A few weeks ago, I was in Madrid on business and ended up staying at a hotel near Plaza de la Ópera. One thing that really struck me was that every night, around 7 PM, a hoard of kids in designer clothes would invade the square.
I wanted to know what that was all about so I decided to eavesdrop by sitting down beside one of the groups and pretending as if I was waiting for someone. Some of their conversation was quite nostalgic, other parts were a bit stressful: Who were they going to beat up next Saturday? Who'd serve them booze? Did their mate Ali still have any of his counterfeit Nikes? In comparison, my childhood banter seemed pretty tame.
The more I studied the teenagers, the more curious I grew. Why were they hanging around this particular square? Where did they get the money for such fancy clothes? Were they from the neighborhood? I approached a girl who had bummed a smoke off me five minutes before to ask. She was about 16 and was wearing a pair of Jordan sneakers, worn-out shorts, a really tight top and about four kilos of makeup. As I approached her, she took a drag of her cigarette and started screaming about how some girl called Jenny was "such a slut" for having tried to steal her boyfriend.
I asked her what the allure of that particular square was and she explained that they'd started congregating there earlier that summer so they could "pose." Whatever that meant. I thanked her for the information and headed towards the hotel thinking about who I was going to talk to the next day. I had to find out more about this posing.
I returned to the square the next day with my camera under my arm. To my surprise, the place was once again completely rammed with teenagers. I sat myself on a bench and started trying to map out the different groups and figuring out who was talking to who. They were largely segregated but there actually seemed to be a guy connecting them all. A boss of sorts. I walked up to him and started asking questions. It wasn't that hard to win his trust—all I had to do was pretend I was totally in-the-know about his sneakers.
He began explaining that the square was a regular meeting point for almost 100 teenagers. As he was telling me this, people would constantly interrupt us to shake his hand. It was like a stereotypical mob movie scene, only filled with kids. According to him, most of the young people on the square didn't live in the center of Madrid: they mostly came from suburbs like Orcasitas, Villaverde, Entrevías, and San Blas.
He said his name was Ateniko and that he was 16 years old. It was hard not to be mesmerized by his look—piercings all over his face, ridiculously skinny jeans, a rake of tattoos, the most modern haircut I've ever seen, and top-to-toe knock-off garb.
Apparently, the police never leave them alone either. Which may have something to do with the fact that the kids in the square—even though they aren't from the city themselves—don't like outsiders and end up getting into a lot of fights. There was even a fight scheduled for the same day but Ateniko wasn't sure if the others would show up.
I asked why they gathered in such a crowded area. He answered in a split second—"posing." They use the square to show off their dance moves and their clothes; Gucci caps, Diesel jeans, Chanel T-shirts, Louis Vuitton backpacks, Nike sneakers. All fake, of course, but still. Hanging around Plaza de la Ópera is all about showing off. Oh, and "stealing" McDonald's wifi.
Ateniko was feeling his role as a leader, especially when some of his curious minions came by to find out why I was poking around. I took advantage of my newfound audience and began bombarding him with more questions. Even the cigarette girl came over for a listen. I suddenly found myself surrounded by teenagers who wanted to tell me their stories.
They all love trap and hip-hop and the Spanish band Los Pobres (PXXR GVNG). And they all agreed on one thing: They want to get rich without having to actually work. "Just like all those celebrities on TV," one of them insisted. Ateniko wants to become a music producer but he intends to teach himself.
Finally, everyone seemed to pride themselves on knowing "the law of the street." They talked openly about posing, weed, knives, and their mates who landed themselves in jail.
As soon as my camera came out, they all started preening themselves up. At the end of the day, we're probably all posers but at least these kids are honest about it. A little later, two police vans rolled in and everybody scattered. I had a ton of questions left for the posers but I guess I'd have to save them for another day.
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