Archive for August, 2011

Leavin’, on a jet plane….

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2011 by cockroach1

‘Goodbye flat. Well, ok…. hasta luego’. I will, after all, be back in a few weeks to sort out everything that I was unable to resolve in August. What was I thinking, trying to achieve anything this month, anyway? The agent from the Sociedad Publica de Alquiler (Govt rental agency)  mailed me to apologise for the latest lack of response/interest in my pleas for a signing date. ‘Sorry, you know, it’s August…. Holidays….’ I close the heavy green door behind me and triple lock it.

‘Goodbye plants, goodbye patio, good- oh for God’s sake, just get on with it.’

I decide against taking a taxi to Atocha, where I plan to catch the new super-dooper bus link to the airport. By the time we man-handle my cases into the boot, the driver faffs around in random backstreets, asks a barrage of personal questions and subjects me to a racist or possibly lewd conversation, I could have walked there, so I do. As I reach the Reina Sofia the sun is searing, slanting down in great chunks of heat, sweat begins to pool in the small of the back, and I mutter like a mantra ‘I won’t be missing this, I won’t be missing this…’ On the way to the airport the bus passes a shop named ‘Soluciones Constructivas’. Yep, leaving certainly is that – a constructive solution. We rattle through an abandoned Madrid, only tourists and pick-pockets herding across the great concrete plains.

Once checked in at Barajas, Terminal 3 (which I still prefer to the architecturally superior Terminal 4), I go in search of something to eat. The first ‘café’ offers either slimy, pre-packaged crab and tuna sandwiches, or baguettes as sterile and serrated as a bread knife, filled with the ubiquitous ham, cheese, or ham and cheese. Oooh, or I could have one filled with tortilla, though it looks like something you’d prop a door open with. So I end up in the gloriously named ‘ARS’ café, mostly for the name, but also because it occupies a corner position in the airport, and allows you to overlook the planes, white-hot sunshine glittering off their fuselage, tiny Tonka trucks circling in and out under their wheels and across the tarmac, which is cryptically marked with arrows and dotted lines in different colours, the mysterious tracks and rat-runs of an airport. Here, I pay 11 euros 50 for an indifferent salad, a shrink-wrapped bread roll and a can of Aquarius.

Then there are just over 2 hours of being harangued at 30,000 feet by excitable Ryanair staff while you sit, frozen half-silly, fingers almost blue with hypothermia, presumably so you don’t nod off and miss one of their exciting offers. The Spanish steward subjects us to a 7 and a half-minute speech about scratchcards, with a nauseatingly chummy pitch,

‘Fijate, tu puedes llegar a Londres, el flamante propietario de un coche, o empezar las vacaciones un milionario, imaginate… tuvimos esta semana cuatro personas, si, cuatro personas que han ganado a bordo, puedes imaginar la ilusion de encontrarte el ganador, por solo sacar 2 euritos del bolsillo, nada mas, 2 euritos, que no es nada…’ ‘Listen, you could arrive in London the proud owner of a car, or you could start your holidays a millionaire, imagine that… we had four people last week, that’s right, four winners on board, can you imagine how exciting that would be to find you’re the winner, and all because you found 2 little euros in the bottom of your pocket, just 2 euros, that’s nothing….’ He sold just one scratchard, and nobody leapt out of their seat a winner. Life’s a bitch. Then, on a balmy summer’s evening we are flying over dark green treetops into Gatwick, awakening a deep, genetic pastoral memory- green, that’s what I wanted, what I needed: green, green fields and trees. The England of my ancestors, born and bred in cowmuck and barley fields, woodland and hilltops, hedgerows and riverbanks, hamlets and haystacks.

My phone starts to buzz with concerned texts before I am even out of Arrivals,

‘Nice of you to come back just as we are descending into revolution…’ ‘Welcome back to riotous Ingerland….’ And from friends in Madrid ‘What the Hell is going on over there? Have you arrived all right?’ As I wheel my case past Customs and into the hall I pass a last-minute shopping opportunity, alcohol and perfumes piled beneath a sign claiming ‘You can beat the high street if you shop at Arrivals.’ Which seems a little ironic, given the looting. I square my shoulders and smile, with a mini-rush of euphoria as I step out into the Arrivals hall, ready to meet an old friend who is expecting me. Is it my old self or is it my own country that is waiting for me out there?

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There must be 50 ways to leave Madrid

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2011 by cockroach1

It’s so hot outside, even though we are experiencing one of the ‘softest’ Summers in recent years. Today, having a coffee with the Incredible Ponce at a café on Calle de la Fe, an affable African in a trilby asks me if I’m ok.

‘I’m fine, I’m great, thanks.’

‘You look fine. La unica cosa que te falta es un sombrero.’ (The only thing you’re missing is a hat). And he grins and leans against me on the high bar stool.

‘I like your bracelet, nice. Is he Italian? Hey, are you Italian?’

‘Se nota, verdad?’ (You can tell, right?) The Ponce was asking the long-suffering Auntie behind the counter if his simple tostada had salt, oregano and oil on it, and if he could have all three, please.

Now I sit in my bajo interior flat with the door open onto the patio, in an attempt to stir the warm, stagnant air. Carmen’s bird is strangely silent since its companion canary escaped yesterday, Carmen wandering the patio tearful, looking for it, whistling and scanning the patch of sky above us.

‘It’ll come back, when it’s hungry. Anyway, a bird’s better off free, don’t you agree, not in a cage?’ The Ponce told her, in the tone of voice used by someone who is certain of many things.

‘That’s not the point, hijo, it’s a captive bird, it won’t survive out there. And a bird isn’t a dog, it can’t find its way back.’

Later he found it curled up dead by the doorstep just outside the main entrance, and carefully picked it up and disposed of it.

‘Don’t tell her,’ he said, ‘she doesn’t need to know that.’

The Four Horsedogs of the Apocalypse are also quiet today, since Simba was put down last week, after becoming almost completely blind, and his joints crumbling with arthritis. Now there are only three. I am surrounded by packed boxes, wrapped paintings, suitcases and the debris of a barely-functioning flat in the middle of a move. I reflect on the people who have gone before me:

The Huertas Pirate, skeletal and hollow-eyed after his last Summer, agreeing,

‘Yeah, it’s been great, but it’s time to go.’ Time to go back to the Pampas, where life is easier, agreeing to his family’s wishes for him to be involved in Daddy’s ranching business. After a brief stay in the flat while I was away he left me a tiny mirrored disco ball, on a silver string, that I have kept. ‘I’m happy.’ he confided sheepishly on the phone, last time we spoke. ‘My life’s pretty good here, I have my own flat, a car, I work a little, I see my family. Yeah, it’s good.’

Charo falling in love with the Argentinian and leaving in a whirl of packing cases, and glazed-eyed romance, only to tell me a few weeks ago via Skype, ‘I think that was the worst mistake I ever made in my life. You and I both have so much in common – both of us really struggled to get our own place, and our independence, and then once we got it, found it unbearable to work so hard and live alone. But I should have stayed. My family’s in ruins and now it’s so hard for me to come back. I miss my Madrid.’

Angel and Pili, in a casual phone catch-up after the Summer they made their escape,

‘Meet for lunch next week? Didn’t we tell you, we’ve left Madrid? That’s it, we did it! Country living for us from now on.’ Discarding the corporate suits and the factory overalls for wellies and soil under the fingernails.

TioPepe, Sol Embotellado de Andalucia, now studying a University access course from his garret flat in London. Left behind: one Panamanian hustler husband, and an unresolved labour tribunal against the company he worked for until he decided to take an eight month baja (sick note/time off sick) for depression (bottled sunshine from Andalucia, the least depressed person you could imagine). ‘London’s the place to be.’ he said. ‘I can see it now, there are opportunities here, I wasted so many of them last time I lived here. I’m totally broke, but you know, fewer choices, fewer chances to be dissatisfied. Now I have no choices I’m happier than I was with three grand in my pocket and the freedom to travel.’

Tito, sitting like a cave-dwelling creature in the semi-darkness of the apartment so many of us have passed through over the last few years, his eye flickering to the hissing laptop as he downloads films and series in bulk for the next couple of months in Seville, with no internet connection.

‘I hate this place.’ He said, not for the first time. ‘And I feel sad to be leaving after so many things have screwed up for me. I’d like to leave feeling a bit better about it all. Madrid’s brought me nothing but trouble. It’s been a disaster for me on so many levels.’

Boy Wonder, removed kindly but forcefully by his family after a spectacular meltdown, and taken back to the States. Forcibly prized from the vampiric jaws of his British girlfriend and removed from corrupt, filthy Old Europe. One day, the Ponce told me, he was at their flat with the girlfriend who was unemployed, and when Boy Wonder came home from work her first words to him were an enquiry about the location of the stash she had been unable to find,

‘Where’s the shit?’

Mysteriously, rent money had been disappearing on the way to the bank (‘Only 500? What do you mean? I gave the teller 600. He must have miscounted it.’)

‘Leaving doesn’t feel very real.’ he told me, ‘I don’t want to go, I can’t really believe it’s happening, it feels like I’m in a trance or something. But my family…. I’m not going to make them come over here and make me leave, you know what I mean? Some people go when it’s time to go, others go way before their time, and some people just stay on far too long, like the last to leave a bad party.’ Last email contact reveals he’s been to rehab and is clean, starting a new life.

Federico/Rapunzel in his high tower in Chueca overlooking the plaza. He was brusquely made redundant after 11 months’ hard work as an engineer, just a month short of enabling him to claim unemplyment benefit, informed over the phone on the Friday, ‘Notice? No, you don’t need to work notice, just don’t bother coming in again on Monday.’ Almost a year spent drifting around up there in the palace behind the floor-to-ceiling patio windows, sitting alone at his rustic wooden dining table for eight, smoking joints and sending out cv’s. Eventually,

‘Enough.  I love Spain and I’d stay if there were jobs. I’m going back to Rome.’

Manu the Andaluz, a recent migrant back to his village, with plans to set up his own hairdresser’s in Sevilla.

‘My village? Yeah, there’s just me and the donkey…. it’s quiet. Muy tranquilo. But it’s nice to see my folks, and take it easy. ‘

He’s only been gone a couple of months, and when he was last back we had an afternoon drink in Plaza de Chueca. He looked well, glowing and relaxed.

‘My God,’ he said, as he sank into his chair. ‘I’ve only been back two days and I’m worn out! I’d forgotten how tiring Madrid is, everyone’s always in such a rush. Look at me, I’m in a rush now. They stole my mobile, you know, about ten minutes after I arrived, I was taking my suitcase upstairs to Marta’s flat, and I left the car door open. For two minutes.’

Prodigal, not so long ago, lured to London by a transfer within his company.

‘You Brits.’ he said, after a couple of months there. ‘Warriors! Not just sitting on your arses moaning about the crisis, you lot get out there and make it happen. This place is shit, going to the dogs.  Full of stupid posh twats who walk into jobs at the top and nothing for the rest of us. I’m sick of it. Miss the sunshine, but it’s over-rated, darling.’

And Peter, more Madrileno than the rest of us in his own eccentric way, the master of street-stalking, salsa-dancing, late-night wanderings. After writing and making his own film on a shoestring- what looks to be a gritty, fresh, romantic comedy with Madrid as the backdrop.

‘I just feel my time here’s over.’ He told me pragmatically. ‘And anyway, wherever I lie down to sleep that’s kind of my home, so I’m enjoying a bit of England for now.  It makes sense while I edit the film. Let’s see what happens with Tea and Sangria.’

We had our last lunch in an ancient tavern on Meson de Paredes, tapas piled on the cool marble tabletop, inches of dust on the cornices, gas-lamp fittings and the old bottles lining the bar, watched over quizically by a stuffed bull’s head.

And now, finally, me. Will this be a good move for me? How do I feel about it? Relieved, sad, a little uncertain, but mostly tired. Very, very tired. And like a small animal running frantically from its forest home, as the fire blazes behind it. Heat at my back, panic, and impending danger. I hope my friends behind me either survive and prosper (the best option), escape in time, or are consumed quickly and painlessly, if that is their fate. If I run fast enough, if I just summon up enough puff to get out of here before I’m engulfed in flames, maybe I can get some rest, and work out what to do next.

Once the streetlights go out the sun shines

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2011 by cockroach1

And a few more sentiments expressed by the 15M protesters. Something has changed since the original movement. They’re back, but I am in the middle of a move and haven’t been keeping up with local news. Last night walking home along Calle Montera, the pavement cafes packed with drinkers, the prostitutes slouching in platform heels and crop tops in the doorways of sex shops, there were blue flashing lights like a halo around Sol. A wall of police vans blocked access into Sol from Calle Preciados. In front of them sat five youngsters, a man with a banner denouncing the Pope’s upcoming visit, and two hippies, in a half-hearted sit-in Nipping through and round the back towards Sevilla another wall of flashing, silent vans. Ten policemen standing in front of them. I peered past the bright whirling blue lights and into the plaza beyond, but there was no-one there. The yellow street lamps illuminated only patches of bare pavement. Sol lay deserted and closely guarded, the new cercanias entrance eerily-lit, like a curled, alien shell. Something ugly in the atmosphere now: we’re not joking, let’s not kid around any more. You’ve had your say, now go home quietly.

Here’s what the original kids from Sol had to say about it all:

This camp may block the street but it’s opening the way

Once the streetlights go out the sun shines

No more insults to my intelligence

Mafalda: See? This is the little stick for beating ideologies

I can hear you moaning at home, why don’t you come down to the street and make yourself heard?

It’s dangerous being right when the government is wrong

Economic slave for hire: 400 euros a month

Now Sol (the Sun) is ours, let’s try for the moon!

Danger! Citizens thinking

We’ll start from the beginning at kilometer zero

Now the revolution is blossoming, if we organise ourselves we shall see it bear fruit

Yes, we camp

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2011 by cockroach1

More slogans and hand-written messages from the 15M protesters:

Democracy, I like you because it’s like you’re never there

Capitalism.exe has damaged the system


Raise spoilt little rich kids and you’ll end up with their crisis

This isn’t a crisis, it’s a rip-off

There isn’t enough bread for so much/many chorizo

Problems don’t roll up in a banana boat, they turn up in limousines

Yes, we camp