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Sunday, February 5, 2023

90th Birthday Letter from a Journalist: Could it be true that times past were better?


I’ve just turned 90, 45 of which are devoted to working on this newspaper. Some ask me if I don’t regret it. No, because EL PAÍS was more than a newspaper. It was the symbol of Spain emerging from the darkness of a civil war and a dictatorship that cut us from the world. This newspaper opened the door to all the freedoms and rights that were stifled by the Franco regime. And I had the privilege of experiencing that festive euphoria that also enabled me to travel the world as a correspondent.

And now? I am a keen reader of letters and readers’ comments, which judge us and encourage us to improve. I was a Reader’s Advocate for a few years and had the privilege of listening to hundreds of readers on the phone. You have always been our best encouragement. Were newspapers better then than they are today? no We were beginners. Francoism had castrated culture. We didn’t have the opportunities my colleagues have today. They are much better prepared than we are and the journalists were a small minority. It was still a macho newspaper.

So isn’t the famous phrase “The old days were always better” true? no Humanity has never experienced a period of so much advancement in everything. Don’t they say that journalism is in crisis? no It evolves. Today I read the newspaper, its chronicles and opinions, and I notice the leap that journalists have made. You write better than we do. They are culturally better prepared and there is a women’s team like never before.

Juan Arias at his home in Brazil. personal archive

They tell me it’s hard for me to be so optimistic at my age. It’s not that. It’s enough to look back to see what the world was like a hundred years ago. Who would have thought then that women would one day emerge from their atavistic slavery, that the children owned by their parents would have rights of their own? And not to mention the animals. If I had told a farmer when I was a kid that one day there would be a right for beetles too, they would have laughed at me.

Everything is better today than yesterday: science, medicine, law, communication, the awareness that we are all equal, that slavery is barbaric and that women and others have equal dignity. Juan Luis Vives advised husbands not to let wives read. “Women should not follow their own judgment since they have so little,” she wrote. The supposed inferiority of women promoted by Aristotle’s authority was the reason she steered clear of books. And the church teacher Thomas Aquinas asked whether women have souls. Is it true that earlier times were better?

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And the war in Ukraine? And the social injustices? And racism? Yes, but now we know that’s crazy. The paradigm has changed. Today there is no family proud that a son will sacrifice himself in a war. War is not seen as a profession but as barbaric, just like slavery.

We lament that the right of the caves is back, the nostalgia of the holocaust. We are right, but the fear of this possible return to barbaric times shows us that the past was always worse than today.

My friends also ask me what the time looks like when I’m 90 years old. I will answer you with some verses from my book hope project, de Aguilar, in which I list 50 reasons that show that despite all the worries, the world is better today than it was yesterday.

yesterday, substance

my bones

my being,

the ridges in my skin

the worn iris,

what i was

cupboards full of my essences,

this today

is the now

this keyboard

the jacuzzi

my thoughts

how i write,

everything i love

My wife reads next to me

the sky full of clouds

the sonic stillness of the sea.

yesterday was

Today is,

I don’t know tomorrow

maybe nothing

or maybe

Hope for a new morning.

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Source elpais.com

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