25 Feb THE MADRID CHAMARTIN DISTRICT
In this Madrid Tourist Guides Blog I will tell you about Hispanoamerica neighborhood in the Madrid Chamartín district. When I moved in, ”a few years ago”, I had no idea that here were the best bars and restaurants in downtown. And no idea that this was the place of the stadium of world, famous soccer team Real Madrid. Much less did I know the names of its most illustrious neighbors. Di Stéfano, Gento, Clifford Luyk, Miguel Ríos, Juan Gyenes, Dámaso Alonso, Ramón Menéndez Pidal, Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, Francisco Umbral, Antonio Herrero, to mention only a few of them. I crossed paths with Manuel Alexandre several times, walking down Félix Boix Street. But I only learnt who this smiling gentleman was, when I saw him playing in some Berlanga’s movies.
On Doctor Fleming street, I sat down at the restaurant table for Mr. Alfredo Di Stefano, the legendary soccer star. A table, only for him. It was an unforgettable morning hour. I had a private tour with a Mexican client through the last traces of the ‘’Costa Fleming’’. My client recognized Di Stefano, approached his table and politely asked to have a picture with him. Guess who played the photographer? And, as I said, it was my turn to attend a 1-hour soccer masterclass. My teachers were Don Alfredo and the client, who revealed himself throughout the talk, as a traveling encyclopedia of the soccer sport !
Ages ago, I began to stray daily through Madrid Chamartin. Strolls through some streets of my neighborhood with endearing names which seemed to whisper me that everything would turn out well: Bendición de Campos, Abedul, Saxífraga, Azulinas, Cipreses, Lilas…
Even translated into Russian (I didn’t spoke Spanish yet) they sounded nice. Above all, compared with street names of my native Khabarovsk. Like Karl Marx, Dzergiensky, Leningradkaya, Sheronova, Voronezheskaya, Vüborogskaya.
Thanks to the names of other streets in my neighborhood, I began to learn about notable persons. The immense, moving humanitarian work of Padre Damian, caring for the lepers of Molokai Island. I discovered the importance of the Codex of Fray Bernardino de Sahagun in the history of New Spain. My inquiries about Juan Ramón Jiménez introduced me to Spanish poetry. It was an endearing entry, continued with Leon Felipe and Blas de Otero. 6 months of intensive Spanish classes had passed. I regretted that Don Juan Ramon’s ( a republican) street, crossed with the avenue of former city mayor Alberto Alcocer ( a nationalist ). Although, on second thought, that crossing reflected the peaceful, political Spirit of the Transition, which had borned after Franco’s decease. Finding out the origin of Lopez Pozas Street led me first to the merciless execution of this brave lieutenant general and afterwards, to the abject assassination of innocent communist families ( by another communist leader ) in Paracuellos, Madrid province . And from there, I ended up in the Second Spanish Civil War, a study of which I continue to this day.
Yes, the Spanish Civil War, promoted by politicians who sowed division and hatred instead of practicing political action in the sense preached by Cicero (…” to defend the safety of my fellow citizens and to secure peace for others, even at the risk of my own life”), darkened my spirit. But the cure was handy: a walk through the streets of Azulinas, Cipreses and Lilas !
Only one doubt I have not been able to clear up, after so many years: Who was Mr. Apolonio Morales? A Mason engineer from Camagüey ? It is not a minor street, Apolonio Morales. The Venezuelan Consulate is there, and it ends quite close to the Cuban Embassy. There is also a restaurant that has a loyal clientele. And a prestigious Dance Studio. At number 2, there is a side door of the huge La Consolación School. In other words…
…it has been impossible for me to find out the background of Don Apolonio. Probably he was a man of respect, but a thick cloak of mystery covers his identity. At least for this licensed tourist guide. Shame !
I did not know of any neighbor who had ancestors born in Chamartín. Natural. I found out, on the Fuenterreboyo site, that the area where I live was in the 20th century a wasteland, North of Madrid. But about 60 years ago, the buildings that now make up my neighborhood started to grow like mushrooms. The price of the apartments was not within the reach of low-income families. Quite the contrary. This is how the mansions of Ramón Menendez Pidal and Damaso Alonso began to be surrounded by tall buildings acquired by ”wealthy people” who spoke with the same ”posh accent” of the Madrid’s Serrano Street pedestrians.
I liked to watch the neighbors during my ”discovery walks”. Lots of them had breakfast in coffee shops. Strange, I thought. I was also surprised by the huge quantity of restaurants. They were full, at all hours. And at 4 o’clock in the afternoon they were still full. The diners smoke Havana cigars while finishing their generous glasses of whiskey. What were they talking about? Business, I heard. Afterwards, they would get back to work with some closed contract in the briefcase.
In the evenings, bars and restaurants got full again, but with a different crowd. Couples, families, parties of friends.
No doubt that people in my neighborhood knew how to enjoy life. Someone told me that most of the owners had bought their apartments between 1970 and 1980. A time when mortgage interest rates fluctuated between 16 and 20% ! At first glance, none of the inhabitants of the Madrid Chamartín district worried about such ‘’a small detail’’!
And I had come to such a place!
It was about that same time that I understood the meaning of the Spanish saying ”A vivir, que son 2 días ( seize the day ) .” It seemed that this was the favorite slogan of the habitants of Madrid Chamartin.
A couple of years after my arrival, I was already fully introduced to the atmosphere of my neighborhood. I had learned the names of the store owners and had established friendships with moms who had children the same age as mine. I was no longer a mere observer of people’s lives, but a member of the neighborhood social circle. (Although I still could not assimilate the habit of having breakfast in a Cafeteria).
Around the same time, I crossed the border of my neighborhood. I’ve heard that in front of the Berlin Park there was a church which looked like a ”Mexican Sombrero”. It was the Parroquia Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, an architectural marvel. Its environment was different from my neighborhood. I decided to explore it. I started to walk the extension of Concha Espina Avenue, called Ramón y Cajal, promising myself to find out, as soon as I returned home, who were these notable persons.
It seemed as if I had entered another city. Small houses on both sides of the road. More little houses on the adjacent streets. At last, I had more pleasant names to add to my list of favorite street : ”Clavileño”, ”Flecha”, ”Pinarillo”, ”Campanilla”, ”Peñalara”, ”Plaza de la Justicia”….
That’s how I entered the Prosperidad neighborhood. Abbreviated, the ”Prospe”, the oldest neighborhood of the Madrid Chamartín district. I regretted not having known it before. I fall in love instantly with its quiet alleys. Devoid of the high brick apartments that proliferated in my neighborhood.
Prosperidad ( Prosperity ) , a nice name for a neighborhood.
Too bad it was half an hour away from my apartment.
But thanks to this discovery, I found out that the origin of Prosperidad goes back to the XIX century.
And that its most illustrious neighbor was the writer Don Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio.
My reading of his ”El Jarama”, was my best lesson about the weekend customs of the young people during Franco’s era.
It had a sad ending, but the whole novel was so well written !
( I read that the most illustrious neighbor of Prosperidad, abhorred El Jarama.)
A curious case. I thought, until then, that all authors loved their literary creations. Even though many years had passed since they were published.
Another illustrious neighbor of the ”Prospe” : The poet Gabriel Celaya.
I remember well that morning when I sat down on a bench in The Berlin Park with a book of his poems in my hands
Social, surrealist, complex poems.
The tender self-criticism of ”A veces me figuro que estoy enamorado” (Sometimes I think I’m in love), made me smile.
SOMETIMES I THINK I’M IN LOVE by Gabriel Celaya
Sometimes I figure I’m in love,
and it’s sweet, and it’s strange,
although, seen from the outside, it’s stupid, absurd.
Fashionable songs seem pretty to me,
and I feel so lonely,
that at night I drink more than usual.
I’ve fallen in love with Adela, I’ve fallen in love with Marta,
and, alternatively, Susanita and Carmen,
and, alternately, I’m happy or I cry.
I am not very intelligent, as you can understand,
but it pleases me to know, I’m one of many,
and in being vulgar I find a certain rest.
There is no other neighborhood in Madrid that offers as much variety as Chamartín.
In the axis of the Real Madrid Stadium, Padre Damian, Alberto Alcocer and Castellana Avenue, there are plenty of good restaurants and bars that please the gastronomic needs of a sort of public who keep in the wallet ”plastic cards of optimal coverage”.
Scattered around Prosperidad, in the area of the National Music Auditorium and López de Hoyos Street (a Jesuit priest who became one of the first followers of Erasmus of Rotterdam in Spain and professor of Cervantes, plus a privileged witness of significant events in the times of Emperor Charles I and King Philip II) are cafes, bars and restaurants, more modest than their rich cousins, but capable of pleasing the stomachs of the most demanding foodies.
In other words, as Francisco Umbral used to say…
If you feel like strolling through a former working-class neighborhood that now belongs to the richest in town, my suggestion is El Viso.
But, if you prefer to stroll through a once affluent neighborhood that now exhibits a peaceful decadence, walk between First and Eleventh Streets.
A little break ? The Casa de Córdoba may be the place you are looking for. (Closed on Mondays).
The small shop owners of Chamartín are happy to cover any demand of the neighbors.
The same old hairdressers stay active, one every 45 yards !
Lots of pharmacies, with long opening hours.
And 7 supermarkets ( in a small area of 1500 square yards ! )
Stationery stores that sell school supplies at excellent prices. (If something is missing, you order it and you get it the next day).
You will also find some types of businesses that are vestiges of the last century. Such as Haberdasheries, Perfumeries and Toy stores. Their brave owners refuse to give up to Amazon.
Of a similar fighting spirit are the diligent gentlemen who own the last 2 newspaper kiosks.
Any Cultural offer ?
Enough of it.
Some examples: the concert-schedule of the National Music Auditorium. The 2 ‘’Arte Canal Exhibition Centers’’, with attractive exhibitions and chamber music recitals.
Before or after the event of your choice, dare to a quiet stroll in the Canal’s Park ( a 54.000 sq. yards green area ). Maybe, you’ll see families with children jostling for green space with the dog owners. On weekends, kids who have arranged to meet up to play soccer join in the peaceful struggle. Thus, blood never shed. The security guards wouldn’t allow it. And, besides, there is enough space for everyone.
In the summertime, neighbors have an open-air cinema at the Nicolás Salmerón Cultural Center, in Prosperidad. ”Storytellers’’ for children in the Berlin Park. Jazz concerts in the San Fernando Park. And classic music in the Olivar de Castillejo Foundation.
Three years ago, our family grew up with Snoopy, our beagle dog.
He is my best ”walking friend”.
I’ve been writing this blog ”in one sitting”, but it’s time to finish it ”right now”. Snoopy is warning me, with steady taps of his tail on the bedroom door, that it’s time to leave for our walk. Today we will go along Fray Bernardino Sahagún and Paseo de la Habana.
We will walk through Francisco Suarez ( a theologian and philosopher, who inspired Schopenhauer and Heidegger, among others) to Abedul street, which has an ”U” shape.
We will then continue our stroll in Bendicion de Campos.
After crossing Lopez Pozas St., we will arrive at Snoopie’s predilected park where he meets his canine friends. I’ll take the chance to chat with mother friends who, like me, used to bring our babies to the same park and, now that the kids are grown, get together to hang out while watching our dogs jumping and running around.