I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen someone piss on a car in Lavapiés, but it’s another yarn in a list of Lavapiés stories.
This wash feet barrio does exactly that; uncharacteristic raindrops, characteristic pissing from homeless people, Africans, Erasmus students, tourists, hippies, and writers.
This is the working class neighbourhood in Madrid, though the imperial seat of Spain is blessed with various runts of the litter – and not just from the tops of over-tipped bins; cubicles spilling their overfed and over cultured guts out onto the road. Poor bastards from Vallecas and Vicalvaro have stopped short, however, as far as I know, of urinating on cart, horse, and car under different Felipes, Ferdinands, Alfonsos, and at least two Isabellas. But, brother, your car is my car.
Madrid became the capital, like Berlin after it, simply because it was so unfashionable; amber discharge, then, is the new fondue. It’s like dwellers here cocked an envious eye toward the street markets of La Latina; the hipsters of Malasaña; the pointlessness of Sol – that glorified fountain where families meet in the evening after a day at Disneyland. Then, we have the snobs in Serrano. We need a selling point, they concur. And if piss doesn’t do it, then what will?
After all, what is a barrio if it is not barro, and what are io but the escape mechanisms of a peculiarly singular back and forth.
Lavapiés Stories Taking Human Shape
La Tabacalera takes human shape and repurposed humans hang on the air like a cigarette on a doorstop or plaza bench. Brass necks and metal spray paint in Led Zeppelin t-shirts coexist peacefully with civilians of travel, commerce, and food. The rustle of the key in the doorway bleats in the narrows of the streets, but no more likely now to bring a dope seller than a farolero barking at the heel with keys and questions; they live with the others who sometimes hear of their famines back there.
In the absence of their lamps, shallow ground must be found by instinct or memory, away from the Mary Magdalene
moss between the footpaths.
Sometimes, the odd time, the barrio is this and more. When it’s not just a place where people live; when they are not mere scaffolds holding up the façade, hinting at it. I remember an acquaintance of mine from long ago mocking another poet. His inkwell is the kitchen sink, the foam, the soap, he said. I think of that in my old house built for old people, with stretching wood and decay. Ten minutes from elegant townhouses, we live like peasants.
Two hours from the continent, a place full of people in love with the idea, if not exactly enamoured when faced with it.
Lavapiés Stories Being Washed Away
There is foam in the glass – the frost that tilts the mouth on its axis, forcing through eyelid phases, epileptic stutters, and ellipses; Lavapiés is… a home to proud immigrants. The Latinos shuffle quietly through Cuatro Caminos, blending in save for tears at an airport terminal, Ecuadorian presidents, or a suitcase on a Bravo Murillo bench; and the Chinese are like ninjas, silent but ever-present, but ninja is selfishly a Japanese concept, and we kidnap it, deport it, or it migrates, flees, seeks refuge. The planes destined for Arturo Soría dropped their load just south of the centre, and a sculpture there needs filling out with samosas.
So, what did the acquaintance mean, on the subject of the poor, mocked poet? Whitman basically wrote the first Lonely Planet, so why can’t our pet hack write soap opera verses… the Tabacalera is still the Tabacalera, no matter what old shite – or not – they put in it. And the people associate, congregate and aggregate knowledge like no other barrio in Madrid. And one can only surmise that old Walt would have thrived in the modern world of the listicle, and in the neighbourhood of the Brazilian bar, an Ethiopian restaurant, cinemateka.
Refugees, I have read in some places, should be grateful, and there never has been a more foreign sounding word in the language of a city.
It is what it is, no better or worse than the others; it hasn’t been washed away by its surroundings. And that’s the best you can say of anyone or anywhere.
More Stuff & Tours
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And if you want more stories, try reading our cool blog post on being an immigrant.
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Categories: Blog Stuff, Poetry/Short Fiction
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