Hemingway meets Darwin in Madrid

By Matthias Krug

The other night, after Spain won a historic third major football title in a row, I went down to catch a whiff of the ecstatic atmosphere on the streets.

Some flag waving grannies on the corner were happily chattering about the spectacular winning performance. Nothing unusual there; Spain has grown accustomed to winning in style during the very four years where its people have suffered the most domestically. In my local bar, however, I came across two unfamiliar faces. They seemed entirely out of place, from a different era even judging by their quirky clothes.

Quickly I ordered a vino tinto and with the honking of the cars and ebullient shouts of joy at being Spanish filtering through from outside, I settled down at the table behind theirs. After a quick double-take of the English conversation (sweetened by the excellent wine), I was entirely certain: here were Hemingway and Darwin, having a nightly drink in my local bar in Madrid.

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‘Football is their opium now,’ Hemingway said gruffly, ‘it gives them a respite, a temporary numbness, from their daily woes. The importance of that particular sport has grown greatly. In my time here it was all about bull-fighting in terms of national pride. But look now. Look at their faces. This is what keeps them going.’

This corroborated what a veteran taxi driver told me the following morning: ‘we are all in a state of euphoria now. This morning faces have changed. For a night and a day, no one thinks of the crisis. Only once you have to pay your mortgage without having the money to do so, then football is of little use again.’

Still I listened intently, too shocked to dare to interrupt their precarious conversation.

‘The weakest link in society is being targeted,’ Darwin observed astutely, flicking with interest through the day’s daily, ‘look here. Pharmacy hikes hit pensioners.’

‘Very true,’ I offered nervously, ‘just the other day I entered into my local pharmacy and they told me that pensioners will feel the effects the most. There is much fear and uncertainty as to what will happen next.’

They both turned to look at me briefly.

‘Fear? What is fear when you’ve been in a civil war?’ Hemingway said fiercely. I meekly nodded. After a long swig at his drink he added: ‘So this is the Spanish democracy, huh?’

‘Apparently,’ Darwin continued, ‘otherwise known as survival of the fittest. Interesting. Very interesting. Look here: illegal immigrants left without health coverage. Or here. Reductions in public health budgets. Evictions by banks continue unabated as tax-payers shoulder bank bailout costs. Or this: education too. Students face bigger classrooms and higher fees. The weakest link is being targeted in each case; pensioners, immigrants, children, sick people, students.’

‘So this is the Spanish democracy?’ Hemingway asked again.

‘Survival of the fittest,’ Darwin muttered, ‘being played out in its most extreme and animalistic form in this all-encompassing thing they label the crisis.’

‘This jamon is outstanding,’ Hemingway said, finishing off the small platter which always accompanies drinks in the Spanish capital. ‘Get me some more. Survival of the fattest, rather. Those who can afford to eat. Against those who can’t. There doesn’t have to be anything fit about them. They can always go to private hospitals.’

‘I hardly think that is a politically correct term,’ I ventured. ‘Fattest, I mean.’

‘What rubbish, I say what I think,’ Hemingway countered.

I had heard enough; outside there was such brilliant happiness to be had that this seemed depressing in comparison. To their great surprise I stood up and walked right out into the summery night. When I hurried back in a few minutes later, aware that I had witnessed a historic meeting of minds, there were only two half empty glasses left at the table.

Matthias Krug (www.mkrug.com) is a writer, novelist and journalist who was born in Qatar and currently lives in Madrid. He has written for prestigious international media like the BBC, the Huffington Post, ESPN, El Pais English, Irish Examiner or Al Jazeera International, and is the author of the humerous novel ‘Selfishness’ and the short story collection ‘Brave New Words’. He has a European PhD in English Linguistics and Literature from the UCM of Madrid.

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