The National Parade

Desfile de la Fiesta Nacional

I didn’t know I was in Spain when the Spanish national anthem played, because as it is, I wouldn’t recognize the Spanish national anthem. I didn’t know I was in Spain when Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish president, cruised past me in an armored motorcade, because as it is, I wouldn’t recognize the Spanish president. Admittedly, I should have been able to identify him; part of the assignment for my grammar class on Tuesday is to look up the leaders of the four major political parties here in Spain. I recognize that I have more studying to do, but in my defense, I did know I was in Spain when a woman showed up next to me wearing a Spanish flag as a cape. The big, bucking bull in the middle of the flag’s yellow stripe helped dry up any lingering uncertainty on my part.
Nobody dried up the sky, though, so as I stood in the midst of an enormous crowd just outside of the Nuevos Ministerios metro station in central Madrid, my insufficient gray sweater got wet. My drab attire stuck out like a sore thumb in a sea of red and yellow: to my right was a girl with red and yellow face paint; above me, someone’s red and yellow umbrella dripped slowly into my hair. Behind me, another 10 or 12 rows of people sporting red and yellow everything were craning their necks to witness the spectacle that was unfolding in front of me, the ceremonial military parade to celebrate the Fiesta Nacional de España.
And what was I doing? Aside from standing obliviously as a major world leader rolled by, I was shifting the weight between my feet. I had arrived at the site of the parade 27 minutes before the designated start time of 11am. Of course, the majority of the crowd showed up only well after the procession had commenced; I’ve spent five weeks here, and it took about five days for me to come to terms with the fact that Spaniards tend to move at a much more relaxed pace. They take things like starting times as more like suggestions. There are 37 students on the Tufts-Skidmore Spain program in Madrid, but I’ve heard there are actually supposed to be 38. Unfortunately, one is from Spain, so he hasn’t shown up yet. (That’s a joke.)
In all seriousness, the stragglers of the crowd didn’t miss much of the proceedings; I had situated myself near the end of the parade route, and it took some time for the action to reach us. At 11:21 and several milliseconds (my sense of time proves my German heritage), the vanguard of police vehicles crossed in front of me, and for the next hour and change, wave after wave of assorted military personnel filed past me. I saw tanks. I saw crisp salutes from men and women in various uniforms. I saw rigid ranks of arm-swinging regulars march in lockstep with one another. I heard the blare of bugles, the roar of approving spectators, and the uniform clatter of horses’ hooves.
I also saw the inevitable aftermath of a tired cavalry regiment, and I heard the laughter of the crowd when they glimpsed the manure now dotting the broad avenue. Oh, and I guess there was one more audiovisual combination during the parade that put the issue of my location truly beyond doubt. At my right elbow stood a gray-haired army veteran who wore his full uniform and a decorative red and yellow pin. His shirt was wet from the rain, but his left cheek was wet because of the tear that had fallen from his eye. His gaze traced the progress of a squadron of bayonet-bearing, broad-chested lads who must of reminded him of younger versions of himself, and under his breath, he kept murmuring, “Sí, señor. Sí, señor.”
Yep. I was in Spain, all right.

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