Feast of the escapees from French confinement in Madrid

Newsletter: Europe Express

A new French generation is heading for Spain, the land which sent Napoleon to pack his bags but which inspired Édouard Manet, Georges Bizet and Gustave Doré.

Young people from the north of the border flock to the heart of Madrid, fill the terraces of cafes, wander the trendy streets and book Airbnbs. Their objective? To have a good time – pasarlo good – and enjoy the diversions of life in a way that is impossible at home.

“In France, the curfew is at 6 p.m. and everything is closed – no restaurants, no bars, we can’t do anything – but here everything is open”, explains Charlotte, a Parisian student who refuses to give her name then that she takes a puff of a cigarette nearby. Plaza Dos de Mayo, named after a 1808 uprising against a previous French invasion.

For her and the six friends she shares an Airbnb with, partying is the top priority – and Madrid is one of the few places in Europe where that is possible. “Since we all stay together, we can go to the bars and then have a little fun at the apartment,” Charlotte explains.

France has kept its bars and restaurants closed, placed blockades on weekends only in Dunkirk and Nice and placed 23 departments, including the entire Paris region, under increased surveillance.

This is not the case in Spain. After imposing one of the world’s toughest closures between March and June last year – in which children were banned for 45 days from venturing outside – the country has avoided the orders to stay at home. Instead, the central government relied heavily on the regions to put in place their own policies against the second and third waves of the pandemic. After a frightening level of infections in January, rates have been dropping for weeks.

Despite this, Madrid stand out for their relaxed approach. The region’s center-right head of government Isabel Díaz Ayuso – one of the country’s most polarizing politicians – has vowed that the hospitality industry will not be ruined under her watch. Thus, while in Catalonia, restaurant meals are prohibited from 5 p.m., in Madrid, you can eat out until 11 p.m. On sunny weekends the squares are full of families and friends munching on tapas or ordering the penultima – the penultimate drink.

“If anyone wants to visit Madrid. . . from Paris or any other part of the world, and they play by the rules and the airport is safe, that’s fine with me ”, Diaz Ayuso said at week-end.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, Madrid has the highest infection rates in mainland Spain, although the number of cases is around a quarter of the level of five weeks ago.

For all street life in Madrid, people are not allowed to bring a friend over to the house, and parties are strictly prohibited. But the holidays come all the same, with an average of nearly 400 closed by city police every weekend, often in tourist apartments.

Javier Fernández Ruiz, the head of the municipal police, blames the French. “It is mainly the French who enjoy the greatest freedom of entertainment in our city”, he recently said. said on Spanish television.

The irony is that freedom of movement for tourists in Spain – which does not extend to non-EU countries like the UK – contrasts with travel restrictions within the country. Most parts of Spain prohibit people from entering and exiting, and although Madrid does not impose such restrictions, its neighbors do.

But it can be difficult for the police to take action against non-residents. The force is sometimes unable to enter apartments hosting parties if those inside do not open the door, an exercise in frustration for both parties.

Still, there is little clear data to indicate how many illegal parties involve foreign tourists – and the southern migration of the French is not an exclusive affair of young people.

A 60-year-old member of the French establishment remarks that his exclusive hotel is full of his compatriots and that some business class travelers now make the Paris-Madrid trip every weekend.

“There is no other option,” he said. “Life in Madrid is almost normal, except for dinner time, which ends a little earlier than usual, which is fine with me. But when you come back to Paris, it’s like going back to prison.

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