Madrid Stories: Fever and frenzy as the city heads to the beach

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The Independent Online

The city is in the final throes of pre-holiday frenzy, its dervish rhythms louder and faster than usual as decks are cleared ahead of the annual migration to the beach.

The city is in the final throes of pre-holiday frenzy, its dervish rhythms louder and faster than usual as decks are cleared ahead of the annual migration to the beach.

The swallows responded to the new mood by wheeling and crying more frantically than ever. Their shrieks were almost muffled by the sound of eager scaffolders dismantling the intricate pipework that has shrouded the parliament building in recent weeks while windows were replaced, reglazed, bullet-proofed, or whatever it was this time.

Workers flung poles and planks to the ground with resonant energy, accompanied by shouted instructions and cries of warning, watched by the foreman who languidly smoked a cigarette with a mate beneath my window.

Security was tightened as ETA resumed bombing, and MPs debated sensitive matters like sending troops to Iraq or allocating blame for dodgy freight planes that fell from the sky. So the police - I suppose it was them - rang my doorbell in an excess of zeal to bellow a demand for my identity number. "Who are you to ask for such details in the street?" I countered icily. Security, they replied. I declined to answer, or to open up, on security grounds. They went away, or were whirled to another task.

The downstairs hallway was clogged with neighbours' paraphernalia for weeks away: enough suitcases, folding chairs and crates of bottled water to equip a UN peacekeeping force. Stepping over these barricades into the street, I found my local café noisily celebrating its last day until September. Normally poker-faced waiters shouted cheery farewells as they crashed cups upon saucers and hurled debris to the floor with a demob-happy flourish.

Amid this cacophony, politicians dashed off decisions that in normal times would seem surreal, or at least would prompt howls of protest. The mayor, Alberto Ruiz Gallardon, announced that he and his officials were quitting the 17th-century town hall, from which Madrid has been ruled since it was built.

They will occupy instead the magnificent belle époque post office building, one of the city's finest, most adored public monuments, known affectionately as Our Lady of the Telecommunications for its cathedral-like grandeur. The move will add prestige and modernity to the office of mayor, Mr Ruiz Gallardon says. And the public, who actually use this building? Ah, yes ... well, you'll be able to buy stamps, send parcels, pick up mail and carry out similar near-redundant operations in the basement, up a side street.

He also decreed a solution to the problem of street prostitution. Police will clear sex workers off the street. But brothels will become legal - a policy last operated by Franco.

Then we learn that tower blocks going up on Real Madrid's former training ground, now a property speculator's paradise, will be so tall that planes flying into Barajas airport will have to alter their flight path.

All this is drowned out by the urgent need to buy swimsuits in the sales, then to join roaring traffic jams leading out of town as the temperature hits 49C. When you read this, the city will have flopped into exhausted torpor. At least, I suppose it will - because I too will be gone by then.

Pity poor Reyes Mendoza, the Cordoba bullfighter who appeared in Madrid's Las Ventas bullring the other day for what should have been his crowning moment: the ceremony confirming him as a fully qualified matador.

Disaster struck with his first flourish of the cape. The bull tossed him, gored him, then sliced off his testicle. Amid scenes of anguish, the bullfighter was stretchered off to the ringside hospital, followed shortly by an assistant bearing the severed testicle that he had spotted lying in the sand.

The wound was serious, but apparently not life-threatening. So he will surely be hailed as having cojones, even with only one.

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