Thursday, 12 April 2012

Does Spiderman get hangovers?

Had it changed in the seven months I´d been away?

The Tio Pepe building in Sol was still hidden behind a curtain of green net and scaffolding... the bearded beggar on Calle Carretas still swayed shakily behind the same cardboard plea... Plaza Mayor was still the melting pot of Madrid, humming as it always did to the tuneful motifs of accordion players… However, when I used to visit on midweek mornings the shiny cobbles were untrodden - expectant, expansive and empty. Last weekend in comparison, the square was heaving: a congested mill of well-dressed abuelos, tourists in halter-necks and hot pants, and locals wrapped up in duffel coats and Doc Martins.

Most notably, the carnival of street performers had swollen ranks. Of course, the long-term residents still occupied their favoured corners - the weary Mini Mouse shuffling in circles around the central statue, the tabletop of zombie heads routinely startling passers-by - but new characters were strolling in between the familiar faces. A nonchalant Elvis strutted back and forth in front of the terraces, his hands laden with cheap finger bling and his tango-tanned cheeks framed by a stiff collar and colourful Hawaiian garland. Occasionally he would pause for a discrete word with a headless sailor, whose floating glasses wobbled on the bounce of their wire supports, or would cock his head in greeting to a toothy yellow sponge, just one of the multiple Spongebob Squarepants. There was even a bare-chested, long-haired Jesus Christ lugging a make-shift crucifix around the square.

However, for all the new arrivals, one member of the plaza was poignantly absent. Spiderman, whose presence had been reliably predictable during my year in Madrid, was notable only by his absence: the ringmaster of the circus nowhere to be seen. It wasn´t until the square was nearing gridlock with the lunchtime rush that his hulking figure appeared.

His distinctive silhouette instantly recognisable, he lumbered into the square from the shadows of a restaurant terrace, walking with heavy legs and laboured steps towards his customary corner. On arrival, he drew his plastic wheelie box to a halt beside him and swung his paper-mache miniature unceremoniously onto the cobbles. Then, rocking back on his heels, arms clasped loosely behind his back, he briefly scanned the milieu of people before him before walking a short loop. Arms swinging characteristically as he went, his unmistakeable outline seemed largely unchanged - the distended barrel of his stomach perhaps slightly bulkier, the slack of his suit stretched in even baggier sags. He walked purposefully through the crowds, bumping fists with a suited clown and saluting one of the waiters on his way to the centre before circling back.

On returning to his wheelie box, he thrust his arms skywards in a full body stretch and made a few stiff circles with his hips in an unexpected sequence of stretches. However, the effort alone of limbering up seemed to swallow what little enthusiasm he had: no sooner had he finished than he collapsed onto his plastic trunk in a heavy round-shouldered slouch. His torso folded in a double roll of breast and belly, legs resting in a shallow V shape, he mechanically folded up his mask and lit a cigarette. Puffing mindlessly on his fag, wholly detached from the buzz of the plaza, he seemed a sorry shadow of the showman who used to command the square. Even a noisy rabble of 15 – a wave of matching fluorescent T-shirts that would have been a jackpot for the Spiderman-of-old – failed to inspire him: he remained stubbornly seated as they passed, his usual theatrical display abandoned.

Is Spiderman struggling to keep pace with the carnival of street performers? Or is he just fed up of the burgeoning circus in Plaza Mayor and unwilling to compete with walking fruit bowls and men selling invisible mouth whistles?

Or, maybe even Spiderman isn´t immune to the non-stop nightlife of the Madrileños and he just had a stonking hangover? I wonder where he goes out for a drink…

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