Monday, February 16, 2004

Well, yesterday was the anniversary of the Great Big Anti-Yankee Demo. On Feb. 15, 2003, leftist organizers got between 300,000 and 500,000 people out on the streets of Barcelona for a mass demonstration that was supposedly "against war" but really against the US; you could tell by the signs people were carrying and by the concluding speech, an anti-American diatribe by the little-known actress Carme Conesa. (Pedro Almodovar did the speech in Madrid. Americans might want to remember this when deciding whether or not to give Almodovar any of their money at the box office.) The organizers claimed a million, though they didn't get anywhere near that many. It was still a very large demo, though.

So this year they decided to have another. This time they got between 6000 and 10,000 people in the Plaza Catalunya. A "cacerolada", a pot-banging, was scheduled last night for 10 PM but I didn't hear a thing, and I had my Merle Haggard CD ready to go at top volume as soon as the pot-banging started. TV3 tried to make a big deal out of it, focusing in on the crowd and filling the screen with it. They did pull back once: then you could see that the crowd comfortably fit into the center of the plaza, without even spilling out and blocking traffic.

The other thing TV3 repeated over and over was that George Bush I said something last year in a TV interview along the lines of "We can't let American foreign policy depend on how many people demonstrate in Barcelona." Now, Bush just threw the name of Barcelona out as an example, as you can tell from his tone of voice; he could just as easily have said "Milan" or "Paris" or "Berlin". Still, both TV3 and the Vanguardia mentioned Bush's mention of the city of Barcelona with great pride, as if it demonstrated the international significance of Barcelona. Woo-hoo! An American ex-president mentioned us with a throwaway line in an interview eleven months ago!

By the way, in other Catalan cities, they got a thousand in Tarragona and 300 in Lerida. In Gerona not even the organizers bothered to show up, so there was no demo, just a handful of reporters milling about.

The Vanguardia has a couple of polls out. In this morning's paper they give us their projection of the vote within Catalonia for the March 14 general elections in Spain. The Socialist PSC will pull 37% of the vote and 18 seats in the Congreso de los Diputados; the conservative PP will get 22% and 11-12 seats; nationalist Convergence and Union will get 18% and 9 seats, the independentista ERC will bring in 13% and 6-7 seats, and the Communist ICV will draw 7% and 2 seats.

Several small surprises here. I'd expect the Socialists to lose a couple of seats and not do quite as well as the survey says. The PP, for the first time, will be the second most-voted party in Catalonia, a role that had previously belonged to Convergence and Union.

The big non-surprise, though, is the collapse of Convergence. Now, CiU, the mainstream and fairly responsible Catalan nationalist coalition, has been riding for a fall for years. It is a combination of Union, the conservative Christian Democrat Catalan nationalist party, and of Convergence, a catchall bunch of Catalan nationalists who run the gamut between moderate conservative and social democrat. Now, Union is a real political party with a solid following and a coherent ideology. They'll survive. Convergence, though, was held together only by the force of personality of its longtime leader, Jordi Pujol. Well, Pujol has retired and Convergence is splitting. The more leftist and more independentista Convergence voters have already gone to ERC, the more conservative and less nationalist voters will stay with Union or go to the PP, and the more social democratic voters will flip to the Socialists.

Yesterday the Vangua ran their poll results for all of Spain; they predict the PP will win handily but will not repeat their absolute majority that Aznar won in the 2000 generals. As I always say, the PP always does a couple of points better on election day than they do in the pre-election surveys, due to the fact that it's politically incorrect to say you're pro-PP. Some people won't admit it even to an interviewer. If the PP doesn't take an absolute majority, though, they can count on the Canarian Coalition and what's left of Convergence and Union to put them over with a parliamentary majority.

Pretty much all the Vanguardia's commentators have been slagging the US off about the Janet Jackson so-called scandal for the last two weeks. Who cares? Everybody's forgotten all about it already. It was no big deal, just a media blip. But the Vangua's columnists are taking turns using words like "puritanical" and "hypocritical" and "immature" and "censorship", and they're still doing it, making the Vanguardia officially The Last Newspaper in the World to get off this dumb story.

"Chemical Lali" Sole has a piece calling the Clint Eastwood movie "Mystic River" "immoral". Huh? I thought it was just a movie.

Barcelona beat Atletico de Madrid last night 3-1, a convincing win against a real team, and held on to fourth place in the Spanish league. Edgar Davids is the big difference. With him in midfield, Xavi, Barcelona's "quarterback" or "point guard", isn't always covered by an opposing player, and so he has a chance to make the long passes that he does so well. And Davids is a scrapper, a never-give-up guy, something Barca really needed. I was very wrong about him. Ronaldinho continues to demonstrate that he really is a top-class player. Nobody else on the team is doing all that great, but at least they're playing competently now. Madrid, Valencia, and Deportivo are still running away with the league, though.

Cyclist Marco Pantani, who won the Tour de France several years ago (1997?), was found dead in a hotel room in Italy surrounded by boxes of antidepressives and anxiety-blockers at age 34. He'd been involved in several drug scandals, though he was still competing professionally. They haven't made it clear whether this was a suicide or an accident, or whether it was even an overdose. Pantani suffered from manic depression.

On the back page of La Vangua, there's a very odd interview with Robert Gallo, one of the discoverers of the AIDS virus. About halfway through Dr. Gallo begins spilling his guts to the interviewer, how he dumped his wife for a Twinkie and how she then took him back, how he ignored his children, how he'd been a bad parent, how the dispute over who'd found the AIDS virus first hurt him emotionally as well as financially, how the people he'd expected to stand up for him didn't, and so on. This is clearly a guy who has some psychological problems that he is in the process of working out. Or, in regular English instead of jargon, he's a sad and rather bitter man who feels guilty. Rather like me on a bad day.

The interviewer, Lluis Amiguet, adds this commentary:

Somebody told me that the doctor's surprising confessions are in the same line as the "born-again Christians" that are so trendy in the United States, and added with cynicism, "If he knows how to apologize well on TV, he'll make it to the White House." Gee, that sounds like prejudice and stereotyping to me, not to mention making light of Dr. Gallo's obvious pain.

And if Dr. Gallo were one of those "stiff-upper-lip" emotionally cold WASPS, out of touch with their feelings and emotions, who care only about work and money and burst with pride over their worldly accomplishments, they'd blast him for living up to that side of the typical American stereotype.

By the way, in case you were interested, the expression "keep a stiff upper lip" is of American origin rather than British, according to H. L. Mencken. Yeah, I was surprised at that, too.

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