FUENGIROLA, Spain -- My mother's 88th birthday celebration this past July was complicated by Euskara Ta Askasuna, "Basque Homeland Liberty." Yes, the dread ETA.
After 14 months of uneasy truce and secret negotiations with Spain's right-wing president, Jose Maria Aznar, ETA began bombing again last winter.
Despite the repudiation of a Spanish public that has protested each terrorist act in massive numbers, the Basque bombers seem to be irrevocably back in business.
This July, they brought their deadly dog-and-pony show to Spain's southern coast, the Costa del Sol, in a campaign designed to cripple the nation's billion-buck package vacation industry.
At least once before, in 1996, ETA attacked this southern tourist mecca, beginning with a bomb in a bathroom at the glorious Alhambra in Granada and working their way down the coast, setting off small hotel blasts and thinning out beaches usually blanketed with bikini-clad, variously pink or bronzed vacationers.
The killing began July 15, when an ETA commando took out the leader of Aznar's conservative Popular party in Malaga, the Andalusian port that is purportedly the birthplace of both Pablo Picasso and Walt Disney.
Four days later, in a homicidally ecumenical gesture, ETA tried to blow up Jose Asenjo, an official of the now opposition Socialist Workers party and his whole family, but the car bomb shifted and failed to detonate.
A car packed with explosives and parked in an affluent Malaga neighbourhood was deactivated by police the next day.
Authorities distributed wanted posters for one Gorka Palacios Albay, the lead ETA member on the Costa, a 26-year-old Basque native whose picture shows deeply suspicious eyes and a crooked, disdainful smile. I took one look at the poster and skedaddled out of the cavernous Malaga airport 10 minutes after touchdown, lest Gorka try to take it out.
At home down the coast in Fuengirola, in a condo that once featured a view of the Mediterranean but now only looks out on a sea of concrete, Mamacita was not worried.
She had her movie videos, TV remote and children (in that order of preference). She despised ETA for trying to be a party pooper on her 88th birthday.
On the big day, she sipped ersatz champagne and blew out the candles, gobbled down a big slab of birthday cake and soon went back to the TV.
Spain is a little like my mom these days -- it's much younger and slimmer and even more consumer-crazed, but just as self-absorbed and complacent.
Although the decent people, "gente decente," of Malaga held a huge march against Gorka and his gang, the shopping spree had resumed by mid-afternoon and the beach bars never missed a beat.
Espana 2000 has a distinctly passionless and plastic cast to it -- indeed, everything from the credit cards to the grapes now comes swaddled in the stuff.
Plastic product Regardless of ETA, Costa del Sol's economic growth is a healthy 4 per cent, and the tourist operators are making pesetas hand over fist. But in Fuengirola, once an impoverished Andalusian fishing village, frozen paella and gazpacho in milk cartons are fast replacing the enviable table life of the locals. The oldest bar in town has been torn down, and the local government, fearful of tourist injury litigation, has closed off the wondrous Moorish castle down by the beach.
Perhaps the most plastic product on the Spanish market today is President Aznar, a former tax inspector who has become hotshot merchandise in rightist Euro circles.
His Popular party avoids critiquing the Franco dictatorship like the plague, and some of his collaborators have Falange dossiers.
A little man who sucks up long cigars, Jose Maria Aznar appears to be at the pinnacle of his power, feverishly privatizing former state industries (telephone, electricity, natural gas distribution), a crusade that earns kudos in the high-rent districts of Europe and Washington.
In Aznar's Spain, "Euro-zation" is the modus operandi of the globalizers, and although Spanish "flavour" and "style" retain currency as marketing themes, the heart of Spain is fast disappearing into the European sea.
The colour of all this commonness is a dull off-white in a nation where public life used to be a lot more vivid.
The exceptions to this homogenization are, of course, the Africans. In the past decade, Spain has become the first port of call for many thousands of mostly Maghrib-born immigrants. But an increasing number of black Africans seeking sanctuary from the unspeakable horrors of war in the Congo and Sierra Leone have also been stumbling ashore in southern Spain.
Racism endemic Their presence excites the racist genes of not a few native Spaniards.
Racism, particularly in Andalusia, where southerners have fought an 800-year war to keep the "Moros" in their place, is endemic on this peninsula. Racially motivated beatings and burnings of Moroccans and black Africans and their property are routinely reported.
Low-wage Moroccan and Algerian workers have become so numerous along the southern shore that many Costa del Sol towns now have their own mosques and imams.
In Fuengirola, where my mom has lived since Francisco Franco gave up the ghost, the imam is a pudgy, patchily whiskered holy man named Mohammed Kamel Mustafa.
Imam Mustafa recently authored a volume entitled The Woman In Islam, an essay that criticizes the brutal beatings Muslim men in the community sometimes administer to their wives. Instead, the imam suggests techniques of corporal punishment that will not leave marks.
The spunky women's movement here did not much cotton to his advice. Over a hundred feminist associations are calling for his arrest under law #510 of the civil code for "inciting gender-directed violence."
One morning, I ran the imam's misdeeds down for my mom, who, despite her liberationist tendencies (she was once a suffragette), seemed more interested in watching her favourite hand puppets on the new TV.
At last I flagged her attention, and Moms, who still sings snatches of the Internationale upon request, finally lowered the sound and listened to my kvetching about the imam.
"What do you think, Ma?"
"What do I think?" she pursed her lips in contemplation. "What do I think? I think they ought to cut that motherfucker's dick off, that's what I think!"
Happy birthday, Mamacita.