>¡Viva el Pulpo!

>Regular readers of these pages know that The Courtier does not, in general, follow sporting events, with the exception of Grand Slam tennis and the European Cup Final – or more recently, the World Cup, at least as far as charting Spain’s progress. Unless you have been living in a remote, undisclosed location, you are probably aware that Spain is playing The Netherlands on Sunday in the World Cup Final, having reached a final for the first time in the country’s history. Press reports this morning indicate that Paul the Psychic Octopus, a resident of the city aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany, who has successfully predicted the winner of every game Germany has played in this World Cup, has now predicted that Spain will win on Sunday.

Prior to Wednesday’s game, celebrity chef José Andrés (who hails from the former Kingdom of Asturias, in northern Spain), owner of many D.C. restaurants and host of the “Made in Spain” television cooking show on PBS, tweeted that if Spain won the match against Germany that he would take octopus (in Spanish, “pulpo”) off of the menus in his restaurants. When Spain did go on to beat beat Germany to move to the Final, Sr. Andrés true to his word. Watching the coverage online, The Courtier saw Spanish fans around the net going completely crazy. One can only imagine the reality of what it was like to be in Madrid that evening.

To be a Spaniard and to not be in Spain – or in South Africa – for this final is rather wrenching, for the Spanish community in the United States is very small. Nevertheless, in a gesture of good will, Sr. Andrés tweeted this morning that if Spain wins, “games will be shown at all Jaleos!If we win glassofcava on me!Plus people that watch games and ate if we win your food on me!with the check”. This message is, if you are familiar with his television show, not only is a classic example of his gigantic enthusiasm for his work, but also exemplary of the rather charming way he writes and speaks English.

Despite having what most soccer fans would consider among two of the best and most revered teams in the world, Barça and Real Madrid, Spain has always fallen short when it comes to World Cup play. Not being enough of an expert on such matters to give a reasoned explanation as to why this has been the case, The Courtier should defer to those who are more informed on such matters to provide appropriate theories and explanations. However in discussion last night with a friend, the conclusion was reached that one factor in the frequent disappointment in the Spanish national team is an endemic problem for Spain as a country: to wit, that Spain is and remains a state which is very much divided against itself.

Unlike Italy, for example, whose individual states decided to work together in the 19th century to unify themselves into a single Italian identity, to some degree of success, Spain as a single entity has always been something of a pipe dream for those who, historically, attempted to achieve a kind of pan-Iberian union. For example the Reconquista, i.e. the re-taking of the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslim invaders, took well over 700 years to complete, and its progress was hampered in part by the fact that the Peninsula was occupied by several smaller kingdoms and principalities, many speaking different languages and having very distinct cultures.

The movement to create a unified Spanish state gained a foothold with the union of King Ferdinand, of the eastern Kingdom of Aragon, and Queen Isabel, of the central kingdom of Castile. Under the Habsburgs, the numerous smaller units which constituted the Spanish “whole”, including the Catalans, the Basques, and the Galicians, among others, were able to varying degrees to retain many of their local rights, languages and customs, even as they were ruled from a central authority. During this period Portugal, as some readers may not be aware, was made a part of Spain from 1580-1640, but it eventually managed to re-assert its statehood and individual identity.

With the arrival of Felipe V, grandson of Louis XIV of France and the first Bourbon King of Spain, a more concentrated effort began to stamp out regional identity within Spain and create a more strongly centralized, national identity, along the lines which had occurred in France. Almost three hundred years later however, and despite this autocratic center, ruled at various times by Bourbons, Bonapartes, and military dictators, the popular concept of “Spain” among the Spanish remains incomplete. It never took as complete a hold over the minds and hearts of the people as did the concept of “France” among the French or “Germany” among the Germans particularly since the 19th century. There is no “La Marseillaise” or “Deutschland, Deutschland” in Spain: the Spanish National Anthem, the “Marcha Real” or “Royal March”, is only a musical piece and has no words, though various proposals have been made over the centuries to provide lyrics.

So, as The Courtier picks up some Estrella Damm and gets out his yellow shirt and red trousers for ironing, he wonders again, whether this unending division between the components of the modern state of Spain is the real reason why the country has never previously reached a World Cup Final? No doubt it is not and cannot be the only reason, but nevertheless it ought to be considered as a factor. Ever since it lost its empire Spain, like many other former imperial powers, has been saddled with a mixture of historic pride tempered by a persistent inferiority complex and resentment of attempts to stamp out regional identity, from which it will probably never fully recover. Take a look at the images from Madrid on the night Spain beat Germany: you will see many Spanish flags, but you will also see many displaying flags with which the uninformed viewer may not be familiar. These revellers are waving the national flags of Catalonia, the Basque Country, Navarra, Galicia, and so on – all former kingdoms now subsumed into the Spanish state, but whose souls are not now and never have been completely devoted to the idea of “Spain”, politically, socially, or conceptually.

Among many people both in and outside the country, there will be great joy if Spain pulls off a win against Holland, in a sort of cleated revenge for the Thirty Years’ War. The Courtier makes no secret of the fact that he will be supporting Spain on Sunday, and will be overjoyed if the Spanish side wins. However if there is a loss, one can make an almost certain bet that commentators from different parts of the Iberian Peninsula will be laying the blame at the doorstep of players coming from other parts of Spain.


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