Madrid Diary: When a breach of the peace is the only way to get things done

THE Spanish siesta is sacrosanct, even in winter, so don't believe those who say it's to do with farmhands resting in the heat of the afternoon. Folk memory records a time a decade or so back when politicians tried unsuccessfully to line up the Spanish day with the rest of Europe, but they gave up.

Never was I so aware of the siesta's iron rule as when I recently took advantage of the peace and quiet to move to a bigger flat. My trusty friend Maurice helped me load boxes into the van of Norberto, the portero of my old flat.

Timing was crucial. We had to move between 3pm and 5pm when the crush around the market eased off. A parking place was out of the question so, as it was siesta time, I cajoled and peeled off banknotes to encourage Juan, the portero of the new flat, to keep a beady eye on Norberto's illegally parked van.

This part of town, the popular bit of the posh end, is slow to get started, but from 11am the bustle and noise mounts to a frenzy between 2pm and 3pm and then, silence. Nothing. Deserted pavements. Closed doors. We swung into action.

But there was traffic of a kind. Under Juan's watchful gaze, frail gentlemen with dark glasses and thin grey moustaches tiptoed forth, young girls with waxed jackets tossed their shiny hair, and stocky females sailed by in billowing mink. "Oh Juan, you're early this afternoon," one noted acidly, with a glare at the boxes cluttering the hallway. "It's your siesta time!"

At 5pm, we'd nearly finished, fortunately, because the area suddenly exploded into life. Children erupted from school, traffic jammed the streets, horns blared, people bounded from the bakery stuffing their faces with pastries held in little squares of tissue paper. Dusty now and scruffy, I received filthy looks from showered and cologned citizens dressed to the nines.

There's only one thing people ask about my new flat. "Has it got a good terrace?" Actually yes. Spacious, split-level, sun canopy, rose trees, evening shade. Next door's telephone conversations are shrilly audible, the neighbours could be veterans of Franco's army ... but a peach of a terrace.

Madrilenos love terraces because they spend so much time out of doors - not in the sun, you understand, but in the shade.

So now Spring is upon us, if only fleetingly, all we want to do is sip a beer at a pavement cafe.

But, creatures of habit, Madrid cafe owners don't bring their tables and chairs out for another month. There's probably a rule about it. Like the one that governs the sale of garden furniture. Not till the end of the month, I was told when seeking a table and chairs for my terrace. It'll be raining again by then.

Among the instructions I received from the outgoing tenant was the insistent warning to be careful with the gas. Always turn the pilot light off, and the tap to the boiler, she said. Gas explosions account for a scary number of accidents in Spain, mainly because of the widespread use of gas canisters, hauled up ancient staircases by a mafia of sturdy Poles.

But if Spaniards are respectful of gas, they are hair-raisingly casual about electrics.

The plug for my fridge is connected to a wandering cable that hovers over the gas ring. The terrace is lit by bare bulbs and in my future study, where I plan to entrust my computer and other electronic treasures, the plug vomits from the wall, trailing wires and sticky tape. "The electricals look a bit dodgy" I ventured. The response was a blank shrug.

I decided to take immediate action, after the siesta or, er, manana.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk