Thursday, 28 February 2008

The Madrid Building Boom

There's nothing worse than looking at other peoples' vacation pictures so I promise not to bore you with too many tales of our recent Madrid trip. Seventy-five percent of the Kelly family went to the Spanish capital last weekend. The final quarter was in Barcelona with her Spanish class. She forbid us from being in the same city with her, but couldn't stop us from going to the same country.

Spain is the perfect antidote to England, which is probably why so many English people move there. It was sunny and warm for our visit, with glorious blue skies. The streets swarmed with beautiful, smartly-dressed people. One afternoon we sat at a coffee shop near the Plaza de Canovas and just watched as dozens of handsome couples emerged from an underground car park and strolled down the street (to a wedding? to the opera?). The men were in nicely-cut suits, a few in white tie and frock coats. The women were perfectly turned out, elegant without going overboard: ensembles of rich purple, green or gold; seamed stockings and high heels; heads topped with compact hats, often a single, long feather curving down and accentuating a comely cheekbone. The couples walked with an unhurried gait that was almost a parade. We could smell their perfume and pomade. It was a lovely promenade.

We'd found a very cheap hotel--65 Euros a night!--just a few blocks from the Prado. The fact that it had room and was so inexpensive may have been because it was across from a construction site. But even that provided entertainment. I don't know how all buildings are built in Spain, but this is the one across from the Hotel Mexico on the Calle del Gobernador:

You will note that there are three construction workers. Not pictured are the guys operating two cranes off to the right, who would swing their hooks back and forth in a desultory fashion. We never saw more than a half-dozen workers there at a time. Their main task seemed to be picking up pieces of wood and rebar off the muddy ground and tossing them into piles. Sometimes they would use a torch or saw to cut a little length of rebar off a bigger piece of rebar and then toss that into a pile.

The first thing I would do upon waking was to open the curtains and watch them. I spent half an hour one morning watching as they argued over how to move that long rebar mesh thing that the middle guy is kneeling on. They appeared to be trying to affix those rectangles of sheet metal then use a crane attached to the sheet metal to lift it all up. But the metal kept popping out. They would cut bits of rebar off, then weld bits of rebar on. Then one of the men dropped his hammer into the middle of the metal birds' nest and had to lean in to retrieve it.

I kept wondering why there wasn't a big hole. Isn't that the first thing you do when you build a building? Dig a big hole? But there was no hole, just dirt and metal and timber and five guys with three hardhats among them. They would start work around 8:30 in the morning. The amazing thing was that when we'd return to the hotel around 11 p.m. they'd still be there. A few lights would illuminate the scene, the mounds of wood and metal would have been moved around, a pile driver in the corner would be hammering away. Like most of Spain they'd probably taken a two- or three-hour lunch, but even so, they wouldn't knock off till around 11:30.

That white sign indicates that construction was approved in 2006 and work began in April 2007. I expect they'll be done in 2037.

Please don't think I'm accusing Spanish construction workers of being lazy or inept. They produce some pretty fine work:

And as I said, Madrid was incredible. We only had about two-and-a-half days, so we sped through its main attractions. Racing through the Prado was like taking part in a speed-eating competition: Oh, another room full of Goyas, Picassos or Velazquezes. We never got bored with it, though. I hope we'll go back to see how that apartment building is coming along.


SuburbanCorrespondent said...'s a contest then: which will be finished first, that Spanish building or rail to Dulles?

mark from alexandria said...

My two favorite Canovas are: the late, great Judy Canova, see: and her daughter Diana, see: I bring them up because of a recent survey I saw on cultural literacy and how Americans have precious little of it. That said, Madrid sounds like it was great. I am surprised at the desultory construction pace. This is obviously not a Marriott project. The Marriotts are doubling the size of a hotel across from my office and it is happening at breakneck speed. Of course, bringing more traffic to Rockville Pike is a priority that all prudent people should be in favor of.

Candadai Tirumalai said...

Some years ago there was an attempt to curtail the long Spanish siesta, at least for those who work in Government offices. I have not seen a "progress report" on it since then.


Say, doesn't the guy in the middle with his back to the camera look familiar? He looks a good deal like our "fearless correspondent" in an earlier photo op back in the States!

mark from alexandria said...

Coincidentally, "The USA Today" has a supplement on Spain today: "Unstoppable Spain" is the lead article. So, I guess all the smart journos know that late winter is the right time for Spain.