The holiday season in Madrid is still full swing and doesn’t wind down until after Kings’ Day, January 6th. Spanish streets are always teeming with people, and even more so in Christmastime. And I don’t mean simply crowded. I mean crowded in the fullest sense of the word: packed with crowds. From Puerta del Sol to the Plaza Mayor, a distance of a quarter mile (with my apartment exactly in the middle), the streets are essentially one surging mass of people.
So I’ve been thinking about crowds lately.
The French poet Charles Baudelaire meditated upon crowds, and the German critic Walter Benjamin used Baudelaire’s reflections to highlight the difference between the manic man of the crowd and the leisurely flâneur, who idles down the sidewalk. In a witty aside in his essay on Baudelaire, Benjamin remarks that Parisian flâneurs often walked through the arcades with a turtle on a leash, nonchalantly allowing the turtle to set the pace.
A turtle on a leash is precisely what walking through the crowded streets of Madrid during Christmastime is like when an eighteen-month-old boy is holding your hand and leading the way.
Our pace was ours alone.
Every interesting piece of rubbish on the sidewalk, we stopped. Every store window with either a soccer ball or Nativity scene, we stopped. Every scooter or motercycle parked, we stopped. Every street performer, mime, or busker, we stopped.
It’s a new way to see the city. A revelation.
Pictured here (Larger Image) is one street performer on Calle de Preciados that particularly drew my son’s attention: a man who, despite the windblown action pose, is standing completely stationary until someone drops a few coins at his feet. Then he moves mechanically like a Disney Hall of Presidents animatronic, only to “shut down” again in a few moments.
It’s the Man of the Crowd as a living statue.