La ciudad letrada
Angel Rama was a 19th century theorist from Uruguay who paved most of the syllabus for a Spanish class I took my sophomore year of college. He came up with the idea for “la ciudad letrada,” explained below…
Rama believed that cities were the epicenters of power because that is where the elites lived. All of the intellectuals, including political writers, poets, economists, journalists, and theorists lived in one place. Talk about power. The one thing these men (sorry ladies, we were still sewing at home at that point in history) had in common was that they were all educated. They could read, write, and were well-read. This idea (very) roughly translates to the word letrada in Spanish.
Basically, the lettered people all nerded out together and basked in each other’s glory.
Over the past three months, spending more than 14 hours per week commuting, I have come to the conclusion that Madrid can throw its hat into the ring for the most lettered city. Whenever I hop on a train, I see all kinds of reading taking place. Grandmas with Kindles, university students completing last-minute History readings, men in suits pulling pamphlets out of their pockets, and moms holding Cincuenta sombras de gris (50 Shades, for all of you Anglophones) in one hand while sticking a pacifier in their baby’s mouth with the other.
It’s everywhere, and I love it.
People read morning, noon, and night on the train, from newspapers with coffee to a novel with a PB&J to a magazine and a mixed drink. Yes, I have seen twenty-somethings sipping on their way to meet up with friends. More than 50% of the train is reading at a time, and about 50% of those people are using e-readers. People even read the walls of the train, thanks to a literacy campaign throughout the city that posts short stories on the interiors of the cars of the trains.
No book to read with a long voyage ahead of you? Stop by one of the central stations to hit up Bibliometro, a library inside of the station that allows you to check out books from one location and return it to another. It’s similar to the read and return concept that airports have been using for the past 10+ years.
Keep reading, Madrid!