My neighbourhood in central Madrid is almost silent at weekends, but around this time of the year I am always awakened by an excited murmuring beneath my window. It starts before dawn and rises to a joyful clatter by breakfast time.
The sound is that of Madrilenos queuing to enter the Congreso, or parliament building, which holds annual open days in early December in honour of Spain's post-Franco democratic constitution of 1978. In a nation filled with state-sponsored festivities, this must be among the most spontaneous and popular. Cheery folk of all ages, all classes, queue for hours across the centre of town to enter parliament's main door for a guided tour, a commemorative folder and the obligatory photo.
Yesterday was grey and raining, in previous years it has been bitterly cold, yet nothing dampens the spirits of those lined up. Some were even singing. Many said they were curious; they'd never been before and it made a nice day out. One man said he wanted to see where the future of his country was decided, another to see the bullet hole left by the maverick Colonel Tejero who tried to hijack Spain's young democracy in 1981. One man wanted to show respect for the constitution, 30 years old today, "which we are pleased with".
Spain has become vastly de-politicised in recent years so it is surprising and heartening to hear people talk about democracy and history as something close to them. But there was something else to the occasion. The umbrella-bearing masses, soaked and footsore, created a fiesta atmosphere – and unless something contains an element of fun, Madrilenos won't bother with it.
Going with the flow
It's a myth, by the way, that people in Madrid can't queue. They just do it differently. The other night I was queueing for a movie. The pavement was littered with the usual detritus of pipes, bricks and barriers. We milled around chaotically, avoiding potholes, but were all aware of the person ahead of us and when the doors opened, snapped elegantly together to file in politely.
More cold than cool
Nicole Kidman was in town the other night for the premiere of "Australia" with her co-star, Hugh Jackman. The actual film received less coverage here than a) Jackman introducing proceedings in Spanish, which should boost attendance levels, and b) La Kidman braving a freezing Madrid night in a glittery shift, although her husband Keith Urban was hovering nearby with a coat.