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

In defense of Madrid

The capital does not demand citizens’ undying allegiance but it does offer storytellers bounteous material

"What Madrid lacks is a story." A phrase I read the other day in an article on the "decadence of Madrid." Were this not a buzzword among politicians and columnists, you might think they hadn't done their reading when stories about Madrid run from Mesonero Romanos to Galdós to Baroja to Umbral.

Madrid is easy to write about because, unlike some other places, it does not demand your unconditional allegiance. As with all large cities, you can start out by talking about the chaos, the pollution, the coarse people, etc. Then, having established that the place is a shithole, you feel free to expand on its redeeming virtues, which include the freedom to criticize without being crucified by the fanatics of local pride.

But the "story of Madrid" lies not only in its literature. You have to walk it, like the walkers in Galdós novels, to discover the influence of the neighborhoods that have been revitalized thanks to immigration. You can't always talk about Chueca and the Gran Vía. Perhaps Tetuán, Carabanchel and Prosperidad are where it's really at.

That Madrid is dirty we know from any walk through it; that the crisis has shut down beloved businesses, so be it. That the economic system has failed is something brought home to us every time when, on the way to the airport, we pass that oblate-spheroid object, apparently a UFO that has landed in a desert. We are told this was supposed to be the centerpiece of a pompous courthouse complex-cum-municipal building racket known as the City of Justice, for which the money ran out. We have had bad luck with the jerry-building promoters who have laid out the newer quarters, and the politicians who protect them, but not us.

The future Madrid will not be Olympic but it will survive the depraved taste and bad management of its leaders"

Madrid is crying out for a mayor that shares its strong personality. Because Madrid does have a story. One story is what you read in the papers, and another what you hear from the lips of its inhabitants. Madrid is made up of people who came here from other places and have adapted to its ways. The coarseness is not just for strangers; it is for everyone. Behind it they discover the city's character: open, direct, imperative. And learn to love it, because Madrid has character - plenty of it. Foreigners notice it right away. And few now — even people from certain other Spanish cities I could name — can look around Chueca and say that "Madrid is still marked by the stigma of being Franco's capital."

Madrid is resistant by nature. It held out against Franco until hope was gone, and now holds on to sanity, though for years its funds have been skimmed off and dumped into urban-sprawl-oriented expressways and megalomaniac projects such as the T-4 airport terminal. Its story, as those of us can tell you who make our living off Madrid in columns, novels and other prose exercises, is to be encountered in the streets. Walking in the streets you find that, though the authorities skimp on cleaning, road maintenance, cultural life and, worse, on healthcare and education, there is life. Cultural life, led by a generation that, for God's sake, is every bit as creative as that of the 1980s movida; a life that on the political side has seen a return of the neighborhood associations that languished in the years of the fat kine.

The future Madrid will not be Olympic; it will have no City of Justice; it will see the stagnation of new sprawling neighborhoods that were created as schemes for a quick buck. But it will survive the depraved taste and bad management of its leaders. Small businesses are flourishing that emulate the authenticity of those that closed; artistic movements abound that fill the weekly agenda of the off-Madrid scene. Things are on the boil as usual in this city that lives with its back turned to the politicians and those who take their doings seriously. Those of us who try to concern ourselves with reality, however, have lots of stories at hand.

Rules
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS