No more ¡Oés!; No more ¡Olés!

I really had no idea what to expect when I got back to Spain but I was sort of hoping that the World Cup festivities would still be going on just so I could engage in the fun a little.  You know, maybe thinking that someone out there in Madrid would have paused for a moment and had the sensitivity to say, “Hey wait a second.  You know Brian’s not around.  The poor guy year in and year out misses these moments because he works his ass off to ensure that future citizens of this country learn English better, even if it means sacrificing watching Spain win the big game.  What the hell.  That’s what I call dedication.  Why don’t we wait for a few weeks for him to get back and we can really crank up the party?”  Cool, don’t you think? 

Yeah, right.  Not a soul was waiting for me.  Not a red and yellow banner waving frenetically as I passed through those sliding doors of Spanish customs.  No car service ready to pick me up and whisk me away to the nearest fiesta.  No, there wasn’t a sign to be found anywhere.  Nary a vestige of victory.  In those sparse two weeks since the world, the entire world, fixed its eyes on this suffering country, the mood had swung from euphora beyond limits to business as usual, as if this country won this tournament every other year. 

No, what real had the country riveted was the Catalan (the region where Barcelona is) parliament’s decision to abolish bullfighting in that region. 

Say what?  Bullfighting restricted in certain parts of Spain?  Wasn’t this a favorite all over the country?  I know there remains a tendency to expect to find matadors and flamenco dancers on every street corner in the land, and God knows I have done my part to erradicate that misconception, but what can I do when even Woody Allen makes us think that Spanish guitar playing is a natural part of the Catalonia and Asturias in the north. 

Yeah, right.  You try to find a show in Oviedo and see how long it takes for you to get laughed out of town.

For years now, despite bullfighting’s return to popularity over the past twenty years, in part thanks to toreros like José Tomás who have actually put their lives on the line and given the animal a fighting chance to kill its opponent, there has been a slow but stubbornly determined movement crying out for its prohibition.  And it is beginning to take effect.  In regions like Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, the Basque Country and Catalonia, apart from sporadic examples, the tradition hardly exists. 

Catalans have been actually split down the middle on the issue because this has been a strong and deeply-rooted tradition in this region for decades; a tradition that extends even into southern France.  Still many feel that this is an custom imported from other parts of Spain and that the Catalans should have nothing to do with it.  And the street consensus is that today’s vote has represented yet another chance for the region with a healthy independence movement to further separate itself from Spain.

“How could they do that?”  Many of you have just asked.  Spain has just won the World Cup!  Everyone should be united and happy forever and ever.  That’s what soccer does, for the love of God.

Yeah, right.  Weeks after Iniesta pumped the ball past the keeper and into the net and lifted this country into a state of immortality so deeply sought after for decades, the bliss of reunion has worn off, the renewed nuptial vows taken back, and the honeymoon has been canceled early.  It’s back to business.

De vuelta…part 1

Pues ya estoy de vuelta y vaya si hay novedades.  Parece que todo es nuevo y, a la vez, no ha cambiado nada.

No sé si ha quedado restos o vestigios de las celebraciones…una resaca de la victoria de la Copa del Mundo… pero desde luego la sensación que tengo es que fue ya hace mucho y apenas nadie se acuerda del momento en que Iniesta enchufó un derechazo y mandó el balón dentro de la portería de la selección Karate-Kid de Holanda.  Eso ya pasó.  Llegué con la felicidad de un perro en la playa para comentar todos los detalles y la gente ya tiene poco más que contar que “Sí, sí.  Estuvo impresionante.”  Sí, sí, les digo.  En Simsbury, Connecticut, donde lo presencié, fue impresionante también.  ¡Vaya festorro!  Abuelos tocando las vuvezelas sin cesar, mujeres en ropa interior de Tommy regalando besos por las calles, vacas pintadas de la bandera española…no veas. 

“¿En serio?” me preguntan incrédulos, pero no tan incrédulo como yo al escuchar su respuesta.

Ya solo se habla de otros temas.  Uno es la presentación de Raúl a la aficción de Shalke 04, que lo ha recibido con el calor de una chuleta recién salida del frigorífico.  Y como siempre, con la discreción tan habitual de él, lo ha aceptado como un auténtico caballero.  

El final de la etapa de Raúl en el Real Madrid me ha desconcertado mucho porque con el se acaba una etapa de mi vida.  Yo, siendo casi 10 años mayor que él, me crié de su fútbol de pequeño, desde pequeño, como un pequeño.  Y yo de pequeño, siendo casi 10 años mayor, quería ser como él, jugar como él, triunfar como él.    Era para mí un hermano mayor en este deporte, y a través de su talento, su esfuerzo, su garra y dedicación, ganó mi admiración incondicional. 

Yo no quería dejar que Raúl se fuera.  No podía imaginármelo con otra camiseta.  Además, Raúl no podía irse porque en cuanto lo hizo el tiempo atemporal de mi juventud iba a llegar a su fin y de pronto sería yo un hombre mayor otra vez, con otra edad y en otro momento.  Y eso no me lo esperaba por mucho que supiera que tenía que llegar.

OK. Let’s Get Started

España ha ganado el mundial.  In all my years of living in Spain, never has there been a headline so drenched with meaning, history and significance than this simple stating of a basic fact: Spain has won the World Cup.

To say that this feat is loaded with meaning and wonder does not even hint at the depth with which it moved the country.  TV ratings claimed that the golden came with the goal when as many as 17 million people in Spain were watching.  A record in viewing audience that some found astonishing. 

But I say, hogwash.  In a country of some 45 million people, they mean to tell us in that in the singlemost important moment in its sporting history, and, to be honest, contemporary history, 60% of population was doing something else?  Reading a book.  Drinking coffee.  Going for a walk.  Having sex.  Writing a blog.  Please.  Some may have been, but not 28 million I can assure you. 

Well, so much for technical measurement systems.  The point is, Spain had done it.  It had  proved to the world, and more importantly, it proved to itself it could prove to the world, that it could and would live up to its expectations, despite 20% unemployment and struggling credit ratings.   It started two years ago in the European Cup tournament and was confirmed this month.  A new brash and daring attitude imbued with confidence has taken over the new generations.  Had, after all these years of my being here, Spain changed that much?

One of my missions here, but only one mind you, will be to take a look at this new Spain and rediscover what I discovered for the first time nearly twenty years ago.

Now, I have got a flight to Madrid waiting for me down at JFK.  I’ll catch later and let you know.