Πέμπτη 22 Μαρτίου 2018

Madrilenian epochs

Return to Madrid after several years, left a feeling of travel in time and in space. Its melody, its fragrance, its breath, its gastronomy, the crunch of the plane trees of shade, the verses of Lorca, the flamenco in the bars of Madrid, the kilometer zero or the love that can be felt in the Castilian metropolis are some, among many others, of the main characteristics of what we call life of Madrid. The capital of Spain is the largest urban center of the Iberian Peninsula, located almost in the center of the peninsula, on the plateau of Castilla la Nueva, at an altitude of 635 m. above sea level.

The Muslim name of the city (Magerit) is the first historical evidence of its existence. It was probably already mentioned in the year 932 A.C. when Ramiro II destroyed its walls but left it in Muslim hands. Traces of a Roman settlement and some evidence of prehistoric human presence have been found in the area. The Arab fortress was captured in 1803 by the Christians under the command of Alfonso VI of Castile and Leon. That is where the Parliament (the Cortes) met for the first time in the year 1329.

For centuries, the city was concentrated around the palaces extending, later, towards the east. Its expansion to the west, beyond the Manzanares River, took place after 1948 and was an explosive expansion. From 1948 to 1951, the total extension was multiplied by ten to reach 531 square kilometers. Today, according to the Spanish Institute of Statistics, the urban area occupies 604.45 square kilometers and is inhabited by 3,182,981 people.

Madrid is a metropolis that was dramatically influenced by the wars of the last century, but despite the misery of the war, the Iberian artists managed to turn it into poetry and prose, painting and film, music and photography.
A few years after the brutal dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, a cultural movement later known as La Movida Madrileña was born in the Spanish capital. The onset of this movement can be traced in the years 1977-1978 with musical groups of the New Wave Madrileño, the first punk batch in Madrid in imitation of what happened in several Anglo-Saxon cities (London, New York, Los Angeles) at that time. 1 It was the years of the transition from a dictatorship to a democratic regime with the first Constitution that provided for the existence of a parliamentary monarchy and the separation of the State and the Church.

Movida left an enormous cultural legacy given its innovative, libertine and modern character that knew how to break the traditionalism of the Francist society. The major centers of Madrid's movida were the Spanish capital itself Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Torremolinos (Malaga and Costa del Sol), Valencia and Vigo. In the 1980s, the resurgence of the feminist movement took place, the birth of the sexual revolution, the decriminalization of homosexuality, but also the increase in the use of narcotics.

The ignorance and inexperience that society had then on the effects derived from the consumption of substances such as heroin, produced the death of thousands of people from different social classes as well as important artists from the world of music, film and theater. Entire families were annihilated and many neighborhoods mourned the loss of innumerable victims due to the consumption of that drug. This fact played a decisive role in the change of the policy on the consumption of narcotics, and the Spaniards realized in time that the consumption of these substances at the social level only has pernicious results, and that essentially only benefits the economic interests of the drug traffickers.

The parks, the green zones and the streets full of plane trees of shade in the neighborhoods of the Spanish capital besides impressing with their strong and healthy presence, show the love that the people of Madrid feel towards the trees. The municipal government continues to give priority to the fight against climate change, being particularly concerned with caring for trees and creating new green areas, combining landscape of free earth with high vegetation of trees.

I landed firstly at Barajas, which is the airport of Madrid, in December 1999. The first impression that I had of the city was strongly related to the red color of the sunset due to the reflection of the sun's rays on the vast Iberian land, and the square blocks of flats made of red brick characteristic of Spanish architecture. Then, the Prado Museum, the Retiro Park and Picasso's Guernika at the Reina Sofía Museum of Contemporary Art, acted as a catalyst and made Madrid one of my favorite destinations.

A couple of very dear friends, Nani and Pedro, insisted that I stay for a while there, two very affectionate people whom I had met years ago, when Pedro had received an European Erasmus scholarship. At that time, a large number of students from all over Europe came to Greece to study and see closely the Greek art of the classical period and continue their studies at the School of Fine Arts in Athens.

My first encounter with the Spanish student community took place by chance in Plaza Exarchia, during the autumn of 1996. Little by little we started to strengthen bonds of friendship, we took endless walks, we exchanged Greek and Spanish lessons, we lived together, we fell in love …, all of these at the gates of the new millennium. This period, I were a student of agronomy with a strong inclination for photography, and I began to feel very attracted by all this new world, this new way of artistic expression exhibited by the comrades who came from the Iberian Peninsula. This new interpretation of concepts such as, for example, photosynthesis through painting, sculpture, photography, etc., substantially broadened our scientific and artistic horizons.

It goes without saying that Madrid is not just a destination that you only go to enjoy a vacation organized by any travel agency: to Madrid you have to study it and listen to it to perceive, among other things, the similarities and differences between Mediterranean 's people; the tribes that have passed through it are numerous, long before the phenomenon of globalization. It is a city where a person can deepen little more in the way in which society works, and so realize the importance of concepts such as social self-evaluation, real cooperation and the inherent disposition of citizens to take control of their own lives.

Today, after many years of imposition of austerity policies, a large part of Spanish society is disappointed and with evident signs of profound depressive disorders. It is possible that Spain has not followed Greece's trajectory in detail of memoranda, however, many times the morale of the population is in tatters. Basically, it seems to go through a period of apparent silence during which, however, intense social upheaval attempts to shape the events of tomorrow.

There are certain people both in Spain and in the rest of Europe that consciously provoke that the gaze of the people is directed towards certain nationalist dilemmas, constituting this an evasion for these people to the growing social pressure; a social pressure that has as origin the economic asphyxia of the most popular strata. We shall soon see the results of those actions.

Anyway, if someone asked me what that city meant to me, I would respond with two lines that I wrote travelling in their subway:
Madrid is like the eyes of a beautiful daughter who tells you the truth,
and the more sincere she is, the more you fall in love with her.


If you like to see more photos and read the text in other language you can follow the links:

I would like to thank Thomas P. Sypsas for the corrections and observations that has made in English translation of the text.
The photos are taken in ecosystems of the municipality of Madrid, during some days of October 2017 and February 2018.
Text and photos by © Dimitris V. Geronikos.

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