One last Tour of Puerta del Sol
Before our village disappears, I would like to take you on a final tour. Visually, it has all been recorded many times. I will therefore try with words.
Puerta del Sol is shaped like a half moon. On the straight end there’s the main street and the palace with the famous clock. The area is defined by two fountains, the Eastern and Western one. Right in the middle there’s an equestrian statue.
Around the base of the statue there's a fence. The inside is home to ‘Megafonia’, the voice of Puerta del Sol. Under the horse's ass there’s Communications. When you look over the counter from the outside, you will see two tables, archives, computers, and printers. And people communicating. Until recently, the roof was formed by two party tents, but since a few days, there are broad pillars of chipboard with bars that hold up the canvas.
Internal Coordination sits right next to us. We are connected through a little window. Occasionally, someone leans in or out to pass on a message. Manifestos, records, comunicados, and whatever else needs to be conjured up. Right behind us, there’s Documentation, our memory, where mail and copies of all documents are stored, both digitally and on paper. Also, all the footage and photos that have been collected are safely stored there. What took place in Puerta del Sol will not be forgotten.
I step outside. Across from us, there’s Expansion, with our world map covered by red dots. The last one, to Mehmet’s delight, is Istanbul. There’s an office table for the comrades who are spreading the word, and there’s a sofa for the delegates that have been sent to Madrid from the other squares to report.
I take a right and I end up at the intersection with First Avenue, right by the horse. To the left, there’s Food I. It has a long bar, there are tables behind it, around it there are cupboards with cans and jars, underneath the tables you see pots and tubs. In the mornings, coffee and hot chocolate are served here with cookies and churros. In the afternoons and evenings, sandwiches are prepared here, or they cook in enormous pans. Pasta, rice, lentils, couscous. Our chief cook, the sailor, always comes up with something good.
On the other side of the intersection, there’s the Neighbourhoods commission. You can see a large map of Madrid there, and a long list of squares where assemblies are held every weekend, when and at what time. To the left, by the Eastern Fountain, we find the main working groups. Politics is in the middle, divided into the Macro-Politics and Micro-Politics groups. Around it, on the one side, there’s Culture and Music, and on the other side we find Economics and the sympathetic comrades of Thinking, who have provided our village with a philosophical foundation.
I walk on until I bump into Information and Infrastructure on Second Avenue. The latter has a small carpentry workshop on the side of the street, and a storage depot for cardboard, blankets and clothing. I walk to the left to take the long road around the Eastern Fountain. Here our garden has been installed near the water. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, basil, a little bit of everything. Until recently, there was also a nice weed plant. It was good to see, and at the same time surreal to realise: these are all plants, but that one in particular is not ‘allowed’. We have alienated to such an extent that we’ve started applying our concept of “illegality” to plants, animals and even humans. But comrades, whichever way you look at it, that is simply impossible!
Further along the fountain, there’s some habitation. A few tents and a square. After that, you arrive at the General Assembly. The subway exit, shaped like a glass sneaker, is the soundboard. The blue tarp that covers our parliament has been attached to it. It sways softly in the breeze. These are the winds of change.
The eastern end of our village is marked by El Madroño, the statue of the bear and the tree that has changed into the Speaker’s Corner. The other day, there was a group of oldies protesting against the amnesty for the Francoists, and for reparations for the victims of the civil war. They waved the red, yellow and purple flag of the Spanish Republic. It was a beautiful emotion.
I walk back along the other side of the fountain. Right here, there’s Food II. The gypsies and the homeless start their morning rounds here. They pass along all three of the Food stalls, they are fed everywhere and they rarely say ‘thank you’. A little further, between the fountain and the metro station, there was once the Moroccan neighbourhood, where I used to live at the beginning. I witnessed the place steadily deteriorate. So I was not surprised when the entire area was washed away during the recent rains. The survivors have found accommodation a little further, in front of the Chief Commission of Respect. On the other side of the subway entrance is the embassy of the Western Sahara.
The Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, is a piece of desert occupied by Morocco. But that claim is recognised by no one, nor is the independence of the area. Officially it’s a ‘non-state’. It’s only recognised here at Sol.
Through the alleyway behind the Head Commission, I find myself back at the horse. I walk the other way, towards the West Side. At the next intersection, there’s the Library on your left hand side. Both spatially and spiritually, this is the center. Outside there’s a table with newspapers. Inside, there’s a number of sofas and chairs, a coffee table with three chess boards, and the delightful sight of bulging bookcases all around it.
To the right of the Library, there’s the Action Committee, where protests are planned, and the First Aid Post, where there’s always some suncream ready at hand on hot days. At the edge, there’s the commission of Proposals. Ten thousand have been received. In total, we collected half a million signatures from supporters. In the alleys around, there’s a small residential area. There’s a tent, painted in bright colours. Perhaps this is the artists’ district? I wouldn’t know.
Back towards the ring road is the Immigration Committee and the Embassy of free Syria. The Syrians are incredible. In whatever language you address them, French, English, Spanish or Italian, they are always willing to fluently inform you about the horrors of the regime. I turn right on Second Avenue, and behind the Library I end up at the workshop of the Arts Sommittee, where people are drawing, painting and sculpting. Anything is being made, from expressionism to socialist realism, plus banners and slogans. The Kindergarten is on the left, with every imaginable game for the little ones. Behind it reside the comrades of Audiovisuals. Ever since this week’s rains, they outsourced a large part of their activities to a secret location in the outside world.
Then I find myself on the open space around the Western Fountain. They usually make music or give performances here. There’s a good atmosphere. Only at night it has a slightly less positive reputation. There’s a lot of drinking going on, which sometimes leads to aggression. But that’s quickly brought to an end. In individualist society, people prefer to look the other way. Not here. Here, it’s everyone’s business, because “everyone is Respect.” When there are tensions, the crowd makes sure that people are separated, allowing them to relax, and to make peace.
On the other side of the fountain is our shrine, the Temple of Love and Spirituality, and the soup kitchen of Food III. That’s where we pitched our tent for now. Behind it, the suburbs begin.
The funny thing about the large residential area is that it undergoes a constant urban transformation. Roughly speaking, there are two major roads that cut through the neighbourhood, but the location of these roads may change by the day. Sometimes they are straight, sometimes diagonal, sometimes they zigzag in all directions. The district is divided into four neighbourhoods. Each one of them consists of a number of tents around a central square. In those squares, people have put down chairs, tables and camping equipment. Almost all neighbourhoods have their own canvas for a roof. Most of the time you can hear the sound of drums and a guitar. These are the people who have found their place here, and who are not planning to leave on Sunday.
I walk out of our village. Towards the outside, a white cloth is hung up and a projector put down every evening. ”CineSol”, our own outdoor cinema.
People, I have lived in the most stunning places in the Beautiful Land. Everywhere I am at home. In Catania underneath the Etna, in Florence along the Arno, in the hills of Tuscany and in the dark alleyways of Genoa. But the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived in is right here, between the slums of Puerta del Sol.