With all the reading I have to do I only took ten days to visit my family in Madrid this Winter Break. I was happily busy with my parents, sisters, nieces and nephew, but a couple of times I managed to sneak out and walk around my Madrid, absorbing every sight, smell, sound and feeling. I love this city. While every city is unique in its personality and character, Madrid seems even more unique. This might be due to the fact that for centuries Madrid, although the capital of Spain since around 1561 was extremely isolated. It is not only the highest capital in Europe (667 m, 2,188 ft. above sea level), it is also terrifically well protected, surrounded as it is by mountains. It is also in the middle of nowhere. No harbor, no navigable river, sitting in the middle of a massive plateau. Unless you needed to visit the king, you really had no reason to go to Madrid. The name Castille does not come in vain. Of course it has Arab influences, and every type of cultural imprint since the Middle Ages, most notably the French influence of the Bourbon dynasty starting in 1713. So Madrid is a village in La Mancha, never mind the more or less 6 million inhabitants. But it is my home town.
But, what is a city but a collection of people at any given moment? Madrid is where you can find Medieval feudal noblemen (and their wannabes) – “Hello? We are in the 21st Century!” You want to shout as you shake them by their tweed lapels, to tattooed hipsters brewing their own beer and roasting their own coffee. You can find ladies dressed in couture next to punks who think we are still in the 80s. From Ferraris to ancient Seat 600s. From Arab inspired chickpea “cocido” stew to frozen yogurt, from blistering heat to snow and ice, Babies and old relics walking side by side, in the summer months this happens into well entered the night. It is these contrasts that make me love Madrid. In winter you can still find old ladies selling roasted chestnuts next to glossy shop windows, or a Chinese owned convenience store selling “bocadillos de chorizo” late, late at night.
Although most morning were devoted to walks with my dad, one morning I took my niece and nephew to the Retiro park where María roller skated while Jimmy skateboarded. It was chilly and we stopped for Cola-Cao – the Spanish brand of hot cocoa – and coffee in one of the bars around the park, it was a blast!
And the neighborhoods. I chat with my coffee shop owner (Felix) with my newspaper kiosk owner (Yague), with my cigar expert (José), with concierges, with the lottery sales lady, with shopkeepers I have known since I was a boy, with neighbors, with the bank employees, even the local cops.
A heartbreaking aspect of these visits is that I do not have enough time to visit everyone I would like to see. It is a delicate knit of family time, friend time, and some me time. I was lucky to visit with some friends and family, to walk around a bit and to catch a couple of interesting art exhibits near my parents’ home.
Although my visit to Madrid was short this time, I still had time to refresh and renew my love for this city I love so much.