7 Dec 2015

At the moment I’m taking a break from blogging to focus on other writing projects.  I’m considering publishing options for my first novel, ‘The Myth of a Sister’ a contemporary story of family, love and politics set between a small Spanish town and London.  I’m also working on a second novel and a series of children’s picture books set in Australia. Both the novels and the picture books are written in Spanish.  For articles in English, check out my contributions for Hunter Lifestyle Magazine.

En estos momentos me estoy tomando un descanso del blog para concentrarme en la publicación de mi primera novela ‘El mito de una hermana.’ Se trata de una historia contemporánea de familia, amor y política que transcurre entre una pequeña ciudad española y Londres. También estoy escribiendo una segunda novela y una serie de cuentos para niños. Tanto las novelas como los cuentos están escritos en español.  Si te interesa leer mis artículos en inglés puedes encontrarlos en la revista Hunter Lifestyle.

También puedes oír la entrevista que me hicieron hace unos días en SBS en español pinchando en este enlace:entrevista SBS

3 Mar 2015

Recently I had the pleasure to interview Mexican Artist Susana Enriquez for Hunter Lifestyle Magazine.

The interview has just been published in electronic and print formats, for the 12th Anniversary Edition of the magazine, and you can check it following this link. I hope you enjoy it!

Art and Love between Mexico and The Hunter
Fourteen years ago Mexican artist Susana Enriquez was at a crossroads. Her mother had just passed away and she felt that travelling and painting were the only two things that could help her to avoid depression.
Susuana (pictiured right) was pondering over going to Spain or Holland to study a PhD, but a Novocastrian she met through a common friend in Canada insisted she should also consider applying to study in Australia.
Later this year, Susana’s paintings will be part of an exhibition entitled “Masters of the Imagination: The Latin American Fine Art Exhibition” at Agora Gallery in New York. As she prepares for the exhibition, I meet with Susana to talk about her art and her life in Australia.
Our discussion takes place at her studio in Newcastle Community Arts Centre, surrounded by her paintings, brushes and paints. The shelves are full of books. Several of her bold-coloured paintings are stacked against a wall near the door.
She is softly-spoken and our conversation drifts from art, to poetry, to the differences between Mexico and Australia.
“Music has always been intertwined with my art,” she says with an animated look in her eyes. In fact, in addition to studying Fine Arts at Mexico University, Susana studied flute and percussion. She was married to renowned Mexican composer Manuel Enriquez until his death in 1994.
Susana arrived in Newcastle in 2002, to study a PhD in Visual Arts at Newcastle University, where she had been awarded two international scholarships; she gained her PhD degree in 2006…

9 Jan 2015

Would Picasso be allowed to enter Australia today?

Recently I had this article published in the wonderful Daily Review. I hope you enjoy it.

Image courtesy of Ceridwen
Imagine if you could travel in time like the protagonist of Midnight in Paris and went to a party accompanied by Picasso. You would probably feel pretty proud of rubbing shoulders with one of the most respected artists of the 20th century, one of the creators of Cubism, whose works of art are exhibited in the most renowned museums of the world.

As an immigrant to Australia I felt that the process of applying for a resident visa was similar to turning up at someone’s door and hoping they’ll let you join their party. Migration policies and procedures, designed with the most practical purposes in mind, are a hard measure of how worthwhile you are for the country you’re hoping will be your new home. Being rejected in the process can feel a lot like being refused entry to a great celebration for which you are not good enough.

It is hard to imagine that Picasso had to go through anything similar. Yet, in the recent reopening of Musée Picassoin Paris, French President Francois Hollande reminded audiences that Picasso was refused French citizenship when he requested it in 1940.

By then Picasso had already been living in France for almost 40 years. He was romantically involved with Paris-based photographer Dora Maar. He was already father to two children from previous relationships and had a prolific and respected career, but none of this was enough to deserve French citizenship.

His application was turned down on the grounds that he was an anarchist with communist tendencies.
Would Picasso’s chances of being granted a resident visa in today’s Australia be any better?
One of his options would be to ask for refugee status. The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 defines refugee as: ”Any person who owing to a well- founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country.”

This option didn’t exist at the time of Picasso’s application for French citizenship in 1940. It was after the mass migrations during the Second World War, particularly from Europe, that it was decided that there needed to be a common understanding of which people needed protection and how they should be protected.

In 1940, France had just signed the armistice that allowed Nazi Germany to administer the occupied zone in areas of Northern and Western France. The Vichy Government ruled. One can imagine there may have been a sentimental reason why Picasso applied for French citizenship but there were also practical elements at play. As a Spaniard who had spoken against Franco’s fascist regime in Spain, there is indication that Picasso feared the French Vichy Government would send him to one of the many concentration camps or hand him over to the German Nazi officials.
His fears were well founded.

John Andres Garcia was born in a Spanish refugee camp in the South of France and is a founding member of the Spanish Democratic Centre in Sydney. In his talk for Manning Clark House, he explained that at the commencement of World War Two there were more than 200,000 Spanish exiles in France. Records indicate that 14,000 Republicans were captured by the Germans.
In early 1941, 60 % of the prisoners in Mauthausen Concentration Camp were Spaniards.

Although Picasso would have the option to apply for refugee status in Australia, this is an arduous process which has just become a bit more so with the passing of a law that reintroduces Temporary Protection visas. The Australian Government can return an individual on a TPV after three years if it believes conditions in the country from which the person came have improved.

In October this year, senior officials of governments and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) met to discuss the need for nations to share responsibility for assisting more than 50 million people displaced by persecution and conflict, the highest number of displaced people and refugees since World War Two.

According to the Refugee Council of Australia, at the meeting, non-government organisations (NGOs) working with displaced people around the world singled out Australia for strong criticism. In a joint statement on refugee protection coordinated by the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, the world’s NGOs told the 2014 UNHCR Executive Committee meeting in Geneva that they remain “deeply disturbed by the continuing deterioration of protection standards for asylum seekers in Australia”.

Picasso may have struggled to get refugee status. However, he was an artist of significant merit and a wealthy man, which means he would have other options to enter Australia.
He was 59 when he applied for French citizenship, which would have made him too old to apply for a point-based Skilled Migration Visa. He couldn’t apply for a temporary Employer Sponsored Visa either because, even if he found a sponsor, neither painters nor artists are included on the prevailing Consolidated Skilled Occupations List.

He would certainly have stood a good chance of being granted a Distinguished Talent Visa. Distinguished Talent Visas are granted to a small group of people who are internationally recognised as outstanding in their field. Picasso certainly fit that description.

He could also have applied for an Investor Retirement Visa, which euphemistically applies to older people with a significant amount of money in their bank account. This would have allowed him to work up to 40 hours per fortnight. It might have affected the number of commissioned works he was able to accept, but it wouldn’t have stopped him from painting as much as he wanted for his own enjoyment. The downside is that this visa is valid for four years only. After this, he would need another one.

It seems that Picasso would be able to get either the Distinguished Talent Visa or the Investor Retirement Visa but there is one aspect that could overshadow his solid finances and his artistic merit: his politics.

Could his communist and anarchist sympathies be enough for the Australian Government to reject his application following Public Interest Criteria? These criteria allow the Government to reject visa applications from individuals who would be harmful or dangerous to Australian society.
Because of his political views, Picasso was held for several hours at his arrival in Britain for the 1950s peace congress and monitored during his stay.

It is hard to believe that Picasso’s political affiliations would be considered so dangerous by today’s Australian Government that it would prevent him from obtaining a visa.

However, reports indicate that, in August this year, three Sri Lankan union delegates were denied entry to Australia for what, according to Australian unions, were political reasons. Union officials believe the government wanted to prevent discussions on how to get Ansell Lanka, a subsidiary of the Australian company Ansell, to reinstate the 300 workers it sacked last year.

The case of these union delegates is very different to that of Picasso. It is likely that, given his wealth and renown, government officials would put aside any mistrust of his politics and grant him an Australian resident visa.
Sadly, other applicants who could contribute positively to Australian society, but who aren
’t wealthy and don’t have an extraordinary talent, have their visa applications rejected.

Immigration policies are cruelly practical. By reducing individuals to a series of measurable qualities written on a list, they fail to recognise the full value of people.

23 Dec 2014

Save me the talk about ‘rebellious’ aristocrats

James Dean in 'Rebel Without a Cause..'
Due to different commitments I haven't been able to blog as regularly as I would have liked in the last three months. To make up for it, here is a 'longish' post/whinge. It doesn't focus on the Christmas season but, hey, everyone else is already talking about that. Enjoy.

‘Bon viveur’, ‘unique’ and ‘rebellious,’ were some of the words used by international media to describe Spain’s Duchess of Alba, the world's most titled aristocrat, who passed away on 20th November.
Maria del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart was a descendant of James II (VII of Scotland) and his mistress Arabella Churchill. Her titles gave her several arcane privileges, such as not having to kneel before the Pope and being permitted to ride a horse into Seville Cathedral.

It is understandable she caused some curiosity among the general public.

In case you are wondering how she earned the description of ‘rebellious,’ it didn’t involve her leaving her palace, becoming an anarchist and giving up her titles. She was considered a rebel because she enjoyed mixing with artists and two of the three men she married during her lifetime didn’t have any titles, were much poorer and, in the case of her latest husband, much younger than her.

‘Walk on the wild side’ reads a headline in the Daily Mail, referring to how Princess Mary stepped out in leopard print heels before visiting heart patients at a local hospital.

In slightly more reserved style SMH noted recently: 'Duchess of Cambridge praised for being a pregnant fashion rebel.'

I always thought being described as wild or a rebel would require more than any of the above actions.
It is not unusual for newspapers to use eye-catching headlines, but I feel frustrated every time an aristocrat gets ridiculous praise for an unremarkable act.

There are times when aristocrats are not only described in hyperbolic terms; we are asked to transform the reality about them by ignoring important elements of that reality.

Take the example of Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad, wife of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. In 2011 US Vogue published an article headlined "A Rose in the Desert" praising her beauty and philanthropy. It caused a storm of criticism and was pulled from Vogue's website in May that same year, when Syrian security forces entered Tell Kalakh, near the Lebanese border, following an anti-Assad demonstration. This, according to Amnesty International's report, led to deaths in custody, torture and arbitrary detentions. Assad is also thought responsible for the chemical weapon attack that took the lives of hundreds of Syrian people in 2013.

We can’t expect all aspects of someone’s life to be reported in every article but turning a blind eye to significant aspects of that life, focusing only on the neutral or positive ones is a form of lying. I could say that Hitler was an Austrian-born, German-bred, man who ran Germany for a significant period of the 20th century, but if I said nothing else I would be distorting the truth about him.

But some of the women I’ve referred to in this article haven’t done anything that bad, I hear you say; there is no harm in reporting on their deeds in hyperbolic terms.

Using the terms ‘daring’, ‘brave’ and ‘rebellious’ to describe trivial acts places the people undertaking them at the same level as people who really undertake rebellious acts worth reporting on. Misusing these words diminishes those people who take serious risks to go against the current for things that matter, such as journalists and activists Lydia Cacho and Caddy Adzuba. Cacho, in Mexico, and Adzuba, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are committed to defending human rights and building peace through their efforts as journalists in countries with high levels of violence against women and children.

When we overuse the word ‘rebellious’ in a trivial context, it means we then have to go searching for new, stronger words to refer to individuals and organisations that would have been described as ‘rebellious’ a few years ago. An example of this is the fact that, as Dennis Hayes discusses in his recent article, the Socialist Workers Party may nowadays be labelled as ‘extreme.’

Perhaps the most important question is whether we are happy, in the 21st century, to continue idealising aristocrats.

Our love for works of fiction like ‘Game of Thrones,’ would seem to indicate so. The level of coverage and the excessive praise given to aristocracy by institutions and media perpetuates a society of ‘them’ and ‘us,’ where any decent behaviour by the powerful is considered worthy of our praise, admiration and if necessary, submission.

This poses a significant problem for Australians as recent studies indicate that one in three Australian elderly people live in poverty.

At the beginning of the 20th century this wouldn’t even have been reported. At that time common lives deserved little attention, apart from when they involved crime.

The balance between news focused on the aristocracy and news focused on common people has changed dramatically since then. Reducing the space devoted to royals and other aristocrats even further seems only as natural as the progressive decline of royal houses across the world.

If we can’t resist writing about them, at least let’s stop calling them rebels when they don’t
deserve it.

19 Sep 2014

Marketing, politics and Muslim culture

This week we've seen several police arrests in Australia in relation to a planned terrorist attack.

Cordoba Mosque, Spain
As a Spaniard, I know what it is to live in a country where the threat of terrorist attacks is present. The Basque terrorist group ETA has killed over 800 people since it started operating in the 70s and we had the horrid terrorist attack by Al Qaeda which killed over 200 people in Madrid in 2004. We wonder how terrorist organisations around the world manage to recruit new members.

My view is that it has a lot to do with marketing. It's thanks to a great marketing strategy that different newspapers refer to ETA as a separatist group and not a terrorist group.

I think a good marketing strategy to remind everyone of the great achievements ofthe muslim world in past centuries could contribute to some of the possible new terrorist recruits choosing to devote their time to pursue the goals of those past civilisations.

It would also help the so called Western nations understand the magnificence of some of these achievements, which would hopefully lead to a greater respect for Muslim culture. Reading 'The Ornament of the World' by Yale University professor María Menocal would be a good place to start.

It is one of the most enjoyable and informative books I've read in recent years. It explains the great successes and turbulent times of al-Andalus, which embraced much of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries.

She talks about the great thinkers of the time, such as Averroes, a philisopher who has been described as the "founding father of secular thought in Western Europe." Latin translations of Averroes's work led the way to the popularization of Aristotle in Europe.

He wrote on logic, Aristotelian and Islamic philosophy, theology, the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence, psychology, political and Andalusian classical music theory, geography, mathematics, and the mediæval sciences of medicine, astronomy, physics, and celestial mechanics.

In an interview with ABC Radio: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/encounter/finding-cordoba/3403818#transcript Menocal explained that the title is a line she stole from a poem written in the 10th Century in Latin by a German nun who knew about Cordoba,the capital of the caliphate, which at that point was at sort of its height -.

The interview is worth reading. It features Imam Feisal abdul Rauf, who in 1997, founded the American Sufi Muslim Association dedicated to building bridges between the American public and American Muslims. Imam Feisal is also the founder of the Cordoba Institute, a multi-faith effort to stimulate fresh new approaches to achieving peace and to help heal the relationship between Islam and America.

Perhaps the media could play a role in publicising this kind of initiatives a bit more...

12 Sep 2014

Human trafficking, Breaking Bad and the search for happiness

Recently I had the pleasure to interview award-winning Mexican journalist and activist Lydia Cacho. Lydia was in Australia to speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival and the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney.

She's an indredibly inspirational woman and talking to her made me feel invigorated. We all need people like Lydia in this world. I hope she can continue to do her work without facing any more harm than she's already suffered.

If you have the chance to hear Lydia speak in person, I encourage you to do so. In the meantime, here is a link to my interview, where I talked to Lydia about human trafficking, Breaking Bad and the search for happiness: Lydia Cacho: fighter, writer.

5 Sep 2014

Father’s Day whinge

As Father’s Day approaches in Australia, I think of my dad.

Although he passed away three years ago, as cancer took him away from us horribly fast, my son reminds me of him every day. Santi’s cleft chin looks just like dad’s was. He also has the same strong and passionate character that runs in the family and leaves no doubt about whether we’re happy or frustrated.

I don’t particularly enjoy doing anything dictated by someone else and have a general aversion to celebrations instigated by shopping centres and carried out by thousands of people at unison. However, it’s nice to just stop, think of the important men in our families and celebrate the day with them somehow, even if it’s just via email.

As part of this celebration I’m going to encourage the men in my life to whinge. Why? Because often we hear people talk about man flu and how men complain way too much whenever they get a bit sick however, I know lots of men who suffer the opposite problem. These men disregard the importance of looking after themselves, ignore signs of ill health and are incredibly reluctant to see a doctor.

According to Australian research, compared to women, men visit the doctor less frequently, have shorter visits and only attend when their illness is in its later stages. This seems to be linked to a definition of masculinity which includes strength and silence.

So I’d like to say to all the dads: whinge! If you’re not feeling well, physically or mentally say so.

No one will think less of you, definitely not those who love you. Your family will probably feel proud to support you the same way you support them when they need it. You’re likely to recover faster if you seek help early and have the help of those around you. All this may contribute to you sticking around a bit longer for those who love you.