Madrid by Mavi

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[Note: This piece was originally published in July 2010. As I am on tour now and visiting many of the same venues that I discovered for the first time with Mavi, it seemed like a good time to revisit this piece. And anyway, it’s always a good time to celebrate a dear friend.]

MADRID, Spain – Since we arrived from the airport by metro, we entered Madrid from below ground. We did not see the arid suburbs or the modern parts of the city, but popped up – Alice in Wonderland-like – in a fairy tale world of crooked streets and an endless collection of establishments dedicated to the raising of glasses, to carousing, to bonhomie.

In a strange city, it is good to have a knowing guide. But if the city pulses as if you were standing on the back of a sleeping beast; if behind each shuttered window you sense a ruby-red secret; if you fear you will die of hyper-ventilated frustration if you do not penetrate that secret world, well, in that case it is essential you have someone to show you the way.

We were in luck. Our guide was Mavi Diaz: ex-Viuda e hijas de Roque Enroll, leader of Mavi Diaz & Las Folkies, record producer, survivor, frenetic bringer-together of the stray strands of life. We dropped our bags at her place and consigned ourselves to her care.

Our first stop was El Camoatí, a picturesque bar owned by an Argentine and which was the obvious gathering place for fellow expats wanting to scream themselves hoarse rooting for Argentina in their 3-1 World Cup win over Mexico.

Next, we visited Artebar, a peña for Argentines in Madrid who love making music together and dancing, but the warm weather made the brick-arched underground alcoves too stuffy and we soon left — though not before meeting a chocolate-colored Adonis from Mar del Plata who was impeccably polite and was on his way to dance ballet with the Bolshoi.

Madrid is a city where turning in early means going home at 2am. We had no intention of committing such an abomination, so we walked the streets toward a place where many Madrid nights end: La Recova, a venerable tango redoubt, whose owner, El Tano, has a reputation as illustrious as his police report is long.

When we arrived, sometime after midnight, only a couple of tables were occupied and I concluded – wrongly – that we had missed the action. But as we lingered in conversation and sampled a sweet Basque liqueur served very cold called Patxaran, people wandered in: some flamenco dancers relaxing after a show, the bartender from the bar where we had watched the football match, other people I had seen at other joints. Madrid, I was discovering, is just one big party that migrates from place to place.

Eventually, María and Mavi were coaxed to the stage, their voices mingling, playing with and seducing each other. María and I played several duets of guitar and harmonica. At 3am sharp El Tano hurried out to pull down the steel shutters to comply with city law – he didn’t want to be shut down yet again. (He used to stay open until 6am but that was no longer permitted.) But the party continued behind closed doors and when we eventually wandered home in the company of our new friends the actor and the playwright (who sang show tunes that echoed down the narrow passages around us), the sky was a deep, luminous blue that seemed to announce the dawn but which Mavi said was just the way the Madrid sky always is.

But this tale is not about Madrid. It is about an indomitable force of nature with a weakness for studded punk bracelets who lives life on four high-speed lanes all at once and has a heart as big as they come. It is about Mavi and the night she cracked open the cobblestoned mysteries of Madrid for us and lead us in.


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