Archive for Mayor Gallardon

Pink with rage

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

(This piece is a couple of months out of date: I’d forgotten to post it in early July).

It seems that every time you step out of the front door in Madrid at the moment, somebody is protesting loudly about something.  Mayor Gallardon knows this only too well: on the 13th June he found a small group of very vocal and noisy protesters at the door of his house near Alonso Martinez, having a ‘cacerolada’ (frying-pan bashing protest).  Let’s not get into the rights or wrongs of accosting a politican (not a war criminal, remember, or a serial killer) at his private residence while he’s out walking his dog of an evening. What were they protesting about so furiously?

Since then the issue has been discussed, negotiated and dealt with, in a highly innovative and possibly slightly mental fashion. It is the imminent Orgullo (Gay Pride) festival, due to start this coming week, and the proposed banning of the open air concert on Plaza de Chueca, the iconic square in the centre of the neighbourhood, which is causing so much controversy and anger. Residents’ Associations have lodged complaints with the council due to the ear-splitting noise levels, while campaigners have hit back with suggestions that it is homophobic to tamper with or restrict the ‘biggest and most important Pride party’ in Europe, – other local fiestas cause just as much noise, filth and disruption for the locals – San Fermin, Las Fallas in Valencia, the Tomatina etc,  the local councils fund these events and promote them, and some of them have been included as ‘protected’ heritage events.  The same should apply to Madrid Gay Pride despite the disruption to residents in Chueca. If you don’t like it, don’t live in Chueca, they suggest. There is a legal issue: noise levels cannot exceed a certain limit if there is, for example, an old peoples’ home within 150 metres of the proposed concert. Which there is: in Chueca there is one on Calle Gravina, and another on Plaza Vasquez de Mella. Last year residents of the neighbourhood were subjected to over 80 decibels (the legal amount of noise) throughout 4 days of the fiesta.

Firstly, the idea of there being 2 old peoples’ homes tucked away in the heart of Chueca is a little surreal. A student of mine, a manager at the Very Big Bank, told me he saw a news report where elderly residents were interviewed, and most of them, in a spirit of true Spanish tolerance, shrugged and said something along the lines of –well, it’s only for a few days a year, we don’t mind anyway, we don’t really know what all the fuss is about. Let people enjoy themselves, we reckon. He added, with a grin, that most of them were probably deaf anyway, so it’s hardly likely to disturb them.

Secondly, I can see both sides here. A few years ago Federico/Rapunzel, who was living in a palatial residence just off, and in fact, overlooking Plaza de Chueca, invited us for dinner on the Thurs night, just as Pride was kicking off with its first open air concert. The idea was to dine on the terrace, with a great view of the square and the band. The plaza was packed solid, spotlights scanning the sky, noise bouncing off the walls. We hollered across the small dinner table at each other, exhilerated and unsettled. The noise level was deafening- the overall impression was that of dragging your dinner table into the middle of a dancefloor and trying to have dinner there; all of us present were ageing clubbers, all of us had spent many great nights out on dancefloors, so our perception of the noise had nothing to do with not liking loud music. Rapunzel spent the rest of Pride weekend holed up in his high tower, unable to face fighting his way through seething crowds to go and fetch groceries, unable to sleep until well past 3 am, when the music finally stopped rattling the window panes and making the fillings in his teeth jig.

I was unlucky enough to be present at a recent cacerolada in Plaza de Chueca a few days ago, when  having a lazy drink before dinner, with friends visiting from the UK. It was a hot Summer evening, the beer was ice cold, the usual catwalk of eccentrics and cosmopolitans were entertaining us, and the conversation was laid back. Until about twenty people turned up by our table, just next to the metro exit, and began hammering frying pans together, blowing football horns and disco whistles.

‘What’s going on?’ bellowed my friends.

‘I’ll tell you in a minute…’ I yelled back. We paid up, left half our beers and made ourselves scarce. I explained the reason for the protest.

‘But that’s daft.’ they argued back, logically, ‘they’re just hurting local businesses, surely that’s not going to achieve anything.’ Go figure.

So what is the somewhat mental solution to the problem of noise levels during Pride? Silent concerts. That’s right –the proposed idea was to enclose the band in a kind of perspex fish-tank, then transmit the sound via a particular radio frequency that you could tune into with your mobile, and listen to on headphones. Apparently it’s been tried and tested at Glastonbury, Goa, and at big techno parties in Holland. Unfortunately I wasn’t there to see it. I couldn’t face the crowds, the heat, the pickpockets or the pumped up queens. But the idea I have in my head is something like Night of the Living Dead- after all, if one person tunelessly singing along to his or her mp3 player sounds hideous, what would thousands of them sound like, all shuffling around and humming, zombie-like, to themselves? It’s my idea of 21st century Hell: all of us sealed up inside our own hermetic little heads, listening to silent music, humming wordlessly, the band a few feet away but sealed in an airtight compartment, thrashing mute instruments, all genuine interaction and warmth stillborn, conversation in whispers, grunting into headphones lifted away from the ear for a second, then replaced, strangled by technology, stifled by legislation, in the middle of a crowd engaged in faux-delirium, but gut-wrenchingly alone.


PP = Police Presence?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2011 by cockroach1

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.