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  • Writer's pictureNikko Norte

Bullrings, positive discrimination, and the Digital Service Act …

Shuffling out of our new house, Heidi’s bike between my legs, an older woman asked me, I assumed, where Heidi and I are coming from. Since Catalan is algebra to me, I replied in Castilian that Heidi and I are Dutch, upon which I thought I noticed that vague xenophobic resentment fade that I attribute to the Spanish, which confirmed I had correctly understood the Catalan question. And if I rightly attribute that xenophobic resentment to the Spanish, I don’t think I noticed it fade because Heidi and I are Dutch, other than Austrian, as the license plate on our car suggests, but because I speak Castilian.

Without verbally confirming I had correctly understood her Catalan question, the woman switched to Castilian and remarked that the present drought in Spain is a problem. From the road, still wet from the latest downpour, I let my gaze wander over lush farmlands, and just before my sarcasm took the better of me, I reminded myself that it makes no sense to rock the boat with mass-men, who, more often than not, no longer trust their own perception, so with a misplaced sense of pride, I muttered in Castilian, ‘You’re right. Spain will soon be a desert,’ un desierto.

That piece of street comedy rests almost an hour in the past now, and trying to keep the speed down, enjoying my solitude, I cycle through sun-drenched, rolling farmlands. Unpretentious asphalt and sand and gravel paths alternate, and on Heidi’s bike, the pain in my groin, which is usually there when I ride my own bike, is absent. No traffic. White, yellow, and purple flowers on the shoulders of the roads and paths I ride. Red poppies in between the corn in the fields, and ... Torroella de Fluvià no tolera les agressions sexists, reads the text on an official-looking road sign. Torroella de Fluvià, I think that means, does not tolerate sex-related aggression, and in my mind, I add to that: but Torroella de Fluvià does tolerate robbing the elderly and ... stop! I don’t live in Torroella de Fluvià, and there is no need for me to be out and about at odd hours with a portable grinder ...

Torroella de Fluvià, as it turns out, is an assembly of newly built houses, which means that I have ventured too close to the coast. I quickly leave the place behind, and on a gravel path that leads me west again, I decide to no longer fight the nostalgia that has me in its grip since I was a guest in the weekly podcast of two Dutch politicians some days ago and talked about a part of my life I hardly ever talk about. The old, authentic villages I cycle through contribute to that nostalgia.

For years on end, accompanied by my cuadrilla, my team, I used to journey to Spanish villages and city centers where time seemed to have stood still for centuries, my name under painted scenes on carteles, posters, on walls, on sandwich boards around lampposts, and on the walls of the typical Spanish taverns where each journey ended. Time and again, my moso de espadas, my dresser, went in search of someone who could get me the key to my room while his helper and our driver carried our luggage inside, and my banderilleros ordered coffee at the zinc counter, which was rarely missing in the taproom of the taverns in which my moso de espadas booked us rooms. That zinc counter, oak furniture and stairs, a fireplace in which some logs smoldered even in summer, Iberian hams hanging from the ceiling, and, next to my banderilleros at the counter, groups of villagers, who briefly interrupted their arguing when I entered that taproom.

Meekly, I autographed printed photos of myself, which my banderilleros had handed out just before I entered the taproom by way of a good-hearted prank, and as I autographed those photos and shook hands, my banderilleros, sipping coffee at the counter, chuckled at how even the tiny bit of fame I enjoyed embarrassed me. As soon as I saw the chance, after I’d had a café solo myself, I snuck up the wooden stairs to my room, where I took off my shoes, unscrewed my tie pin, took off my tie and cufflinks, changed my suit and shirt for sweatpants and a T-shirt, and stretched out on a bed.

Long hours, I stared at ceilings of rooms in Spanish taverns, deep in thought, and ... cycling over a deserted square in a village, I reduce my speed slightly as my thoughts wander to a village square converted into an arena I once entered after an afternoon on a bed in a room in a Spanish tavern – and after my moso de espadas had dressed me in a black traje de luces, a suit of lights, embroidered with silver tulips. A square in a village north of Granada. Planks, pallets, doors, and even old cartwheels lined the grey sand that was poured into the square for the occasion. Behind that makeshift fence of planks, pallets, doors, and cartwheels, a mass of frenzied hooligans had gathered, not the docile crowd, resigned to tragedy, I was accustomed to in true plazas de toros.

Months earlier, I only remembered while making my way to that improvised arena, my moso de espadas, not my apoderado, my manager, had negotiated a deal with the mayor of that village. Also, I only then remembered that my apoderado had warned me that the village made part of the ruta del terror, the terror route, a string of Spanish villages where matadors only perform when their financial situation leaves them no other choice. Monsters of bulls, an uneducated audience, and quite often, sand poured into a square instead of an arena proper.

Absorbing the chaos in that village square, I realized why I had given my moso de espadas, whose xenophobic resentment expressed itself maliciously at times, a free rein to negotiate a deal with the major of that village: the words ruta del terror had held too much appeal. That afternoon, I paid the price. A double price, because the mayor of the village had demanded one of the three matadors that afternoon to be a woman ...

The first bull to enter that makeshift arena, monster an adequate description, was assigned to me during the midday sorteo, call it a lottery, that had according to custom been attended by my banderilleros. But I stayed afoot, which somehow soothed the crowd. At times, I even heard a suppressed olé reverberate across the square. After me, it was the turn of the female matador, a girl of maybe nineteen. Her first bull gave her a beating as the crowd booed, beat drums, and tried to dislodge the wooden fence around the ugly sand.

One of my banderilleros had nodded at me, horror on his face, but when I stepped from behind my cover onto the sand, where the girl in her brown, gold-embroidered traje de luces was sitting on her knees, paralyzed with terror, her father jumped on my back. In no time, my entire cuadrilla was at loggerheads with members of the girl’s family. The crowd roared and threw all kinds of junk onto the sand while some meters behind the girl, a bull scraped a hoof over the sand.

Officers of the Guardia Civil and police officers wrestled themselves through the crowd. One of them grabbed the father, who still tried to restrain me, and ordered me to take responsibility for the girl’s bull. As my banderilleros carried the girl to safety, something her banderilleros should have done, I cautiously walked across the sand toward the improvised lodge of the president of the spectacle to ask his permission, as custom demanded, to deal with a bull that had not been assigned to me during the sorteo. The bull, not deceived by my caution, intercepted me …

That afternoon, I confronted four bulls instead of two, and ... I roll over the ground, land on my feet, take two more steps forward, and stand still as Heidi’s bike bounces past me into a river. Perplexed, I look over my shoulder. The embankment from which I tumbled is about a meter and a half high. Carefully, I move my arms and legs. Nothing hurts. As I lift Heidi’s bike out of the water, I remember looking up at two blue birds. Rollers? Bee-eaters? I followed the birds with my eyes, noticed that the sky was no longer blue but covered with dark clouds, Heidi's front wheel hit something, and ...

No visible damage to Heidi’s bike. Up the embankment and round and round my little legs go, no pain. But nostalgia has been replaced by reality, that same reality I so happily escaped those glorious moments before I fell. Next month, the EU, through the Digital Services Act and the Digital Market Act, will end what remains of my freedom of speech, the crisis mechanism, which the EU Data Protection Agency is introducing, the icing on the cake. In addition, the WHO is rushing to implement a vaccine certification system to facilitate global mobility and to protect people worldwide from current and future health threats,a certification system based on the European Union’s existing digital covid certificate, which will be expanded into a Global Digital Health Certification Network encompassing a wide range of digital products to provide better health for all. Meanwhile, the IMF started its final sprint toward the global adoption of Central Bank Digital Currency and the abolition of the money we know today to connect countries and make transactions fairer. A linkage of CBDC with a digital ID is necessary, and ... tous coure ... couru ... tous coururent au-devant de leurs fers, croyant assurer leur liberté!French, not Catalan or Castilian. Rousseau and I would have disagreed a lot, but I don’t think he would have considered canceling me ...

Everyone ran to their chains, believing to secure their freedom. Everyone ... mass men. Not void of melancholy, I think of those afternoons, a las cinco de la tarde, at five in the afternoon, on the usually yellow sand of an arena, all by my lonely surrounded by thousands of people, fear fuel, not some paralyzing poison, and ... what the heck! A downpour overtakes me. Drenched within seconds and suddenly cold, I pedal Heidi’s bike through what rapidly turns from sand into mud. Another kilometer to the cafe where I will steer left for the last stretch home. Another five hundred meters. Another hundred meters. From behind a wall, a group of people under umbrellas or with coats over their heads, on their way to the cafe, cross the path on which I cycle. I forget that Heidi’s bike is equipped with disc brakes, brake too brusquely, and crash again. I assume the people who lift me up to ask me, in Catalan, whether I’m alright. I wipe some mud from my eyes, laugh, and answer in Castilian, ‘Maldito desierto …’ Damned desert …


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