Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Midnight Races

AOG, Madrid

Last week I went with some friends to Madrid’s Zarzuela racecourse for the midnight races. It was quite extravagant, as well as exotic and exciting, that we could attend at that time of the day -or rather, night.

The hippodrome was filled with well-to-do people, and then some. Whilst the age average must have been about 22, there were the odd older punters about, though not that many. It was mostly an affair for young people, younger than us, that is.

When we arrived, I suggested that we have a look around, but no. A race was about to start, and we had to do something about it.

We decided to do a bet on what is called a “Gemela”, a twin. You choose two horses and they have to come in 1st or 2nd. Ours came in 1st and 5th. No win. But the race itself was thrilling.

I did have a "Doolittle" moment as we approached the track, but my friends had no clue what I was talking about.

The racetrack in itself is quite interesting. I had read a bit about it, and was quite interested in seeing it, which now I have. And I liked it.

The Zarzuela racecourse is a successor of Madrid’s old racetrack by the Castellana Boulevard built in the XIX century. It was relocated to the outskirts of Madrid in the Summer of 1934 and given the name Zarzuela given its proximity to the Royal Palace nearby (though at the time, Spain was a republic and King Alfonso XIII lived in exile in Rome).

The architect in charge of building the grounds etc. was the Arniches & Dominguez bureau in conjunction with the engineer Eduardo Torroja.

I mention this because the building, when it opened in 1941 (work had to stop in 1936 when the Civil War started) won a few architectural awards.

Given the age of most people around us (honestly, they were kids. Children driving their father's car mostly), I was surprised that the whole place was not turned into a disco.

Little did I know what was coming.

After the last race, the grounds indeed turned into an outdoor disco. Very classy with dance music being played but not too loudly. Not that there are any neighbors nearby as it is well outside the city, but it was loud enough that you could dance, or instead, talk to your friends.

Not much Bling*

Of course, not only children were in tow. Many wannabes were present, as well as middle and low class prostitutes, wannabe millionaires in all their shady glory, real millionaires who looked like drug dealers (if you’ve seen Al Pacino’s Scarface then you know the type), small town drug dealers, businessmen types, tourists, Americans who looked very at home, French people who looked very savvy throughout, and, most surprisingly of all, working class people from the outskirts of Madrid- minus the attitude and the aggressiveness.

What in the UK is known as Chavs and here, well, I think the closest thing is "curritos" which translates loosely as slang for "small jobs".

Hair gel and gold earrings, chains and bracelets. Tracksuit bottoms (sweatpants in the US) and A&F t-shirts. Tight skirts and worn heels. Perms, and artistically shaved heads.

It also translated unto the parking lot: BMWs and Audis next to Opel Astra's and some Nissans and the like. Many 4x4s ans SUVs, however.

I suppose that given Spain’s socialist credentials, this is the way it should be. However, people are people, and although there was a lot of mingling going on, especially around the bar stands and the outdoor barbecue area (odd that they should have one in a place where horses are raced), the classes did not mix much.

And yes, there was a lot of picking up going on. Single boys and girls everywhere. And single adults too.

We left around 2 AM after one of us had a “domestic” over the phone with her boyfriend. Had it been up to me, I would have stayed longer. I really liked what I saw. I liked the atmosphere. And the fact that there were sofas on the lawns.

No, not Ascot.

But somehow nicer.

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