In recent years Madrid was deserted every August, except for the odd tourist queuing up to see Goya or Velázquez paintings, as locals fled the searing heat for the beaches. With unemployment running at 20 per cent in the capital, however, many madrileños are staying put and packing the streets for folk festivals instead, just like their ancestors did.
Anyone with a euro to spare for a glass of sedge-flavoured horchata can dust off their grandparents’ glad rags and briefly forget the crisis by celebrating in Madrid’s medieval districts that are festooned with streamers, crowded with bandstands, stalls and games.
Revellers can also pretend they have left the capital for any of the thousands of riotous village fairs held all over Spain in the summer. In Madrid, the festivities are colourfully named after “people’s saints” such as Cajetan and Lawrence, or the Virgin of the Dove.
In the evenings, women take to improvised dance floors, fans at the ready and decked out in long but close-fitting dresses, headscarves and a carnation in their hair, while the men strut around in checked waistcoats and matching flat caps. Bands typically strike up 19th-century airs known as zarzuelas or chotis, although techno and Latin American music have recently made inroads.
Between tunes, dancers tend to revive themselves by supping lemonade or vermouth, while in another reminder of hard times many thought they had left behind, they munch on traditional snacks like gallinejas and entresijos – fried lamb’s innards to you.