Parallel lives

Brendan Boyle
18 min readFeb 12, 2022

Growing up in Madrid during Franco’s reign, witnessing a new Spain, and finding Atlético Madrid fame – this is the story of Michael McCleary.

Brian and Michael McCleary in La Casa del Abuelo, Madrid (November 2021)

The first time I met Michael McCleary I presumed he was Spanish. Why wouldn’t I? We were, after all, in Madrid, sitting together on a pleasant October evening in the famous Vicente Calderon football stadium. He spoke just like any other Spaniard I had encountered and there was nothing about his physical appearance or dress sense that raised any suspicion. And like many Spaniards he too initially mistook my country of origin for Holland — that still happens. I think it’s me.

We made small talk during the game and complained about the referee. It is only after, when we swap contact details, that I realised that this man might have a story to tell.

And what a story it is.

Today I am sharing it with you.

I arrive early and order a glass of wine.

The barrel-shaped waiter suggests the Casa del Abuelo house red — “Está MUY bueno,” he promises. I trust his advice, sufficiently impressed by the emphasis on “very,” and compliment his recommendation, his goofy grin an unsubtle I told you so. The light catches the various contours of his shiny crown as he places a dark ceramic bowl of dark green olives before me.

It’s the second Wednesday in November and Madrid’s swanky Salamanca neighbourhood is unusually subdued. The inevitable lull after a public holiday falling on a Tuesday, perhaps, with many crafty Madrileños enjoying a four-day puente (literally a bridge — that joins one public holiday to another or to the weekend) break for the price of one.

Michael and his brother Brian McCleary arrive after a day of running and racing around the Spanish capital, catching up with old friends, and attending to important business over at the Wanda Metropolitano, the home of current La Liga champions Atletico Madrid.

They are glad and relieved to be back on Spanish soil, particularly Michael — the younger of the two — who (in non-pandemic times) makes the trip from Washington DC to Madrid at least twice a year. Like so many in the United States, Covid-19 had a direct impact on Michael´s livelihood: after more than 34 years as concierge at the Willard Intercontinental he was…

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Brendan Boyle

Irish - living in Galicia. Write about Spain, its cities and culture; real people and places; current affairs. Supporter of real journalism.