Thursday, May 15, 2008

While I Was Away

Arriving in Philadelphia after ten days in Spain, we took the Schuylkill home. Along the way we passed a billboard with a picture of Ryan Howard and a tag line advertising something about year-round power. A quick check of the Phillies stats on my last morning in Madrid seemed to strongly suggest the year-round in question must have begun in mid-October and ended in mid-March.

So, what happened to the Phils while I was away revisiting my youth? In no particular order, it appeared that:

Pedro Feliz must have started hitting.
Chase Utley tread water.
Jimmy returned.
Carlos Ruiz must have found some offense, too.
Pat Burrell tailed off.
JC Romero gave up a key home run.

In essense, the guys who hadn't been hitting started to and the guys who had stopped or stood still. And Ryan Howard remained below the Mendoza line with a quarter of the season under his belt. [Editor's note: The Reverse Curse apparently travels well as Howard hits home runs on consecutive nights after your faithful Iberian itinerant singles him out for displeasure.]

The Phils surprised with two wins in four games in the desert but dropped two of three to the Giants. No real surprise in the city by the bay; they nearly lost two of three to the Giants a week before in the city of brotherly love.

It doesn't appear anyone else in the division made much headway either unless you consider the Florida Marlins who continue to surprise. My bet is they tail off after mid-summer a la the Nationals in their inaugural season.

Meanwhile, it came as no surprise that Spanish newspapers don't carry MLB results. They are too interested in futbol, jai lai, tennis, cycling, and auto racing.

The Spain I first knew as a student in Granada and Madrid is long gone. Back then it was a police state, ostracized by the West for Franco's "neutrality" in WWII. Politically and religiously conservative, it hardly benefited from the largess of the Marshall Plan, unless of course, you consider the location of a major American airbase and sub base on its soil beneficial to the local economy.

Today, it can be argued Spain is the most liberal country of Western Europe in many respects. Vibrant, progressive, thriving, vital. One sees it everywhere from the sophistication of Madrid, which mere decades ago was a dowdy capital in name only, to the extensive public recycling and conservation projects.

Forty-two years ago when I first landed in Spain, the generation that fought its Civil War, a conflict that inflamed world passions every bit as much as Vietnam did in ours, was exhausted and spent. By comparison, today's youth have grown up without a dictator. Reminders of the Civil War are present in unexpected places, the Reina Sofia Museum with its Guernica being one of them (in an adjoining room a propaganda film from the war pleads the Republican cause; in another, Robert Capa's pictures from the Civil War fill the walls.); but for Spain's worldly youth, that war is not really that much closer than the Peloponnesian War. Their war is the global one on terror and in Madrid, especially, they know its effects all too well. And in the north of Spain, ETA continues to wreak havoc. The day we departed, ETA assassinated a civil guard in a bomb attack.

In the Spain of 1966, 27 years after the Civil War ended, the streets were still filled with beggars, the blind, the disabled and the walking wounded (less politically correctly referred to then as "mutilados"). They are largely gone now, too, most from old age and disease, but no state can simply banish the disabled from its midst. Today the state has developed a sophisticated health care system (what Western European nation today is not offering better health care for ALL of its citizens than the US?) that doesn't simply warehouse people in the streets. There were two big lottery systems back then, the national and the one benefiting the blind. The latter has been replaced by ONCE, an organization that uses proceeds from lottery sales to provide employment for the disabled. Their kiosks have replaced the wooden stools of four decades ago.

All of Spain still partakes of the paseo, the evening stroll during which every ambulatory inhabitant of the peninsula seems to be on the streets. Even today, one can see the physical evidence of Spain's evolution by watching these strollers. The oldest generation invariably features a man and a woman of small stature and, most interesting, almost equal height. The middle-aged generation, on the other hand, will be taller with the differences in height between men and women more pronounced. And the younger generation? Much taller, with the full range of body types and heights (though very little obesity). They look like, well, everyone else their age throughout the Western hemisphere and Europe.

Spain has literally grown.

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