“And so it begun
the fairytale of one”
The first impression I got arriving in Madrid was the one of modernity. And how can somebody avoid such an impression when the first sight he sees is the taco-shaped roof of the newly built terminal 4 of Madrid’s Barajas airport. Throughout the whole trip, this impression of Madrid did not completely vanish, whether I was stuck in the middle of a neighbourhood that is dated from the 18th century, or in the middle of the most derelict aereas, or even in places that seem to be the entrance to some sort of a twilight-zone trip back in time.
Actually the bus station in Avenida America did fit the last scenario. As the bus sunk under the hot tarmac of the street, I had the feeling of entering a time capsule. As if the era of Franco came alive, back from the forgotten realms of the early seventies. Fast food and ice cream parlours mixed with travel agencies and ailing ticket booths, plus the amounts of smog coming in from all the urban busses and the interurban coaches, made the atmosphere even worse than it was at surface level. And adding up to the whole situation, I had to cut across a strong current of commuters. Morning rush hour traffic in Madrid.
The first thing of the day to be accomplished was to find a place to stay for the next two days. And that was NOT easy. For the next two days I had to be cramped in a small apartment with a Brazilian guy, watching a crack in the ceiling looming open over the double bed we were sharing. Too bad. But this was nothing comparing to the misery of the whole neighbourhood. We were somewhere between the Callao and Nuevos Ministerios train stations, not far from downtown Madrid. The apartment complex was actually situated over a titties bar, the street outside was full of junkies, and on some corner there was, at all times, a hooker trying to pick up clients. And, at some point, on the second night there was a face-off between pimps right outside our hostel, which involved broken tyles and knives coming out. That, of course, scared the shit out of both of us. But the Brazilian decided to stay there, since he had booked the room for the next few days and his girlfriend was to join him there. Wow! I wanted to get the hell out of there, and did not really mind giving a bit more money than the 25 euros a night for some safety, let alone not having to take a cab for safety whenever I wanted to return. So I moved out, and let the Brazilian and his unbelievably good looking fourty year old girlfriend enjoy the apartment, while I was being booked at some hostel a few blocks away, in the tourist aerea of La Latina.
In the meantime, during my stay at the ailing hotel, I had discovered a few of the kicks anyone can get when living in Madrid. First of all, comes the green. Enormous areas of green and a lot of trees exist on the sides of huge boulevards. When entering Retiro, I discovered that there are almost no buildings to be seen in a distance of Miles, and the same goes for most of the Metropolitan Parks in the surrounding areas. And, thanks to an extensive and very effective system of mass transport (part of which works 24/7) that includes busses, the metro, tram and the cercanias (suburban railway), and a set of streets that are used only for pedestrians or moderate traffic (that means busses and very few cars, usually the ones belonging to the people that live or work in the area), Madrid is emitting fewer greenhouse gasses than a lot of European cities.
But the most odd thing about Madrid, and maybe Spain, are its contradictions. I came across one of them in one of the vast parks, this time near the houses of Parliament. In the middle of the park, there stood some sort of a monument, bearing the inscription “Built for the enjoyment of the citizens of Madrid and all Spaniards, Arias Navarro”. Clearly a relic of the Franco era. But right in front of the massive monument, there was an anarchist slogan written on the floorboard, declaring that since there exist homeless people and unused houses, the movement of occupations of houses should move on. And in the same park, I watched in delight as a couple of gay men snogged each other without having to mind about any remarks from any passers-by. In reality nobody minded about it! Same thing had happened the night before, when I had witnessed the same act being performed by two enormous lesbos. This definitely meant one thing. That Spain has gone from being an ultra conservative country to an ultra liberal one. The government there seems to be hell-bent to challenge everything that was deemed sacred by the conservatives and the Vatican. But also, while the government charges on to the division between church and state, and has legalized same sex marriages, among other things, in the poor areas of Madrid the theology of liberation is gaining ground among parishes, especially in neighbourhoods that have a leftist background dating back to the days of the Spanish Revolution of 1936. This mix of Marxism and some sort of radical liberal view of religion, with roots in South America is more appealing to a big part of the religious people in areas such as the Vallecas (which is home to Rayo Vallecano and a lot of immigrants from South America) where exist perhaps the first multi purpose temple in Spanish history. A roman catholic church, where everybody can pray to whatever god they like, be it Jesus Christ, Allah or even the Force, if they like.
In the two remaining days I strolled around the Madrid funland called la Latina. The whole of the area has a Latin feel. From the cafés to the bars and karaoke joints, Madrid can be fun and games to just about anyone. Personally I found myself sipping mojitos and tequila in a small Cuban joint. In the last night I also went for a wee pub-crawl, myself, just sampling around bars. I ended up sampling a good part of the Spanish rumba scene, and noticing one thing. There was only two bars/clubs with bouncers/doormen inside. And these perhaps where the two uber trendy/ expensive places to go in an area inhabited by more or less 20-25 bars. This was it! I went back at the hostel, trying to get as much sleep as I could, because in the next day I was travelling back east, to Barcelona town