PsychoGeography #89: In Spain no one can hear you scream

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It appears that my generation - and the two or three that preceded us - were entirely wrong; far from space being the final frontier, it transpires that Spain is. Far more human effort, ingenuity and sheer dosh is being expended to send men and women to Spain than ever was putting them into space. The computing power tied up in the air traffic control mainframes, automatic pilots, baggage handling systems, on the laps of hundreds of airline passengers en route to Madrid, Barcelona and perhaps even Bilbao completely dwarfs the dear little IBM machines that were used to crunch the numbers necessary to traject Armstrong, Aldrin et al to the moon. I doubt you'd even be able to play Space Invaders with the pile of clunker they had at Cape Kennedy in 1969.

It appears that my generation - and the two or three that preceded us - were entirely wrong; far from space being the final frontier, it transpires that Spain is. Far more human effort, ingenuity and sheer dosh is being expended to send men and women to Spain than ever was putting them into space. The computing power tied up in the air traffic control mainframes, automatic pilots, baggage handling systems, on the laps of hundreds of airline passengers en route to Madrid, Barcelona and perhaps even Bilbao completely dwarfs the dear little IBM machines that were used to crunch the numbers necessary to traject Armstrong, Aldrin et al to the moon. I doubt you'd even be able to play Space Invaders with the pile of clunker they had at Cape Kennedy in 1969.

In the 1970s we all fondly imagined that Spain had been conquered. Been there, done that straw hat. Spain was so passé, so colonised that there was even a Carry On film about hapless Brits pitching up on the Costa Blanca to find their hotel not yet built. Space on the other hand was wide open; the moon had been visited, golf had been played there, a dune buggy driven and a rigid Stars and Stripes raised. By the standards of more recent American colonial ventures this may seem pretty convincing, but we knew that there was much more infrastructure to come. First an orbiting space station where the interplanetary craft would be built, then Mars, then Venus ...

Suspended animation and nuclear power were the key - knock those super-fit boffins out, tuck them in to chilly sarcophaguses, then power up the plutonium. Bosh-bosh-bosh. Why go to Spain when you could loop your spaceship round Neptune and using the gargantuan ergs of inertia, whip like a stone from a multimillion-mile-long slingshot towards Betelgeuse! Ah, the sites we were going to see, the Asteroid Belt, the Rings of Saturn, the Horsehead Nebula, black holes ... And because we'd be gone for so many thousands of earth years - while only ageing a few of our own - we'd return to find Spain entirely concreted over, and Soylent Green the only tapas available.

So entirely has that Promethianism been sucked out of us that even to set this stuff down looks pathetic. From the standpoint of an era when Spain is the final frontier, space looks hopelessly provincial. Can you sell time shares there? Can you look to it for a renaissance in the cinematic arts or fashion? Has space even got a cuisine to speak of? Fat chance of getting Frank Gehry to build a signature building in ... don't make me laugh ... space. Spain, by contrast, has become everything space once promised to be, an almost infinite realm of possibility on to which human aspirations of all kinds can be projected. There is a posh Spain and a poor Spain, a gay Spain and a straight Spain, an urban, bustling Spain and a parched, deserted Spain. Some speculative thinkers have wondered whether or not Spain has any intrinsic character - such is its great diversity.

There is, however, one regard in which Spain can never hope to eclipse space, and that is as a realm of nightmarish terror and extreme privation in which an unprotected traveller can last only seconds before his lungs explode and he drowns in his own blood. True, Spain can be tough - I have spent a night in a cheap bodega in Valladolid, I have witnessed the shaming, alien beauties of Seville, and I well remember the dreadful premonition visited on me in a bank queue in Grenada in 1980. I was standing there with a fistful of traveller's cheques when in came a doddering Brit remittance man. How could I tell this? Simple really, he wore a Burton suit contemporary with George Orwell, was carrying a BOAC flight bag full of empty wine bottles, and began to argue in pidgin Spanish with the cashier about a bank transfer from London. I thought: if I don't get the fuck out of this country immediately I'm going to end up exactly like that, a shameful dipsomaniac paid to stay abroad by his own relatives. I went immediately to the station and hopped trains non-stop back across Europe.

It wasn't until years later that I realised I hadn't escaped my fate at all but rather, like Polybus, I'd run into my homicidal son on the way to Thebes. For I had become the shaky geezer arguing with the cashier - I just hadn't had to move to Spain to do it. Then I understood what futurologists meant when they spoke of "innerSpain", a realm inside of the psyche within which we may travel to meet our destiny, both as a species and as individuals.

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