Other Discussions on Spain


"Viva España, viva el Rey!"



We dwell on Spain's divisiveness, the arguments between the regions and Madrid (mostly about money or language), and the violence of the Basque ETA terrorists.

Today, Saturday, October 4, all is peace, harmony and rejoicing, thanks to the marriage of the second daughter of King Juan Carlos in Barcelona. It seems to confirm the thesis of King James I, who sponsored the translation of the Bible and who should be the hero of the anti-smoking lobby, which he really founded, that "the divine right" of monarchs is to keep the peace.

The wedding united the royal bride, who works in a Barcelona office, and the bridegroom, a professional basket-ball player from the Basque village of Zumarraga. They are now the Duke and Duchess of Palma de Mallorca. Significantly, the 450 royal guests, mostly monarchy in exile representing a past era, included the widow and son of the last Shah of Iran (terrible upstarts!) The basketball team, likewise among the guests, represented today's sports-crazy youth. Talk about modernizing the monarchy!

When in 1931 I witnessed in Madrid the fall of the monarchy and the coming of the second republic, the monarchy was so unpopular that Alfonso XIII left Spain following the municipal elections which preceded the national ones. The people dreamed that the republic would answer its dreams. When it did not, there were cries "We have our republic, now we want our revolution!" The Civil War ensued, and the dream turned into a nightmare.

Don Juan, the son of Alfonso XIII, was anathema to Franco, who hoped his son, Juan Carlos, would carry on the dictator's legacy. He did not. He had been generally regarded as inept, a hopeless cause. Instead he has conducted himself with skill, dignity and courage. He made clear his democratic convictions when he bravely resisted the Guardia Civil gang which invaded the parliament building. He has remained calm in the face of threats from ETA terrorists who have tried to assassinate him.

He has had to show great diplomacy. He has come to terms with the Guardia Civil, now under attack for its repression of Basque terrorism. He, like most Spaniards, has had to accept a distortion of history praising the role of the communists in the Civil War and treating the remnants of the International Brigades, including the Stalinist Lincoln Brigade, as though they had fought for democracy and therefore deserved to be welcomed as honorary citizens.

Like the British monarchy, King Juan Carlos must observe political neutrality. Even though he presides over cabinet meetings, he must be discreet. When he made a remark praising Spain's role in NATO, some leftists accused him of interfering in politics.

The Barcelona wedding proved that the mystique of monarchy and the popular love of its ceremonies still survive. Whereas some British royal ceremonies seem archaic, the Barcelona ceremonies hit just the right note. I must admit that I am puzzled by the tradition by which the city presented "arras" consisting of 13(!?) gold coins to the couple before marriage. They were then given to the cardenal archbishop, who later, in the ceremony, handed them to the bride; she gave them to the bridegroom, who then gave them back to the archbishop. I suppose the coins represent the share and share alike tradition of Spanish marriages, which survives in the law of World. It is a tricky ceremony. I was frightened that the coins would fall to the ground. One did, but the bridegroom, with a basketball player's dexterity, picked it up, and a silly scene was avoided.

This all brought back old memories, since I stayed in Barcelona in 1932 to study Catalan under the famous Pompeu Fabra. I lived on the Via Layetana, down which the royal procession passed; I think I even saw the apartment in which I lived. I knew the cathedral well. and the other historic spots featured in the wedding program. A tiled landscape of old Barcelona decorates the patio of our house. Barcelona has changed much since 1932, especially as a result of the embellishment preceding the 1992 Olympic Games. I preserve a great affection for the Catalans I knew, especially for those under whom I studied, now, alas, all dead. I trust the Catalans have not succumbed to the tawdry aspects of the modern world. The spirit of an epoch can best be judged by its art, including its dances. Compare the dignified, beautiful sardana (which was danced in the streets for the royal couple) and its haunting music with the ear-splitting noise and the grotesque contortions of contemporary dance, I am confirmed in my belief that to call our age philistine would be a gross understatement and an insult to the historic Philistines, who were really quite civilized. My latest mission is to persuade the Stanford folk music society to take up the sardana. It would go well with our "Spanish" architecture.



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