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Welcome to Catalonia’s most pro-independence town

The translator of "Harry Potter" and a Congolese priest are but some of the 2,200 residents in the Catalan town of L'Esquirol, the region's most enthusiastically separatist town.

Welcome to Catalonia's most pro-independence town
People buy vegetables and fruits at a street market close to the church's bell tower decorated with a Catalan flag in the Catalan village of l'Esquirol. Photo: AFP

And they are determined to vote in an independence referendum in Catalonia slated for October 1st deemed illegal by Madrid.

During Catalonia's last regional election in 2015, pro-separatist parties captured 91.6 percent of the vote in L'Esquirol, which is nestled in the middle of corn fields some 90 kilometres (55 miles) north of Barcelona and is home to around 2,200 people.

That compares to the 47.6 percent of the vote which the parties won overall in Catalonia, a wealthy northeastern region of Spain with its own language.   

At lunchtime last week, at the popular “Rovi” snack bar the newscast on Catalonia's regional TV station opens with a “macro police operation” carried out in Barcelona to stop the referendum which included the arrest of 14 top Catalan government officials.

“They want to scare us. But the more they complicate the task, the more we want to vote,” the 54-year-old manager of the bar, Juan Rovira, who goes by the name Johnny, said before calling out: “Everyone to the polls!”.

“In your village, you are at home, you don't hurt anyone by expressing yourself by voting. And after if they say 'It is a vote that does not count' we will see,” he added.

If the “Yes” side wins the referendum which has been deemed unconstitutional by the courts, Catalonia's pro-separatist government has said it will start working towards the establishment of an independent Catalan
republic.

'In our DNA'

In L'Esquirol, which means “the squirrel” in Spanish, even the church's bell tower is decorated with a red and yellow Catalan flag and signs calling for a “Yes” vote in the referendum decorate many of its stone houses.

“In central Catalonia, outside of big cities, it is not extraordinary that people vote for independence,” said L'Esquirol mayor Alex Montanya, 43, a leftist separatist.

“For us, independence is already there. No one has taught us it, it's in our DNA, we just want to govern ourselves.”    

He is one of over 700 Catalan mayors — out of a total of 948 — who has been threatened with criminal prosecution for agreeing to provide facilities to hold the referendum.

Asked what he would do if police come to the town hall on referendum day, Montaya said: “It will not happen.”

“A policeman would be powerless against the unshakeable will of the people. It's a matter of faith.”

The “Rovi” is full of pensioners who play cards and grumble against Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party (PP) which they complain could remain in power eternally despite being tainted by a series of corruption scandals.

Support for the PP is marginal in Catalonia, capturing just 13 percent of the vote in the last general election in 2016. It got just 33 votes in L'Esquirol.

Resentment

Among the town's separatists is Xavier Pamies, 58, who is best known among locals for having translated J.K. Rowling's popular “Harry Potter” books into Catalan even though he has also translated other British, French and Portuguese authors.

He said support for independence soared after Spain's Constitutional Court in 2010 struck down parts of a 2006 Catalan autonomy statute that granted the region more powers even though “feelings of Catalanism and resentment towards centralist Spain have existed for decades.”

“The constant discriminations on the part of Spain towards my country (Catalonia) have logically increased my desire to break away,” he told AFP.  

He cited as examples “attacks on the Catalan language and education system”, “the lack of investment in infrastructure” and “fiscal injustice”.  

“We could have reached an agreement if Madrid's response (to Catalan demands) had not always been 'no' and we would not be where we are now if we had organised a legal referendum, even if it was in the entire country,” Pamies said.

'Dictatorship'

Even the town's Roman Catholic priest, Pol Badibanga, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, preaches the cause of the independence movement.  

“The people act with non-violence. They are not going to send soldiers to prevent voting, that would be a dictatorship,” the 50-year-old said.  

Like in the rest of Catalonia, all subjects at L'Esquirol's primary school are taught in Catalan.

But at a nearby cafe terrace nine alumni of the school, a group of men and women aged 18-30 who are all in favour of independence, complain that in 2012 Spain's education ministry wanted to “Spanishize” Catalan students.

One of them, Albert Tarres, 25, who works at a pig slaughterhouse, said Madrid “will not solve anything though prohibitions or arrests.”

“It causes more and more anger,” he added.

By Laurence Boutreux / AFP

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CATALONIA

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain

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