Insider's guide to... Madrid
Sunday 26 September 1999
Six months of winter (invierno) and six months of hell (infierno) the old saying goes. But don't be fooled: this exhilarating mountain-top city offers dazzling skies and more sun than anywhere in Europe.
What are the locals complaining about?
Obras - roadworks. Whole neighbourhoods are being dug up at present for ill-defined reasons, usually to do with installing hideous statues, digging tunnels to shift traffic jams underground and gouging away what little remains of the city's greenery. It's been going on for years and seems never-ending.
Who's the talk of the town?
Absolutely no-one is considered hip at the moment, and the man they love to hate is the conservative mayor, Jose Maria Alvarez del Manzano, who is, they say, only interested in attending processions, inaugurating fountains and making - fortunately ineffectual - efforts to curb the city's exuberant night life.
What's the cool drink to order?
Cool bars report huge interest in alcohol-free, high-energy drinks such as Red Bull and Speed.
What are people eating?
Japanese food. Take your Madrileno friends to one of the handful of Japanese restaurants, or, smarter still, order up sushi by telephone. But fried prawns and squid are still okay.
The latest outrageous stuff on TV?
In the satirical Caiga Quien Caiga - untranslatable as "Fall who falls" - an irreverant team of fast-talking presenters stalk celebrities and try to get them to say something stupid. Still considered cool, although it's now in its umpteenth series and has received the good-natured approval of the King.
Where won't locals dream of going?
The Plaza Mayor. Once a fashionable venue for day-long mass executions during the Inquisition, these days only foreigners sit in the broiling sun to eat overpriced tapas and watch other foreigners.
Where are locals going that tourists don't know about?
Inner-city neighbourhoods once marginal and depressed are now undergoing a pre-gentrification perking-up process: Malasana, patrolled by grannies and toddlers during the day and young ravers at night; and multi-ethnic Lavapies, home of the city's North African and Chinese communities, which attracts bohemian arty types who are busy doing up lovely old buildings.
Where are the chic doing their shopping?
Ekseption in the smartest part of town offers cutting-edge design for those with pots of money. Otherwise, the area round Fuencarral, off the Gran Via, for avant-garde clubwear and the latest from the asymmetric knitwear queen, Amaya Arzuaga. Almirante Street is still good for daring fashion that avoids the above extremes.
What's the trendy place to escape for the weekend?
Nearby towns such as Toledo and Segovia are just as packed with tourists as the capital. And the harsh Castilian countryside dotted with austere villages steeped in religion and poverty aren't a load of laughs either. So for a lively excursion offering style and marcha, Madrilenos head for, um, Barcelona.
Elizabeth Nash is the Independent on Sunday's correspondent in Madrid.
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