Madrid: Marx, Hegel and el Taxista

Posted on May 11, 2006

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125004-332517-thumbnail.jpg by almendro 

Taxi drivers the world over are a curious group, and Spanish cabbies are no exception. I learned many years ago that most taxistas are more than happy to engage you on virtually any topic, and generally they are friendly, even if they disagree with you.

One of the first drivers I met here, in fact, became a devoted friend despite our differing political views when, after he told me that he played on a local baseball team (not a common sport in Spain, and one with little proper equipment), I had my soon-to-visit dad bring him a Louisville Slugger — he nearly wept with joy.

Several years later I discovered that I could charm most taxistas if I simply mentioned how well one could eat in Spain. No driver has ever challenged this, and I recall leaving one literally gurgling, Pavlov-style, in his own saliva, as I mentioned, one by one, a few of the cheeses, hams, and wines to be enjoyed in this country.

Riding from the airport to my apartment in Madrid the other night, however, I encountered a taxi driver who genuinely confounded me. Bald, elderly, and seemingly mild-mannered, he was silent during most of the ride.

But when we hit a traffic jam entering the Plaza Santa Ana, things began to go awry. We were stuck for only fifteen minutes or so, consigned to observing the tides of chatting Spaniards that passed by on their evening walks, yet this incident somehow ignited my driver, who, without warning, exploded into a diatribe against "the masses," the media, and the mindlessness of contemporary Spaniards that went uninterrupted (it was uninterruptable, really) for the duration of our journey.

I was at first merely surprised by the outburst. Soon, however, I was flabbergasted, for the longer he held forth, the more complex and theoretically formidable became his rant. As he backed his claims by carefully quoting Marx, Hegel, Adorno (above), and an array of other political philosophers, I sunk lower and lower — in my seat, and in amazement.

By the time we reached my apartment, it was all I could do to timidly offer him a handful of Euros and slink quietly from the cab. Hours later, I was still in shock — NOT that a taxi driver would sound off, but that he could do it so eruditely as to plunge me into the kind of intellectual submission I haven’t felt since graduate school.

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Photo via Stephane Jallet 

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Posted in: madrid, urban living