by Martha Sprackland
When people ask me what it is I love about Madrid, I tell them it’s the tortilla de patatas with runny egg in Taberna 9 in Malasaña, or the croquetas de bacalao in the Mercado de San Miguel, or shot-glasses of yellow-orange salmorejo and red-orange gazpacho, or the churros con chocolate at the Chocolatería San Ginés, which first opened in 1894. They’d be enough alone to endear me to this place, though there’s much more to my addiction.
When I first lived here, it was the wide-open skies and late nights that I loved most, the rush of living away from home for the first time. I was a feral, exhilarated teenager, and the city and its spirit of La Movida and pavement culture felt like a generous, always-awake partner-in-crime. Ten years later, the city has grown out of the myth I made for it. The nostalgic details are still there, the palimpsest of my first year catching at my memory so that I taste kerosene as I walk down the alley where some friends and I learned to breathe fire, and whenever I get in a taxi I get a hint of the watermelon-flavoured chewing gum and cigarettes my ex-boyfriend and I would binge on as we drove very fast along the motorway. It was exactly what I needed, back then, exactly when I needed it. It gave me my independence, my second language, my resilience and a lifelong bolthole for when things go wrong elsewhere.
The lure of Madrid for me these days is less fast-driving youthful hedonism. More, it’s the bilingual poetry readings and wine at Desperate Literature, where I have discovered work by Ana Gorría and Marina Carretero Gómez; the bagels and chat at J&J Books; gigs at Sala Sol, La Coquette, and the legendary Sala Clamores. I’ve climbed to the peak of Monte Abantos, in the sierra de Guadarrama, above the sixteenth-century monastery at El Escorial, and seen the whole world all the way to the horizon. I love the mirador, a tree on a dune in Montepríncipe, and I love the terracotta rooftop views from high windows. I love the dust and the late-summer heat and the autumn thunderstorms. This past fortnight alone I’ve visited the Museo del Prado with its Goya and Velázquez, the Reina Sofia, where Picasso’s Guernica resides, the Museo del Romanticismo, with its fascinating cases of mid-nineteenth-century trinkets, toys and treasures, and the Museo Geominero, which houses fossils and minerals from Spain and beyond. In that last you can see chunks of fulgurita, the lightning-fused silica-quartz-caliche found in the sand to the north of the city, which I’ve been fascinated with since I first heard of the phenomenon.
Now, returning here, I see the city for what it is – a beautiful, friendly, loud and welcoming place bursting with energy and art. I don’t know if it offers all the answers, anymore, or if I plan to stay, but it will always be at the heart of me (if only, truly, for those tortillas).
Martha has an MA in English and Creative Writing from Lancaster University. She is ex-Assistant Poetry Editor at Faber & Faber and currently lives in Spain.