Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Agony of Europe

Some weeks ago I wrote about the Future and the Disenchantment of Europe, now, after yesterday's European elections, I think we should better talk about agony.

The victory of the far-right FN in France has made the headlines in most European newspapers. Of course, this is a tragic outcome very hard to digest. But for me, it's above all hard to understand. I said it in yesterday's post, Toulouse is one of the most cosmopolitan places I can think of, where people of very different ascent and "skin tones" seem to share their lives in quite good harmony. I think most of the French people of "non European ascent" that I see daily in the streets are pretty well integrated in France. These last months I've felt delighted when finding out that many of the names in the lists of the Left-Wing parties (Front de Gauche, Verts...) were of North African origin (coming from the Maghreb and ending up in the lists of a Left-Wing European party is one of the best examples of integration and contribution that I could ever imagine. So, really, how can the FN get a 14% of the votes here (yes, it's quite less than the national 25%, but anyway it's horrible, disgusting and disturbing)? Today, while walking along the streets I could not help but looking with suspicion to other passers by, wondering "will that be a FN voter?"

It's really hard to grasp. Those in that 25% percent of the voters, do not have north African friends? They do not find Arab, black or "mixed-blood" women attractive? do not buy sweets in "La rose de Tuniz"? they don't eat hummus, couscous, moussaka, Indian food...? yes, of course I'm trivializing the whole "Far-right ideology", but honestly, I prefer thinking of those people as ignorant beasts rather than considering that they have got to their political stance after some thorough thought process, cause those cases would be even harder to accept. What led me almost to a shock was reading in the news paper that they had got basically the same percentage of vote in Overseas France. I don't know how the voting there works, but I assume any inhabitant of the Overseas territories is a French citizen and as such is entitled to vote... well, I'm not much sure of the ethnic make-up of these territories, but I would bet most of the population are "aboriginal", so, are the black people in Guiana, Reunion... voting for the FN... have we all gone crazy or what?

Anyway, there's an even much worse result coming from these elections, and the media are not paying it much attention (well, Amanpour in CNN closed her program today alerting about it), the NPD in Germany has obtained 1% of the vote and 1 seat in the European Parliament. With the NPD there's no middle ground. With other far-right parties you can question how far-right they really are, you can say that they have moderated their message, that they focus on the real problem that Europe faces regarding radical Islam... but none of those excuses applies to the NPD. The NPD are the direct heirs of the Nazi Party of the 30's. They don't hide their "National Socialist" views, they do not hide their contempt and hate for "the others". They are scum, shit, poison... that can rot our whole society. Each of its members should be xxxxxx (of course I'm not inciting to hate and violence here...) and their belongings sold and donated for international cooperation or for funding programs for aiding in the integration of new immigrants... OK, I feel a bit better now... I feel even better listening to this very appropriate track by a pretty good "Rap Militante" local band, La Vermine.

A sad day for Europe...

Monday, 26 May 2014

Toulouse (Tolosa) Introduction

I should have already written a whole bunch of posts about Toulouse (Tolosa in Occitan language) and surroundings, but all these last months I've been quite scarce of spare time, and these entries have continued to be postponed, so well, better late than never, let's begin.

I've already mentioned in some other posts that I'm living in Toulouse since early November, When I was given the chance at work to come here for some time I accepted it more than happy, as I had a need to disconnect from the place where I've been living basically all my life (ok, yes, I've tried to travel abroad as much as possible, but in the end those were always short periods, so my home continued to be in Asturies) and Toulouse seemed like a good place (a place with a history and an architecture, a wide river, more than 1 million inhabitants in the Metropolitan Area...).

The thing is that my first impression of the city was excellent, my first weekend exploring the city centre I felt fascinated by the superb architecture, very French in some aspects, but also very different to what I was used from Paris, much of the city is built in its very own and distinctive style "the pink city". Over the months such good impression has not done other than deepen. I've quite fallen in love with the city, the whole region (Midi-Pyrénée) and the whole Southern France.

Toulouse is one of the most cosmopolitan places you could think of bearing in mind that it's not a "big European capital". I haven't found specific statistics, but based on the what you see on the streets, the percentage of population of "non deep European origins" could be almost as high as in London (and much larger that in Berlin). And this time I'm saying this as something profoundly positive, as multiculturalism in this city seems to work as I had lost hopes it could work. Not everything is perfect, I know there are some bad areas ("quartiers sensibles" as they're called in France): Bagatelle, Reynerie, Bellefontaine (I've been to Reynerie once, out of curiosity, and well, at first sight it didn't look that bad), sometimes you see Muslim women covered from head to toe, sometimes you see "suspicious" groups of teenagers, and sometimes you come across shit stickers by some far-right motherfuckers, but in general the atmosphere is really good. People from both sides of the Mediterranean and beyond seem pretty well integrated, you can see many mixed groups of youngsters, mixed couples, "white French" (well, people from Southern France are not particularly pale and quite few of them have clear eyes) people taking a coffee in a Nort African "Thé Salon" and "dark skinned French" buying macarons in a patisserie. The economical situation is pretty good, mainly thanks to the Aerospace industry (but the local government seems intelligent enough to try to diversify and not rely uniquely on this sector), with population in the city proper growing like 6000 thousand people per year. For someone coming from a place in crisis since 30 years ago and losing population since then, this is fascinating (as it is not being depressed by the views of rows of closed "normal" shops and all the new 'Buy and Sell Gold' ones that I find everywhere in my hometown).

The public transport is pretty good, the trafic jams are terrible though (but I can reach my workplace by metro+tram, so this is no longer a concern), the Airport has tons of flights, and you can go by train to so many interesting places. First, Bordeaux and Montpellier are 2 hours reach by train, and Marseille and Lyon 4 hours reach. Second, the whole Midi-Pyrénée region is astonishing, and I reckon all the capital cities of its departments are well worth a visit. So far I've been to Albi, Montauban, Cahors and Auch, and the 4 of them are perfect for spending a Sunday there (maybe Auch is at a bit lower level, but anyway the visit pays off). Of course I've also been to Carcasonne, in Roussillon region, that is like 1 hour far by train. I think my next visits should be Rodez and Agen. I don't like comparing places in terms of one been more beautiful than other, every place has its charm, its magic and its feeling and our perception of beauty is so subjective (and at least in my case so varying depending on my animic state), but I used to think of Austria as the maximum of European perfection (Vienna, Salzburg, Graz, Lidz...), well, now Southern France is at the same level for me.

Weather is also pretty good (this winter was particularly warm, but average winters seem not too frightening, and you can get a couple of snow days, which indeed is something I missed this year). Well, maybe temperatures in late spring will start to feel a bit uncomfortable to me, but my skinny body can stand heat much better than cold, so I'm not particularly worried. I already knew that it's not that rainy as Asturies, but hopefully so far we've had rain enough to keep the landscape green and beautiful and the rivers flowing gorgeous. Actually, a few days in winter the Garonne was flowing rather high (but with no risk of floods) which made a real nice view.

Cultural life here is also pretty intense, but let's be clear, if you don't speak French (as unfortunately it's my case at the moment) you're seriously limited.

There are millions of things I'd like to write about all these last months in France, but at least this is a start. Hopefully I'll find the time to turn this entry into the first of a long series :-) In summary just to say that if you ever have the chance to make it to Toulouse for a few days (or for a much longer stay) don't hesitate, DO IT!!!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Piece of Wisdom

Street Art has turned more and more deeply inspiring to me. I'm drawn to it both for its aesthetic component and for the message, and talking about message, I recently came across a really brilliant piece of wisdom in Berlin.

Buy things you don't need
with money you don't have
to impress people you don't like

Our voracious consumerism is a key element to most of the problems of our planet, and overcoming it is the key to our survival.

Time Is Money

Sure I've always been pretty aware of how valuable time is, but I never expected to get paid 3 euros for 1 minute of my time!

No, it's not that I've cheated someone to get me hired to debug and fix a running vital application or to give a "master class" (I wonder in what the fuck I could give a master class...), it's much more mundane, but pretty interesting.

I've recently taken an early flight from Toulouse to Berlin. I was supposed to fly with Lufthansa via Munich (by the way, Lufthansa has some pretty good prices, more over if you're used to the blatant robberies that Iberia can perform on its clients...). I was asked to do the auto check-in in one machine at the airport, and to my surprise (and a certain discomfort) the screen kept saying that there was not any reservation with my name-number. The Lufthansa assistant told me to go to the check-in desk, that sometimes they had these problems. Once there, when the desk lady started to search among several papers I started to get slightly nervous (I had received a fight reminder by email the day before, so there could not be any problem). Suddenly the girl tells me that my flight is overbooked and that they'd like to get me transferred to another flight (Brussels Airlines to Berlin via Brussels), all in all I would be getting to Berlin 40 minutes later and would get a 125 euros voucher in compensation for the inconveniences. When she asked me if I accepted the deal I had such a smile on my face that I didn't need to say a word :-D Well, I got the voucher pared in cash in Berlin's Lufthansa desk, which bearing in mind that every time I withdraw 100 euros from a cash machine in France with my Spanish card I pay a 4 euros commission, means that I'm saving 4 extra euros :-)

125 euros for a 40 minutes delay! The deal seems pretty fair, depending on your flight these 40 minutes could mean that you no longer have pubic transport and have to take a taxi (this is a major problem in Asturies), but in my case, arriving to Berlin in the morning with all its excellent (and fucking expensive) public transport to my disposal and with no "tight agenda", the deal was just superb!

I'd never run before into this issue, an overbooked flight. I'd heard about it, but honestly I thought it would be something only happening in "banana air companies", not in serious ones. But well, as I've said for me in this particular case it's been a real favor. It quite calls my attention that you get a compensation, of course it's fair, but you're not getting any compensation with other similar issues (your flight departs/gets late or directly it gets rescheduled). Last year I had an Airberlin flight moved forward 3 hours (from 9 in the morning to 6 in the morning or something like that). Hopefully flying from Berlin that's not a big deal (apart from sleeping 3 hours less that night), cause you can reach the airport by public transport even at those early times. But a similar issue in Asturies would have forced me to take a 70 euros taxi to the Airport!!! I didn't get any sort of compensation for this reschedule, as I've never got for delayed flight. For example, years ago my EeasyJet flight to London was cancelled and I was moved to the next day, losing 1 vacation day, 1 paid hostel night and having to pay for an extra trip to the Airport...

Out of curiosity, I asked in the Lufthansa desk if was something specific to Lufthansa, and they told me it was an European normative. Hope some day they'll extend such normative to rescheduled or delayed flights.