Hide and Seek

El Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid’s most gracious park, is Europe with a capitol E, as you’d expect it to be: stately with monuments and gridded promenades, clotted with tourists and buskers. El Retiro is a Madrid must-see, as vouchsafed by the guidebooks. Peacocks stalk its southeast quadrant; confectionary fin de siecle apartment buildings overlook it.

But the L-shaped park I tend to think of proprietarily as mine, El Parque de Oeste, is to the west of all that, and otherwise. Before it became a park in the 1890s, it was a landfill. During the Spanish Civil War, it was Madrid’s front lines. Afterward, the gardeners tasked with transforming it from denuded wasteland back into greenspace had to keep a weather-eye out for unexploded ordnance.

El Retiro belongs to the world; Parque de Oeste belongs to the neighborhood, to dogwalkers being walked by lithe galician greyhounds and pensive construction workers nursing midmorning bottles of beer and all the college students who smoke and court there.

Parque del Oeste is dotted with statues.

Franco’s grandson was the model for the child in one of them;

another is still pocked by bullet holes.

Three of the 20 machine gun bunkers built in the 1930s still sit in a shadowy, piney section of the park, beside a scattering of picnic tables.

A while back, I read that a battle-scarred stone had been placed a stone’s throw from the hindquarters of one of the equestrian statues, as if the bunkers weren’t mute testimony enough to the battle fought there. I looked for it on my next walk, circling the horse statues at opposite ends of the park, but couldn’t find it.

This morning, I was thinking of foliage, not of the fallen.

And there it was. No commentary, no plaque. Just trees, and falling leaves.

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