The rain in Spain

The rain in Spain

Swirling skirts, bullfighting arenas, numerous puertas. Lakshmi Sharath writes about a rain-soaked Madrid, where downpour failed to dampen her spirit

It all started with the rain in Spain. “Will it rain in the plains?” — a line that was thrown at me when I announced that I will be in Spain for a week. The rhetoric from My Fair Lady had almost made rains synonymous with Spain.

However, it was rather dry and a bit cold when we touched down at Madrid. The sky looked overcast with the setting sun bidding farewell to the city, as we walked along the streets of the capital town. I barely had any idea then, that I would not be seeing it for a while in the Spanish skies. The evening lights came up and I shivered a bit, tugging at my coat, but Madrid had already warmed up to me.

One of the best ways to appreciate a new town is to take a long walk, observing the sights and sounds around you in absolute silence. We did that for a while, and later hopped on to a bus that took us to a quiet little corner of Madrid, and dropped us off in front of a nondescript lane. We walked a bit further, only to enter the portals of Corral De La Moreria, where the wooden doors burst open and a wave of energy swept us through. As I gulped my wine and looked around, I realised that I was literally seated in ‘A Hall of Fame’. Frank Sinatra smiled at me and then there was Al Pacino as well.

Flamenco fiesta

A swirl of a skirt, the echo of a clap, the rhythm of the feet and the grit in the eyes — the flamenco dancers stomped their way into the venue, as we watched awestruck, our eyes battling with choice, as we wondered whether to look into their steely eyes or at their athletic footwork. The evening came to a close, as the men in their throaty voices sang to us of love and despair, courtship and romance.

The city was bustling with life as we stepped out into the cold, waiting for the bus to ferry us back to the hotel. The sky seemed layered with clouds, burying the moon in a thick blanket. A raindrop gently graced my cheek as I boarded the bus. But the room was warm and cosy and I slept soundly, jet lagged, dreaming of those men and women who twirled and swirled in true Andalusian style, the region that brought in flamenco dancing to the country.

It was the cold that woke me up. I realised that I had forgotten to close the window. Looking down, I saw the city cloaked in darkness, bathed in the dull haze of streetlights. Like ants crawling at their own pace, a couple of vehicles moved in the darkness, while shadows of people waded in and out of the scene.

To my jetlagged mind, it seemed like they were party goers heading home in the wee hours of the morning. I looked down at the streetscape and sighted a row of umbrellas popping their heads at me. The roads were damp, reflecting the water droplets in the lights, as the rains tumbled down, gently lashing at my window and eventually pouring down. And then, I realised, as the alarm punctured through the rains, that it was well past dawn and the Spaniards were waiting for their bus to take them to work.

Sheets of rain welcomed us as we stepped out. Madrid looked drenched in its own beauty. We went on a city tour, even as the guide insisted that it does not usually rain heavily in Madrid. Drops of water trickled down the window, as parks and palaces lay soaked in the rains. A montage of monuments blurred past us. We entered and exited the city through its many portals, while listening to their stories.

The impressive Puerta De Alcala looked demure in the downpour. And we heard that the oldest version of the gate was originally built in the 16th century by King Felipe III to welcome his wife, Queen Margarita of Austria. It was later rebuilt by Charles III, a couple of centuries later, and stands today as one of the foremost landmarks of Madrid, leading you to the town, Alcala de Henares, the home of Don Quixote’s creator — Miguel De Cervantes. And then, there was the Puerta De Toledo, another gate to the city, but the road led to Toledo, an old city that will also take you on a trail of Don Quixote. More ‘plazas’ and ‘puertas’ whizzed past us .We kept our fingers crossed, hoping for the sun to return by afternoon.

Real Madrid

The conversation changed from history to sports. The discussion veered around bullfighting, as we slowed down near Plaza De Toros De Las Ventas, one of the famous arenas for bullfighting in Madrid. A valiant matador or a torero’s statue towered at the entrance sparking emotional differences over the sport. It was a monumental tribute paid to 21-year-old Jose Cubero, who was gored to death during a bullfight. As it poured and passions raged, the opinions were divided over bullfighting. The guide was evasive in her reply. “I don’t like it, but I like it,” she contradicted herself. Later, she clarified that she was not particularly interested in the sport, but said that she accepted it as it was a part of their heritage.

The downpour became a trickle as we changed gears and moved towards another exciting sport, where we got a glimpse of the Real Madrid. The Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, with a seating capacity of more than 85,000 people, sparkled in green under the lights, even as the grass wore a fresh wet look. Although I was not a die-hard football fan, I could not help but feel a tinge of excitement.

“People say it is the second cathedral of Madrid,” said my guide, as she leapt in front of a triumphant photograph of the players and posed for us. Tourists, fans and locals spent hours gazing at every moment of victory at the memorabilia that was displayed, and beamed with pride, as they took photographs of the players with trophies and cups. A raging passion, a fervent religion, but football is the nation’s pride as they unite over the sport, but differ over their support for players and clubs. After a simple vegetarian meal, I looked down at the stadium again, only to find the relentless rain lashing out its fury.

Tryst with trivia

The evening seemed to be a washout as we stepped out, ironically, at Puerta Del Sol, the Gate of the Sun, where a plaque on the ground read 0 km, the symbolic centre, referring to the radial network of roads in Spain. But the only thing that was adding colour to this otherwise bustling hub was a huddle of umbrellas that filled the streets. We added to the colourful parade and followed the enthusiastic guide in her walk in the rains. This was a first for me — holding an umbrella, which would fly or furl the very moment the breeze blew in our faces, and listening to stories that were soaked in history. The tales were dripping with trivia.

And the one that fascinated me was the story behind a small floor tile that I had stepped on the wet road. The guide also pointed to a statue, which she referred to as the symbol of Madrid. It was not that of King Charles III, but was of ‘the oso and the madrano’ referring to the female bear standing on her hind limbs and reaching out to a tree with berries, often referred to as that of a strawberry. The story goes that bears flocked Madrid, in ancient times, feeding on the trees that grew berries like strawberries. However, another version dates back to the medieval times when differences arose between the church and the council. The king gave possession of forest land to the council, who immediately added a tree to their original heraldic symbol of a lone bear, representing control and ownership of wood.

As the water trickled down our faces, we continued our walk. Puerta Del Sol was conveniently located and close to the main Plaza Mayor, the Palace and the Prada Museum as well. Even as the guide raised her voice, the pitter-patter set a different rhythm. I eventually returned to the Puerto Del Sol to take a look at the Real Casa De Correos, a post office in the 18th century and now, the headquarters of Madrid’s Autonomous Community. Its famous clock tower rings annually on the New Year day, as tourists and locals flock here to eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight to symbolise luck, a tradition that dates back to a century.

Just as I wondered if I should make a date with Madrid for New Year’s eve, a bright yellow post box beckoned me. And I did the customary thing that I do in every city. I was dripping wet, but I found my way to a souvenir shop to buy a postcard of Madrid’s interesting symbol. Then I looked for a tobacco shop to buy a stamp to India and finally addressed a post card to myself, singing in the rain.

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