Yesterday, March 1, was a major holiday here: Heroes' Day. This celebrates the end of the Triple Alliance War, which was Paraguay v. Argentina/Brazil/Uruguay. Anybody want to guess how that one went? Well, the short version is that it was the deadliest war in modern South American history. Paraguay lost 60-70 percent of its population, most of them men. In the most devastated parts of the country, women outnumbered men 20 to 1 by the end of the conflict.
You can basically chalk this mess up to one crazy expansionist/isolationist dictator Francisco Solano Lopez, a fact that is confusingly (to me) overlooked in that the holiday primarily celebrates Solano Lopez, who is considered a national hero, as well as those who died in the war. (Ah - revisionist history, for the win.) Think of it as Veteran's Day with a Latin-American-dictatorial twist.
You can thank Wikipedia for most of this info, because I sure didn't understand much of the speeches that were happening! The big plaza area downtown was filled with flags and people and all the military branches in dress uniforms, really pretty fun. I shook hands with some bigwigs, and a few of us from the orchestra played with a singer in front of the Pantheon of the Heroes, which is a gorgeous building:
Also - Americans who can't learn the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner, shame on you. Get a load of the Paraguayan anthem:
Paraguayans: Republic or Death!
Our spirit gave us liberty
Neither oppressors nor slaves exist
Where union and equality reign.
The peoples of the Americas, unfortunately,
Were oppressed for three centuries by a scepter
But one magnificent day surging forth,
"Enough!", it said, and broke the scepter.
Our fathers, grandiose in battle,
Showed their martial glory;
And after smashing the august diadem,
Raised the triumphal cap.
A new Rome, the Fatherland shall proudly display
Two leaders of name and valor
Who, rivals, like Romulus and Remus
Divided government and power.
Long years, during which Phoebus in the clouds
Saw darken the pearl of the South,
Today a grand hero appears
Raising up again her glory and virtue...
Europe and the world salute her with applause
And also acclaim
Invincible bastion of heroism,
Magnificent Eden of riches.
(But) when discord rumbled all around
Which fatally devoured other Peoples,
Paraguayans, the sacred ground
Was covered by an angel with its wings.
Oh, how pure, of laurel girded
Sweet Fatherland, in this manner you show yourself.
In your ensign one sees the colors
Of sapphire, diamond, and ruby.
In your coat of arms, which the Sun illuminates,
Under the cap, one sees the lion.
Double image of the strong and the free,
And of glories, the memory and crest.
From the tomb of vile feudalism
The national Deity rises free;
Oppressors, bend your knees!
Compatriots, entone the hymn!
Sound the cry, "Republic or death"!
Our breasts exhale it with faith,
And the mountains repeat its echoes
Like giants arising.
Our Fatherland defends liberty and justice;
The laws in its sacred charter
Will sustain its heroism in the fight.
Against the world, if the world opposes it,
If the world dares to insult her security,
Battling to avenge we shall know her
Or die embracing her.
Arise, oh People, your splendid sword
That strikes with sparkles of God,
There is no middle ground between free or slave
And an abyss divides the two.
In the gentle breezes the Hymn resounds,
Repeating with triumphal echo:
For the free, renowned glory!
For the Fatherland, immortal laurel!
And, yes, they do sing the WHOLE thing, with choruses. It's not quick. So next time you can't remember the words to the first of the four verses of the Star Spangled Banner (Did you know there even were three more verses? I didn't.), go ahead and feel a little inferior. Paraguayans: they're more patriotic than you.