Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Concha Pérez. A Woman of '36

I went over to see Concha last week.

She's always an inspiration, 92 years old, her mind still
sharp and clear. She's one of the founding, anarchist, members
of Les Dones del 36, the group of 8 women formed in
1997 to tell the story of the women who fought, in one way
or another, to defend the Republican government from the
fascist uprising.

I first met her in the summer of 1995 when I was looking
for information about civil defence. Somebody at the Salvador
Segui Foundation suggested I should go to talk to a group of
libertarian survivors of the war who met every week in a social
centre near the old university.

Note: Will have to finish this later as it's late and the graphic is
provisional till I can scan the photo I prefer. Though the breaking
chains in Catholic Spain in the 30s is very apt.

Bicicletes Castells

Concha's new council flat is near the beautiful old power station
where I used to give classes and where two students first provided
valuable information about air raid shelters.

When I went to take photos of Pere Falque's building for this blog
last year I took a long walk home, and a lot more photos. This one
of an old bicycle shop just near the Arc de Trionf, the nearest tube
station to Concha and my old class.

I'm glad I did.

Because it's gone.

When I came out of the station last week there was just a walled-up

A jagged space.

Founded in 1928 by Josep Castells, the shop, now run by his great
grandson Pau Foguet, was a meeting point for cyclists, the place to
buy a new model, to repair the old, had even been the base of a
cycling team, the France-Espagne.

For four generations the family have been promoting passion for
sport and this gentle, environmentally friendly means of transport.

But a few years ago urban planners decided this was an ideal place
for a hotel.

Such a wonderful view down one of Barcelona's most beautiful
avenues, Passeig Lluis Companys, to the park.

For the tourists.

Ildefons Cerdà's original and visionary plan for the extension of
Barcelona in the 19th century included gardens in the interior of
every new city block.

Such a waste of space.

This part of the plan was largely ignored.

In recent years, the city council has been recuperating some of the
spaces for public gardens. Admirable, even if they are a little
heavy-handed with the concrete. They decided to recuperate the
one behind the projected hotel.

The entrance to the garden would be through the bicycle shop.

The old bar next door went first but the Castells family had no
intention of leaving. They fought the forced acquisition in court
and, surprisingly, won the case.

Bring in the heavy artillery.

The Generalitat, the autonomous government of Catalonia, plans to
refurbish and extend the tube and train stations below. Apart from
a special reinforcement necessary to support the weight of the new
hotel, improved accessibility to the station requires a lift.

Guess where.

The ideal place is, of course, the middle of the bicycle shop.

This time the family had to admit defeat and have moved to new
premises. They received compensation.

But for some, it is not a question of money.

Maybe not so evident from the photos but the building is
only one storey high.

Such a terrible waste of space.

Not to mention potential income.

At €4746 per square metre, property in Barcelona, though currently
affected by the economic slowdown, has more than doubled in the
last 6 years.

Hardly surprising that there are 1,000,000 new apartments they
can't sell in Spain.

I would like to think that the real estate empires are finally cracking,
that they will stop the destruction of the small scale things, the
working class things, in this beautiful old city.

But I am sure they are just lying in wait.

In their greed.

In their ignorance.

For those who do value history, Bicicletes Castells have started
a blog.

Click on the name for some wonderful old photos.

Barcelona City Council have recently discovered the joys of Bicing,
the new (though some, of course, have been promoting this for the
last 80 years) sustainable form of public transport. Since last year
they have installed 400 stations with 6000 bicycles for use, after
registration and payment of a small fee, to travel short distances
around the city.


Except for one thing. They service is subcontracted to Clear
Channel, an American multinational based in Texas.

They promoted the war in Irak, helped finance George Bush 's 2004
election campaign and continue to support Republican candidacy for
the White House.

Bicycle to Baghdad, anybody?

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

12th May 1938

The old Municipal Dispensary. Carrer Roser, Poble Sec.

The afternoon raid of 12th May 1938 hit the docks and
Poble Sec.

Without radar, invented during World War II, detection of
approaching enemy planes relied on a network of observation

They listened and watched.

There was often very little time for Information and Liaison
to activate the air raid warning systems and that afternoon a
power cut meant their siren was out of action.

Even less time for people to reach the shelters.

Five planes are sighted at 15´53.

The raid starts 3 minutes later.

At 16'08 the Municipal Dispensary in Roser Street
communicates that they're dealing with a lot of injured
as the bombs have fallen near the power station on the
main road Francesc Layret (now Paral.lel).

At 16'09 a dispensary in the docks communicates they also
have a lot of victims.

By 17'30 there are 35 known dead and about 100 injured.

Poble Sec now has a wonderful new Medical Centre, right
next to Air Raid Shelter 307 in fact. The National Health
Service here really is excellent, in spite of all the complaints.
But in the 30s...primary public health care was limited to the
municipal dispensaries, totally inadequate to deal with the
increasing number of air raid victims and the terrible injuries

I'm surprised the Roser Street Dispensary was able to cope at
all - it had been bombed during the March raids two months
previously and services had stopped just when they were
most needed.

The District Council still uses the premises for different
community things.

Peaceful things.


20 March 1937

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Land and Freedom


Weekly publication of the Regional Federation of Farmers of Levante.

It's always the same old story: those who have
and those who have not.

In the 1930s in Spain 70% of the people still lived on the
land 67% of which was owned by a very privileged few.
Abject poverty was rife and many, with a situation little
better than serfs, were close to starvation.

Redistribution of land was to be one of the major revindications
in the years leading to and during the Civil War.

World hunger has been in the news a lot recently.

The privileged few are still around.

Mainly around Wall Street

Country people. Tortosa.
Estampa. 18 July 1933

In Catalonia the situation wasn't so bad with its milder climate,
and more equal distribution of (largely fertile) land. Conditions
were probably worse for the factory workers and the unemployed
in Barcelona.

When news of the Nargis cyclone broke I was going over some
Spanish Civil War documents, specifically the daily log of the
Information and Liaison section of the organization in charge
of civil defence: La Junta de Defensa Passiva de Catalunya.

The minute by minute reports of the raids, from the detection
of approaching enemy planes to the final count of the victims, are
hard reading.

The chaos, the fear and the tragedy get closer.

I was looking at the log of March 1938 and wondering why Amposta
and Tortosa, small towns in the delta where the river Ebro comes
down to the sea, were getting bombed so frequently.

The Delta de l'Ebre is a now a wetlands sanctuary for over 300
species of birds.

But they also grow rice and have done for hundreds of years.

That log entry from 15th March '38: the destruction of a rice
factory in Amposta the previous day with five dead. Of course,
they were trying to destroy supply lines to the front, further up
the river.

Rice fields and war - inevitable images of Vietnam and Cambodia.

Weary, angry that so little changes.

As if natural disasters were not enough.

Do you have a flag?

It's Sunday and for so very many who share this planet the Horror is near.

So much impotence.

Humour can help to lighten the load and is sometimes a powerful
weapon against
those who would be king.

This version of British comedian Eddie Izzard's sketch was apparently
made by a fifteen-year-old
in the USA.

Queridos Cómicos indeed.

(Click on Eddie's name to see the original.)

Saturday, 10 May 2008

The Road from Mandalay

Over 100 years of British Colonial interference and rule in
Burma ended in 1948. For most of its 60 years' independence
the country has been dominated by the military. It's probably
not a coincidence. The present is inextricably linked to what
has gone before.

George Orwell, author of Homage to Catalonia, served the
British Raj as a police officer in Burma.

He resigned.

A convinced anti-imperialist, he came to Spain in 1936 to
fight for the Republican government against fascism.

And the Generals.

It's probably not a coincidence.

Friday, 9 May 2008

The Generals (again)

An ear of rice and stars.

Beautiful symbols on the Myanmar/Burmese flag.

Though I doubt that survivors of the cyclone have much
time to contemplate or get philosophical about starry skies.
They are probably more concerned about the rice.

And the dead.

International offers of aid pour in but the current General and
his Junta are being difficult.

Military dictators always have so many things to hide.

General Than Shwe would like the aid but isn't so enthusiastic
about the aid workers. He may be right, first you get the aid
but then you find you got the CIA or some other intelligence
agency as well.

And Blackwater gets the monopoly on the contracts.

Thursday, 1 May 2008


In Manila, a woman cooks food scavenged from
restauarant garbage.

Photo Reuters April 25 2008

"A lot of scavengers sell recycled food that they segregate
from other waste. It's common practice around here."

Three out of ten Filipinos in a population of 88.57 million
live below a poverty line of $149 a month for a family of five.


The Fidelity Millionaire Outlook, a 2008 survey of 1000 people
with at least $1 million in assets to invest, reports that they, too,
are feeling the economic squeeze. 19% do not even consider
themselves wealthy.

Those with more than $10 million being the most pessimistic.

They're not sure where to invest their money to get the best returns.

Garbage bags, perhaps.

CNT FAI AIT Food Sector Union