Speech by Marta Sanz in the tribute to Grandes: 'Almudena in her city'

“Churruca Street, short and narrow, begins in Plaza de Barceló and ends, almost without realizing it, in Sagasta Street, next to the Bilbao roundabout, which for me has always been and will be the true center of the city”. This paragraph, collected in the prologue female models (1996), marks the epicenter, the radiating nucleus, of the narrative of Almudena Grandes, a writer for whom the time and space of history are fundamental. Madrid, always in the lines of Almudena and Almudena strolling, with all five senses awake, through the streets, roundabouts, parks, squares and avenues of a Madrid whose plans and place names are superimposed in transparency on the convolutions -perfect, precise, methodical- of the brain map of Almudena Grandes. Impressive is the assembly of the plots and the construction of a city, which is many cities at the same time, on which the complex movements and inertia of fictional beings are defined. The vectors that mark the paths, lines that join distant points: up and down, inside and outside, yesterday and today.

Grandes was looking for a meaning to the labyrinth, and the narration with its indicators of space and time was the resource to find the thread and unwind a deeply conciliatory skein of memory. Democratic. From the 1930s until November 27, 2021, the date of his death, all the cities of Madrid configured a cartography inhabited by plural voices, a cartography ordered chronologically and at the same time rich in its reminiscences, pentimentos, in the conflictive superposition of its strata… The Madrid of 1937 fits into that of 1978, which overlaps with that of 2007. The uprising takes place on the page of an eternal and universal Madrid. Local and unmistakably historic.

With her sensitive capacity for observation and her mastery of the craft of writing, Almudena Grandes spoke about her city from the double perspective of almost scientific knowledge and the curiosity to understand: in The patients of Dr. Garcia, National Narrative Award 2018, we exactly identified La casa de las Flores, the Café Lion, the Carabanchel prison and the Galileo 14 flat in which Clarita Stauffer established contacts to relocate Nazis or get them out of Spain. Together with that concretion of a historian and geographer, of a philologist who records the diatopic, diaphasic and diastratic varieties of those who inhabit or inhabited Madrid, we find the literary detail of an imprecise but always plausible “large room with two balconies on Calle Españoleto” or “ the sealed warehouse on Hortaleza street” of Manolita’s three weddings (2014). Although in this novel, the two most important milestones are unfortunately solid, bloody and recognizable spaces: the Porlier and Cuelgamuros jails. For the writer it was important to call things by her name in that Madrid of brave men and women.

In The ages of Lulu (1989), Grandes is already close to a definition of Madrid just before Pablo and Lulú pass by the Bernabéu doing a comb. With Madrid de la República and Atlético de Madrid, Almudena was not lukewarm. However, in the love for the city, as in any love that deserves that name, there are blemishes and chiaroscuro: “This city-no city, chaotic and hybrid, (…) the only place where you can live at ease, in the middle of of the disaster, because no one asks anything, because everyone is nobody, and you can go out to buy bread with slippers and a boatiné robe and no one looks at you, and they give you a couple of anchovies in vinegar with the beers, in noisy bars with the floor carpeted with crumpled paper napkins (…) a ghost town of questioning doormen, and what floor are you going to, and what the hell do you care, a boring and pretentious provincial town in the middle of the city, a huge city of which everyone says is a town”.

The writer Marta Sanz intervenes in the award ceremony for the title of Favorite Daughter of Madrid to Almudena Grandes, at the Spanish Theater, on June 13, 2022, in Madrid (Spain).
The writer Marta Sanz intervenes in the award ceremony for the title of Favorite Daughter of Madrid to Almudena Grandes, at the Spanish Theater, on June 13, 2022, in Madrid (Spain).Fernando Sanchez (Europa Press)

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We are in the eighties and women enjoy in the beds of Madrid. However, the most striking thing about the paragraph lies in that ambivalent quality, rural and urban, which makes us think of Madrid as a prism that Grandes focuses on and illuminates from all its facets: there is a Madrid of center and periphery that little by little stops to be so because the distant becomes close -Linear City-, the city grows and this lengthening of the muscle and the artery of the living city is verified; there is a Madrid of the past and of the present; day and night; official and clandestine; a wealthy Madrid from a good family who lives in a large apartment in Argensola and moves to a chalet in La Moraleja in front of a needy Madrid; Madrid of winners and losers; of sane and crazy entered in the pages of Frankenstein’s mother (2020); of mourning and partying, of work and leisure, bars of beers and vermouth on tap, people who have drinks at home while watching football; there is a Madrid of realities that are poured into fictions and of fictions that end up forming part of our body because it cannot be denied that the immense and compassionate Galdós went through the marrow, so empathic with the readers of Almudena Grandes; there is an interior and an exterior Madrid, the houses and the street, the intimate and the public, the flats with long corridors -I would say that Almudena had an urban and real estate vision of her city-, “a balcony of red geraniums in front of the barracks of Count Duke” in the frozen heart (2007), but also cemeteries, hospitals, the Central University of San Bernardo, the places where one is born, one dies and one learns, how love is made in the city and what one eats, a mount of loin with a beer in the bar of the Autonomous for example; there is a Madrid from a bird’s eye view, from above, with an incomparable blue sky, “a sea of ​​rooftops”, a tall but also deep Madrid, of pavement and subsoil, the metro from Lista to Tirso de Molina in his beautiful story tobacco and black. A Madrid of Barcelo Market (2003) where the purchase is made with a cart and the time is requested. A Madrid of characters who were not born here and are as much from Madrid as anyone else.

The places are not spaces to set a scene, but are part of the way of being of the fictional creatures that inhabit them. Madrid is collected within the pages of the stories of Almudena Grandes and, at the same time, it enlarges, becomes unfathomable… It is concentrated in a pinprick of sensations multiplied by the temperature of a specific day, the smell of churros, the noise of a bar, the neighbors who sing “Ay, bell ringer”, and it opens up like an expanding universe.

The life of the people is what mattered most to Almudena. The life of the people in a Spain, in a Madrid, that from the exercise of memory and the beauty of the literary word appraises democratic values. They will allow me to recover a moment of the frozen heart:Ignacio Fernández Muñoz lands in Barajas and is reunited with a different Madrid, which he memorized day after day during his exile. Ignacio rediscovers his memory of a Madrid before the war and, in his walk and his mental reconstruction, in his contrasts and games of the seven differences, the city opens up before him like a treasure: La Castellana, Cibeles, Alcalá , Recoletos, Gijón, the National Library, the Vistillas where the last image of a lost city and war was fixed… The Madrid of her, from today, favorite daughter is her Madrid, the one she lends to her characters, but also the one that her characters give her: through the eyes of Ignacio Fernández Muñoz, Grandes shares with those of us who read her a city that is lived with a love that is sometimes opposed. With great love.”

The singer-songwriter Joaquín Sabina in the act of awarding the title of Favorite Daughter of Madrid to Almudena Grandes, at the Spanish Theater
The singer-songwriter Joaquín Sabina in the act of awarding the title of Favorite Daughter of Madrid to Almudena Grandes, at the Spanish TheaterClaudia Alvarez

In her narrations, Grandes manages to amalgamate all the facets of the contradictory Madrid prism to achieve a profoundly human synthesis that challenges us by placing herself at our side with a familiarity that has much of literary greatness: we accompany the writer in her visions of Madrid and we verify that her protagonists are us and our grandmothers, our parents and lovers. The window panes of the little store, which are stuck in Galán’s liver and are about to kill him in Agnes and joy (2010), are the same ones against which my nose hit when my grandmother Juanita came in to buy me violet candies. In the Madrid of Almudena Grandes, torrential and methodical, the gaze of the girl from Churruca street and that of the woman who traveled half the world, reached a multitude of people with her stories and ended up living on a street parallel to the founding street converge. . To the street where it all began.

We send you a kiss Almudena wherever you are. Even profane women like me send it to you and we celebrate with you this well-deserved honor, this appointment, granted to you by this city of which we all form a part.

Speech delivered by Marta Sanz at the Spanish Theater on Monday, June 13, during the award ceremony for the posthumous title of Favorite Daughter of Madrid to Almudena Grandes.

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