Thursday, March 20, 2008

Attempt to knock the socks off democracy

Perpignan is a charming French city on the edge of the Pyrenees, not far from the Mediterranean. And it has a famous railway station.

You can buy a ticket from Perpignan to the Spanish border town of Portbou, just three quarters of an hour away. Then, from Portbou, you can set off on a wider railway gauge towards the Catalonian capital of Barcelona, two and a half hours further down the line. So, Perpignan is the hub of the Franco-Spanish Mediterranean world.

The Catalonian surrealist painter Salvador Dali [1904-1989] went one step further, in decreeing that the railway station at Perpignan was indeed the center of the world. His painting on this theme, three meters high and four meters wide, contains subtle symbols that can hardly be appreciated in a tiny reproduction, but they all get back to the idea that Perpignan's station is a Christian holy of holies, whose light spreads out towards the four corners of Christendom.

Holy city? Perpignan has just been thrown into the electoral limelight through a tale of holey socks. A local official was arrested on the evening of the second round of the municipal elections because he had stuffed his socks with voting bulletins, so that they wouldn't be counted.

Technically, this novel approach towards knocking the socks off democracy was a failure. Since then, local folk have been demonstrating in the streets of Perpignan, calling for a new election. Not surprisingly, as a symbol of their cohesion, the demonstrators brandish socks. Dali would have loved this affair. In his own words, the story of Perpignan's socks would have surely provided him with the stimulus for a huge "mental ejaculation".

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