Catalan Independence Declared

La Senyera Catalana. Barcelona, 2015
La Senyera Catalana. Barcelona


Yep, they did it. The Catalan government voted to declare independence.  

No one knows where this goes now. It’s all uncharted territory, as everyone is saying.

We could hear the sounds of the police helicopter overhead last night as enthusiastic Catalans gathered outside the Generalitat at the city’s center. The chopper was just keeping an eye in the sky on things, I guess.

Here are the likely key moves now from Madrid as Rajoy invokes Article 155:

–Dissolve the Catalan Parliament

–Remove and replace the Catalan President, Vice President, Chief of Police, Ministers, and perhaps other high officials of the Catalan government

–Call new elections for December 21st, 2017

As far as life on the street goes, it all seems pretty normal. I can still get my chocolate-filled croissants from the corner bakery, and I still plan on climbing at Montserrat on Sunday. It does look like there will be an anti-independence protest today and I am sure we will see more pro-independence protests at some point as well.

But, I wouldn’t expect any serious violence at all. Both the European Union and the Catalans don’t want that. The latter have always tried to keep this movement tranquil and peaceful over these past years, albeit with constant vocal and popular pressure against the central Spanish government.

There are really no guns around, so its not like there will be an armed insurrection any time soon and no one really expects anything like that. If you have plans to travel to Barcelona, I wouldn’t change them–just don’t step in between the police in riot gear and a crowd wrapped in Catalan flags if you happen upon such an unusual scene. Most anywhere you go you should be fine.

(Not-so-random factoid and violence comparison: Somewhere around 11,000 Americans are killed by guns every year–and there isn’t even a revolution going on there. Folks here cannot even begin to wrap their Mediterranean heads around that statistic and they figure America to be a way more dangerous place to visit.)

Review: La Foixarda Rock Climbing Tunnel, Barcelona

La Foixarda, #1. Barcelona, 2015
La Foixarda, #1. Barcelona, 2015


A climbing “tunnel”, you ask with incredulity?

Yes, indeedy, a tunnel.

It is located on Montjuic, in the city of Barcelona, in what was once a stone quarry. In fact, the stone to build the famous Santa María del Mar church came from this same quarry way back in the 14th century. The tunnel was a late 20th century addition built to access the area which now also includes a very pro rugby pitch and an indoor climbing gym, Climbat.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, before the 1992 Barcelona Olympic games, local climbers started to put up routes in the quarry walls as well as inside and on the ends of the concrete tunnel. In October of 2009, heavy rains caused a large collapse of the rock in the quarry, so the large sections of natural rock have been closed ever since.

Still, there is plenty here to play around on.

A few observations:

–It is pretty much all bouldering or sport climbing on very short (4 to 15 meters) routes. The low traverses are very popular and probably where you will start.

–You’ll likely find climbers here at just about any hour and any day of the week. You may even run into a possible climbing partner for a run out to one of the many nearby local crags.

–Being a tunnel, you can hang out and climb here even in inclement weather.

–They say there are some 80-90 possible climbs in and just outside of the tunnel, from 5a (5.7) to as hard as you like. You’ll find the route names and ratings in the little yellow squares here and there–if they haven’t been eroded beyond recognition. From the yellow box, climb straight up to the apex of the curved roof, then lower off the anchors.

–Most of the longer routes just outside the tunnel are on the artificial Disney-like cement that was used to cap and control the unstable natural rock beneath. Here, you will find glued-on and bolted gym holds as well as holds chipped directly into the concrete.

–With the passage of many, many feet over the decades, you’ll often find the holds polished down to a virtual verglas state–especially the foot holds on the low traverses along the 50-meter length of the tunnel. You will be using a lot more hand, finger and upper body than would normally be necessary otherwise.

–The “onda” is very grunge-urban with plenty of graffiti, the light noise of the passing traffic above, and the soundtrack beat from the odd portable boom box.

–For a completely different experience, try the Climbat climbing gym just a few hundred yards away on the same road.

For more… Click here for the photographic tour!

The Catalan Independence Referendum (or, “participation process”)

9 Nov Referendum. Barcelona, 2014
9 Nov Referendum. Barcelona, 2014

For three hundred years, many Catalans have been waiting and hoping for this day (9N, or the 9th of November). Today, they are going to the polls to answer two simple, but highly charged, questions:

1) Do you want Catalonia to be a State?  Yes or No

In the case of the affirmative…

2) Do you want this State to be independent?  Yes or No

For those unfamiliar with Catalan history, a little Googling will show you that Catalonia has had a very long history.

One of the first European Parliaments, the Corts Generals, was established in Catalonia in 1283. An independent spirit, representative government, economic ingenuity, and stubbornness, are all common Catalan historical threads that are deeply rooted. In fact, from the 12th to the 15th centuries, the Catalan empire, allied with Aragon, eventually spread across the Mediterranean as far as Greece.

The Catalans have their own language, literature,  and arts–and, today, a population of some 7.5 million (about the same as Switzerland). It is indeed a separate culture quite different from the “Spanish culture” advertised to the world under Franco’s regime–an artificial cultural view of Spain many today still might hold (you know, bullfights and flamenco…that sort of thing).

It was in 1714, when Catalonia cast their lot with the losing coalition in the War of the Spanish Succession, that they finally lost their independence and came under the control of the Bourbon Crown, which is still the symbolic ruling royal family of Spain today.

This vote brings up some interesting questions. To wit:

–Should culturally identifiable regions within a modern political State be allowed self-determination?

–Another way of saying it: What should take precedence…the will and political architecture of the unifying State, or the political aspirations of the people of certain regions of that State?

–What percent of the Catalan population will vote and will the vote be truly representative of all Catalans? (A high turn out is key to legitimacy.)

–Madrid considers the vote illegal, so if the Catalans overwhelmingly vote “Sí” in large numbers for independence, what will be the next steps from Madrid and from Barcelona?

–How much support from the European Union and the rest of the world does Catalonia have for independence?

–What will be the reaction of other sections of Spain with desires for independence, especially the Basque Country and Galicia.

–Will the recent Scottish referendum have any effect on how the Catalans vote? (The Scots said “No”, if you remember.)

All in all, an interesting situation. By this evening, we should know the outcome of the vote. After that, Catalonia and Madrid will both be pushing on into unknown political territory…or not.

POSTSCRIPT (after the vote)…The Results (rounded):

Yes-Yes  81%

Yes-No  10%

Yes-Blank 1%

No 4.5%

Blank 0.6%

Other 3%

An overwhelming expression of the will of the people? Perhaps. It could also very well be that the results are skewed as the most likely voters were those who enthusiastically support independence. Estimates of eligible voter participation range from 36-41%, which is unfortunate. Had, say, 60-80% of the electorate participated, with the above results, it would have been an even stronger statement for independence. What is the opinion of those who did not vote? What would be the result in a full-up, legal, max participation (or even obligatory) referendum? Those are the questions.

It will be interesting to see the next steps by the Catalan and Spanish leaders. Madrid will likely simply stall, refuse to make any changes, and hope it all goes away. The Catalans will surely step up the pressure.

Some selected images from a past independence demonstration in Barcelona (July 10, 2010):

The Crowd. Barcelona, 2010
The Crowd, #2. Barcelona, 2010
Two Women Wrapped in Flags. Barcelona, 2010
Two Women Wrapped in Flags. Barcelona, 2010
Young Protester, #11. Barcelona, 2010
Young Protester, #11. Barcelona, 2010
Young Protester. Barcelona, 2010
Young Protester, #8. Barcelona, 2010
Three Immigrant Teens. Barcelona, 2010
Three Immigrant Teens. Barcelona, 2010
Elderly Patriot. Barcelona, 2010
Elderly Patriot. Barcelona, 2010
Pop Paul Ja Ha Decidit. Barcelona, 2010 (The octopus, Paul, has decided. Now it's our turn.)
Pop Paul Ja Ha Decidit. Barcelona, 2010 (The octopus, Paul, has decided. Now it’s our turn.)
Teresa, María i Joan, #2. Barcelona, 2010
Teresa, María i Joan, #2. Barcelona, 2010

Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Primer Marqués de Dalí de Pubol

Dalí , Still Larger Than Life. Barcelona, 2013
Dalí , Still Larger Than Life. Barcelona, 2013

That would be Salvador Dalí (Dah-LEE, not DAH-lee) to you and me.

Not only was he a great artist, he was a great actor, too–in the sense that he most definitely worked hard to develop his very odd public persona.

The most notorious Dalí anecdote? How about the time he supposedly either handed his father a “loaded” condom or sent him a letter stained with his own sperm saying, “Now I owe you nothing.” (Did it really happen? I’m not completely sure, but it is a powerful commentary on their relationship as well as Dalí’s personality that he never denied it.)

He was the first painter who really fired up my imagination. Peruse his works and you might share my enthusiasm.

During my first long visit to Europe, in 1983, I went to a Dalí exhibition in Barcelona and had my mind thoroughly blown. The guy was actually still alive then (though not in very good mental or physical shape, after Gala’s death). Maybe I should of trundled off to Figueres and knocked on his door? (I was also in Yosemite when Ansel Adams was still alive and never knocked on his gallery door either–ah, the missed opportunities of life.)

To see Dalí’s amazing work:

–There is a permanent exhibition at the Palau Pignatelli in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona.

–The very best experience is a trip to the Dalí Theater-Museum in Figueres, maybe an hour by high-speed train from Barcelona.

Oh, and Happy Dia dels Reis Mags!

Bon Nadal als nostres amics catalans!

Galet Gigant. Barcelona, 2009
Galet Gigant. Barcelona, 2009

December in Catalunya, 2009, on La Rambla near the Port de Barcelona…This was when I had a chance encounter with a giant (3-feet tall), plastic, illuminated representation of a large noodle that is a traditional ingredient in the Catalan soups of their Christmas season. It’s called a “galet”, which literally means “elbow-shaped” or “snail-shaped” or “pebble” or “form of a container” or, well, many other things in Catalan, although the actual noodles they stuff, cook and eat look kind of like sea shells to me.

The huge galet in the image above was placed on the pedestrian walkway across from the wax museum by the City as a holiday decoration and certainly was “gigant”, or giant! For a fun link, go here for pictures and explanations of the giant Barcelona street galets, including a shot of what looks like the very galet I found on La Rambla back in 2009. Then, to stimulate your appetite, go here for a two-minute video on how to make an awesome sopa de galets–ironically, narrated in Madrid-style Spanish rather than in Catalan despite it being a Catalan tradition.

I made the above image at night with an older 6mp DSLR, handheld, and with a lens that is generally known as middling quality, entry-level, walk-around glass (a Nikkor 18-200 zoom). I had to brace myself as best I could and boost the ISO a bit–and I made several captures to ensure one would come out sharp.

I like the abstract form, the rough texture with what look like ribs, and the warm color palette that came from the interior lighting and the colorful hue of the plastic galet itself. I don’t think it matters whether you know what it is or not–I think it works as it is as a simple abstract. And…I could easily get an acceptable 13×19 print from this file, which means that piles of megapixels and expensive equipment are not always necessary in the creative process (depending of course on the type of image you are making). Even today’s iPhone would probably have been adequate for this particular capture.

So, here’s wishing all of my Barcelona friends, family, and Galvesport cycling buddies a happy holiday season–enjoy your sopa de galets (we certainly miss it!) and have an extra helping de part nostra! Bon Nadal (Merry Christmas!)


Vaig néixer a la Mediterrània, 2012
Vaig néixer a la Mediterrània, 2012

One thing you can do to push your personal frontier as a photographer is to experiment. If you are a landscape photographer, try doing a sit-down portrait of your significant other or a friend. If you are a studio photographer, try doing an abstract landscape. Never done macro? Borrow a macro lens and give it a try. Or, pick a lens you never shoot with and go out on the street and see what you can do. Or how about shoot with nothing but a standard 50mm focal length lens for a week?

When I first began to use a post-processing program, someone gave me the suggestion of pushing those sliders all the way to either extreme just to see what they did and what would happen before settling back to the actual desired effect. Although I never used the sliders at their extremes, it was a great learning experience. If you desire, you can really push your frontiers by tweaking those sliders in strange combinations to come up with some really wild and bizarre images. (Try going every which way with color balance, contrast, hue, and saturation, for example.)

For most folks the image above is not too wild and over the top, however, for me it was an experiment as I am not much of a portrait photographer and I don’t usually overmanipulate my images. However, I wanted to try to capture the deep blue of my wife’s eyes in a unique way and how they reflect the azure of the Mediterranean Sea beside which she was born and raised. I started with a telephoto shot in natural light of just her eyes then converted the image to high key monochrome using the Nik Silver Efex Pro plug-in. I cropped the image tightly and ended up with dimensions I don’t normally use. I left the eyes with color and added some contrast, vibrance and saturation to bring them out even more. The experiment was fun and I like the end result–it has printed well at about 30×12 inches–and I think it does actually make one think of Catalunya and the Mediterranean Sea (well, OK, IMHO!).

As you play around, you will undoubtedly find ways of making images that absolutely do not appeal to you…or, on the other hand, you might actually discover a personal style that really does appeals to you. The idea is to learn and grow as an artist and photographer.

So, what are you waiting for–go out and try something completely different!

Catalunya: A New Country?

Young Catalan Protester
Young Catalan Protester. Barcelona, 2010

My wife, being a native Catalana from the city of Barcelona, that portion of what is now northeastern Spain and southern France is near and dear to our hearts. Barcelona is very much like our second home. The Catalans have their own language (and no, it is NOT Castellano!) and a culture and history very distinct from the rest of Spain.

Now, if you have paid any attention at all to European news you know that the economy across the pond is not doing very well–especially in Ireland, Greece, Italy, and now Spain. This has pushed the Catalan population to shout much louder for their independence. Catalunya, being the most productive region of Spain, feels that they are being taken advantage of by the rest of the country.

So, this past September 11th, on the anniversary of Catalunya’s loss of independence in 1714, well over a million Catalans took to the streets calling for separation from Spain.

Now to the photography. This link takes you to a spectacular 360-degree, zoomable image (not mine, it’s from The Telegraph via the La Vanguardia newspaper, I believe) of one such mass demonstration and starts with a performance by one of the traditional castellers, or human castle groups of Catalunya:

Above, I have inserted one of my own images from a similar demonstration for independence in 2010 when we were living in Barcelona.

So, what will happen now to Catalunya? Will the government in Madrid let them go without a fight, political or otherwise? Will that mean separation for the Basque Country, too? Can we see the future in the eyes of this young Catalan protester? Will he grow up in a Catalunya separate from Spain? Time will tell.