Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Spitting Images

Amongst the most distasteful practices I have ever witnessed, spitting on someone is perhaps the worst. There are worse things that come to my mind, but thankfully I have never seen anyone do them. Almost any words could come from some one's mouth and not dampen my attitude as much as the touch of phlegm on my face. My own experiences with this habit have been limited to the football field, where I was once spat on by an Italian player when I was playing in an international tournament in England. I saw team mates spat upon by Italian and Argentine players when I played soccer in the US. Needless to say that the games ended in fights and had to be abandoned. (Many Argentines have Italian roots and I have been known to say that you should cover your face when near either nationality in a heated moment.)

I remember the 1966 World Cup, being played in England, and the Argentine player Rattin (a Boca Juniors midfielder) spitting at the referee after he was ejected from a game against England, which prompted the English manager of the time (Alf Ramsay) to label the team "animals" and "scum". Is it just coincidence that one of Argentina's premier clubs, Boca Juniors, for whom Diego Maradona played, is in the heart of a working class neighbourhood in Buenos Aires' dockland; is in the heart of the city's huge Italian community and most of its residents are one or two generations removed from Sicily, Calabria or Naples in Italy's south? Maradona was very at home when he went to play in Naples, Italy. Recently, Boca's coach was fired for spitting at a Mexican player. Rattin, by then a Boca "senior", became a Congressman in 2001, the first footballer to do so.

Just today I read about the extraordinary scenes in the Italian Senate, where PM Prodi was in the process of losing a close no-confidence vote (see Times report). As the report adds: "In extraordinary scenes, Nuccio Cusumano was spat on and insulted and had to be taken out of the chamber on a stretcher. He later returned, but his vote was not enough to save Mr Prodi." Yuk! Tasteless, if I may say so. Without a stutter, the spitter spattered over his political opponent. The spitter could do well to take advantage of an offer to send his spit to have it analyzed for genetic flaws (see another Times report). There is still concern about getting HIV from other people's saliva. Is there some link between the characteristics of footballers and politicians?

I would like to know what motivates such actions, which in the Caribbean is regarded as disgusting. But it is not uncommon as a form of expression of insult in other cultures.

The only spit that leaves a nice warm feeling is perhaps in "Spitting Images" (supposedly a corruption of spirit and image, meaning close likeness), the British puppet show of the 1980s-90s whose biting satirical stance was sometimes savage enough to make one spit. But it is hard to imagine Ronald Reagan or any of the notables who were parodied resorting to a gobful of slime at the producers because their feelings were hurt.

Snakes, especially some cobras, spit venom to neutralize an adversary. I'd surely stop in my tracks if someone else's drool hit my lips. In some parts of the world, such as the Philippines, the habit is formally condoned when in religious ceremonies marking Jesus' passage with the cross citizens spit on the penitent, re-enacting how a Roman soldier (the Italian connection again) had treated Jesus. In other parts of Asia and in the American south spitting in public is common and sometimes has to be regulated with signs indicating clearly that there is to be no mouth watering in public. I have heard of melon and cherry seed spitting contests but that would seem like harmless fun.

Some unfortunate things have befallen spitters. Just two years ago a young man fell from a balcony to his death while participating in a spitting distance contest with some friends (see report).

Should we think of appropriate punishment for those who spit on others? Not so long ago, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, Terrell Owens, was fined US$35,000 by the NFL for spitting at an opponent, and some called for his suspension. My preference would be to use the "live by the sword, die by the sword" adage. It's shameful behaviour and the spitter deserves to be shamed. Imposing a fine would not satisfy me. I would not want to spit back. Perhaps I could find someone to do that for me! Beyond that I will let the imagination take over. I remember reading about medieval punishments, like the public stock. Someone may propose that if you spit at someone perhaps someone should put you on a spit. Some would like to and that you have flames underneath. Would I be that cruel? Would you be any less or more cruel?

1 comment:

tennischick said...

interesting entry. nice job on the blog.


(Trini to de bone) :)