There are fearsome occasions when all the things one most detests come together. Juan Ramón Jiménez should have been thinking about that when he wrote that his worst nightmare was to imagine a campaign mass in a bullring. Thus militarism, clericalism, the bloody ordinariness of bullfighting would be united. What for Juan Ramón Jiménez was only a hypothesis for me was a reality on Saturday, May 23, when just under my balcony, for more than two hours, some of the things that seem most detestable in life congregated: traffic jams, the howling of the horns, the martial hymns, the flags, the large displacement motorcycles poisoning and thundering the air with the exhaust pipes. Perhaps, to complete the picture, the bellow of some original party would have been missing, perhaps with the launching of tons of tomatoes, or of terrifying explosions of firecrackers, or of brave young men spearing bulls or running ahead of them with great masculine courage.
Running among the cars, waving flags, sometimes as chopper spears and other times as cloaks, some of the patriots whom I could observe without much danger from the burladero or the laying of my balcony disobeyed the sanitary norms with the same jubilation of insurgents with which they shouted in chorus “freedom, freedom”, or with which they pressed the horns of the cars, or stepped on the accelerators of the motorcycles to achieve maximum noise and greenhouse gas emissions. But there were so many cars, and they were so stuck, that the same success that so visibly enraged them also paralyzed them, because they couldn’t move forward. So the most vehement – the contemporary far-right is equal, as well as an expert in new technologies and social networks – opened the doors of cars and threw themselves into the road, flag in hand and without a mask, in that anticipated summer heat It makes the body plates of the car burning and thickens even more the smell of burned gasoline in the air.
In their love of flags, the Spanish extremists whom they most resemble are the anti-Spanish extremists, whom they imitate in some of their gestures of modernity, particularly that of those young people who flaunt theirs as capes of superheroes. In some and others patriotism arouses a hoarseness of the quarters, a threatening vehemence when they shout their “lives”, which would not be so scary if they did not sound like “you die”. Red and yellow, in their different formats, burst sunlight into the waving fabrics, although they are pitifully discolored when they have been on the balconies for a long time.
The most serious problem that I see for the Spanish ultras, and that I verified again on Saturday morning, is the lack of a hymn. The official anthem of Spain is faint and solemn and has no lyrics, and others much more vibrant may not be advisable at the moment. On Saturday, between the horns and the engines, I managed to identify some music that came out of the cars, in particular I am the boyfriend of death and Long live Spain. At some point, my ear very trained in the school songs of an old childhood distinguished the chords between bungling and mellifluous of Cara al sol.
But the true hymn, the fundamental, the only one, was the very roar of the cars, their invading boasting, that strident of horns in a traffic jam that is the most barbaric bellowing of the human animal, the pleasure of occupying all the space of the city , the impatience to abolish as soon as possible the silence and the cleanliness of the air, the possibility of a more civilized and less aggressive life in common, everything that we have glimpsed throughout this suspended time. Recently, Félix de Azúa wrote here that the price of seeing and hearing birds in the center of cities is traveling by donkey. In many parts of the world, some of them in Spain, it has been planning, and putting into practice, a different way of moving around the city for quite some time, based on public transport, walkable itineraries, extensive and safe networks of bicycle lanes. The massive use of the private car is an aberration that equally destroys the fabric of the cities and the health and tranquility of people, subjected to the incessant poison of gasoline smoke, the roar of engines, stress and danger of traffic.
On Saturday the 23rd, first thing in the morning, in the same streets that by midday were going to be occupied by an oceanic jam, a fresh and clean air was breathed that widened the lungs just as the width of the space dilated the view. There was little car traffic, and many cyclists along the widest avenues, at that hour that seems the most conducive to bicycles and swallows, which move with a similar mixture of speed and stealth. The width of the space and the width of the silence gave a feeling of almost vertigo. I cycled down the slope of Alcalá towards Cibeles with an effortless speed, like the one that glides over the water in a sailboat, carried only by a favorable breeze. Seen from the center of the street, the buildings that until now only one has seen from the sidewalk take on a magnificence between Vatican and Austro-Hungarian. I do not have the slightest longing to ride a donkey, nor do I consider it necessary to do it again, but the return of the swallows to the cool May mornings and of the swifts and bats to the sunsets seems to me valuable and entirely practical proof that if life, economy, work are organized in another way, less aggressive, not devastating, cities can be healthier and more hospitable, although not less prosperous, especially if we can define a prosperity not based on compulsive consumption, nor in the privatization and looting of essential resources that belong to everyone, those who live now and those who come later, living beings and not only humans.
It takes the implicit agreement of millions of people to support an organism as complicated as a big city: a few thousand cars with their engines and horns are enough to make it uninhabitable again. But also a few dozen outlaw politicians and opinion-makers and slanderers are enough to spoil the immense effort, the innumerable heroism of all those who are saving us from disaster.