Long-term resident



Twenty years ago, the then journalist Carles Puigdemont told me about a new project of his: an English-language magazine which would give Catalonia-orientated news on the arts, current affairs, sport and any other field that might interest readers, be they Catalans or native English-speakers. It was not, he stressed, going to be a promotional rag for tourists and neither was it going to limit itself to the increasingly fashionable city of Barcelona, but would talk about the entire country, with some excursions into the other Catalan-speaking areas of Europe. I thought it was a great idea, at which point he came up with a suggestion that caused me instant collywobbles: he wanted me to be the magazine’s editor-in-chief. I immediately told him that I was psychologically incapable of being the chief of anything, myself included, but that I would love to write a column for the magazine. He not only agreed, but gave me total freedom to write about whatever I wanted to. This offer was like (or so I imagine) winning a gold medal: I had long been an envious admirer of George Orwell’s ‘As I Please’ column in the British left-wing newspaper ‘Tribune’, which had always struck me as being the Holy Grail of non-fiction writing, allowing Orwell to play around with language and ideas and subjects à la Josep Pla, without limiting himself to the linguistic restrictions which professional journalists usually have imposed on them (or impose on themselves).

Catalonia Today originally came out as a free daily in black and white, and eventually turned into the monthly full colour subscription magazine you are currently holding (or screening). The magazine had its occasional (usually English) enemies, of course, one of whom – who by all accounts found all things Catalan inherently ridiculous – lambasted it to a chosen few as ‘Catalonia Toadie’. And even a couple of the magazine’s English staffers complained that it wasn’t covering enough Spanish stuff, apparently unaware that the name of the magazine wasn’t ‘Spain Today’ (my Catalanocentric columns, so I was told, were very much in their line of fire). Much of this bad-mouthing came from the old chestnut that anything Catalan was ‘nationalist’, which I found odd coming from people who could accept with equanimity that Scotland and Wales were countries, yet were mentally incapable of realising that Catalonia was one, too, and for similar reasons.

A lot has happened since that first conversation between Carles and myself. He became the Mayor of Girona and then the Catalan president, and was obliged to go into exile along with several other Catalan ministers (the rest were jailed) after organising a referendum on independence (which was still legal at the time). He remains the last Catalan president who was freely elected without any tinkering from Madrid (and, as it happens, the only president in Europe who speaks fluent Romanian, apart from the Romanian president himself). Immigration has increased dramatically in Catalonia, with Europe’s largest ever pro-immigration demonstration being held, precisely, in the Catalan capital. As for Catalonia Today itself, it is now a varied, interesting and useful magazine read by all sorts of people, including, for instance, the English-speaking South Asian community in Catalonia, which uses it to find out what’s going on in their adopted place of residence. And I still write my columns as I please. But unlike Orwell, whose ’Tribune’ column lasted for three and a half years, I have had the privilege of writing mine for twenty. And counting.


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