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.
I’m getting used to the sound of hovering helicopters but what can I expect, living in Lavapiés? I live in a barrio so routinely pushed to the edge that, every now and then, the pressure becomes too much and its people crack.
Usman is a Mauritanian organic vegetable farmer with an allotment in the Jarama valley – a beautiful bit of local countryside with clay, terracotta soil, which I know well because I find it in the nooks of my freshly picked purple carrots.
Emerge from Lavapiés’ metro into the Mediterranean Maghreb. Meander through its narrow, winding streets lined with candy-coloured facades and Juliette balconies, and catch a glimpse of the Middle East and Africa, but also Asia, Latin America and of course, Madrid.
Hearty, home-cooked Senegalese food rolls out of the kitchen fast at Mandela 100, which is owned by Mamadou from Senegal. His Africa-themed diner has hit the ground running, much to the delight – and relief – of Lavapiés locals, because it’s not just quality that can be found here; it’s also equality.
Despite their straitened circumstances, the citizens of Lavapiés are a fiercely proud tribe. Throughout history, when pushed too far, they have risen up in bloody clashes with the authorities, and here’s why.
Unless you live on this quiet, narrow street in Lavapiés, there’s almost no reason for you to walk down it – that is, unless you’re going to the Duck Church. Nestled into the ground floor of a centenarian building lives a tiny temple devoted to the rubber duck, and its priest is Leo Bassi, a 66-year-old clown who was born on tour.
In the thick of bustling Indian restaurants and foreign food stores, a jazzy facade with bold retro lettering stands out from the crowd. This neighbourhood veteran is Bar El Jamón, the Godfather of Lavapiés.