Plaza de las Angustias may not be the most beautiful plaza of Jerez, although it could compete if it weren’t for the occasional cars that circle the raise gardens and fountain that make up this plaza; with its tall palms, enormous agaves, and huge bell shaped flowers that droop down from the bushes this plaza has a tropical style, made for sweltering hot summers.
But it isn’t for its dilapidated beauty that I come here every afternoon, but for its character. Without fail Plaza Angustias, the Plaza of Anguish you might call it in English, throws up some of the strangest characters of this larger-than-life town: today there’s an older man shuffling about amongst the hibiscuses – what is he doing there? – watering the plants, let’s say. Because Plaza Angustias, even though it hosts a paid public toilet, is where the old dogs and sly old dogs alike come to take a walk and mark their territory, it is where the young pups come to flirt and fight, where the well-trained and street-smart come to commute, trade, relax in the shade.
Today (another today) there is another old battler, wearing his finest gumboots, having a lie-down on a comfy cast-iron bench: too many finos at the Tres Reyes bar up the road, it seems. And it doesn’t matter whether they’re sleeping quietly by themselves or arguing amongst themselves, the old men of Plaza Angustias always find a moment to raise their cap and their eyebrows in admiration of the passing youth while their wives – gossiping, perhaps, amongst themselves at the bus-stop or on the benches – turn a blind eye. Every day they pour into Plaza Angustias from the seniors’ home at the top of the plaza, and every day like galapagoses they slowly warm their bones in the sun.
Then there are the homeless folk, the drinkers, the down-and-outers who, every day between two and four, come to sink a litre of beer in the sun, argue and laugh, sleep and weep. Today (a different today) there’s a pair of them singing a half-hearted happy birthday to a friend of theirs: not the most stirring rendition but well appreciated by the birthday girl. And every day there’s the self-appointed despot king of the plaza, a fat just-past middle aged man who has a startling appearance to a famous internet meme that once went around. He is bullfrog meets man, wears a constant grin, and every afternoon he comes on down to the plaza carrying a bag of bread crumbs. He soaks the crumbs in the water fountain and dumps it all in the middle of the plaza for the pigeons to enjoy. His whistling lets his feathered friends know that it’s time to break bread and time for me to go to work: at precisely 3.45pm every day he comes.
And then there are the usuals – am I one of them? – who hang about. Every morning, noon and night there’s a big man round like a balloon whose blow-horn voice greets me from across the plaza where he sells his African art at a stand. His pointing hands indicate the subject matter of the day’s conversation; sometimes the bad weather (pointing up, shaking head), often the good weather (pointing up, nodding head), and always the good life (thumbs up) – siiiiiii, I respond, or nooooo, with an over-exaggerated nod or shake of the head (depending on the weather) to compensate for the distance. Sometimes, however, communication becomes complicated when, for example, I want to explain that life’s no good because, say, my bike’s broken: I try stomping my legs and pumping my arms to articulate this and his bellowing laugh suggests he may, or may not, understand my predicament.
Old folks and skater kids, migrants and tourists, gypsies and pijo rich kids, Plaza Angustias attracts them all, all day, all night, all year round.