Sunday, November 20, 2005

Like Sheep

It is the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Francicso Franco, Spain's former dictator.

It is also the annual Día de la Transhumancia, when the country's agricultural sector asserts its rights by herding livestock (mostly sheep) through the center of Madrid--along the Calle Mayor, through the Puerta del Sol, to the Puerta de Alcalá, and then back again.

Last night, a Mass was held at the Valle de los Caidos, or Valley of the Fallen, the massive basilica/shrine built through enforced labor by the losers of the Spanish Civil War, during nearly two decades, to honor Franco. The dictator is buried inside the church, as is José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Spanish Falange, a right-wing political group that supported Franco's Nationalists during the civil war. Notable attendees of the gathering included Franco's daughter, Carmen, and Antonio Tejero Molina, the Guardia Civil officer who led the 1981 military "golpe" or coup that attempted to topple Spain's then-nascent democracy. Today's news replayed the chants of "Franco! Franco!", and the Fascist salutes.

This morning during my weekly Sunday run, as I crossed the mouth of the Calle Mayor, I had to jostle for position with teams of oxen, impatient to execute their marching orders.

Later this morning, we had breakfast at the Cafe del Oriente.

Outside, in the Plaza del Oriente, which spreads out in front of the Royal Palace, several hundred Spaniards--mostly well-off elderly citizens or angry young people--congregated to pay homage to Franco by singing patriotic songs, chanting nationalistic slogans, stabbing the air with fascist salutes, waving (and often actually wearing) Spanish flags, and selling Francoist and Falange literature and memorabilia.

After we finished breakfast, we made our way through the chants and flags and walked the short distance to the Puerta del Sol, so that we could observe the animals on their home stretch. Before us passed men carrying flags on thick wooden poles several times their height; oxes pulling carts; groups of men, women, boys, and girls dressed in traditional attire, stopping intermittently to perform folk dances; large, swaggering, forlorn sheepdogs; and finally, the guests of honor--hundreds of confused sheep, herded through the passageway narrowly permitted by the hovering crowd.

The sheep's appearance, though glorious, was brief, and soon the Puerta del Sol had emptied, leaving only an army of sanitation trucks and workers (all dressed in bright, flourescent green uniforms), hosing the cobblestone streets and dispensing with the formidable splattering of sheep dip.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your story about your encounter with Día de la Transhumancia. It was very visual and reminded me of my visit to Madrid, even if during that visit there were no sheep.