I was hopeful when I arrived at Madrid airport late on Sunday night, the place seemed full of weary "pilgrims" queuing to check in or sleeping in the corridors. Many wearing the same T-shirt and carrying the same little rucksack. "Good timing" I thought to myself, Ratzinger has gone home and his followers are on their way too. But I was wrong, as I found out yesterday when I ventured out into the city centre.
The Pope had already put away his red shoes back in Rome, but Madrid was not free yet. One of the multiple ultra-conservative sects that the Catholic Church produces with regularity was awarded the centre of the city yesterday. The ministry of defence, in charge of the Cuatro Vientos airfield donated free of charge for the Pope's visit, refused to extend the free rental for the sect known popularly as the Kikos. No problem, said Madrid's allegedly centrist mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon. They can use Cibeles. So yet another day passed with a major part of the city centre blocked by private religious activities. Of course with the now obligatory noise for those living in central Madrid of what Twitter has baptised as elputohelicoptero.
Late last night they were still parading through my barrio, singing and waving flags. This was Madrid as a catholic version of Tehran or Riyadh. The right-wing here have loved it, a full-scale takeover of the city as what they hope will be the prelude to a suitably theocratic Partido Popular government come the general election. Apart from the lie (see previous post) over the papal visit not costing anything to the public purse, there are astounding claims for the profits that "Madrid" receives from the event. What they mean is that the usual suspects will do very well out of it. It's worth remembering that one of the main "pelotazos" of the corrupt Gürtel companies was the papal visit to Valencia a few years ago. That money didn't stay in Spain very long, and didn't end up in the collection plate either.
I've also had time to view some videos of yet more police violence, this time directed against some of those who took part in the march protesting against the Pope's visit. Or perhaps that should be just walking up the Calle de Atocha. Or doing their job as journalists. One shocking assault on a woman, followed by an equally outrageous attack on the photographer capturing the moment, has finally forced an official response with an investigation being opened into the easily identifiable officer leading the group of riot police concerned. It seems that journalists have become a common target of riot police in Madrid in recent weeks, with some 7-8 victims. There is much talk of how digital technology makes it easier to show what is really happening, but much of the mainstream media continues to shun the abundant evidence of events they are clearly not comfortable with.