Traveler's tales and much more
NEW YORK. NY: Resurrecting this column after Dasain and Tihar, one is confronted by a cornucopia of comment-worthy developments that have taken place. It is therefore possible only to touch upon a mere smidgen of the same, including those associated with our recent 10-day junket to Dublin and Barcelona. DUBLIN What we most enjoyed in the Irish capital was its friendly and informal ambience and the ease of communications, since the Irish we encountered were perfectly in command of the English tongue. Though an array of official measures were in place to promote the national language, Gaelic, it was surprising to learn that only a few inhabitants, mostly in the West, actually use it. To my ear, Gaelic seemed more distant or different from English than Spanish, French, German or Italian. It may be noted that the Irish have so taken to the English language - the lingo of their onetime colonizers - that as many as five Irishmen, writing in English, have won the Nobel Prize for literature, thus far. Interestingly, although there were ubiquitous manifestations of Catholicism in the city by the Irish Sea - including the stunning Christ Church and St. Patrick's cathedrals - what came as somewhat of a surprise was that, as per a recent survey quoted by the Irish Times, only 30 of the respondents identified themselves as practicising Catholics. Dublin has heaps of goodies to offer, including tours of the world famous Guinness beer and Jameson whiskey - spelt with an ' e' unlike Scotch whisky - establishments. Then there are venerable educational institutions such as Trinity College, the world-famed Temple Bar, seductive shopping centres and convivial pubs, not to mention a dazzling array or specimen of eyecatching architecture, whether in the colonial Georgian style or structures dating to times in the dim past. With everything jade-green in the countryside, it was easy to understand why Ireland is called the Emerald Isle. BARCELONA Barcelona was very different from charming ol' Dublin. I found it one of the most attractive European cities I have visited, not only in terms of its shimmering allure as it sits besides the Mediterranean surrounded by verdant hills, but because of its mild climate and a rash of drop-dead stunning structures of diverse architectural genres, including cathedrals and myriad iconic monuments. One must not forget to mention the Barcelona Football Club, stadium and museum, which draws thousands of eager visitors every day, especially lovers of football, from all over the world. Barcelona is perhaps the only city in the world which is practically synonymous with a football club! Barcelona was clearly a potent magnet for an army of tourists and is admirably served by an excellent network of roads and highways, buses and tramcars, metro and funicular services. One was pleasantly surprised to note a mass of South Asians making a living there, including Pakistanis and North Africans. In an upscale restaurant in the Arena de Barcelona - once the venue of bull-fighting, now banned in Catalonia, transformed into a massive mall - we were served by an Indian waiter who informed us that the chef was a Pakistani while the joint was owned by a Palestinian. In a 'Turkish' restaurant on the la Ramlas promenade in downtown Barcelona we were served by Indian as well as Pakistani waiters. They did not seem to have any trouble getting along fine. It was quite a notable coincidence that at the time we were visiting Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, the clamour for separation from Spain ramped up, with massive demonstrations in the Plaza de Catalunya underscoring that objective. Yet, when we actually strolled through that part of town at eight at night, the demonstration was not only over but a rather festive air pervaded the city. And, although many residential buildings in the city were draped in Catalan flags, the national flag, along with the Catalan, was visible on all official buildings. Interestingly, we found that foreign residents, even if some were taxi drivers, were critical of the separation movement, saying that it would be bad not just for the union but for Catalonia itself. At the time this is being written, Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy has warned his government would fire Catalonia leaders and force new elections, within six months, as per Article 155 in the Spanish constitution - being invoked for the first time - a broad tool that would allow Madrid to suspend Catalan lawmakers and take charge of the region's autonomous administration. Revealingly, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont's in his speech to the regional parliament, while we were in Barcelona, appeared to waver in crossing the Rubicon of a unilateral declaration of independence. Notably, too, though he sought the mediation of EU and international support, none was forthcoming. A Nepali waiter at a South Asian restaurant, while talking about the subject of Catalan separation, described it as analogous to what some Madeshis in Nepal are demanding. I pointed out one important difference: no foreign country was backing the Catalan separation demand either directly, or indirectly - a la Nepal! CRACKING UP? Though I have not gotten my head fully wrapped around the Byzantine twists and turns of Nepali politics as Kathmandu prepares for elections to the regional and national assemblies, what is abundantly clear is that the new republican polity is cracking up. Whether it is due to the inherent contradictions in the body politic, post-constitution, or whether it is driven by external forces, it will be exceedingly difficult for Nepal to stave itself from the forces of disintegration now nakedly stalking the land. Will former King Gyanendra make a comeback in the aftermath of all this mess? One would have to be a prophet to predict the future in this regard. All I can say - now - is that in the climate of political lunacy that grips Nepal one would be foolhardy to hazard any guess. Yet, as one is advised, in politics: never say never!