You can say all you want, but I for one I am not a fan of the Casa de Campo. And I promise you that I put earnest renewed faith in it every time I return, but to no avail. It’s dry and dusty, brown and barren, and cut up with endless arid dirty paths which seem filled with bandits lurking behind every tree. Just from a nature point of view, the landscape reminds me of an ignorant European’s image of the savanna, but next to a landfill. The thing is, we aren’t in Africa but a mere mile from the center of Madrid. So, I don’t what it is. Maybe it’s the constant news about the prostitutes lining up throughout waiting for desperate clients, or the junkies looking for a fix in peace, but I get this terrible feeling that everywhere I step I risk the possibility of having my toe punctured by a HIV infected needle, or wherever I sit, I will have to kick aside a few used condoms. I know it’s not like that. I really do. The place is big enough, and actually quite clean from what I could tell. But never has hygiene suggested such filth. Even the apparently vice-free zones seem uninviting.
Having said that, and in passing having destroyed most of your plans to visit it, let me add that this massive natural park actually has a lot to offer which you should consider. For example, within these grounds you can find Madrid’s very own amusement park (Parque de Atracciones) which has aged remarkably well since it opened 40 years ago, making just the right moves at the right times. It is a first-rate theme park and it outshines the newer Warner Bros. Park on the other side of the city. You can also find Madrid’s magnificent zoo and aquarium, which is well worth the visit. There is an arena where they celebrate concerts and basketball games. The Cirque du Soleil pitched its tents nearby last month. Close to the main gates, you can hang out by a magnificent lake. In that area, the Casa de Campo seems more like just a normal park, accessible to all publics. So in that sense, you have several good reasons for heading out there…I just think picnicking in some remote corner is not one of them.
Anyway, back to what I was saying. We got off the cable car and walked out to see what there was to do, because we really had no idea. Outside the building, you had a great view of the amusement park in the distance which, if anything, made the three girls with me feel worse. That so-close-and-yet-so-far pain. With my hernia wound still in stitches and the hour being what it was, we said we would have to wait for another day. But that was when I came up with what I thought was a perfectly brilliant idea: “Hey! Let’s walk over to the amusement park gates and see how it takes us. That way we’ll know if we can do a double-whammy teleférico-amusement park day all in one. It’ll be great.”
My daughters and their friend looked at me as if I had just asked them to eat a worm sandwich. Then my eldest presented a blistering argument. “Dad. You know we aren’t going to go to the Amusement Park today. Can you think of anything crueler than to make us walk down there just to see how long it takes, watch all those kids laughing as they enter, then turn around and walk all the way up this hill again?”
“No, I can’t think of anything crueler. You’re absolutely right.” I admitted. “Forget I ever mentioned it.”
So, after having that plan completely dismantled by a 12-year-old, we walked around the lush grounds near the Teleférico building. Those parts were obviously under the sphere of influence of a well established watering system. There were several groups who were lounging on the green grass underneath the trees and even a family or two which had spread out an elaborate picnic and were at that point well into the siesta phase. These were perfectly acceptable areas to hang out. I guess. We walked a little further until the green area disappeared and the brown grassy terrain of the real, unwatered Casa del Campo took over. Not so surprisingly, no one ventured beyond that point.
We spent about an hour playing time-killing games but these amused us sufficiently until we decided we had done all that a person can do when there is nothing to do. So, we headed back to the building and went for a drink. Upstairs there is a semi-self service restaurant and a huge terrace with a terrific view of the tree tops of the park and Madrid in the distance. The girls were feeling a little hay-feverish so we sat at the window table just inside. From there I had a magnificent view of the terrace. It was lined with long tables filled with families and their three generations. I said to myself, “Could this be any more Spanish?” The typical Saturday afternoon, post-lunch massive get together, some having a soda or beer, others coffee, yet others possibly a whiskey. The terrace was covered by a pastel orange awning, just the kind I had seen many places in this city in the summer. This, my dear readers (or reader…I really don’t know who’s out there) is a tough sensation to convey if you have never been to Madrid for any extended period of time; but I was overcome by the thought that I was reliving Spain in the 1970s, when things hadn’t changed so much, when the Spanish said they loved Spain. It was the tables, the families, the drinks, the awning, the afternoon daylight, all thrown in together, brought together, joined together, blended and aged together before my eyes, as if I were watching some mildly amusing low-budget comedy from the transition period.
Of course, I could not tell my daughters about this because they wouldn’t have understood, nor would they have cared.
We finished up and hopped back on the cable car to return to Madrid. Just a few minutes out of the gate, I surveyed the parched landscape below and this time spotted some fauna beneath the canopies of trees. It was an elderly man squatting over with his pants down and reaching behind with his hands to wipe his derriere. How fitting, I thought to myself. Now let me make it clear that I am not too prim and proper to regard the need to relieve oneself in nature as offensive. If you gotta go, you gotta go. But what would possess him to do it in full sight of several dozen cable cars passing by? Maybe he didn’t notice us. Maybe he didn’t care. Or maybe he got a kick out of it in a queer way that elderly people sometimes do. But all I could think to myself was, yes, this is the Casa de Campo. This is just the kind of surprise I don’t wish to find and somehow know I will.
I was happy, very happy, to be floating away a hundred feet above the ground.