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‘My days of doing nudity are a little numbered’

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Philly’s a tough town. If there’s a quintessential story about the City of Brotherly Love, it’s this one: in 2015, when Canadian researchers developed a child-sized hitchhiking robot with a big smile and yellow wellies, the hitchbot made it across Europe and halfway down the east coast of the United States, offering friendly small talk to anyone it encountered. Then it got to Philadelphia, where it was promptly torn limb from limb and left in an alley.

Residents have pelted Santa with snowballs and hurled batteries and beer at their own quarterback. They flip cars and set things on fire even when they win the Super Bowl and World Series. The unloved cousin of Boston and New York is often overlooked by Hollywood. The accent is so tricky to replicate, most actors won’t go near it. (Even Rocky didn’t even have a proper Philly twang.) So it’s funny, then, that it took a Brit with an elegant voice, creamy complexion and sunny outlook to parachute into the Philly burbs and totally nail the look, feel, sound and salty attitude of the denizens of Delaware County, or Delco, as it’s known.

Kate Winslet gets emotional talking about the end of her Sky Atlantic series, Mare of Easttown, which scored its own Saturday Night Live skit and found a fan in the self-described Philly girl in the White House, Jill Biden. (“You don’t screw around with a Philly girl,” Joe Biden said of his wife last year, after she blocked an anti-dairy activist who bum-rushed him at a campaign stop.)

Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times
Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times

Winslet has said, in the past, that it’s hard for an actor to tell what will wow audiences while you’re shooting, that sometimes you think you’re doing great work and then it turns out to be “a limp biscuit”. Mare Sheehan is anything but a limp biscuit. The police detective exists in a cloud of vape smoke, trysts, flannel, Rolling Rock and Jameson shots – “a very hot grandma”, as Guy Pearce’s character calls her, sparring with a mother (Jean Smart) who loves drinking Manhattans.

Winslet said that she has been bowled over by the way audiences have fallen “in love with this wildly flawed, messy, broken, fragmented, difficult woman. I loved her marks and her scars and her faults and her flaws and the fact that she has no off switch, no stop button. She just knows ‘Go’.

“Not only did I have to hide myself in the character completely, but I had to hide this story, carry the secret,” she says. “I kept it hidden since 2018, when I first read the scripts. My job was to take them on this horrendous journey and hope to God that they’d be prepared to come into the attic with me at the end. It has been agony, agony, agony. You can see I’m still, like…” She sounds as if she might cry, something she would never let Mare do, then pulls herself together and lets fly one of her frequent, merry F-bombs. “I can’t deal with it. It’s ridiculous.”

THE SHOW IS a murder mystery with many motifs: grief, the American opioid crisis, small-town life. Winslet, a mother of three, sees it from this perspective: “It’s about mothers protecting their children at all costs, and the lengths that a parent will go to in order to protect their children,” she says. About the finale’s twist ending, she adds, “Oh God, it’s just unbelievable, it’s heartbreaking.”

Underneath Mare’s facade, she says, “is a woman who is so entrenched in grief for her son that she has not processed, and as she shares it, as she talks about it with a therapist, she will crack. She doesn’t want affection. She doesn’t want to be loved. And she doesn’t want to be cared for, because if she has to experience those things it makes her feel vulnerable, and if she feels vulnerable then she can’t be strong any more, and she can’t carry on.”

Winslet is known for what one producer calls an “insane work ethic”. She prepares elaborate back stories for her characters, and she says she prepped more for Mare than for any other role in her life. (But she is not Daniel Day-Winslet: she is said to be fun once the shooting wraps for the day.)

She is Zooming in from her house on the south coast of England, curled up with bare feet, her blond mane looking much glossier than Mare’s. She’s wearing an old white Calypso T-shirt, a couple of gold necklaces and some black Sweaty Betty pants.

Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times
Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times

The actor often saves something from her sets, and she shifts her camera to show off the sign from the Easttown police station she has hung on a wall. She kept Mare’s jacket and badge, too. She has been harking back to her breakout role as another strong, but more upper crust, Philly girl: Rose DeWitt Bukater. “It’s like Titanic again,” she says, chuckling. “I’m on the side of buses again! It’s like going back in time 24 years where I’m walking down the street and people are nudging and pointing and whispering again.” When the actor was on a bike ride in England recently, a woman ran up to stroke her arm and offer all her theories about whodunit.

Winslet says she knows people are saying, “Oh my God, how can she let herself look so unglamorous?” When Craig Zobel, the director, assured her he would cut “a bulgy bit of belly” in her sex scene with Guy Pearce, she told him, “Don’t you dare!” She also sent the show’s promo poster back twice because it was too retouched. “They were, like, ‘Kate, really, you can’t,’ and I’m, like, ‘Guys, I know how many lines I have by the side of my eye. Please put them all back.’”

She says she baulked when she saw an early cut in which her ordinarily luminous skin looked too good. “We tried to light it to make it look not nice,” she says. “Listen, I hope that in playing Mare as a middle-aged woman – I will be 46 in October – I guess that’s why people have connected with this character in the way that they have done, because there are clearly no filters. She’s a fully functioning, flawed woman with a body and a face that moves in a way that is synonymous with her age and her life and where she comes from. I think we’re starved of that a bit.

“In episode one, she’s having sex on a couch. I said to my husband, ‘Am I okay with that? Is it all right that I’m playing a middle-aged woman who is a grandmother who does really make a habit of having one-night stands?’ He’s, like, ‘Kate, it’s great. Let her do it.’”

Mare of Easttown: Kate Winslet with Guy Pearce
Mare of Easttown: Kate Winslet with Guy Pearce

In moments of doubt she tortured herself and her assistant director, wondering about other actors – “three real people were haunting my mind. I will not name them” – who might have done a better job. The show’s costume designer did recon in Wawa convenience stores, finding inspiration for Mare’s flannel, inexpensive T-shirts, Ocean City sweatshirts and “bad jeans”, as Winslet says.

“Whenever we’d find something unflattering,” Winslet recalls, “we’d be jumping up and down like, ‘Yes! We’re wearing this.’”

She would leave her clothes in a crumpled pile on the floor of her trailer after filming, “and they would stay in a rumpled-up ball overnight. We were not washing and drying and hanging those clothes. Never.” They filled in her shapely eyebrows to give her face a heavier look, and left the sunspots and imperfections. “We’re so used to seeing this stuff airbrushed away,” she says. She wanted Mare to reflect the burdens she carried, a physical and emotional heftiness. She borrowed a Peloton exercise bike to work out at night, to make her thighs more muscular. “There’s a sloppiness to her, and there’s a looseness to how she sits and how she walks and just how she holds herself,” Winslet says. “Her body posture is totally different to mine. I actually stand quite upright.”

In one peak-Mare scene, she comes home and scarfs down a cheesesteak that her mother has got her, without taking off her jacket, still clutching her police files. “This is so clearly a woman who does not cook, doesn’t care about what she puts into her mouth, also probably forgets to eat, so that when she does eat, she’s so starving she doesn’t even care what it is that she’s shovelling in,” she says.

Winslet’s father, Roger, also an actor, helped inform this bit. “My dad actually reminds me quite a lot of Mare, to be honest. He was slightly the inspiration,” she says. “He basically moves like Mare and eats like Mare. Well, he does eat with his mouth full. We do tell him all the time, ‘Dad!’ He’s going to be so mad I just said that.”

Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times
Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times

AND YET WINSLET, a vegetarian, could get into character only so much. She sheepishly confesses to a Philly sacrilege: the show’s hoagie rolls contained no meat and, most shockingly, no onions. “I felt really, really bad, because I know onions are a very important part of a hoagie,” she says, “but because we had so many hours of filming scenes with all of this food, it basically wasn’t fair on the crew to have all this stinky onion food on our tiny set all day long.” (She says she was aware of the existence of scrapple but did not try it.)

Even with the counterfeit hoagies, locals are thrilled with Winslet’s metamorphosis. They have even named a hoagie after Mare. Shawn McCreesh, who works with me at the New York Times and grew up, like the first lady, in a nearby town very similar to Easttown, spotted someone he recognised from back home on the show. Patsy Meck, who plays the woman working the desk at the police station, says that Winslet was “genuinely who you would want her to be – she was so real”. Meck, whose three grandchildren were extras on the show, says it was amazing to see Winslet “walk off set, sit down and talk to me in a deep British accent, then pop right back on set and start talking like the rest of us”.

Winslet says she had to change the way the muscles in her face moved – often in freezing weather – in order to emulate Philly’s midatlantic dialect, with its selectively elongated vowels and smushed consonants. “Look, when you’ve done Polish-Armenian and German,” she says, referring to her accents in Steve Jobs and her Oscar-winning turn as a Nazi in The Reader, “frankly, I thought, Delaware County, oh, it’ll be fine: the vowel sounds a little bit different, but it’ll be fine. Honestly, it was just so hard.”

Still, mastering the sound wasn’t the hardest part. Stepping into the shoes of a mother raising a child with severe mental-health issues, as Mare did, was. (Mare’s son, Kevin, had struggled with depression and addiction before taking his own life.) Winslet met parents who had been through it all, and worked with a grief counsellor.

“There’s that moment,” she recalls, “when the therapist says to Mare, ‘Did he frighten you?’ and she just says, ‘Sometimes.’ A huge admission for Mare to even say out loud, ‘My son scared me.’ Of course, you see it in that flashback when Carrie and Kevin take Mare’s money for drugs in the bathroom.” She says the detective strives to fix everything else because she could not fix Kevin.

In order to truly understand the opioid epidemic, how its many tendrils can wrap around a place like Easttown, she went to what Philadelphians call “the badlands” – the north Philly neighbourhood of Kensington and its open-air drug markets. “We would go in an undercovery type of car and just drive around a lot,” she says.

“I remember seeing – and actually it broke my heart – a man with the most beautiful face and a beard. You could see there was a soul right there. He had been amputated from the knee down on his right leg, and he was injecting into the toes of the other foot.

“People are fighting for their sliver of life there. I would see people in these teeny-tiny houses, and they would be not just sweeping their front stoop but sweeping the pavement and the guttering in front of their home. Sometimes, for some people, that’s as much as they can do to keep their pride, to keep a feeling of something that is theirs and that is intact.”

What did the dark heart of the United States’ opioid crisis look like to a Brit? “I have to be honest,” she says, “I was really staggered that there aren’t more of those support networks in place to help with people. In this country we do definitely have better support networks for people in crises like that, we absolutely do.”

Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times
Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times

WINSLET HAS BEEN KNOWN to warn young actors on a set not to confuse social-media fame with the hard work of acting. “I have certainly heard, twice, of certain actors being cast in roles because they have more followers,” she says. “I’ve actually heard people say, ‘She’s not who we wanted to cast, but she has more followers.’ I almost don’t know what to say. It’s so sad and so extraordinarily wrong. I think the danger is not just for young actors but younger people in general now. I think it makes you less present in your real life. Everyone is constantly taking photographs of their food and photographing themselves with filters.”

She leans her face close to the camera, and notes her lack of filters, with an expletive. “What worries me is that faces are beautiful. Faces that change, that move, are beautiful faces, but we’ve stopped learning how to love those faces because we keep covering them up with filters now, because of social media, and anyone can Photoshop themselves, and airbrush themselves, and so they do. In general, I would say I feel for this generation, because I don’t see it stopping, I don’t see or feel it changing, and that just makes me sad, because I hope that they aren’t missing out on being present in real life and not reaching for unattainable ideals.”

The actor is so famous for disrobing in movies that her IMDb profile says her trademark is her “voluptuous figure”. But she says nude scenes may be in her past. “I think my days are getting a little bit numbered of doing nudity,” she says. “I’m just not that comfortable doing it any more. It’s not even really an age thing, actually. There comes a point where people are going to go, ‘Oh, here she goes again.’” She jokes that it’s not fair to camera operators to have to work to get the best angles as her body changes.

Winslet has a daughter, Mia, who is 20, with her first husband, Jim Threapleton, a director whom she met on the set of Hideous Kinky. She has a son, Joe, who is 17, with Sam Mendes, her second husband. And she also has a son, Bear, who is seven, with her current husband, who has gone back to his original name, Edward Abel Smith, from his playful pseudonym, Ned Rocknroll.

Mare of Easttown: Kate Winslet with Guy Pearce
Mare of Easttown: Kate Winslet with Guy Pearce

“He added ‘Winslet’ as one of his middle names, just simply because the children have Winslet,” the actor says. “When we’re all travelling together, to all have that name on the passport makes life easier.” (Bear’s middle name is Blaze, after the fire that Kate and Ned escaped that burned down the British Virgin Islands home of Richard Branson, her husband’s uncle.)

“He’s the superhot, superhuman, stay-at-home dad,” she says of her husband, as she smiles happily. “He looks after us, especially me. I said to him earlier, like, ‘Neddy, could you do something for me?’ He just went, ‘Anything.’” She swoons, noting that his long hair now gives him the look of “an ocean warrior”.

She breaks into song, crooning that they go together like “shama lama ding dong”. “He is an absolutely extraordinary life partner,” she says. “I’m so, so, so lucky. For a man who is severely dyslexic, as he is, he’s great at testing me on lines. It’s so hard for him to read out loud, but he still does it.”

She adds that “he didn’t particularly plan on meeting and marrying a woman who is in the public eye and therefore having been so judged”. She finds it amusing that, instead of being rock’n’roll, he’s very Zen. “He’s vegan, does yoga, breath work and cold-water swims.”

Winslet grew up in Reading, west of London, in a modest house and worked slicing ham in a deli when she was young. “I came from a small community not dissimilar to Easttown in the sense that there were paper-thin walls,” she says. “You could hear the neighbours rowing through the wall. You could hear the verbal grenades that were being hurled at one another.”

She says her father had called to tell her he loved an episode of Mare, then added his usual caution: “But you know, babes, don’t rest on your laurels. You’re only as good as your last gig.”

Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times
Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times

Confirm or deny

Maureen Dowd: Bob Iger approached you about making Titanic II for Disney+.

Kate Winslet: No, never did, and I never would.

You pocketed a few things before you jumped ship from the set of Titanic.

People stole the White Star Line cups and saucers. I was good. I did take a pair of Rose’s earrings, but somewhere I lost one.

Like Mare, you have a gloriously filthy mouth in real life.

(Laughs.) True, yes.

You can’t stop reading about Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez.

What? No! I’ve never read about Jennifer in my life. What are these questions?

Hideous Kinky was neither hideous nor kinky.

I don’t even know how to answer these questions.

You keep your Oscar on the back of your toilet.

I don’t actually know where the Oscar is at the moment. I think it’s possibly in my son’s bedroom. But it was on the back of the toilet for a long time, yes.

You lived in New York for 10 years and never once went to Philly.

That’s true.

You’ve incorporated the Philly slang word “jawn” into your vocabulary.

John, as in a man’s name?

This role is the first time you held a gun, and you didn’t like it.

True.

In John Turturro’s Romance & Cigarettes, you simulated sex with James Gandolfini bouncing on an exercise ball.

I had ripped all the ligaments on the left side of my foot. I’m nursing my son. As I’m bouncing on that ball, I’m actually bouncing using one foot with my leg in the cast, improvising at three o’clock in the morning. We were in hysterics. Oh, God, I loved Jimmy Gandolfini so much. He was just so wonderful, so insecure and just so honest.

Guy Pearce washes cans in the dishwasher before he puts them in the recycling can.

That is true. – New York Times

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Polish Russophobia is Mostly Artificial, Stoked by Russia’s Enemies

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has blasted the Polish government for inculcating anti-Russian attitudes among the population. Speaking to Sputnik, political observer Eduard Popov said that while Warsaw regularly uses Russophobia for political reasons, there’s no evidence to suggest that Poles have a sort of natural hostility toward Russia.

Speaking to students and teachers at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations on Friday, the Russian foreign minister lamented that the Polish public is being “brainwashed” into holding “unequivocally anti-Russian” attitudes.

<figcaption>Check out this video at the bottom of the page of Russian and Polish women comparing their beautiful languages.</figcaption>
Check out this video at the bottom of the page of Russian and Polish women comparing their beautiful languages.

“I see here an obsession with creating an atmosphere of total resentment by society of anything related to Russia,” the diplomat said, answering a question about the reasons behind Warsaw’s anti-Russian policy, including the recent decision to demolish hundreds of Soviet-era war monuments.”

According to Lavrov, Poland’s Russophobia is being whipped up by people who “diligently” rewrite history, who are working to revise Polish nationalism based on ideals of superiority over others, and who would like to “pin the blame for all of Poland’s misfortunes on [Russia].”

The West propagates the narrative of an aggressive Russia constantly attacking poor defenses Poland but in reality, Poland was regional power in its day, which often launched aggressive unprovoked invasions against Russia. Poland invaded Russia long before Russia ever invaded Poland. The above painting by Jan Matejko shows Polish King Boleslav the Brave capturing the capitol of ancient Russia, Kiev, in 1018. Legend has it he damaged his sword on the golden gate and since then it was called the notched sword. During the time of troubles in 1600’s, Poland even occupied Moscow.

 

This includes Warsaw’s claim that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was the real reason behind World War II, the diplomat said. In Lavrov’s view, by focusing on the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact, Polish leaders seem to forget that “at the time of the Munich Conspiracy, when Czechoslovakia was divided up, Poland quietly took for itself a very tasty morsel.”

“The fact that this was a very serious impetus for creating potential for conflict in Europe is something Poland prefers not to speak about, just as it prefers not to mention that long before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Great Britain and France concluded their own, similar treaty with Nazi Germany,” Lavrov emphasized.

Ultimately, the senior diplomat noted that in this environment of hostility, even elementary communication and diplomacy is difficult.

Asked to comment on Lavrov’s remarks, Eduard Popov, a Moscow-based political analyst whose areas of expertise include Russian-Polish relations, said that the idea of Poles’ naturally-occurring anti-Russian sentiment is really only one part of the equation.

“Poland’s anti-Russian traditions have a long history,” the observer said, speaking to Radio Sputnik. “Here we can recall the three divisions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth,” in which Russia took part, “the subsequent participation of the Poles in aggression against Russia on the side of the Napoleonic armies, and so on and so forth.”

During their occupation of Moscow, they imprisoned, beat, and starved to death Patriarch Hermogenes of Moscow, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, over a century before any Russian army would set foot on Polish Soil, and partition it. One could argue the Poles started the conflict, and Russia merely won.


 “But anti-Russian sentiment in Poland is just one side of the coin. The other side is pro-Russian sentiment. This too shouldn’t be discounted,” Popov stressed.

The world popular Polish video game series, The Witcher, based on the book of the same name, was hugely successful in Russia due to it being based on their common Slavic mythology and culture. Whilst the game was popular enough in America, that Obama was given a copy by the Polish government, it will always be closer to the hearts of Slavic Russians. Below is a character who is clearly inspired by Russian-Ukrainian Cossacks, note the distinctive hairstyle and sabre. Despite Russophobia in Polish culture, Poles and Russians are very close.

The analyst drew attention to Lavrov’s choice of words in saying that Poles were being “brainwashed.” This was true, he said, noting that to some extent, anti-Russian views really are being artificially inculcated among the Polish public. 

“Polish Russophobia, even though it has its historical roots, is something that is sufficiently engineered, something artificially imposed on Polish society. I recently spoke to representatives in the Polish opposition, and was told the following fact: about 70% of Polish media is controlled by German media structures, while the remaining 30% is controlled by Americans. Do we really need any more evidence that Polish public opinion is being formed along a deliberately anti-Russian slant?”

Ultimately, Popov said that he was optimistic, and that it wasn’t worth getting hung up exclusively on the negative aspects of Russian-Polish relations.

“We must remember that along with official diplomacy there is unofficial diplomacy – people’s diplomacy. Not all Poles adhere to the anti-Russian perspective being imposed on them. This is something that manifests itself in personal communication. According to polls, about 35% of Poles have positive attitudes toward Russia. This is a very important factor on which to build the foundation of future relations between Russia and a Poland that’s free and independent of the West,” Popov concluded.

 

Despite their political differences, Polish and Russian peoples are both Slavic, and share cultural and linguistic roots. Many Russians and Poles see through the Anti-Slavic agenda imposed on them by foreign powers and see each other as Slavic brothers. Check out this video to see two beautiful women comparing the Polish and Russian languages.


Source: Sputnik

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Tusla in push to move data from HSE systems after cyberattack

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Tusla is seeking to speed up efforts to move its data away from the HSE’s computer systems in the wake of the cyberattack that left its staff relying on pen and paper to carry out their work.

More than 90 per cent of the Child and Family Agency’s systems are hosted by or dependent on the HSE’s network, which was hit by a ransomware attack last month.

Among the Tusla systems affected by the cyberattack are its online portal for people to report child protection concerns, and its National Childcare Information System which contains highly sensitive information about children and their families.

It may be four weeks before the online portal is back in operation, and staff are currently writing down details of suspected abuse or neglect cases being reported over the phone.

Plans to move Tusla’s data away from the HSE date back as far as 2017 and the first phase of the project – the building of a new network and associated data centres – was completed last September.

‘Long way to go’

However, the project is not due to be completed until the end of 2022. Tusla chief executive Bernard Gloster last week said “there’s a long way to go”.

A spokeswoman for the agency said the second phase of the project involves moving data historically associated with the HSE to the Tusla-only data centres, and this started in January with the email addresses of some 500 staff.

She added: “However, as part of the recovery process from the recent cyberattack, Tusla will be expediting a significant volume of this work.”

Risks relating to cybersecurity were most recently articulated in Tusla’s National Corporate Risk Register at the start of 2021, which noted: “the potential failure to protect the availability of information due to Tusla not having control of its ICT infrastructure and ICT assets”.

Tusla highlighted weaknesses in the HSE’s computer systems including some related to security controls and disaster recovery protocols – particularly older and legacy systems – in its 2019 Annual Report.

The report says: “In the main, the systems utilised by Tusla are more current and less impacted by legacy issues, but where Tusla is dependent on these systems, these weaknesses may have an implication for its internal controls.”

It also notes: “The HSE has indicated that it is committed to improving controls in respect of cybersecurity.”

The Irish Times previously reported on a series of actions being taken by the HSE to improve the security of its networks, with some completed last year and other with target dates into 2021.

In recent weeks the HSE has not been able to say whether weaknesses identified in internal audits – highlighted in its own annual reports as far back as 2018 – were a factor in the success of the recent cyberattack.

The Tusla spokeswoman said its plans to move its data away from the HSE were not linked to the weaknesses that had been identified in the HSE’s system, saying this goal was included in ICT strategies published as far back as 2017.

1,500 referrals

The spokeswoman separately said Tusla normally receives approximately 1,500 referrals via its online portal for reporting child protection concerns each week.

She said: “As all systems are down, we cannot confirm the exact number of weekly referrals, but early indications are that the cyberattack has had marginal impact on our referral rates in most areas and that people are making referrals by phone.”

There have been media campaigns to promote phone referrals, including a national radio advertising campaign.

In an interview with RTÉ Radio, Mr Gloster said he does not envisage the portal being back in use until at least the end of June.

He said referrals currently have to be written by hand, adding “It really is back to 1970s/1980s social care service.”

Mr Gloster said a “semblance of normality” may return over the next month, but it will be six months for the recovery plan “to get us back to where we’d want to be”.

He said a specialist company is monitoring the internet including the dark web for any sign that Tusla’s data has been published, but this had not been detected as yet.

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Spanish architecture: The story of Madrid’s abandoned ‘beach’ for its working class | Culture

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La Playa de Madrid was just 15 minutes from the Spanish capital’s Puerta del Sol square when it was inaugurated. Nine decades later, the distance is the same, but the premises developed by the architect Manuel Muñoz Monasterio in 1932 to create a “beach” in the landlocked city are in a state of complete disrepair.

The great leisure project for Madrid’s working class on the banks of the River Manzanares now houses fetid mattresses, crumpled beer cans, rank swimming pools, tattered tennis courts and facilities that are at risk of disappearing altogether.

Owned by the state agency Patrimonio Nacional, which manages Spain’s national heritage, La Playa de Madrid has been closed for six years. Defaults in rent payments forced it to close, and it subsequently became the target of vandalism. “There is no longer even any security,” says Juan García Vicente from the green group Ecologists in Action, who is upset by the state of dereliction of a site with social and architectural significance in the city’s history.

Madrileños enjoying their "beach" in 1934.
Madrileños enjoying their “beach” in 1934.Revista Arquitectura

The access point to the “beach,” which borders La Zarzuela racetrack on one side and the Puerta de Hierro Sports Park (previously known as Parque Sindical) on the other, has not been opened since the authorities evicted staff and members at the end of October 2014. The company running the complex at that time, which belonged to the former president of the Spanish employers association CEOE, Arturo Fernández, received a court order to vacate the premises as it had failed to pay rent or any tax despite operating the five swimming pools, 11 tennis courts, four paddle courts, one roller-skating rink, four frontón courts, the cafeteria, the restaurant and the parking lot.

Arturo Fernández has left a hole in the National Heritage agency’s accounts to the tune of €867,006, which will have to be paid as soon as his company’s bankruptcy is resolved. The 3,000 Playa de Madrid members who had paid their fees were also denied access. Fernández’s contract had been renewed in 2011, despite the fact that he was already €466,831 in arrears. It was a sum that, according to the Court of Auditors, “he paid a few days before signing the new contract.”

The Playa de Madrid tower was used as the backdrop for a famous 1936 shot of two militiamen by war photographer Robert Capa.
The Playa de Madrid tower was used as the backdrop for a famous 1936 shot of two militiamen by war photographer Robert Capa.INMA FLORES / EL PAIS

To add insult to injury, EL PAÍS has learned that on July 30, National Heritage filed a complaint in court in a bid to evict the new company running the complex, Centro de Eventos Playa de Madrid, which is also behind on payments.

“It has not paid even one month’s rent and has run up a debt of €530,523,” says a National Heritage spokesperson. The new contract went into effect on October 17, 2017, after the president of National Heritage at the time, Alfredo Pérez de Armiñán, decided to lease the 184,800 square-meter property to a company that not only failed to pay rent, but also reneged on a commitment to invest €3.2 million to renovate the complex.

Meanwhile, under the National Heritage’s current president, Llanos Castellanos, an initiative is underway to revamp the more than 22,000 hectares of green spaces owned by the institution throughout the country, including the Playa de Madrid complex, which will be finalized when the judicial process ends. “The aim is to turn it into a sustainable property that is financially self-sufficient, and to make sure that what has happened does not happen again,” says Castellanos.

The Playa de Madrid facilities as they are today, after the premises were completely shut down six years ago.
The Playa de Madrid facilities as they are today, after the premises were completely shut down six years ago.INMA FLORES / EL PAIS

The phony beach was fashioned from a shallow river, from which “a beautiful arm of the sea” was created, to quote an ad from that period. But the dam that stored up the water to create a 300-meter shoreline was dismantled this January by the Tajo Water Confederation so that the river could follow its natural course unimpeded, according to García Vicente.

“It was a very interesting dam because it still allowed the water to flow and remain clean,” says Alberto Tellería, a member of the Madrid Citizenship and Heritage Association, who still remembers the complex’s dance floor and the announcement of a design competition for cheap evening dresses in 1934.

The “beach” was very popular among the working classes during the Second Republic, before Francisco Franco’s air forces razed it. And it was there that the photojournalist Robert Capa constructed his iconic image of of two militiamen greeting each other under the lighthouse tower.

An aerial view of the facilities in an archive photo provided by the Spanish Air Force.
An aerial view of the facilities in an archive photo provided by the Spanish Air Force.Ejército del Aire-Colección Anmogon

But unpaid dues and ignored commitments have proved the ruin of the site, which is these days trapped between two highways. “These are public facilities of extraordinary significance,” says Juan García Vicente, who has been fighting for years for a path that will connect Madrid with El Pardo, on the left bank of the river.

This path should be ready in a couple of months and access to the “beach” will be reserved for pedestrians and cyclists. Meanwhile, the dignity of the complex is still to be restored, which according to Carlos Ripoll, a member of the Madrid Architects Association (COAM), has an “impeccable” language all of its own.

The simple and modern lines of the structures designed by the creator of the Las Ventas bullfighting ring and the Santiago Bernabeu soccer stadium are hidden behind pines, cork oak and poplars, and they are reminiscent of the international tone set by Swiss architect Le Corbusier. Muñoz Monasterio, who sided with the regime after the civil war (1936-1939), carried out the post-war reconstruction in 1948, refurbishing it according to Franco’s taste, with slate roofs and spires. But the subsequent inauguration of the nearby Parque Sindical (now known as the Puerta de Hierro Sports Park) and water contamination ended Madrid’s dream of having a beach.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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