August is normally such a peaceful month in Madrid, but this year has been different. Following on from, and almost certainly related to, the idiotic attempt to push the 15-M movement out of the city centre we are now about to receive a papal visit. The contrast could hardly be starker, whilst 15-M are forbidden to erect any kind of structure in the city's squares, the Pope's visit is seeing a massive occupation of public space. Retiro park has been filled with confession boxes, can there really be so many sinners coming to Madrid to see an elderly German priest? Cibeles has got a grand structure put in place to receive his holiness.
It's not just that a private religious event is taking over public spaces either, the generosity of the city and regional administrations also has to be taken into account in these times of austerity. Despite an insistence that the papal visit isn't costing anything to the public purse, the reality is very different. Hundreds of public schools and sports centres have been handed over free of charge for visitors to sleep in. The armed forces have have offered an airfield for the big mass. For private companies the event becomes a handy way of doing tax-deductible advertising. Then there is the 80% reduction in the cost of the tourist transport ticket for the faithful. Announced in the same week as the 50% increase in the single journey Metro ticket for everyone else that will help to pay for this generous concession.
Then we get the closure of some of the city's main thoroughfares to traffic for the duration of the visit. Great, about time. But why does it only happen when Mr Ratzinger is in town? Every year we get a farcical day without traffic where no streets at all are closed but the mayor gets his picture taken on a bicycle. Transport services that normally broadcast information in Spanish only are suddenly equipped to do it in other languages. Again, why only now?
There will be a protest against the visit. The government's representative in Madrid tried to divert it away from the city centre, without really having any legal justification for doing so. Ironically, they wanted to send the protest on a route through Lavapies that they prohibited back around Easter when there was a proposal for an atheist procession. The excuse then was that the route would pass too many churches! Finally they have given way and the fragile right to protest has been restored for the moment. It's the only thing about next week that I regret missing, because I'm out of here today; off with my rucksack to do part of Corsica's GR20.