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Last Updated: Friday, 21 May, 2004, 20:00 GMT 21:00 UK
Spain revels in feel-good wedding
By Danny Wood
BBC, Madrid

"Madrid has the right to smile. The people have the right to dream," says the special Royal Wedding section of national newspaper, El Pais.

Even this left-leaning paper is thoroughly enjoying the wedding celebrations.

Wedding cake in Madrid
Wedding decorations and tributes are everywhere in Madrid
Many Spaniards see the marriage of Crown Prince Felipe to former television news presenter Letizia Ortiz, as an opportunity for the nation to demonstrate its full recovery from the horror of the Madrid train bomb attacks in March.

And at the same time as the wedding, another line is being drawn under a difficult period for Spaniards.

As hundreds of official guests enjoyed a gala dinner on the eve of the nuptials, the last Spanish soldiers were arriving home from Iraq.

Under the government of former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, 1,400 troops were sent to support the US-led occupation.

Their homecoming makes for a double celebration for most Spaniards, who were strongly against the use of military force in Iraq.

Party city

Madrid's city council has been totally preoccupied by the wedding for weeks. It is one of the biggest events ever staged in the capital. As a result, rather than traffic fumes, people who live in the city centre have been waking up to the smell of roses.

Through the happiness of a young, glamorous couple, many see the wedding as a good way of cheering themselves up and looking forwards
The council has planted more than a million roses, geraniums and petunias along the route that the newly weds will take in their 1948 Rolls Royce Phantom IV (formerly owned by Dictator General Franco).

Buildings have been painted and draped with red and gold tapestries. And for those who want to get close to the action, there is a huge television screen on the roof of the Opera House, opposite the Royal Palace that is televising the event.

And what better place for a huge, cathartic party than Madrid? It is a city famous for night life that continues until late morning and with more bar-soaked streets than any other capital in Europe.

The local Madrilenos, joined by 30 heads of state, members of 40 royal houses and 1,400 official guests, seem to be in the mood to party. Hundreds of thousands have been out on the streets admiring the way the local council has tarted up the city for the big day.

Banquet

Others are buying up wedding paraphernalia, such as cups, spoons and plates with the faces of the royal couple, from shops usually only visited by tourists.

Dozens have been patiently waiting in a long queue in Madrid's main square to buy special wedding programmes and mementos.

Soldier returns
All the Spanish troops have now left Iraq
The popular Royal Family - even with the biggest security operation ever mounted in Madrid going on around them - want this to be an intimate and inclusive event.

King Juan Carlos has announced that he is opening the forecourt of the Royal Palace to allow 5,000 people to get close to the celebrations.

But they will not get the chance to sample the sumptuous banquet lunch inside the Royal Palace. One of the city's most exclusive restaurants - Jockey - is in charge of preparing the meal for 1,400 invited guests.

It is costing 180 euros ($216) per head. This exclusive crowd will need to have a large appetite that lasts the distance.

Making history

The wedding cake, prepared by master pastry chef Francisco Torreblanco weighs 170kg (375 pounds) and stands nearly two metres high (6.6 feet).

Even critics of the monarchy are not making too much fuss, although staging the event is estimated to be costing the tax payer more than 20m euros ($24m).

The town outside Madrid, where Letizia Ortiz owns a home, is run by the ardently Republican United Left party.

They are holding a protest, but it is a tongue-in-cheek Republican Gala Dinner. Most people, it seems, want to put serious politics aside and enjoy themselves.

Posters and awnings of the royal couple can be seen all over Madrid, proudly decorating shop windows and hanging from lamp posts lining the promenades.

They show Prince Felipe and his bride standing together, confidently smiling.

"History in the Making," the poster reads.

But this is more about turning a difficult page in history. It is the future most Spaniards are thinking about.

Through the happiness of a young, glamorous couple, many see the wedding as a good way of cheering themselves up and looking forwards.


SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Spain
05 May 04 |  Country profiles


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