Madrid Stories

Elizabeth Nash on why she loves visiting the friendly bureaucrats at the post office; and the young mayoral candidate hoping to reawaken Cool España
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The Independent Online

I have had my share of abuse from boot-faced Spanish bureaucrats, so I was unprepared for the refreshingly human treatment I received from the state-run post office. Correos boasts a sprawling wedding cake of a headquarters near my home.

I have had my share of abuse from boot-faced Spanish bureaucrats, so I was unprepared for the refreshingly human treatment I received from the state-run post office. Correos boasts a sprawling wedding cake of a headquarters near my home.

This preposterously overwrought palace is a homage to Spain's erstwhile dominion of a far-flung empire – administered by post, obviously, in a pre-electronic age. When I moved house not long ago, I entered Correos's marble halls and was greeted by a kindly woman in front of, not behind, a desk marked "Information", asking if she could help.

My new flat has excellent qualities, including four balconies, but no portero to take in the newspapers, which stack up alarmingly if I'm away a few days. One look at my flimsy wooden postbox in the communal hallway told me that the postman would a) break it trying to insert the newspaper, then b) throw away the paper.

So I resolved to get a postbox number, an apartado postal. Over there, said the helpful lady pointing to one of the 90-odd counters. The woman at window 42 was equally helpful. I signed up, paid €50 and was told to bring back the key if it didn't fit.

The boxes in the palace's bowels looked little bigger than in my flat. But when the papers pile up, someone leaves a handwritten note advising that "a tray" awaits me. I hand over the note, a friendly person scurries away and returns with an armful of newsprint.

One day I asked after a book I was expecting. The desk person looked again and returned crestfallen. The next day his face lit up: "Your book's arrived!" as if he had delivered it personally. Then a printed note appeared, full of the usual impenetrable gobbledegook. A package had arrived by recorded delivery, or was too big, or something. I had to go outside the building, up the hill, doorway N.

This was more like it: gloomy, stifling, littered with discarded packaging. I proffered the form. The official departed, returned with a parcel. "Sign here with your ID number," he intoned. I looked at the form. It said Name and Date – no mention of number. I mean, who else is going to claim a parcel addressed to me? So with a flicker of rebellion, I signed and dated the chit, omitting the ID. He tossed it on the pile without a glance and handed me the package with a cheery "Here you are!"

MADRID'S SOCIALISTS have chosen a presentable young woman to run for mayor in next year's local elections. Trinidad Jimenez is a definite improvement on the conservative Jose Alvarez del Manzano, renowned only for leading religious processions and tunnelling the city's traffic jams underground.

Ms Jimenez promises to restore to Madrid the pride it felt during the 1980s Movida, the artistic flowering that produced the film-maker Pedro Almodovar. But she might have miscalculated. Conservatives will reel in horror at the spectre of a return of sex-crazed, drugged-up youth, which is what the Movida and Mr Almodovar's movies mean to them.

And surviving creative types from that time tell you the worst thing about the Movida was how Socialist politicians tried to jump on the bandwagon. Anyone who remembers Labour's attempts to hijack Cool Britannia will sympathise.

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