Spanish royalty reigns for a day
April 4, 2001
JACKSON For a middle-aged European couple, they were indeed taking care of business as we in Mississippi have come to expect royalty to do.
Not since the late Elvis Aaron Presley "The King" to the uninitiated, baby visited this city for a Coliseum performance some 30 years ago to raise funds for victims of Hurricane Camille were so many Mississippians jazzed over a royal visit.
His Majesty King Juan Carlos I and Her Majesty Queen Sophia of Spain took Mississippi by storm last weekend, generating crowds and excitement at each of their stops in Jackson.
From the Mississippi Air National Guard facility to the Mississippi Arts Pavilion to the state Capitol to the Governor's Mansion and back again before taking off for Florida, the royal couple simply charmed every Mississippian they encountered especially the politicians.
It was downright amusing Saturday to watch Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, House Speaker Tim Ford, House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Charlie Capps and other high muckedy-mucks from our state government jockeying for position and preening while they accompanied the royals during a private tour of "The Majesty of Spain." The visit came so soon after the political bloodletting between Musgrove, Tuck, Ford, Capps and other legislative leaders the day before when the 2001 regular session of the Legislature was drawing to close after lawmakers mopped the floor with
Musgrove by bloc-voting a record number of legislative overrides of his gubernatorial vetoes.
That tableau aside, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran was home for the event fresh from one of the most significant victories of his political career as a
champion of campaign finance reform a la the McCain-Feingold measure on Capitol Hill.
U.S. Reps. Chip Pickering, Roger Wicker and Ronnie Shows were also in attendance.
Even a normally-jaded Mississippi media was caught up in the notion so aptly described by my daughter The Freshman, who gave the royal visit her five-star assessment: "Seeing the King and Queen in person is so cool, Dad!"
One of the surprise guests for the private tour of the exhibit afforded the King and Queen, their official party and state dignitaries was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia the justice who many credit or blame with settling the Florida recount debacle in favor of eventual President George W. Bush.
Scalia begging his most powerful judicial pardon has virtually zero reputation as an expert on Goya tapestries or "Chinoiserie" porcelain wall and ceiling arts. But among more provincial Mississippians, Justice Scalia is a return visitor to a Mississippi activity not included on the Saturday royal tour turkey hunting.
Asked if he was in Mississippi to tour "The Majesty of Spain" exhibition or simply to get a glimpse at royalty or if he was indeed in the state for some first-rate Jones County turkey hunting the esteemed jurist reddened slightly, laughed and replied: "Do you want an honest answer?"
But even the gobbler-engrossed member of the nation's highest court couldn't ignore the splendor and beauty of almost a century of Spanish cultural
treasures and I watched him pausing to inspect many of the objects in spite of himself and in spite of burning daylight that would lessen his hunting
time in the afternoon.
Resplendent in blue, both the King and Queen spent time with as many individuals as possible while trying to appreciate Mississippi's treatment of their country's artifacts. Queen Sophia was particularly taken with the display of Goya's painting and tapestry called "El Quitasol"(The Parasol).
As "Majesty of Spain" exhibition executive director Jack Kyle explained to King Juan Carlos the tremendous task the state encountered in shipping the massive 18th century royal gondola or barge to Jackson, former House Ways and Means Committee chairman Charlie Williams slipped up behind me and whispered:
Williams and Kyle traveled to Spain in 1997 to make preliminary contacts with both Spanish government and diplomatic officials and curators at the Prado Museum that led directly to "The Majesty of Spain" exhibition that brought the royals to town last week.
On the faces of Musgrove and legislators alike on Saturday was the undeniable pride that the state had resisted the temptation in tough budget times to give the arts short shrift and gone forward with the world-class exhibition.
This writer is a little biased on the subject, but for my money Mississippi is doing this type art exhibit better, more economically and with more style and grace than any state in the union. It's an investment in tourism and economic development for years to come, but more than that the "Majesty of Spain" exhibit remains as noted by the King in his remarks an investment in broadening the horizons of Mississippi schoolchildren.
Kyle at the State Commission on International Cultural Exchange, his board members, and the state's political leadership have used "The Palaces of St. Petersburg", "The Splendors of Versailles" and now "The Majesty of Spain" to carve a niche in the nation's arts community in which we as a state can
excel. They all deserve some applause for those efforts.
But there is nothing more politically powerful than turnout even at an art exhibition. For Kyle and company to replicate these three marvelous exhibitions over the last decade in the future, it will be a matter of Mississippians voting with their feet and their pocket books by attending the exhibit before it closes its doors in September.
As for me and The Freshman, we plan to go back and do it again. With or without the royal visit which was "cool " even to fat, bald columnists old enough to know better "The Majesty of Spain" is another step that symbolizes the metamorphosis of Mississippi from what we were to what we can be when we work together as a people with a common purpose.
Sid Salter is publisher/editor of the Scott County Times in Forest. E-mail him at salternews.aol.com.