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PROPERTY

The real reason why this Madrid barrio is the world’s ‘coolest’ neighbourhood

Time Out recently crowned Madrid’s barrio of Embajadores “the coolest neighbourhood in the world”. Leah Pattem, a long-term resident of the area, investigates how accurate that status really is.

The real reason why this Madrid barrio is the world's 'coolest' neighbourhood
Photo by Carmine Savarese / Flickr

“This is where people from near and far live side by side, cooking up a bustling cultural life,” the article in Time Out magazine says. What it fails to mention is that this bustling cultural life stands on the stooped shoulders of poverty and immigration. Looking closer, I realised that the so-called 50 coolest neighbourhoods in the world are also some of the most rapidly gentrifying.

 

One warm evening last week, I went for a stroll through my neighbourhood to revisit some of the places mentioned in Time Out. On the narrow sloping street in the photograph below, my gaze was drawn towards fluorescent lights beaming out of a subterranean flat, where there were clothes hanging on improvised washing lines attached to light fittings and door handles. Small children were playing beneath drying saris while their elders sat against the wall on white plastic chairs and tucked into their dinner.

A sloping street in Lavapiés. Photo: Leah Pattem

I walked further up the street and saw a similar sight two more times. Two different families crammed into tiny apartments as if it’s normal, with one of them blasting bachata music without a care in the world.

This is Lavapiés, a neighbourhood within Embajadores that has always been poor with little room to grow. The homes here were built centuries ago to house an influx of Spanish economic migrants during Madrid's earlier boom years. These 30 m2 flats remain a relatively cheap option for recent migrants, laying the very foundations for the “bustling cultural life” that Time Out mentions so casually.

I carried on walking up the steep street until I reached a square with a parked police car. The police keep a constant presence in this neighbourhood, especially after the violent Lavapiés riots earlier this year, which were sparked by the death of Senegalese migrant Mame Mbaye. Like Mame, immigrants from Senegal and beyond came to Madrid for a better life and settled in Lavapiés for its affordable, albeit cramped housing. They live “side by side” with ageing Spaniards – the veterans of this traditional working-class accommodation – and often sit “side by side” with them on the municipal benches too.

READ MORE: What the death of street hawker tells us about Madrid's Lavapiés


A police car on Plaza Nelson Mandela. Photo: Leah Pattem

I walked past the police cars, accidentally catching the eye of one of the officers inside the car. He's here because of a quiet concern that the people of Lavapiés are on the edge of another uprising. They’re right to worry – poor living conditions and a lack of basic human rights can't go on for long. It doesn’t help that rent prices have soared to the highest we’ve ever seen. Long-time locals and short-term migrants alike are being priced out of their homes in favour of tourists hunting for the coolness Time Out promotes, and the close-knit Lavapiés communities are being chipped away.


A sign with the slogan “Carmena and the town hall are evicting us”. Photo: Leah Pattem

From the square, I headed down to the Tabacalera, which was also mentioned in the Time Out article. This old tobacco factory was at one point occupied by anarchists, who slowly converted it into a creative community space for all.  It’s one of the few places in Madrid where, when you walk in, judgement disappears, and equality prevails.

I left the Tabacalera and headed round the side to look at its strictly controlled walls, which are reserved for local artists. These pretty murals are regular art, not street art, unlike the fight-talking paintings you find walking through the streets that reflect the community’s rebellious spirit.


Street art commemorating the late Mame Mbaye. Photo: Leah Pattem

About a five-minute walk from the Tabacalera, I stopped for dinner in one of several neighbourhood Senegalese diners, none of which were mentioned in the Time Out article. I wasn't the only person of colour in there that night, but ironically, I’d be a minority in the nearby cluster of Indian restaurants that Time Out recommends.

I skipped Café Pavón – “a buzzing local hangout in its own right” – and headed for a drink at a little no-frills bar. This one was buzzing with locals who were far more representative of the people of Embajadores.

On my way home, I took a detour past Medias Puri – the “city’s club of the moment”, according to Time Out. A queue of 100 people, obediently adhering to the dress code, were slowly filing down the shiny stairs into a walled-off world of pop music, neon lights and glamour. Just outside, homeless people were bedding down for the night, comforted by the populous stream of nightlife revellers walking past.

Numerous minority groups call Embajadores home, whether it’s where they want to be in life or not. When times are tough, as they can be here, the support of your neighbours is invaluable. And it’s this historic community spirit – one that welcomes anyone who’s willing to muck in – that truly makes this barrio cool.

The side seen by many visitors to the neighbourhood – the one Time Out often writes about – doesn’t tell the whole story. Look a little closer and you’ll see a neighbourhood struggling to survive as an almost direct result of those ‘cool’ new arrivals. That’s not cool at all. But read between the lines and you’ll see a community rising up and thriving in the face of racism, poverty, displacement and gentrification. That’s cool.

Leah Pattem is the founder of Madrid No Frills, a blog that celebrates those overlooked corners of Madrid untouched by the gentrification and modernization that has transformed the city in recent decades.

To discover stories that reveal the grittier, real side of Spain's capital, follow her adventures on Facebook and Instagram

READ MORE: 'Madrid is a humble city of overlooked treasures and untold stories'

LIFE IN SPAIN

What to do about insects and other pests in your home in Spain?

Bugs and insects can sometimes be a problem in Spanish homes, particularly during the summer months. Here's what to do if you get an infestation and how to prevent them from happening.

What to do about insects and other pests in your home in Spain?

Fruit flies buzzing around the bins, cockroaches in the kitchen and ants invading your food cupboards can be a common sight in your Spanish home, more often than not in summer.

But what can you do when insects invade your home? 

What types of pests are common in Spain?

Bugs and insects that commonly invade homes in Spain include fruit flies, ants, stink bugs, cockroaches, pantry moths, plaster bagworms and mosquitoes.

Those who have pets may also have a problem with your animals bringing fleas and ticks into the home too.

READ ALSO: Ticks are proliferating in Spain: How to avoid them and protect yourself

These can cause a nuisance, not only flying around your home and biting you (in the case of mosquitoes, fleas and ticks), but they can get into your food and lay eggs in your cupboards.

How can I get rid of bugs in my home?

One of the most important ways you can keep insects and other bugs out of your home is to eliminate food sources.

This means always doing the washing up as soon as you’ve finished eating so there are no scraps laying around, sweeping kitchens and dining rooms regularly and putting opened food items in the fridge instead of the cupboards.

You also need to make sure you regularly empty your rubbish bin and that there are no gaps between the lid and the bin that flies can get in through.

Dusting, hoovering and general regular cleaning will also keep other insects at bay such as plaster bagworms and moths that lay larvae on your walls and ceiling.

Those with pets should make sure that animals are treated with flea and tick protection and combed through with special flea combs to make sure bugs are not stuck in their fur.

Summer can of course be very hot in Spain, with temperatures regularly in the high 30°Cs or even low 40°Cs in some parts of Andalusia and other regions, meaning that windows and doors are often left open to ensure a breeze. Unfortunately, this means that your home is more accessible to insects too.

If you can, get a fly screen for your doors and windows, so you can leave them open, but no bugs can get in. These fine mesh screens can be bought from hardware or home stores such as Leroy Merlin and can simply be lifted into place when you need them.

If you can’t get screens installed, then consider planting certain plants on windowsills or balconies. Lavender, basil, lemongrass and mint are all natural insect repellents.

Electric fly swats, ant traps and sticky paper can also all help eliminate pests in your home. 

READ ALSO: What venomous species are there in Spain?

Insecticides

When the situation becomes worse, simple everyday cleaning won’t suffice and you may need to use insecticides to kill the infestation. There are many different brands in Spain. Both Protect Home and Compo have several different products you can use.

If you don’t want to use chemical insecticides, natural ones made from white vinegar, citrus plants, or peppermint oil can also work.

Pest control

If the situation becomes completely out of control and you find that insects are not only entering your home but that they are breeding there too, it’s time to call in the professionals. Pest control services are available across Spain.

The first step is to check your home insurance to see if they will cover this service. If they won’t, they may be able to suggest a company that can help.

Otherwise, a quick Google search for ‘Control de plagas’ (pest control) and then your area should provide you with plenty of options.

According to the home website Habitissimo, pest control services in Spain can range from €80 up to €2,000 depending on the type of infestation you have, how serious the problem is and how big your property is. On average it will cost you around €267.

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