Luddite Chronicles: Whatever Happened To The Telephone

Why must I feel like a washed-up nobody just because I have no need for a new "data plan"? All I want to do is make (and pay for) a simple phone call.


MADRID — I recently tried telephoning my mother in Tehran. By that, I don't mean some kind of 1950s rotary phone or 1990s cordless relic. I've long embraced the convenience of using my mobile phone — though now we are told that it is a smart phone.

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Inside Volcanoes, In Front Of Trains: 10 Stunning Soccer Fields Around The World

On September 19, the Cumbre Vieja, a volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma, erupted. Since then, it's been a daily spectacle of plumes of black smoke and lava spewing in the air and destroying everything on its path down to the Atlantic shore, with some 6,000 locals forced to evacuate

With this autumn's dramatic images, all of Spain has been volcano-obsessed, and Madrid-based daily La Rázon pointed out to its readers last week that inside a (non-active!) volcano in Mexico, there is ... would you believe ... the El 'Teoca' soccer pitch.

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Gaudí.

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

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Murder Of A Spanish Bear Leads To Bust Of Colombian Cocaine Ring

A major bust last week of a Colombian-led narcotics ring deep in the Spanish Pyrenees led to the arrest of 12 people, the seizure of two kilograms of cocaine and the discovery of the laboratory where the drug was processed. Police say they discovered the traffickers while on the trail of the killer of a brown bear.

Both pro- and anti-bear associations in Spain remember well the death of Cachou the Bear, whose body had been found last April at the bottom of a ravine in the eastern region of Catalonia. Known to be responsible for several attacks on livestock, the brown bear had many enemies among the locals, and murder was quickly suspected. The theory was confirmed when the autopsy revealed that it had been poisoned with ethylene glycol, a toxic antifreeze used in car coolants.

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Ghalia Kadiri

How COVID-19 Put The Brakes On Moroccan Smuggling Trade

The pandemic and subsequent closing of the border with Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in Morocco, put an end to the 'atypical trade' that sustained the Fnideq region.

FNIDEQ — In the middle of the dense crowd gathered in front of the great mosque of Fnideq, a small trading town in northern Morocco, Amina stands silent, as if paralyzed. Dressed in a white djellaba and scarf, she holds a picture of her neighbor in her hands. The man, in his 40s, poses with his four children in front of the sea. His name was Ahmed Bouhbou.

A few weeks ago, the Spanish coast guard fished his body out of the sea. He had tried to swim to Ceuta with two young people from his neighborhood, dragging a handmade buoy held by a fishing net.

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Alexis Rodríguez-Rata

Long Live Leggings! Deconstructing Pandemic Fashion

The pandemic has caused an overall drop in clothing sales. But is it also changing how we dress? External shocks have had an impact on fashion trends throughout history.

BARCELONA — Bell bottoms were worn in the 1960s and 1970s. Then they disappeared. They returned in the early 2000s, then disappeared again. And now they're back again, suddenly popular among teenagers. Does all fashion just go around in circles? Not always, and especially not right now, say experts.

That's because the coronavirus pandemic is turning the clothing sector upside down — in the short, medium and long term. There is talk of crashing sales and a fundamental break in dress codes. And in the midst of it all, there are a whole lot of leggings.

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Laura Aragó

The Multiple Faces Of Spain's Shifting Immigration Map

From Moroccan migrants to British pensioners, Spain has plenty of foreign-born residents. Each group differs, however, in terms of where and how they concentrate upon arrival.

BARCELONA — Mare Nostrum Avenue in Almería, a mid-sized city in southern Spain, is a dividing line between two realities. On one side, half the residents were born in Morocco; on the other, more than 98% of the population are native Spaniards. Likewise, the city center of Mazarrón, an hour-and-a-half drive up the coast, has little in common wth the surrounding suburbs, an expanse of detached homes where 60% of residents are British. And then there's Madrid's Usera neighborhood, which has developed a distinctly Asian profile: It's now home to 25% of the capital's registered Chinese residents.

Almería, Mazarrón and Usera are just three examples of the residential and communal segregation that divides Spain's territory into different realities and highlights growing inequalities. Typically, a community is segregated from the rest of the population when recently arrived members have fewer options in obtaining credit to access housing, as well as because of racism in the housing market.

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Jorge Alcalde

Covidization Of Healthcare Leaves Other Diseases Untreated

'Covidization' of healthcare systems worldwide has led to rising mortality rates in pathologies like cancer, and more births in the Third World.

MADRID — COVID-19 is killing people even without the virus.

Spain's Lung Cancer Group, a research body, believes lung cancer will have killed 1,300 people more in the country in 2020 than predictive models had anticipated before the pandemic struck. Between January and April this year, lockdowns and diverted healthcare resources meant 30% fewer initial oncology consultations than during those months in 2019.

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food / travel
Antonio Orti

Regenerative Travel: Will The Pandemic End Mass Tourism?

A global pandemic and weariness in many places of cheap, mass tourism may hasten a real paradigm shift in the travel sector. Or not.

BARCELONA — While some airlines, as bizarre as it may seem, continue to offer "flights to nowhere" — on planes that take off and land in the same airport, just to assuage the need for certain tourists to fly — others in the tourism sector are embracing a concept that goes in the complete opposite direction.

The trend is called "regenerative travel," and its aim, says Silvia Grünig, a city planning specialist at Paris University and lecturer in sustainability at Catalonia's Open University, is not only that visitors take care not to degrade, in any way, the places they visit, but that they actually improve conditions there. They should make things better, in other words, and not just for the sector, but for locals, the environment and travel in the future.

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Isabela del Alacázar

What COVID-19 Teaches Us About Sustainable Tourism

Latin American economies, like others, have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism could help fuel a recovery, but only if countries do a better job of protecting their natural wonders.


Economic growth in Latin America has been traditionally tied to industry and raw materials. But in recent years, we have seen many countries adopt a growth model based significantly on tourism.

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COVID-19 And Gender: More Women Face Long-Term Symptoms

A new study in Spain found that middle-aged women are by far the most likely demographic to be suffering long-term effects of coronavirus.

"I have to come up with 50 different ways of saying that I am not better..."

Anna Kemp, 50, is one of many "long-haulers," those people across the world who have survived COVID-19 but are still suffering from its symptoms, months later. But the art festival director is also noteworthy because she fits the profile of those most likely to struggle with overcoming the effects of the virus. According to a new Spanish study, middle-aged women are particularly vulnerable to be long-haulers.

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food / travel
Alfonso Masoliver

Forget Willy Wonka: The Fantastic Tales Of Spanish Chocolate

A chocolate museum nestled in Spain's small town of Astorga reveals how an exotic delicacy became a veritable 'opium of the masses.'

ASTORGA — Mention chocolate in Astorga, a town in north-western Spain, and you'll plunge into pages of Ibero-American history. This spiced, sweet delicacy, available in any corner shop or gas station, wasn't originally easy for Spaniards to get their hands on. When it first arrived, it tasted harsh and bitter, like the iron and gunpowder used to conquer its homeland, Mexico, in the 16th century. The conquistador Hernán Cortés and his companions noted a drink served at Aztec banquets "in delicate, golden cups, made of cocoa itself, which they said was in order to consort with women." They soon learned the drink would infuse any man with unusual energy— a magic potion that could energize warriors before battle.

A similar idea probably crossed Emperor Charles V of Spain's mind when he ordered the import of this miracle drink in order to fire up his foot soldiers in the frigid Netherlands. Cocoa became a hot commodity and a prized dowry, and when Cortés' own daughter was betrothed to the future Marquis of Astorga, the aroma of chocolate likely began to waft through the streets of this small, historic town.

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Leyre Flamarique

Research Short Cuts For COVID-19 May Change Science Forever

In the race to to find a cure, scientists are rushing to release their study results. There are dangers in skipping the standard peer-review procedures, but they may be outweighed by the benefits.

BARCELONA — Across the globe, the coronavirus pandemic has mobilized researchers and specialists in an array of fields in a collective bid to end the current state of emergency. Scientific research has pulled out all the stops to publish studies at a frantic rate, with one website, the Allen Institute of AI's Semantic Scholar, compiling more than 130,000 papers on the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Many were published almost immediately upon completion, and made publicly accessible before undergoing peer revision. This means the results were available months before they would have under standard publication procedures. The aim is to accelerate the search for solutions to the global malady.

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Verónica Fuentes

Sexuality And The Pandemic: Can We Go Back To Getting It On?

The jury's still out on whether COVID-19 can be transmitted sexually. But there's no doubt that it has made many people more cautious about intimacy.

MADRID — Working, going for a drink, hitting the gym, meeting with friends ... These are the common, day-to-day activities for many Spaniards, or at least were — until March 14, that is —when the government issued its estado de alarma (state of alarm) decree to curb the coronavirus pandemic. Suddenly, from one day to the next, our routines were upended.

Fast forward several months, with summer now in full swing, and right now everyone's trying to recover that old social life while navigating what we're told is the "new normal." And by the look of things, it won't be easy, what with all the cautionary recommendations like wearing face masks, constantly washing hands and maintaining a suitable distance from each other. Social gatherings, we're being told, could spark a second wave of contagion.

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Quebec To Cairo, The Pandemic's Heavy Toll On Migrant Workers

The COVID-19 crisis has been particularly disruptive for people who earn a living by moving from one place to the next. But companies who depend on those workers also struggle.

In El Rocio, Spain, workers wearing disposable face masks pile onto overcrowded buses each morning to pick raspberries in plastic greenhouses, where temperatures can reach up to 40 °C. From there, they return to shared temporary housing in the village, where roughly 50 workers are split between 10 rooms.

The living and working conditions are less than ideal for stopping the spread of the coronavirus in a country that was strongly hit by the virus and where cases continue to rise. Still, for migrant workers like 19-year-old Emeka of Nigeria and his housemates, ages ranging from 19-21, the pandemic has provided a rare opportunity.

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Carlos Malamud

Across The Americas, The Drive To Cancel Columbus


BUENOS AIRES — Anti-racism protestors who've demonstrated in recent weeks, and in countries all over the world, are taking their frustrations out on historic figures, toppling or defacing statues of people who embody past injustices. And one of the more typical targets in all this is the man who, back in 1492, famously sailed the ocean blue.

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