International Writers Magazine: Spain
It never occurred to
them that there may have been very good reasons why no one has written
words for it, namely it would be impossible to find two Spaniards who
would agree that:
Seems to be the Hardest Word
in Spain they have just had a competition. The Spanish Olympic Committee
decided it would a good idea if the Spanish national anthem had
some words written for it. I think they felt it was undignified
for Spanish athletes to be seen humming to the national anthem when
they won medals.
a. it was a good idea for the national anthem to have words,
b. it was a good idea to have a national anthem.
Oh, and nobody thought of telling the king (you can see where Im
going with this, cant you?).
But the Spanish Olympic Committee not only went ahead with the competition
they even said whichever of the Five (Four? Three?) Tenors was not dead
would sing the winning entry. A winner was announced. The lyric was published
in the newspapers and it became very clear to the Spanish Olympic Committee
why no one should hold a competition like this in Spain. Ever.
The Catalans refused to sing anything with the word Spain
in it. The Basques didn't even return the Committees phone calls
and as for the rest of Spain there was a unanimous rejection of the winning
entry on the grounds that they would all have to agree, unanimously, that
it was, in fact, the winning entry. Unanimous is not a word
that comes easily to Spaniards unless they are disagreeing about the same
thing at the same time.
The entry formerly known as the winning entry was, when I read it, very
innocuous. It spoke of the mountains of Spain, tall and green, and the
sea, wet and blue, and the sun, big and very hot. And that was pretty
much it. I suppose it was this very innocuousness that attracted the Spanish
Olympic Committee. How could such a song offend anybody?,
they probably thought. It makes me wonder if any of them were actually
As the storm of protest grew the Spanish Olympic Committee cancelled the
competition claiming that whichever of the Two (One?) Tenors was still
alive was refusing to sing the winning entry (possibly in protest at the
absence of any mention of the canals of Spain) and the man who wrote it
said he was so upset that he would never write another national anthem
And nobody said Ooops.
In 1492 Granada fell to the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel. Promised
that their religion and way of life would be respected, the muslim defenders
handed over the keys to the city. In 1499 Cardinal Cisneros ordered that
the books be taken out from the citys muslim university and burnt
in the town square. 700 years of learning went up in smoke.
In 1898, with the American fleet in Cuban waters, Admiral Pascual Cervera
ordered his fleet out of the harbour at Santiago de Cuba. His plan, if
he had one, was to order his boats out of the harbour at Santiago de Cuba
and see them sunk by the Americans. In this he was successful -within
two hours all his boats were sunk and four hundred years of Spanish rule
in Cuba was ended.
In July 1936 General Jose Sanjurjo, one of the principal conspirators
of the right wing uprising, stepped onto the plane taking him to Burgos.
The pilot warned him that he had too much luggage for such a small plane.
Sanjurjo ignored the warning. A few minutes after takeoff the plane crashed
and Sanjurjo was killed. In September of the same year Franco was named
leader of the nationalist cause. There may have been discussion about
any or all of the above but, as far as I know, nobody has ever said Ooops.
Am I going as far as to say that the Spanish are incapable of saying Ooops?
Quite clearly, yes. What I am not sure about is whether this is a good
or a bad thing. Britain has a long tradition of saying Ooops
and yet we can still regard Captain Scott as a hero (Sledges pulled
by ponies? What a jolly good idea. And at the South Pole, you say? Even
better!) and claim that the evacuation at Dunkirk was a victory.
Which it was. Therefore, we get the best of both worlds: a spate of national
hand-wringing and some very good documentaries on the BBC. The Spanish
dont get to watch good documentaries but neither do they indulge
in acts of national hand-wringing. As a result, they have survived a loss
of empire, massive political and social upheavals, a rocky transition
to democracy and by a stunning act of national stubbornness defied the
attempts of an unelected body to foist on them a national anthem to be
sung when the synchronised swimming team wins gold in Beijing. But a bit
of Spanish hand-wringing might have been worth it to see the king, opening
whichever large building he was opening that day, turning to the person
next to him, very possibly the queen, and saying, as the officials and
public broke into song as the national anthem struck up:
'No one told me about this'.
Fisher Feb 2008
Colin now lives in Spain.
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