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The International Writers Magazine: Spain

Ooops Seems to be the Hardest Word
Colin Fisher

Here 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.
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:
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 I’m going with this, can’t 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 Committee’s 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 Spanish.

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 again. 
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 city’s 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 don’t 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'.
Colin Fisher Feb 2008

Colin now lives in Spain.

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