Catalonia: The day my grandfather talked my ear off
Translation by:Elizabeth Arif-Fear
My grandfather, like all Spanish men, is a man of few words. But this didn't stop him from bombarding me with questions about Catalonia the other day. What's going on? Has there been a referendum? What is Article 155? This time around, I was the one left speechless.
Referendum. Declaration of independence. Catalonian Republic. Article 155 of the Spanish constitution. Independent elections. Denouncing the public prosecutor's office. Over the last few days, events have unfolded at a shocking rate. Regardless of whether you spell it 'Cataluña', 'Catalunya' or 'Catalonia', it's already a political word. If you live in a social environment with Internet connection or even the most basic tie to Spanish current affairs, you will have experienced the sense of fragility that gets worse in a society that is over-saturated with information. There's too much uncertainty.
As if that wasn't enough, the speed at which events are happening is so fast that every new article runs the risk of becoming old news in just a few hours. It's impossible to process so many institutional statements, live feeds and political responses of other political responses. The story that has monopolised the front pages, the constant information coming in and the clicks that come with it are so complex and sometimes so irrational that they have been compared to a Stranger Things script or a Berlanga movie on social media. It's just as dramatic as when we talk about a story "based on true events."
If social networks and timelines are filled with preachers capable of guessing the next chapter of the story, imagine the effort it would take to try and explain what has happened up until now to someone who only knows about what's going on through hearsay.
- "What's going on with Catalonia?"
My grandfather used to read the newspapers every day until he was put in a nursing home. Fortunately, he doesn't have Twitter and he's one of the very few people in Spain who doesn't know who Antonio García Ferreras is [NB. a TV journalist]. So he makes the most of visits from friends and family to feed his curiosity about all the latest news.
- "So, what's the deal with Catalonia?" He asks me, eager for a simple answer.
My first option was to generalise (we're certainly not talking about Generalitat, the institution under which Catalonia is politically organised) and to keep the conversation as short as possible.
- "There are a lot of problems, grandpa."
- "Yes, but what happened?"
At this moment, I had to try and remember so that eventually I could use every TV-show addict's favourite question:
- "Which episode are we on?"
- "There was a referendum, wasn't there?"
That's when the cold sweats started. If I became a journalist, I was supposed to know how to say things as they are. That's what is assumed, in any case...
- "Uh... yes. It was declared illegal but it still took place. But this you already know, right? The ballot boxes, the Mossos d'Esquadra, the Tweety ship and everything."
- "Yes. And then what happened?"
My grandfather looked like a driver's license examiner. Failing was not an option.
- "Well, Puigdemont won and declared independence but then called it off."
- "All in one go?"
- "Uh... no. It is supposed that he suspended it to come to an agreement with the government."
- "With Rajoy?"
- "Yes. And some people were happy, but others got angry and started to call Puigdemont a traitor."
- "By 'people' you mean those who are pro-independence, right?"
- "Yes. After that there were pro-independence protests, protests for a united Spain, for this, for that... Then the press said that Puigdemont was calling for regional elections. Puigdemont said that he would appear in court, then delayed his appearance, then postponed it once again before withdrawing and announcing that there weren't going to be any elections."
- "And why?"
- "They say that there were last-minute negotiations, but that the government refused to freeze Article 155, which can suspend the autonomy of a region. So Parliament declared independence and..."
A few seconds of complete silence ensued. My grandfather made a funny face.
- "Well I don't know, grandpa."
- "What do you mean you don't know?"
This is when I broke down.
- "Look, do you know how complicated it is to keep up with what's going on?"
- "But you're a journalist, aren't you? Don't you have a mobile phone? Internet?"
- "Yes I know grandpa, but it's difficult. They declared independence and then withdrew. They called for elections, postponed them and then called them off only to reconvene. People are calling each other traitors and then end up on the same side. Images of police charges are broadcasted, and then a minister says that they are false images. Nobody understands anything! Then you see people hanging flags from their balconies while others are banging on pots and pans. Tweets full of insults, reproaches and memes are being posted left and right. We have no idea what's going on; things are changing every second of the day and I don't know if Puigdemont is an exiled president or has resigned, if the CUP [NB. the Popular Unity Candidacy, a pro-Catalan independence party] is going to run in the regional elections or if they're going to eat paella, if Podemos are pro-independence or not, if the Article 155 was hard, soft or both, if TV3 [NB. a public Catalan TV channel] is manipulating its public, if TVE [NB. a national and public TV channel] is manipulating its public, if García Albiol [NB. president of the People's Party] is going to be on television or if all of this is just an episode of Lost.
My grandfather gave me a worried look, as if I'd lost my mind. When he realised that I noticed his concern, he quickly changed his facial expression.
- "Well, it'll pass. You'll see. Should we go for a walk?"
It was a silent agreement. We didn't speak about Catalonia during our walk together. To top it all off, though, I was left with one question: is it stupid to avoid the subject to maintain a peace of mind? Ignoring the problem won't solve anything, but there's little we can do from a nursing home in Palencia when the problem on the ground is already complicated enough to begin with (and even more complicated to understand).
Before I left, my grandfather had one last question to ask me.
- "What in the devil's name is a meme?"
- "I think it's best we leave that for another day, grandpa. Too many questions. Too much uncertainty."
Translated from Mi tío abuelo y lo de Cataluña