Lavapiés is a barrio (neighborhood) of Madrid known for it's ethnic restaurants, and shisha bars. Locals will tell you that's where you should go if you want to eat good Indian or Moroccan food, and in the evenings if you walk the streets their the smell is intoxicating.
In Madrid, each of the different neighborhoods is associated with a different patron saint. On the day of that patron saint, that barrio will usually have a festival, and businesses and people from that area take the day off to celebrate. This past weekend, Lavapiés had their festival, nest weekend La Latina will have theirs.
In English, we have two different terms, festival and party. In Spanish the word fiesta refers to both, and after going to the Lavapiés fiesta this weekend I can see why. There were booths for games, food, cotton candy, rides, all the things you expect to see at a festival, but there was a DJ, and hundreds of people dancing in the street, there were people making out, some people playing board games. To describe it as either a festival or a party would be misleading, it was absolutely both.
Ben and I went to the fiesta with some friends we've made here. We met at nine (which is early by Spanish standards) and walked together to Lavapiés. It took us about an hour and a half to get there because we stopped at a few places along the way, and then ended up lost, but when we got there we sat down in a Moroccan restaurant and ate humus, baba ganoush, and various entrees. The food was sub-par by Spanish standards but it was cheap, and everyone was too hungry by the time we got to Lavapiés to really argue.
After dinner, at about midnight, we headed over the the fiesta. The streets were packed! It was very difficult for our group of five to stay together in the huge crowd. There were street venders selling mojitos, tinta de vendura, and sangrias in half liter glasses. We paid for some drinks, and as our drinks were being made by a clearly overworked girl, she grabbed her foot, pulled the bloody paper napkins wrapped around her toe, threw them on the ground, poured some rum on her wound, wrapped them in more towels as she poured that same rum in the drink we were about to drink.
We carried our drinks further into the crowd, and watched as a group of Latin American people dance in ways I didn't think we're possible. I'm lucky if I can get my hips going at the same time as either my hands or my feet, these dancers had their arms, legs, hips, chests, and heads all going with the music, and could do dips, grinds, and spins with partners. They put the contestants from Dancing with the Stars to shame, and were doing it in the moment, with strangers and to songs they had never heard.
We headed further into the crowd towards a stage we could see in the distance. I was terrified to dance, the Latin Americans had set the bar too high, and no amount of training could make me look as good as them. As we got closer to the stage, the crowds became too dense, and it was impossible to do the enthusiastic dancing I had seen before. By the time we got near the stage, we had finished our drinks. With no trash can in site, we asked the Spaniard what we should do. She pointed at the ground, where we saw bottles, cans, food wrappers... and so in the Spanish fashion, we threw our cups on the ground.
We danced for hours, it was amazing. At one point during a hip hop song, a circle was formed and we got to watch an amazing dance off. About ten different people showed their moves, including one of our friends! One guy was able to bounce up and down while in a hand stand, another did flips, our friend was able to slink her body in ways that looked inhuman. If I had the cool factor of those people, I would be able to describe what I saw, unfortunatly all I can tell you was that it was awesome.
Ben felt a little out of his element, for most of the night we just danced, and not to any kind of music he would recognize. Then they started playing ska, his kind of music, and skanking ensued. I was terrified, and just wanted to hide in a corner until while everyone was pushing each other, but I saw the biggest, derpiest, smile across Ben's face. Ben flailed around like a madman, with all the other madmen, and I tried not to fear for his life.
The night was amazing, Madrid knows how to live. I'm looking forward to the Fiesta next weekend in La Latina.