Most of my childhood and youth was spent far from my hometown of Madrid (in New York, London, Boston, France, Switzerland), so I did not really get to know my city until I moved back from Boston in 1990. Since then, el Retiro Park in downtown Madrid has become an oasis of green, calm and peace for me. Originally it was a place to go on walks, dates, picnics, to take photographs, or for the occasional jog or bicycle ride. Once, hanging out with a girlfriend, we bumped into MC Hammer and the Herculean towers that were his bodyguards. We had tickers to see him that evening, and I told him so, for which I got the coolest nod I have probably ever received.
Then around 1994 or 1995 I moved to a bachelor pad across the street from the park, at Alcalá 99. At that point I returned to my long abandoned custom of running. It was a slow jog around the park at first, but I soon progressed to two full circles, plus exploring out-of-the-way corners. It became my daily cleansing routine, the highlight of most days. On many weekend mornings I would bump into my dad who was a keen walker of the park. I would stop and chat with him. Little did I know those walks with him are now some of my most cherished moments.
The park has a great variety of trees and plants, the boxwood bushes smell wonderful, there is a rose garden, a bunch of beautiful statues and fountains, even one dedicated to the “Fallen angel” ie: the Devil, there are a couple of ponds, one of them large enough to row on. There is a new fanastic little public library in what used to be the old urban zoo. There are exhibition palaces, one made out all of glass! Some parts are very structured and well kept, some parts are a bit wilder. The weekends tend to get very crowded as most urban parks do, but if you go early enough or late enough it is quiet and beautiful.
Eventually I bought a house with my then wife, and of course it had to be as close as possible to the park. We nailed it, finding a great little apartment owned by two elderly sisters across the street from the North side of the park. Needless to say we loved living there with the two kittens (Thunder and Lightning) Tracy pulled out of a storm drain on a rainy Spring evening run in the park. We would also use it as a short cut when walking around town. I was very sad to sell that great place and move back to the States.
Since moving back to the US, every time I come back to Madrid I find a moment to escape to the park that holds so many memories for me. Occasionally I will go for a run, or a workout in the outdoor gym. When I took groups of students on trips to Spain, the park became a great place for them to explore, even renting the row boats.
Nowadays I love taking my nephew and two nieces any chance I get. If Jimmy brings a soccer ball we might kick around, otherwise we just walk and enjoy playing around such a wonderful place full of memories.