The Spanish Mediterranean coast used to be seen as Europe’s Florida, but Spring Break Cancún or Acapulco is actually closer to the mark. As part of the British adoption of this Great American tradition (if only Brussels could invent some culture half as attractive), students have been flying down to Salou and other hellholes, getting massively drunk, vomiting, and fiddling fruitlessly with each other for quite some years now. (There are nice galleries at El País gallery and a well-known West Country university club.)
Until now no one got upset, and, as Don Colin points out, this is all now common practice for Spanish youth, although they tend to do it all rather later at night. So it’s tempting to classify Hispanic press and popular hysteria this year as another outbreak of the anti-Anglo-Saxon xenophobia which has distinguished this country’s response to the recession.
And that, I suppose, also makes it a replay of official horror in the 1950s (eg from the Archbishops of Granada and Barcelona) at the scandalous morals of visitors from the north to their poor but supposedly pure parish, following the strategic devaluation of the peseta which preceded and eased rapprochement with the US in the 1950s.
While we’re repeating history, an aside: I imagine that the IMF bailout for Spain next autumn will be accompanied by outraged letters to the US press pointing out how much money is already being harvested from foreign purses by Barcelona’s pickpockets, rather as happened when Archbishop O’Hara lost $3,000 in Barcelona in 1952 in whatever kind of situation or establishment senior RC clergy lose that kind of money.
I say supposedly, because as I understand it one standard response to such warnings was for young men from country towns to club together to buy a Seat 600 and go to the beaches in search of fabled Swedish totty. (Incidentally, several locals have informed me that they intend to head for Salou next Easter, quite possibly with their grandfathers.)
What seems certain is that press and popular resistance will fail. There is no meaningful prospect of encouraging high-value tourism on a coast which in the last decade has been concreted over to look like central Coventry on a sunny day. So until someone (Angela Merkel?) bombs it all flat the hinterland of Valencia and Barcelona are doomed to compete for the European cheap & chunder market.
But I see a silver lining. The response of France and Belgium to growing Islamic fundamentalism has been to retreat into illiberal reaction–what Norm calls burka Leninism–when there’s actually a more efficient and pleasing solution available: pay British students to drink, strip and fornicate in extremist ghettos along the Mediterranean coast, and the beards will flee south faster than you can say “satyagraha“. It’s time to go storm naked and ruttish into the conference chamber.
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