CIEE Barcelona Program: Liberal Arts
Semester: Full year (Fall 2011 - Spring 2012)
Home School: Tulane University
February always goes by too quickly, and marking the halfway point for the final semester I was hoping in vain it would be different this time around. (We get an extra day this year, right?)
February began and ended with a cena among friends. Aleeix and I met in my Historia Antigua course. I had previously exchanged a few words with him when I asked his friend Sandra for her notes for a class I had to miss, but this time around, thanks to the professor not showing up, I had a chance to talk much more with everyone: Aleeix asked me if I wanted to join for drinks. Nobody spoke English, and even fewer would speak Castellano— but we managed to hit it off through my awkward Catalan and, most of all, our common love for the band La Pegatina. So that night, we met up for a cena, and ever since we’ve been a solid group of friends.
At Empuries in the Costa Brava
Empuries - Greek and Roman ruins with the Pyrenees in the background
Not many days later I jumped on a bus for a fieldtrip with my Historia Antigua class. As the only American there, I was looking forward to a “fieldtrip” a la catalana. As it turns out, fieldtrips are pretty rare here, and this was not lost on me for a second. When we arrived to Empúries, an ancient Greek-turned-Roman colony sitting on the Mediterranean, I stopped to take photos of the gorgeous views. Everyone else? Stopped to smoke and get a coffee from the makeshift hut/coffee stand at the entrance to the ruins. When the guide arrived, I was excited to learn something new, and probably just focus on listening to catalan for a few hours. (After all, the reading material before we left was a 30-page document by Josep Puig-i-Cadafalch on the ruins!) Instead, the few that did decide it was worth their time to join the tour spent the time texting, rolling cigarettes, and talking loudly over a guide that looked at the ground while whispering. The towel was thrown in quickly after. While lunch in the nearby town was nice, and the ruins of Ullastret made a pretty conclusion to the day’s sights, the highlight was really just spending hours hanging out with friends on the banks of the Mediterranean. As far as school days go, and being one of the first warm days in February, that was about as good as they come.
Next up on the tour of February in Barcelona: Pecha Kucha Night. PKN : BCN is an event that comes around every 4-6 months. It is held at the Antigua Fabrica Estrella Damm, which means beautiful brewery chic for the venue—and unlimited Damm products. (Bock Damm at last!) Much like a TED talk, PKN is where people come to exchange ideas. Unlike a TED talk, presentations are limited to 20 seconds for 20 slides, 1 second per slide. This is the 20x20 model. It is often zany, very creative, and makes you go “ah-hah!” on more than one occasion. The ideas can be about anything—and people take that quite literally. The best part? The crowd’s reactions as slides—and one-liners—fly by while everyone downs beer after beer.
Occupying the University of Barcelona during student protests on February 29th
One of the last things to happen in February was the strike declared on the 29th. As austerity measures in Spain have made their way to cut backs in education, students, professors, and other university staff took to the streets to show their opposition. As their demands against tuition hikes, salary cuts, health care reductions, and more went on through the day, crowds continued to gain strength, some of them taking a turn for the violent. While the more violent actions are lamentable, the most interesting moment of my participation on 29F was not the peaceful march and shutdown of the University of Barcelona, but rather the post-protest “debrief” at la Pomepu. The symposium assembled local organizers, professors, and participants from various locations to talk about the success, failures, and future of the movement. It was in Catalan, which dissuaded some similarly interested foreign students, but the panel was very informative, and the casual nature of question-response allowed me to be comfortable enough to try my hand at a few questions in Catalan. Coming from a background where protests are not very common, and do not seem to exact much change, the evening’s symposium brought an interesting perspective into focus for comparison. While students here do not have the track record of countries like France (Sous la pavée, la plage!) the participants generally held an optimistic note. To them, participation in Democracy is more direct: they demonstrate, literally, for or against major issues. The issue seems to really derive from the concern that it is them versus the politicians. In other words, representative democracy cannot run quite like in America because the representatives are made out to be more of the problem rather than a means to a solution. Hearing this from such a young democracy, especially one that just had elections not but three months prior, actually made me a little uncomfortable. Not because other forms of government are abhorrent to me, but because I started to wonder what exactly Spain had. Was it a democracy? I heard variation after variation of “we have a supermarket, but instead of competition each political party is offering the same thing. The customers are upset, are claiming things should be different, but the managers have formed a collusion and are saying the customer is always wrong.” If one feels they cannot participate, or in the broader case of Catalunya, that their concerns are simply ignored, then what role do you play, or even does your state play, in the government? Maybe “play” is the key word these days. The function of a democracy was being called into question. And this sentiment was not uniquely held amongst a few, let me reiterate this. But we have to remember I was around the mobilized, in American we tend to call them the “radicals.” And true, in one way, perhaps the customers are not always right—tough cuts have to be made somewhere. That being said, “where” is another discussion entirely that cannot be held here, space simply will not allow it. As one teacher put it last semester, Spain has a “Democrazy.” I can’t help but add before I shift topics a quote by Henry Ford: “'If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” I hope the best for these brave Catalan students.
Well, that is all for this month. There were many more adventures that did not make the cut, but remember, in Barcelona there is always something going on every day. All you have to do is get out there. In next month’s installment, prepare for a review of Granada, as well as all the other adventures Barcelona has to offer as primavera becomes official.
Thanks for reading,