IN PICS: Madrid's hauntingly quiet streets and dystopian queues of shoppers

The Local Spain
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IN PICS: Madrid's hauntingly quiet streets and dystopian queues of shoppers
Shoppers line up, one metre apart, outside Lidl during Spain's lockdown.All photos by Leah Pattem

Madrid may look like a ghost town, but behind closed doors, it remains a bustling city, writes Leah Pattem.


The hauntingly quiet streets are beautiful, not just for their unobstructed views and pollution-free air, but also for the solidarity that their emptiness represents. People are boldly going nowhere, together, and that is no more evident than on the streets. 

The peripheral passages around Plaza Mayor have been an informal shelter for homeless people since at least the 2008 financial crisis, so it would be no surprise to see people here, even in times of quarantine.

What is surprising, however, is that these people are no longer invisible – quite the opposite. They’re the only people here and have taken over the whole square like it’s their garden, finally emerging from the shady passages onto the sun-bleached cobblestones worn by many a tourist.

Puerta del Sol, Madrid’s most bustling square by day and night is all but empty except for patrolling police, reporters and digital ad screens scrolling between various pieces of health advice. Sol’s world-famous street buskers are presumably out of work.

Across Madrid, dystopian queues of shoppers wait to be let inside supermarkets, while small, local businesses are struggling to bring in any customers at all. Madrid’s traditional high-street shops survived the financial crisis against all odds, but they will only survive a lockdown if we still visit them – and if the government gives them some relief on their rent and social security payments, as is being discussed.

The reality of Madrid’s lockdown is unpredictable and unnerving, and we don’t really know when we’ll next be able to meet up at the local bar for a caña and a little bowl of olives, but in a way, we’ve never felt closer to our neighbours both near and far.

The nightly applause for health workers extends across the whole country, bringing us out onto our balconies and out of our windows, where we can check that each other are alive and well.

What these empty streets prove, more than ever before, is that Madrid is a community – and that’s something we’ll never be able to unsee.






Leah Pattem is the woman behind Madrid No Frills. If you'd like to follow, and indeed support her work, visit her Patreon page.






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