During August, Madrid holds its fiestas castizas.
That’s hard to translate: “traditional” fiestas, perhaps, or “authentic” fiestas. They’ve been going on for at least a couple of centuries in one format or another, and they celebrate San Cayetano, San Lorenzo, and the Virgin of the Paloma. When I lived in Madrid, I always went.
I just moved from Madrid to Chicago’s Edgewood neighborhood, and the Edgewood Chamber of Commerce held Edgefest
last weekend. I went with my husband. How do the two street festivals compare?
• Madrid’s fiestas start on August 1st and end on the 15th – two weeks! – moving from one old neighborhood to another on the near south side sloping toward the river. Some of the narrow side streets are elaborately decorated, and castizo fiesta-goers wear traditional costumes: dapper houndstooth vested suits for men, and fitted, flared long dresses with head scarves and embroidered shawls for women. This is ideally accompanied by a cheeky, streetwise attitude.
• Edgefest was held on August 6th to 7th – one weekend! – on a mere two blocks of Broadway, and the wide street was decorated with a few banners on light poles. Dress was casual – some men even wore cargo shorts – and the attitude was typical Midwestern friendly.
• The Madrid fiestas seem to attract every single person who hasn’t left the city on vacation and even out-of-towners. The streets and plazas can be packed tight from one end of the neighborhood to another, and the noise can be deafening.
• Edgefest attracted people apparently just from the neighborhood, and while the turnout seemed good, the crowd was comfortably sized, several orders of magnitude smaller and not too loud.
• The Madrid fiestas might have a few activities in the morning or early afternoon, but nothing really gets started until 8 p.m. They end sometime long after midnight – I don’t know when for sure. Possibly sunrise. I never lasted much beyond midnight. Madrid is a late-night party town and always has been.
• Edgefest started at noon Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday, and ended promptly at 10 p.m. Saturday and 9 p.m. Sunday. Chicagoans might enjoy a party, but they’ll also let their neighbors go to bed at a reasonable hour.
• Madrid’s fiestas offer food, drink, music, and a few shows, with stages set up in various plazas and streets. There are also carnival games and big food and drink areas. In addition, bars on a street often team up to fill that street with amplified music to make it one big loud party. People drink a lot. Really a lot.
• Edgefest had music stages at each end of the block, and tents and booths between them offering food and drink, games, crafts, art, and promotions by local businesses and organizations. Wine and beer flowed freely, but drinkers seemed to be pacing themselves. Of course, closing up shop at 9 or 10 p.m. makes that easier.
In summary, the Madrid fiestas are huge, noisy, and frenetic. Edgefest was small, friendly, and relaxed. And at Edgefest I could sometimes smell tobacco smoke, but there was none of the marijuana that can waft down the fiesta-filled streets of Madrid – sometimes even on non-fiesta days.
Madrid is a party town. Chicago might have a different focus.
— Sue Burke