PP = Police Presence?

no, not after a protest, this is the bank on the square, on a normal day

This evening the results of the local elections will be out, a vote that may have been affected by the ‘Spanish Spring’ or not. There was something moving about the protests in Sol, the pacific, ‘democratic’ atmosphere, the hand-written signs, the calm, quiet groups of policemen standing and watching. I walked past a man in his fifties there this afternoon, selling clothes pegs for the vote.

‘Why the clothes pegs?’ someone asked him.

‘For your nose,’ he informed him, ‘because they all stink the same.’

The truth is, we are all a little sick of politicians, wherever we’re from. For days now the city has been festooned with their insincere, smiling faces. Esperanza Aguirre’s enlarged, doll-skull feautures flashed past me on the metro several times one day last week as I travelled to classes, with every station her image changing – here, graffiti’ed into a vampire with dripping fangs, there, grinning with those thin lips and cleverly made-up eyes, and here, rather worryingly, with a red marker pen inking in a bullet hole to her forehead. Preppy Gallardon with his greying eyebrows assures us that he ‘likes Madrid and likes you’, and other lesser-known faces, staring off into the middle-distance, sport the usual tag-lines about ‘pueblo (people), gente comun (‘man/woman on the street) and ‘del barrio’ (of your neighbourhood). I have always been wary of anything that claims to be ‘of the people’ or ‘for the people’ because if you have to label it so insistently it normally means the opposite, like a heavy-handed Chinese Communist Party moniker.

You claim to be ‘of the people’? Well, how about you come down to our level, walk the streets, and talk to some of us? Which is exactly what the Partido Popular tried to do in Lavapies a few days ago  (Popular Party, again – do you really have to call yourselves popular? It smacks of Facebook desperation to me). A classic case of electioneering gone wrong. The Partido Popular is the equivalent of the Tories, if you like, while the PSOE or Socialist Party is more or less Labour. So, a brave or stupid move on their part to campaign in Lavapies Square, even though a student assures me they won Lavapies by a small majority last time. It reminded me of the somewhat inappropriate placement of an advertising hoarding on the side of the bus-stop in the Square I spotted a while ago, one of those louche offerings with a teenage pouty face beside a huge Prada or Gucci bag, I forget which. I mean… come on! What were you thinking? Isn’t that a little insulting? Who exactly do you think is going to buy a hideously expensive designer handbag in Lavapies? Or are you just rubbing our faces in it?

So, it might have been a brave or idiotic move to set up a PP stall on the Square, in front of the theatre, and directly underneath the pair of trainers slung over the telephone wires, with ‘Paz’ painted on one sole and ‘Peace’ on the other. I was walking to the Square with the Ponce and another friend of his, the Broken Fairy, to go to lunch on Calle Argumosa. As we approached we heard a terrible din.

‘Is that a San Isidro fiesta?’

‘I don’t think it’s a party, that sounds like a demo….’

And what a demo. A heart-warming example of Pure Lavapies Spirit. On the stage stood an individual with a microphone, trying fruitlessly to talk, while a small crowd, no more than 100 people, stood in front of him bashing frying pans and wooden spoons together, shouting and generally causing a fracas, and then flipping him the bird simultaneously in a mock fascist salute. As usual, around the periphery another crowd of onlookers and gawpers gathered. And around them looking nervous and frisky, a swarm of police. I counted at least four vans.

‘What the-? The PP are campaigning here? Are they crazy?’

‘Come on, let’s go and have a look.’

Within two or three minutes the disruption moved organically in the direction we were going – towards Argumosa, and we found ourselves in the middle of the mass of yelling, hyped-up protesters and bewildered residents. Apparently the trouble had kicked off when the PP had shown the gall to bring a ‘token immigrant’ on to the stage to talk.

‘Fascistas Fuera… De Lavapies!’ (Fascists Out… Of Lavapies!’) the protesters chanted in unison, pointing and gesturing, with every minute gaining momentum. Suddenly a line of twenty riot police blocked the street, glancing left and right, blocking the Banco Santander on the corner and shifting to guard the innocent beer-drinkers at the tree-lined terrazas a few feet further up the street.

‘Excuse me-‘ the Ponce took my work briefcase from my hand, and approached a man built like a tower block in a helmet, poker-faced, holding steady with his shield. I began to feel a little infatuated, intoxicated by the energy and butch hilarity. Spain is many things, but it’s hardly ever dull. Sometimes all pretence at femininity can take a hike. It’s time for the boys to play. Here we go.

‘I’m trying to get to work…. Could you let us pass?’

It was hardly a convincing impression of a young-buck executive, coming from a pierced midget with insomniac eyes, that Charles Manson stare, and the complexion of a teenage vampire. He stood, nose at belt level, while Goliath stared straight ahead, scanning the crowd.

The policeman shook his head almost imperceptibly, refusing to make eye contact.

‘Racists!’ screamed a black woman with a shopping trolley parked against the wall, loaded with her possessions. ‘The Mayor threw me out onto the streets, it’s his fault. Fascists! Racists!’ She looked desperate; she had a tooth missing at the front of her mouth.

‘Racists!’ She barked out the word, her eyes unfocused, her head turning on its sinewy neck like a wolf howling.

‘Fascistas Fuera….. de Lavapies!’

The riot police fidgeted and stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the bank. A wall of tight-trousered, soft-faced boys in blue. I suppose they had a point, despite their heavy-handed approach. When trouble kicks off, the cashpoints are the first to get torched, then public bins, and if it’s serious, maybe cars. If it’s really serious, police cars. But it wasn’t going to kick off today. The residents of Lavapies had had their say. Within a few minutes the rabble disbanded, and something like calm descended on the barrio. Behind the riot police a body lay slumped in the doorway of the bank. Someone, possibly a journalist, possibly an enthusiastic citizen, took a photo of the line of riot police and the body in the doorway of the bank just behind them. I imagine it was a good photo.

One of the policemen nudged the body with his polished boot, then walked away, commenting to a colleague,

‘Esta borracho.’ (He’s drunk). No shit, Sherlock. Behind us in the square, hands pulled the PP tent to the ground and began dismantling it, as if toppling the statue of a deposed tyrant. Just another afternoon in the barrio. Job done. Welcome to Lavapies, and now kindly piss off. The people of the barrio, the gente comun, have spoken. They like Lavapies, they like Madrid, but they’re not too keen on you.

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One Response to “PP = Police Presence?”

  1. christine Says:

    Side splittingly funny.What a hoot! What amazes me is that they are all political.They could all,man,woman and toothless immigrants all stand for election.Good on them.

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