Madrid: next stop, heaven?

I cut across the thick wall of cigarette smoke that greets the passengers outside the glass doors of Barajas airport. I drag my suitcase toward a disorderly line of white taxis, the city still asleep at these dark morning hours. A taxi dispatcher—Eastern European accent; freezing hands tucked inside her pockets—gestures in the direction of a vacant cab. Once inside, we are stuck. Three confused cars block our way. “If you sack the taxi dispatchers every month, this is what you get”—so complains my driver in characteristic rough madrileño style. We make small talk about la crisis while he drives. “The airport only gives one-month contracts. People are desperate for jobs.” The radio is on. News of a severe car crash in calle Génova catches my ear. They have stopped traffic in the area. “Ángela will be late for work,” I muse.

A soft winter light begins to dawn on the city when the taxi stops. Itzíar greets me in her pajamas: “Guess what, a man has crashed his car against the Popular Party headquarters in calle Génova. He had two homemade explosives in it.” She echoes the driver’s words, “People are desperate.”

I go to bed to combat a tenacious post-flight nebulosity. La crisis weighs heavy on my heart. Fifty-five percent Spanish youth unemployment. Two hundred and fifty thousand evictions since 2008. Savage austerity measures. Soup kitchens proliferating to feed a triplicate number of poor. Struggling citizens paying for the banks’ obscene casino games. Attempts to demolish the welfare state. More than seven thousand street protests in the last two years alone. A draconian gag law to tramp protesters’ civil liberties. Galloping political corruption. Despair.

Over the horizon of Madrid, a massive cross casts its ominous shadow. Underneath rots the dictator’s murderous soul. This is the city that resisted him ever so fiercely—¡No pasarán! —and then entered the darkest and longest night. Secretos de familia is what Carlos C. once called those same bloody secrets that determined my self-exile twenty-six years ago, transversally expressed from the family unit to the political plateau. Memory is obstinate, as Chileans know.

I wake up from the twilight sleep nearly clear-minded. Madrid’s striking blue light blinds me for a second. This is the urbane par excellence: that most preferred Bakhtinian site of simultaneity and multiplicity of consciousness. The Indignados exploded here, the Juventud Sin Futuro roams its intricate design, Ganemos Madrid speaks the language of uncompromised hope.

I pin a little flag of la República to my lapel and I take to the streets, ready to get lost, gleefully, in the centrifugal force of defiance. I’ll play as if, soon, Madrileans and I will be able to reclaim that unabashedly cocky phrase: De Madrid, al cielo.

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