Has something changed in Madrid this week?
Most of the time it is still the major traffic junction it’s always been.
But look at where the Plaza del Cortes meets Avenida del Prado and you see the police barriers – now a permanent part of the street furniture.
Guardia civil officers stand around, waiting, with that global feet-astride-stance that riot cops seem to adopt instinctively, helmetted or at ease. Perhaps it’s just the weight of the uniform and equipment…
A few yards away and you’re in the crossroads, the focal gathering point of protest. Madrid‘s Tahrir Square? Well no, not exactly – but it’s where they come to.
Technically it is called Canovas del Castillo – but everyone knows it as Neptuno because of the lavish fountains that play here.
And it has one, special quality – it is the nearest public gathering space to the Cortes – the Spanish parliament. The place where they try to rescue the wrecked fourth largest eurozone economy before euroland has to with a bail-out and humiliation with painful strings attached.
And it’s not worked, so far.
At the junction, Neptuno, the action can start any time. From nothing, within ten minutes or so several thousand education workers assemble to protest here, from nowhere.
The Guardia barriers quickly cut the road off to parliament, the traffic diverts without fuss. Madrid is getting used to it all.
And they march off across the park on the other side of the road. Talk to people here and that name keeps on coming up, unmentioned by me: “Franco”…
“It’s like we’re going back to Franco”…”This isn’t democracy – it’s financial fascism – it’s like Franco.” And so on.
And all of it unbiddden.
Online the jokers are putting the old grey uniforms of Franco’s fascists over the modern dark blue of democratic Spain’s Guardia.
Wrong? Distasteful? Possibly – but it’s a widely held view and the TV spectacle of riot cops wading into protesters here this week has spurred this emotion from the hardcore hatred of the few to mainstream alienation from the state and its police, as the protests continue.
Potentially dangerous times
There’s a sense that different groups want to make it all continue. Day after day they suddenly appear. A few hours after the teachers have marched off with their whistles and green, sloganned t-shirts, it’s the cyclists.
After dark they tinkle by, ringing thousands of bike bells in soft, slow-pedalled protest as near to parliament as they can get.
Any kind of protest will do – just get it on, anytime, or at least that’s the feeling in the cool autumn air.
Weird, potentially dangerous times. And the sense this week that something’s changed.
The large, but peaceful protests of the ‘Indignados’, now tinged with a new mood of confronting the state – the ‘S25’ movement they call it in reference to street violence this very week.
Has something changed here this week? We’ll likely know tomorrow when tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands are expected to converge in protest in Madrid.
And Neptuna will again be the focus for the millions who are angry.
Follow Alex on Twitter via @alextomo