Bleak Madrid

August, 16th, 2008

I’ve never been to Madrid just for pleasure. I mean that I’ve never been to the capital for the mere pleasure of sightseeing. When I’ve been there, there has always been a cause, a reason that involved the trip necesarily: visiting exiled friends, a concert, an exhibition o just as a passing through city.

Arriving in Madrid by train, to Atocha Station, is acceptable. But arriving by bus prejudices for feelings that might prove wrong. The Estación Sur of Méndez Álvaro is a psycological frontier. As any other transition place, the hurry of those who arrive or leave crashes with the calm of those who wait for their moment. Maybe is this paradoxical double speed of the place what lend it its border characteristics… All transition places are dangerous, and Estación Sur is no exception. And there are no magic tricks to scape unharmed from chaos. Maybe just a suggestion: try not to look like a tourist (at least no more than what you already look, with your bags and suitcases). Pretend that you know where you’re going, although you have no idea. Do not hesitate, and leave as fast as possible. Don’t forget that, after all, is just a place of transit…

And then, there’s the tube, the metropolitan subway, underground maze of convergent loneliness or the most genuine and outlandish race track. Madrid suffers from the illness of the tube. The quick, efficient, comfortable, useful, safety transport… brings the distances closer as effectively as it breaks the city up. Madrid is not Madrid: it is an archipelago, unconnected and isolated regions. It sacrifices the perception of the whole for a quick trip from one zone to another. We know that Palacio Real, Puerta de Alcalá, Gran Vía, Retiro, Huertas neighborhood, Princesa cinemas or Vistillas park do exist, but, where are they? Would we arrive walking straight ahead, or are we walking the opposite direction? Three subway stops… is it far or close? The orientation is limited to each asphalt island and buildings apple, tall and made of glass and concrete, or small and made of wood and bricks, sometimes only one street apart.

Plaza de los Cubos (Madrid)

Plaza de los Cubos (Madrid)

If the qualities of a city could be measured by the qualities of their inhabitants, I wonder which would be the qualities of Madrid. In fourty-eight hours I saw Chinese deliverers, Colombian shop assistants, Africans wearing suits and Africans wandering around, a trip of French girls and another of Italian boys, a couple of women from New Zealand, gothic girls, emo boys, gays kissing with great delight, dancing dulls, a lot of people waiting, as many as people being waited, songwriters, brake dancers, actresses doing footing in a park, vampires, lechers, femme fatales, a few going, a few coming… Maybe Madrid is just this: a mosaic made of uncountable different little pieces, with a trend to group together following their resemblances, but condemned to be with the others, because without the others there’s no mosaic at all.

So many inexact distances, so many different people, so much activity… I’ve never been to Madrid just for pleasure, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop going.

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