I’d like to transport you to a place where the streets are paved with volcanic rock that braid the city, and crumbling houses wrap around outcrops of ancient lava flow.
I’d like to transport you to a place a few miles up the road from where I grew up. It’s a tiny, windswept port town that had its heyday up until the 1960s. After that, the industries shifted outwards, like the dunes that shield Blyth from the North Sea, switching from mining coal to farming wind.
I’m sitting on a concrete bench on Plaza Nelson Mandela, taking in the warm winter sun on my face. A local Senegalese man wearing an ivory silk boubou pours his friends cups of hot black coffee from a canister. On a bench near them, a group of young Argentinians top up their cups of mate and share a smoke.
In the shadow of Madrid’s extravagant lights display, the spirit of no-frills Christmas lives on. You just have to look a bit closer.
Let me take you to Porto, where I share with you all my no-frills discoveries, ghost trails and touchable portals to the darkest era of Portugal’s past.
Welcome to an old outpost of the Spanish Empire, and the battlefield of the Forgotten War.
On the deathly quiet streets of Cabanyal, you may feel like you’ve rediscovered a deserted Spanish outpost.
What’s popular on the Spanish radio is a world away from what’s cooking beneath the surface. Funk, flamenco, Latin jazz and trap have all leapt into the limelight, but there’s a part of Madrid’s music scene that stubbornly resists going mainstream, even if it might be growing.
Meet Miss Beige, a feminist, anarchist madrileña after all our hearts. She’s a common girl living in her own beige world, and she’ll spit pipas at anyone who tells her to smile.
In a dark cellar, just around the corner from the Lavapiés dungeon, a young Madrileño is enchanting people with his magic three times a week. His spellbinding illusions may not have been thrust onto the underground stage at all had it not been for hard times, but this sombre era in Spanish history is inspiring a new movement and Carlos Devanti is a driving force behind it.
“These children will become doctors, hairdressers, cooks, rickshaw drivers, photographers – any number of destinies await them. There are potential millionaires, celebrities and probably criminals too and actually, some of them may already have died or had children of their own.”
Estadio Vicente Calderón, a colossal oval fortress that has dominated Madrid’s riverside skyline since 1966, is about to be demolished. One month since its closure, local bars which once thrived from the custom of football fans are now eerily quiet.
Mayorista de Chatarra is a local scrap metal dealer in Lavapiés that’s been going strong for over 100 years, and especially for the last ten.
Botellón is a favourite pastime in action, but it’s seriously testing the innate Spanish tolerance for noise and is causing friction across all of society.
Guerilla gardens have been popping up all over Madrid since the recent crisis – people have been reclaiming disused land for use as public space by planting trees and vegetables.