21 February 2006

Flipside

My last blog entry and photographs deliberately sought to put a little tourist gloss on my trip to Spain's capital. This blog entry, while not attempting to construct a negative/opposite view will look at this journey from, how shall I say it, a more common perspective.
Take the metro system in Madrid. It's really good. Clean, efficient, cheap, easy to use. But as I looked down the carriage on my way back to Barajas Airport, I noticed that everybody on board was Spanish and white. This would never be the case in the cultural melting pot that London has become over the years. On any London tube journey, you could guarantee to be in the company of brothers and sisters from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
My hotel was called Hostal Persal in the Plaza Angel. It was spotlessly clean and the staff were most efficient. They gave me Room 319. The window view was of a concrete well between buildings. Beneath my window there was an air-conditioning unit that served three or four rooms which also overlooked this well. It hummed annoyingly at night - like sleeping on a ship. The room was always so warm that I removed all my clothes whenever I was in it. I sprawled out on the bed reading "Saturday" by Ian McEwan and "The Sea" by John Banville or watched some CNN news on the little TV that had had its volume control somehow curtailed - more crazy religious fanatics using the Danish cartoons as an excuse for releasing bitter and obnoxious venom.
Nearby was a little Filipino supermarket or "Alimentacion" where a Filipino guy seemed to sit for twenty hours a day. His gossipy wifelet had a very long fingernail on her right index finger and I wondered why. I plunged into their fridge half a dozen times to retrieve cans of San Miguel or Mahou beer. I was suffering with a head cold during my days and nights in Madrid and I really didn't fancy night-time forays into the bars near Plaza Angel. They looked fun places - social places - tapas and beer and friends and conversation and laughter and music - but when your temperature's up and you're blowing your nose every five minutes - being an English stranger in a Spanish bar isn't the best entertainment recipe.
In the Prado, I waited and waited to see Hieronymus Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights" close up but there was a Spanish Art teacher there with her twenty eighteen year olds, crowding the picture. She spouted her appreciative lecture to half a dozen of them while the rest sniggered and looked around quite uninterested in the amazing painting in front of them. The saying that you can take a horse to water but you won't make it drink is a very true saying. With her tied back hair, worry lines and fancy scarf, the teacher seemed utterly oblivious to the rest of us, hovering, waiting to get to this incredible work of art. "El Bosco" had an imagination which heralded Salvador Dali and Monty Python from four hundred years back in time.
On the return flight to Liverpool, I realised that a young Spanish guy in front of me was heading for the University of Sheffield so after we had landed, I offered him a lift. He was twenty three and his name was Roderigo. He had never been out of Spain before. We arrived in Sheffield at around 10pm and I took him directly to the Harley Hotel near the university. I realised when I left him there that he only knew my name. He didn't know what I do for a living and he didn't know my family circumstances. But I knew all about him - his eleven year old brother, his mum and dad, his apartment in Madrid and his old car and how he supports Athletico Madrid but had only seen them play live once. Funny that. It wouldn't be the first time that I have come across somebody who doesn't bounce with you during a conversation - revealing plenty about themselves but entirely lacking curiosity about "the other".

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