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MADRID

Juan de los zapatos: Meet the guerilla gardener of Malasaña

His creations have become a tourist attraction with visitors stopping to admire and pose for photographs.

Juan de los zapatos: Meet the guerilla gardener of Malasaña
Juan Perez creates the flower pots on Calle Pez. Photos: Fiona Govan / The Local

Anyone who has strolled along Calle Pez in the last year will have seen the unusual floral arrangements and wondered at their creator.

The Local tracked down Juan Perez, a long-time resident of Malasaña and the man behind the quirky trouser flower pots that lean against lampposts the length of the bustling street, adding a splash of greenery and colour.

“They used to call me Juan de los pantalones,” said the bespectacled retired engineer as he stuffed a fistful of damp earth inside an old Converse mounted on the wall.

“But now I am Juan de los zapatos as I am concentrating on shoes now.”

Perez, now 70, has lived on Calle Pez for 30 years and can often be found tending his flower pots or refilling his ingenious watering system with his faithful Alaska, a scruffy rescue dog,  at his heels.

In summer it is a battle to keep the plants alive in the scorching heat of the Madrid sun, but Perez has devised a method.  A filled plastic bottle connected to each pot with a cord placed into the earth ensures a constant supply of water.

“I water every day during the summer months but just once a week in winter,” he explains.

“I love flowers and I love gardening but as I don’t have one in my flat, I decided to make the streets my garden – that way all the community can enjoy.”

Instagram is full of posts of his guerrilla gardening which include a whole family of trousers – infants included – on the wall of an old squat about halfway down the street.

It’s rare not to find someone stopped to photograph or pose in front of wall garden opposite the recently re-opened and refurbished Malasaña classic, El Palentino.

“This street has changed a lot since I lived here,” recounts Perez. “The last old-fashioned shop La Moda just closed down and now it’s all bars and restaurants.”

But he insists the neighbourhood feeling has not been lost. “There is still a sense of community here, people stop and tell me how much they love my flowers, they donate shoes and colourful trousers so I can make more.”

Perez pays for the pots, earth and plants from his own pocket. “It’s only a euro or two here and there, what else am I going to spend money on?” he shrugs.

But neighbours, fellow residents in Malasaña, donate the most important part of his creations, the clothing and footwear that hold up the planted pots. “Boldly printed trousers work best, any size, and any type of shoes, even heels.”

He eyes my own footwear, a well-worn pair of ankle boots. “There’s not long left in those,” he chuckles. ”When you’ve had enough, you know where to find me!”

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OFFBEAT

Madrid police end escaped camels’ night on the town

Eight camels and a llama took to the streets of Madrid overnight after escaping from a nearby circus, Spanish police said on Friday.

A camel in a zoo
A file photo of a camel in a zoo. Photo: ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP

It was not immediately clear how the long-legged runaways managed to get out but Quiros Circus, which owns them, blamed sabotage by animal rights activists.

They were spotted at around 5:00 am wandering around the southern district of Carabranchel close to where the circus is currently based.

“Various camels and a llama escaped from a circus in Madrid overnight,” Spain’s national police wrote on Twitter, sharing images of eight two-humped camels and a llama hanging around a street corner.

“Police found them and took care of them so they could be taken back safe and sound,” they tweeted.

There was no word on whether the rogue revellers, who are known for spitting, put up any resistance when the police moved in to detain them.

Mati Munoz, one of the circus’ managers, expressed relief the furry fugitives — Bactrian camels who have two humps and thick shaggy coats – had been safely caught.

“Nothing happened, thank God,” he told AFP, saying the circus had filed a complaint after discovering the electric fence around the animals’ enclosure had been cut.

“We think (their escape) was due to an act of sabotage by animal rights groups who protest every year.”

Bactrian camels (camelus bactrianus) come from the rocky deserts of central and eastern Asia and have an extraordinary ability to survive in extreme conditions.

These days, the vast majority of them are domesticated.

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