‘Pongamos Que Hablo de Martínez’ is a song dedicated to Drexler’s friendship with mentor and legendary songwriter Joaquín Sabina. It’s a story of leaving and arriving, and of losing and finding. For Jorge, it was about saying goodbye to Montevideo and trying his luck in the music scene in Madrid. It’s clear that he is still loved here, as the venue I performed at boasted that Drexler would frequent similar open mics. For him, Madrid was the city of growth and becoming, an urban landscape that was crucial to his artistic success.
I took a bus from San Roque to Malaga, before boarding the AVE train from Malaga to Madrid. The ride was far more comfortable than the Virgin Pendolino from Manchester to London Euston. The dark grey English midlands were no match for the sights of rural Spain en route. It’s history, too, so full of conflict and suppression. It would be a month prior to another general election where the very possibility of rolling back the clock, at least certainly in rhetorical and cultural terms, did dampen my mood somewhat. It was an impressive three hours until I reached Madrid’s Atocha station. I made my usual wrong exit, which I’ll blame on Google Maps, but eventually I found a camino into El Parque del Retiro.
It was 24 degrees, a stark contrast to the -20s that I endured in Canada a month earlier. Even there, spring was sprung sooner than normal. I’m Gibraltarian, I love the sun and warm evenings by the beach. But the reminder of a planet under a chronic illness makes me feel uneasy. I was significantly more ignorant as far as these daily reminders are concerned. The climate protesters are raising the global consciousness. I was emboldened to be one of them in the London strike in March. Emboldened, but angry. Because still there are too many in positions of power from America to Australia who are climate deniers, or are climate inactive.
I made my usual wrong exit, which I’ll blame on Google Maps.
Madrid satisfied the contradiction in me. The urban buzz attracted me, but it was compensated by lush green areas for siestas and an afternoon read. London manages this fairly well, but the weather is rarely cooperative. I wasn’t cooperative with myself, as I walked for 40 minutes from the station to my hostel. I did, at least, get a brief taste of the Retiro. I also, however, got a brief taste of the Partido Popular, whose headquarters was a block or so down from my hostel on Calle de Sagasta. The political building was adorned with the largest Spanish flag I had ever seen up close. I sent a photo to my Podemos-supporting Spanish friend, to which he replied “partido podrido”. I agreed, and walked on to check into my hostel. I didn’t have much time to settle in at my six-bed dormitory, then inhabited by one androgynous French individual who had failed to solicit any help from me in opening their locker to which they had lost the key. I suggested “sledgehammer” in my best French accent. It was clear that I’d be totally useless.
I was in a rush because I had arranged to see a friend that I made while working in Washington, D.C. last year. Studying politcal science and communications in San Diego, California, she got herself a semester abroad at their Madrid campus. We got ourselves some tapas that came with our cañas, just like Granada! I suppose the benefit of ignorance is being pleasantly surprised. The portions were generous, but so was the noise emanating from the tables around us, making conversation difficult. Six Norwegian male travellers were rather untactfully flirting with two young American ladies, one of them carrying a tiara on her crown. Happy birthdays were sung… several times. I was tempted to try out my basic Norwegian on them, but I quickly became too apathetic to attempt a ‘hvordan har du det?’, or whatever ‘how are you doing?’ is. I became apathetic for fear of embarrassment (I was still on caña número uno) but also because my friend had revealed something unexpected. She had grown a tumour since I last saw her. Non-malignant, thankfully. All that remains now is a large dark scar on her forearm. My grandfather was a hypochondriac, despite getting close to a full century. I hope I don’t get paranoid, but I was getting my dozens of moles checked the morning after I’d eventually returned back to Gibraltar… Yep, definitely paranoid (I was completely fine).
I’m Gibraltarian, I love the sun and warm evenings by the beach.
Celina, the Portland-born San Diego student, is shy of 21. While we were in D.C. she was below the legal drinking age. Her fellow international students that came from San Diego also were able to drink legally in Spain. I still find it weird, perhaps because we can start drinking in Gibraltar as early as 16. There was plenty of drinking to be had in Madrid, as we visited a couple of bars at night with the wider group of Americans. One of them we had later noticed was an uncomfortably patriotic venue, with Spanish flags covering the ceiling, what sounded like Camarón de la Isla on stereo, and a banner towards the back declaring “somos España y las que no les gustan, que se vayan”. I wondered whom they’d be voting for come the end of April.
Unintentionally carrying on with the theme, Celina’s school had organised for us to go to a capea, in conjunction with the local business school. The morning bus took us in the direction of Toledo, stopping at a desolate and tiny finca. We were welcomed with the view of dozens of vaquillas on the way to the open bar just outside the bull ring. The goal of a capea, in short, is to enter a bull ring with an angry vaquilla and run away from it. You don’t necessarily have to run away from it. Because everybody was boozed up from the open bar, some had built the courage to tauntingly approach the poor and relatively harmless animal in the style of a torero, using their sleeveless gilet jackets as substitute for the bullfighter’s red capote. I eventually gave it a go after I had consumed a worryingly uncounted number of tintos and cervezas, accompanied by the odd mouthful of whatever licor was on offer. Outside the ring, I was approached by a madrileño who was patronisingly fussing over what he thought was my gaditano accent. His “Gibraltar español” was met by a joke about the state of Spanish politics, which I would be wise not to repeat here. I made him laugh and we moved on to matters of football. Anyone can seem pleasant enough in a casual conversation about Ronaldo, until his tax evasion creeps into the exchange. The irony was that these business school types really looked like the kind who would put funds in a paraíso fiscal somewhere.
I became apathetic for fear of embarrassment (I was still on caña número uno).
The bocadillos at the open bar weren’t sufficient by the time we got back to the capital. Now on the decline after a reasonably exciting day, I disappointed myself by pigging out on a Burger King in one of the nearby plazas alone, unable to apply my social antennae and make friends at the hostel before I got too hungry to go for it. All was well in the end, because tomorrow was a sunny day of sushi for lunch and wandering around the Retiro. It was, unfortunately, the last time I would see Celina. I’d have Monday and Tuesday to socially fend for myself again, so I planned to spend a few hours visiting the Congreso and the geographically proximate Museo del Prado. I think it was a Goya on the bottom floor that caught my attention. There were seemingly infinite paintings in the image of religious figures and biblical events. This particular work was out of that theme, and catchingly vulgar. There wasn’t much light in the painting. A dark figure of Saturn, driven by hubris and lust for eternal power, was devouring an inanimate replica of his son to avoid an heir. I devoured my Burger King meal in a similar fashion, but it was motivated by shame instead of ambition.
I was confused by this painting. I read the descriptive text, but a blond woman next to me held an audio device that presumably explained the piece in greater detail. I asked whether I could borrow it in Spanish, then in English. The latter worked and we got talking, moving swiftly from Goya to Guthrie, as she happen to have a search page on her phone of the hero of my hero, the man who Bob Dylan got his first persona from. This Brooklyn girl shared my admiration for New York, where I had recently seen Dylan perform live at the Beacon Theatre. Emma and I were soon joined by her friend Julia, another New Yorker. They had come over for Spring Break together. Finally, I might have made a couple of friends. By this point I was again very hungry, so we went for a 5pm lunch by the Retiro. Jacques Derrida, Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg, all appeared in our conversations. The political exchanges were, needless to say, far meatier than the capea chat.
That final night I performed an acoustic version of ‘Montague Street’ by The Kafkas, my band during my degree at the University of Manchester – which reminds me, Franz Kafka also featured in conversation. Bar Calvario was packed, giving the New Yorkers a taste of the live music atmosphere in Spain with the clapping and the ‘olé’s’. I found a Montague Street in London the preceding week, though the song isn’t directly related to it. When I got back to Gibraltar, Emma told me that there’s a Montague Street near her home in Brooklyn. I wonder which story I’m going to tell if I ever ‘make it’. Whichever one, it’s definitely not going to match Drexler’s “consejo delirante”. Instead, as he also describes in the song, it might approximate a “confesión de borrachera en Madrid de los excesos” and the “aquella noche loca que se dio mi suerte”. Regardless to Madrid, “está canción más vale tarde que jamás la escribo para agradecerte…quiero que sabes que el regalo que me hiciste me cambió la vida entera”.