Magazine article The Spectator

At Home in Madrid

Magazine article The Spectator

At Home in Madrid

Article excerpt

Six o clock in the morning, and still dark, and we're sitting in a people carrier parked outside the Hotel Ambassador in Madrid. The driver has gone inside to rouse his next pick-up for the airport. There are three of us waiting. A man with a beard but no moustache and a fez is in the front seat. Me and the boy are perched on the bench seat immediately behind him. Bob Dylan is crying out from the digital-- quality in-car sound system.

The driver has been gone for a long time and I'm bored looking at the narrow, cobbled, artificially lit street outside, so I ask the man in front where he's going. `London,' he says. `Business or pleasure?' I say. `Two-fifths business, three-fifths pleasure,' he tells me.

He speaks his English with a German accent, so I ask him where he's from. 'I am Spanish!' he says indignantly. I'm sorry, I say. `Is OK,' he says. Then he recovers his equanimity and explains that although he was born in Germany he has lived in Madrid since he was five years old, speaks Spanish like a native and sees himself as a Spaniard. Unfortunately, nobody else in Madrid does. Madrilenos, he complains, take one look at him and address him in pidgin Spanish as if he is a tourist. Taxi drivers try to diddle him. He can't understand it.

Neither can I. He doesn't look particularly un-Spanish, I tell him. It's not as if he's black or anything. Then perhaps I deepen his identity crisis further by telling him that, although this was my and the boy's first time in Madrid, we were constantly addressed in rapid, colloquial, Castilian Spanish by complete strangers as if we were locals. `That, I think, is because you look at home,' he says, somewhat bitterly.

I am reflecting on this statement when two young men come wobbling past the window. One of them stops in front of our people carrier, unzips his trousers and starts fishing around in his underpants. The other, glad of a halt, embraces a nearby car parking-ticket machine and lays his head on it as if it was a soft pillow. The three of us watch in appreciative silence as the first man squirts a fountain of urine over the bonnet.

Under normal circumstances it is highly unusual to see madrilenos in that condition, the German Spaniard turns round and informs us. (Bob Dylan is still singing and I note that he appears to have renounced Christianity.) He thinks they must have been drinking adulterated alcohol. `When was the last time you were in that condition? …

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