It really happened.  The New York Times came up with that devastating article about the Spanish rummaging through the garbage to find food, and the entire world fell for it.  This was back on September 24th.  It left many of us who live here dumbfounded.  We remarked on the matter and then dropped the subject feeling that somehow it wasn’t worth getting all huffy about one of the world’s leading papers disseminating some of the most disproportionate facts about the dreadful conditions here in this country.  They do what they can; so do we.

       If you ignore it, it will go away.  They do what they can; so do we.

        That is, until today, months later, when I started up a talk with a student’s father who does business in the States.  We were at the chilly windswept soccer fields of the Ernesto Cotorruedo near the Plaza de La Elíptica.  Cotorruedo clearly had ties with the sport, and especially Atlético de Madrid, but it isn’t easy to find online who he was and what he did.  In fact, the most helpful hint I got was from another man posing the same question on a website.

       In any event, this person I was talking to had an interesting job too.  He sets up tours for choruses, orchestras and bands from the States to come here and play.  Once he gets the event arranged, he devotes the rest of his time to ensuring people go.  I was trying to watch my daughter play a soccer game, they were getting slaughtered, but never mind, and at the same time follow the conversation.  I find these tasks challenging, but I did my best to handle both.  Well, it turns out that as a result of all the bad publicitySpainhas received over the past six months, and especially, since the New York Times article, his 2013 agenda utterly collapsed.  His three major events were canceled, as the performers backed out because they fear major social unrest might threaten their wellbeing.  Social unrest?

        “Yes, I see that people are picking food out of the garbage, there.”

        “You’re right.  But they’ve been doing that for years.  No, here the only social unrest you find around here is when the bars close and the people have to go home. Or when the waiter tells you they’ve run out of grilled shrimp.”

       Spain has always been a country which starves for favorable media coverage abroad.  You could say that is true of many countries, but I entirely agree with that.  I know the U.S. couldn’t care less about what foreign reporters have to say about events there, and I’ll venture to say that some of the other big guns feel that way too.  Here, though, reporting on what has been reported elsewhere, is in itself news.  Whether it be a display of headlines from around Europe in response to the Spanish national soccer teams success, or a flashed image of CNN mentioning an arrest of terrorists in Madrid, you will come across countless examples, and proof for that matter, of the Spanish media informing the public of what the media abroad feels and believes.

        I have always found this behavior to be amusing and yet frustrating, because it suggests the mindset of a nation of insecure children begging for the approval of an adult.  Then the consequences of photos like the one published in the Times, and it really was the picture more than the articled that miffed so many, make me think again.  If a short, seemingly unassuming article about the dire situation of Spanish, real to an extent but grossly distorted on a national level, can lead to whole bands of musicians from coming over, then quite possibly this paranoia might be somewhat justified.

        Just why would Americans fall for this kind of journalism?  Is it because they don’t really know much about this country? Is it because the little information they get they consider to be expertise?  As Bob Dylan put it, “It’s hard to say; it’s hard to tell.  I always thought that he was well.”  It’s hard to know what the right answers are if you are not sure if you are asking the right questions.

Real Madrid and FC Barcelona: a two-team league…again

I am a frustrated sports writer, just the way I am a frustrated solo guitarist, but I try to keep away from putting my thoughts on the subject in print basically because so much cyber space is devoted to it already.   Plus, I can’t stand adding comments to articles because then I spend the next two hours returning to the same place over and over just to see how many thumbs up or thumbs down I get.  So I stick to lively conversations with friends.  Every now and again my brain and fingers need a break from the usual topics of traveling and bitching night and day, and I resort to sports. 

This week, aside fromSpain’s performance in the European basketball tournament, the main talk of town is the demise of the Spanish soccer league because the two undisputed heavyweights, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, are getting heavier, and the rest of the teams are becoming distraught as opponents line up in their schedule to receive their thrashing.  At least, that is the impression the press and the other clubs are giving.  The fans are more blunt about it: they call the league una mierda…which kind of translates as a pile of crap.

            The problem is we are only one week into the season. 

          Why all the groaning?  Well, on Sunday Real Madrid opened its season with a match againstZaragoza, a modest team in the Liga, and handed them a 6-0 pummeling before getting back on the bus and returning to the capital.  And it could have been worse, trust me.  Zaragozahas just picked up ten new players over the summer, so it would be fair to say it needs more time to get into tune.  They were basically everywhere except for where the ball was. 

         The next day,Barcelonashowed the soccer world, as if it had to prove anything by now, that it was undaunted byMadrid’s opener, and walked all over Villareal, this time sending the visitors off the field with a 5-0 humiliation.  The painful difference here was that Villareal is (or at least was) considered to be one of the few clubs with any halfway serious shot at the title.  Yeah, right.  I guess that issue is settled ten months in advance. 

          That got everyone screaming and shouting about how unfair it was, and that the Liga was beginning to look like the Scottish League, God forbid, where for decades you have had two teams called the Glasgow Rangers and Celtic and a bunch of other teams who have their butts to them on a weekly basis.    

       Despite all the complaining, the fact is, this has been the case in Spain for a long time.  And it doesn’t take a lot of research to prove it.  Since my arrival here for the first time in 1988, FC Barcelona has won 11 times, Real Madrid 9 times, Valencia 2, Atlético de Madrid 1, Club Deportivo de Coruña 1.  In the 80 years of the Liga’s existence, these two teams have raised the trophy 52 times, with seven others sharing the remaining 28 championships, most of which were won before 1960.  That’s 65% of all the titles split between the two.  So to treat this situation as extraordinary is absurd.

         Another argument is that these two titans are hording all the world’s best players, making it impossible for the others to field anything remotely competitive.  Once again, you can hark back to the late 1950s when Real Madrid took the first five European Cup championships with arguably the best side ever assembled at club level…at least until the Barça of recent years.  Plus, who can blame soccer players for wanting to play for these teams.  Who wouldn’t?  They have the most incredible soccer I have ever seen, as much as it pains me to admit it. 

      I read an article in a Spanish sports daily by a veteran writer who focused on these very points, and when I put it down I came to the conclusion that the man had made a very convincing argument but had overlooked one basic element: just because it’s always been that way doesn’t mean it’s right.  And, if they don’t make some adjustments, it just might turn into a problem. 

I’ll tell you more a little later.