Friday, November 26

The weak point of democracy | Babelia

1. Zaragoza

We will start that morning in Zaragoza. The hall of the Grand Hotel, icy, impersonal. The room in cold light, more appropriate for an autopsy than for a presentation in society. Our landscape, Amelia, now I think about it, were waiting rooms, meeting rooms, convention rooms, banquet rooms, multipurpose rooms that, if they want to serve everything, are useless.

I was watching you in Zaragoza when you unveiled the electoral poster to the press. The image boys had covered it with a blue cloth that you carried in your hand and then you did not know what to do with it, with the blue cloth. And there, in front, your photo printed on the cardboard on the easel, the features retouched until any wrinkle and therefore any feature disappear. With so much sincerity in a face, the designers had preferred to blur your features and lighten your eye color.

They do it in the way of magazine covers because people have become afraid to show any imperfections. That’s why I liked being fat. It was the first display of character. What about my Buddha gut was said by Carlota. But it wasn’t a gut, it was a personality. How did you know how to see it?

“You, with your Buddha gut, Basilio.”

“One hundred and nineteen kilos are not achieved without effort,” I warned you, so that my fat was not taken as a sign of abandonment but rather of firmness.

I had to face all the diets, the skinny dictatorship, the torture gyms and the trotting troops. I made an effort not to be in shape, I was an insubordinate to sports clothes and the vulgarity of a world under a regime. 119 kilos was my challenge to courage that supreme and memorable health. But if we are all going to be murdered sooner or later, regardless of the diet we follow. Saying “see you tomorrow” every night is a sign of excessive self-confidence. At my funeral, save pity for the coffin bearers, who will break their backs, screw themselves for participating in that infamous rite. The countries that honor the dead with such funeral pomp do so to wash away their guilt for their treatment of the living. If the world were decent, we would go to die in a ravine and drop without ceremony.

To be fat is to rebel against the skinny future that awaits us. A future in tracksuit. I also wear glasses, now that so many are getting their diopters operated. And I did not mind being a little bald, those entrances that have widened my forehead like the runways of an airport. The last time I flew from Istanbul, the plane was full of guys with newly implanted hairs on their heads and their shameful bald spots covered in iodized alcohol. There will be no bald men in the future, I thought. It is prohibited to have physical defects. Being handsome will be a human right that will be demanded in massive demonstrations in front of the government headquarters. We are all handsome! I am Brad Pitt! That is our democracy of retouched photo, of beautifying filter, of youth series. All the paths of virtue lead to Nazism. Did I ever tell you that? Yes, yes, in some city I told you.

– All the paths of virtue lead to Nazism. And you answered me, with that half smile you gave when what you heard amused you but scared you at the same time:

“I like your evil, Basilio, because it is free.”

But it was not free. I put it at your disposal for a small salary. Although when you made the proposal I responded with music. I started to sing. You told me I want you to work with me on the campaign, and I started singing.

I don’t want to serve anymore, no, no, no, no, no, no. I don’t want to serve anymore!

A laugh between two people is much more binding than a handshake, than any contract

You burst out laughing, you didn’t expect that. A laugh between two people is much more binding than a handshake, than any contract. Perhaps from that laugh an affinity was born, that affinity that I perceived between us. Am I wrong, Amelia? Tell me if I’m lying when I talk about that natural bond that united us. For example, the difficulty to understand each other with young people. We no longer shared the referents, the interests, or the ambitions. We discussed it on occasion. That silence at meals when you understand that nothing they are saying gives a damn and nothing you can say concerns them. At fifty-four years old, it is not that I was going to die of old age, but one perceives that it belongs to an ancient world, at a time at odds with today. And you, at sixty-two, despite your splendid maturity, you were also walking on tiptoe through the present, as if it was not entirely your place to be there. I liked your rush when you called me on the phone for the first date.

“Could we meet this afternoon?” Can I buy you a coffee?

When I met you I was enjoying the voluminous stillness of the hippopotamus. Did you know that my enemies call me that? The Hippopotamus, but more than an insult I have always taken it as a compliment. I prefer long periods in the bathtub, with the water up to my chin, than to earn my bread with the sweat on my brow. My plans didn’t include going back to work, but I got caught up in the adrenaline that your proposal promised. It all started in that cafe when you told me I want you by my side. Like a rocket in Cape Canaveral I started roaring down the discount line. In English they call it count down, count down. I like that. Count down. We say countdown because we have a horizontal view of time, but Anglo-Saxons are vertical in everything.

I remember, a few weeks later, the meeting where your photo was chosen for the poster. We were in the office of the secretary general, at the headquarters of Los Cuervos. There were five or six options. In all of them you had a face of anguish hidden under a smile that they call reassuring and that is usually very disturbing. To the chosen photo, after thoroughly retouching it, they added the slanted letters. Lautaro explained that the lopsided lettering suggests dynamism. The woman you need. You smiled when you said it out loud that first time. You did it again that morning at the hotel in Zaragoza.

-The woman you need … But don’t interpret it as a trait of arrogance. My effort will consist of serving the needs of others. I am a woman who aspire to be necessary. I have come to lead the ship of my country and my people towards a better life. I have come to listen and to work. I have come to be the person that Spain needs.

You wonder how I was able to write so much nonsense while thinking what I think. That somewhat explains my perpetual irritation. Or, as you said when you got to know me better, my state of discouragement.

–Basilio, you don’t have a state of mind, you have a state of discouragement.

All the press summoned at the Gran Hotel was going to reproduce your words and the cameras would capture your expensive saliva while you played the new role in the comedy of your life, that of the necessary woman, the woman that Spain needs. The candidate to preside over the government. After your apparent strength, you were only a debutante in the dance, the girl in the long dress and the first heels under the gaze of the predators.

And that journalists are no longer inquisitive or impertinent, as when I started in that profession. Now they aspire to a comfortable life, similar to the one their bosses stick to. They are young transmitters, at times they look like old telephone operators, those who were dedicated to pricking plugs and sending voices from one place to another without knowing who is talking to whom.

At the end of the presentation of the electoral poster, on the way to the bus, you suggested that we should try to be more forceful.

–Understand me, Basilio, I already speak with too many turns and rhetoric, you better write more directly. With stabs.

-Candies. We are going to give them candy, which is what my dear children like.

“Oh, don’t call them that, I hate when you call them that.”

Because the mirror lies to them, you are more beautiful, you are better, he tells them, and they believe it, but they are the same

You were referring to my habit of calling them, the people, the voters, dear children. Yes, I call them my dear children, I told you in the first meeting, because that way I do not forget their childish whims, I do not allow myself to be fooled by that incomprehensible superiority that they exhibit over politicians. Politicians are all such, they say, or politicians are all such, as if they had never seen themselves represented by them in the mirror. Because the mirror lies to them, you are more beautiful, you are better, he tells them, and they believe it, but they are the same. As the dog ends up looking like the master. Or was it the other way around? The voter ends up being the same as what was voted. Or was it the other way around?

You had your hair cut before the photoshoot. They wanted a more neutral hairstyle, without the hair, even if you said it made you fatter. But the new cut had the virtue of placing the radiating center on your nape, interview.

– There is nothing sadder than a politician who is worried about his hair. My dear children like to look at a politician, especially if he is a woman, and see someone who is not worried about his hairstyle. Angela Merkel, Margaret Thatcher, here are two achievers who did not touch their hair in their long terms. The Stock Market could collapse, the fleet could sink, that the hairstyle of its leaders transmitted to my dear children the solidity of the eternal.

I don’t know if I scared you too much in that initial meeting. But I preferred not to start our relationship with a misunderstanding. Amelia, I told you, let’s stop fooling ourselves, the game is about winning. It was at the Marconi cafe. You confessed a concern to me. You suspected that complex messages can no longer reach people. Your jaw dropped when I replied:

-Neither the simple ones. No message reaches them. An experience comes to them.

-An experience?

-Yes. A kind of vivid fantasy. An acknowledgment.

-I dont know. I don’t seem to understand you.

-Imagine that you close your eyes and dad comes to take you by the hand again, like when you were a child about to cross the street. That is what they want to feel. That experience.

“What does this have to do with us?”

– Democracy has only one weak point. It depends on the people.

“That’s a no-brainer.”

– The problem with people is that they only know how to be guided by their own experience. Most have renounced any other mental construction that does not go through what they have experienced, what they have already experienced. That is why the best democracies emerge after wars, after disasters, after excesses. When the pain is still fresh, the memory of the damage. As time passes, they forget the trauma and rush back to the fire. Then they wait for Dad to save them and in the middle of the night they scream for Mom.

That was the first time you looked at me as if I were a madman, as if I were a monster. Yes, a monster. The fat man who had started singing opera in the middle of the Marconi café was for you an insane man full of hurtful theories.

Look, Basilio, I’m not going to discover democracy or invent anything new. What we need is to seduce people and that is not easy. I like how you write, I like your convictions and your speech. That’s why I want you to work for me.

‘Dear children’ is published on September 1.

Cover of the novel 'Dear children', by David Trueba.

Dear children

David Trueba.
Anagram, 2021.
456 pages. 19.90 euros.

Look for it in your bookstore

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