Readers of this adventure travel blog may have noticed that I've been quiet over the last month.
From the death of my sweet brother a few weeks ago to the political unrest continuing in Catalunya, it just hasn't felt right to write up our many travel adventure stories... though we do have so many more adventures to share.
Every time I see a photo of one of my kids beaming from ear to ear while splashing in a gorgeous lake or enjoying gelato in an ancient city I get that sinking feeling of, "Why do I deserve to be lucky when so many people are suffering?" or "Why do I get to travel the world with gorgeous, healthy kids while my brother had such tragic luck?"
However, as much as it sometimes feels wrong, the world has continued to turn. Every morning the sun continues to shine, and we are still here.
A lot is happening here in Barcelona right now. Here is the update, told from the limited perspective of outsiders; interlopers. (We so love our life here, but we know deep down that no matter how long we might stay we will never be 'native'.)
If you were to pick up an international newspaper today, you'd read headlines about 750,000 Catalan citizens protesting in Barcelona yesterday. They are upset about the arrests of nine of their regional government leaders, eight of whom are still jailed in Madrid.
A massive flood of impassioned humanity took to the streets yesterday night in our beautiful city, chanting and singing, and listening to speeches about Catalan history and peace. Family members of the political prisoners read aloud texts they'd sent from jail. Also read aloud was this text from exiled Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, currently in Belgium:
"Your light reaches us in Brussels and illuminates the road we have to continue traveling. You are our strength."
Barcelona streets were filled with protestors yesterday illuminating the dark, chilly November night with bright lights flooding from their cell phones. Many photos and videos taken from above during the manifestation reveal that it looked much like a sparkling sea of white light moving in the midst of blackness.
What you can't see is that it was terribly cold here last night, with a biting wind that cut right through thick jackets. All of these people left their cozy homes to protest on the streets warmed only by their shared fury.
As someone who has lived in this beautiful place for nearly a year and a half, it is impossible to witness firsthand this kind of spirit and passion, and not be moved with some kind of emotion.
"What the Spanish government is doing right now is unimaginable," frowns Enric, a Catalan friend from the gym. "I am not Independista, my family is very Spanish. However, putting these politicians in jail is not right! It reminds me too much of our history and the days of living under Franco. This is a stain on our history."
"The situation is ridiculous," a British friend who has lived and worked in Catalunya for 27 years confided recently. "Taking political prisoners and holding them without bail in a so-called democracy is ridiculous. Yet nobody in the world is talking about it! Nobody in Europe is talking about it. No matter how you feel about the independence movement, pro OR con, jailing these people is simply wrong!"
She then went on to tell me that while British to the core, her heart is with Catalunya.
"I am not Spanish," she confided. "I am British. I would never, never give up my British passport. My family are there. But the people who have welcomed me and filled my life for 30 years... they are Catalan. I truly love the Catalan people. This is my home."
Since she is not a Spanish citizen, my friend cannot vote. She has no voice whatsoever in what's happening all around her... to her... and possibly to her job!
"What about the three quarters of a million expatriates living in Barcelona?" asked our German doctor friend rhetorically, on another recent night. "We cannot vote. We cannot express ourselves. Yet, we live here. We work here. Our jobs are on the line. We pay taxes and raise our children. We contribute! Everything happening affects us keenly."
This is a common theme right now.
My twelve year old son, The Scientist, tells me that one of his best friends at school may now have to move to Italy next year with his family. The father's company may relocate their headquarters there due to unrest in Barcelona.
My boy feels so sad and frustrated about this turn of events. He's finally made some great friends in Spain and now the closest one he has here could be leaving. It's amazing how adult politics can rip apart two twelve year old buddies, who would have spent some quality time growing up together. These kids are caught up as innocent bystanders in a political war.
"I don't want him to go, Mom," The Scientist sighs with a deep crease in the center of his forehead. "It's not fair."
Our Brazilian friends are in the same boat.
My friend Beatriz* confided to me on Friday that her husband's company is waiting for a few months to see what happens with the upcoming vote in December and with the protests... but that if this situation continues, it will relocate to Madrid next year.
"It's so sad," she shared quietly, "because we were planning to buy a house and raise our children here. We really like it in Barcelona. But now everything is undecided. So, we will wait and see. Maybe we will go."
There is so much sympathy given publicly to those who favor independence, but I have not heard the Catalan politicians yet addressing the needs and hopes of all of the millions of people here who are being disenfranchised by this unstable situation that continues to unfold right in front of their eyes.
It's so hard to say what will happen next. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called for new elections in Catalunya on 21 December, to create a new government. The 24 million dollar question is this: What if the Catalan people vote, again, for an independista government? What if a majority of voters - this time in full accord with Spanish law - again select officials who favor independence?
What will Rajoy and the EU do then? It will thrust everyone into a real pickle.
Catalan President Puigdemont is banking on that possibility. He fled to Belgium shortly after he declared Catalan independence and the Spanish government enacted Article 155, taking over the Catalan government.
With a small group of fellow leaders, Puigdemont traveled to Belgium to request a fair trial which he felt he could not receive in Spain.
Orders for their arrest have been issued by the Spanish supreme court and they are each accused of embezzlement, sedition and rebellion. Puigdemont turned himself in voluntarily to the government of Belgium, and gave them his passport. He has been released on bail in Belgium while a Belgian judge decides whether to execute the Spanish arrest warrant.
Meanwhile many other Catalan government officials were indeed arrested and put in a Madrid jail without bail.
One of them, Carme Forcadell (now the former president of the Catalan Parliament) had to pay 150,000 euros this week to make bail and secure her own release from the prison of Alcalá Meco in Madrid. Her passport has been taken by the Spanish government and she must report weekly to a Catalan court, or before the Supreme Court if a date is named. Her bond was paid by the National Association of Catalunya (ANC) with money from a 'solidarity fund'.
Lawyers for some of the jailed politicians say that by fleeing Spain and heading to Belgium, Puigdemont has put their clients in a tough position and made it harder to argue their cases. "Now Spain can effectively argue in court that without prison, our clients are a flight risk," they explain. "Every day Puigdemont stays in Belgium makes things harder for the others in prison."
Certainly, this is complex.
It is likely that Puigdemont will be on the ballot in the 21 December election, working from abroad to be re-elected as president of Catalunya. I can only imagine the kind of chaos this may create, if it actually happens.
For months now our family has tried hard to stay neutral through all of this. We have many friends on both sides of the issue - adults and children. We admire and respect them all, and see their differing points of view.
Yet we have also been personally affected by the political climate here in Barcelona in many ways.
Here is a small example. Last Wednesday our kids could not go to school due to a strike. The strike was not supposed to affect the local schools, which were open for the day. However because there were protests all over Catalunya that affected the transportation systems, the children could not physically arrive at class.
"I really need to go to school today Mom," The Scientist insisted. "I have a math exam!"
Yet he waited for over an hour in the morning standing at the metro station to get on a train to school and though there was a train sitting right in front of him the whole time, it never left. Finally he gave up in dismay and came home to study.
Later we learned that protestors had physically seated themselves on train tracks all over the city, making it impossible for the trains to run. In fact, so they did this all over Catalunya and even on the tracks around Barcelona's major trains station, Estació de Sants, thereby disrupting regional and international train travel as well.
My husband planned to drive the other two children to their school, since their normal bus service had been halted for the day. When he looked at Google Maps in the morning though, every freeway was a sea of red. Cars were not moving at all. The wait in any direction lasted hours. He tried to take the kids to school by train, but as I mentioned before, the trains were not running.
At last, they left the station and consoled themselves with chocolate croissants on the way home.
I'd had three appointments scheduled that day, and had to walk for over an hour to get to one of them. At my doctor's office a woman came in urgently with a medical emergency (kidney stones) and the poor thing couldn't take either a subway or taxi due to the strike! I tried to imagine that poor lady walking in agony to receive emergency medical help and it made me feel angry on her behalf.
Our kids were so bored and miserable at home, wishing to be at school with their friends and teachers. By 3pm all five of us felt full to the brim with frustration.
"I just want to go to SCHOOL, Mommy!" sighed Little Angel. "We were supposed to have swimming today!"
"I just wish things would go back to NORMAL!" agreed Soccer Dude.
"We completely understand." I exchanged a look with their dad, who was trying to get a little work done on the computer. "We both wish it was a normal day too."
Of course, these are small inconveniences and we have no right, really, to feel angry or upset. It isn't our country or our political history, and we are not the ones who will have to live with the results for the next several hundred years. California is just a flight away, anytime we decide we need a break from all of this.
So we try to breathe and roll with it, appreciating all of the amazing things about living in Catalunya during this unusual time in its history.
It's a credit to the city and its calm, measured police force that these massive, million-person protests can go off twice a week without violence or injuries... or even major arrests of the protestors.
Even more, it's a credit to the strength and goodness of ALL the Catalan people (both independistas and pro-Spanish unity) that they can wear their hearts on their sleeves in front of the news cameras of the world like this, and continue to try to keep a positive attitude when so much around them feels uncertain and unknown.
They wake up, go to work, take care of their families, and then go to protest for what they believe in. You have to admire that kind of passion and grit.
What will happen? We have no sense of it. As foreigners we try only to understand what is happening around us. Every day we ask questions, seek more information, and try to learn from the people we meet.
Day by day, along with the rest of the world, we wait to see how all of this tumult will end.
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