Euro Vision

You might be excused for thinking you’re in for another rant about the euro. You’re not. Although I may dwell on it briefly from a scatological perpective.

Eurovision, or more specifically the Eurovision Song Contest, started life in 1956. Among other things, I guess it aimed to increase European awareness of the various national cultures. At that time, and apart from folklore, which made it onto that stage more than a few times, the norm was the ‘crooner’ type, From romantic Neapolitan to Chanson Française  of the Piaf, Maurice Chevalier, or Aznavour persuasion. With a few Sinatra imitations thrown in, or a spot of Ella. German contributions tended to have some ooom pah! brass, the sort of stuff that gets piped into your eisbein at bierkellers.

Through the 1960s the gap widened, as Anglo-Saxon music became more poppy, then rock. And as the festival ‘evolved’, it became increasingly kitsch. As a child I dutifully watched it a few times with my parents, who both loved it, bless them, and since then have never once seen it again. Even if going out on Saturday night was not a religion for me, I would definitely make a point of going out that particular evening.

My dad explained to me that the voting was all political, and I soon got the drift. A presenter with some bizarre accent would summon the assembled nations in turn to vote. My recollection is that they could give a maximum of ten votes to each country, so victories were in the one hundred to two hundred point scale. The Greeks voted for the Italians, the Belgians for the Dutch. Franco’s Spain always got trounced, but Salazar’s Portugal gave them a nice vote. The Spanish returned the favor. The English accent of each voting nation became evermore wierd, and they always began by greeting Europe in their own language. It was great!

On Portuguese television at the time, only the test pattern had higher ratings.

Cliff Richard, of ‘Summer Holiday’ fame, won it. As did a succession of increasingly peculiar artists.This truly terrible context did produce some knock-on fame. Swedish band Abba became world-famous after they won with a tune called ‘Waterloo’. The song was no more appalling or trite than anything they subsequently released, but it was memorably good by Eurovision standards.

I suppose the Napoleonic sunset is as good a segway as any to bring up the subject of water closets, and their link to the euro. The currency this time, as opposed to the festival, since so many believe it is in fact headed down the toilet. I do hear the pundits on the business channels, and it’s absolutely plain to see that many who support the dollar and the pound are less than happy with another reserve currency. They’d happily see it go.

Truth be told, the Brits were unhappy enough when the sun actually began to set on the empire, and sterling became a global banking bygone. And when Soros shorted them out of the ERM, that was the ultimate shame. After that, the euro was like a red rag to a bull.

I believe rumors of the euro’s death have been greatly exaggerated, and despite an enormous lack of sympathy with Tsipras and his populist politics, it’s nice to see the political animals returning to the fray. The fact is, you’re either at the table or on the menu. Sooner or later this had to happen, and crises always generate demagogues. The rise to power of most dictators has been this way. Though we’re not there yet.

Tell the people what they want to hear, that’s the secret. Get elected. Then do something else entirely.

The way it works is great, to the extent that this story has now been turned around so much that many countries in Europe (certainly the south) believe it’s Germany’s fault. Which of course it isn’t. The countries in crisis did it to themselves. With lemming-like enthusiam, fuelled by demented bankers and politicians.

What the Germans did was to try to impose on other European countries the same remedies they applied to themselves. German national character dictates that. A plan is drawn up, and subsequently executed. Like the Chinese, when they collectively decide (or acquiesce) they march as one. I believe that is the main reason why Germans have lost several wars. They only change plans when they lose.

For reasons that I can’t quite fathom, a recent book by MIchael Lewis, which stems from a series of articles in Vanity Fair, makes a link between the scatological character of Germans and the European crisis. I’m not sure about the connection, and the author has drawn a fair bit of flak for his trouble, but there are some fecal tales mentioned that make for interesting reading. Shit does represent a strong image, one which has endured since the time of Man. Children are completely obsessed with it. And not only kids, witness the success of the defecating duck.

Every nation has at least one euphemism for feces, plus a more crass term. In Portuguese, the word merda, or mierda in Spanish, does get used in anger, as in vai à merda, literally ‘go to the shit’, but there are few compound words or expressions that include it. Language is fascinating (which is why for comparative purposes you really ought to know at least two), and I have no doubt that the frequency of certain words and phrases is indicative of national character.

It’s equally obvious that national character is a trait of nurture, not nature, otherwise America would never have survived and thrived as a nation. U.S. soldiers in the Second World War were busy killing Germans in the cities their grandparents emigrated from.

So the idea is that the clean, tidy, and meticulous exterior, together with a not so clean interior, form a part of the German psyche; this would explain the German banks sitting on a toilet of bad bonds, and extending financial bailouts to sovereign states to then repay loans to German banks. Dirty becomes clean. A book on German folklore written by Alan Dundes is brought to the foreground for this purpose. In it, Martin Luther is quoted as saying ‘ I am like ripe shit and the world is a gigantic ass-hole’. An additional trove of sayings, folksongs, and other aspects is brought forth to support Lewis’ thesis.

Perhaps at its most bizarre, the permafrost twins meet The Hump.

But if the euro doesn’t unify Europe, Eurovision certainly does. Tonight the continent’s households will once again sit spellbound, old and young, to watch the show live from Baku. Yes, of all places Azerbaijan. That’s about as European as you can get.

Loud cries have sounded about the politics of the place. I’m sure there are issues. Nuances of nepotism emerge when the president’s wife chairs the festival organizing committee, and his son-in-law is part of the opening act. The European Broadcasting Union responds to its critics thus:

Rejecting Emin because he is the son-in-law of the President would make this a political decision – and that is exactly what we don’t want to do

Human rights activists have taken it upon themselves to use the occasion as a protest platform. The BBC has shown some clips of violations, and a few vociferous lawyers, but not that much evidence of torture and abuse has come to light. That isn’t to say of course it’s not there, but I believe there are worse countries in that part of the world.

What you will have, and short clips whether on TV or YouTube will allow you a glimpse without suffering through the whole non-event, are some very peculiar people. The twins in the picture are one such example, in this case of Irish persuasion, but there is also a plethora of babushkas, i.e. Russian grannies, who have their own chef, presumably so they don’t run out of borscht. Like the Blues Brothers, the Buranovskiye Babushki are on a mission from God. If they win, they will use the prize to rebuild a village church destroyed by Stalin, a man who believed religion, rather than shit, was the opium of the people. The shit they got for free.

Also featured in Baku tonight for your viewing pleasure is a man from another era, Engelbert Humperdinck. Last time I heard about the seventy-six year old was at Chicago’s O’Hare, from an American stewardess who knew him well. But I keep secrets. The Hump is representing the UK, following in the footsteps of luminaries like Buck’s Fizz and Sandy Shaw, who’s claim to fame was singing barefoot.

I hope the babushkas win—but if they do it’ll be a miracle. Go get an iced wodka and enjoy. And if that won’t do it for you, there’s always Hotel California!

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.

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