Originally written in April 2014 – Part of the Deep South Series
As I have already mentioned more than once, particularly during the London 2012 post, I am a massive gymnastics fan – I am very immersed in this world and as an ex gymnast, I tend to give opinions about all disciplines quite freely, to be honest.
For all those Spanish fans of rhythmic gymnastics (yes, the one with the ball, the hoop, etc), the summer of 96 was THE summer. I still remember as if it was yesterday: I was 14 and spending a couple of weeks in Ireland to improve my English. The Games were on at the same time and, as they were being hosted in Atlanta there was a solid time difference and the competitions were all overnight.
It was 3 in the morning. A young Spirish came down the stairs as silently as possible to watch the final. Bulgaria was going to win (they always took the gold), but Spain had a chance to medal if they did not have any mistakes. First rotation. Spain comes onto the carpet. Breath is held for two and a half minutes. Spain finishes an incredible, error free, routine. Spirish bites her knuckles so as not to scream with excitement and freak out half of rural Ireland. Bulgaria on the carpet now. They do a great routine – but is it just me or where the throws a bit easier? – wait, the judges have seen this too… I am sure they will play their “magic” on the second rotation…
Second and final rotation… Spain is on again. I swear Spirish does neither breathe nor blink for 2 and a half minutes. These were in fact, the longest 2 and a half minutes of Spirish’s short life until then. It’s over. Great job by Spain, they can go home happy, whichever the result. Ok, on to Bulgaria. Very serious, well executed – but again, easier? Russia … Oh dear, they are making a mess of things… They must be out for sure. Right, last contender coming up, Belarus….
Did 2 ribbon sticks just clash mid-air???!!!
And suddenly, before I had a chance to fully understand what had just happened, I was witnessing something incredible: the Spanish team on the top spot of the podium, gold medal in hand, while the anthem was going on. I remember bawling in the moment, it was such a special time. I felt as if I was there, in Atlanta, with the girls.
Fast forward to 18 years later. I am standing in that same city, looking at a sign with the names of the “golden girls” in the centennial park… Who would’ve thought?
Atlanta is a big city and the “capital” of the Deep South. On our first day, looking at the things that were worth doing in the city, we found that the list was as follows:
- Centennial park
- Coca Cola World
- Sweet auburn (where Dr Martin Luther King was from)
It was 9 am and we discovered that Atlanta’s marathon was taking place that day and that it had started at 7am. As it finished in the park, we decided to enter the most American of all American things… The world of Coca Cola (i.e. their museum)
Amidst neon lights, horrific mascots and tons of posters, we learnt that its creator priced the product at just 5 cents for decades. Also, that there were a lot of copycats such as Cola Nip or Cherry Coq (no, not kidding) and that many other places had tried to take the claim that this drink was created there… Let’s face it, its formula is so coveted that it was once used as guarantee for a loan. Two hours later, having sampled all types of drinks that the brand produces worldwide, we decided we had had enough of the American corporate universe and we went to see the park.
Centennial park does not have anything else than a fountain with 5 hoops and a garden with tributes to the winners of Olympic medals during the 1996 games. For a moment, I was 14 again. Marta Baldó, Nuria Cabanillas, Estela Giménez, Lorena Guréndez and Estíbaliz Martínez… Ekaterina Serebryanskaya, Yanina Batyrchina (misspelt on the sign) and Elena Vitrichenko… Fermín Cacho (Spain 1500m) … Carl Lewis… What an honour it was to be there and see that. I got emotional; I won’t lie. I took a lot of pictures and tweeted the legends themselves. All of them got back to me, particularly, 2 of those who are on my Facebook. They were all delighted, I hope!
But Atlanta is not just known for the games. In fact, it’s way more famous as the “capital” of the Deep South. It’s sadly easy to forget that until not that long ago (from the perspective of universal history), US society was divided by colour. And this had been the case for quite some time.
Let’s go back to 1860. Lincoln has just won the elections and he becomes President of the USA. One of his main agenda points during his campaign had been to abolish slavery. Mr Lincoln chose to go step by step as he knew that in the Southern States, a plantation landlord had two-thirds of his money in slaves, who were sold, traded, etc. The full abolition meant entering poverty. They also knew this, and they created the Confederation of Southern States just before Lincoln’s inauguration.
We now know that they lost the war and that slavery was abolished. The slaves were freed but not respected. Future African-American generations continued not to be considered as equal in some parts of the country until the revolution towards the end of the 50’s. A certain Rosa Parks was tired after a day of work and got onto a bus. Her legs were killing her, and she was grateful when she saw an empty seat, directly behind the reserved space for white people. Sadly, for her, after a couple of stops, the driver moved back the sign that indicated where the section for the white people ended, and she was asked to stand up (along with another 3 people). Rosa must have been really, really, tired because she said no.
In its condition of one of the largest cities in the South, Atlanta also followed these laws. Different restrooms, fountains, cinemas, restaurants… So hard to understand nowadays. Thank God that Mr Martin Luther King Junior also agreed.
He was born in Atlanta, in a neighbourhood called Sweet Auburn. When we went, we could see that it’s become a very rough neighbourhood and walking into it was, frankly, a bit scary. Martin was born and raised in Atlanta, and he was highly educated, attending many universities. He became a pastor and was sent to Alabama and it was there that he started giving speeches in his masses. He was inspired by Gandhi and visited India, where he decided that he would dedicate his life to ensure that all people of colour would have the same rights, without distinction. And he would do so, without using violence.
In Sweet Auburn we learned about his life, his work and his legacy in the centre that carries his name. If I am to be frank, I expected more from the centre, as well as of all of Atlanta. A city with so much history and, in a way, so big, so empty. It’s not that I did not like it, it simply seemed normal that The Walking Dead is shot there. I still remember finding out that it was the day of the marathon when we got there and how there were at most 20 people in the street.
And with this, I finish the story of our first stop in our road trip through the Southern States.
Will keep you posted