongly opposes this.

I am the first to agree that many culturally strong regions can not flourish within today’s national borders. However, the solution I favour is a stronger role of the regions within the EU, rather than a bigger and bigger number of small nation states.

In Spain, Kosovo’s coming independence will for sure re-ignite the debate about Catalonia’s future status. There might exist a silent minority againt independence, as some politicians claim, but I am not sure any longer. What I do know, however, is that compared with former Yugoslavia on the one hand, and Basque Country ETA’s violent separatism, on the other, Catalans can pride themselves for peaceful and democratic methods. Visca Catalunya!

Monday, 10 December 2007

Time to be Swedish, or at least Scandinavian

I put on Navidad con los Lunnis while we started to decorate our apartment for Christmas. My oldest son immediately told me that his favourite song was Campanas de Belén (Campana sobre campana) - I did not even know that he knew the song. At the same time, his younger brother was dancing, repeatedly screaming molt bé in front of one of the loudspeakers. How good that Christmas will bring us several occasions to underline the Swedish side of our background. We would love to see our oldest son participating in his first Lucia procession, but he is far from thrilled with the idea. However, we certainly do look forward to seing the younger one's face when Santa Claus turns up at the children’s Christmas party organized by the Club Escandinavo de Barcelona. Which feeling will prevail - fascination or fear?