Modern Madrid

As you’ve undoubtedly read over the last few days, Spain is undergoing what’s being described as “the greatest political crisis in decades”, as there is a move to declare Catalonia (the north east part of the country, centred on Barcelona) independent. Not that I’ve really seen much of it here in Madrid. Although I know there was a major protest here yesterday AGAINST independence, the most I’ve seen has been Spanish flags on lots of buildings, and lots of people (yesterday) carrying and draping themselves in Spanish flags.

Though I had some knowledge of the reasons for the independence campaign before coming here, it wasn’t until today that I decided to read up a little more, to better understand things. I knew they spoke a different language, and I knew there was a long history of an independence movement. Today, I read the movement has transitioned from being a fairly left-wing movement to one with broader appeal, perhaps even a little right-wing. At the moment, however, there are questions about degree to which people in Catalonia want independence. Despite a strong “yes” vote in the unofficial referendum, it seems less than fifty percent of the actually population voted. And today, there was a “no rally” which attracted several hundred thousand people in Barcelona alone. On Tuesday, the leader of Catalonia is expected to formally declare independence, and on Wednesday morning, we’re headed to Barcelona. It’ll be interesting to see if there are further protests when we arrive there. For family and friends reading this, and thinking back to last week’s violence there, we promise to “stay safe”.

As you walk around Madrid there are lots of “political” statements. There’s a huge banner declaring “refugees welcome”. There’s also “yes/no” vote underway, as the people of Madrid have their own citizen referenda on a range of issues. And despite the apparent religious conservatism of the country (overwhelmingly Catholic), it’s heartening to see so many obviously gay men being affectionate to each other in public. As I sat at a bar in a main square this afternoon, there was a couple of gay men openly, passionately kissing. Later, I discovered the metro station, Chueca, centred on the main gay area of town, was proudly displaying rainbow decorations.

I think it’s interesting to reflect on this stuff, because, as a tourist you often only find yourself visiting the “historic” parts of a city. They’re the places which, understandably, hold a lot of attraction. You visit the palaces, the castles, the churches, and the ancient squares, and they’re absolutely terrific.

But when I travel, I also like to better understand the contemporary aspects of a city as well. So today, I went for a few big walks, and hopped on a few buses to what you might call “Modern Madrid”. Down by the river, in the midst of the ancient bridges, there were ordinary people going for their walks. Kids in prams. Grandmothers in wheel-chairs being taken out for an afternoon in the sun. Simple small, neighbourhood bars where you find older people sitting around, laughing, and where they serve a bit of sausage/salami on a piece of bread (as opposed to something more “gourmet” as their “tapas”), and where for 4 Euros, you get two beers and four small snacks. That’s a bargain you won’t get at Plaza Mayor!

Tomorrow, I’m thinking it’s museums and galleries.