Tuesday, July 8, 2014

1492, or The History of Spain as Learned on a Two-Week Rick Steves Tour

First came the Romans, way back even before Jesus and Mary and Joseph in the days when people called Spain "Hispania" and ate larks' tongues instead of ham. The Romans built aqueducts to bring water to ginormous bath houses in which they lolled about and got soft and wrinkly, so the Visigoths drove them out and then
proceeded to assassinate each other without building anything worth photographing. Later, in 711 (like the convenience store), the Moors arrived and constructed pretty Alcazars and Alhambras (which means “red”), but they also took baths and got weak and wrinkly, so Isabella and Ferdinand—who were Catholic and didn’t bathe—chased the Moors out (in 1492), expelled the Jews (in 1492), sent Columbus to America (in 1492) and made everybody eat ham at least three times a day (from 1492 onward). Unfortunately, eating salty ham causes fluid retention, and the Reyes Católicos got water on the brain (more “soft and wrinkly”, worse than bathing) and subsequently spawned Juana la Loca, who went nuts for Philip the Fair and begat, with him, Charles the First, also known as Charles the Fifth (don’t ask).

Charles the First/Fifth stole Latin American gold and used it to make huge baroque monstrances and incense burners and statues of Nuestra Señora of Something or Other intended to defeat and reconvert the Protestants in Germany. Then, after overdosing on ham, he abdicated in disgust and his son Felipe II became the first of a whole passel of weak-minded Habsburg kings, all named Felipe and all of whom lisped because of severe underbites and had children who played with deformed dwarves while being painted by Velásquez.

Eventually the Habsburg underbite became so severe that the Felipes simply died out (perhaps, too, they had begun to bathe) and the Bourbons of France assumed the throne in order to preside over the decline of the Spanish empire in truly Parisian elegance. The Borbones had big noses instead of underbites, but they continued to lisp anyway.

One really exceptionally big-nosed Borbón, named Charles III, erected a royal palace in Madrid and tried to build plumbing and sewers to drain away all the bath water. It didn’t work, and thereafter (except for a brief interlude while Napoleon's brother, Joseph, a.k.a. Pepe la Botella, tried to drink Spain into submission) an astonishing succession of Borbones hung around Madrid bathing and eating churros and chocolate and getting so soft and wrinkly that finally, a republic had to be declared in 1931.

That pissed off a guy named Franco who sent in German planes to bomb a dreary little town named Guernica in an area that didn’t even want to be Spanish. In turn, this bombing inspired a guy named Picasso to paint an enormous, jumbled-up black and white picture of the devastated town. Unfortunately this dramatic picture of gloom and suffering (both great favorites of the Spanish) has since been placed in a big Madrid museum which is closed on Tuesdays and therefore cannot be seen. Meanwhile Franco (remember him?) proclaimed himself a dictator and said he would shoot any Spaniard who didn’t both bathe AND go to Mass on Sundays.

By 1975 when he died from over-dictating, everybody was so soft and wrinkly and sick of being católicos that they wanted a king again, so they buried Franco deep under a Fallen Mountain and crowned Juan Carlos I, another Borbón, whom everyone liked for a while until he shot a bunch of elephants and had to abdicate because, in Spain, it is simply loco to kill elephants and not bulls. 

Now Spain has a new king (another Felipe, alas), bathing facilities in every building, and, predictably, therefore, an economic crisis brought about by an influx of German (not Latin American) gold. No one is dancing the macarena these days, though there still seems to be plenty of ham to go around. And moreover, the motto of Spain is “Plus Ultra”--which means, más o menos, “there’s more yet to come.” Claro.