Living in Spain

The Rain in Spain…

…falls mainly in Madrid! It hasn’t stopped raining for 12 hours. The weather reminded me of an article I wrote for a competition a few years ago, when I lived in Lavapies, which still holds very true today. Here it is, for anyone with two minutes to spare:

If only it rained a bit more in Madrid. For a start, I wouldn’t get into trouble for leaving the tap running whilst I brush my teeth. I try to explain to my Madrileña wife that it’s just a bad habit picked up in my English youth. When later she came to England she understood: with so much rain, we rarely face a water shortage.

It doesn’t rain too often in Madrid, yet how the city could do with it! If only it rained a little more, the streets wouldn’t be so apt to smell of dog shit. In a city of gardenless dog-fanatics, this tends to be a problem. The council employs men, on scooters with giant rear-mounted hoovers, to suck up the offending articles from the pavements. One day I expect a hoover bag to explode, causing a minor environmental incident.

And there’s the smell of stale urine that collects in dark corners and behind recycling bins, anywhere that people are drinking out on the street. Which is everywhere in summer; particularly, I notice, below my window. A nightly dose of rain would soon put pay to that.

And it’s all very well enjoying an evening stroll amongst the sprawling greenery of the Retiro park, the rasping lungs of Madrid, but once your legs get tired you can’t even sit on the grass. Sprinklers pop up from nowhere like spy periscopes, sending picnickers and dogs scattering alike.

With a bit more rain the city might even have a river to speak of, a Thames or a Seine to amble along, instead of a stagnant canal bordered by six lane traffic, that will never be a Rio no matter what they call it. But what hope of a river when the reservoirs dry up each summer, barely to be replenished again by snow-melt from the high Sierras in spring?

On the odd occasion that it does rain (when I stand on my balcony and smile up at it), the Madrileños take it as a personal affront, and pick their way through the streets in a mood of catastrophic dismay. Everything grinds to a halt; the streets are damp and sooty, like a fire that’s just been put out.

But I shouldn’t get carried away, for in that year-round, dust-dry sunlight lies the very essence of Madrid. This is a city of extremes: freezing in winter, sizzling in summer, blindingly bright and as dry as a bone. All this reflects down to street level. You eat later – lunch at three, dinner at ten – sleep less, stay out longer, and enjoy life in ways you’d never imagine in a brooding, grey-sky city like London or Paris.

And of course if it did rain more than it does, I’d miss out on one of the greatest pleasures of a scorching summer night. To lie in bed with the windows open, listening to the men who water the streets. They appear with firemen’s hoses just before dawn, a man-made monsoon, blasting away the grime with thousands of gallons of water. Considering this, it strikes me as ironic that I get into trouble for leaving the tap running whilst I brush my teeth.