What's Cooking in Spain

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My wife and I are frequent visitors to northern Spain, and although we would not consider ourselves gourmets, (although my wife probably is) we have been impressed with the quality of the food and its preparation. In particular, we have noticed the remarkable quality of restaurants in small Spanish towns. Traveling in America, we have found that meals in small towns are often indifferently prepared and served, on bare tables, with paper napkins and greasy menus. By contrast, even in rural Spain, a restaurant is apt to dazzle you, not only with its food, but the surroundings: linen napery, a wine list featuring excellent wines, a polite and efficient staff, and an immaculate and attractive room.

So I was interested to read that two Basque chefs in San Sebastian — a city we’d visited in late September — had been hauled into court in Madrid. (Never mind that that’s hundreds of miles away: it’s for the convenience of the judge and his flunkeys — public servants all — that the public must inconvenience itself.) They had been brought to court following charges by a "suspected member" of the Basque separatist group ETA that they each had paid the ETA 36,000 euros — about $45,000.

It wasn’t that the chefs — Juan Arazak, and Pedro Subijana — were enthusiastic supporters of the ETA, branded a "terrorist" organization by the European Union and the U.S. Rather, the ETA levies a "tax" upon businesses in Basque country to finance its terrorism, which consists in being so terrible that Spanish and French officials will turn over parts of Spain and France to the Basques for their own country. They have killed, it is claimed, over 800 people since 1968 in naïve pursuit of this never-to-be event. Doubtless, some of those had declined to pay its "tax." And a bomb casually tossed into a restaurant can put it out of business for a long time, or forever. So the chefs paid. However, it is a crime to pay protection money to the ETA, and conviction can carry a long prison sentence. Fortunately, the judge released the chefs, but the case has not been officially closed.

The chefs faced a terrible dilemma: heed the extortionists and risk being put out of business by the government, or obey the government, and risk being put out of business by the extortionists. Moreover, what the extortionists demand: payment for the privilege of staying in business, is nothing more than the government demands, except that the demands of the government are made under color of "law," which, however, the very same government writes, administers, and enforces. Whichever way they turn, the chefs face extortion: on one hand "legal," on the other, not. But, of course, should the Basques achieve their pipe-dream, and form a separate and independent state in northern Spain and southern France, they would then become "legal," and their extortion demands would cease to be called "extortion" and become a quite proper tax. No doubt solemn Basque judges, in Basque courts, would affirm its legitimacy, and punish anyone who declined to pay.

In that event, would Spanish "re-uniters," resorting to terrorism in an attempt to abolish the Basque nation and reunite it with Spain, levy a "tax" upon businesses in the Basque nation, to finance their re-unification efforts, in defiance of Basque law? The poor chefs would once again be caught on the horns of the same dilemma, except that the roles would be reversed: the Basque demands would be legitimate; the Spanish, unlawful, made by "terrorists." Pay the Spanish re-unification terrorists, and risk fine and imprisonment from the Basque government, or adhere to the Basque law, and have your restaurant blown up by the Spanish re-unifiers. So what’s new?

Nothing’s new: that’s the problem. It’s the same old story: those with power, whether declared legitimate or not, seek to impose their will upon others who must accede, or endure harassment of one sort or another. The more powerful group will promise you protection from its competitors, but at a price. That group becomes, by its own definition, legitimate: the government. Your children and grandchildren will be brought up to believe that the gang calling itself "government" is their protector and guardian, and provider of all that is good and needful. By the time they realize — if they ever do — the absurdity of that claim, it will be too late. Once firmly ensconced in society, government comes to be regarded as inevitable, like tornados, or cancer.

What the chefs need on their menus is a new, savory, and nutritious, item: anarchy!

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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