This was my contribution to SHARE #13 – a Portland creative group that gets together to create and share. The prompt was: LUCKY.
Once you learn to use the suffixes Spanish gets a lot more fun. My favorite was always “azo” – pronounced “atho,” it’s used when you need to make something bigger or imply its largess. It’s a bit colloquial… not a formal structure… you wouldn’t use it in a job interview; not if you were wearing a suit. I first heard it in an English lesson, naturally, when Maria Jose was referring to the size of the lottery. “Un huevazo” she said. Un huevo would have been big enough – egg also being slang for something big, but adding that suffix embiggened it with a double word score.
“Ito” or “ita” is another common one. It makes a burrito – a little ass, which is funny because burritos in turn can make a big ass. This might be the one most commonly heard of in the US, especially with regards to made up words (like Dorito) or menu Spanish – burrito, taquito or gordita. Little donkey. Little taco. And little fat girl (affectionately, of course). Though I would bet that the age at which children feel emotionally scarred for being called “my little fat one” has been trending younger and younger at about the same rates as the market penetration for thongs for teenagers or incidence of juvenile diabetes.
But there’s never been any confusion about the Gordo. The fat man. He doesn’t sound as cute, but he’s the most popular – more than the donkey, tacos and thongs combined. More than donkeytacothongdoritos even. In Spain the Gordo isn’t even a person – it’s the national lottery that’s announced every year on Christmas… by orphans.
It’s a tradition that spans over a century. Billions of Euros given out in a long series of lottery draws over the course of hours. Most of the prizes are small – a few hundred dollars, but a few are large, and one… well one is the Gordo.
The Sorteo de Navidad (or Spanish Christmas Lottery) has been organized every year since 1812 even through the time of Franco and the Spanish Civil War, and you’ll have to excuse this next part, but a visit to Wikipedia was necessary to express just what we’re talking about. The Sorteo de Navidad is considered to be the largest lottery in the world. In 2006, the total amount available to be won (though not quite all of it was) would have been more than two billion one-hundred forty-two million Euros. And the Gordo was 540 million Euros all by itself.
Wait – what was that about orphans? Yes – huérfanos. So, since 1812 the pupils of the San Ildefonso – a school for the orphans of public servants – have been the ones to walk by twos to the large bingo-style sphere holding balls with numbers printed on them and take out hundreds of balls, five at a time, and literally sing them off to a panel of old official-looking rich people with glasses and/or very little hair. They sing numbers for maybe a half hour straight before they’re replaced by the next pair of orphans.
I envision the planning meetings in the months ahead of time.
“Ay, Jorge – how many orphans are we going to need this time?”
“I don’t know – maybe 30, 40 orphans? How many can you get me?”
“Depends on how cute you want them.”
“Well they gotta be cute. What good are orphans if they’re not cute? Nahhh… can’t use ugly orphans…”
In 2011 there will be 99,000 different numbers, each of which will be printed onto 180 tickets for a total of 17,820,000 tickets.
I don’t think they’re all orphans anymore – it’s just a normal school now. And if you looked at the age of the average public servant in Spain you’d think no one was ever orphaned there anymore. Now it’s just a regular school with regular kids, some immigrants which prompts many Spaniards who still don’t know that they’re not all actually orphans anymore to look at them and think “Que pobrecito!” (there’s that suffix again), but in the true nature of the human spirit when it comes to winning prizes it doesn’t make anyone wonder why the money doesn’t just go directly to the poor orphans rather than making them sing numbers off of wooden balls all morning on state television.
It’s common for families to all buy tickets for one another for the holidays, though it’s not completely selfless as all are expected to share if they take the Gordo, so everyone is really just trying to pad their own odds a bit. What’s strange is that the tickets aren’t randomly distributed at all. Every single one of the 180 tickets with a particular number will likely be sold in one place. In fact it drives some people to try to buy every instance of a ticket so that if they take the Gordo they take the whole thing by themselves. And merry fucking Christmas to you too! But it also means that oftentimes when someone in a town wins – the whole town wins.
I was watching with some friends of mine when the Gordo was announced. Within minutes there was a news crew at a local bar where the entire place had erupted and was celebrating.
“Who won?” I asked Chicho.
“Right, but who actually won?”
“They all did.”
“How could they all win?”
“They all had the winning ticket.”
“How could they all have the winning ticket? Did they all buy it in a pool or something?”
“What? No. You just buy it on the street where they sell tickets.”
“Not that kind of pool – like in a group where they all combine their money and share their winnings.”
“Oh – well maybe some of them did, but some of them might have just bought it on their own. And some of them probably bough the tickets for each other – so I give you a ticket and you give me a ticket and then we both win with our tickets.”
“So they all won and they all have the winning ticket, and they’re all at the bar together.”
“Right. Well, and there are probably a lot of other people who won who aren’t at the bar.”
“And what do the orphans get out of this again?”
So a whole town wins the lottery that day. I imagine it like a Twilight Zone episode where there’s a sleepy town with something just slightly amiss. The kind of place that would cause lots of double takes if you weren’t aware of the history. The number of BMWs and Mercedes shoot through the roof while everyone still wears the same clothes and goes to the same bars and markets and cafes. Certain habits don’t change at all while others are completely supplanted by styles, products or patterns wholly unknown to the area before running into the Gordo. An entire municipality lifted to a different lifestyle in an almost artificial manner. Like Atlantis and El Dorado both reappearing and descending upon an unsuspecting lower middle class village in the outer suburbia cum rural fringe of a mid-sized Spanish city.
I can’t decide if it makes it simpler or more complicated for the families if almost everybody wins. How many black sheep and prodigal siblings start the long journey back toward that bar on the television? It’s like a woodworkers’ colony in there. How many of the people screaming and yelling in that crowd didn’t actually buy a ticket that year? How many decided that in these harsh economic times it would make more sense to save their money, and now they’re in the minority, surrounded by the hundred or so who are splitting the hundreds of millions? No matter how much the winners drink that night it’s hard to imagine a worse hangover than that of the proximal losers.
But the whole country will sit glued to their televisions. I don’t know if there’s an equivalent in this country. It would be like if back-to-back Superbowls on a Sunday morning had a love child with a Jerry’s Kids fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy. Not quite there yet though… take that and add the explicit support and approval of the Pope, your Rabbi and the President, everyone’s grandmothers, the Westboro Baptist Church, and a majority of Republicans from the House of Representatives. And then sprinkle on some huérfanitos.
Everybody feels lucky during the Christmas lottery. Even with unemployment staying put at 20% and at almost 50% for the youth of the country it’s hard not to feel lucky. Everyone knows someone who’s won. Even if it was a cousin’s roommate hours away winning just a thousand Euros split between two hundred people for five Euros apiece. They’ll all be winners this Christmas.
The winning number for the 2010 Gordo was 79250.