MARCH 11 AND THE DAYS AFTER

Bill's friend Boyce Quinn lives in Spain and gives us an on-scene report after the 3/11/04 terrorist attack.  Boyce posted this piece on his QuinnRoads blog.

Kay and I moved to Spain knowing that if a disaster took place in the states, an earthquake in California, a hurricane in North Carolina, staying informed would be difficult. Under normal conditions, getting through by telephone can be tricky, after a catastrophic event, impossible. I assume that CNN must exist somewhere in Granada, but we have yet to find it.

What we had not anticipated was something like the terrorist bomb attack in Madrid. Nor did we anticipate the difficulty we would have in finding out what was going on.

We first saw pictures of a destroyed train on the Thursday evening television news, which we watched with Kay’s brother Mason and his friend Monte, who were visiting. We weren’t sure what had happened. We heard the word terrorist but didn’t know if this was suspected or factual. Spanish television newsreaders speak even more rapidly that people on the street. We saw George Bush, and heard him say, beneath the Spanish voice-over, that America stood with the Spanish people.
We rushed out Friday morning to buy the International Herald Tribune with its El Pais insert, an eight-page, English-language digest of Spain’s national newspaper. According to the papers, the government blamed the Basque separatists. In fact, the Minster of the Interior stated that there was no doubt that the ETA was behind the attack. Other sources suggested the possibility that Al Qaeda was responsible. Unfortunately, the Tribune and El Pais insert are printed in Madrid the evening before and are not current.

Still very much out of the information loop, we went on with our day. About six-thirty, we decided to walk home along Calle Grand Via de Colon, the broad boulevard that runs parallel to our narrow street. We immediately noticed that the sidewalks were unusually crowded and that almost everyone was walking in the same direction. As we walked the number of people increased and traffic rapidly decreased. Within blocks the crowd had spilled out into the almost empty boulevard.

Many walkers wore a white sticker with a black ribbon on it. Spanish flags, each with a black ribbon attached, stretched across business fronts and hung from the apartments above. Shops and offices, which normally reopen at five-thirty after the afternoon siesta, were closed. Even the cafes and bars were shuttered.

We didn’t know what was happening, but we wanted to be part of it, so we followed the crowd. Every small cross street was a stream feeding a growing river of people. The wide boulevard was strangely quiet. There were no cars, no buses, no motorcycles, and the Spanish, who are very loud people, spoke in hushed voices. The only sound was that of trumping feet.

Calón ends at Calle Reyes Católicos, another major boulevard. There the two rivers of marchers merged, and we turned and headed down Católicos towards Plazoleta Real de España, the city’s central intersection and one end of Granada’s largest open space. Once there, we watched as people poured in from every direction, forming a sea that stretched towards the river in the distance. Movement was reduced to a shuffle. The tightly packed crowd - families, matrons in furs, jean-clad students, groups of older men in dark suits, the well-dressed thirty-somethings from the surrounding banks and offices, even old ladies with walkers – pressed slowly forward.

Unlike demonstrations and marches I’ve attended, there were no expressions - signs, banners, leaflets - of political opinion, mainstream or fringe. This cross section of Spanish society had gathered for one purpose, to express their sorrow and outrage.

A man pushing a baby carriage bumped me, then excused himself in English. I asked him what was happening. He told me that the march would begin at the far end of the already-packed plaza, proceed back through where we were standing, and then continue along Católicos and Calón, the route we’d just walked.

Within minutes of being blocked in, we had to decide immediately whether to continue or to head for home. We had been walking all day, were very tired, and both Kay and Mason were beginning to feel claustrophobic. Home it would be. We worked our way through the crowd towards the pedestrian shopping area, where we made our way back through narrow lanes lined with shuttered stores.

During the evening we watched the televised demonstrations and marches taking place all over Spain. Millions of Spaniards had taken to the streets. We’d never seen anything like it.

Mason and Monte left early the next morning, not knowing if the events would effect their trip home. The Saturday morning El Pais accused the government of withholding information in order to influence the election. We checked our e-mails to find notes of concern and inquiries as to our well being. We went to bed not knowing who was responsible for the attack.

Sunday was election day. All campaigning had ceased after the attack, cutting Spain’s mercifully short, four-week election campaign even shorter. That afternoon I ran into our upstairs neighbor. Enrique teaches at the university and speaks English. He was very upset. There had been arrests and Al Qaeda had claimed responsibility, he told me, but the governing Popular Party (PP) had suppressed the information so as not to damage their re-election prospects. Although surveys showed that ninety percent of Spaniards were against the war, the PP was running five to seven points ahead in the polls. News of the arrests had leaked and the Socialists had demanded a statement and explanation. Demonstrations were going on in Madrid, he told me, and people were demanding that the government step down. “We have to vote them out,” he said. “We have to!”

That night Kay and I watched the election results, which, amazingly, were completed before eleven. The incumbent Popular Party lost. The Socialist Party candidate, José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero, had promised during the campaign that he would pull Spanish troops out of Iraq in the absence of a United Nations mandate. He has repeated that promise since his election. Perhaps the Spanish voted against Aznar and the PP because of the war and terrorist attack, perhaps because of the pre-election cover-up, perhaps both. What happened and what will happen is a story still being played out.

I remember watching the demolition of the Berlin Wall, the end of the USSR, and thinking that we might be entering an age of relative peace. Relative. There would, no doubt, be little wars, lots of little wars, as nationalism and tribalism replaced capitalism versus communism as the dominant conflict of the 21st century. But those nasty little wars would take place “over there,” on the soviet rim, in Africa, the Balkans, possibly the Near East, as all those artificial countries created 50-150 years ago began to fly apart. But, with the exceptions of a few situations, like the ETA (Basque) and IRA, we - Americans, French, Germans, Argentineans, Chileans, etc. – could look forward to a future without fear of war. Well, so much for my career as a political pundit. We are not safe, though the danger is no longer a worldwide conflagration, but of being blown up while going to work.

We are a little apprehensive. Many of the businesses in our neighborhood are Moroccan, and I hear almost as much Arabic spoken on our street as Spanish. But then I remind myself that there are probably more Pakistanis in New York, and what does that mean? I feel sure that what happened in Madrid horrifies the majority of Moroccans.

Hello twenty-first century. Goodbye illusions.

Boyce Quinn
Wednesday, March 17, 2004
QuinnRoads


The author with wife Kay, Libby and Bill, on a visit from Spain in July, '04

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March 17, 2004
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