Sitting in Retiro Park on my last afternoon in Madrid, all I could think about was how I wouldn’t be able to write about the city in any way that does it justice, how I wouldn’t be able to avoid a string of cliché adjectives so overused they’ve lost meaning, so I simply wouldn’t bother.
But as the street music in the park grew louder and the new April sun tightened its grip on me, I sat there soaking in the feeling you get only from the blinding energy and violent color that pump through a living city, the feeling of numbing bliss you get when traveling that convinces you for the moment that you’ll never feel it again, never be able to describe it, never truly understand what it was.
I figured this had to be worth an attempt of at least a few sentences.
So, for me, Madrid is Retiro Park – laying in the sweet, sticky grass on a Friday afternoon as a warm breeze sends a blizzard of white petals spinning and dancing through the trees. It’s a pink ice cream cone on Saturday, it’s spending a few hours letting the sun—finally free from its winter cell—heat me, cover me, wrap me up for the first time this year.
It’s standing in El Tigre, a packed, grimy tapas bar—the floor covered in wadded napkins and cigarette butts—eating hot croquetas and drinking beer amid the loud voices of hungry Spaniards just released from a week of work. My shoes stick to the floor and my shirt sticks to my back and I feel warmly welcomed to Spain.
It’s moving up the stairs of the metro station with a hot, crushing crowd of other Sunday morning shoppers on their way to El Rastro market and hearing the street music before I’ve even emerged from below ground, when all I can see is a cloudless sky and all I can hear is energy, voices, and rhythm. Seven Spanish men are there—two guitars, two accordions, a giant bass cello, a saxophone, and one just dancing, who moves and shakes as though he’d never even learned to walk before he was using his legs to dance. They play and sing and shout and sway and effortlessly fill the bodies and hearts of the crowd with a tick, an itch, a beating euphoria.
It’s laying on the little bed of our cheap 8th floor Gran Via hotel room for an evening nap, the sky turning from blue to orange to purple to black out the window as I listen to the hushed breathing of the lovely person next to me and the distant, excited clamor of the traffic below.
It’s sitting in a peaceful square in La Chueca on Sunday evening, drinking cheap cans of San Miguel on a bench as the sun sinks behind the buildings and everyone around raises their drink and bids a quiet farewell to another weekend.
It’s sitting in Retiro Park, yet again, on Sunday, that last afternoon, thinking this is too much life, too much energy and color and humanity and love to know what to do with. We lay among the giant pillars of the monument behind the lake, the sun pressing insistently on our faces, our necks, our bare feet. Blue and white boats slide across the water with each lazy stretch of an oar. People watch a big group of drummers with djembes as together they push a solid moving sound high above us all. They pound their drums faster and louder and the beat shakes with such a force that the air itself seems to be moving, and you hear it and you feel it and everything becomes part of you and you’re blind and you’re dizzy and you’re happy and you have seen Madrid.