(My mother told me yesterday I should post things that are more uplifting. I thought, what, more uplifting than they are already?)
Last night we took the kids into town for El Entierro de la Sardina, or the Burial of the Sardine, which marks the closure of the region’s spring festival. People in their tens, maybe hundreds of thousands make their way onto the streets to watch the closing parade, which has hours of spectacular and colourful floats and music and dance troupes. Then they set fire to an effigy of a sardine.
Personally I do not like it that much, in fact I hate one particular part of it. This is the last half hour or so of the parade where floats bearing the names of Roman gods -Mars, Saturn, Bacchus, and so on, throw avalanches of cheap plastic toys down at the assembled crowds. The toys are junk and most of them wind up in the bin after a day or so. Despite this, there is great fervour shown by some in attempting to gather as much of the crap as possible.
Most prominent are the fathers who seem to think being able to acquire as many cheap plastic footballs as possible is a validation of their status as a man and a father. In fact, given the goading you hear some of them receive, it is not just their own male imagination at work. It is the sort of thing a GAA midfielder would do well at. I remember the first time I attended. I was sent out to the front to bring back some goodies for a child who was there with us. As I limp and half-heartedly tried to will one of the plastic balls through the air into my hands, I was shoulder-charged into near oblivion by a barrel-chested stallion of a man. Or at least so he said. While dusting myself down and reeling from the shock, he turned to his son and spat “See that? The biggest dick round here belongs to your dad!” I am not making this up.
So this year we opted out of sitting through the whole thing. The kids’ grandmother valiantly volunteered to sit with them in one of the stands. Talking to her about the parade before the start, she said it was the only one she actively disliked. She is not given to strident political pronouncements but she said that this parade was run by “todos los fachas de la construcción” – literally, “all the fascists in the construction industry”. That it was all an ego trip for them -they’re the ones throwing things from the floats bearing the name of the Roman gods. She said there were even some people who had taken out loans in order to appear on the floats, and thus remain as privileged members of these circles, even if they were in financial trouble.
I did see the beginning, however. It was a rolling advertisement for a Mercedes-Benz dealer. Black Mercedes Benzes slowly moved up the main street of the city. Models dressed in black punched huge black balloons into the air. As you probably know, there is an unemployment crisis in Spain. It is partly the product of a construction bubble that burst, part the product of austerity policies imposed from Brussels and Frankfurt and enforced locally. I remembered an interview I had heard a few years back with Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek economist. He was saying he had been talking to a senior ECB officer, who had told him that the ECB, which was, as Varoufakis noted, nothing more than an extension of the German Bundesbank, was probably going to push periphery countries into permanent recession.
The ECB officer had told him that – I checked out the transcript of the interview, from Doug Henwood’s Behind The News show: “we are pushing wage deflation towards you. We are forcing you effectively to reduce wages. But you know what? Wage earners in your country do not buy Mercedes Benzes. It is the elites of countries like yours who do. And we are going to look after them. We are going to ensure there are transfers of European money, effectively German money, to Greece, to build roads and metro stations and improved telecommunications, and the people who will benefit from that are the elites.”
So here I was, looking on at this. To give things a strange symbolic weight, the name of the Mercedes dealer was ‘Pujante’, which means ‘forceful’, or ‘vigorous’.
While we were waiting for the parade to finish, safely at a short remove from proceedings, we sat in a terrace on one of the main squares. A television crew were broadcasting. The presenters were dressed in that conspicuously tacky but ostentatiously expensive get-up you usually see Spanish TV presenters wearing on special occasions, or on the country’s infernal and interminable Saturday night variety shows. They were doing a live broadcast of the event.
Various local luminaries, people involved with the organisation of the parade, were being interviewed. They were looking on at the live feed from different locations on the parade. They were using the feed from one camera as the focal point of the coverage. It was footage overlooking a bridge crossing the river, giving a comprehensive view of the whole parade, and framing it within the city’s landmarks, putting the parade, the city, and, of course, the organisers, in their best light.
We were sitting not that far from the bridge. We looked over at one stage and saw placards on the other side of the bridge edging into view, but couldn’t make out what they were saying. Then, the parade stopped. The music stopped. The giant inflatable Super Mario stopped atop the bridge, and swayed back and forth, looking confused. A stream of police with batons ran along the street from our end in the direction of the bridge. I looked over at the screen that was showing the broadcast images. There was nothing of the scene of the bridge to be seen. I ran up the street and saw the placards. They were large placards, each bearing a letter. Together, they spelt RECORTES NO, or perhaps it was RECORTES CERO, that is, NO CUTS, or ZERO CUTS. Then the placards disappeared from view, and the parade resumed.
A few minutes later, the letters reappeared. This time I went over to the TV broadcast. The broadcasters were cutting out the scene from the bridge from their footage altogether. The images appearing on the TV were incongruous, boring, and the presenters seemed confused.
Later, we went back to the parade route. Middle-aged men were flinging mountains of tat down onto the assembled crowds. ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams was playing so loud it felt like it was shaking the lampposts. The men on the floats named after gods looked tired, disoriented. Maybe they felt nothing of the sort. But they looked that way to me.
And whilst it might not be much, I found that uplifting.