September 11th

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 For many people, September 11th is undoubtly associated with the “towering inferno” of the Word Trade Center in New York in 2001. But for many others, and especially for Catalans, that date will always have a different connotation. It is a reminder of Barcelona’s heroic resistance to the Bourbonic siege of 1714. On that glorious date, Barcelona summoned up its government (called the ‘Consell de Cent’) and decided on resistance whereas other Catalan cities and villages had already surrendered. The duke of Berwick, commander of the allied French and Spanish forces, lay siege on Barcelona using an ingeniously built strategy of trenches, thousands of cannons and massive gunpowder. Having an untrained army and scanty military resources, Barcelona resisted as well as she could for 13 months. This provoked immediate admiration in the rest of the European states. In Catalonia, September 11th became its National Day. Presently, it has become a symbol of resistance to oppressive ruling and endurance in spite of a forseen loss.

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Welcome to France

Welcome to France

This is one of the posters you can see while entering the international terminal of Charles De Gaulle, Paris

How nice it is to be greeted like this, particularly if you’re leaving Europe! After a short flight from Barcelona, I stepped through the plane thinking about flight schedules and worried about tedious connections ahead. But, then…voilà! As I was walking along the corridors to get my connection, a display of posters like this heightened up my spirits….ahhh!!! Remembering all those lovely places I had been to on my way to Barcelona…those 5 charming summer days spent for the first time in the city of lights. L’Arc de Triomf so near to my hotel….Montmartre.…the tour Eiffel….

To those graphic designers with good taste…thank you! You’ve certainly made your point! I shall be coming back to Paris soon.

Bilingualism and Multiculturalism in Catalonia

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As I was lying down on the pebbled beach of ‘La Vall’, in El Port de la Selva (Costa Brava, Spain), a couple with a small girl caught my attention. Mum and child were playing in the sea while the father was watching them from a rock nearby. The girl, slim and blonde, was swimming -or floating, rather- on top of an inflatable penguin. Her mother was by her side with the water to her waist.

Apart from the loving family picture my interest was aroused out of the mother and child oral exchange: while the mother spoke to the girl sometimes in Catalan, sometimes in Spanish, the small girl invariably answered in Catalan. ‘Estás cómoda, eh?’ (Sp.) (‘you’re comfortable, uh?) would change into ‘Vols una bocata?’ (Cat.) (‘would you like a sandwich?). As they approached the beach, the father would comment, on an equally perfect Catalan..’ja marxem, oi? (‘shall we go back home?’). And both mum and daughter would answer in Spanish and Catalan alike.

To bring more hues to this canvas of multiculturalism, a fair-haired French boy of a similar age to the Catalan girl came running to them, as he saw that the family was getting ready to leave. ‘Vous voulez voire une meduse?’ (‘do you want to see a jellyfish?)-he said. The mum translated for the girl: ‘diu que si vols veure una medusa’ (he asks if you wanna see a jellyfish). In a moment, all the family went to see the newly caught jellyfish, to the boy’s delight.

In Catalonia, the majority of its population speaks bilingually: Catalan and Spanish. Until the 70’s Catalan had been forbidden by Franco’s dictatorship government, so Catalan was secluded to home use. The effect of diglosia was clearly seen: Spanish for official use, and ‘any’ use, Catalan for family use (if you ‘dared’). But, with the democracy, Catalan was publicly restored and its status redeemed in all the Spanish territory.

Nowadays, a scene like the one I described above is very commonly seen. Catalan people are proud to speak with equal fluency two languages and shift from one to another with no problem at all. An average child like this small girl, will grow to have listened to -and very often practice in the case of French and English, thanks to tourism- at least 4 languages of international relevance.

Any problem with that? On the contrary! To us, EFL teachers and ANY language teachers, the more, the merrier. Or, to put it in linguistic terms, the wider the input, the better the ability to learn a foreign language.

It shouldn’t be difficult but…

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I have recently read an article by the Guardian in which they say 80% of the students at university level are stressed. I’m not going to go into debate whether they’re stressed because we’re immersed in a system which only evaluates the results, and not the progress of each student- which, up to a certain point, I adhere to but rather, I will just focus on the teachers and their language output.

Being a teacher, I tried to put myself under their skin and see whether I was complicating things too much for them…

Want to read more? Go to It shouldn’t be difficult but…

The Agave Americana in Catalonia

The Agave Americana in Catalonia

Agaves in Llançà flourish in springtime and can be seen all along the coast (NE Spain, also called the Costa Brava)

What a nice view of springtime is this, of the first agaves in blossom!

It just takes me ten minutes, to walk from the main beach in Llançà, to the first rocks where the agaves appear, northbound, heading for Colera, the neighbouring town.

My preferred spot is just as I pass the first ‘bunker’ and I stop to marvel at the height of the flowers, with those tall stems, standing upright against the tramuntana winds (which blow still hard in spring) and showing all their strength and arrogance rooted in nothing but cliffs…

They remind me of a Shakespearean sonnet about beauty and the passing of time (one of my favourite, by the way)

“Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?”

Many months after their first bloom, and even further in time, those flowers dry out, but they still stand very upright and haughty. That’s what I love about them…’but time decays’, yes, but they battled long enough against ‘the wrathful siege’ of the battering tramuntana!