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Wave Your Flag

July 13, 2010 1 comment

“I’m generally against the death penalty. With the exception of the guy who invented the vuvuzela.”  -Hidalgo

I tried to go running through Madrid last night, my first jog in about a week that has seen me doing way to much work and not enough physical activity.

That was a mistake.

I’d figured the city had already done most of its celebrating for the World Cup the day before. After all, Cibeles had been packed with tens of thousands of screaming fans watching the game on gigantic jumbotron screens. When the game’s only goal was scored, a thundering howl of jubilation went up that reverberated through the streets and shook the buildings. Plaza del Sol looked like Times Square at New Years. The party was still going on when I collapsed at home, drunk and exhausted, around two in the morning.

I was wrong.

As I gamely picked my way through a throng of people around 8pm last night, I realized the crowd was only getting thicker and more concentrated, not more dispersed. I tried different routes. I headed as far from the city center as I could. To no avail. Spaniards, who I don’t think are known for being big joggers in the first place, looked at me like I was crazy. I was. I gave up after twenty minutes.

I’d met a fellow American who had described her attempt to convey the sense of what this victory meant to a friend back home. “Is it like when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup?” her friend had asked.

It was almost exactly like that. Except imagine the entire city of Chicago actually cared about hockey.

Not only cared, but it was everyone’s favorite sport.

Actually, like it was the only sport anyone played.

And everyone in the country was a Blackhawks fan.

And only seven teams had ever won the Stanley Cup in its history.

And it was Chicago’s first time.

And the entire country decided to descend on Chicago for the celebration.

It was kinda like that. Multiplied by a googleplex and then turned up to 11.

It was a combination of every sports victory celebration I have ever seen, anywhere, combined with a national holiday, and a major historical event.

It’s hard for American’s to grasp the significance this game…this team, has in the Spanish psyche. I know people think we’ve got it bad back home, what with unemployment and the debt and two wars and all.

But…guys. Seriously. Spain’s having a much tougher time than us.

The U.S. unemployment rate is at 9.5% right now. Spain’s is 20.05%

Their national debt as a percentage of GDP is higher than ours, and they’re linked by the Euro to Greece’s economy, which has a national debt of 113.40% GDP. The last time our national debt was that high was when Truman was in office.

And Spain is still smarting from its history of fascism. Flying the national colors isn’t just simple patriotism here: it brings up real memories of cultural and linguistic repression. Flying the national flag in Basque Country, or Barcelona, is easily construed as fighting words.

This is a country with some real separatist sentiments, regions that speak their own languages. These aren’t like Tea Party separatists, who want Texas to secede now that the U.S. is no longer the only industrialized country without a healthcare system (or whatever it is they’re upset about). These are real, gun-toting, bomb-making, kill-people terrorists.

So patriotism hasn’t come easy here. Sports teams have the ability to take on the significance of political beliefs.

You wouldn’t have believed it yesterday, though.

Everyone *everyone* was wearing the national jersey. Everyone *everyone* was on the street, the Spanish flag draped around their shoulders, their VW’s painted the national colors.

It was the biggest party this town has ever seen.

That’s not like saying “It was the biggest party Moscow has ever seen” or “It was the biggest party New York has ever seen,” or Beijing, or London. You know how New York invented bizarre financial instruments designed to destroy entire national economies? You know how China invented taking everyone else’s good idea and ramping it up to a gillion? You know London invented curry and rain?

Madrid invented Party. It’s major export is Party. Eighty seven percent of the national buildings are, to this day, constructed out of brick-reinforced Party. It likes to party until four in the morning. Four in the mornig THE FOLLOWING WEEK. Once, on a Wednesday, I happened to say to a friend in passing that I’d finished work for the day, and a spontaneous street fair erupted in my honor that lasted three days and claimed the lives of fourteen people.

This is a town that does not need the slightest provocation to party, and yet received the biggest one a country can get.

It was the first time in World Cup history the winner was not a country named England, Germany, France, Italy, Uruguay, Brazil or Argentina. Only the third time it wasn’t one of the big five.

Fighter jets flew over the city, splitting off in formation as they sprayed clouds of yellow and red in the sky. The city sang We Are the Champions in English, which sounded weird, and My Way in Spanish, which sounded awesome.

It was a montage of the end of Return of the Jedi, Caddyshack, Obama’s election, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Everyone got laid, the Empire was defeated, and we elected a guy who could pronounce the word ‘nuclear’. It felt that good.

Then the team arrived, and things actually got MORE INTENSE. And they said a lot of things in Spanish that I didn’t fully understand, but the gist of it was that the Cup belonged to the entire country, not one player, and not one region, that this moment was Spain’s, that Spain was big enough to include everyone, that when individuals can overcome differences amazing things are possible.

Then that guy who sings that song got on stage and sang that song with the players.

And it seemed, for a little while anyway, that a flag that had for a long time been seen as a symbol of oppression could come to represent something different, that it could in fact be a bandera de libertad, and come to embody the lyrics’ ideals: Unidos. Somos un pueblo. United. We are a people.

But then again, the world always seems incredibly awesome when you’re hammered, so who knows.

Go on. Wave your flag. You earned it. Que viene y que va.

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