My trip to Spain: June and July, 2012.
Spain means to a lot of us Franco, the corrupt repressive government of the generals, vague hearsay about the Spanish Civil War and now some kind of economic collapse, tied to the banks and the Euros, that might even rival Greece; the newspapers before we left home a week ago ran lurid accounts of mobs rushing into the Madrid banks to snatch out their savings and convert them into…pounds!
As usual there is a grain of truth in these accounts—salaries across the board here have been cut here about thirty percent, and the metro has added three Euros to its ten Euro ten ticket charge, a killer for working families; but there is no atmosphere of gloom, no crowds storming the banks, few beggars, and a sense at least for me as a tourist of a lively people pulling together in the face of yet another kind of hard times…
What would lay the US low and result in rapidly repressed or at least under-covered protests like the Wall Street gatherings across the country that have now slipped out of our national consciousness is the lifestyle of the royal family, which continues to generate popular support; the king is said to be “hands-on,” his son married the divorced granddaughter of a cab driver, and it rained on their wedding—all of which garners popular support, but does not diminish the appalling grandeur of the royal palace.
This vast building with two thousand rooms is forbidding and overwhelming in the way of most royal houses which seem to disdain the needs of ordinary human beings; even the royal bathroom (no longer used) is a forest of china cherubs that would make the bather fear for her sanity.
In the grotesquely large state dining room, the table seats more than three hundred guests and is still used twice a month; the king, according to French protocol, sits in the middle of one side so he can look out the window and spot an assassin approaching; the queen, on the opposite side, is seated so she can keep her eye on the door to the kitchen.
While all of this is being displayed to the usual swirling mob of tourists, a vigorous protest is going on just outside the gates—four or five hundred dispossessed workers, waving red flags and chanting as the big tourist buses roll by. The police are parked discreetly nearby but do not interfere.
This may be the road to compromise we must all follow: the ancient privilege of a small class and the endless cheerful protest of the mass of those who have less—at least in our eyes—the disadvantaged.
But the protesters sound so cheerful, so alive, and it is easy to imagine some protocol-encrusted diplomat at the vast banquet table wishing he could step out and join them.
Or perhaps that wish would belong to his wife.