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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Has it really come to me moaning about the good ole days?

I often wonder how different my experience with Spain would have been had I been born five or ten years before and had arrived here that much earlier.

Personally, I don't know if I would have survived living abroad permanently if it hadn't been for email and cheap long distance, which had "happened to everyone" just in the few years before I moved here. I opened up my very first personal email account precisely because I was moving to Spain, to keep in touch with friends and family while I was over here. I remember gathering email addresses from the people that actually had accounts and one friend in particular told me he didn't "fuck around with email." You know, back in the day when it was still possible to decide whether or not to not have an email account and I don't know, actually get real shit in the mail besides Publishers Clearing House.

As it turned out, I arrived on January 2, 1998 when communication with my own country was easy, facilitating an indefinite stay here.

The late nineties was a peculiar time for Spain. It was a time when the Spanish baby boomer generation was in the late teens and early twenties.

In the 90's only remnants of the intense transitional period that Spain had just lived through could be seen; the death of Franco, the death of oppressive right wing fascism and the start of an era of democracy of the late 70's. These college kids that I met and partied with were babies when Franco finally croaked and democracy came shining through the clouds. They were little kids when the last real political drama happened in 1981 when an attempted military coup took place. But Spain was already ecstatically holding democracy in it's hands after waiting a long damn time, and it wasn't having any of that shit.

But these kids I hung out with never went through anything. Nothing ever festered in them but a desire to buy shit and go on cool vacations and get awesome ring tones for their cell phones and take English classes and go to law school or whatever.

But had I been around just ten years or so earlier, I would have entered a vibrant and excited time for Spanish music, film and art in general; the 80's movida Madrile├▒a (Madrid groove/ Madrid movement). Some good music came out of this time. It was a sigh of relief to the era it had survived, the era of having to take a road trip to France to see Last Tango In Paris. All of the bottled up mad energy that Franco had put a cork in had become molotov and was boiling over with oppression and finally popped. The old bubbly would keep it's fizz for awhile, through the nineties care-free-life-is-fucking-good "big bottle" or botell├│n youth movement.

I was a part of this Spanish "big bottle" youth phenomenon. "Big bottle" was total and complete youth ownership of the cities and the streets, in such a way that police could not possibly hope to control us. We filled the plazas each and every weekend night, buying bottles of whiskey and 2 litre bottles of coke, plastic cups and bags of ice and fucking owned those plazas, those church steps, those statues and monuments, those fountains, those park benches, those narrow streets, that city hall. Every weekend was a street festival of cheap drinks and hash and massive quantities of gathered young people the likes of which I had never seen before, and I haven't seen since.

Big Bottle was everywhere. Someone's birthday? Big bottle. No money? Big bottle. Going to a concert? You guessed it, big bottle.

You Big bottled before you went out, you big bottled after you went out, you big bottled instead of going out, you big bottled while you were out to save money. You big bottled anywhere and anytime you damn well pleased and nobody said a word about it. You big bottled if you were a snob, a hippie, a jock, a slut, a communist, or a Catholic.

That city was taken in a hedonistic coup and it belonged to us. It was a birthright. It was as if to say, "you all went through hell to get us these freedoms, so we may as well enjoy them." Well, it wasn't my birthright, but I showed up accustomed to extremely tough Arizona open liquor and general drinking laws and an extremely puritan cultural background and decided to claim this as mine as well.

My mouth hung open as I saw the insanely huge crowds of young people, the liquor consumed. All the while, these twenty-year-olds with their long hippie hair carried on eloquent discussions of politics, well-versed in philosophical and historical concepts that most Americans our age that I knew couldn't hold a match to intellectually; I certainly couldn't. Their teachers who had lived through the transition had apparently trained them well; trained them to....well, sit around in plazas drinking and contemplating a bunch of nonsense.

This time of big bottle madness, so it goes, also coincided with unprecedented levels of prosperity, relying, dare I say, almost entirely on the construction boom.

We, the big bottlers, would someday financially support this country. We would someday pay mortgages, maybe on the same houses whose doorways we had pissed in when we were three sheets to the wind. Some of us would someday have kids and want the plazas clean and filled with playground toys, not filled with a bunch of fucking washed up pseudo-anarchists. Soon, we would want the big bottle to dry the fuck up and we would support the anti-big bottle law against open liquor containers in public. But for now, we sucked and milked from that big bottle. We enjoyed the well-kept plazas that the previous generations were paying for with their tax dollars. We left our trash behind in utter indifference for them as they walked their dogs on early Sunday mornings and shook their heads, impotent to do anything about it.

One day we would see our jobs come into danger. We would see our friends out of work. We would wonder how the fuck we were gonna pay those mortgage payments for those houses with the doorways we used to piss on. Those of us that haven't had kids yet would wonder if it would ever be a good time to, if our kids would ever get to play in those playground plazas we used to have our "big bottle" fun in.

Maybe things will get bad enough that the hard times will blister in the hearts of young folk again, since their asses are no longer drunk in a plaza. Maybe they will make some good art. I guess that's one thing I'm hopeful of an economic crisis bringing; inspiration.

Oh, but I do miss the big bottle.

Antonio Vega died this week at 51 years old. He was one of the seminal founders of Spanish pop music at the start of the democratic era, emblematic of the countercultural Madrid movement of the 80s. People seem affected by it here, it's all over the news; there are tribute concerts being aired, and this song is constantly on the radio (appropriately titled "girl from yesterday" or chica de ayer).

Maybe it is because there is a nagging in them that tells them the time of excited bottled up joy of freedom and subsequent over-indulgence is ending and a new unknown and worrisome era for Spain is beginning.

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Anonymous May 19, 2009 at 1:45 PM  

Now I know what to call my college years--the big bottled era. Also, you're right about it being so much easier now to live away. When I was very young my uncle and his family lived in Switzerland and a phone call was a true international event.

The Unbearable Banishment May 20, 2009 at 5:20 AM  

The funny thing about the “good old days” is that you can in the middle of them at this very moment, but if you spend too much time reminiscing about the past, you miss it.

By the way, I just read a report about unemployment in Spain .What the hell is going on out there? And I thought New York City was toast!

Gypsy May 20, 2009 at 8:05 AM  

I didn't get an email address until I went to Italy in 1996. And I didn't even use it, I don't think, 'cause no one back home had one. Heh.

This was awesome. Emblematic in some ways of that time in my life, too, that youthful indulgence.

Fned May 20, 2009 at 1:01 PM  

I miss my mexican version of those Big Bottle days!! you explained it so well!! I guess in a way it must be what the americans from my mom's generation (the 70's) must have felt like... in the 80's... and the 90's and ... well, even now.

Do you think we'll EVER stop feeling that nostalgia over the Big Bottle days ourselves?


Ellie May 20, 2009 at 2:11 PM  

I was in Madrid from 1993 to 1996. It was apparently hard economic times, but I was a bum teaching English and sleeping on a mattress on the floor so it seemed perfectly all right to me. A couple of Spanish friends seemed to mourn the 80s. Hung out at the Via Lactea and the Agapo until it was time to go home and have breakfast. I think we felt too old to do the big bottle, but we did do guiri sangria out of a bucket in the Retiro. I miss it.

Emily May 20, 2009 at 5:14 PM  

"Nothing ever festered in them but a desire to buy shit and go on cool vacations and get awesome ring tones for their cell phones and take English classes and go to law school or whatever."

I think some young Chileans feel like that now. On the one hand they protest all the time and are passionate about education laws and things that I in the US never knew or cared anything about. On the other hand, they're not registering to vote because they're tired of the system and don't care anyway. And there's a whole youth movement that seems to mostly be about wearing black, dying your flat-ironed hair Crayola colors and drinking in parks (even though it's not legal here). But I don't see it accompanied by the same sense of exuberance that your post made me feel - it's more a sense of being sick of what's on offer from society, so they're opting out and doing something that's outside societal norms.

Gwen May 20, 2009 at 6:19 PM  

Big Bottle sounds incredibly liberating. I never really went through a period like that in my life, where I drank and drank and philosophized and drank. I feel sad about that. I think it's cool how you've integrated into the culture of your new country, you have adopted their ways and their history. It must feel like a balancing act on some days, like having a foot on two sides of a fence. Maybe I'm wrong about that. I think that's how I would feel to live in another country.

A Free Man May 22, 2009 at 2:51 AM  

Wonderful post, Blues. That big bottle phenomenon wasn't just a Spanish thing, it was (is) a youth thing. We had the same thing in Seattle in the early 90s, that feeling that we owned the world without owning a damn bit of it. And the other side of that - got that now as well. It's called getting old - welcome to the club! ;)

Florida Girl In Sydney May 22, 2009 at 5:52 AM  

I cannot imagine having done this move thing without the internet-- I would really be in hell.

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