It is the third day in a row that it has rained heavily. And, to be more accurate, the third month in a row that it has been raining unseasonably hard. In Madrid we have been lucky- no flash floods like in Andalucia where buildings are collapsing and roofs falling in under the flooding. But it is becoming persistent and intrusive. You disappear ankle-deep into the puddles that collect in the badly irrigated pavements. Solitary stacks of steel terrace tables remain by the side of the pavements dripping with rain where there should be laughter and tapas. The metro is crammed uncomfortably full and is humid, steam rising from damp clothes, a tightly packed wall of despondent faces , subdued conversation. The towels in my bathroom smell musty, and washing takes 3 days to dry, even with intermittent heating on. This place is not made for rain: it´s made for dust and heat, biting cold and white winter sunshine like a spotlight following you around. Grey clouds press down on us where there is normally a high and endless blue sky. The Spanish are not very good at coping with incessant rain- maybe in Galicia or up in the North, but certainly not in Madrid, which is virtually a desert. More than a day or two and they start to wilt. Welcome to England, my friends. Maybe now you might begin to understand the cynical, miserable character trait that runs through all of us like a message through a stick of rock. It doesn’t seem right that the rowdy, spirited Madrileños are so quiet and so gloomy. It seems, to paraphrase a Spanish expression, that everyone is up to their balls with it all.
Walking to the twice-weekly teenagers’ class that I give at a private college, I have to go through a narrow park flanked with faceless tower blocks. On the back of one of the park benches someone has pasted an A4 piece of paper with the words in large bold type and in English: ‘how much longer?’ As I carry on through the grey spittle to the school gates- a school that looks like a low prison building, its yard hemmed in with rainbow-coloured bars but bars nonetheless, this message plays on my mind. I find it perturbing. Who put it there? How much longer what? The crisis? School? The rain? The fact that someone is trying to communicate with me and I don´t know what they mean adds to my general feeling of unease. It’s such a poignant question and I´d like to know who went to all the trouble to ask it in such a fashion and why. I’ll never find out the answers to any of these questions, but curiosity prickles like a cheap nylon shirt.
When I come out of the class an hour later it is raining even harder- huddles of dejected parents and children wait under the concrete porch for it to abate a little, while I stride through, umbrella-less. I get into a brief conversation with a parent- ‘Well, would you believe this weather?’ ‘Horrible, isn’t it? But, it doesn’t bother me so much, I’m English.’ ‘Hombre! No problem for you then, you must feel right at home.’ ‘Well, a bit of water never hurt anyone.’ and so on. The school run is well underway, cars zig-zagging crazily, parents running bent almost double as though avoiding sniper fire. Fat raindrops slide down the back of my coat collar and into the nape of my neck. As I walk up the hill and past the bench the rain has washed the question away, leaving nothing but a striated blank page.