Yesterday I went out shopping for Christmas presents in Sol, where I usually tend to go to shop here in Madrid. I know, I know, I’m not being very adventurous in this department, but it’s just so darn easy to shop here because there are a ton of stores, and most of the area immediately around the Puerta del Sol is a pedestrian zone, so you don’t have to worry about dodging traffic or anything like that…well, you do still have to deal with strolling groups of shoppers who string themselves out across the greater part of the path, but they’re usually a little easier to deal with than speeding vehicles.
So, I went to Sol for some shopping, not remembering until I got there that yesterday was the first day of a really long holiday weekend here in Spain (Día de la Constitución on Monday and Día de la Inmaculada – patron saint of the entire country – on Wednesday combine to give everyone a nice, healthy break). Apparently, as I found out, this weekend is one of the most traveled ones in all of Spain, meaning that there were tons and tons and tons (shall I go on?) of people filling the area to the brim as they devoted themselves to the pleasure of shopping and relaxing. The Puerta del Sol, which is really quite a large plaza, was literally teaming with bodies. At one point, as I was coming back from the Christmas fair in the Plaza Mayor, I looked out over the crowd and could only think of one word to describe it – an ocean. Really. It was an ocean of humanity, heaving and tossing waves of families and friends first into one side street and then another, ebbing and flowing with the tide of folks streaming in and out of the metro and pouring in from every possible direction.
I was trying to swim to the other side of the plaza when I came across it, a crowd of people who seemed to be watching a street performer, of which there are many in Sol, or waiting for something to start. Naturally, I was curious to see what so many people were watching, so I glanced to the front and to the back. Nothing. I glanced to the left. Nothing but more people waiting. Then I glanced to the right and realized that this crowd was really a gigantic line twisting away from the lottery stand. Yup, there was a giant sea snake writhing through the heart of the ocean, with its head in the lottery stand. Never thought the lottery would be so popular here? Well, as I found out, it isn’t normally any more so than in the states, but for Christmas there’s a special lottery drawing for El Gordo, the fat one, that everyone participates in. And I mean everyone, eh? It’s a sort of tradition for most, and people who never play in the lottery the rest of the year buy a ticket or two for El Gordo. Even my host mom, who says gambling is a vice, buys a ticket for herself and one with her group of friends. It’s a social thing, with people earnestly discussing where to buy their tickets and somehow playing the system with all their friends so that they can win together. You can wait in a line to buy tickets from a particular lottery store for hours, literally hours, because everyone loves El Gordo.
In fact, people love El Gordo so much that the air traffic controllers all across Spain that went on strike on Friday probably only did it to recreate the jolly environment of long lines and endless waits that they have grown to associate with fond memories of the Christmas lottery. Sure, they wanted higher pay or something silly like that too, but I’ll bet their main goal was to share the holiday spirit with the millions of people who got stuck in every single Spanish airport. I mean, what could be more festive and joyful than getting to know the people around you who are also waiting in an endless line for hours and hours on end? Only, I think they tried to share their love of lines a little too long, and now the whole country is a little POed that they had to wait more than two days to fly off to wherever they were going for vacation. Come on now, folks, don’t be so harsh. Can’t you tell they just wanted to share the love they feel for the Fat One?