MADRID’S MANY FESTIVALS GIVE VISITORS REASON TO CELEBRATE
Ya dormirás cuando estés muerto — you can sleep when you’re dead — is a rallying cry for Madrileños young and old. It’s not an exaggeration to say that locals love to party. They drink and dance all night long, staying out until the early morning hours. And the city’s many festivals, which are held year round, are just one more reason to celebrate. For visitors, these events offer a rare glimpse of authentic Spanish cultura.
For the patron saint
I can clearly remember wandering through dark cobbled streets on my first trip to Spain in 2001. I was furiously studying my guidebook, searching for a landmark. Suddenly my alley intersected with a street where crowds were gathered, and at their center was a fantastic surprise: a colorful parade of larger-than-life puppets with giant heads ambling comically through the boulevard. The crowd was cheering; some kids were shrieking. To this day, this is what I think of when I think of Spain.
A parade just like the one I remember kicks off Madrid’s annual Festivales de San Isidro, which commemorate the May 15 feast day of Madrid’s patron saint. After watching San Isidro’s gigantic puppet parade go by, it’s traditional to (as the Madrileños have done since at least the 1800s) cross the Río Manzanares over the Puente (Bridge) de San Isidro to enjoy a picnic near the saint’s chapel. There you can sip water from the saint’s spring and eat sweet doughnut-shaped pastries called rosquillas.
Modern additions to the festivities include theater, music and dance throughout Madrid on the days leading up to the feast day. You can listen to hiphop or the symphony, watch an Indian circus or the ballet.
When hot weather arrives with summer, residents abandon the hot city for vacation houses in tiny pueblos or on the islands. Veranos de la Villa (Summers in the City) seeks to keep them at home: This modern festival, begun in 1985, offers outdoor concerts, plays, film screenings and dance performances throughout July and August. You might see renowned flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía at the fairgrounds in the Casa de Campo park or a troupe of Irish dancers on an outdoor stage framed by the Palacio Real in the Jardines de Sabatini. Even better for tourists are the “Summers on the Street” concerts at some of Madrid’s most famous sites. You can hear an orchestra play Beethoven at the Plaza Mayor or see a Namibian band play at the Templo de Debod. At these times, a visit to Madrid becomes something more than a vacation — it becomes something you’ve lived, not just something you’ve seen.
The barrio Chueca, Madrid’s West Hollywood, will be party central from July 1 to 3, this year’s Orgullo Gay (Gay Pride) weekend. Hands down, the biggest parties in Madrid happen then, when the neighborhood’s plaza may be packed with as many as 300,000 revelers. The pride parade itself has so many spectators — between 1.5 and 2 million — that they completely fill the six-lane boulevards along the route. Gays, lesbians and transsexuals celebrate with straight partiers as well as grandmas and kids. Be ready to dance to blaring Euro techno or an impromptu drum procession, and expect to see well-built men in Speedos — and very little else — dressed as angels, gladiators, or military men, and beautiful women (or are they women?) in high, high heels, tight skirts and flashy tops.
Like Rio or New Orleans, Madrid celebrates Carnaval (Mardi Gras) with costume parades and music and dancing in the streets. Marking the celebration’s end and the beginning of Lent’s austerity is the Entierro de la Sardina — yes, that’s right, the burial of the sardine. It began about 200 years ago, the locals say, when the city’s heat made a shipment of sardines smell very fishy. Almost every Ash Wednesday since then, a procession of mock mourners has traveled from the Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida, an 18th-century chapel on the west side of the city, across Madrid’s river, the Río Manzanares, to a fountain in the Casa de Campo park, bearing one miniature coffin to its final resting place. You’ll see them still, all dressed in black, hiding their laughter behind their handkerchiefs. Men wear top hats and capes; women, wide-brimmed hats or lace mantilla. And vying for the sardine’s soul: a fake priest and some ghoulish devils.
It’s true that the poor sardine may be dead and gone, but you aren’t yet. So on your next vacation, remember that Spanish motto. Take to the streets, watch a parade, hear some music — and stay out very, very late.
– CAMILLE HAHN, Custom Publishing Writer
This section was produced by the Custom Publishing staff of the Los Angeles Times Advertising Department.
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