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The King and I… or the Reign in Spain

11 November 2002

The King and I
I was curious to see what the Zocalo area was like now that the street repairs are finished. I haven’t been down that way much lately. It’s been an archeological site since August, digging up the old pavement, phone lines, water pipes, sewers and a few miscellaneous Aztecs. Just to keep things interesting, the manholes were open, and the sidewalks were also torn up. So, you catwalked, jumped, clung to the sides of buildings your way though the vendors (I started to write “sidewalk vendors”, but there weren’t any sidewalks to vend upon) to the main square, which was always full of striking schoolteachers (they’re STILL camped out), tourists, bureaucrats, “demonstrations of the day” and always vendors on top of more vendors. Now that the work is done, it’s kind of eerie. No vendors! None.

It’s kind of strange to actually see the buildings (and some of them are interesting), but I think it takes a lot of the life out of the area, but that’s what the well-heeled tourists and bureaucrats want. At least the plumbers, painters, home-repair guys that have been hanging around the cathederal since … before the Cathederal was built … are still there.

So, I looked at the new pavement (some composite of concrete and recycled tires, that is supposed to last longer, and “float” during earthquakes), street lights, trashcans (so new, they haven’t been graffitted yet) for a while. I was just walking home, when I saw a big crowd in front of the Spanish Cultural Center. In Mexico, if you see a crowd, it could be anything from a overheated car engine to the Second Coming, so I really didn’t think much about it, until I noticed the cops and military guys in dress uniforms and all the plainclothes cops. And TV crews. And barriers on the street. And snipers on the roofs. Probably more than a Volkswagen overdue for a tune-up.

I had taught this morning at a very conservative company out in Bosques, so was dressed to proper Latin business standards (plus, it’s damn cold there on top of those mountains in the morning, so I was even wearing a jacket), and was standing next to a couple of elderly, well-dressed folks — Spaniards waiting to see their king during his State Visit.

So, down the street saunters our Jefe de Gobernation (when you’re the great Socialist/Populist leader, it wouldn’t do to show up in an armored limo –especially with the 100% luxury tax on limos here). Su excellencia was met by his rival for the hearts and minds of the Mexican people, su gracia, Norberto Cardinal Rivera (who may be the next Pope). A little more waiting around, a few sirens and up pulls Their Most Catholic Majesties, Juan-Carlos and Sophia of Spain.

I don’t think Su majestad is a complete dummy. He managed to bamboozle Francisco Franco into restoring the monarchy (on the other hand, Franco wasn’t the sharpest tool in the fascist shed. And Franco was just senile enough to think he was living in the 17th century, and a king would keep Spain safe for closed-minds and closed-markets). And he did face down a military coup. (Kind of ironic that the party in power in Spain is the neo-Francoists. Nice allies we have against Iraq –Spanish neo-francoists and Italian neo-fascists. If we eased up on Argentina, maybe Shrub could rope in the neo-peronists while he’s at it — end of diatribe).

I know a few no-account counts, once met a grand duke (a very, very old grand duke, who hadn’t anything to be grand about since the Austrio-Hungarian Empire went out of business back in 1917) and saw Queen Margaret II of Denmark wave from a balcony (and there’s plenty of drag queens around my Metro stop), but being greeted by a King is a first. I’m no monarchist — I guess if I think the Spanish Prime Minister is a Nazi with a good tailor, he’d think I’m an anarchist who knows which fork to use. At least I know you aren’t supposed to correct royality in public. What was I supposed to do — answer the Most Catholic Majestic mumble with “Wrong guy, pal!, it’s the old lady who said ‘¡Viva el rey!”? . “¡Mucho gusto!” is the wrong verb form in this situation. Academia Real be damned: I’m an American and did my nation proud — or at least kept my Jeffersonian sense of equality intact.

Oh yeah, Vince and Martha are in town for a change, and showed up in their armored Chevy Suburban.

The King greeted the guy who wasn’t a subject, and the Queen — well, not to be catty, but she looks like a skinny blond version of her brother, Prince Philip and her nephew, the Prince of Wales. Hey, they are more than a little in-bred. The Spanish royals aren’t noted for either their looks or the intellectual abilities. But that’s ok — the reign in Spain falls mainly to the plain.

Ya know, I’ve wanted to use that line for over 30 years and never had occasion to. And it’s only Monday!

posted by Richard

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