Wednesday 23 September 2009

It's Turned Out Nice Again!

By Richard Morley
Sunny skies over Madrid's Main Mosque.

Well I am sorry to inform the Schadenfreude of some, but once La Noche En Blanco was out of the way the weather turned nice again. The skies are blue with just a hint of cloud, jackets are now being carried, not worn, and the tables on the pavement are in use again. Temperatures are in the mid to high(ish) twenties, which is a welcome relief from the searing heat of not that long ago. I am so glad I did not succumb to the temptation to store the electric fan for the winter and right now it is wafting a welcome cooling breeze about the room.

La Noche en Blanco, the White Night or literally, “Sleepless Night”, seemed to be a great success. Wandering around Gran Via with its normally cream coloured cliffs of building facades painted brilliant colours by gelled floodlights was a wondrous sight. Up every street a crowd gathered to watch some street performance or listen to bands playing every conceivable type of music. I am told the usual long queues meandered slowly outside the major galleries, although as they are there every day of the year this bemuses me. But one should never underestimate the madrileños’ love of anything free! But whether it is vale la pena to wait for hours I am not so sure.

For me the evening will be remembered for another sort of pain. Climbing on to a bus to go to a friend’s house, I slipped and scraped my shin from knee to ankle and fell flat on my face into the bus. (And yes, I was sober!) Several passengers rose from their seat to offer me assistance, which with great bravado I shrugged off, but the pain ……!

I arrived at my friend’s house where the cuts to my leg were immediately attended to with some large dollops of iodine. Ouch! Even more pain. I have been left with a leg that has evolved through all the colours of the rainbow, that has two gaping holes in it, and has twice the circumference of the other leg. I presume it will deflate in time.

Once the wound was dressed and a restorative glass of Mahou had been consumed, we set off to partake in the evening’s events. On nights like this I, as the guiri, am happy to be guided by those that know their culture better. Our group are all of a “certain age”, but had decided to relive their salad days by going to listen to a band from the seventies. We set off for Clamores Jazz club in Chamberi. There we spent an evening in the company of Cánovas, Adolfo y Guzmán. This was only three quarters of the original line up; someone called Rodrigo was missing.

With the three eponymous members playing guitars and a session musician on piano the audience were treated to nearly two hours of a zimmer-framed stumble down memory lane. The three musicians were now all old men. This mattered not to their fans who had come to listen and sing along. Everyone knew the words and were actively encouraged to join in, perhaps to disguise the occasional croaks of age from the stage, although the voice that came from those three old men were not old at all, but still had the timbre of their youth. You can see how in the YouTube clip of one of their more famous songs, covered by just about every Spanish singer of merit, below.

Of course, many of the songs, despite their age, were new to me, and I could not lend my voice to the choir. But when they sang a couple of Beatle’s songs I was right in there – alone – while the rest of the audience kept quiet. Oh what the heck, they were probably too drunk to notice! But Rule Britannia and all that.

After the show we went out into the streets and attempted to listen to a jazz band, invisible among the throng, in the Plaza Dos de Mayo, then wandered through the crowded streets of Chueca down to Gran Via and a solid river of people oozing through the trafficless street.
Without a never ending flow of cars Madrid seems somehow more open, more free and much more sociable. For this night only the city was for the people: Couples, groups of friends, families with their children – some quite young. It was like a tide of humanity had flowed in through the carless streets – and quite magical.
Of course, more has been happening than La Noche en Blanco. No one has been able to avoid the overspill from the Cibeles Madrid fashion week. The newspapers have been full of the wonderful, and downright weird, ideas of the fashionistas. We have seen quite an eclectic mix of designs, but you know very few will ever be seen worn on any high street anywhere.
And they are still shifting the street furniture. “We will have to find a new place to meet in Sol”, suggested ADN newspaper. As part of the renovation of the Plaza del Sol it seems they are moving the statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree. But don’t worry too much. We shall not see hoards of rootless tourists missing each other because there is nowhere to meet. They are only putting it back to where to was 30 years ago in front of the Tio Pepe building. According to the report this will be the finishing touch to the remodelling of Sol. Hooray! I have lived here for four and a half years and only one once seen the plaza without work going on. The residents and shopkeepers will be very relieved.
But not those in the neighbouring street of Montera, it would seem. This, of course, is the notorious street where the ladies of negotiable affection ply their trade. Three years ago the residents tried placing webcams on their balconies to put off the girls’ clients and that was followed by the ayuntamiento placing very obvious cameras, with warning signs, along the street. Apparently this has had very little effect. I am not surprised. Two years ago the girls had an alternative venue, the Casa del Campo, but the authorities closed the roads to through traffic, so everyone came into the centre, spilling out along Gran Via. Recently the Gran Via girls had a bust up with the Montera girls when one of the former strayed off pitch. Despite the area being swamped with (blind?) police, it seems quite an affray ensued, according to a friend (honest!) who was an eye witness. “The cameras have had little effect”, claimed QUÉ! Newspaper.

But are lessons learned? I doubt it. At a cost of 600,000 Euros forty eight surveillance cameras have just been installed in the Barrio of Lavapiés. According to the Ayudamiento the activities of the working girls once again are the main reason, but it does have a reputation as a high crime area. I say “reputation” as I have no first hand experience of Lavapiés other than as a place to get the best Indian and Asian food in town. It was once the Jewish quarter with surrounding walls to keeps the jews in after nightfall, until they were all thrown out in 1492. I recently waited for a friend in the Plaza there and eavesdropped in on a conversation between four men; a Moroccan, an indeterminate African, a Chinese and a Spaniard, all sharing one long bench. It is probably the most cosmopolitan plaza in Madrid. Whoever has the job of watching those cameras is going to be very bored.

And going back to the subject of shifting the street furniture, Cristobel Colon, or Christopher Columbus to our American readers, is now all trussed up waiting to be moved to his new home in the centre of the Paseo de la Castellana. To date, the Madrid Municipalities have asked central government for 1,076 million Euros as part of “Plan E”, the scheme to renovate the city by finding jobs for the unemployed. As I have written before, much of this work is needed, but moving the statues does seem like “busy work”, just to keep people in jobs. The government has recently stated it will raise taxes to pay for all this work and some politician voiced the opinion that those who have benefitted from the crisis by having their mortgage repayments reduced as interest rates went down should pay an extra tax so that no one can be seen to profit from the current depression.

I love this town, but sometimes ….!!!!

Still, the weather's turned nice.


  1. I'm glad you have mentioned the bear's location. I only spotted it for the first time in a side street on my 4th visit to Madrid, probably because I was looking for it in the sprawling Sol building site.

  2. I was by Sol last night and it's terrible all the construction and work that is going on there.
    The Plaza de Callao looks a right mess. My friend said that they had moved the bear and I couldn't quite believe it until I actually saw that it had been moved! And what is that new statue they have put up in Sol? It looks weird. He also mentioned this new plan to get people into work but it just sounds like sillyness to me! Thanks for mentioning where the bear statue now was because my friend didn't know and I was wondering!

  3. Great blog - look forward to future installments! One day I hope to be back working in Madrid. Vamos a ver...