La calle es de todos

The street is for everyone. I saw these words stenciled on a building in the center of Madrid while wandering around with a friend last week. It seems an appropriate thing to say about Madrid, where so much life is concentrated on the streets. I’m not just talking about the homeless people here, who sleep on benches, building entrances, and in parks, or the crippled beggars who sit in the middle of the sidewalk on Gran Via and ask for change. Or even the groups of teenagers who congregate in the alleyway under my window late at night. I’m talking about all Madrileños, old and young, Spanish and foreign, pijo and alternativo. I’m talking about the West Africans selling pirated DVDs on the streets and in the Metro entrances, the gay couple embracing outside the Palacio Real, the Pakistani man smoking a cigarette outside his non-smoking locutorio, the Ecuadorans picnicking in Parque del Oeste every Sunday, the Peruvian musicians playing in Sol.

I’m talking about Lavapiés, probably the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the center of Madrid. I was there three times in the last week–one night for a kebab, one night for Indian food, and today as we looked for a less crowded alternative to La Latina to eat outside on this cloudy, chilly, but not rainy day. It was just our luck to come across a terraza with an empty table just north of an enormous drum circle congregated in the plaza. Now, Lavapiés has become semi-trendy among Madrileños who dig the ethnic food and the alternative Spanish tabernas, the art and music scene, and the wonderful old architecture. But whenever I go there I can’t forget what one of my female Spanish friends told me once: that she had been really interested in taking a flamenco class at El Horno, a dance center in the neighborhood, but had ultimately decided against it based on the fact that the class would end around 7 p.m. and the streets would be full of immigrants just standing around and looking at her. I couldn’t help thinking that it was a terrible shame to give up the class for that reason. La calle es de todos, ¿no?


1 Response to “La calle es de todos”

  1. 1 Madrid Mike Saturday, 13 March, 2010 at 2:48 am

    I live in Lavapies and the graffiti and vandalism is a joke. I just stepped in a puddle of piss right on my doorstep. I like the look, location and people. However, the late nite noisemakers, drug dealers, petty thieves, vandals and doorstep pissers need to go.

    Another thing about this barrio is the “hip” tourists that want to eat Indian food in their black, Northface jackets. Other than that living here is good fun.

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