Madrid diary: Reminders of Franco's days are left on the shelf

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The Independent Online
SPANIARDS are getting the hang of recycling, a difficult idea for people who tend to chuck things out as carelessly as they toss prawnshells to the floor. I used to ride in the outskirts of Madrid, but feared for the horse's hooves among the assorted bedsteads, old sofas and polythene bags strewn over the scrubland that passes for countryside hereabouts.

Recycling glass is gaining acceptance, and "Madrilenos" think it's great fun to shatter bottle after bottle in street-corner recycling bins around midnight. And every six months the authorities announce an amnesty when you can tip unwanted furnitureon the pavement for the council to clear away. But few Spanish friends do what I do, and roam the streets ahead of the council vehicles - not to deposit, but to salvage a handsome bookcase, sidetable or arm chair.

Second-hand shops are rare, since used clothes or furniture - overpriced antiques apart - are equated with second-best. Some designer frock exchanges are emerging, but are snooty claustrophobic establishments compared with their breezy British or American counterparts. Few Madrilenos enter into the spirit of bargain-hunting: you pay through the nose, or it is assumed you can't afford it. Many still prefer to admit how much, rather how little, they pay.

Perhaps it has to do with a generation that remembers hardship. In Spain, widespread hunger and poverty existed until the Sixties, and for anyone who lived through those years, shabby is not chic, but the stigma of deprivation. Rich and poor alike were obsessed with the new. But today's youngsters penniless, though well-fed and educated, love the recycled look, and shops selling Sixties and Seventies gear are popping up everywhere.

APACK of four yoghurts in my local supermarket costs 169 pesetas or, as the label informs me, 1.01 euros. How the exchange rate is reckoned between the peseta and a currency that doesn't yet exist I don't know. It's part of a campaign to prepare usfor the advent of the single currency.

EU-funded propaganda dribbles into my ear from the state radio station every morning as I'm surfacing. It'll be wonderful when we join the euro, a mellifluous voice purrs against soothing music, you'll be able to take holidays abroad without the hassle of changing money, and all the costs will be borne by the banks, you won't have to pay a thing. Que maravilla! Pesetas, not to mention pounds and dollars, will doubtless soon be thought as obsolete as doubloons or pieces of eight.

IWAS lucky enough to be invited to the opera the other day. Covent Garden's splendid production of Turandot, in the inaugural season of Madrid's renovated opera house, the Teatro Real. But why, in this warmest and most demonstrative of European capitals, does the audience sit enthralled through three hours of magic, only to turn its back as the curtain calls bring you gently back to reality?

Charmingly exuberant in their own private circle, Spaniards often appear inhibited in a wider public gathering. My friend Maria says her compatriots are afraid to step out of line and be thought raro, strange. "I went to the theatre with my 16-year-old son," she says, "and it was so wonderful I encouraged him to shout 'bravo', but he wouldn't until I did. Then everyone did."

Spaniards find Brits, on the other hand, inexplicably low-key in small groups, but consider our capacity to let rip in the anonymity of the crowd admirable, even awesome. Anyway it was very disagreeable, while bouquets were still being presented, tobe buffeted by opera lovers stampeding for their velvet capes, as if desperate to catch the last taxi home.