(From April 2013)
Late April, the first hot day in Madrid. Hot for a northern European; 20C. I take all my CAE marking to the Retiro, along with a sandwich, water and a blanket, and make the best of having marking to do on a Saturday.
A couple of hours later I’ve corrected and ticked and crossed the English papers. Mario and his best friend from Sicily join me and I finally relax with a beer. By 7.40pm the sun is still shining, but I realise that I am supposed to be meeting my eccentric, ginger, kiwi friend at 8pm in trendy, grungey Malasaña. OK. At least 20 minutes on the Metro and I will need to change trains. And I really need to pee. Mario and the Godfather have to leave to play football, but we need to find the loos first in the Retiro. I remember that I’ve seen some near the bandstand, underground.
As we approach, surprise surprise there’s a queue of a about twenty women snaking up the stairs. I’m not just desperate, I am in a rush (this is a totally unknown phenomenen among the Spanish-rush). I do what many girls in England would do in a desperate-to-pee-no-time-to-fanny-about-situation; I start to edge towards the men’s. Mario is heading there, so I lean over the railing to see if it looks busy. A young American guy spots me as he’s heading up the stairs, “There’s no one there, just go in”. That’s all the green light I need. “What! I don’t think you should do it,” Mario protests. But he’s Sicilian and probably in the Mafia. I’m sure worse things have happened than a girl peeing in the blokes’ toilets.
He’s goes down the stairs, I follow and the aged attendent says something to me in Spanish. I ignore him and rush into cubicle; Mario goes in the one next door. After relieving myself I exit, wash my hands and go to leave. The barred gate at the bottom of the stairs has been locked, the old man has the key and Mario is arguing with him. What the fuck is going on? Why would an old dude lock two young people in the toilets in the park? Shit, I have to meet ginger kiwi in 15 minutes. Shit, is the old dude going to call the police? Have I broken some local law? I understand nothing, except when he shouts the word puta…
After an intense argument lasting less than a minute, he lets us out, while old men peer down the stairs to see what the fuss was about. Mario is reluctant to tell me what the old bloke said, other than a vague,”He said there’s a place for girls and a place for guys. He said we shouldn’t treat it like our own house.” But it’s clear what he thought: puta means prostitute. The old guy thought I was a prostitute. As to precisely what he imagined we were doing in separate cubicles, I am clueless.
Since then I have discovered that you can use the loos in the cafes in the Retiro for free. Even so, I had to use the men’s there last week, though only once enough time had lapsed since I had been accused of being a prostitute. Life is short, I can’t afford to waste it queueing to pee.