November 22, 2008


What did we talk about in the intercambio yesterday? Apart that is, from the usual stuff about why I'm learning Spanish (to escape from a tiny apartment and even tiner office shared with P) and why they're learning English (to escape from a boring job and/or boring family).

So, apart from the theme of escape, what else? Well, Tony Blair for a start.

When he wasn't totally engrossed in stroking Pilar's knee under the table, our flamboyant businessman, Alfonso, had surprised me with some of his outbursts. Outbursts that were all the more striking given that they were delivered with the fluency of a near-native English speaker.

One concerned the recent presidential election in America. He couldn't understand why, given its hoopla and razzmatazz, the American campaign had all the gravitas of a Rio de Janeiro street carnival. Particularly, he added,compared to the Spanish and British elections. Now Spain has just had an election and, to call it dull, would be to give dullness a bad name. And as for a British election, well we're still waiting for that, aren't we?

But it was what Alfonso had to say about Tony Blair that was particularly incisive. Why, he asked, does a man who - more than any other politician of his generation - professes such a strong religious faith and, by extension, the moral high ground, stoop so low in "running after so much money with such empty speeches".

Before I could reply, Alfonso cut in to add that, earlier this year, he had been summoned by his company's head office to attend a speech Blair was giving in Barcelona. Because he was extremely busy at work, he hadn't wanted to go and had tried to get a junior to deputise. But no, he was told in no uncertain terms, it behoved him as a senior manager to attend and represent the company.

Well, I asked, was it worth it?

Alfonso momentarily stopped stroking Pilar's leg - a sign I'd come to realise that meant I now had his undivided attention.

'It was c*** - useless information, useless anecdotes, useless advice. But I had to sit through it for the sake of the company - just like all the others around me. In fact, one of the organisers told me afterwards - and there was much drinking afterwards I can assure you - that Blair had been secretly flown in before the speech and just as secretly flown out after.'

'Why was that?' I asked puzzled.

'Oh, to avoid the British press finding out. And Blair getting more bad publicity for the huge fee being charged. Quarter of a million euros for 90 minutes! That's why they were told by his people to keep the event as secret, as quiet as possible. And why I was forced to sit so near to him for so long.'

And as Alfonso, the wife swapper, continued to fume about Tony Blair, I couldn't help wondering if those words - wife swapper and Tony Blair - had ever appeared together in the same sentence before...

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