This collage essay begins with a culinary kernel: I begin with a modest dish from the region of Catalonia in Spain, and I end with its recipe. In between, I piece together dry and boring research on its gastronomic history, slightly less dry history on the Catalans more generally, stories of their culture, impressions from travel, musings on art, detours on linguistics, questions of identity, and finally also a long political excoriation. There is no grand narrative and no real thesis I have to offer. That’s why it’s a collage.
Note: portions of this essay concern the recent independence referendum in Catalonia. If the reader is unfamiliar with this event, it is recommended to read this New York Times article or this Guardian explanation for background.
Our recipe will be a simple Catalan dish: truita amb samfaina. Truita is the Catalan name for an egg omelette, particularly a Spanish omelette (called a tortilla in Castillian Spanish), which resembles a thick disc of egg and potato. The reader may be more familiar with the more famous French omelette, which is flat, consists primarily of beaten eggs, and, in the traditional techniques, requires gently slapping the handle of your pan—Jacques Pépin insists—which looks stupid but is fairly effective. The Spanish omelette, by contrast, uses potatoes that are combined with the beaten eggs; there is still an artful approach to flipping the omelette, however.
Omelettes are an old family of recipes and were often a common food for the poor, in part because eggs are a cheap and sustainable form of protein. There are plenty theories and legends over the genesis of the Spanish omelette recipe, and many of these have a similar folk premise: an intrepid cook attempts to solve the problem of how to feed several people with only a few eggs and a couple potatoes. These oral stories might very well be true, certainly the premise is reasonable, and the legends of the singular cook inventing such a dish ought to be taken as a general explanation of how many recipes from the peasant classes are born.
I would posit another potential vector of origin: the New World. For one, the potato is native to Incan territories in South America and was a common food therein. Moreover, we know that the Incans prepared omelettes: in a letter dated 1520, the conquistador Hernán Cortés remarks that the Incans were selling egg omelettes in the markets. It seems entirely possible to me that the Incans would combine the potatoes and eggs into one dish. If indeed that were the case, it would also be likely that the dish would have been transmitted across the Atlantic, back to Spain, along with the potato.
On the Catalan language
At the height of the Roman empire, Roman garrisons were spread from Scotland to Egypt, from Iberia (Spain) to Iberia (Georgia). Vulgar Latin, the great linguistic begetter, was not the language of any recently conquered land or people, but rather of the language of these soldiers, and as both the administrative state and trading markets of the Roman Empire would build up in an area, so too would the use of Vulgar Latin. Because of this, today, its descendants form the dominant language family throughout France, Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula, with the last few holdouts in Basque country and Brittany slowly but surely being converted to the Romance family.
Despite obvious similarities, the Catalan language comes from a slightly different branch of Romance languages (Gallo-Romance) than Spanish (Ibero-Romance). This divergence of Catalonia from Spain and toward France has not just linguistic but also historical roots; for example, in the early medieval period, most of Iberia—but not Catalonia—was under Moorish rule. Catalonia was instead aligned with the Frankish regions of Provence and Septimania (both part of greater Occitania). The Carolingian Franks essentially made Catalonia an independent buffer region, called the Spanish March, between their territory and the Moors.
Catalan today is not just spoken in Catalonia. The Spanish regions of Valencia and the Balearic Islands also speak Catalan, as do many in French Catalonia, surrounding the city of Perpignan. Andorra holds Catalan as an official language. The catalanophone city of Alghero in Sardinia also has a curious and interesting history. The language itself is very close to Occitan, which was historically widespread throughout Southern France, though it is less common today.
The delineations between languages within branches can be quite fuzzy. Occitan (from Occitania) and Catalan were not always two separate languages, so much as two areas on a linguistic spectrum. There were hundreds of local dialects that spanned that spectrum, such that the idea of clearly separated languages was not possible. However, Occitan dialects and prevalence of spoken Occitan have been successfully reduced by an aggressively hegemonic French culture and French state. Nascent Catalan nationalism in the past couple centuries has also reduced local variations in Catalan dialects, as it intends to create and foster the idea of a singular and literate Catalan language. Thus, now we can view Catalan and Occitan as more distinct languages than centuries ago, albeit with one language that is resurging and one that is continuing its decline. The French turned out to be more effective at stamping out local cultures.
On Caga Tió
One of the best Christmas traditions comes from Catalonia with Tió de Nadal. The tió (log) comes from the family of yuletide rituals involving logs that can be found throughout Europe. The significance of the log is usually derived from pre-Christian traditions, where logs represent the hearth and giving warmth in the winter. Logs, and the fire and smoke they created, were also central to rituals in pagan times. Thus the original preparation of the Tió de Nadal custom can be easily understood through this lens: the tió was originally to be nourished and kept warm with a blanket for a few weeks until Christmas eve; then on Christmas day, it was burned and the ashes ceremonially cast on the fields.
Today, it becomes a children’s tradition, with the children specifically tasked with making sure the tió is comfortable through the period, usually by maintaining his blanket and feeding him torró (nougat), nuts, orange peel, et cetera. On Christmas Eve, after feeding Caga Tió for the previous weeks, the children are supposed to assault Caga Tió by hitting him with sticks to force him to defecate gifts. It turns out that the children do not help Caga Tió during the previous weeks without reason, they want him to be comfortable enough to shit out good gifts for them. There’s even a variety of songs to sing to instruct Caga Tió what kind of gifts he should be shitting. Strangely, Catalan Christmas tradition doesn’t just include logs that shit: traditional Catalan nativity scenes also include a caganer, a defecating man.
On seny and rauxa
In Catalan folklore, two important aspects of the Catalan spirit are seny and rauxa. Seny is both etymologically and in meaning related to “sense”: it is conscientiousness and judiciousness. It represents a sort of Christian wisdom that is promoted by Catalan tradition. Its foil is rauxa, or emotional rashness. Despite the phonetic similarity between rauxa and rash, I cannot find evidence that they share a recent etymology: rauxa from Latin and rash from Old High German.
On Catalan independence (a rant), Part 1:
The incoherence of self-determination
I’ll introduce my rant with my conclusion: the current Catalan independence movement is an embarrassment. I don’t mean that is an embarrassment because of its reasons; the motivations behind the movement range from understandable to unconvincing to unintelligent, but I have no personal stake in their fight. I mean it because the actions, behaviors and expectations of those involved have descended into farce. If I were to pen an absurdist novel on a fictional separatist movement (this might go on the to-do list), I would still be unlikely to plumb the depths of inanity on display by both Catalan and Spanish leaders during 2017 and mercilessly continuing into 2018. The saying goes that truth is stranger than fiction, but in this case truth is dumber than fiction—though these days, this far from being unique to Catalonia. Before lambasting their behavior, however, I would like the lambast a major framework behind which questions of sovereignty are often approached in Western media, culture, and superficial political analysis.
National sovereignty has two phases: de facto (in practice) and de jure (by law). Armed revolution is one historical tool to establish de facto sovereignty, though it is certainly not the only tool. However, violence cannot work alone for de jure sovereignty. Instead, de jure sovereignty comes from establishing an international consensus in your favor; this often boils down to geopolitical influence and interests, especially in the postwar international order that is dominated by superpowers. Achieving this consensus could come in different ways: for one, the stakes could be so particular that all major powers see an interest in a new sovereign nation; or the oppression of the parent state could be so grotesque as to genuinely grant a moral consensus; or the parent state could acquiesce (often by granting a referendum). None of these are easily attained and for good reason.
And what of the “right” to self-determination? Don’t the Catalan people have a right to self-determination? After all, such a right is enshrined by UN covenants, ratified by most nations on Earth: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Amusingly, taken at face value, such an article implies a very anarchist or libertarian sentiment: the idea that communities have the right to self-organize without others interceding, and that self-organization should be allowed to shift without impediment as the peoples’ conceptions of their own status shifts. Pretty anarchist stuff, that. However, one can be fairly certain the UN did not mean the ICCPR as an anarchist manifesto, so I will have to interpret that their call for self-determination is a poorly constructed generalization from the liberal democratic values of the natural rights of man.
However, we should not ignore the nonsense enshrined in this notion of self-determination. International law and international relations literatures have several arguments and clarifications on this notion, but this does not bring much vindication: the convincing arguments are the criticisms, not the defenses. For one, the right of self-determination is riddled with paradoxes. One such obvious paradox is the determination part. “A people freely determine their political status”… the way this is written suggests that the people of Andorra could hold a referendum and become a part of Spain, even if the Spanish people (and state) rejected such wishes. That is absurd. So, clearly what advocates are trying to suggest is the right to self-governance, if they had the clarity of mind to use the right term. I’ll be charitable and simply refer to this instead.
To support the right to self-governance, we have to have a suitable definition of a “people” that not only resolves the practicalities of such a right, but also the obvious issue of the boundaries of determining self-governance. I’ll be Socratic. Even if we accept the premise, that the Catalan multitude desires independence: who is Catalonia? Just residents of the Spanish region? Must they be current Spanish citizens? Can the French Catalonians join in the referendum? What about those of fellow catalanophone Valencia? If this sounds like I am reaching with these questions, there is a branch of Catalan separatists who think these other historically Catalan communities should join in.
What if the citizens of Barcelona do not want to separate; do they have a right to reject self-governance, or are they bound to the will of the whole? What if two separate peoples desire self-governance on overlapping territory? Do we allow exclaves? What happens to national sovereignty? Do states lose the right to control their borders? Clearly, we need to resolve not only the “people” dimension but also the territorial.
And even resolving the definitions properly would only raise the practical concerns: what if the motivations for self-governance are duplicitous, such as to gain total control over a natural resource or strategic waterway? At what level of support is sovereignty reached? A simple majority? A super-majority? In one moment, or through many moments? If only one moment of simple majority, that obviously raises the risk of hot flashes of public sentiment creating permanent effects. This principle of self-governance only includes unilateral fragmentation of nation-states or bilateral unification. This is asymmetric. Can an international order remain stable under rights which favor increased degeneration of the nation state?
Individually, each of those questions may be easily answered. In aggregate, they cannot, at least not without embracing a radically different political order: Êtes-vous un anarchiste? While the international community may be criticized for not holding a consistent standard toward this issue of separatist sovereignty, it appears that such a standard may not even exist.
The Catalan independence movement endeavors to appeal to historical roots, to economic arguments, to romantic imagery, to claims of being wronged by some Spanish court in 2010; these carry little substance in reality. The resolution for independence is, as before, that de jure sovereignty comes through international consensus. If you are an independence movement in a globally significant country like Spain, getting this consensus is extremely difficult, perhaps close to impossible. However, no external power is convinced because of these minor internal squabbles, or the disdain toward paying taxes, or that the Principality of Catalonia backed the wrong side in the War for Spanish Succession.
The Spanish Constitution of 1978 allows for amendments that could be undertaken to create greater autonomy or referenda. Theoretically, you could imagine a skilled Catalan leader working over the next couple decades to get support in other regions for changing the constitution to allow negotiations for separation or, more likely, stronger devolution. The modern Spanish republic is relatively young, which might have helped this fictional Catalan leader to argue for reform. This is obviously not easy, or even likely, but we can look to Scotland for one example of a region skillfully managing the politics to achieve such a referendum. Conversely, establishing de facto independence through violence would be almost impossible, just ask the ETA in the Basque region. In any case, I imagine the current crop of Catalan separatists are not terribly skilled with a rifle.
The reality is thus: the movement for Catalan sovereignty could only succeed through shrewd strategy and advocacy over a long period of time. It would need to be led by talented and patient leaders who constrain the emotional missteps of other nationalist movements. In essence, its leaders need plenty of the Catalan value of seny. Instead, they are filled with its foil, rauxa. They have proven to be clowns who prefer naïve shortcuts that just create chaos.
On Hans Christian Andersen’s impression first entering Barcelona in 1862
We passed through wide streets, with buildings like palaces, to the crowded promenade ‘La Rambla’; the shops were brilliantly lighted, all was bustle and life… From the adjacent streets came the pleasant, lively sound of castanets. I could not go to sleep, although I was anxious to do so, in order that I might rise very early to see by daylight this, to me, foreign town—Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia… Early in the morning I was awoke by music, there were people from the town and people from country hurrying along; clerks and shopkeepers’ assistants on food, peasants on their mules; light carts empty, wagons and omnibuses; noise and clamor, cracking of whips, tinkling of the bells and brass ornaments which adorned the horses and the mules; all mingling, crying, making a noise together… There was so much to be seen. Where was I to begin, and where to end, on the Rambla, the Boulevard of Barcelona?”
-Hans Christian Andersen in In Spain and a Visit to Portugal 
The above passage comes from the Danish author H.C. Andersen’s overlooked travelogue into Iberia in 1862; it is an intriguing read, though I sense throughout the book that he might be embellishing his accounts for dramatic effect.
As in some other European cuisines, Catalan cuisine includes certain canonical “base” sauces. For instance, one might be familiar with sofrito (sofregit in Catalan), a famous base sauce throughout Iberia and Latin America. Samfaina is another such base in Catalan cuisine, a stewed sauce made from tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and perhaps other vegetables such as zucchini or garlic. It is not a dish to eat on its own, but rather one added to other dishes, often meat or fish. We will be adding it to our truita.
As is often the case, the history of the dish is a bit hard to pin down. Very similar dishes exist throughout the world and the Western Mediterranean. Most famous is ratatouille from the Provence in France, not least of which because a titular rat from a Pixar film is so named. But further, there is the similar alboronia dish in Andalusia, caponata in Sicily, ciambotta in Southern Italy, and others. Adding this to an egg dish, as we will do, even recalls the popular North African dish shakshouka. This suggests there is a common lineage of these dishes that spread around the region long ago.
Reviewing various Catalan sources and an informative essay by Anthony Buccini, a sketch of the evolution of samfaina can be broadly seen. Tomatoes, bell peppers, and zucchini were vegetables taken from the New World; eggplant taken from the Asia. As a whole, these ingredients would take a long time to become popular in the literate classes, so their early use among the peasants is poorly documented, but it is certain that the poor classes were using them. Anthony Buccini in the aforementioned essay suggests that Gypsies in Andalusia are a potential origin for the class of cuisine: Gypsies had small communities that linked cities and villages from Seville through Southern France, and they would be a natural social vector for such peasant recipes to quickly spread.
On Ferran Adrià and elBulli
Though it closed several years ago, elBulli holds a mythical status in the world of high-end restaurants. Located in the town of Roses in Catalonia, it won best restaurant awards for several years, and for over a decade held three Michelin stars. The key man behind its success and renown was head chef Ferran Adrià, an interesting figure even if you are not interested in haute cuisine.
Adrià has a mad genius approach to cooking, not only using wild combinations of ingredients, but also reinventing methods to cook and serve food. He would make foams from carrots, pearls from lobsters, spheres from olives, all in a kitchen that resembled a laboratory, a style of cooking often (though controversially) referred to as “molecular gastronomy.” He would take traditional cooking techniques and flip the processes on their head and reinvent them. And he very rarely repeated things: thousands of dishes were created, and creative sessions were vital to his daily regime.
Uniquely for a celebrity chef, Adrià has achieved international fame without popularizing himself through any cheap television shows. He is now mostly involved in various educational and creative endeavors, though even after reading several articles and interviews with him about them, they don’t seem to be very clear. But creativity and research were always a vital part of elBulli, so there might be some end to it.
A line from him in a New York Times interview sums up his ethos: “you don’t have to be passionate to be creative; you can just be professional about innovation”. While I described him as a mad genius earlier, perhaps “mad scientist” would be more accurate as he is methodical, scientific and professional. But he’s still a bit mad. From the same interview:
As [Adrià] walked, he riffed on a few of the various questions he had spewed earlier in the day: What is an iPhone? What is technology? What is lettuce? ‘It took me eight months to understand this,’ he said, referring to the lettuce. He was not kidding.”
On Catalan independence (a rant), Part 2:
The inchoate coalition for Catalonia
The Catalan elections are often full of various party mergers, coalitions, splintering factions, et cetera, but they usually fall under three broad ideological bases: centrist, leftist, and quasi-anarchist. These bases have recently siphoned off support from their non-separatist counterparts in Catalonia’s politics. Thus, we are left with a broad political spectrum of supporters for and opponents to the idea of an independent Catalonia.
I find the core argument for independence from the centrists, who are also the largest group in the movement, to be quite troubling. If we remove the emotional coding from their arguments (which, honestly, makes up the bulk of their rhetoric), the centrist argument for independence basically boils down to not wanting to pay taxes to Madrid when Catalonia receives less back. In other words, they disagree with the idea that the wealthiest region of Spain (Catalonia) pays more in taxes than it receives. This is basically a rejection of the whole premise of taxation, in which tax transfers are meant to occur from wealthier to poorer parts of society. Keep in mind, of course, that this party is not a radical libertarian party; they are liberals, pro-business and pro-EU. Suffice it to say, I have trouble taking this line of argument as anything other than childish objections from middle class rabble-rousers.
The quasi-anarchists (the CUP party) are hardly any better. They advocate a rather strange political system they call assembly-based socialism. Despite “socialism” in the name, it more resembles the local anarchism found in Rojava in Kurdish Syria. One also wonders how a quasi-anarchist political party can even advocate so strongly—they are the most radically unilateral of the separatists—for a state that will be rooted in nationalism and governed by liberals. They seem to overcome this by deluding themselves with passionate arguments and twisted attempts to resolve their nationalism with the decidedly anti-nationalist anarchist community globally, attempts that strain credulity. Their plan seems to be to cause as much chaos as possible and then sneak an amorphous leftwing utopian society into the void. It is honestly ridiculous.
The independence referendum in October 2017 itself was called by the centrist Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont. Throughout 2016 and 2017, many people, including people close to him, advised that the referendum was, in essence, a stupid idea. Any reasonable person could see that such a referendum would obviously fuel division and fail to actually create an outcome the independentists desire. Since it was clearly not going to be honored, only those supporting independence would even vote, ensuring an affirmative result. But you cannot persuade a foolish man from his follies.
Both Puigdemont and the Catalan separatists have done their damnedest to exacerbate the situation and fan tribalism in Catalonia, and in turn Spain as a whole, all for a completely futile and dumb charade. They staged massive rallies and fostered an us-vs-them mentality within their own communities regarding independence. They sold their supporters a lie: that independence was a realistic and easy goal, that all it just takes is passion and a vote.
If I could judge them to be cynical actors who understood this and meant to exploit the situation, they would be little different from someone like Nigel Farage in the United Kingdom. However, they are even worse because they bought into their own lies with a stunningly naïve sense of optimism that their charades would achieve positive ends. They will, with no sense of shame, argue publicly that they do not want to amend the constitution, or engage in protracted discussions, or build a stronger consensus because all of that is too difficult. That would actually involve convincing other people of their cause. So they have instead chosen to try and tear everything down.
On a Caga Tió song to sing
On pa amb tomàquet
Andalusia has gazpacho. Valencia has paella. The Basques have kalimotxo (dirt-cheap red wine mixed with cola). Catalonia has pa amb tomàquet (“bread with tomato”). This prototypical Catalan dish is not as well-known as these others, but it holds a great place in the regional culture. It is the essence of a comfort food, passed within families through generations, a culinary anchor to a bucolic Catalonia. The great Catalan photographer Leopoldo Pomés penned a whole book to pa amb tomàquet; in this he holds a culture’s cuisine to a hallowed, almost Proustian status that particularly amuses me with lines such as this: el plaer de menjar és un viatge de la memòria a la infantesa—the pleasure of eating is a voyage to our childhood memory. For Pomés, pa amb tomàquet was the connection not just with his own memories, and so for Catalonia as a whole.
The dish’s modest name, “bread with tomato”, underscores its seeming simplicity. The ingredients are just bread, tomato, salt, and olive oil. On its face, there’s nothing particularly special, but when made correctly, it is wonderful. I remember the first time I really was struck by it: strangely, it was nowhere near Catalonia or Spain, but rather at a Catalan restaurant in Miami called Niu Kitchen. The restaurant is quite good, but the pa amb tomàquet there is particularly noteworthy and exemplary of the subtle art of its construction. You see, pa amb tomàquet is not really bread with tomato, it is a whole marriage of bread and tomato.
The process is as follows: you take slices of good and strong bread. Then take half of an overly ripe tomato and repeatedly scrape it over each side of the slice so that the inside of the tomato, from its meat to its seeds, is pressed and imparted into the bread. Here you can optionally give the slices a quick round in an oven or over fire. After that you sprinkle salt and oil. The simplicity conceals how delicious it is. Pomés offers additional serving instructions: a large white plate, no phones nearby, the afternoon sun beaming above, and—importantly—right after making love.
On my impression first entering Barcelona in 2012
I first went to Barcelona in early January 2012, a couple days or so before the traditional Epiphany celebrations on January 6th. Immediately on entering, I could sense a real conviviality to the city, and it remains one of the most pleasant cities I have ever visited. There is an esprit de vivre, a sense of vibrant life that envelops the city streets and squares. Of course La Rambla, the famous boulevard in Central Barcelona, is one obvious example, but many of the other broad avenues would be teeming with activity deep into the winter night, and not “activity” as euphemism for nightlife, but actual life with families and children.
Art and space are wonderfully entwined throughout the city, not just cordoned off to museums. The architecture on any promenade is invigorating, whether in the older Barri Gòti or the modernist Passeig de Gràcia, within any of which may emerge a whimsical Gaudí building or so-inspired balcony. Its major tourist sight, Antoni Gaudí’s bizarre and beautiful cathedral La Sagrada Família is somehow still unfinished after a century, but even with cranes and construction it is a sight to behold.
However, the contemporary wealth and commercialist sensibilities has also eaten parts of Barcelona. Like many European cities, consumerism has consumed tragic amounts of real estate. Too much of the retail building space is devoted to H&M or Zara or one of the thirty other Zara affiliates. Robbed in part is some of the revolutionary Barcelona spirit of yore, though I suppose the inflamed political situation in Catalonia is once again restoring it as a flashpoint of revolution.
On la Setmana Tràgica
In the early twentieth century, Spain was a shell of the former colonial glory. A century previous, it had abandoned its last South American outpost in Peru and had recently conceded its final three overseas territories of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines to the United States. The loss of the colonial economy had a negative effect on Spain; moreover, industrialization was really only mature in the northern part of the country, particularly Catalonia.
In this way, there was an economic class divide between the “Catalan industrialists” and the “Spanish agrarians”, such that Central and Southern Spain could be correctly described as agrarian. Though Catalonia also benefitted greatly from the colonial economy, the bourgeois and capitalist class of Catalonia could thrive in the aftermath of collapsed colonialism. Thus, there was a natural friction between Catalan bourgeoisie and the central Spanish government (sound familiar, eh?). But the friction was not solely among the bourgeoisie; we also see what historian Borja de Riquer described (in my translation) as:
A broad pro-Catalan front which included support from the cotton manufacturer to the liberal author, from the ultra-Catholic priest to the free-thinking lawyer, from the rural land owner to the merchant in Barcelona. A rather ambiguous political program coupled all those willing to fight against the corrupt and inefficient centralist system [in Madrid].”
So it was that in 1909 Spain sought to expand into North Africa, in part as compensation for the loss of colonial possession and influence overseas. It initiated the Second Melillan campaign against the Rifian berbers, around the area of the (still to this day) Spanish port of Melilla in Morocco. Naturally, the campaign needed forces, and a call went out for active and reservist forces in Spain, including Catalonia.
Keep in mind that in this period anarchism, syndicalism, and other various left-wing movements were strong among the working class of Catalonia. They recognized, correctly in my view, that the military draft was a way for the upper class of Spain to draft the working class into wars that were initiated in the interest of the upper classes. After all, you could defer a call to the military by paying a sum of money that only upper class people could afford. In a region with a leftwing working class, this was not acceptable, and the anarchists would fight back against the central Spanish order (again, sound familiar?).
Anarchists and workers’ unions in Barcelona called for a general strike on Monday, July 26th 1909. Over the course of the week, the leftwing protesters seized control of the city, halting transportation and disrupting the trains. Not surprisingly, the anarchists were staunchly anticlerical, especially as Catholicism was so closely linked with centralized Spanish identity. They burned and defiled scores of Catholic-related buildings in Barcelona and the surrounding area. A state of emergency throughout the province was declared, but troops from the local Barcelona garrison were hesitant to fire on the rioters, many of them being working class Catalonians themselves. However, garrisons from elsewhere in Spain were brought in and they brutally quelled the rebellion, leaving over one hundred dead in the process, and thousands detained. The period was thenceforth known as the Tragic Week (la Setmana Tràgica).
On Catalan independence (a rant), Part 3:
The referendum farce
Let us set the scene for the farce that is the Catalan referendum of October 1st, 2017:
The conservative Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, no doubt eager to show his power and resolve that a seditionist independence referendum must be met with force, sent the Guardia Civil and Policía Nacional to Barcelona with riot gear and military gear. What little opinion I had of Rajoy’s political acumen, his decision to escalate the situation managed to reduce it even further. The referendum can have no effect; after all, we are to believe it is non-binding and illegal. The only way Catalonia could possibly gain independence from the referendum is if the Spanish state were so violent on the voters that the international world would intervene.
So Rajoy eagerly decided to create the only conditions where this could actually have occurred. The Guardia Civil members are very nationalist to Spain and many are fascist. The crest for the Guardia Civil still has an actual fasces, which is pretty bizarre given that decades of fascist rule should have made it obvious that keeping fascist symbols for the police sends a bad message. But nonetheless, the Guardia Civil are deployed in such numbers that the only way to house them in preparation for quelling the referendum is on a ship.
The scene is surreal: The Guardia Civil, hungry for confrontation and the chance to use force to establish order, are being held in close quarters aboard a ship, as if like attack dogs, this may make them even more irritated and prone to violence. It naturally enforces the feeling of being a military deployment overseas, anchored offshore. Only the farce goes further here: the ship packed with police—armed with riot gear and ready to take to the streets to suppress public demonstrations—is named Moby, and Moby is cutely adorned with massive Looney Tunes characters. Moby Lines’ website describes the ship’s original purpose as: “With Moby Lines, you’re not just on your way, you’re already on vacation! Travelling with Moby Lines means feeling completely at ease, in pleasant surroundings with a cordial atmosphere. On Moby Lines ships, you’ll enjoy relaxation and recreation.” Indeed.
What happened was predictable: the futile referendum went ahead, the police clashed with voters, erupting in occasional violence, though crucially nothing too severe. The result of the referendum was “Yes” for secession, obviously. Carles Puigdemont took the result and declared a bizarre purgatorial claim of “suspended independence”, an independence that is real but currently pending. The threat being: “we’re playing footsie with independence now, but we could start making love at any moment.”
Everything Puigdemont did from there was ludicrous and foolish. He ran away to Belgium, fearful that he would be arrested for sedition, which at the very least was true. In Belgium, he hired a lawyer who specializes in political asylum cases; but when confronted with the reality that everyone, including the Belgium government, would laugh at an asylum claim, he swore he never considered asylum at all, and please don’t look at his lawyer’s credentials. The URL for the Catalan presidential website (his office) was changed from www.president.cat to www.president.exili.eu, flamboyantly implying that he was now a president in exile.
Deciding that what he needed was the sympathy and attention of the European media, he called a circus of a press conference; this was how one reporter described it:
In undoubtedly the worst-organized press conference [I’ve] attended, more than 300 journalists waited over an hour crammed into a space designed for 80 at the Brussels Press Club, in scenes that resembled a music festival or sweaty nightclub floor. A dozen Belgian police stood by outside, but no one checked who came and went from the press conference venue, leading to pandemonium inside.”
Puigdemont wasn’t the only Catalan leader embarrassing the region. Consider this revealing nugget of absurdity from Marta Pascal, the head of Puigdemont’s party: “There hasn’t been international recognition … and some people are saying ‘what’s happening here’. We considered something very easy that may not be so easy.” That’s right: she thought holding a unilateral referendum with a simple majority threshold to pass was easily going to dismantle the sovereignty of Spain and create a brand new country. The expectation in the minds of the fucking idiots leading the movement was that the referendum result was going to get a torrent of international countries and observers supporting them and enthusiastically welcoming Catalonia into the EU brotherhood. To say this was naïve would be an abusive understatement.
To be honest, everything that occurs in this ordeal from that period of October/November 2017 and onward is not actually deserving of serious comment or international interest. International coverage likely only amplified the farce. Catalonia has embarrassed itself. That the re-run of the regional elections in December returned the exact same governing coalition is a continuing sign that the Catalan people are happy to be willing participants in this mess.
Puigdemont has not led the Catalan people to independence, but rather to confusion and ridicule. An absurd “manhunt” for him broke out the past few months, while he pranced around Europe trying to elicit sympathy for his situation. Eventually, mercifully, he has finally been detained in late March 2018 in Germany. Now his circus will enter its next act, a day in court.
Eventually, one day in future, everything in Catalonia will again be calmer, politically speaking. Ultimately, however, the stupidity of the 2017 Catalan independence movement has brought one certain result: for generations to come, Catalonia will not be an independent country.
On the brilliance of Joan Miró
When thinking of great Spanish artists from the twentieth century, one would certainly think of Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, but perhaps also Juan Gris, Luis Buñuel, Joan Miró, et cetera. It is the latter of this group, Joan Miró, who is, in my mind, the most brilliant of the lot, and he stands as one of the most impressive artists of the modernist period.
Miró rejected most of the artistic circles and movements of the modernist period, particularly the ones he found himself surrounded by in Paris. His color palette always remained deeply Spanish, and his connection with Catalonia and the Catalan landscape was a driving influence throughout his career. He was an outwardly reserved man. Strongly pragmatic and drawn to sensibility, he avoided much of the egotistical excess that at times plagues the work of his contemporaries.
From the beginning to the end of his career, Miró had an evolving but deep understanding of abstraction and composition that was at once both child-like and intellectual. Wassily Kandinsky is the only other prolific artist I can think of who could rival in this regard. His work was incredibly poetic and lyrical, drawn from deep passions wherein he would begin his paintings in a hallucination that drove him uncontrollably to the canvas. The emotional well he drew from was often angry and violent as well. “I will smash their guitar”, he quipped in criticism of cubists (who liked to paint guitars for some reason), and his artistic rebellion extended far beyond his cubist contemporaries: “The only thing that’s clear to me is that I intend to destroy, destroy everything that exists in painting.”
I leave this segment with a quote from Miró, which I would like to think includes a good-natured dig at his friend Picasso, who hails from Málaga:
The Catalan character is not like that of Málaga or other parts of Spain. It is very much down-to-earth. We Catalans believe you must always plant your feet firmly on the ground if you want to be able to jump up in the air. The fact that I come to earth from time to time makes it possible for me to jump all the higher.”
On George Orwell’s impression first entering Barcelona in 1936
The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was ending; but when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workmen. Every shop and café had an inscription saying that it had been collectivized; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. Nobody said ‘Señor’ or ‘Don’ or even ‘Usted’; everyone called everyone else ‘Comrade’ and ‘Thou’, and said ‘Salud!’ instead of ‘Buenos dias’. Tipping was forbidden by law; almost my first experience was receiving a lecture from a hotel manager for trying to tip a lift-boy.”
-George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia 
The recipe for truita amb samfaina
The truita recipe herein is adapted from a recipe in Ferran Adrià’s book The Family Meal. A small bag of potato chips is added to the mixture of beaten eggs in lieu of slicing any potatoes. The samfaina recipe comes from my own experimentations. I add spices where traditionally they aren’t called for, but that is because I add more spices to every dish. The samfaina should be made at least a day before the truita, which, in any case, is a good thing because there will be plenty left over, and it goes well on everything.
- 1 eggplant, medium sized, skinned and finely cubed
- 2 bell peppers, seeded and diced. I like one red and one yellow
- 2 or 3 onions, depending on size, finely chopped
- 1 knob of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 zucchini, finely cubed
- 1 ~14 oz. can of peeled tomatoes in sauce
- Lots of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 or 2 teaspoon herbes de Provence, or at the very least some thyme and rosemary
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Pinch of cinnamon
- Salt to taste
- ½ teaspoon Cayenne pepper (optional)
I don’t recommend salting the eggplant; it’s too much work with marginal gain. I do roast the eggplant a bit in the oven to dry it out some. Heat 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan/wok/casserole dish (henceforth “the pan”). Add the onions to the pan and cook for about 4 minutes. Before the onions turn too translucent, add the garlic, herbes de Provence, cinnamon and cayenne pepper, then cook for another 4 minutes, stirring often. Add 3 more tablespoons of olive oil; after stirring, add the eggplant, zucchini, and bell peppers. While stirring together, add the black pepper and salt. Let the oily vegetable mix simmer in the pan for an hour on low heat. Then add the whole can of peeled tomatoes, making sure to break apart the tomatoes with a spatula, while stirring everything into one mix. Let the mixture cook for another two hours on low heat, allowing it to congeal into a slushy sauce. After cooking, refrigerate overnight.
- 6 eggs
- A small, personal bag of potato chips (regular is fine)
- Dash of milk
- Olive oil
Beat the eggs in a bowl until they are frothy. Add the potato chips, without crushing them and let sit in the egg for 10 minutes. Then, add the dash of milk and whip around a bit, breaking up some of the soggy potato chips, but not all. The milk makes it a bit fluffier, which I like; if you don’t think you need that, then you can skip the milk. Heat the olive oil in medium sized pan, say 8-10 inches (the pan, not the olive oil, that would be too much). Obviously, the wider the pan, the thinner the truita, so you can choose what you prefer. After the oil is hot, add the egg/potato mixture and let cook for about two or three minutes. Next comes the “hard” part of flipping the truita, and the Catalans even have a little ceramic plate called the trombe truita to aid in this. Basically, I just scoot the omelette onto a plate and flip it back into the pan. Let cook another minute and remove from pan.
Cut a slice of the truita onto a plate. Take a couple spoons of reheated samfaina and place on top. Garnish with parsley or cilantro as you prefer. Serve.
 Andersen, Hans Christian. In Spain, and A Visit to Portugal. Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1881.
 Buccini, Anthony. “Western Mediterranean Vegetable Stews and the Integration of Culinary Exotica.” In Authenticity in the Kitchen: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2005, edited by Richard Hosking, 132–45. Totnes: Prospect Books, 2006.
 Pomés, Leopoldo. Teoria i pràctica del pa amb tomàquet. Grupo Planeta Spain, 2016.
 Izard, Miquel and Borja de Riquer. Coneixer la História de Catalunya. Del segle XIX fins a 1931, vol. 4. Vicens Vives, 1983.
 Miro´, Joan. Selected Writings and Interviews, edited by M. Rowell. New York: Da Capo Press, 1992.
 Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia. Harcourt, Brace, 1952.
 Adrià, Ferran. The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià. Phaidon Press, 2011.