Listen to this article
Housed in an unprepossessing concrete basement in the city centre, the Madrid Waxworks Museum is not exactly a shrine to high art.
Apart from gruesome scenes of torture and murder, and the predictable presence of Cleopatra, Barack Obama, Penélope Cruz, Jesus at the Last Supper and Tony Blair, it includes a bizarre exhibit of the Goya painting “La maja vestida” at the turn of the 18th century, in which the model’s ample chest heaves squeakily up and down with the help of a mechanical pump.
Still, if there is anything worse than being immortalised in such a tableau, it must be one’s removal on the grounds of unsuitability.
That has been the fate of Iñaki Urdangarín, Duke of Palma de Mallorca, consort of Princess Cristina and son-in-law of King Juan Carlos. In a drama that has gripped a Spanish nation weary of economic crisis, the handsome duke’s image was carted away from the princess’s side in the museum entrance hall, where the royal family greet visitors with waxy smiles. The duke is embroiled in a typically Spanish corruption case involving spendthrift regional governments and alleged diversion of funds for personal gain.
Nóos, a not-for-profit consultancy that he headed between 2004 and 2006, billed the Valencian and Balearic governments more than €5m for organising events but is under investigation for having allegedly siphoned off funds to companies controlled by its managers. Four Nóos managers – though not the duke – have been charged, along with four former regional officials.
With the investigation reaching into the royal palace, the duke said in November that he would defend his “honour and innocence”. This month he reacted to coverage in the Spanish media by adding his “profound regret” at the “grave damage caused to the image of my family and the royal household” by news and comment about his professional activities. His lawyer went on to criticise “something that could be portrayed as a certain moral lynching” of someone who could not yet defend himself.
The royal palace, however, has been as merciless as the wax museum. Rafael Spottorno, head of the royal household, said that although judges would decide whether the duke was guilty or innocent, “he has not behaved in an exemplary fashion”.
Politicians, in other words, might routinely be tainted with scandal but not dukes or princes. Thus it is that the wax version of the duke has for the time being been shoved into the sports section of the wax museum, on the grounds that he was part of the Spanish handball teams that won bronze medals in the Atlanta and Sydney Olympic Games.
The case has embarrassed the king, who said pointedly in his Christmas address to the nation that all those with public responsibilities had to show “exemplary behaviour“ and that all were equal before the law. But the centre-right Popular party’s ousting of the Socialists in last month’s national election, and the predicted PP win in the Andalusian regional poll in March after three decades of Socialist rule, will soon produce a new crop of political corruption cases to distract attention from the palace.
For Spaniards seeking proof that Mariano Rajoy, the new prime minister, is really serious about restoring the country’s economic competitiveness, he delivered it like a tortilla slapped in their faces with a surprise assault on the sacred institution of the puente (bridge) in his inauguration speech to parliament.
Forget about wage cuts or labour reform, Spaniards said afterwards; this was a cultural earthquake. The puente is a mini-vacation built on a bridge between any weekend and a public holiday that falls, say, on a Thursday. That leaves an orphaned Friday when hardly anyone works.
The normally mild-mannered Mr Rajoy made the brutal announcement that puentes were too costly for the economy and that bank holidays would henceforth be moved to the nearest Monday, although he did make an exception for dates “deeply rooted in society”.
Perhaps he was frustrated by his inability to contact anyone in the second week of December as he tried to form a government. Holidays on Tuesday and Thursday had allowed Spaniards to construct what they can call an “aqueduct”, a magnificent nine-day, two-weekend break composed – like the Roman aqueduct in Segovia – of multiple arches.