Thursday, November 1, 2007

For All The Saints

 id=Today Madrid is empty; you can, as Señor Gato Gringo is fond of saying, fire a cannon down any street and not hit anyone. That's not entirely true because there are tourists milling about, forming long lines at the nearest Starbucks, cameras and guidebooks in hand but, for the most part, it's a dead city. It would seem that Madrileños have absconded to one of two places: anywhere except Madrid or the cemeteries. This is not surprising: today is November 1st. More accurately, All Saints' Day. More importantly, a holiday.

Traditionally this is the day that Spaniards flock to the cemeteries to tend to the graves of those who have already shuffled off this mortal coil. With brushes and soap and fresh flowers in hand, graves and headstones will be spruced up until an anniversary comes along or until this time next year. Why this is done today rather than tomorrow - All Souls' Day - completely escapes me. One of these days I'll have to ask someone to explain it to me.

For those who have seen Pedro Almodóvar's Volver, you might recall the opening scene of the film, set on All Saints' Day, in which scores of families (= women) gather at a cemetery in La Mancha to tend to the graves of - to coin Somerset Maugham - their Loved Ones. Now the illegal downloaded version of the film that Señor G.G. and I viewed has the dubious honour of being the worst subtitled film in the history of celluloid and bears with it the can't-be-overstated moral cum truism that you get what you pay for. (In this case nothing. In this case crap.) The mental leviathans who translated it clearly typed the entire script into Babel Fish and then pressed "enter", rendering such gems as "it costs" for vale - the Spanish okay - confusing it with the verb valer (to cost). It took me a while to realize that Penélope Cruz - with her Vale! Vale! Vale!'s - wasn't some price-obsessed harpy.

Traditionally this is also the day when those Madrileños who don't have family buried here - or don't give a rat's ass about such niceties as excavating the dirt collected in the R.I.P. of a headstone with a toothbrush - hit the road and take a long weekend. When holidays - and this is the first in a slalom of national and civic holidays leading up to Christmas - fall on a Thursday or Tuesday, it is common to take a puente, or a bridge. In other words, create a just-add-water extra long weekend. Viva Espagne.

Traditionally, this was a day that as a child, I tore our house apart looking for the place where my mother hid the booty - the molasses kisses, caramels, and rockets - from the previous night's trick or treating foray. I invariably found it and, I suspect, she invariably knew but said nothing.

Traditionally Today Señor G.G. and I walked the streets of an empty city - for only selected bars and cafés are open - basked in the 20° celcius sunshine, marvelled at the pansies thriving under a pre-midwinter sun, mocked the tourists (Señor G.G and I are incredibly shallow people), and stopped for cocktails at a sidewalk bistro chosen at random. This is our new tradition. We have no graves to clean, no mountain chalets to go to; instead, we are content to enjoy a city forsaken by its inhabitants and enjoy a pint and a glass of rosé in the company of winter-fat sparrows and Madrid's ubiquitous Scottish terriers.

And do our thoughts turn to the saints? Perhaps Saint Martin - the patron saint of wine - and Saint Adrian - the patron saint of beer. True Spain is a secular country but we are sensitive to its Catholic roots and like to do our part.


Anonymous said...

I suppose there's a secular saint who we can celebrate tomorrow...


Anonymous said...

Indeed. With an 'arf and 'arf.