I rented a one-bedroom apartment on Calle de la Magdalena in Antón Martín. It would be another two months before I started work and I didn’t know many people so I had to make an effort to fill my time. When your daily schedule isn’t determined by work or social meet ups you can easily find yourself at a loose end wondering what to do, wasting away days, watching shit television for example.
I got myself into a routine which I still stick to if I have nothing to do. My day would start around 9am with a walk down Calle de Atocha to El Retiro, bringing with me a bottle of water and a book. I would enter the Puerta del Ángel Caido and find a reading spot on the grassy bank just inside. After a while I would take a walk around Retiro’s rose garden, then I’d go over to the Palacio de Cristal where I’d read for a little bit longer. Around midday I’d leave the park from one of its western gates. I’d walk back to my apartment via Calle de las Huertas, stopping to read the inscriptions on the ground. One afternoon I followed the words from start to finish and was surprised to find myself looking at the final inscription in the Plazuela de Santiago, which leads directly on to the Palacio Real. I always made sure I was home before the airless summer heat peaked.
I’d go out again in the evening, sticking to the shaded side of the streets until the sun went down. On these evening walks I’d make my way up Calle de Atocha to Plaza Mayor where I would sit on one of the four lamp post bases and smoke a cigarette while attempting to figure out what historical stories the engravings on the bases depicted. Some of the balcony doors of the Plaza would be wide open and I could see into the apartments where the residents were walking around.
Leaving Plaza Mayor I’d make my way to Sol and up one of the streets that leads to Gran Vía. The scale of the buildings on Gran Vía mesmerised me. Looking up towards their skyline I always spotted a statue I hadn’t seen before or some intricate design in a façade or some odd-shaped building nestling between two giants of human construction.
When I got to Cibeles I’d stop again and look towards the Y-shaped intersection of Calle de Alcalá and Gran Vía. I was convinced that Fritz Lang had walked on Calle de Alcalá and admired the Metropolis building before designing the art work for his dystopian movie.
On my way back to Calle de la Magdalena I would always choose a different route. I might walk down Paseo del Prado, stopping to see whom the statues outside the Museo del Prado honoured then continue to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía to walk under the overhanging roof that reminded me of an aeroplane wing and to peek in through the shutters of the museum’s library. I could continue to Embajadores to have a look around the inside of the Tabacalera and then walk up through the crisscrossing streets of Lavapíes or if I was tired I would take the short route from the Reina Sofía and go up Calle de Santa Isabel while checking out what collection of cinema classics was showing in the Cine Doré. I might even turn right at the CaixaForum and enter the three-and-four-storey labyrinth of the Barrio de las Letras with its sloping streets that rise and fall without logic and its uneven buildings and black-iron balconies decorated in the owners’ individual styles. There were thousands of buildings to be amazed by and endless routes to get back home and I must have walked most of them. During the two years I lived there I didn’t have much money to socialise, but I didn’t care. I had a bookshelf full of great books and I had Madrid, a city I have never become tired of wandering around.
One Saturday morning in May 2010 I picked up my water bottle and book and headed for Retiro. On my way down Calle de Atocha I decided I would go over to the Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez and read on one of the benches. I walked into the park and passed the Fuente del Ángel Caído while instinctively acknowledging the devil inside of me and crossed the dirt tracks passing the Palacio de Cristal and then out onto Paseo Fernán Núñez where I stumbled upon a line of white book stalls on either side of the Paseo. For a book lover, this was a sight as magnificent as the buildings and streets I had lived and walked among for the past ten months. I started following the line of stalls to see how many there were. There were about 400 covering well over a kilometre all positioned neatly side by side and occupied by the worldly glare of a bookseller looking out from each. Once I reached the beginning I walked back looking at all the books on shelves and in big stacks on the counters and every bookshop name written over the stalls. I came across a stall selling beautifully made pop up books and could not go further without buying one each for my niece and nephew. These were the first books I bought at the Feria del Libro de Madrid.
The Feria del Libro de Madrid is in its 76th year. It opened on the 26th of May and runs until the 11th of June. There are 367 stalls and numerous places to sit down for a snack and drink along the route. It hosts daily activities and talks by prominent writers and media figures. To find out about the daily schedule check the Feria del Libro de Madrid’s website. Since my first visit I’ve been to the Feria del Libro de Madrid every year and always love how it adds to the City, hidden enough to stumble upon but enormous in its construction, how it lines out perfectly like a giant bookshelf inside the lands of El Retiro, bringing the most fantastic library to the numerous readers sitting all over the park.
Feria del Libro, El parque del Buen Retiro.
Metro: Retiro L2, Calle Ibiza L9.
Until 11th of June. Monday – Friday: 11:00 – 14:00 and 18:00 – 21:30.
Sat – Sun & hols: 11:00 – 15:00 and 17:00 – 21:30.
For details of talks and visiting authors check www.ferialibromadrid.com
By Brian Collins (Director of Studies of English Literature Classes Madrid)