The Catalan Referendum – The Impasse

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The European Political Map Before the Unification Movements of Germany and Italy

Doesn’t the path of the thread of history look obvious when viewed through the lens of time? A hundred years ago the actions and subsequent reactions of states or politicians seem obvious. Events which so troubled our forefathers are taught by the simplicity of a needlewoman’s thread and as the embroidery becomes a tapestry and we see the pattern so clearly that even the simplest student can follow it.

But look into the future and the clear patterns distort, the threads tangle. After hundreds of years of association and unification, do we face, in Europe today, the first cuckoo of the spring of disunion? Continue reading “The Catalan Referendum – The Impasse”

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The Catalan Referendum

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…the ballot papers – in three languages, Spanish, Catalan and Occitan.

George Orwell said of the Catalans, “I defy anyone… not to be struck by the essential decency, above all their straightforwardness and generosity.”

What he saw in 1935 is still present today.

Straightforward decent people want the right to vote on the most important issue- the issue of how they should govern themselves. Yet the Spanish government does not want to engage in the debate – rather it prefers to deploy the Guardia Civil, whose faces are hidden behind perspex shields to kick and punch peaceful protesters and to attack and beat with truncheons ordinary citizens and old ladies in a crude attempt to dissuade them from congregating and voting. It seems they have learned nothing. The power of the masses will not be thwarted by a few policemen, however belligerent.

Continue reading “The Catalan Referendum”

Barcelona Days and Spanish Nights, 2017

Barcelona Funeral_Gaudí

…but it was too late. Gaudí died two days later, on June 10, 1926. Thousands attended his funeral.

29 February, 16ºC

We decided to take breakfast at a cafe on Calle Roger de Flor. Perhaps it was unsure of itself for it had emblazoned across its red banner which stretched across the double fronted property ‘Cerveceria Cafeteria Bar Roger de Flor’. We consulted the menu with helpful pictures and in poor Spanish we asked for two omelettes and two coffees. We took our seats across from a few workers in high visibility, yellow jackets having a mid morning break.

After breakfast, we wandered down the wide triumphal passageway Lluis Campanys – ‘A dog walkers paradise,’ said Marjorie as the third dog walker passed us. The palm trees made it feel foreign and the cyclists made good use of the wide, traffic-free pedestrian zone. Continue reading “Barcelona Days and Spanish Nights, 2017”

A History Without a Geography

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The clock had not moved since; it showed 5:17…

 I looked out of the car window as my Bulgarian colleague, Vasko, drove from Sofia towards the Macedonian border. We had been invited to demonstrate our company’s capabilities to a potential agent in Skopje.

In October 1994, I was busy across eastern Europe helping our organisation develop its business in the banking sector as the shrouds of communism dissolved and the free market alluringly beckoned. Yet, apart from Sarajevo and Gavrilo Princip, I was not aware of the region’s history nor the disputes which had surfaced as a result of the country’s creation phoenix-like out of the ashes of Yugoslavia two years earlier.

The fall of communism had a dramatic effect on eastern Europe in the early nineties. A friend playfully commented that the USSR (formerly the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) was no longer any of the aforementioned!

Yugoslavia, the kingdom of the southern Slavs, for long ruled by the dictator Tito became increasingly weak under a succession of effeminate rulers and it started to disintegrate step by step from June 1991 onwards. Continue reading “A History Without a Geography”

Wide Lawns and Narrow Minds

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… behind high whitewashed fences topped with spikes and guarded by sentries.

Friday 12 May 1972

Somehow, on arrival at Lubumbashi, I was expecting such marvellous things that if the streets had been paved with gold nothing would have seemed out-of-place. Originally named Élisabethville after Élisabeth, Queen of the Belgians, it had a fine reputation as an elegant city high in the heart of Africa. I was excited.

Throughout most of the two-hour flight from Kinshasa, I had gazed out at clouds which cleared occasionally to reveal impenetrable jungle. But in the last half hour the jungle had yielded to the open and empty bush. I sat among well-dressed Africans who on landing brought cases and piles of plastic-wrapped parcels from every crevice in the plane. My thoughts raced at the prospect of living in this mysterious new land.

I descended to the airport tarmac. There was a host of red tulips, a privet hedge and everywhere black smiling faces ready to receive leur invités. Continue reading “Wide Lawns and Narrow Minds”

Reach for the Sky

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…before looking up at the sheer rock criss-crossed by a zig-zagging metal stairway.

At the bottom of the steps to Lion Rock lingers a Sri Lankan in flop-flops and a shabby, thin cotton shirt.

‘He is waiting to help you up the seven hundred and fifty steps,’ warns our tour guide in the early morning heat, ‘but he’ll expect a big tip at the top.’

Reinforced by pride mingled with a personal determination to reach the top unaided, each of us in our elderly group climbs on. An old lady ignores the helper’s proffered assistance when he attempts to support her elbow as she climbs one of the larger interval steps. I politely refuse his attempt to gently push me from the rear up an iron staircase with, ‘I’m OK, thank you.’

The route upwards is not straightforward. It weaves its way up several levels via uneven stone steps and across the giant rock via a narrow staircase. At Lions Paw we pause and gaze over the plain below before looking up at the sheer rock criss-crossed by a zig-zagging metal stairway. The helpers have long departed for new prey; only the steep climb to the top remains.

‘I’ve counted seven hundred,’ says an optimist below me. I climb with renewed vigour, the view at the top will be worth the effort, I console myself. It is. Continue reading “Reach for the Sky”

The Elephant at the Sudu Aralyia Hotel

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We arrived at the Sudu Aralyia Hotel in New Town, Polonnaruwa although the tour notes described it as Giritale.

I swam in the hotel’s infinity pool which overlooks the national park. As I swam and bobbed my head for air, I could see in the distance a lone elephant on the far side of the man-made lake or tank. Many hotel guests assembled on the edge of the property gazing over at the elephant as well. I got dressed and joined them for a better look.

The lone bull elephant is tuskless, but slowly and inexorably he grazes towards the hotel. The onlookers on the boundary of the hotel and Angammedilla National Park are suddenly disturbed. The elephant is close. Local boys from our hotel protected by a man high wire-netting fence start shouting. Similarly, from the neighbouring hotel which opens directly onto the wilderness, boys start shouting and the guests who had been watching start running back inside their hotel. A peaceful viewing turns to worry and fear. The lone elephant suddenly seems so unloved. He appears to adopt a sad mien. His ears flap less. Does his head lower?

I lose interest and join a group in the bar for idle gossip. It is dark now.

Bang!

Continue reading “The Elephant at the Sudu Aralyia Hotel”