Friday, August 29, 2008

"El Gran Teatro del Mundo" in Beijing (First part). Forty years ago...

(Translation from Spanish by Tadeo Berjón)

Mao and the Cultural Revolution in China

Forty years ago, when China was suffering the obscurity of its Cultural Revolution and none of us knew anything about it except myths and, amongst those, the biggest of all, the myth of Mao Zedong...

Around 1968 there were four events in my life which marked by my early infancy: the death of Federico, my elder brother; my tonsilectomy with a short but traumatizing hospital stay; the World Cup of 1970; and the Mexico Olympic Games of 1968.

Being part of a family intimately linked to sports (1) the myth of great sports events fed my imagination for many years.

I was born during the preparations for those games, but I was not aware of them nor of the Olympics until years later, thanks to the continuous retellings of the event by both the media and my family: about the opening and closing ceremonies, the competitions where Mexico won medals, the story of Vera Cavlavska and her love for Mexico, the sad and unpleasant story of sergeant Pedraza and his huge effort to achieve an impossible gold medal.

But something that left a mark in my personal memories was the stories about the atmosphere; if there was something that became a myth in my mind, it was the way in which people expected and lived the Olympics. I spent years trying to relive all that, editing it in my mind and replaying it in my games; being a stage person as I’ve always been, I spent whole days staging a city preparing for the Olympics, I relived the ceremonies, I relived the roar of the crowds.

With the passing of the years, my child-like olympic dream and me, creator of the dream, organized more olympic games, thinking of the joy and the encounters, the shows and glories of winning and of hosting them. Munich passed unnoticed, regardless of Mark Spitz and that despicable terrorist attack that scandalised the world; but not Montreal and Nadia Comaneci (and no attention paid to the absence of African countries in protest to the inclusion of Southafrica); Moscow didn’t go unnoticed for me, either, nor the boycott, which offended me so that I followed closely the news on newspapers and media, collecting and recording hundreds of news pieces so that the world in the future could have a clear recollection of facts that made it understand that the boycott was due to something separate from sport, that political interests were attacking the spirit of the games. I was not a child anymore (almost), adolescence was beginning to wreak havoc in me, I’d follow the games in a more mature way, there would be no more stage recreations of my idea of the games.

Then, there would be years of sportive obscurity, as art and theatre made an overwhelming appearance in my life.

A case I remember with certain curiosity, amongst my “clairvoyant” games of creation and recreation of future olympic games, was the organising of one of them in Beijing, which I wrongly calculated would take place in 2010. Without an inkling of Chinese culture I designed the opening and closing ceremonies with the inclusion of just one Chinese song I found at home and dozens of other musical pieces from all over the world; robots and space ships took part in the ceremonies, and China lead the medal tally above the US, the USRR and Mexico (among the leading countries); yes, China was a sports power with a great number of medals, and Mexico a new sport power emerged. Now I laugh at the strange fact, and I remain pensive on what I see now

Many years had to pass by, many, beyond the age of myths, to find an imaginative link between those glorious olympics organised in Mexico, my family’s recollections, and the student movement of 1968 (2); even harder was to link the massacre of Tlaltelolco with the games themselves. I was not closed to the idea, it was just that the propaganda that had penetrated into my family managed to keep those things separate. Nobody was denying the existence of a massacre just ten days before the games, but nobody linked it to the happiness and glory of what was about to happen.

When I was an adolescent I asked my mother about the subject, and she would answer that the government didn’t want any problems and had the students killed, and therefore there were no problems. On her face I could read fear, the fear all ordinary people in Mexico had when talking about those turbulent years.

Mexico had shown the world a country with economic growth, friendly, well organised, and words and more words that praised something that, with time, the world would forget. Mexico was an iron dictatorship that was organised in such a way that made the country work; the games were militarised and people could not protest, the impressive budget was a scandal when you took into account the millions of impoverished mexicans, the government would expropriate whole areas of the city (that was common policy for any kind of public works) for the building of roads and olympic venues; what mattered was to show a harmonious, beautiful, proud country. Today, 40 years later, I’ve lived similar sentences in olympic Beijing.

The 1968 myth, like many other myths, vanished from my life when I met “the teachers” that opened my eyes to other realities, the myths died when I looked for individuality and for free thought and when I began the race against time to educate myself and to understand events and the secrets behind them.

(1) My father loved football and found his way into coaching juvenile teams; three of my brothers played football with the goal of become professional players, and one of my sisters would later become a high-level gymnast.
(2) In a similar way, the 1970 World Cup and the events of those years lead to a less famous, but no less despicable, massacre in 1971.

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