One of the more naive comments I hear from visitors to Madrid at this time of year is about how uncrowded the city is. How wonderful, they tell me, not to have traffic jams. How marvellous, they remark, that they can always get a seat on the metro. How relaxing, they observe, not to have to queue for everything.
(Small pause while I break down in sardonic laughter.)
I have an acquaintance who lives in a part of northern Madrid not well served by pubic transport. He often regales me with tales of how long he sits in traffic jams, both in and out of the city, during the week. I have a weekly lunch with some friends who luckily have a lunch break that starts at half past one, slightly earlier than other offices nearby. By two o’clock there is a line of would be diners at the door glaring at us through the window, wishing we would eat up and vacate out table.
If you are travelling by metro in the rush hour be prepared to defend your territory with stern glares and sharp elbows. A seat? You must be joking!
You see, like any other modern, bustling city, Madrid has its problems. But not in July and August. The population seems to evapourate.
People I see regularly here are now sending me e mails from California, England, Ireland and all other points of the vacation compass telling me what a wonderful time they are having. Not so rich people are escaping the heat of the city at their family homes in the mountains.
The English teaching community is devoid of teachers. They have all returned from whence they came and are sending tales of meeting old friends, finding food they left in the back of a larder at Christmas, and rediscovering that their language does not have to be spoken simply, slowly and they can make bad puns again.
Consequently the English teaching community is also devoid of students. I would despair if I had to rely on my income from teaching over the next two months. Why we don’t see desperate teachers standing behind signs that read, “Starving – will teach for food”, is simply because they are not here. Those of us that remain have to live off savings – or find some other form of employment. Would you like verbs with that?
If you have ever entertained thoughts of coming here to teach be very aware of this.
But an empty Madrid is a fantastic Madrid. I know people who claim this is their favourite time of year just because no one else is here. The million residents who have fled to far off beaches are hardly replaced by a few tens of thousands of tourists. So the art galleries are easy to get into, public transport is empty and there’s a seat in every restaurant. Assuming the owner of the restaurant has not also gone on his vacation. It is so annoying that your favourite eating house is closed just when you now have the time to take long leisurely lunches.
But there is no one to have those lunches with. At this time of year the offices of Madrid switch to different hours, known as “horario” or “jornada intensivo”. So, instead of the working day running (say) from 9am until 7pm with a lunch time that would be the envy of office workers elsewhere, (I have had several in excess of two hours!), summer hours might start a little earlier and finish around half past three or four o’clock. But there is no time off for lunch! That’s why you can always get a lunch-time seat in summer. Everyone is at their desks.
But there are plenty of other places where excellent food is to be had. And knowing that you don’t have to teach at eight o’clock in the morning means your lazy evening with friends at the cool midnight terrace doesn’t have to end.
I find this every year. For the six weeks from mid July until the end of August I am basically Billy-No-Mates. Or I would be if I didn’t also join the exodus. As I write this, an open suitcase sits on the floor. I am male – it will only take me five minutes to pack.
It is time to discover the rest of Spain. Maybe I should change the name of the blog!
The evocative photograph at the head of this piece by Robsike is taken from a collection of pictures taken in the streets of many towns in Spain during the World Cup final between Spain and Holland, which, as the whole world should know and rejoice, Spain won. You can find the complete set of these photographs here.
They are an interesting reflection on the passion and support that the people of this wonderful country felt for its team.