It’s that time of year again – the very tail end, that sees tv schedules groaning with lazy ‘top ten’ lists and ‘best of’ compilations, so to round off the year and join in with the spirit of it all, allow me to present you with my current top twelve activities (one for every month, but in no particular order) in the glorious, smelly, colourful, exhilarating heart of Lavapies.
Sitting outside Taverna La Mina and watching the world and his hippy hamster go by. The Gnome is somehow intimately connected with the workings of this barrio, this can be seen in the patting of a passing baby’s cheek, the wave of a hand at unseen residents, the answering nod as he is repeatedly hailed by name, and the inclusion into this circle as soon as you have been there more than three times. It is one of the few bars left in Lavapies which has not hiked its prices stupidly, and where you can sometimes still get an outside seat in the Summer. Plus, the other waiter sometimes still calls me ‘joven’. Top marks!
Lazing around drinking apple tea at one of the teterias and watching the resident arab boys doing what arab boys do best: ie lazing around drinking tea, chatting, smoking shisha and looking languid and sultry.
Catching sight of the Lavapies Twins out for their evening stroll. These two elderly twins, who are not identical but who dress identically can often be seen strolling arm in arm or side by side, in perfect synch with each other. They may wear matching cocktail dresses and low heels, or suit jackets and skirts, but always the same outfit as each other. Characteristically eccentric and quintessentially Lavapies. They are women, by the way, so not that eccentric…
Sitting outside Bar le Petit on Argumosa ‘crotch-watching’, although this is not always intentional, but those low tables and chairs give you little choice sometimes…. while being pawed at and playfully mauled by Luna the African hunting dog, although she has mellowed a little as she gets older. One of my UK visitors claimed this was her ‘favourite spot in the whole of Madrid’.
Discovering that the ‘Taberna Viva Chapata’ on Ave Maria is ‘nudist friendly’ (See posting ‘The Naked Protest’, Aug 2010)
Managing to walk past the resident South American alcoholics at the end of the street without being drunkenly side-stepped into a reluctant and rather wobbly salsa or merengue. My favourite is one old crooner who wears a transistor radio glued to the side of his head and dances with it as if it were his only lover.
Lounging around late at night in the fading glory of the Barbieri, sliding off the threadbare velvet seats, checking your hair in the pock-marked and stained mirrors, elbows resting on the marble table-tops, cracked tiles beneath your feet.
Going to the Chinese shop in your pyjamas. This is keeping alive a true madrileno tradition; I vividly remember in the late eighties the housewives who could be seen beating carpets to death on balconies over the street, wearing rollers in their hair and ‘batas’ (housecoats). Then they could be seen a little later in the day at the supermarket in the same get-up. The Ponce is so dedicated to the keeping alive of this tradition that he has been known to visit the corner shop in his silk Chinese dressing gown accessorized with outsize leopard-paw slippers (given to him by yours truly).
Chatting to the Nepalese waiter who works at the Thai restaurant next door to my house, but who is, in fact a qualified teacher who cannot teach here in Spain, and managing to make him briefly happy by telling him I have visited his country and his home town and found them beautiful and fascinating.
Eating fried doughballs and ‘maffi’ at the Senegalese restaurant surrounded by hospitable Africans, watched over by a strange back-lit picture of a waterfall with a creepy spirit figure hovering above the water.
Calling in to buy meat and cheeses at the butcher’s on Calle de la Fe, eavesdropping on adjacent conversations and greeting the guys who run the shop, hanging around in there with about half the barrio, the elderlies seated on tiny stools in a miniscule space, the number of stools growing by the day. Soon they’ll be selling tickets for the stools. Underneath the poster of the aerobics-sweaty couple in headbands and leg warmers, and the legend ‘They eat meat’.
Sneaking around late at night crouching in piss-soaked alleys to get a good shot of the local street art. A big thank you once again to all the street artists for their contribution to the look and feel of the barrio. As soon as I can find my digital camera (mislaid during a recent flat ‘tidy up’) I’ll be out there again looking for more.
My best wishes and a very Happy New Year to everyone!