Heen in Madrid


I’ve been away for the last few days. Thanks for all your comments, most of which I have decided not to publish in case Sheen’s ego goes through the roof in the light of her write up of Pride and Prejudice and the ensuing fan mail she received. My commiserations to all Jane Austen admirers who followed Sheen’s ethylic recommendations.


Actually, I’ve been in Madrid. It’s a city I can’t help liking, even though I would hate to live there. I pop down there every so often to buy a jar of Marmite, daub some graffiti on the walls of the Bernabéu, urinate in the odd doorway, mug a few tourists and take in the occasional art exhibition.


Since I had to sell the car to pay for Sheen’s lawyer’s bills last Spring, I travel by bus. The journey is a killer, but it’s cheap and you take in the scenery as you listen to “I Love Your Glasses” on your iPod over and over again.


As soon as I arrived in Madrid this time I was taken aback by the number of vegetables everywhere. For every human being at the bus station, there were at least three vegetables, of every imaginable variety. Pumpkins, artichokes and celery swarmed around the streets; carrots and turnips were getting into taxis and the Metro was packed full of spinach, cabbages and spring onions. Disconcerted? Reader, I was positively shaken!


I checked into the pensión where I usually stay when I’m in Madrid, a seedy little place teeming with character (“character” is the plural of “flea”, if you didn’t know), just behind the Gran Vía, an area formerly considered the red light area of Madrid, although nowadays the ladies of the night seem to have been reconverted into aubergines and courgettes…


I asked my landlady, Madame Claude, what was going on.


“Nothing, my dear, just a few lifestyle changes”, she giggled, as she handed me the key of my dingy grimy little room.


I wondered what she meant by “lifestyle changes”. After an uncomfortable shower (shared with a large family of Rumanian cockroaches, recent immigrants to Spain who find the country “very friendly”), I ventured outdoors to find out what was with this massive vegetable presence. I decided to visit one of my favourite bars in Tirso de Molina square.


I walked through the Puerta del Sol and again, onions, garlic, tomatoes and cucmbers were all over the place, some carrying shopping bags, others with kids in push chairs, most talking on their mobile phones and/or eating ice creams. I was pleased to find that the bar was still where I’d left it a few months ago. I sat on a stool and ordered a caña. I must point out at this point that my favourite beer is Ambar, but outside Zaragoza it’s almost impossible to find, so I settled on a Mahou, which is passable.


Then I realised that on the stool on my right there was a short chubby green pepper. And on my left there was a bunch of gangly asparagus. Both were drinking beer and they both acknowledged my human presence with a smirk. I tried hard not to look at them as I supped my beer, but I was dying to ask them a few questions. I offered the pepper a cigarette.


“Thanks but no thanks,” it said. “Given it up.”


“Ah. Right. Understandable,” I agreed.


“What do you mean?” I’d never seen a green pepper frown suspiciously, but this one definitely took umbrage at my remark.


“Well, I mean, er… you being a pepper… I mean, it can’t be good for you.”


“Oh, so it’s OK for you, is it, smart arse?”


“Eh? No, no, I didn’t mean that. No offence meant. Sorry!” I smiled and offered the pepper a toast. “Cheers”, I suggested weakly.


“Piss off.”


The asparagus on my left was chortling to itself. “Don’t pay any attention to him. He’s still regretting his operation. It takes time, you know.”


“I beg your pardon?”


“That green pepper. Pablo. He only had his op done ten days ago. Still getting used to it.”


My bewilderment was turning into bafflement. “Come again?”


The bunch of asparagus sighed. “He used to be a tall, good looking kind of bloke. The girls all used to fancy him. But he forgot to specify what kind of veggie he wanted to be and they turned him into a green pepper.” He chortled again. “Serves him right, if you ask me. Arrogant git.”


I digested this information slowly, like a tapa with my beer. “He chose to be a vegetable…? Is that what you mean?”


“Yes.” The asparagus looked at me carefully. “Are you from Madrid?”, he asked after a while.


“No, I’m from Zaragoza,” I explained.


“Ah, right. Maybe that explains it.”


“Explains what?”


And then the asparagus (whose name was Agustín) gave me the whole story. Four cañas and a plate of chopitos later, I understood what was going on in the capital of Spain.


It was my own fault, really. I rarely read news about Madrid, just the national news and sometimes Aragón news like if there’s anything about EXPO ZARAGOZA, so I was completely ignorant of the new municipal regulations in Madrid whereby citizens can voluntarily undergo a “cambio vegetal” in exchange for free housing, free parking and free entry to the Parque de Atracciones for life. Apparently, with the massive influx of immigrants to the city, many madrileños had chosen to become vegetables to guarantee their livelihood and quality of life, rather than be swamped by thousands of millions of Latin American drug dealers, thieving East European gypsies, fundamentalist Arab terrorists and the fiendish Chinese mafia. Agustín explained to me that practically every autochthonous human being left in Madrid was now a vegetable, which made it easier to identify immigrants, who were being refused this “cambio vegetal”.


“Since Gallardón became a horseradish, it’s been a kind of sign that you’re proud to be a real madrileño,” went on Agustín. “At first we got some funny looks, I can tell you!” and he chortled as he recalled his first few days as a bunch of asparagus. “Fortunately, the veggiephobic minority is really tiny. And anyway, everybody knows they’re just jealous foreigners.”


“What about me?” I asked. “Am I OK?”


“What do you mean?”


“Well, I mean, am I safe? Is it OK for me to be with you people? Will people think I’m a foreigner? Should I dress like a vegetable, for instance?”


Agustín sipped his beer slowly, wiped his mouth with a paper servilleta and dropped it deliberately on the floor in the best chulo madrileño style. “Look. Don’t make fun of us, all right? If I were to go to Zaragoza, I wouldn’t make fun of you, and I wouldn’t want people making jokes at me, saying: “Oh look, maño, a madrileño bunch of asparagus! Isn’t that hilarious!” A bit of respect, if you don’t mind. Here in Madrid, we don’t like being patronised.”


I hastened to put Agustín at ease. “No, no, I wasn’t joking. I just don’t feel comfortable here, I was just asking you how I should behave, that’s all.” 


“Hmmm. All right. I take it back. Maybe I’m still a bit touchy. It’s only been a month and, you know what, sometimes I still miss being a human being.”


“Can the operation be reversed?” I asked.


“In theory, yes, but all the doctors are Cuban or Polish, so God knows what a mess they’d make of the operation. They’d probably turn you into a strawberry!” And at this Agustín burst out laughing and nearly fell off his stool.


I looked round the bar and observed that every non-veggie was, indeed, a foreigner. A beetroot seemed to be picking a fight with a group of Moroccans and the barman, a burly aubergine, shouted out to him to leave them alone.


“But they started it! They stole my wallet!” protested the beetroot.


The Moroccans denied this furiously.


“It’s OK, lads, we know you’re not to blame”, said the barveg. “Roberto, stop causing trouble or I’ll kick you out,”


Roberto the beetroot muttered something and walked away.


“You see? That sort of thing happens all the time,” said Agustín. “It’s proving harder than anyone thought for us all to be fully integrated.”


“You mean vegetables and humans? Or madrileños and foreigners?” I asked.


Agustín gave me a funny look. It was strange how a bunch of asparagus could remind me of Clint Eastwood. “Hang around for a few more days, amigo. You’ll see it’s the same thing.”
















2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Wayne on June 6, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    You’re right! madrid is weird these days, all those vegetables..!!! But you get used to it. I met a real cute broccoli girl called Carmen and now she’s my “novia” so I ain’t complaining!


  2. Posted by Proud Susana on June 7, 2008 at 11:41 am

    I would like to say that I thought your post was offensive to those of us ex-humans who have chosen the veggie way. My husband and I are endives and proud of our decision to be so. It’s all very well for people to snigger, but I wish more cities would take the problem of human overcrowding more seriously. ¡El futuro es vegetal!


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