Seven things…

 I got this from A Comentarista and decided to give it a try. Here’s my seven things:

7 things I do well

1. learn foreign languages, 2. cook, 3. read, 4. paddle, 5. forgive, 6. understand, 7. travel

7 things I don’t do or don’t know how to do

1. drive (I know how to but don’t have a license), 2. choose a favourite movie or book, 3. swim butterfly, 4. eat peanut butter, 5. downhill skiing, 6. dye my hair, 7. strip an engine

7 things that attract me in the opposite sex
1. sense of humour 2. intelligence 3. ability to think outside the box 4.creativity 5.honesty 6. sense of justice 7. sensitivity

7 things I say frequently
1. sweety 2. I’m stressed!  3. so much work, so little time! 4. cool! 5. ¡vale! 6. thank you (or Gracias) 7. sorry… (lo siento…)

7 actors/actresses I admire
1. Kenneth Brannagh, 2. Emma Thompson, 3. Colin Firth (sigh…), 4. Cate Blanchet, 5. Sean Connery, 6. Penelope Cruz (didn’t really like her before, but have recently seen her Almodovar movies), 7. Judy Dench

7 favourite movies [I’m just listing 7 random movies I like, can’t do “favourites”

1. Star Wars (the original trilogy) 2. Pulp Fiction 3. Schindler’s List 4. Life of Others 5. Monty Python and the Holy Grail 6. The Life of Brian 7.  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy


Fuel-efficient public transit

This past week the city of Barcelona inaugurated a new extension to their public transit system. It’s environment-friendly and has already been introduced with success in cities like Oslo and  Stockholm .

Meet Bicing:


The idea is simple and brilliant. For 24 euros/year* you can get a card from the city hall that allows you to check out automatically a bicycle at numerous points in the city (mostly at every metro station, train station and major hubs) and use it for free for half an hour. It’s supposed to be an extension of the transit system. You get a bicycle at one station, cycle it to where you are going and drop it off at the nearest drop-off point to your destination. Half an hour is enough to cross most of the city but if you need more time you pay 30 cents for every half hour up to two hours. After two hours you are penalized and may lose your card. It’s all self-service and Bicing is available from 5 am to midnight during the week and 24 hours on the weekend.

I think it’s brilliant. It would really have helped me if this service had been in place this past year. I lived right around the corner from a metro station and work right across the station from another station. Unfortunately the stations were on very different lines, which meant subway was out for me as an option to get to work. Instead I took a bus that took anywhere from 10 mins to 30 mins, depending on when the bus passed by the stop. I often wished I had a bicycle because the whole route to work had big cycling lanes and it was a pretty straight path – down Diagonal to Marina & down Marina to the archives. It would probably have taken me 5-10 mins on a bike! Oh well, maybe next time….

Right now there are 200 bicycles distributed on 14 stations. On May 1st there will be 750 bicycles on 50 stations and by July 1st 1,500 bicycles over 100 stations.

This city is amazing… You can get more info here.

* If you join before July 7th, the card costs only 6 euros for the year.

Muslims in Canada

In light of world events in the past five years, the Trudeau Foundation is organizing a conference on Muslims in Western Societies. In order to prepare for the conference, the Foundation ordered a poll on how Canadians feel about immigrants in general and Muslims in particular.

A majority (53%) disagrees that there is too much immigration.

Canadians almost unanimously (93%) oppose the idea that non-whites should be prevented from immigrating to Canada.

75% agree that Muslim immigrants make a positive contribution to Canada.

Almost 70% do not think that ordinary law-abiding Muslim Canadians should feel responsible for crimes committed by others in the name of their religion.

For the poll results, click here.

Immigration blogs: future academic sources?

One of the reasons I’ve had immigration themes on my mind lately is the profusion of blogs I’ve been reading lately written by Brazilian immigrants (mostly to Canada but a couple to Spain, France or the US).

The blogs written by Brazilians going to Canada are the most fascinating from an academic point of view. The fact that Canada is a country open to immigration doesn’t mean that the process is as easy as hopping on a plane. The main avenue of entry into Canada is as a skilled immigrant and to qualify as such, the prospective immigrant needs to have a minimum amount of schooling (usually university level), work experience, a certain proficiency in English or French, and enough money to support him for the first few months in the new country. For Brazilians the whole process can take around 16 months. So it’s not easy. It requires a lot of investment in time, planning, energy, resources, etc. All of this planning and organization reflects on the blogs written by those imbued by a Canadian dream.

Most of them start writing their blogs the moment they make the final choice, after much soul-searching, to initiate the process. They are usually couples in their thirties or young families looking for a better quality of life. Most have good jobs and good careers in Brazil but are sick of living a life of fear, locked behind tall fences and electric wires. So career and jobs are not the main motivators, but rather the search for a place where they can be assured of safety, respect and a more organized life.

There are usually three phases in this process of immigration.

1. The prospective immigrants (usually a husband and wife) file the application at the Canadian consulate. While they wait – they know it will take some months before they hear back – they research continuously about life in Canada and what to expect. They join support networks of other Brazilians who have gone to Canada, they read Canadian news and listen to CBC Radio. They also start saving as much money as possible and brushing up on their language skills. They try to pick a city. Most have never been to Canada and choosing between Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, etc without ever setting foot in the country can be quite daunting.

2. Visa arrives, move to Canada. The most fun parts to read are the last posts in Brazil and the first few in Canada. The going away parties with family and friends, the difficulty in trying to fit one’s whole life in two 32 kg suitcases, the excitement and the tears. The flight to Toronto – for some, the first international flight – the arrival, going through immigration, the dreamed-off “Welcome to Canada” greeting by the immigration official when he stamps one’s visa.

3. Settling. The first few months. Getting all the pertinent documents, finding a place to live, opening accounts, registering at special programs offered by the government to integrate immigrants into the workforce. From the blogs I’ve read it seems that people in more technical professions such as ITs, engineers, system analysts, programmers seem to find work within the first 2-3 months in their area. That seems to be particularly the case in Toronto. Others from professions in the humanities and social sciences take a bit longer and often need to work for a few months in a co-op (non-remunerated work) to get Canadian experience in their area of work.

It’s fun to follow their first impressions and their positive attitude. Most give updates every few months evaluating their progress and their decision to immigrate. I notice very few disappointments. I think this is mostly because of the extensive research they do before immigrating and their general open-mindness about the whole process. It makes me wish I knew about blogs way back when I immigrated to Canada so I could have documented my process…
Some of my favourites are:

A Era do Gelo

 Cravo e Canela


 Familia Saltense no Canada

 A Marcha dos Pinguins


 Meu Cantinho

 Destino: Canada

 Brancas Nuvens

 Maple Brasil

….and many others…

Multiculturalism and hyphenated-Canadians

Last month we introduced Barcelona to some new-found Canadian friends. Ron and his son Jordan live in Toronto but Ron was doing some work in Dublin and Jordan came to visit during his spring break. Ron and I had some long conversations about the issue of immigration here (Europe) and we couldn’t help but compare it with what we see in Canada and what we hear about in the US.

First there’s the issue of how the government deals with the issue of immigration and how that reflects on people’s perceptions of it. In very general terms, in Europe it seems immigration is perceived as a recent problem that needs to be controlled or corrected somehow. It’s always on politicians’ agendas, along things like crime, accessible housing, and pensions. In Canada, it’s more of a solution to a problem. Canadians are fully aware that their country is underpopulated and with a low birthrate it seems it would shrink more and more. The solution? Allow hundreds of thousands of skilled immigrants in every year.

Now, here’s the key. Because the Canadian government sees it as good thing in the long run and an investment, it actively sells the idea of immigration as being positive for the country as a whole. The government and to a large extent Canadians as a whole fully embrace the idea of multiculturalism. They also make no difference between a Canadian born in Canada and a Canadian who became so after immigrating to the country. Immigrants are also not so clearly ghettoized as in the US. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act says:

Government of Canada recognizes the diversity of Canadians as regards race, national or ethnic origin, colour and religion as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society and is committed to a policy of multiculturalism designed to preserve and enhance the multicultural heritage of Canadians while working to achieve the equality of all Canadians in the economic, social, cultural and political life of Canada

furthermore the act determines that:

(1) It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada to

(a) recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage;

(b) recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism is a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity and that it provides an invaluable resource in the shaping of Canada’s future;

(c) promote the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society and assist them in the elimination of any barrier to that participation;

(d) recognize the existence of communities whose members share a common origin and their historic contribution to Canadian society, and enhance their development;

(e) ensure that all individuals receive equal treatment and equal protection under the law, while respecting and valuing their diversity;

(f) encourage and assist the social, cultural, economic and political institutions of Canada to be both respectful and inclusive of Canada’s multicultural character;

(g) promote the understanding and creativity that arise from the interaction between individuals and communities of different origins;

(h) foster the recognition and appreciation of the diverse cultures of Canadian society and promote the reflection and the evolving expressions of those cultures;

(i) preserve and enhance the use of languages other than English and French, while strengthening the status and use of the official languages of Canada; and

(j) advance multiculturalism throughout Canada in harmony with the national commitment to the official languages of Canada.

Federal institutions

(2) It is further declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada that all federal institutions shall

(a) ensure that Canadians of all origins have an equal opportunity to obtain employment and advancement in those institutions;

(b) promote policies, programs and practices that enhance the ability of individuals and communities of all origins to contribute to the continuing evolution of Canada;

(c) promote policies, programs and practices that enhance the understanding of and respect for the diversity of the members of Canadian society;

(d) collect statistical data in order to enable the development of policies, programs and practices that are sensitive and responsive to the multicultural reality of Canada;

(e) make use, as appropriate, of the language skills and cultural understanding of individuals of all origins; and

(f) generally, carry on their activities in a manner that is sensitive and responsive to the multicultural reality of Canada.

You can read the full text here.

I’ve witnessed many of this policies be put in practice. The city of Toronto, for example, spends a lot promoting festivals from other cultures such as Mexican Independence Day, Caribana (a Caribbean street festival), Black History month, Asian Heritage month, etc… Parents are encouraged to speak their native language with their children so the child can be bilingual or multilingual.

One of the things Ron mentioned that I never thought of was the difference between hyphenated Americans and hyphenated Canadians. In the US, there’s usually a negative connotation to terms like African-American, Native-American, Italian-American, Mexican-American. The ideal is to be just American. With no other word attached to it by a hyphen. In Canada, on the other hand, we are all hyphenated Canadians. Even the original white settlers are known as either English-Canadians or French-Canadians. So the hyphen might denote the country of origin – like Italian-Canadian or Iranian-Canadian – but it doesn’t really bring along any negative connotations (I don’t usually hear the hyphens associated with racial terms).

The way people and government have embraced multiculturalism is one of the things I love most about Canada. I think it’s only through initiatives like these and improved education about the positive outcome of interaction with other cultures that we might hope to end discrimination one day.

In the end, we are all canucks, we all complain about the weather and dream of retiring some place warm ;)


Today is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.


Disclaimer: this is not an indepth comparative essay of immigration policies in Canada, USA and Europe. I´m well aware that the immigration system in Canada is not fail-proof. There are anti-immigration groups, unscrupulous immigration lawyers, and the customs of recently arrived immigrants are not always respected. My point is that immigration is perceived as a positive thing and conceived as an intrinsical part of Canadian identity, which leads to a more harmonious process and increased tolerance.

Do you want to make a difference?

Through Erin’s blog, I came across this wonderful non-profit organization called Kiva, which connects people like you or I, with as little as 25$ to spend, and small business in poor countries in need of a loan. Erin had spoken many times about Kiva, and the press have also covered them frequently. I also read a blog of two interns at Kiva who go to Africa to follow up locally how the business are using the

Inspired by all of that, I decided to also invest on some of these businesses. I don’t have much money but I figured that if I can spend 65 euros for one night at a hotel, I can loan 25$ to help a woman somewhere get her business off the ground and guarantee a good life for her family. So I decided to start with a 100$, which I split between four businesses, all owned by women:

Tolotea Siaki is a seamstress in Samoa, N’Défa Adry owns a clothing store in Togo, Massan Djitri is a mother of six who owns a grocery store in Togo, and Maria del Socorro Aguirre has had a grocery store in Nicaragua for the past ten years and is looking into expanding her business.

They have 12-18 months to repay their loan. Once they do I’m given the choice to get my money back or simply reinvest in other businesses.

I hope to see these women able to tell stories like this one before the end of the year…

Feeling like investing in someone’s business and making a difference in someone’s life? Check Kiva out.

A talented cousin…

My cousin Otavia started decorating cakes when still in her teens. She enjoyed doing really complicated designs that took days to finish and as she grew older she started decorating cakes for family and friends. That was her hobby. As a profession she got a law degree and started working as a lawyer in a family law firm but her heart was not in it. I always thought she should devote herself to her cake decorating business and I’ve now heard that’s the way she has decided to go. She’s only 27 and I’m sure she’ll be quite successful!

She has recently started a blog dedicated to her cake decorating, click here to see it. Here are some of her recent creations:


Gift box

Maltese dogs

The cake above was done for the birthday party of a two-year old girl who loves her Maltese dogs. Notice how the candles were incorporated into the design.


This one was done for the birthday of someone who was into crafts, particularly patchwork. It’s one of my favourites!

Isn’t she amazing? I’m very proud of my little cousin…

The birth of a research assistant

I had been planning to go to Girona to collect some documentation for a long time now but couldn’t figure out the best time to go. As usual, the decision was made for me when I found out that a famous Spanish historian would be giving a public lecture in Girona on Thursday night. Perfect, I thought. We’ll go to Girona, I can do research during the day while Alan wanders around, catch the lecture at night and we could spend the night. With that in mind we set out on Thursday morning.

I found a very nice two-star Pensión near the cathedral. Pensión Bellmirall is in a 14th-century house on a nice side street. We were very pleased with our room:

Room 2 at Bellmirall

After checking in, we set out to the Archivo Diocesano de Girona, where I had to collect some documents. Alan didn’t really feel like wandering the sights on his own so he volunteered to take pictures of the documents I needed. Since this was the first time he handled 14th-century documents, he was in constant awe. I’m always telling him about the neat books and documents I see people working with at the archives here in Barcelona and he was pleased to have the opportunity to handle some of these himself.

Register of Letters from the bishop Opening the books

This one still had its original cover:

Pink cover for an account book

Every once in a while we would find little drafts and notes stuck inside the books:


I was very pleased at the two archives I needed to visit. The people at both the Archivo Diocesano and the municipal archives were very friendly and nice. There was no red tape to speak of – no one demanded an introduction, reference letters and the like – and I was allowed to bring anything in the room. Very low profile. Both archives are also up to date with their use of technology and are working hard to digitize their documents.

After the work at the archives was done, we went out for lunch and took the afternoon off to explore the city a bit. The old town of Girona is beautiful and considered one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. The city is also considered the best place to live in Spain. We had been there before and you can see some pictures here and here.

I really enjoyed our time there, maybe I’ll make the Jewish community of Girona my second project… That way we could spend a year there ;)

Despite feeling guilty for abandoning my main research here in Barcelona for a few days, the trip was successful and we can home with a few hundred pictures of documents that I can use for my thesis… And Alan has been named my official research assistant ;) Go here for Alan’s take on his new job. Now, if only I could teach him paleaography….