Ever since Vicente Rico’s closed down a few years ago, the choices available for getting a halfway decent costume in Madrid have been reduced drastically, by about 50%, I’d say. Now there is only one place that I can think of that offers any serious range of costumes without having to resort to the Chinese 5-and-dime stores, which is where you end up going in the end. But we will get to them later. Vicente Rico had a store just off Serrano. It had been there for as long as I can remember before it suddenly disappeared. I guess the crisis got the best of it.
So, now my daughters and I slip down to the center to Maty, another classic in town. Maty opened its doors in 1943, right smack in the heart of the crude post-Spanish Civil War days. It originally sold dance slippers, but later expanded into marketing outfits related to dance and ballet as well. It eventually diversified its offer to include costumes to cater to the growing demand at Carnival and Halloween.
Halloween has no place in Spanish tradition but it is growing in popularity, and in part English teachers like me are to blame. It was supposed to be a fun way of incorporating culture from the English-speaking world into the classroom. But you don’t just mention getting dressed up as a monster and raking in 5lbs. of candy and expect children to passively sit back and accept it as an entertaining curiosity of faraway lands. Eventually one child stands up and demands in a low voice, “I want that too! And I want it now!”
Wearing a witched costume and getting a muffin doesn’t mean the kids get any closer to the true spirit of the day. Halloween just sort of comes and goes in the psyche of the children here, and they don’t seem to know when or how or why. That sppoky, eerie, haunting feel you sense in the days leading up to that magical night, doesn’t take hold here. It’s simply not deeply rooted enough, which is why you get scenes like the following.
I’ll write a date on the blackboard and ask, “O.K. kids, what does October 31st mean?”
Most will stare back with blank looks on their faces and three will shout, “Thanksgiving!”
“All right, let’s try that one again. October 31st. October 31st! Come on!”
One raises his hand and announces, “My birthday is on the 28th.”
“Fantastic Pedro. That wasn’t what I had in mind but God bless you.”
How could they not know this? They love the ay but they can never recall when it is. Back home that date is ingrained in your memory before you even learn the names of brothers and sisters. It’s simply that important.
I’ll need to change strategies. “Let me give you a little hint which I think will help out. I’ll slowly spell it on the bored and you can guess when you think you know the answer. Here we go: H-A-L-…”
“¡Hala Madrid!” One screams with delight, proudly under the impression that he has gotten the answer right. He has just called out Real Madrid’s victory cry, and the class has suddenly been interrupted by an ensuing heated debate about what the best soccer team is. There tale doesn’t end there.