Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

Back to Baden-Baden

Summer in Madrid does not have to be a bad option

Almudena Grandes

How are we going to tell the kids?

The night before, they could hardly sleep. They remembered, all too well, the moaning and whining last year. It's our fault, for spoiling them. They didn't belabor the point. After all, they had done no worse than so many others in their profession, whose photographs still appear in the papers, collecting this or that prize. They had brought up their children in affluence, having told them that they lived in an affluent country. They believed it themselves, like the governor of the Bank of Spain.

She opened fire at breakfast: Listen, we have to talk...

He added: Yes, we have something to say...

He stopped, remembering a family legend. A scene he had often been told of. His great-grandfather — a prosperous worker, owner of his own shop, but after all a worker — sending off his family, who every summer went to the mountains while he stayed back in Madrid. Working and sweating in the heat, or so he said. Until the bus pulled out, and he muttered to himself a catchphrase of the time: "Madrid in the summer, without the wife and with money in your pocket: Baden-Baden." (Baden-Baden is a German spa, which famously swarmed with unattached women at the time.)

Well... She tugged his elbow, and waited for him to start.

Yes, well... You remember last summer we went to Granny's village because we didn't have money to rent anything on the beach? Their boys, 17 and 15, scowled forbiddingly, but he pushed on. He had no choice. Well, so now...

Madrid in the summer, without the wife and with money in your pocket: Baden-Baden"

A year ago, he still had his long-term job, and his wife had been unemployed for six months. This year the situation seemed better, but it was worse. She had found a job in February — short-contract, part-time, poorly paid, whose only upside was that it enabled her to conserve her unemployment payments, in case they hit rock bottom again. Then in November, he fell victim to a mass layoff plan. After three months spent in a stunned state he had begun to move, and had managed to sell a few articles — not enough to register as self-employed, but enough to stave off depression. So both had jobs — but bad jobs, with no future or security of any kind. And of course, no vacations.

What Dad is trying to say — his wife dexterously unloaded the villain role on to him - is that this summer we're going to stay here.

Yes, because Mom has no vacation time, and I have some work to do these months, so...

He stopped to observe the absence of a reaction among his sons, who last year had raged when they learned of the quiet rural August that awaited them. But this year they seemed calm, even happy, and the elder brother had not even stopped dunking cookies in his coffee.

I mean, Madrid is also a good place to spend the summer.

Yes - his wife, just as surprised, hastily came to his aid — and if we don't leave Madrid, we'll have more money. We can raise your allowance.

Sure. And there are concerts, shows, festivals...

His progeny assented without even a glance at each other.

Great. Awesome, said the elder.

Yeah. Sure beats the village, said the younger, just as indifferently.

Their parents exchanged glances of perplexity, even worry, at this unprecedented assent. The bloodless victory thus won, where painful failure was expected, left them bewildered.

But... (Their father found words at last) I don't understand. You really don't mind if we just stay here?

Madrid in the summer, without the wife, and with money in your pocket: Baden-Baden. More than a century later, the old catchphrase still held true, if for different reasons.

Nobody has money to go on vacation, didn't you know? The younger smiled. All our friends are going to be staying.

And the girls — his brother added.


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