I love May in Madrid. Terrazas take over the sidewalks and plazas of our fair city, the grass and trees are green, the parks are full of flowers, days are long, and it's not too hot yet. And then there's San Isidro. He was a saint, a farmer (labrador), and a very good excuse for a party. That's right: he's Madrid's patron saint, which means that on the day that he died (May 15, 1130) everyone gets a holiday in Madrid!
The festivities started a bit earlier for me and some lucky friends. A colleague of mine is from a tiny town in the province of Cuenca, and there they also happen to have good old Isidro as their patron saint (for reasons unclear, maybe for the agricultural nature of the pueblo?). I've been lucky enough to spend two years attending the fiestas in Villaverde y Pasaconsol, which consist largely of dancing all night and eating all day.
The most emblematic part of the fiestas in the pueblo is the toros. But they aren't full-grown toros, just vaquillas (little cows). All Saturday afternoon people enter the miniscule ring (composed of a whole bunch of truck beds) and run around with the vaquillas, trying not to get gored. The part I don't really like is that then they kill a couple--I didn't stay to watch that part. But the following morning, a bunch of people get up early and spend the whole morning guisando (cooking) the meat in gigantic pots. And then the whole town has a huge picnic with the meat and whatever people have brought: tortilla and plenty of bread, wine, and fruit.
Back in Madrid the party really got started on the Monday night before the holiday. The bars and streets of La Latina were completely packed, people were dancing chotis in the street at 1 a.m., and there was plenty of general merriment.
And on San Isidro, hordes of people head to las praderas--the meadows--at a park named after the saint that lies in the southwestern part of the city (metro Marqués de Vadillo). I spent all afternoon there with my roommates and friends, eating pasta salad and watermelon and enjoying the good weather. Children and adults dress up as chulapas (with their long dresses and shawls) and chulapos (with their black-and-white checked caps) and, for a day, Madrid celebrates itself.