Pots and kettles. Some phrases don't need to display their full linguistic accoutrement. We know what they mean by the merely mention of a couple of words. 'Pots and kettles' is one of those cases. Ditto with certain snobbish and cultural attitudes between nations.
A few years ago the British press had a moment of schadenfreude when some black English football players, whilst playing a friendly game against Spain, were called racist names. To these insults, gestures imitating monkeys were added. I remember seeing most British commentators both on the right and the left side of the political spectrum rubbing their hands gleefully and gloating over this display of uncivilised behaviour. Not here! they cried. We've stamped racism out of football, kicked it out. No more ugly hooligan scenes like those in the 70s and the 80s.
How wrong they were.
But then, how pathetic John Carlin is in El País for likening the natives of Albion to the Viking hordes that invaded these shores centuries ago (original article in Spanish here, awful English translation here). Or for calling the kettlish English Premier League black. Doesn't he realise that he lives in a country that is pot and kettle at the same time?
In his otherwise well-written article dated Sunday 30th August in the aforementioned newspaper, Carlin uses football as an example to illustrate the differences between Spanish and British societies (by the way, he carries down on the same path of many other commentators before him for whom UK and England are interchangeable terms, a contentious point on which Scots, Welsh and Irish would strongly disagree). Obviously my adopted land does not fare very well. John rightly argues that Brits read more and that in our parliament there's less opprobium being heaped upon its members, as opposed to its Spanish counterpart. But then he goes on to make the baleful comparison I mentioned before using Spain as the ancient Greece paragon against the English (again!) Viking hordes.
Maybe if I had not had that 'little' run-in in Picos de Europa the day before coming across John's feature, I would have let it slide. But not anymore. I think it's time to stick up for my second homeland.
When my wife, our children and I arrived in Picos, we quickly took one of the many paths that led into the mountains. Silly us, we did not think of paying the toilet in the main restaurant a visit before venturing into the woods. Luckily for us there was a campsite nearby (El Redondo) and my son and I went in. The receptionist - a middle-aged white woman - was cold and rude and declared in a very stern voice that the toilet facilities were for the exclusive use of the guests. I attributed her aggresive behaviour to the result of seeing many people getting off the cable cars and trying to take advantage of the campsite's restrooms without bothering to wait until they got to the toilets in the main building to satisfy their physiological needs. And they probably left their own rubbish behind. I was understanding and let her know so.
After we'd finished our short walk, my daughter complained of tummy ache and made it very clear to me that she wanted to go to the toilet. I said to her to wait until we reached the cafeteria where there would be bathrooms aplenty. She said she was desperate and I, fearful of a delicate situation with dirty, stinky clothes in a two-hour journey by car, took her to the same campsite to which my son and I had just been.
And that's when all hell broke loose. The woman this time was not just vulgar and verbally abusive, but also racist. She kept saying to someone at the back - son, husband, partner, who knows - that this was 'el mismo negrito de antes' (the same blackie from before). Spanish-speakers will know that the word 'negrito' said in a confrontational tone has the same pejorative sense as the word 'nigger' in English. My daughter was finally allowed in and I almost had to carry her down the stairs, she could barely walk. On the way out I just said to the woman: 'You see? It was a real emergency. She's just an eight-year old human being'.
So, John Carlin, where were we? Oh, yes, you began your article by referring to those two incidents that took place a few weeks ago. The first one was in a match between arch rivals Millwall and West Ham when there was a fracas between fans from both teams and the second one was at West Ham's defender Calum Davenport's house when a bunch of thugs broke in and stabbed him repeteadly on his legs. Yes, these nasty incidents do happen, John and I hate them as much as you do. They happen now less than in the past, but they do still happen. I support a football team, Chelsea, with a long history of violence and hooliganism, not to mention antisemitism. But I also know many supporters who are law-abiding paterfamilias like yours truly and enjoy a jolly good game of football. In fact, when we crashed out to the mighty Barcelona last spring, I was a good sport and congratulated my Barça-supporting mates. Talking of the Catalán team, what were those hideous scenes of alcohol-fuelled violence and bloodthirst in their game against Shakhtar Donetsk, in Monaco in the European Super Cup final about? Please, don't tell me that those were Barça fans.
Pots and kettle, John, pots and kettles.
As a black person, Mr Carlin, I know that I attract attention wherever I go, some of it unwelcome. Factor in single twists that look like dreadlocks and many people wonder what I'm doing at a poetry reading session/ballet show/painting or photography exhibition/delete as appropriate. I am also used to being stared at. It happens in the UK - mainly outside London - and it has happened in Spain. In fact, when I visited Santoña, a small town in Cantabria, I got all kinds of looks. I could have set up a small stall in the market selling the same stares I got: there were some that expressed amusement, others that implied complicity, there were others that showed curiosity, but there were also a few ones that greeted me with utter hostily and contempt. And they came from Spaniards, Mr Carlin.
I am not being romantic about race and other prejudices in the UK. But to draw a comparison between British and Spanish societies using football as a weapon to demonstrate the latter's alleged superiority over the former is plain wrong. Both countries have too long a way to go for one of them to be sitting comfortable whilst laughing smugly at the other's shortcomings. Instead of doing that you could, for instance, concentrate on La Liga. Most Spaniards will tell you that it is a competition between two teams, Real Madrid and Barcelona, where eighteen others get to kick a ball every now and then. Now, that would make a very interesting article.
I mentioned earlier this year that there were two artists whose music I had heard in recent years and whom I would love to see live if I ever had the opportunity to do so. They were the Ethiopian singer Gigi and the Azerbaijani pianist Aziza Mustafa Zadeh. Well guess what? I'm off to see the latter in concert at the Cadogan Hall, 5 Sloane Square, London, SW1X 9DQ on Sunday 20th September at 7:30pm. And I've got front row free tickets to boot, courtsey of the concert promoter.
As I've written before on this space, trying to pigeonhole Aziza's music is like attempting to shoot down stars with a Remington carbine... in broad daylight. She moves easily between jazz and classical musical, and straddles both genres comfortably. Her father, Vagif, was a pianist and composer and her mother, Eliza, a classically-trained singer from Georgia. So, against this creative background, it should not be surprising that Aziza's oeuvre captivates the listener from the word go. And it's not just her piano-playing skills that entice music lovers, but also her collaborations with other performers, like maverick jazz wizard, Al Di Meola, that make Aziza's music one of those rare pleasures to enjoy amidst so much banality and predictability like Girls Aloud and JLS.
Tickets are still on sale now, the number is 020 7730 4500.
For press enquiries, please contact Ali Harestani on 020 8441 9849, 07796 211 301, or you can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
In the meantime I will leave you with two clips of Aziza doing what she does best: music.
Many thanks to you, Ali, for giving me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch someone whose music crosses so many frontiers.
And if you, my dear fellow blogger, reader, follower are in London next Sunday I hope to see you at the Cadogan Hall. Many thanks.
Next Post: 'What Makes A Good Writer', the second part of a fifteen-week series into the whys and wherefores of writing and reading by the British author Zadie Smith.