Puerta del Sol: History

A brief history of Madrid's Plaza de la Paja Through the Ages

April 14, 2005

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During the period of Muslim rule in Spain, Madrid's Plaza de la Paja (Straw Square) was the site of the city's most important zoco, or street market, selling mainly grain and fodder. At the time, it probably marked the southernmost point of the city's Arab wall. During the Middle Ages, the plaza housed Madrid's most aristocratic residences; No. 14 was the preferred stopover of the Reyes Católicos when they were passing through the city. On Monday 18th April, three cows will be placed in the Plaza de la Paja and, according to a press release I got today, the cows "posarán ante la cámara con unos modelos de lencería". This means one of two things: that the cows will be wearing lingerie or that they'll be accompanied by male models wearing lingerie (it doesn't say "unas modelos", which would mean women). The concept is apparently a homage to cows as providers of milk, and was dreamed up by Ben and Jerry's, in recognition of Free Ice Cream Day at B & J's, which is next Tuesday. I hope whoever thought this up received vast quantities of money for doing so. The world back then may have been crueller, but the world we have now is both cruel and extremely strange. Will I be able to attend? No.


Frankly, Mr Franco

March 30, 2005

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The Good General must be turning in his tumba. First, the last statue of him still standing in Madrid is hauled away in a most undignified manner. (Apparently there are now only two statues left in Spain, one in Santander and one in Zaragoza - but Izquierda Unida tells us that there are 167 references to the Franco regime in public places in Madrid alone - in street and school names, for example.) And now, there's talk of converting his greatest architectural legacy, an awful monument to awfulness, into a memorial for his victims. The Francisco Franco Foundation (a website designed with the same good taste and restraint as the Valle de los Caídos) has its own ideas about the removal of the statue, calling it "a belligerent act by Zapatero against Spanish history". That sounds about right. Sometimes, history benefits from a little belligerence.

(Today's title, by the way, is to celebrate the on the music of the Smiths in Manchester next week. Morrissey would probably be turning in his grave too, if he was dead.)


Bullets, Books, Gas

November 8, 2004

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The Complutense University, where I teach, was a battlefield during the Civil War. But what I didn't know was that the trenches, according to a piece in today's El País, were built partly by using sacksful of books taken from the university libraries, mainly those of Philosophy and Law. Some books were pierced by bullets, such as the one in the image above, a 1570 edition of San Agustin's Index Omnium, which was used as part of a barricade. During the war, Nationalist troops occupied various university buildings, including the Instituto de Higiene and the schools of Agriculture and Architecture. Many of their Republican opponents were to be found in the Parque del Oeste nearby - at their closest, the opposing forces were only 50m apart. The war destroyed 40% of the university buildings, many of which had been put up during the Republic.

Talking about bullets, I can think of a good place to put one. Today we found out that we have been paying Gas Natural (who I hereby denounce on PdS Blog) €7 a month for the last 11 months for a "maintenance service" that we never actually asked for. An "error", is what it'll be called. The system is simple: charge people for something they've never asked for, stick it on their invoice in the hope that they're have better things to do with their time than minutely examine all their invoices, and when they find out (if they ever do), call it an error before making it extremely tedious and time-consuming for them to get their money back. (We've spent an hour today trying to get through to them.) This is capitalism at its most savage. In some countries, perhaps, the state protects the consumer from this kind of behaviour. Also, Wannadoo (who I also here denounce) tried to continue charging me after I stopped using them a couple of months ago, and after I sent them the fax they requested informing them about it. Another error, no doubt - there must be a lot of errors being made out there.

But it could be worse, I suppose. We could be in a Civil War.


November 4, 2004

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"During the occupation of France, Picasso's studio was regularly visited by Gestapo officers looking for evidence of his links to the Resistance. One of them admired a reproduction of Guernica. "You did that, didn't you?" he asked. "No," Picasso replied, "you did.""

This telling anecdote from Miranda France's Daily Telegraph review of Guernica: the Biography of a Painting by Gijs van Hensbergen. I remember seeing it years ago, when it was still behind bullet-proof glass.

nnhvsko gnfhz

Something Else I Didn't Know

September 7, 2004

"The history of deaf education begins in Spain, for the teaching of deaf children is widely believed to have originated there, and events there led to the spread of this instruction throughout the world [...] The period under consideration here was a time of experimentation in which a colorful cast of characters—among them a Benedictine monk, a secretive schoolteacher turned tutor to the aristocracy, an ambitious secretary to a noble household, a scholarly ex-Jesuit in exile, an intellectual abbé inspired by the philosophy of the European Enlightenment, a liberal lawyer, an award-winning deaf artist—all set aside other pursuits to dedicate themselves to instructing deaf students. In so doing, they laid the foundation for the professionalization of deaf education." From Susan J. Plann's A Silent Minority: Deaf Education in Spain, 1550-1835, available in full at the recently discovered (by me) University of California Press's Online Publications List.



Lorca's Grave

August 6, 2004

A few years ago, I went down to Granada to write the mandatory piece about Federico García Lorca that every English language journalist in Spain has to write at some point. I interviewed his niece, Laura, I visited the park dedicated to his memory in Alfacar, I walked up the slope, on the windy road out to Viznar, to try and find the place he was shot. Nothing new came out of it, just more useless, empty words piled onto the myth. Now, reports the Guardian, things are in place for an exhumation. I wouldn't agree with this if was simply about finding Lorca. What would the point be, given that, as his family agrees, it would only open up old wounds? But looked at from another point of view it's part of a larger process, the , and that I'm all in favour of. If you haven't done so already, then this is the must-read on Lorca's last days.