I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve been slammed with work and traveling. (Yeah, occasionally we do experience the “study” in study abroad.) I’m gonna try to get as many blog posts in as a I can, but it’s gonna take some time!
Last Saturday, March 22, I went with one of my friends, Christy, and her señora to the El Pardo neighborhood. I was able to see Christy’s homestay, get to know a little bit about her commute, and meet her homestay mother, María. It was very interesting to see how different they are. While I live in a very tiny apartment with three other people in the middle of a pretty busy area (Goya in Salamanca), Christy’s room and apartment are huge even though only she and her señora live there. Her señora explained that she likes living away from the city center because it’s calmer, she can have a bigger house, and she’s more removed from everything and very close to the green areas outside the city. The thing that surprised me most was that she actually had a car! I couldn’t remember the last time I had been in a non-taxi car within the city, since my family doesn’t have one.
María took us to the Royal Palace of El Pardo, which was about a 10-15 minute drive from their house and very near the Palace of Zarzuela which is the main royal residence of the Spanish royal family today and is home to both Juan Carlos and Felipe. Beyond being located in a pretty area and began as a hunting lodge, the Palacio Real de El Pardo is important in that it was the palace used by Francisco Franco during his dictatorship after the end of the Spanish Civil War. He chose not to live in the Royal Palace in Madrid that we visited earlier because it was not as safe and he did not want to offend the monarchy, whom he had promised to let the come back to rule Spain eventually, though he ended up dying before the royal family regained power and began the transition to democracy. We received a tour around the complex and it was crazy to see the desk, clothing, and home that the former dictator lived in only a few decades ago. Because the palace is also used to host visiting heads of state, given its secure location and proximity to la Zarzuela, it was even cooler to see the modern TV and living room setup for those guests.
One of the strange enigmas about Franco is that he was truly nationalistic and believed in Spain. The only problem was that his way of doing that was to force one view of Spain, suppressing those against the Catholic Church, those who opposed him, and those who practiced traditions, languages, and cultures different from the mainstream castellano culture like the Catalans and Basque. This paradox of both supporting and oppressing Spain explain his very mixed and controversial legacy. There are still some who believe he was good for Spain and support what he did to try to develop Spain (desarrollismo) and maintain traditional values, and I actually came across a phrase in my book for literature, con Franco vivíamos mejor (“with Franco we lived better”), that was apparently a common refrain during the transition. He is actually buried in a national monument and Catholic basilica near San Lorezno de El Escorial (which we visited), Valle de los Caídos, and he is the only person who did not die in the Civil War to be buried there. There are many who oppose honoring a caudillo‘s legacy in such a way, but he still remains there. It’s very confusing for us to sit on the outside trying to understand how people really feel.
In terms of politics, the present represents a very tense time for Spain. Though you could argue every country always has fierce arguments around its politics, it really seems Spain is struggling with some important issues. On our way home from el Pardo, after stopping by a little church to see a famous sculpture of Jesus, we ended up talking about the royal family being in the news recently, something we learned about in my journalism class. The husband of Juan Carlos’s daughter, the infanta Cristina (only the person next in line is the príncipe or princesa), has been wrapped up in a corruption scandal for quite some time and he is accused of embezzling millions in public funds for himself by falsifying charity budgets. Though these accusations date back to November 2011, the story gained renewed interest when Cristina was actually charged and ordered to appear in court as well. Like court cases in the United States but worse, litigation in Spain takes even longer, so we’ll see how this will turn out, though you can bet that Spaniards will continue discussing it for weeks either way. María also mentioned that Juan Carlos himself stirs up controversy as well, with his going on an expensive elephant hunting trip and their being lots of rumors of possible affairs. The monarchy has been struggling to keep current in today’s world and developments are really not good during an economic crisis.
I really do think that Spanish people like their news and like to talk about politics, but it does seem like this is a pretty important time of change for the country. Obviously, political talk is to be expected in any country, especially one unhappy with the current state of the economy, but there has been more stuff in the news recently about the politics than just the monarchy. Adolfo Suárez, the first democratically-elected president after Franco who was integral to the transition to democracy, actually just died on Sunday, the day after we visited the Pardo. This caused national mourning, flags at half, and I’ve even heard from a lot of my friends that their señoras were very upset and in tears. On the actual day we went to the Prado there were also very large protests that, though peaceful and limited to a few areas in the center of Madrid, counted almost 35 separate groups as participants. Many of these groups started their participation in the “March of Dignity” by actually walking to Madrid from their own cities. Our journalism professor, Mario, also told us that many of the students at his university planned on going on strike for a day to show their opposition to these laws and protest more. Mariano Rajoy, the current prime minister, and his government are the main objects of these protests with many opposing his conservative efforts to restrict abortion, same-sex marriage, and many other freedoms.
Visiting el Pardo and meeting Christy’s señora was definitely a fun experience, but it certainly brought up a lot of the issue’s Spain has dealt with during its dictatorship and transition and continues to deal with today. With the drama surrounding the royal family, Rajoy’s desires to curtail to repeal many of the nation’s liberal laws passed by Zapatero, and Catalonia’s planned independence referendum, it’s certainly an interesting time to watching the political situation in Spain.