Saturday, October 18, 2003

Spain. Oh, yeah, Spain. that's what this blog's supposed to be about, right? Spain. Not the Violent Femmes and Ethan Hawke.

Barcelonese author Manuel Vazquez Montalban kicked off, of a heart attack at the Bangkok airport at age 64. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, my ass. Vazquez Montalban was a prick, a disagreeable person, who was in addition a loudmouth unreconstructed Yankee-bashing Communist. Besides, his books suck, and his newspaper articles were horrific. This isn't a case of Gore Vidal or Graham Greene, authors I disagree with politically but whose obvious talent I recognize. This is more like a case of, say, Michael Moore. Remei says he's probably in hell with his buddy Stalin.

Spain will contribute $300 million to the Iraqi reconstruction fund, making them the fourth nation on the list of contributors after the US, the UK, and Japan.

October 12th is a holiday in most of the Spanish-speaking world; we call it Columbus Day, and Spanish correspondents are annually amazed to find that in the States it's the Italian-American holiday. This is partially based on their belief that Columbus was Spanish or, even better, Catalan. (He was a Genoese, of course.)

This holiday has a lot of different names. If you're an orthodox Spaniard, you probably call it the Dia de la Hispanidad. If you're a fundamentalist Spaniard, it's the Dia de la Raza; this name has rather Franquista overtones these days, though I believe it's the name used in Latin America. If you're an anti-centralist Spaniard, you probably call it the Dia de la Virgen del Pilar (Our Lady of the Pillar or the Column, patroness of Aragon). If you're a squatter you've probably been spending the last couple of weeks spraypainting "12-O NO N'HI HA RES A CELEBRAR" or "ESPANYA GENOCIDA" and stuff like that on the walls of your neighborhood bank branch.

Since it is the national holiday of centralist Spain, they had a military parade in Madrid, the way they always do. That's fine with me, I actually kind of like parades. In Barcelona said parade is considered an excuse to make fun of the old-fashioned patriotism of Spain allende el Ebro for the nationalists or a reason for public outrage and breast-beating by the Commies. Anyway, though, all these dignitaries always come out to the parade and sit on the reviewing stand as the Spanish Army marches past, normally in the company of allied troops. This year they invited the other countries whose troops make up (along with Spain's) the Plus Ultra brigade occupying part of Iraq; those countries are the United States, Poland, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras.

So when the American flag passed by, opposition leader and Socialist candidate Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, on the reviewing stand, refused to stand up and applaud like you're supposed to do. Everyone from the PP to Convergence and Union slammed his behavior as childlike; La Vanguardia quite justifiably questioned whether anyone with so little sense as to break established protocol in order to throw a tantrum is fit to become Prime Minister. (Good one for once from the Vangua.) Zap just keeps digging himself deeper and deeper; his behavior offended even many moderate Socialists on the grounds that it was an embarrassment to the King, the Head of State, up there on the stand presiding the ceremony, and to the Spanish Army, which had invited these other nations' troops as guests. Basic rule: if you do something that causes the King to apologize to the American ambassador on your behalf, you've fucked up pretty big-time.

Here's the biggest bit of Catalooniness I've ever seen, speaking of symbols--and the flag of a country is just a symbol, after all. (I personally am not especially offended by Zap's dis of the US flag, I'm just surprised at his stupidity and public childishness, and I really hope he doesn't get elected.) One thing nationalists do is take symbols far too seriously, and this is especially true in Catalonia. It seems that Artur Mas's soul is wounded to the quick that Catalonia does not have official national sports teams. Well, they actually do have a "national soccer team"; they hire some other country to come play a Catalan all-star soccer team every Christmas, and a big deal is made thereof. Once they got Brazil to come. With our tax money, of course. But these games don't count for anything because Catalonia is not independent, and so the international committees that run sports like the FIFA and the IOC don't recognize it as a real national team.

I don't much care either way, personally; my life is not affected by whether Catalan athletes play for Spain, as they've always done, or for a specifically Catalan team. It just don't make me no never mind. It does seem to me like an unnecessary hassle, and discussion is academic anyway because these international sports bodies are not going to recognize Catalonia, because if they did they'd have to recognize Bavaria and Flanders and Chechenia and Alabama and everybody else who wanted them to.

Here's Artur Mas's solution to this grave problem: see, there's this country called Andorra in the Pyrenees between Catalonia and France. They got seventeen people and a goat and some tax-free booze-and-cigs shops. However, Catalan is the sole official language of this tiny place, about the size of a Kansas county. Mas's proposal would set up an Andorran-Catalan national team, and Catalan players would play for it rather than for Spain. Naturally, everybody's against it, on the grounds that it violates IOC and FIFA rules and the Andorran Constitution, along with just plain common sense, viz: Catalans play for the Spanish national sports teams because Catalonia is part of Spain. And anyway, don't we have three hundred more important things to talk about? And why would the eighteen people and a goat who live in Andorra want to be represented by a bunch of pijos from Barcelona anyway?

Here's Cristina Sen from La Vanguardia in Madrid.

Rodrigo Rato's face said it all yesterday. The First Vice-Prime Minister arrived at the press conference following the Cabinet Council meeting without having read in the newspapers about Convergence and Union candidate Artur Mas's proposal for Catalonia to go to the Olympic Games under the Andorran flag, and when he heard the first question about the subject he was speechless and then turned red trying to conceal--unsuccessfully--his laughter, which was contagious to the two ministers at his sides, Eduardo Zaplana and Angel Acebes.

It was the Administration's first response, and an obviously spontaneous one. Before Zaplana gave the Administration's official version, trying to avoid being too critical, Rato whispered to him, asking if Mas's proposal was for real, and Zaplana nodded his head. The Vice-Prime Minister kept smiling.

This bright idea sprang from, where else, the Generalitat's Department of Culture, also known as the "Ministry of Truth". The very first thing I would do if I were Catalan Prime Minister is completely axe the Department of Culture and start over again, much less ambitiously and expensively.

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