Monday, September 21, 2009

La Noche en Blanco

The whole country of Spain is on the sleep and work schedule you kept during college. The day starts no sooner than ten o'clock. Anyone on the street before then (unless they are still out from the previous night) is pissed off and avoiding direct sunlight. Work for four hours, then go home, drink a couple beers and take a nap (siesta). Go back to work and keep things running until nine or ten, then remember that you're hungry and go get dinner. After dinner, hang out with friends and drink whatever's cheapest until two when you pass out. Same plan on Friday, but your 2:00 siesta segues into a 16 hour bender and you spiral into a nocturnal liver-punishing cycle that takes you through Monday morning.

That's not a joke. I was fortunate enough to have attended a big art festival on the streets of Madrid called La Noche en Blanco (The Night of White... or In White?) the night after I arrived. There were brochures for it on the turnstiles of the subway. Big city fold-out city maps covered in 115 numbered dots. The key on the reverse side covered the various art and music happenings at each dot. I couldn't read the descriptions, but I could read the time. 9 to 6. At night.

People throw around "the whole city" a lot in describing public events - "the whole city came out for the Rose Festival" - and it isn't true. Some statistically negligible fraction of the city came out. But when I say, 'The whole city came out for La Noche en Blanco', I mean it in a mathematically factual way. The streets were packed. The. Whole. Night. Apartment buildings were dark and the din of conversation and music blanketed everything I saw. Sleep anywhere but a soundproof bunker would have been impossible.

Part of my certainty that no soul remained indoors comes from the distance that my group and I walked. Miles. We had no idea what was going on, so we just took to the streets and meandered toward whatever was making noise or shooting lights into the sky. We must have covered five miles between 11pm and 5am (when I finally made my way to a bed and coma'd out). And every last block, bar and plaza was packed.

This was after my first full day in Spain, by the way. I slept for 14 hours the night after.


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