Thursday, September 04, 2003

Well, we've spent the last couple of days talking about Spanish politics in depth. The waters are calming as the uproar over Jose Maria Aznar's surprise announcement of Mariano Rajoy dies down, the cabinet reshuffle fades out of popular consciousness, and everybody gets bored with the Socialists' sniping at one another. The media is giving Rajoy a genuine honeymoon; he really is genuinely popular among what they call the "political class" here and among the media. They like him in a way they don't like Aznar. But they respect and even fear Aznar. The question is whether Rajoy, whose public image is more that of the velvet glove than of the iron fist, will get the same respect. I think he will; Rajoy's not so much iron-fisted as he is Edward Scissorhands. He doesn't punch, he cuts, but the results are the same: he who gets in the way gets hurt. Or at least gets a new hairdo, and Rajoy will leave you looking like a cross between Sid Vicious and Gopher from the Love Boat when he gets through with you.

By the way, Gopher was a several-term Republican congressman from Iowa after he got out of acting, and he genuinely did a fine job. I have to look this up, but I think he was some sort of successful businessman before he kind of accidentally became an actor. Cooter from the Dukes of Hazzard got elected to Congress, too, but I think the voters got sick of him real quick. I believe he was a Democrat from Georgia, which tells you all you need to know right there.

Anyway, here's all the other stuff that's going on around here. What everyone's been talking about, even more than the political upheavals, is the Malaga murder cases. As I said a week or so ago, murder is very rare in Spain. The Madrid murder rate is the highest in Spain, and it's something like 4 per 100,000 per year. In the US as a whole it was 5.7 in 1999, but that includes all the rural areas and suburbs where murders are also very rare. Some of our cities have just horrendous rates: in 1998 Detroit's was 43, Baltimore's was 47, Washington's was 50, New Orleans's was 49, Atlanta's was 36. Some of our cities, though, really are very safe: San Diego's was 3.5, San Jose's was 3.4, El Paso's was 2.7. New York's was 8.6 and L.A.'s was 11.8, for purposes of comparison.

There are basically three kinds of murders in Spain: domestic killings, organized crime hits (often Eastern Europeans), and sex pervert killings.

What happened in Malaga province was that four years ago an attractive 19-year-old girl, Rocio Wanninkhof, of Spanish nationality and German descent, was stabbed to death in the town of Mijas. She'd apparently been kidnapped on the way to a local fiesta. Rocio's mother's ex-lesbian lover, Dolores Vazquez, who had lived with Rocio and her mother for ten years, was convicted of the murder on very sketchy evidence. She appealed instantly on the ground that there was basically no evidence against her, which you can do in Spain, and she was freed a year and a half later. Rocio's mother was virtually the only hostile witness. Vazquez is still waiting for a retrial, but absolutely nobody but Rocio's mom, who is understandably very bitter, thinks she did it.

Then on August 14 of this year Sonia Carabantes, 17 years old, disappeared in the town of Coin, again on the way to a fiesta mayor, and her body was found two weeks later. She had been strangled. There was a very quick break in Sonia's case: they found bits of skin and the like under Sonia's fingernails. The material obviously corresponds to that of her attacker(s)--the cops believe there may have been more than one. They checked the DNA, which belongs to a man, and it matched that found on a cigarette butt at the scene of Rocio's body. This seems to point to the innocence of Dolores Vazquez. Neither Sonia nor Rocio had been sexually attacked.

Now there's another twist. On August 18, 2000, 18-year-old Maria Teresa Fernandez was kidnapped on her way to a fiesta mayor in Motril, in the neighboring province of Granada. Her body was never found. Maria Teresa's case is being reopened. The three girls had several things in common: they were all on their way to local fiestas, they were all tall with long hair, they were all very pretty, and they were all of Central European German-speaking origin, since both Sonia and Maria Teresa had been born in Switzerland.

There is a fourth case that may also be related to these three. At about the same time as Maria Teresa's disappearance, 19-year-old Ana Maria Lorente was murdered in the town of Alora in the province of Malaga.

My guess, and most other people's guess, is that there is a serial killer operating in the Malaga area. Murph has dived into the deep end of conspiracy theory; he thinks some high-muckety-muck in the deeply corrupt nouveau riche Eurotrash town of Marbella is behind these cases. Who knows? I hope we find out soon, I hope nobody else has to die before the guilty parties are caught, and I wish we could hang the bastards when they find them. I hope it's Jesus Gil. He's so fat they'd have to set the drop at a foot and a half in order not to rip his head off. On the other hand, would anybody mind?

Eusebio Val in Washington has a long unintelligent article about the movie "Thirteen", which I've never heard of. Says Eusebio, " 'Thirteen' contains a severe criticism of the pressures that adolescent girls suffer because of advertising and the media--the cult of beauty, the instrumentalization of sexuality--and by the culture of consumption in general." When in doubt, it's capitalism's fault! And, of course, this shit exists only in America, and if we see it in Spain, too, it must be America's fault!

Two points: One, it's just a movie, people, and two, I'm a little more worried about what's going on down in Malaga than I am about whether nutty moms let their daughters get their tongues pierced. Competition and bitchiness and insecurity and peer pressure and problems with the discovery of sexuality, among adolescent girls, are not precisely news.

I would really like to whack a bunch of Europeans upside the head real hard and scream in their unhearing ears, "THE FACT THAT YOU SAW IT IN A MOVIE DOES NOT MEAN THAT THAT'S WHAT AMERICAN DAILY LIFE IS LIKE."

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