Its weight in gold
According to the Australian perception, in Europe what counts is Great Britain; in America, the United States; and in Asia, China
The most momentous (and only) news about Spain I have read during two months in Sydney is neither positive nor negative. It amounts to pretty much zero: the story of the Ecce Homo painting in Borja, under restoration by Celia Giménez, 83 -- which, thanks to its sheer mediocrity, became the funniest object of pilgrimage in Christendom.
So many tourists came to see it that the parish priest decided to charge a euro per visit. The item I read last Wednesday in The Sydney Morning Herald said the priest, a man of 70, now stands accused of undue appropriation, money laundering and -- for good measure, as is now almost ex officio when a priest is in the picture -- abuse of minors.
All this and more got prominent coverage in Sydney's most serious paper -- another chapter in the botched painting's saga. Christ, turned into a faceless dummy, shatters fervor. And the media take the pieces and recompose them into the principal image that the Australians have received of our country in recent months.
However, it is only thus, by chance, that Australians ever hear about Spain. We need to be going through a spectacular crisis, or win an Oscar, or get a contract to put up some mega-building in Australia. Let's face it -- we are just not interesting to the Australians. It is as if our country is something insubstantial, vanished into thin air, and only condenses in the form of some parochial joke.
Every Australian who has passed through Barcelona, Madrid or Seville automatically becomes a promoter of Spanish tourism
Is Spain, then, not real for the Australians? It doesn't require much thought to work out the answer: no. In the Australian perception, in Europe what counts is Great Britain; in America, the United States; and in Asia, China.
However, you don't need to know much about Spain to know it's there. Every Australian who has passed through Barcelona, Madrid or Seville automatically becomes a promoter of Spanish tourism. But neither the wine of Spain -- which runs rings around the Australian (as acidic as lemons, but the fourth-most exported in the world) -- nor flamenco, nor bullfights or fine women have won our land much Australian attention. Cattle they have by the tens of millions, lovely women of every race as far as the eye can see, and as for dance, the younger Australians dance themselves to death in discotheques as in any Western country. And then, their endless beaches swarm with surfers under a sun like that of Spain, but a little more so.
Spain would matter more to them, I think, if our cultural authorities took more care to picture it as the mother country of hundreds of millions who speak our language. Not Spain, but Spanish, is what is worth its weight in gold. Australian study programs have lately been diminishing their offering of European languages, such as French and German, in favor of Japanese and Chinese. What gets bought is what sells itself -- and how can our cultural pitch afford to go on ignoring Spanish America?
This is the last column I am going to file from Sydney, because I don't plan to spend all my life here. I have even got as far as New Zealand, but not a step further. And, by the way, I apologize to John Rochlin, Australia's honorary consul in Barcelona, who wrung his hands when, unintentionally, I doubled the number of people in New Zealand, and of sheep too.
Now that I have been there to check it out on the spot, I may say that the people number four-and-a-half million, and the sheep 40 million. Quite a flock by any standard, but what else can you expect of a paradise like New Zealand, where the near-unsullied nature (you have to disinfect the soles of your shoes before entering certain protected forests) features so many unique species of fauna and flora, evolved in close to 80 million years of isolation from the world's great landmasses?