Tío Pepe, enigmatic symbol of Madrid, is in danger of losing his perch overlooking the Puerta del Sol near the Plaza Mayor. It seems Apple Computer has either bought or leased the building on which the iconic ad has dwelt since 1936. The computer company is renovating the historic Hotel Paris building, has taken the sign down and as the advertising contract with the company that makes Tío Pepe expires on June 30th, has no plans to reinstall the sign.
To say Madrid’s residents are unhappy about this would be like saying New Yorkers won’t mind if you dismantle the Empire State Building, brick by brick, and transfer it to New Jersey. One blogger managed to get 4000 petition signatures in about an hour, all supporting the continued presence of Tio Pepe.
Tío Pepe is a brand of Andalucían sherry, some say the best-selling brand in the world. The wine was officially introduced to the world in 1849, named by the nephew of the man who created it. Tío is Spanish for uncle, thus Tío Pepe is a legacy to the creator and his nephew who had the good sense to promote his uncle’s creation internationally. The ad dates to the days of Spain’s bloody civil war and has withstood that, a world war, political upheavals and most notably, changes in zoning laws. Most other large neon signs are gone now due to the latter; only Tío Pepe and Schweppes remain as the two decades-old advertising identifiers of the capital of this warm and sunny country.
On my first trip to Madrid, not even knowing the history of the sign nor its importance to the city, I took a picture. My Spanish friend, Ana commented delightedly on it when she saw it. I had snapped it only because it was so pretty, all lit up over the city, and she, a Madrileña living in the US at the time, loved it. Obviously many others feel the same way.
There are numerous other causes to worry about, most of them more important in terms of eternal significance and human or animal suffering, and they are the ones we ought to spend the majority of our time on. Nevertheless, this one is important and very much lesser known, especially among Americans, so I hope some of you American readers will take a moment and sign the petition telling Apple to put Tío Pepe back where he belongs, overlooking Kilómetro Cero and el Oso y el Madroño. Then, when you’re done, go look for other petitions on the site (change.org) that mean something to you, and sign them, too. (I do that all the time, by the way.) You’ll make a difference, however small, in the good of the universe.