My favorite piece of writing about Madrid is by Ernest Hemingway. Here it is:
"Madrid is a strange place anyway. I do not believe any one likes it much when he first goes there. It has none of the look you expect of Spain . . . Yet when you get to know it, it is the most Spanish of all cities, the best to live in, the finest people, month in and month out the finest climate and while all the other big cities are representative of the province they are in . . . it is in Madrid only that you get the essence.
"If it had nothing else than the Prado it would be worth spending a month in every spring. But when you can have the Prado and the bullfight season at the same time with El Escorial not two hours to the north and Toledo to the south, a fine road to Avila and a fine road to Segovia, which is no distance from La Granja, it makes you feel very badly, all questions of immortality aside, to know you will have to die and never see it again."
I haven't been to Madrid for many years, but my mother was born there, and my father is from the Basque country in the north of Spain, so when I heard the news of the massacre last Thursday morning, I experienced a feeling I hadn't felt in 911 days, which happens to be the number of days between Sept. 11, 2001, and March 11, 2004, more or less.
For several days I couldn't bring myself to call my parents, knowing that my father— a supporter of Basque nationalist aspirations — would be distraught over the possibility that the bombing had been the work of ETA, the Basque terrorist group, and that my mother would be feeling the peculiar pain that never quite leaves refugee expatriates (her family fled for their lives from the fascists during the Spanish Civil War) at the thought of the country she lost as a small child.
Now we are all, I suppose, almost relieved that the massacre appears to have been the work of Muslim terrorists, rather than of Spaniards committing mass murder against their own countrymen.
But it is a peculiar sense of relief. How many young Muslims remain eager to blow themselves up in an insane attempt to turn back the clock more than 500 years, to the days when the remnants of the great Moorish civilization that ruled Spain for centuries still kept a toehold on the European continent? It's a question that will be answered in the years ahead. Already, American supporters of the so-called war on terrorism are complaining about the Spanish elections, which on Sunday threw out the conservative government that supported the invasion of Iraq, in the face of the opposition of 90 percent of the populace.
"Don't the voters of Spain realize that appeasement will only encourage the terrorists?" I have already heard more than one hawk complain. Perhaps the voters of Spain realize that making decisions on the basis of what is or isn't likely to win the approval of homicidal maniacs isn't a sound basis for national policy.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, five more young American men are killed by a car bomb south of Baghdad, while 10 Israelis are blown up, along with their killers, in the port of Ashdod. Hemingway again:
"The people of Castille have great common sense. They know death is the inescapable reality, the one thing any man may be sure of; the only security . . . . They think a great deal about death and when they have a religion they have one that believes life is much shorter than death."
Paul Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado. He can be reached at Paul.Campos@Colorado.edu.