In a recent piece I did on markets inMadrid, I got a note from a friend reminding not to forget the alternative market at the old Tobacco Company Factory in Embajadores. The Tabacalera, as they call it in Spanish. It was a nice sunny day and I decided to hike across theRetiroParkand see it myself. On the way, I peered through the windows of the library at theReinaSofíaMuseumhoping I might get a chance to see that, but once again got the timing all wrong. So, I moved on down the Ronda de Toledo, by the Casa Encendida Cultural Center, owned by the ailing Spanish banking conglomerate, Bankia. There were two immigrants there who had decided to beat the hell out of each other just a few minutes before, or at least I assume so. The brawl seemed to end in a draw. Each did what they could to tend to their bleeding faces. A dozen cops were present to secure the zone from all insecurity. None of this appeared to be my business, but there was an undeniable bit of symbolism apparent with it all.
So anyway, I continued down the road until I got the door of the market. It was closed. The door. As was the market. They hippies within were occupied with other matters, my guess, quite possibly in preparation for the big protest that afternoon. Luck was not on my side.
Just about thirty yards further up the street, there was another entrance to a cultural space which on this occasion was devoted to the works of a man named José Manuel Ballester. I had never heard of him, but gave it a shot in any event. It was a good call, for two reasons. One was the exhibit, which highlighted dozens of panorama photographs of everything from major cities to solar plants. Shapes and light took center stage in these works. The artist also exposed another collection of famous religious works in history, a huge version of the Last Supper greets you in the first hall, but with all the people removed so that you focus on the rest of the painting. A cool and attractive attempt to tempt perspective. The other reason was the gallery itself. Just old halls and rooms from the old factory, touched up to a degree, but without fully losing the original feel. The dustiness is still there. Both building and opus melded perfectly there.
Once I emerged from the main entrance, I crossed the street and watched a group of kids, maybe eight years old, play a 5-on-5 soccer match. It was an official game because they were wearing uniforms. In that neighborhood, many of the residents are foreigners, like me. It was interesting to see a typical Saturday morning game inMadridwith no Spaniards in the line-up. It was interesting. Good game too.
I was feeling a little hungry so I walked up to a traditional cervecería and had a bit of tortilla and an alcohol-free beer, which I really can’t stand but I wasn’t in the mood for a real one, and there really isn’t anything else that will go with it. The bar was calledOSSI, giving rise to the possibility that there was more than one. Here is nothing to these places, which is why I like them. The stick to their bread and butter dishes and they do them well. Also gave me a nice paella tapa before sliding the tortilla on the counter. The tortilla wasn’t so hot, but the ambience was what I was looking for.
Lavapiés was nearby, and it had been some time since I had stopped by the Antón Martín Market. I walked by the plaza of Lavapiés, still bummed out to see all those smalltime gambling joints preying on the poor, and wove my way up to a convergence of streets which I cannot recall every seeing before, and if I have, I never given it much thought. It’s at the corner of and you should stop by because there are so few of these in this city. You have to stand at the corner of Calle Escuadra and Calle la Esperanza and look up at Calle Torrecilla del Leal. Keep expectations low, to avoid disappointment and a desire to insult me, and enjoy the nook. Then move on.
Which is what I did. I went to the corner of Torrecilla and the Calle de los Tres Peces (The Three Fish) whose name I should know the origin of but can’t recall, and stopped in a small bookstore/café for a coffee and a seat in one of those comfortable living room chairs they have. I think it was called La Infinita, or something to that effect. Just to think of all those people wasting their time at Starbuck’s when they could be doing the locals a favor.
I didn’t stay there long, just a quick but decent coffee, because I wanted to catch the market before the stalls starting drawing down their metallic blinds. The Antón Martín is right next to the Art Nouveau style Filmoteca, old movie house. I was happy to say that there was plenty activity going on there, commercially speaking. It’s still a great mix of old market and gourmet gastronomy. The food stands were getting close to calling it a day. The tiny bars, some specializing in Japanese cuisine, were just getting going. I wanted to stay but there was no one to stay with this time.
On the way out, I saw the old knife store. It’s been there for far more years than I have. It was closed, but I knew it was a place I would have to come back a visit. I’ll let you know.