Sunken in a comfy, dreamy slumber, the shrill and persistant bleep of my alarm clock seemed somehow more offensive than usual last Monday. Unsuprisingly, contemplating the unappealing prospect of a full day of teaching when snugly wrapped in a cosy duvet didn´t little to animate my enthusiasm. Pressing the snooze button repeatedly was similarly ineffective, merely resulting in a fuzzy head and a groggy start to the morning...
I have attributed this exaggerated bout of Monday gloom to a “holiday hangover”, triggered by the unwelcome return to reality after the lazy May Day holidays, known in Spain as "San Isidro". Madrid´s equivalent of England´s Spring bank holiday, San Isidro - in true Spanish style - is spun out to last a full week. As such, with the majority of my classes cancelled and a refreshingly empty timetable, I felt like I was on holiday. The long, free afternoons soaking up the atmosphere were definitely worth being a few euros down next month. Whether strolling around the city centre, reading on a park bench or sipping a tinto de verano on a terrace, the city was heaving with people and buzzing with freebie concerts and displays. As businesses closed at lunchtime and offices emptied, the parks and plazas swelled. It felt like the population of Madrid had doubled within the space of a few days.
In Plaza Mayor, people gave up table-stalking the restaurant terraces or hovering hopefully by the stone benches and simply flopped onto the cobbles, picnicking in circles on the stones or leaning against the pillars to bask in the sun. The circus of street performers also seemed to grow, the glut of tourists tempting a handful of new hopefuls to the square. A series of novel fancy dress outfits appeared: a dumpy, oval-shaped fruit bowl, spinning on her finger a sombrero laden with plastic bananas, a "headless" sailor, the necktie of his faded suit swollen in a tell-tale bulge, a theatrical Charlie Chaplin, his curly, black wig lightly dusted with the white powder that coated his face. Some exuberant, young travellers also made brief appearances, attacking the swollen plaza energetically - loudly rallying a crowd of curious onlookers, setting up an array of props and mounting a noisy spectacle.
Amidst the carnival, Spiderman remained a stoic presence throughout the week, quietly confident with his sun-bleached suit and sagging stomach. Distinctive but unobtrusive. Incongrous but effective. An expert at work, he effortlessly attracted a steady flow of snap-happy tourists, conducting a roaring trade – even administering change when necessary. Perhaps in honour of San Isidro, he had added to his trademark repertoire of photo poses, debuting a new posture: the Beer-Belly-Rub. Any unsuspecting passerby with an ample gut was liable to be coaxed into position (legs hips-width apart in a wide stance, pelvis pushed forwards and hands behind back) to partake in a belly-bump with Spiderman. Admittedly, it was a move with varying degrees of success, some of the more bashful targets blushing red and hastily retreating. Even so, the colourful array of extravagant costumes and dramatic spectacles couldn´t detract from Spiderman´s success.
Recently, when passing through Puerta Del Sol, the official centrepoint of Madrid situated a five minute walk from Plaza Mayor, I happened across another "spiderman". However, though sporting the trademark suit (his a shiny, bright red and blue with padded shoulders) he had a rather shrunken, pathetic aspect. Wandering listlessly around the main statue he appeared poignantly uncomfortable instead of easily self-assured. Jostled by the passing crowds, he was a pale imitation of the booming character in Plaza Mayor. In contrast, the Spiderman of the Plaza, the undisputed ringmaster of the circus, seems to be slowly cementing his status as an official emblem of Madrid. Most recently, he has acquired a miniature statue of himself. Though only a foot high, the glazed waxwork is in perfect proportion to his figure: globular, with peachy protruding buttocks and a proudly round stomach.
I´m just waiting until he appears on the Top 10 Must-See´s in the Lonely Planet!