Friday, January 7, 2011

New Year, Brief excursions into the Castilian Plains, and encounters with Spanish Anarchism

Blog Entry #8

Happy New Year! It's been a while since my last post, and I've plenty to write about! I ended the year in the heart of Spain, the famous Puerta del Sol right smack-dab in the middle of Madrid, in the Spanish version of Time-Square. New Years eve (or Noche Vieja) in the epicenter of the capital was quite an experience. Underneath a huge clock in a sea of people, I attempted the Spanish tradition of eating twelve grapes in sync with the twelve strikes of the clock-tower's bells. Unfortunately, I'm used to the seedless grapes grown by vegetative propagation (cuttings) in California...So I choked...literally. Still it was a fun night and I'm glad I got to check out the scenery. Additionally, it's been a rather mild climate, so we haven't been tormented by the cold spells Madrid is known for.

I know I'd mentioned before that I was thinking about going to Morocco during my winter holidays, but I decided that I'd like to relax and explore Madrid and the surrounding countryside a bit more, and so in the recent break I've visited Toledo, capital of Castilla-La Mancha and former capital of Imperial Spain, El Escorial (a Monastery where the monarchs and nobility of Spain are buried), and Segovia—home of 2000 year old Roman Acqueducts and Sleeping Beauty's Castle (no really, Disney modeled it after this one).


El Escorial

Before the break I participated in the Christmas Fiesta for the school, where I accompanied (with my guitar) the third grade in the singing of “I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday.”1 It's been fun teaching, but to be honest, I don't know if working with little kids is quite my thing—I think I'm too much of an egg-head. A funny realization I came to recently was that this isn't a baseball playing country. Ya, I know, that sounds kind of stupid, but what I mean is that these kids can't throw a ball to save their lives. I took a hakey-sack to school to use as a tool to get them talking and playing with their hands at their same time:I never thought I could see so many nine year old boys throwing balls so poorly and weakly, it gave me quite a laugh. Not to mention the fact that they couldn't catch. But, they sure could kick the shit out of it.

One unique part of Spain I've had the chance to encounter is the autonomous social center movement that has become a tradition here in Spain. You see, Spain has a long history of radicalism, and particularly with anarchism.23 Followers of Bakunin4 came here in the 1860s and workers and peasants established chapters of the First International.5 Even today, one of the largest labor unions, with over 50,000 members representing 2 million workers, is the anarchist CGT, an off-shoot of the (still existing, although less influential) CNT-FAI.6 Anarchism was particularly popular in Spain in comparison to Marxism in the rest of Europe. This is due to Spain's history as a mainly agrarian economy until the latter half of the 20th century. Today, much of this radicalism presents itself in several “Centros Sociales Autogestionados” or “Centros Sociales Ocupados.”7 These are places that exist quasi-legally, and in a sort of conflicting dynamic within Spanish society. They reject support or harassment by the State. Police are not allowed, and workshops, lectures, concerts, parties, free-stores and whatever are always free or not-for-profit. One Centro Okupado I visited was Casa Blanca8 where I saw an underground Reggae/Hip-Hop/Cumbia fusion group made up of undocumented immigrant musicians from South and Central America, as well as Africa (how Berkeley of me right?). The group was called Sonora-Mandinga, and was absolutely amazing! I wish I had videotaped them!9

Another quasi-legal social center is the CSA La Tabacalera.10 Located near the Embajadores Metro Stop, LT is organized loosely as a collaborative laboratory for social discussion, creation, and art. They have workshops on everything from meditation to popular education, and put on concerts and parties frequently, as well as awesome drum circles and jam sessions. La Tabacalera is an old tobacco factory left abandoned for years, with the city promising the community it would put funds towards revitalizing it and creating a community center there. Unfortunately, Madrid decided to build giant football stadiums instead of investing in the community, and so community members took it over for themselves, and since then, have been working under an agreement forged with the city to preserve the space and respect certain rules (like closing at 11pm). Rumor has it that La Tabacalera is supposed to be closing in 2011, but I have a feeling they might just give the establishment a well deserved figuer-guesture and keep the space for the community. I love to visit here frequently and check out what's going on.

Until Next Time!

2“Anarchism is the only philosophy which brings to man the consciousness of himself; which maintains that God, the State, and society are non-existent, that their promises are null and void, since they can be fulfilled only through man's subordination. Anarchism is therefore the teacher of the unity of life; not merely in nature, but in man. There is no conflict between the individual and the social instincts, any more than there is between the heart and the lungs: the one the receptacle of a precious life essence, the other the repository of the element that keeps the essence pure and strong. The individual is the heart of society, conserving the essence of social life; society is the lungs which are distributing the element to keep the life essence--that is, the individual--pure and strong”--Emma Goldman "Anarchism: What it Really Stands For"