Chronicle of a Summer’s Night in Lavapiés

The calle Olivar in the barrio of Lavapiés is a narrow cobble stone street that stretches uphill from the plaza, separating two rows of 19th century tenement buildings. The buildings which flank either side of the street are largely uniform, each about four or five stories in height are mostly residential while some of the ground level units function as commercial shops; a grocery, a café, an independent cinema, and even a gay bar. The neighborhood is the most ethnic part of Madrid, a capital city of a country which has received ebbs and flows of human migratory patterns throughout its long history.

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Each of the buildings that sits against the dramatic slope of the street are nearly homogenous, however with slightly altering details.  The colors of the buildings are painted in pronounced but weathered and muted colors, oscillating between burnt orange, oxidized amber, and pastel burgundy. Each building unit has its own balcony with ornamental, wrought iron railing, some are more austere and others more elaborate.  Many of the balconies house plants and furniture, while some appear as if the tenets choose to use the space as additional storage for bicycles, refrigerators, and even mannequins. Every balcony is equipped with a set of roll down wooden blinds which drape over the railings to prevent the sun light from penetrating, while still allowing for the free movement of air.

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The soft glow of the lamp posts and the glimmer of moonlight reflect off the subtle hues of the buildings illuminating the neighborhood. The air is thick and stifling filled with wafting aromas of garlic and curry which seep out of apartments and filter into the night’s warm air.  Temperatures in Madrid easily reach 37 degrees celsius even in the late August evenings when temperatures don’t begin to drop until nightfall.  The pitch of the street creates a natural amphitheater, which amplifies and echoes distant sounds of car horns honking, conversations spoken in foreign dialects, apartment buzzers ringing, and unintelligible shouts. The sporadic and suspicious ring of a telephones repeats every few minutes as a constant recurrent punctuation in the chaotic urban orchestra.

On the sidewalk, three middle-aged women sit on the stoop of one apartment conversing loudly.  One olive-skinned brunette women sits on a folding chair smoking a cigarette while refreshing herself by quickly waving a folding fan in her face. The other two women, one of diminutive height with blond hair and exposed roots, the other a brunette dressed in too few clothes for her ample girth, both sit on the steps to the entrance to an apartment sharing a large bottle of beer.  The three women swap healthy amounts of gossip about neighbors, family members, and cheating spouses.  The women loudly recant their stories with the complicit confidence of the entire neighborhood, as their chatter reaches a one block radius.

The scandalous cackle of the trio are suddenly interrupted by the hum of car’s motor followed by the screeching of tires and the thud of four car doors closing.  The flashing of electric blue lights contrast the soft luminescence of the street lamps, dominating the night.  Four men in dark blue police uniforms and flack jackets stand in the street beside their squad car.  Three of the men alertly asses the immediate surroundings, while the fourth speaks into a handheld radio holstered on his shoulder. Once the radio message concluded, the four men huddle together appearing to concoct a plan.  After a tense moment of deliberation, the four officials approach the entrance of an apartment, three units down from the threesome who have been rendered silent by the presence of the police force.

One of the officers rings the buzzer to the apartment building and they await for nearly a minute until the door is opened from the inside. A woman in her 60’s emerges from the entrance dressed in a crimson bathrobe, hair curlers, and blue cotton slippers.  The woman holds open the iron gate with one hand and with the other, maintains a firm grip on a lit cigarette.  Two of the officers approach the woman and engage in a line of questioning, to which she responds quietly and cooperatively between puffs of tobacco which she expels in large plumes of blue smoke accentuated by the neon flashes of the police lights.  After a few minutes of corroboration, the woman in curlers discretely invites the officers into the building, all four men follow her through the entrance in single file, leaving the patrol car parked in the narrow street.

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The soundtrack of anime cartoons playing loudly emanates from balcony of first floor apartment, directly above the entrance where the police recently entered. That balcony has become occupied by the four individuals who curiously peer down at the street below.  The balcony is filled with random junk, toys, and old furniture, which make it difficult for them to crane their necks to steal a glance of the episode transpiring below.  They are the members of an Indian family, the father is dressed in a polo shirt with a mustache, glasses, and a conservative hair cut is accompanied by his wife, who graces a purple hijab and a flowing dress.  The two parents are lifting their young boys, one about seven years old and the other about five, so that they can see what is happening in the street below.  They family cautiously and curiously spy on the street, trying to make sense of visit from the police to their residence. After a short while the family abandons the balcony and return back inside. The same telephone sounds once again from a nearby apartment, although this time the ring is silenced almost immediately.

The police car, still parked with its lights flashing, is blocking the one lane of through traffic on the one way street as a line of cars has began to form a queue behind it.  The drivers of the cars are growing impatient as they begin to honk and shout in frustration. Four cars back from the squad car, parked half way through the bisecting street of calle Calvario, a late-model silver-colored hatchback begins to rev its engine.  The car jerks backward in reverse, opposite the sharp angle of the street, before intermittently pulling forward. The precarious maneuver causes a high pitch squeal of an aging timing chain as the car struggles to make a 90 degree turn in a space of only two meters.  In the passenger side of the hatchback, the window rolls down allowing for the torso of a passenger to climb partially out, and survey the situation.  The passenger is a young  black man in his early twenties who begins to give instructions to the driver, speaking loudly with a Dominican accent.  Finally in one sharp knee jerk motion the car turns hard to the left screeching up onto the curb, nearly knocking over a trash can, before dropping down to the perpendicular thoroughfare and speeding down calle Calvario, leaving the long line of cars behind.

The cars stopped further back now begin to turn off the same street following the hatchback’s lead.  The three gossiping ladies on the steps begin once again to converse, however now their conversation is much more guarded and cautious. A young couple of Spanish hipsters walk down the street hand in hand beside a line of parked cars, observing the police car curiously. The Indian mother once again returns to the balcony to survey the situation. The same telephone rings yet again, this time no one attends to it.

A few moments later the four policemen leave the building, returning to the street, seemingly more confused than before.  One of the officers makes continuous radio transmissions while the other three begin to walk up and down the street peering through street level windows and inside the entrances to the various buildings.  A women speaking loudly and dramatically on her cell phone emerges out to the street from the neighboring building.

The woman in her mid-twenties is wearing platform sandals, a pink miniskirt, and a black halter top with bleached hair.  She has her phone clamped against one side of her head as she paces back and forth nervously with her other hand resting on her hip. The tone of her voice is loud and aggressive and she speaks very rapidly causing passers-by to infer that she might be quarreling with a lover.  After a short while eavesdropping on her one-sided conversation, the three neighborhood gossips are able to deduce that she is not fighting with a romantic partner, but rather her mother.  She stubbornly demands that her mother take care of her pet schnauzer, Lola, while she goes away on holiday.  Not receiving the answer she was hoping for, she adopts the temperament of a girl half her age and makes a scandal until, as it would seem, she gets her way.

The officers, annoyed by the spoiled woman’s conversation, abandon their search to return to the squad car leaving the scene. After ending the conversation the twenty something woman rolls a cigarette and begins to smoke standing on the sidewalk.  Before she is able to finish her smoke, a man on a motorcycle stops abruptly in front of her.  She throws her lit cigarette in the street, puts on a helmet and mounts the back of the motorcycle before it rumbles down the street.

The three gossips once again start to make noise, smoking cigarettes and trading swigs of the now warm bottle of beer.  The same telephone rings once again, this time not to be answered.  The Indian mother returns to her balcony to cautiously scan the street below before one of her sons starts to scream causing her to run back inside to tend to her child. Two Senegalese immigrants wearing bright, colorful kaftans walk down the street and stop into a local grocery at the corner below. The street occasionally becomes illuminated by the lights of passing cars and in the distance the faint strum of flamenco guitar billows in the warm summer night.

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A couple walk up the street with a slight stumble, showing obvious signs of intoxication.  The man, in his mid to late twenties, is wearing a t-shirt, cut-off jean shorts and brandishes several tattoos on his arms, which are draped around a slightly younger looking girl. She has jet black shoulder length hair and is wearing high heels and a summer dress as she nervously attempts to keep his hands in places suitable for public exhibition.  The two have an obvious romantic tension that suggests that they are newly dating, perhaps on the second or third encounter.  The man attempts to make charismatic chit-chat with her, however in his state of intoxication it comes off more as arrogant. Luckily for him she is also drunk enough that his arrogance is perceived as charming.  They both seem that they are destined to make questionable decisions this night.

The couple stop walking once they reach a plastic trash container in the street between two parked cars.   The man spots a pair of pants sitting on the lid of the container which has been abandoned by their former owner.  They are not just any pair of pants, but in fact a pair of acid washed blue denim bell bottoms from the seventies.  The man in his drunken state can’t contain himself, he strips down to his underwear before sliding into the pants that minutes ago were destined for the dump.  In an attempt to regain the former glory of the trousers, he dawns the old bell bottoms and begins to dance about the street for his date, duplicating disco steps which died in the seventies.  The stunt appears to win the affections of his would-be lady, who begins to laugh so hard it brings on tears, which then leads to uncontrollable hiccups. After her laughter calms, her dirty, denim-clad date approaches her and the two begin kissing passionately as they stand in the middle of the street.  It is a careless kiss with heavy breathing escaping out half-open mouthes. Tongues and lips sloppily collide as saliva is exchanged and a large dose of heavy petting ensued.  Finally after nearly a minute of face sucking, they are interrupted when another hiccup escapes her mid-kiss causing them both to laugh hysterically before continuing to stumble up the street unable to keep their hands off of each other.

 

Once again the ring of telephone echoes through the night and once again no one answers. The Indian mother pokes her head over the balcony lancing untrusting glances outward onto the street below. The three gossips who had been observing the antics of the young couple make loud judgemental comments to one another between disapproving glances. There they continue to sit on the steps in front of calle Olivar in the neighborhood of Lavapiés, accompanied by stale tobacco, neighborhood rumors, and the radiant heat of Madrid in August.

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