Fifty years later, it’s déjà vu all over again in Madrid

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Madrid street scene 1964  256_1024pMADRID, Spain — Fifty years ago I walked into the Palace Hotel here looking for a cup of coffee and was promptly escorted out by two burly guards.

It was Spain at the height of the fascist Franco dictatorship and, at 19, my buddy Mike and I probably looked like communists or worse, like the hippie kids we were, backpacking through Europe, sleeping in youth hostels for 30-cents a night and bathing once every couple of weeks.

I carried two Leica cameras with me, my only possessions other than the shirt on my back, and I documented every step of our wanderings from Luxembourg where Icelandic Airlines dropped us off, across the Mediterranean to North Africa where penniless in Tangier we had to scrounge to get back to Madrid.

In Madrid, we avoided the museums and any semblance of establishment culture, after all we were following in Hemingway’s footsteps and we spent our time guzzling raspy red wine at the bullfights, scouring for señoritas and scratching poetry on napkins in the cafes.

Madrid street scene 1964  256

Madrid street scene 1964. Photo courtesy David Smith-Soto.

After shooting the bird at the Palace hotel, we walked back to the center of town to our usual haunts near the Plaza Mayor.

At the corner of calle Huertas and calle Jesús, I photographed an interesting scene of kids playing in the street, businessmen passing by, an older man walking his dog and a peeping Tom peeking from a nearby window.

Fifty years later I walked into the Palace hotel, two digital cameras around my neck and photographed the grand staircase I remembered so well.

palace 22 hotel I thought about looking for a cup of coffee, but really didn’t want one anymore.  Another man, about my old age now, walked up to me and asked about my camera.  We chatted and I told the story of being booted out of the Palace.  He was enraged.

“We don’t do that kind of thing in Madrid!”

I had to remind him it was 50 years ago and he calmed down. “Of course, in the dictatorship,” he said.

I walked away from the Palace, waved at the uniformed doormen, and winding my way downtown I found myself, 50 years later, at the corner of calle Huertas and calle Jesús,

madrid corner 2014

Madrid street scene 2014. Photo courtesy David Smith-Soto

I lifted the camera to my eye and started shooting.

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5 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Sava on

    Hi David. what a trip!!!!.i too was in madrid- but in 1972 . we stayed at the palace hotel…it was very glamorous and the food amazing …my husband wouldnt let me say much because the dictator was still in power and they were threatening prison to anyone who made unacceptable remarks . you must have had a grand time touring europe ..it had to have been great to have that much freedom at such a young age…elizabeth sava

  2. Julie Meier Wright on

    David — what a trip down memory lane! And what an adventure at 19! If you have a photography website I’d love to know. I am kind of an amateur photographer and actually meeting with a friend of mine on Tuesday (someone who is a professional photographer) to talk about lessons. I have a Nikon digital SLR and my favorite lens is a Tamron 28-270. I have failed retirement but get to travel and take photographs.

    Best,

    Julie

  3. David,
    Thank you! It is fun to be young again…on paper! Glad you had the camera both times, but then, that is you. Jane Lamb

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