Having lived all my life in a small town and then moved to a small town college, a city on a weekend night is a special kind of magic.
The days are slow in Valladolid, with meandering figures occupying the streets in scattered packs as individuals on bycicles glide past. They mingle with cars like delicate birds, flirting into traffic and out into the bicycle lanes that serve as a constant companion to the regular roads. The cycle of pedestrian traffic ebbs and flows throughout the day, swelling after siesta as the hour for tapas grows nearer. Soon swarms of people roam the streets to stand around high tables in boisterous groups of revelries celebrating life and good company.
Streets close to Plaza Mayor, the city’s center, contain tapas bars on both sides and are impossible to pass through without a constant repetition of “perdón” and “lo siento.” Enticing smells of hot bocaditos and tostadas envelop the streets in a warm aroma of strong spices and sizzling chorizo, courting with the laughter and conversation that saturates the air. Wine glasses are situated in every hand, clinking in merry, melodic tones in time with the rapid cadence of Castilian Spanish. After a round of tapas and an hour of conversation the tab is paid, and the group moved to another bar for a second, third, or fourth round of the savory morsels. The picture of elegance, overcoats and topcoats swirl on turned heels and exquisite clothing, meticulously matched from tartan scarf to leather oxford.
The streets pulse with another barrage of activity: groups of high school students burst forth from their homes in clusters of giggling girls and raucous boys eager to enter the nearest discoteca until the early morning hours. A strange juxtaposition to the poise and immaculate crowds that occupy the tapas bars, like deer they totter about on spindly legs; pale, thin, and shivering against the cold, the essence of youthful confidence tailing their stilettoed footsteps. Teenage exuberance exposes their awkward adolescence, hidden beneath a layer of short skirts, heavy makeup, and revealing tops–glance too long and risk the realization that underneath they are children, and painfully young. Let them glide by on their iridescent wings–look away without seeing the cracked exoskeleton and glittering eyes, empty and starved.
The hours pass, and the farther the clock moves from midnight the greater the number of students who appear, dominating the streets in self-assured strides to meet friends in favorite and familiar bars. Money is tight and time is fleeting, but they can pay to avoid responsibilities for a night or two. The real world looms, but a toast of “¡Salúd!” banishes its shadow for the night, its tenuous grip replaced by the playful embrace of insouciant frivolity. These hours are theirs, and they rule them with wanton abandon, princes of vice rich in the jewels of gaiety.
At all stages of the night the streets teem with life, bursting with infectious electricity and the tantalizing potential of unplanned adventure. The vibrancy of city nightlife is unparalleled; a vivacious celebration without intent or direction, marked by the underlying current of sophisticated ebullience that characterizes the central regions of Spanish society. Stepping into the streets is an immediate and invigorating connection to this atmosphere of liveliness, of pure and absolute energy unmatched by that in American cities.
Together the vitality of the people of Valladolid carries the city into the early hours of morning, until the last of the bars and discotecas Close their doors to the slight breaking of a six a.m. sunrise. In a moment of calm and quiet, the city briefly slumbers before a new cycle of citizens once again incite the flurry of city life: joggers rise, mercadillo vendors prepare their wares, and church bells ring to signal the beginning of a new day.