In English Voices From Spain

Más vale una vez rojo que ciento amarillo* (Better mad than sad)

Photo by Aaron Mello on Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish: Más vale una vez rojo que ciento amarillo. Arcadi Espada. El Mundo

Arcadi Espada, identified by Mossos after adding a red line to a yellow ribbon in L’Ametlla de Mar.

I had never been in La Llotja, a restaurant close to the marina in L’Ametlla de Mar. I had a perfectly baked dentón (a small local fish, similar to sea bream) and we drank a rare and fresh Argentinian chardonnay. The restaurant specializes in tuna. Yolanda runs the hall gently and with competence. She explained some details about the kind of tuna they serve. While the ones fished in the almadrabas ** are burgeoned, these are killed with a harpoon. But there are consequences, as always… The beating, Yolanda went on, provokes successive blood clots that seep into the animal’s flesh and that will afterwards strengthen its flavor. Those are the kind of intense animals that I am served at El Campero, in Barbate. Yolanda prefers the ones she sells. A good death gives a softer taste.

We left the restaurant after midnight. We were a party of eight and we drove two cars. Exiting L’Ametlla we passed by a roundabout with a sculpture celebrating fishermen. There was an iron-made yellow ribbon placed at the base. The car ahead with my friends drove aside and stopped. During the dinner we had some comments about the yellow plague, especially virulent in the area. My car stopped behind.

– Shall we remove it?

– Hmmm… I guess it will be difficult

– Then we can paint it

 My friend opened the trunk and took out a a can of spray paint. One of those self-defense paint cans that any Catalan democrat must have. We crossed over into the roundabout. The ribbon was made of iron. It had a powerful institutional, municipal and thick aspect; it was impossible to move it without a big effort. So we applied the prescribed treatment to that pestilent bubo: an ardent touch of rouge. While we were painting, a car passed by. A  somewhat hysteric female voice yelled:

– Pooolice, pooolice!!

 It was said and done. We had barely crossed back from the roundabout when they arrived: first, two regional police cars; then a third one; and last, one from the local police. We were close to a gas station, police had their warning lights on and the picture was impressive. I started to feel really good.

 First they dealt with the parking fines. Then they started with the identifications. The officer in command of the Mossos (regional police) squad – they called him “capo” – tried to justify himself:

– So, when you notice a traffic infraction, you rush to identify all of the passengers the vehicle.

– What do you mean?

– That this is the way you usually do it, that this is the protocol…

– But it’s night time…

– Then during daytime you don’t proceed this way.

– Excuse me, sir, I will not play along with you.

Poor chief, he wasn’t even able to assume the political orders that he was carrying out: to identify anyone who could be removing – or corrupting!! – ribbons.

The proceedings were lengthening. Fortunately, it was a great night. Around three quarters of an hour had passed when the local police officer in command took the leading role.

– Open the car’s boot – he said to my friend.

Inside, there were some excellent Castilian cheeses from Fuente – Olmedo and some bottles of Mosel wine, from Germany, that I had brought as a gift to my friends. Inexplicably, he didn’t confiscate anything. Afterwards, he opened the rear passenger door – without anybody’s permission – and he discovered the self-defense spray can on the seat.

– Aha – as novel writer would put it.

He took it and carried it with him. When the procedure was finished, and we were just about to leave, we asked him:

– Excuse me, officer, can you please give my spray back? – said my friend.

– Hmmm…

– Yes, of course, I need it.

The officer was jamming.

– Well, it’s an item that could be used, er, for non-consistent activities…

– And if we were carrying yellow ribbons, would you have confiscated them?

– No, there would be no reason to do that…

– Officer number 3905 (I’m writing his number here so gets commended) stared at me with doubt

– Don’t you think it’s fair?

– I think it is a shame

Before leaving I wanted to cross the roundabout again to take a picture of the sanitized ribbon. Number 3905 prevented me from doing that.

– It’s dangerous.

– Not now.

But I obeyed him. I got into the car and we drove the roundabout twice so we could take some bad quick pictures.

Next morning, I was going to go to the beach. I had not swum in the sea this year. My friend was reading the news on his laptop.

– But… “critters”! The man says “critters”!

I looked at him absently. I am used to the newspapers’ side effects. But he insisted.

– He’s calling us “critters”!

The Mayor of L’Ametlla, Jordi Gaseni, had just tweeted the news. And he added: “Arcadi Espada and 7 other critters”. The animalization of the dissident is a classic. Jew rats; Cuban worms; Tutsi cockroaches; Mexican goat kids; Birds in Havana…

Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo, well into the morning, pointed to the canonical response. Orwell: “Nationalism is the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified as insects”

But you’d better take care, Gaseni, because a “critter***” in Spanish is, basically, a bull.


* Untranslatable Spanish proverb. Literally would mean ‘It’s better get red once than yellow one hundred times’, it’s better to face a problem for once no matter how difficult it could be. Here it has a double meaning, referring to the secessionist yellow ribbons and how the author and his friends painted one of them red, so it had the colors of Spanish national flag.

** A fishing technique used in Southern Spain to capture tunas.

*** “Bitxos” in the Catalan original; “bicho”, in Spanish, could mean “bug”, but is also a bullfighting jargon for “bull”.

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