The first public event to celebrate the former king's 80th birthday. Juan Carlos I has dusted off his military uniform and, for the first time since his abdication, been invited to the annual Pascua Militar parade. The event, organised by Defence minister María Dolores de Cospedal has proved a way for the palace to tick off something it wasn't particularly keen on. Felipe VI's father wanted public recognition for his reign now he's hit his 80th birthday, and got a limited leading role on Three Kings day. Protocol meant the current head of state entered arm-in-arm with his wife, with his parents five paces behind.
The photo symbolises who remains in the foreground and who is hidden by marital infidelity and murky fortunes. The octogenarian was walking with the help of a cane now it's known that his repeated hip operations haven't been completely successful. Queen Letizia was looking off into the distance.
Felipe VI planned to congratulate his father in public the day after his anniversary and did so addressing him by his old military title: "field marshal". "Congratulations, majesty". He didn't say the word "father", a curious decision given that their biology is the reason they were both there. All a little cold in comparison to how he referred to his mother, queen Sofía: "who has always shown such affection towards the great military family". Sofía has always leaned more towards animals than soldiers, but that didn't fit in such surroundings. The two kings, father and son, respectively wore Navy and Army captain general (Spain's five-star rank) uniforms. At the end they shook hands, but didn't hug, something which wouldn't have been very military.
The speeches weren't that warm in part because the atmosphere was frosty. Held in an enclosed space, the royal palace, in the middle of winter, the Pascua commemorates the recapture of Menorca from the British in 1782. The military speeches weren't for celebration in the middle of the Catalan crisis. Only Cospedal made reference to the "particularisms".
Among the Catalans invited stand out the central government's delegate to Catalonia, Enric Millo, who continues earning praise and is tipped for a ministerial role, chatting happily with judge Barrientos, president of the Supreme Court of Justice of Catalonia, who sentenced Artur Mas over the unofficial 2014 independence referendum. The rest received military decorations. All to be expected, with the carpet in the throne room looking like a torture device for those allergic to mites.
But the photo of the day wasn't the one of the four monarchs, but the one of De Cospedal dressed up, Rajoy looking like he's getting married and Zoido wrapped in a morning coat.
The next monarch to preside over a Pascua Militar will be Leonor I. Maybe she will also have trouble congratulating the abdicated, or late, Felipe VI. It remains to be seen what the army and Spain of her first Pascua Militar will look like.