Madrid - Day One/Night One
I let my personal-space bubble float away so that I could begin the immersion. While passing through some streets near Puerta del Sol, I realized that this was necessary. I was offering my comrade some gum and a man in his mid-30’s approached me, hand extended. He stood very close and spoke to me mostly in Spanish about his life as a student and his interest in economics. This was an Italian but I could hardly tell the difference. He seemed to be happy to be able to study in Spain. Since there are no longer national currencies in Spain and Italy, it makes sense for an Italian economics student to study in Spain. He was very kind and I was glad to have had my first chat of the trip with him.
The short stroll was enjoyable, I saw a few interesting street performers. The first was dressed up like “hello kitty”, the second; a futbolista that showed some impressive moves and was biting a stick for an extra appendage to juggle with. On the way back to the hotel there were cone slaloms on skates, reminding me of how fads come and go at different times across international borders. In the 90’s I lived in France and people were just starting to wear bell-bottoms, whereas in the United States that craze ended after the 70’s.
I had a goat cheese salad and the sea bass at a fine restaurant called “Galopinos”. Around 10 pm I left with a few friends to go see the final game of the Spanish Super Cup between F.C. Barecolona – C.F. Madrid. Like real tourists we got there late, unlike any Spaniard. The doors were all closed and heavily guarded but everyone had their eyes on the game. The streets were littered and empty.
We managed to find our seats in the absolute nosebleeds of the Santiago Bernebeu stadium after scrambling around with directions from about a dozen serious fans. The security-spectator ratio in this area was about one in five and I sat next to a strip of plastic caution tape that separated the Barcelona fans from everyone else. Since I got there late, it made me wonder if security has to wait for the fans to arrive before roping off the Hooligans.
I was laughing at the loud vulgar chants going back and forth, although I don’t think the security guard next to us was having a great time due to his location. He kept sneering towards the Barcelona fans and when one of them started slamming his fist on corrugated metal to make very loud banging noises, he yelled at them to stop.
Final score was 2-1 for Madrid and while an army of security locked arms to surround the entire field, along with police in riot gear as backup, the Barcelona fans quickly vanished. C.F. Madrid took a long and elaborate victory lap with the trophy around the field while the paparazzi followed. Meanwhile, “We Are The Champions” blared along with other songs that were all sung word for word by thousands of Spaniards. We cheered for Madrid, waved our flags and emptied into the streets like cattle herded by scooters, cars, and police on horses.
The metro at Neuvos Ministerios is already an underground labyrinth and it didn’t make it any easier to navigate with a zoo of human beings inside of it. We wound up having to wander a bit and elected to change lines instead of taking the long route back to Puerta del Sol. I think my personal-space bubble floated out of the atmosphere when I stepped in to an over populated subway car. I guess I just didn’t realize that people could be so accustomed to squeezing themselves into such crowded human confinement.
We had a short stroll down to Plaza de Las Cortes see what all the ruckus was about and encountered a mass of people celebrating the win. Vendors sold food and beverages, people beat drums and the crowd chanted their victory songs loudly. We took a few pictures to remember the night and headed back to the hotel sometime after 2:00 am. At that point it was safe for us to say that we had the best possible first night in Spain, considering the travel time and jet lag that we all endured over the last 24 hours to get here. When we woke up the next morning the celebration was still going on, but louder.
Michael Butler is studying abroad with API in Granada, Spain, and is a regular contributor to our Tumblr blog.