Confirmation that it really is the Age of the Bureaucrat has come with the news that wars about sovereignty are now being fought by desk-wallahs. And, in the case of Britain, lost by them as well. Seems only right.
Given that I’ve written so much about George Borrow in recent months, it was hardly likely I’d visit Madrid without walking the streets cited in his Bible in Spain. Especially as they’re all pretty close to my daughter’s flat in Malasaña. Unfortunately, Calle de la Zarza has gone but the other three streets are still where they were in 1837 and 1838:-
- Calle Montera Borrow described as “One of the richest streets of the city, where reside the principal merchants and shopkeepers of Madrid. It is, in fact, the street of commerce, in which respect, and in being a favourite promenade, it corresponds with the far-famed “Nefsky” of Saint Petersburg.” Well, it’s still a wide street of commerce, all the better for being pedestrianised. Or ‘humanised’ as the Spanish nicely put it. And it does have a charming large building on the corner of the junction with Gran Vía. But this now houses a McDonalds outlet and the most common sight in Montera itself is of a young lady leaning against a door jamb, dressed in a uniform of leather jacket, tight jeans and leather boots. Whom I don’t recall Borrow mentioning.
- Calle del Principe – where GB set up his own shop – he describes as “A respectable and well-frequented street in the neighbourhood of the Square of Cervantes.” The good news is that it still has two bookshops. The bad news is that it has an equal number of Irish bars. Apart from this, there’s the usual collection of tapas bars, cafés, restaurants, hostels, opticians and pharmacies that comprise a central Madrid street. But it also has a Comedy Theatre and a Museum of Galician Bread. Which, of course, is really just a fancy name for a bread shop. Most fascinatingly, one of the Irish bars is called El Parnasillo. Which was established not long before Borrow arrived, in 1830. If, unlike me, he’d ever found it open, he might just have visited it. Even though it’s next door to the Catholic church of St Ignatius de Loyola, of Jesuit fame.
- Calle Santiago, where Borrow lived during his second stint in Madrid, he described as merely being “in the vicinity of the palace”. Like Principe, its single bookshop is matched by an Irish bar and, as in the other two streets, there’s no evidence whatsoever of one its most famous residents. But, then, the house where he lived has long been knocked down. So where would they put a blue plaque? At the end of the street, stands the large church of Saint James (Santiago) and St John the Baptist. Which must have been a constant reminder to GB of what he was up against, as he strove to flog his Protestant Bible (really just the New Testament) to the Godless Papists of the capital city.
Not long after I’d set off on this mini-trek, I came upon a surprisingly orderly queue in Gran Vía, stretching 25 metres along the street itself and another 25 round the corner. I assumed it was for a cinema but soon realised it was for a booth selling tickets for the Christmas lottery. Presumably this has had some previous success and, for people with little logic and even less knowledge of statistics, this makes it the preferred outlet. Just as it would have in 1837, no doubt.