Tag Archives: Rome

In Support Of The True Fiesta Nacional

One of Spain's greatest and oldest cultural traditions is in danger of dying out completely because of EU legislation. The European laws, designed to protect citizens' 'liberty' were introduced without a moment's thought about the impact they'd have on this crucial feature of Spanish culture. I am, of course, talking about Spain's true Fiesta Nacional.

Ever since the 1st century BCE, Spaniards have enjoyed the spectacle of gladiators locked in combat, fighting until one (or ideally all) of them dies a heroic death. Indeed, recent evidence proves that a Spaniard was himself the very bravest of Rome's gladiators – he killed a nasty emperor and temporarily saved the empire from something.

But all this is now under threat – because of a bunch of killjoy lawmakers obsessed by destroying Spanish culture. EU legislators introduced so called 'human rights legislation' many years ago, but it is these laws that might now be used to stop us from enjoying one of the great cultural pursuits this country has to offer. And the sad thing is that this could all be prevented if the do-gooders understood that live gladiator fights aren't really about men killing each other for the enjoyment of a crowd of baying monsters. You see, gladiator fighting is about so much more than that.

For those who haven't yet had a chance to enjoy the spectacle of a gladiator fight, I'm going to explain a little of what makes it so special. First of all, there's the amphitheatre it's held in: these grand stadia have their roots in Roman architecture and are designed so that wherever a viewer sits, they can see the action. Amphitheatres used to litter Spanish cities like discarded sunflower seed shells, but now only a few remain. It's worth remembering that Barcelona had loads of the places, while Madrid (which didn't exist when the Romans occupied Spain) had none. Why that's worth remembering, I'm not sure… but remember it, OK?

Next up is the sense of ceremony that surrounds the whole event. The gladiators are held in a sort of pen just before they're released into the arena, and when they appear in their beautiful costumes, you can almost believe you're watching ballet rather than deadly combat. Actually, I'm not sure about that: ballet exists as a way of interpreting violence, passion and the human experience by way of dance. Gladiatorial combat interprets violence by way of goading men to murder each other. But it's still quite full of movement, I suppose.

The deaths, while certainly not the focus of gladiatorial combat, are really cool! Some of the best gladiators can make a rival's suffering defence last for up to an hour, drawing the process of killing their opponent (which is not the main focus of the fight at all) into what seems like a true fight between equals. Of course, the truth is that the professional gladiators always win because their competitors, dumb and useless beasts that they are, are often drugged, underfed and tortured prior to the main event. Well, you wouldn't want the star to die, would you?! Anyway, the death isn't even the most important bit.

The most important bit is… everything. Of course, everything is geared in a way that it climaxes in the death… but that doesn't mean it's just about killing. You can buy an ice cream from the little man who sells them… and if he stands in the way of a good killing, just tell him to get the fuck out of the way. Because the death, while not the most important bit, is a moment so wholly Spanish – so ancient and lovely – that you really shouldn't miss it. Yes, the death is not the most important part of the gladiator fight. It's the killing.

Oh and, before you bring it up, no we really don't see the killing as cruel. I mean, most of these guys are losers and criminals anyway. Sure, they're doomed to die terrified but imagine how they'd feel if they caught lung cancer from second hand smoke. That'd be a much worse way to go… so you see, they're really the lucky ones.

Can we really afford to lose this ancient, lovely and cool spectacle? To me, it seems self-evident that gladiatorial combat is above silly modern notions like 'humanity' or 'law'. Clearly, amendments should be made to this legislation to ensure that future generations can enjoy the killing with their own eyes? As has been pointed out, these fights exist: it's up to the opponents of gladiators killing each other to prove why it's suddenly wrong.

So, dear reader, I call on you to join with me in defence of this noble pursuit. Together, we can preserve barbarity in these perplexing times.

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy – Can't take That Away From Me

Another cover from Bonnie 'Prince' Billy here. In case you didn't recognise it, this is a Mariah Carey song. I actually think that his R. Kelly cover is better. Speaking of which – has anyone seen Trapped In the Closet? I've seen a bit of it. I can't work out if Kelly is a tortured genius or a complete lunatic.


We spent the weekend in Rome and have the Primavera Sound festival fast approaching.

68% of Italians want the Gypsies out

Good to see that Berlusconi's coalition of the willing stands up for what's important. Sadly, an Italian recently said to me that the Roma people "aren't the historic people of Italy" and that they therefore should be extradited. Of course, when you ask "to where?", there's no answer. But let's not dwell on the details, eh? Berlusconi and his Lega Nord friends are hard at work on the new populism: how long before the PP see the opportunity?

We're off to Rome in about a week so I'll try to assess the local feeling while I'm there.

Incidentally, we just had a fantastic weekend in Hackney. London Fields went down very well with a few cans of Belgian lager.

Scratching a bad rash

I'm getting a bit sick of the design and layout arond here. Thinking about a change. Also, the content: more righteous indignation, less paranoid speculation. Or was it the other way around?

Actually, I've been reading Nick Cohen's interesting criticism of the left in today's Observer. He makes a number of salient points in his dissection of everything that is wrong today with liberal-left politics and its general failure to adapt to the 21st century. I don't agree with him on everything. But he does remind me why I decided some time ago never to align myself with any political group or party because there are simply none who seem to have the right approach to things. Spain is a classic example: I'm not a Catalan nationalist but I'm sympathetic with those who would like more autonomy for Catalonia. At the same time, I couldn't support any of the parties who push for greater autonomy here because their memberships and leaders seem to be conniving, divisive pricks to a man. Besides, if greater autonomy means more laws banning me from drinking calimotxo or Xibeca and smoking weed at the beach with my mates, then perhaps it's not such a hot tip?

The Iraq debacle is another good example (and this is what Nick Cohen is focused on): I'm naturally a Labour man but how can I vote for that party when Tony Blair still insists that it was the right thing to do. It wasn't. Saddam was an awful, murderous bastard but the hell which has been unleashed on ordinary Iraqis does not justify his removal. Nick Cohen's main argument seems to be that the left has lost its way because in its opposition to illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, curtailed human rights at home, rendition and Guantanamo, it has failed to condemn the evil which so called 'neo-conservatives' are determined to defeat. There's a lot of ammunition for this argument and those employing it get a very real thrill from expounding the claim that the left wing is stuck in a bygone age when it could rely on being morally superior and nothing more. And it is true that numerous anti-American and anti-Semite worms have crawled out of the woodwork just in time to make us all look bad.

But the problem with Cohen's position is that all he's doing is claiming the moral high ground for the neocons. Basically, he seems happy to tell the left that they don't recognise that the world has changed and things aren't as clear cut as they once were, while at the same time he's stating quite firmly that this is a simple case of moral imperative: we had to remove Saddam at any cost. Clearly, he wants to have his cake and eat it.

He continues by drawing attention to the millions of left wingers who demonstrated against 'the overthrow of a fascist government'. To emphasise his point, he makes trite references to Rome, Madrid and Berlin – as if the residents of cities which had once lived under the shadow of a dictator should somehow 'know better'. The problem is that opposing the war was never the same as appeasing Saddam. Who cares if he was happy about the protests? The point of the demos was to let our governments know that we weren't going to be hoodwinked into an illegal war which would end up killing tens of thousands of civilians. And we were absolutley right.

The problem for those who were (and, carazily, still are) in favour of the war is that they really did think they were going to get things over and done with pretty quickly. They didn't realise that they were going to visit on Iraq a state of murderous destruction not seen since the dark days of Saddam's purges. Or if they did, they didn't care.

The point of all this is, I suppose, to say that in the case of Iraq, there is no moral high ground. We on the left had nothing to suggest in the way of alternatives to getting rid of Saddam. We need the oil, the Iraqis need democracy and the world is a better place without that awful man. At the same time, supporters of the war must accept that they have made a colossal mistake in Iraq, causing the deaths of many tens of thousands of civilians, enraging an already volatile muslim community, establishing the dangerous precedent of pre-emptive attack and handing vast strategic power to a much more dangerous country: Iran.

In the end, Nick Cohen's article is more or less spot on, insofar as it discusses the facts of the dispersal of the left-wing in Britain… (I only wish he'd write another about modern conservatism). While there are aspects of his argument which I find I can't agree with, he's correct about two important things: the left wing has lost its way horribly and we have failed to display any reasonable degree of solidarity with the Iraqis: the true victims of all this mess. Think on.

Vatican in 'religious freedom' farce

Today's El País carries an interesting story about the Vatican. Apparently, the Pope and his Cardinals are concerned about the gradual erosion of the Catholic Church in Spain. Nick Lyne writes that the Pope made an address to Spain's top priests yesterday "in which he accused Spain of promoting a secularism that "restricts religious freedom." "What His Holiness is referring to is the gradual shift in Spanish society (once the most fervently and dogmatically Catholic country in the world) toward the general secularism which is present in the UK, France and across Europe.

The Pope has a short memory. Spain's pro-Church laws have long made religious freedom difficult in Spain. The Inquisición and now Opus Dei were both founded in Spain and both worked to support both Rome and authoritarian regimes in Madrid. Most recently, the Roman Church openly supported General Franco's illegal war of treachery and murder against the democratically elected republican government, and the long years of repression, fear and Catholicism which followed.

Spain, whilst keen to avoid a public row, is now ready to say "thanks for your opinions, but shove off" to Rome.

Meanwhile, the pro-fascist AVT (Association of Victims of Terrorism) attacked a senior Socialist minister on Saturday at a demonstration designed to show solidarity with victims of terror.

The ultra-right have long infiltrated the victims of terrorism groups because they are full of people who are scared and angry – the ideal prey for fascists. What is worrying is that the social division between left and right in Spain seems not to be improving. What with clashes between religious and secular, socialist and (at the very least) conservative, Spain still feels like two separate countries. The PP, with their sophist arguments, are a hateful bunch, but the Socialists don't seem to be doing much to stop them orchestrating this sort of violence.

Mending the wounds caused by the dictatorship in Spain must now be a priority for all citizens.

Fascists in football (again)

There were two notable cases of racism/Nazism in European football this weekend.
In Madrid, the local derby match was ruined by Atletico Madrid fans making monkey noises at Real Madrid's Roberto Carlos. After a request was made over the public address system, Atletico's famously hardline neo-Nazi fans taunted the black player even louder. The Spanish football federation says it 'may investigate' this latest in a series of racist outbursts which have been drawing the Spanish game into disrepute over the last few months.

The problem is that the national sporting authorities clearly don't take this very seriously. The national coach, Luis Aragones, remains in his job months after referring to footballer Thierry Henry as "that black shit". Aragones has been condemned around the world – but not in Spain. Here, he has received the sort of support you would expect a victim to receive. This smacks of the sort of attitude that abounded in England in the 1970s and into the 80s whereby people could get away with saying anything if they could also say "I'm not racist, but…" or "ah come on! Everyone's saying that sort of thing" or, my personal favourite, "but some of my best friends are black!". Even in the UK, we have nearly eradicated this kind of flippant racism, and now we see it rising again.

The second instance was during the Lazio-Rome match on Saturday when Paolo di Canio celebrated Lazio's success with a big Nazi salute:

Adam, Rob and I agree that my version of the picture is much better. This guy is a complete disgrace: he's a Nazi sympathising hooligan, a scumbag and a very nasty piece of work (as if you couldn't tell!!). It is testament to the racist attitude of his entire club that he has always been like this, and they love him for it.

Lazio, incidentally, have only ever had one black player. So none of this is new. But it was, I thought, at least meant to be getting better.

We was robbed!

A strange night in Barcelona…

The evening started off normally enough when Gemma and I went to catch the train. But the train was full of people and it was pretty difficult to get on, let alone find a seat.
Someone who did have a seat was a gypsy girl. The reason I noticed her was that she had one of those fruit juice cartons… the small, designed for packed lunches variety. She was tearing the top off this empty carton and I thought to myself "What's she going to do with that?".

A minute later, I looked back and what did I see? The girl was milking her breasts into the little carton. I was stunned! I had to turn around so I wasn't looking. This was one of the strangest things I've ever seen. Wonder what she did with the milk. "Throw it away, I hope" was Gemma's response to the riddle.

Much later (around 3 am), we were walking down a backstreet on our way to a club. Adam uttered the immortal words "Oh watch out here, this is the place I was robbed". Now for those who aren't aware of the risks posed by walking out late at night in Barcelona, let me tell you this: you can get robbed. Everybody gets robbed. I've never been robbed. I imagine (and have had confirmed by victims of multiple robberies) that while yes, you get robbed and that's terrible, it's still not as dangerous as Paris, Rome, London, New York etc etc. What I'm trying to say is that it's risky, but not really that bad… very few people are ever threatened with a weapon.
As Adam finished saying his immortal words, I suddenly became aware that the street urchin pestering me to buy some beer off him had been with us too long, was too close to me, and had his hand in my pocket. My back pocket. On my wallet.
I shouted, "Adam, quick… he's got his hand on my wallet!". Gemma tried to grab him (the street urchin), but he had my wallet in a trice, and sprinted off.
I, naturally, ran hot on his heels, round a corner into an alleyway. As he accelerated away from me, he chucked my wallet to the ground.
I picked it up and looked inside… some stuff was missing. Funnily enough, I hadn't actually had any cash. But I do have cards for here, the UK and Australia as well as my cherished identity card which took me two years to manage to get. That was all missing.
I ran back to Adam and Gemma and advised them that I seemed to have lost some important stuff (actually, my Spanish bank card was still in my wallet).
Next thing I knew, Gemma was talking with three big guys who had a load of cards they had found at exactly the spot where I was robbed. I grabbed them out of their hands (I wasn't feeling very civil by now)… and to my astonishment, I had everything back again (including my ID).

So the robber got nothing (apart from practice and some exercise).

After all this, I was elated. We went on to the club.