Spain through the looking glass

Archive for May 2013


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I’m still not exactly sure where I live.

Here are some scraps of information I’ve digested: I live in Madrid in a short street with an African name. My neighbourhood is at the bottom of a long hill about two minutes from a river called the Manzares.  Around the corner from my flat, there’s a street called the Promenade of the Melancholics.  From my apartment, I have ungenerous views of the desiccated edges of the city.

It doesn’t add up to much. In fact, since I moved to Madrid,  I’ve mostly been on auto pilot. I walk to work and I go the supermarket. I visit the bank or jump on the metro, but much of my new city is a mystery to me.

One morning a couple of weeks back, I broke routine and took a slightly different route home from the centre of town. Not far from my home, I stumbled upon several police wandering among what could have been the remnants of a gypsy camp. On a pavement near a major intersection were piles of clothes, pieces of scrap metal, an old television. I saw a twisted jersey, a sock. A cable that connected nothing to nothing.

The police were listless. They kicked at old boots, or tapped at their mobiles or simply stared into the mid-distance as If looking for answers. I imagined homeless families fleeing in a hurry, shedding their possessions as they ran. What had happened here?

A fortnight later, perhaps, I found myself wondering through the same area, again quite by chance. This time, however, the streets were lined with dozens of market stalls. That’s how I found out I live five minutes from Madrid’s famous weekly flea market, the Rastro.

Photo: gp314/Flickr

It was a mid-afternoon by the time I came across the market, and people were already packing up, stacking cheap Chinese clothing into the backs of battered vans. A group of gypsies arrived and tried to tempt the thinning crowds with wilted vegetables. There was little to see, and I was tired, so I decided I’d come back another time to investigate.

Just around the corner, though, I found again several mounds of discarded clothing. There were more stray shoes and lonely winter jackets and I knew now I had found the tidewrack of the Rastro, its unsellable remnants.

Another morning, I spotted the flotsam again. This time a hollow-eyed man on crutches was combing through the junk. He was filthy; the soles of his shoes had all but peeled away, and his elbows were escaping from his jacket. As I approached, he turned towards me, and I was already deciding I wouldn’t give him any money. Instead, this gentleman of the streets gave me the most courteous, the most humbling, of greetings.

It’s true. I don’t know exactly where I live yet, but I do know that I have a place to go home to, and food in the fridge and a piece of plastic in my wallet which lets me access money. Sometimes, that’s a fortune.


Written by georgemills25

May 15, 2013 at 15:27

Posted in Uncategorized