A Day in the Country 5


Once out on the road, it normally doesn’t take long to get to the mountains of Madrid as long as the traffic doesn’t get in the way, which it often can.  It is normally about 15 miles out when you get a feel for just how many people have thought along the same lines as you.  On most occasions the three lanes can support the volume.   It’s when they become two lanes that things become a bit tight.  This conversion occurs far too early into the trip.  Madrid needs to keep those lanes open for 60 miles to allow for much of the traffic to shoot off to their respective towns; but until that happens, and it should some day, you are left to a guessing game.  One alternative is to take the less-traveled route over the mountains which has so many curves on it that taking your kids on it could be interpreted as child abuse.  If vomit is your thing, then this is the choice for you.  But I usually stick to the main road.  Plus, I had to get to Guadalix de la Sierra to pick up one of my daughter’s friends.  Guadalix is about 35 miles from the center of Madrid.  As I mentioned at the beginning, if there is one thing this town is famous for (in addition to being home to Spanish TV’s version of the Big Brother reality show) it’s the fact that Berlanga’s legendary comedy film “Bienvenido Mr. Marshall” was filmed here, for the most part.

            This movie is little known outside of Spain, but within its frontiers, it’s a landmark in Spanish Cinema.  It tells of a small town in Castile that has heard that a contingency of American VIPs will be passing through the town to see firsthand the needs that it might have. The Marshall Plan was America’s policy to stimulate economically depressed nations at the time, hence the allusion in the title.  The town is very excited by the prospects of having its village receive a good injection of money to improve its wealth but is, at the same time, ashamed of its shabby state.   They feel that the Americans will be disappointed by what they find because it is not the Spain they have in mind.  So, in an effort to appease the visitors, as well as outdo the neighboring villages, they decide to turn their town into a Andalusian-style town with flamenco dancers and elegant landowners and bullfighters.  Essentially they sell out their own image to meet the foreigners’ expectations.  The night before the Americans arrive, everyone goes to bed with visions of new tractors and sewing machines dancing in their heads.  The next day, and I’ll spoil the end for you, because I doubt most of you will get a chance to see it, and if you do, it won’t matter because it’s so much fun anyway, the whole town gathers in the center with banners and music and cheering and watched while American motorcade roars in and by them without even stopping.  The only thing they leave behind is the dust they have kicked up from the wheels.

            Berlanga and his amazing screenplay writer Rafael Azcona were so sharp that it is impossible to put down in just a few words all the messages they were sending out in this brilliant story.  They weren’t attacking the Americans. If anyone, they were attacking the Spanish for betraying their own culture.  They were poking fun at the Franco regime for making Spain look like a bunch of folklore freaks. They were ragging on human nature for doing anything for money.  And yes, my compatriots (or any benefactor for that matter) for insensitivity and arrogance.  No one is left unscathed at the end of the film.  A good stinging comedy should be like that.

            Coming to Guadalix was an exciting moment for me.  The town’s link to the movie is visible in a roundabout as you enter it.  There you can find statues of the townspeople with banners cheering on the arrival of the Americans.  My favorite sign says, “HOLA”, a simple “HELLO”, which to me is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in movies.   If you go to the main square, and look up at the town hall, you can see a statue of the actor Pepe Isbert dressed as a man from Cordoba delivering his famous speech to the people of the town in the days leading up to the big moment.  Also some of the houses and buildings that appeared in the film. The rest is just a normal everyday town near the Sierra of Madrid.  Pretty in parts, a bit anarchical architecturally speaking, but friendly and welcoming.  I was following the footsteps of a work of art that captured so much of Spain that preceded my arrival, and yet one with which I could somehow identify.  The Andalusian look is still very much a major selling point for this country.  And if you don’t believe me, stick your head into any tourist shop in the center of Spain and see for yourself.  The spirit of Mr. Marshall lives on!

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