And so the bloated festive season is finally over; the tinsel has come down, the credit card bills have come in, and a few New Year´s resolutions have already come undone. We´ve stepped through the door into another year that looks just as likely to be gnawed around the edges by this endless economic crisis. Unemployment is running at almost 20% here, and the consensus is that Spain is not going to be recovering just yet from its horrible hangover. However, at least for me, there is hope.
Something comforting is happening in the cold depths of January- I appear to be falling in love all over again with Madrid. Sometimes you need a little reminder of what makes someone or somewhere so special to you, and here are a few of the things that have reminded me, over the last week, what a wonderful, stinking, provocative and quirky place I have chosen as my home.
1) Scanning the front and back cover of the free newspaper ADN, which the person opposite me on the metro is reading. Today the headline is ´Spain is the only ´rich´country in Europe which will not see recovery this year.´ Next to this a huge banner advertisement about a feature on Detoxing. On the back page a full-page spread advertising a sexual dysfunction clinic with the words ´Sex is life´above a picture of a rather smug couple curled up in their pants.
2) Two buses passing me in quick succession at a busy city centre zebra crossing as I wait to cross. Both buses have the driver´s window open, the radio blaring, and the driver´s hand casually lolling out of the window clutching a lit cigarette.
3) The return of the ´sleeping policemen´ stensils around the bollards of Lavapies. Yes, they´re back, and they´re watching you, weighing their truncheons in their hands.
4) Walking home from work along the sleaziest thoroughfare in the city, Gran Via, in the snow, listening to Gary Newman ´cars´on my MP3, while wading through the traffic, both automated and human.
5) Having a heated discussion with a Spanish friend who is leaving Madrid for a good job offer in London about why we love this city. We both agreed wholeheartedly that nowhere else has quite the same anarchic character and furious energy, fuelled and probably created by the long years of isolation and dictatorship. Life here really does resemble an eighties Aldmodovar film, if you let it. The war cry of madrileños could be ´They can take away our tapas, but they´ll never take our personal freedom!´ As long as you´re not pissing anybody else off, here you have the absolute freedom to live your life as you wish (especially as an outsider). Enjoying yourself in any way you see fit is applauded here and is a right which is defended almost to the death.
6) Another conversation at a friend´s house, after being introduced to a young Spaniard from another town. He was about to embark on a year´s study abroad in Germany. He confided in me that he´d been in Madrid for 2 years, and almost wished he hadn´t discovered the place until later in his life, as his life-plan was to travel and see the world, but now he had a sneaking suspicion he´d already found the best and most stimulating place to live.
7) The new law, recently passed in Spain, dropping the age of consent for trans-gender people who wish to change sex. Another triumph for the forces of progression. According to pressure groups 2010 is the year of transgender visibility, with the slogan ´This year, TRANSform.´ I say Hurrah!
and finally, the realisation that, like all capital cities, Madrid is like a huge train station: people coming, people going, and a lot of others just hanging around. It is sad when people leave, but leave they will. Capitals can be transient, hard, not everyone´s cup of tea. This city breaks the back of some of them. As one friend who is leaving very soon to go back to the States said, rather poignantly ´We´ve all got to go sometime, some of us sooner than others, some of us too soon, and others at exactly the right moment.´ As a counterbalance, I am beginning to see that there is equally a flow of new, fascinating faces into the city or into your sphere of existence, so as old friends or lovers leave, potential new ones are queueing up round the block.
So, after feeling the requisite and healthy amount of sadness at the frenetic departures that seem to be happening as the city spits people out left, right and centre, I have decided to TRANSform my attitude and take a Taoist stance (go with the flow, path of least resistance, things just are what they are), combined with a word of advice from the inimitable Bill Hicks-
´The ride goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it´s very brightly coloured, and it´s very loud. And it´s fun for a while… it´s just a ride, and we can change it any time we want.´ But how can you change a character who you love with all your heart? You may fall out, you may go off each other sporadically, but there´s always the chance to kiss and make up, and I wouldn´t change Madrid for anything. You have to love the good, the bad and the ugly. It just goes to show, maybe the old flames burn the brightest, or at least they keep us warm when it´s cold outside.