Monday, September 15, 2014

Concepció Soriano, human tower builder in the Wall Street Journal

By Anna Murgadas. Originally published in Nació Digital. Republished here in English with permission.

Concepció Soriano (Barcelona, 1941) is a grandmother and a human tower builder, and member of the Castellers de Barcelona team. Her job as a human tower builder is to serve as a "plug", that is, to fill the holes that are left in the base of the tower between the radial spokes. As far in as they need her, she says. This September 11th, her picture went around the world as the image of Catalonia's National Day. She was one of the Wall Street Journal's photographs of the day.

Concepción Soriano holds a print out of her picture in the Wall Street Journal. Photo: S.C./Nació Digital

Did you imagine all this fuss? Who told you that this photograph had come out?
People were calling me all day on Friday, but I was very busy with my grandchildren since school hadn't started yet and I didn't pick up the phone. In the evening, when I got to Castellers practice, my team members were waiting for me in the street. I was very touched. Everyone was hugging and kissing me! It was really amazing, to tell the truth.

And when you saw the photograph, what did you think?
It made me really happy, but I'm just one of the people on the team...

But it's not just that you're the face of Barcelona's human tower building team, the Wall Street Journal chose you as the symbol of Catalonia's V for Vote demonstration!
Well, that makes me very proud at my age. I'm 73, I won't fool you. I called my son-in-law, who's studying in the US and who knows that country well. "Of course I know what paper it is!" he told me.

And how did you celebrate the day?
We were at the vertex of the V. I went with a friend to hold the banner for the Barça booster club, but I left her for a moment because they needed me for the tower. It was awesome, really nice. I hope we win! On November 8th, my daughter is getting married and it would make me really happy to go vote the next day.

Have you been part of the Castellers de Barcelona team for a long time?
No, no. About six years. Apart from being on the human tower team, I'm a volunteer, since the 92 Olympics. I made a lot of friends there who were human tower builders and after seeing them during the festivals so many years, I decided to join.

What's your job on the team?
I'm a plug, I fill in the holes that remain in the base of the tower [between the spokes], and since I'm really small, I can get really far in.

You also brought another member of your family to the team, a granddaughter...
Yes, when I went to practice, I brought her with me and she just played. But then I saw that she liked it, and she wasn't afraid, and pretty soon she was climbing pillars (one-person-per-storey towers). I signed her up but now she is six and I don't know if she'll want to keep doing it.

What did she say about the photo?
Oh, she just got home from vacation and hasn't seen it yet.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

V for independence

This article was written by Manuel Cuyàs in El Punt Avui. He kindly agreed to let me publish this translation here.


V for independence

I go into Barcelona to participate in the V demonstration, and after wandering about the Arc de Triomf for a few minutes, I find my cousins from Tarragona. I tease them: I thought you wouldn't miss the meeting of unionists in the amphitheater. The unionists hope to convert Tarragona into Àlaba, the most Spanish and castilianized of the Basque provinces, but seated in the stands of the amphitheater, they look much more like schoolchildren on a field trip. Afterwards, I find other cousins and acquaintances and also people I'm not acquainted with at all, as I make my way around the Born, the Fossar de les Moreres, Argenteria street, the Plaça de Sant Jaume, Ferran street, the Plaça Reial, and the Rambla.

People walking across Plaça Sant Jaume about 9:45am, Sept 11

Lots of red and yellow t-shirts in the metro

The impressive photographs of the V will overshadow these other, previous human compositions: people dressed in yellow and red filling restaurants at lunchtime, going in and out of cafés, walking up and down the streets. Today, if you get or give a shove to someone walking by, people are smiling instead of grumbling about where you think you're going. Everyone knows where they're going and is aware that the concentration that awaits them for the afternoon will involve lots of bumping into each other. There are a lot of us and we don't fit in Barcelona.

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A red Miquelet reenactor in the metroThe organization, the ANC and Òmnium Cultural, had said that at 4pm, one hour before the climax at 17:14h (5:14pm), everyone has to be in his or her place on the Gran Via and Diagonal. We must be the most disciplined people in the world because between half past three and quarter to four, all of us who had been wandering aimlessly around the streets begin heading to the meeting points.

We are moved by discipline and something more: appreciation for the organizers who had thought of everything and foreseen every possibility. We can’t let them down. To organize much less complicated things, others contract specialists and outside experts. The V requires a profusion of trains and buses, calculations, t-shirt sales, the willingness of men and women to form the four bars of our flag, all of which is the product of the work of many volunteers. I thought that waiting for an hour in the hot sun was going to be a drag, but I hadn't counted on my cousins, acquaintances and non-acquaintances who made it a breeze. Five, four, three, two, one... 17:14.

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The unanimous demand: "independence". Polls say that 75% of Catalans want to vote. Here, with almost 2 million people, that's 25% of the population. I don't know what the others—the ones who at that moment were at the beach, at home, or on a walk—plan to vote. The ones on the Gran Via and the Diagonal want to vote Yes for independence. The ones who simply don't want to vote were in Tarragona's amphitheater.

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Two older yellow t-shirted demonstrators in Gràcia after the demonstration

Monday, December 30, 2013

Catalan President New Year's Address

New Year's Address from Catalan President Artur Mas:

Fellow Catalans:

It is my pleasure to address you this holiday season, as I do traditionally every year, to send you a message of encouragement and confidence in our country and to wish you happy holidays. These are pleasant days, when we get to spend time with loved ones and friends in celebration together. These are days for community, for memories, and for good proposals for the future. These are also days in which we particularly note the loss of family and friends who have left us or who are far away.

To all those families who find themselves in these circumstances, or who are facing difficult and adverse situations, of suffering or sickness, I would like to especially send words of encouragement as well as the commitment that we are working as hard as we can so that all of the people in our country can lead a life of dignity.

The year we are about to begin, 2014, will be a year filled with symbolism. We will mark the three hundredth anniversary of the end of the War of Succession, the moment when Catalonia lost its privileges, its Constitutions, its institutions, and its liberties. Three centuries later, we celebrate almost a miracle: a people who might just as easily have disappeared not only continues to exist but is planning more forcefully than ever to win a great democratic and completely peaceful battle: that of freely deciding its future as a country, as a nation, and as a people.

Catalonia is a diverse and multicultural country, because of the origin of the people who live here, because of the languages that are spoken here, because of the myriad ways of thinking, because of the multitude of political and ideological options.

A diverse and multicultural country, which at the same time is capable of weaving great consensus like that which was demonstrated just a few weeks ago with the widely supported agreement on the referendum to be celebrated on November 9th of this coming new year.

I know that there will not be unanimity around this great challenge. There are political forces who are opposed and above all, people, our fellow citizens, who look on the process with worry, fear, and, indeed, opposition.

These are legitimate and respectable positions, as legitimate and respectable as those that see in this whole process the best way to construct a country worth having: for its modernity, its wellbeing, its sense of social justice, its civic responsibility, and its democratic quality.

Each and every position must be defended with respect and in a spirit of getting along together. To the extent that that depends on me, that will be so.

And beyond the individual position of each of us, it will be the votes at the polls that will have to decide and determine the proportions and the magnitude of the country's majorities and minorities.

There is nothing more democratic than doing it this way. Catalonia is a country with a long and deep democratic vocation, and therefore we must do it this way. Resolving big issues at the polls should provoke neither consternation nor fear, and it is obvious that our future and the relationship that we should have with Spain and with Europe is the very biggest of issues.

I want to take advantage of this New Year's message to ask the Spanish State to let us vote. That they listen to the voice of the Catalan People, and that they don't erect walls in order to silence us. That they let decide those who feel the need to decide.

Every nation implicitly has the right to decide its future. But for those who reject even this obvious fact, I will say that Catalonia has earned its right to decide. Catalans from yesterday and today have earned the right to decide their future because they have known how to maintain their identity, their culture, their language, and their rights alive, very often in the face of unjust laws and norms; they have earned the right to decide because they have known how to welcome and integrate millions of people from other territories of Spain and from farther off countries, demonstrating that Catalonia is a land where what is really important is the destiny that one seeks and not the origin from which one comes; and above all, that Catalans have earned the right to decide their future because they have known how to and indeed have insisted on keeping alive their will to govern themselves, in the face of all of the historical circumstances that tried to stop them and that now try to limit or lessen them.

In a word, the Catalan People prefers to govern itself and not be governed. And it wants to do so in a stronger, more united, more federal Europe.

We ask, therefore, that we be allowed to vote. And that the Spanish State doesn't see us as an adversary, and much less an enemy. We have been when we've been able, and we want to be now and in the future an ally, a good ally. But from a stance of freedom. Of our own free will. By being able to answer the question to which we have agreed on the date that we have agreed upon.

2014 will be, therefore, a year to remember history, people, and roots; but it will also be a year to decide the future and expand horizons.

The year that is now closing was the sixth of an economic recession that has caused real havoc. At the same time, it seems like we are finally on the come back. I trust that it will be so, and we will do all we can and all that we know in order to take advantage of the positive trend that we have gotten a glimpse of. The wounds created by the recession are very deep and therefore we cannot hope for instant miraculous cures. We will need time, perseverance, talent, and courage to recover and especially to look toward the future with a more solid foundation. The crisis has revealed many supposed truths by showing them to be mistakes, and even falsehoods, and much behavior from before is now rightly criticized and recriminated.

Many things are changing for the better. And many others must still change. I am confident that between us all, we will find the way to amend the errors that have been committed and to transform what we've learned into collective strengths and successes. Successes that should be shared as they occur with all of those people, fellow citizens, who have suffered from the blows and injustices of these last years.

We can't ever forget that the State that many demand for Catalonia, like any other State, is nothing more than an instrument at the service of the people and the country. That is, of the citizens.

I raise a toast symbolically to all of you for a 2014 full of light, opportunities, and hope.

Long live Catalonia!