Thursday, September 24, 2009

Killing time in Madrid

I've been to Madrid a few times before, but only on short escapes from airports and train stations. Last week-end I finally got the chance to explore it more thoroughly. Here's a taste of what I saw.

I did enjoy my visit, and there *are* nice things to see there. Still, the feeling that walking the city left me with was mainly one of some kind of sadness. The unemployment rate of Spain in general is hovering near the 20 per cent mark, and it's supposedly even higher in Madrid. Even the most schizophrenic of persons can not walk through that city now and think that someone is following him. There's no one around! I may be exaggerating a little bit, but never before have I walked through the centre of a city of millions and seen so few people and so many closed shops. People have no money to spend, so they don't go shopping. Hence the outlets shut down, and even more people become unemployed.

It's a dangerous spiral. Spain has experienced higher unemployment rates before, but they have never seen it climb as fast as it has done these last few months.

Empty city streets are no fun. It's a good thing that there's a great park nearby, where you can walk around and suck in the nice atmosphere. Retiro Park, east of the city centre, is worth an hour or two of lazy walking. Pick a sunny morning after a night full of rain, and you will most likely come upon scenes like the one in the photo above.

If the city centre isn't depressing enough for you, get on the bus to nearby Chinchon. This village south-east of Madrid is traditional and a half. During the summer months the town square is used for bullfighting on Sundays. A few hundred locals, dozens of Madrileños and a few bewildered tourists sit down on the benches surround the ring in the square late in the afternoon. A decidedly amateurish marching band starts playing exactly at six in the evening, and soon thereafter you'll see tormented bulls chasing moustachiod men wearing tight and kitchy clothes. It's like a mix of Borat and Bruno, but it's no joke at all.

Every flower in the village have been stowed away, so that the feminine men will not inspire Ferdinand the Bull to become a pacifist towards the end of his life. One bull lasts about 15-20 minutes. The first five minutes it runs around with such enthusiasm that you almost suspect the animal is enjoying itself. Then two non-smiling men attach banderillas, long spears, into the sides of the bull, and the fun is definitely over. A heavy bleeding begins, and the bull's tongue appears from it's mouth. It's easy to see how the life of the bull escapes from the body.

Eventually a long sword finds its way into the back of the bull, aiming for the heart and the lungs. Soon the "fight" is over. The bull typically remains standing for a couple of minutes, coughing blood and seeming to understand nothing of what goes on. To quicken the arrival of death, the animal is provoked to move it's body this way and that, so that the sword in its body damages the internal organs more and more. The bull falls to its knees. Maybe it gets up again, but soon it falls over on it's side, and the game is over.

I wouldn't have seen this scene in a place where it's all for the tourists. But in a village where people do this because that's what they do and that's what they've always done, I don't think it is so bad. Or, well, it *is* bad, but it's not bad because of me. I think I have a point. Many a bull may disagree with me.

If the Mickey Mouse hat of the toreador does not give you enough of the Disney feeling, you can go to Segovia. The facade of the castle there supposedly inspired Walt Disney to build the central attration of his Magic Kingdom. I, however, prefer the interior of the place. A dozen armors in more or less humorous or awe-inspiring designs. Ceilings with incredibly detailed patterns. Gold, shiny stones and old kings and queens on display up above. And a view towards farmland that must have been just lying around like it does now for centuries, and an enormous aqueduct that has been carrying water into the city for even longer. The Romans knew their stuff. Until they forgot about it, that is.

That'll have to do as my Madrid memories for now. Maybe there will be more later. There certainly are more photos to choose from. But I'm serious about finishing my Turkey gallery before Christmas, so I shall return to them now.

You'll see me again here soon. I promise.
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