A TOAST TO MADRID’S STREET ARTISTES
The Plaza Puerta del Sol is ‘the’ starting point to explore Madrid. This busy square is one of the city’s most lively places and is the heart of historic Madrid. If you want to have a fun day, there’s no better place than to mingle with the incessant flow and the riot of sounds that is the trademark of Sol.
Mostly car-free, except for the occasional crossing one the streets that radiate from it, and the always strong police presence, this city center makes the best venue for Madrid’s wheeler-dealers, touts selling anything from squeaky toys, all-you-can-eat offers, henna designs, sun glasses and purses and the fluorescent vested gold touts flouting ‘Compro Oro’ across their backs and chests.
The square is also a good place to take in a myriad of street performers either trying to make some money of simply show off their skills.
My favourites are the ‘Living Statues’ who position themselves at strategic corners and on the periphery of the plaza, usually holding still for hours and only moving or reacting when a n onlooker joins them for a picture or drops a coin into their collection boxes. During our visits, the best were a pair of alien creatures who usually managed to get anyone who joined them in tickles with their long fingers!
The Mariachi bands who originated in Mexico, resplendent in their charro outfits, play a vibrant mix of traditional Son music as well as beautiful waltzes and polkas which inevitably get the onlookers tapping their feet or even dancing as did Zelma and me and a few others.
In the complete Mariachi group there are violins, trumpets, the round-backed guitar called the ‘vihuela’ which when strummed in the traditional manner gives the Mariachi its typical rhythmic vitality, the deep-sound ‘guitarró’ that fills in as the bass and a few other instruments ranging from accordions to tambourines and maracas all topped by the lovely voices of the singers. The bands usually place themselves at the foot of the large equestrian statue of King Carlos III, standing at the center of the square.
A must see are the roller-bladers who can keep you entertained with their skills and stunts as they raise the performance bar as the evening passes and are quite well organised with a series of acts that almost make up a well-rehearsed routine. The BMX bikes too offer good performances but are certainly no match for the roller-blade acts.
But our best act during our Sol evenings was a simply dressed clown who enthralled an audience of a few hundreds with his antics accompanied by sound effects from a squeaker, which didn’t sound irritating at all until he would sign off his performance with the famous ‘That’s all folks’ tune to the cheers of the crowds. What was particularly impressive was the clown’s ability to improvise and make impromptu changes like feigning irritation when the crowd spilled on the main street, or some ill-mannered passer-by tried to cross the arena, and the great poses he offered when I began pictures of him.
There are also the mix of street performers including out-of-work musicians, jugglers and popular cartoon characters who for a few cents will pose for pictures.
Surprisingly, no one is dressed as El Oso y El Madroño, the most famous symbol of Madrid: a 20 ton statue of a bear eating fruits from a tree that is located in the square.
And if all that is not entertainment enough just take a seat and watch the mass of humanity go by you – for on a weekend that never really stops!