Few cultural stories have so saddened us as that of the recent unpleasantness at the Prado. The Spanish museum of art, one of the great museums of the world, has been under attack since last summer when El Imparcial, a fair name for a newspaper, reported that hundreds of paintings were missing from the museum walls. Thanks to a carefree system of lending, not all the paintings have been hung on the walls, which is one of the Prado's problems. In fact, the museum has had a history of mismanagement, stemming from the times when various royal family members decided it would be more convenient for them to admire a Velazquez or a Titian at home than in some dirty public place.
The deeply troubling part of this story, however, is that we can see no possible glimmer of hope for the Pardo's future, after a dismaying and astonishing statement by the director, Jose Manmuel Pita Andrade. Responding to the suggestion that the museum expand its staff, Mr. Pita Andrade asserted: "We don't even have a word for 'staff' in Spanish." If this is so, it also means that the Spanish have no way of expressing the terms, "staff of experts" or "staffer"; that they do not use the verb, "to staff," nor do they speak of "chiefs of staff" or of "staffing" or if "staff decisions." A shocking thought, and an ominous one.
For a modern organization can do without almost everything, except a "staff." Without a "staff" Mr. Pita Andrade can never call a "staff meeting." Nor can he lament an insufficient "staff" in times of crisis. Nor can he plead for more "staff." Had Mr. Pita Andrade possession of a "staff" when E1 Imparcial launched its attack, he could have answered, with every other modern administrator, that his "staff" was considering the matter, and that in the near future his "staff" would issue a statement. Best of all, he could have blamed the whole foul-up on bad "staff work" in the time-honored tradition.
It is hard to imagine how the Prade, not to mention Spain itself, can survive without this essential word. We await the museum's inevitable collapse with much regret.