The Desperate Artist (JULY 31)

“That’s all right,” I replied.  He did…he did… clearly try to look his best under the tragedy of his circumstances. 

      “And I apologize for having to change places but they are redoing the parquet on my floor and the place is a mess,” he told me in Spanish.

       “Jaime, please.  You have an exam.  Everything must be in English,” insisted his aunt.  “You’ll never pass.”

       “I thought the exam was last Saturday,” I asked.  At least that was the impression I had.  At least that was the impression I had.

       “That was the impression I had too,” said Jaime as if he had been reading my mind.  “But it turned out it was the accounting phase.  Imagine my surprise when I showed up with a dictionary and not a calculator.”  He laughed, as did his aunt, but feigning a scandalous expression at the same time.

        “So, it’s this weekend.  What do you think of that?  Two Saturdays in a row, as if we didn’t have anything better to do in our lives?” He sat down and sipped his coffee.  “And if I don’t pass this one, then I can’t take the English one.  So, that’s it.  Just in case, I might as well start to study.”

       “That sounds like a sensible idea, James.”  She called him “James”.  “I’ll leave you two to get started.  I’ve got things to do.  Tati isn’t here this morning because her husband is ill.  I’ll have to get Mercadona to bring the groceries.”

       “Thanks.  By the way, are we going to hipódromo this week?”

        “I’m not.”

        “I want to.  It’s the final night race of the year and I don’t want to miss it.  Not that anyone is going to be there.  They’ve gone to Palma.  If I didn’t have these goddamn tests I’d be there too.  But I might as well do something in the meantime.  Do you like horses Richard?”

        “No.  I’m allergic to them.”

         “That’s a shame.  I gather you don’t like animals then.  No pets.”

         “I have two guinea pigs.” Guinea pig owners tend to be proud of their ownership.  It says they are people with a complex. 

         “You should come some time.  It’s a great time.”

 The city’s main horse track used to be right smack in the middle of what is the Castellana today.  A little further north where the Nuevos Ministerios now is.  The Nuevos Ministerios was built in the 1930s and it has that endless harmoniously insensitive kafka feel to it, deliciously absent and remote, which partially explains why I had never been in there until the time the inspection came years ago and I had to meet an officer within.  Up to that point the street had zigzagged slightly as it moved north, but now it was one long straightaway all the way to its original end, at the Plaza de Castilla, where the city’s biggest judicial courts are. 

Working backwards, you come to the Plaza de Cuzco, named after the famous town in Peru, and the Plaza de Lima, named after the capital of the same Andean country but famous because that is where the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium is, home to Spain’s most successful soccer team, Real Madrid.  This club was voted the greatest football (soccer) team of the 20th Century.   It’s nice to be able to walk to a stadium with a capacity for 80.000 spectators for a change.  Just below that begins the huge Azca commercial zone, which ends at the largest Corte Inglés of them all.  And then back to the Nuevos Ministerios.  This extension was designed to meet the demands of a city which was growing rapidly and, in turn, unplug the increasing congestion forming in the center of town.  It was conceived just around 1920, was revolutionary in its day, but not completed until 1954, making it less innovative by then, but none the less vital to the development of the city.

It still is. 

The Desperate Artist (July 30)

The Castellana is, as the countess put it, probably one of the greatest streets in Madrid, and certainly one of the most important thoroughfares.  It gets its name from a fountain, la fuente de la castellana, that stood in what is now the Plaza de Emilio Castelar.  A small canalized stream drifted all the way down to the Paseo del Prado.  Most people aren’t aware of that.  Though the blueprints were drawn up around the beginning of the 19th Century, building didn’t really pick up until the second half when it was decided that the area around Colón and the lower end of the Castellana would be destined for the aristocracy.  Mansions were put up and fancy Parisian-style buildings were boldly and energetically put up.  That was where Concepción grandfather went to build a new home.  He had a villa constructed a little further up and across the street, where the family lived for several generations.  They owned it throughout much of the 20th Century, but heavy maintenance costs and disinterest forced the family to sell it in the 1980s to a bank…for and advantageous price.  Concepción was always a free-spirit, she told me, and though it was frowned upon at the time, and…although it was frowned upon at the time, she insisted her father give her an apartment another building they owned and rented out for her to make a life of her own. 

       “Even if you aren’t married?” He asked.

        “Even if I’m not married.” She said.

         She never did.

        She said it was the same place where were baby brother fell off a carriage and was crushed by the wheel.  She held his head until he died, she told me. She told me. 

        “It’s a shame about the news of that American girl.  They haven’t found her have they?”

         I told it I agreed.  “No, they haven’t.  And what’s worse is that I think I met her the very night she di…disappeared.  That’s weird.  I was almost going to say ‘died’.  Isn’t that terrible?  Why should I have assumed something like that?”

        “Because,” interrupted the voice of a young man dressed in a white polo shirt with the outsized insignia of a polo team stamped on it, dark blue Bermuda shorts and slippers on.  His hair was well greased back and he had a coffee in his hand.  “She probably is.  I told you Madrid is not a safe city.  Americans come over here thinking they can ust party it up day and night”…because they can, I thought to myself…”and get wasted and not expect anything to happen to them.  And there you have it.  She had a great time, but now she is died, no dead.”

        “Jaime.  You don’t know that,” protested his aunt.

         He probably does, I thought to myself.

        “Hello, my name is Jaime and I am quite hung over.  We were at a terraza on top of a building.  And then the usual up on Arturo Soria until…until sunset…ha, ha, I mean sunrose… and it was a lot of fun.  But you will have to excuse my English today if it doesn’t go.”  He added as he scratched his eye with his pinky.

The Desperate Artist meets the Aunt…

It sputtered to a stop and kind of floated and hovered the way they can, the old ones you know, they wobble like giant scales.  I stepped out and turned right because to the left there was a lawyers’ office and that was it.    

      I rang the doorbell and trilled the way most do which kind of surprised me because I kind of expected a deep and solemn dong or a melodic suite of notes, I don’t know, something countess’ listen to.  The woman herself opened the door which startled me even more.  Tumultuous.  Tumultuous.  I don’t now how I knew, but maybe from years of observation as a teacher I could tell it wasn’t the domestic service but she was no maid.   

       “Buenos días.  ¿Qué desea?”

        I told why I was there and she immediately broke into English.  Very good English as a matter of fact.

        “I hope you don’t mind.  My father made me learn English when everyone was learning French.  He was a visionary.  He said, “Concepción, querida, in just a few years, everyone will want to speak this language, so you better get a head start.”

        “A man ahead of his time, indeed.”  I only said words like “indeed” when I talked to countesses or wanted to pretend I was Anthony Hopkins or someone like that.  I vaguely remember bow slightly as I said it as if I were talking to the Queen.  You never knew.  Maybe this woman held a hundred nobility titles.  They say the Duchess of Alba has the most titles in the world, something like 50, and that if she were to come face to face with the Queen of England it would be Elizabeth who would have to curtsey to the Duchess.  That still sounds a little farfetched to me but you never knew. 

        “My nephew will be out in a few minutes,” she said.  “Come to the window and see the view.  It’s the Castellana.  Madrid’s finest street.  My father built this house her early last century.”

Summertime for the Desperate Artist

What did you think?  That I’d be the only one working in Madrid while the rest goes on vacation? 

          Yeah, right! 

          I’ll still be around and updated this page as often as I can in the coming two weeks or so, but it may be a little sporadic, I’m warning you.  But maybe not.  We’ll see.  Just letting you know.

         My alternative guide to Madrid is moving along, but it has gotten a little crazy of late as a few twists and turns have made it tough to catch up on everything, and there are a few details I’d rather not tell you about until I am fully aware of the facts.  I do this for the safety of some, including myself!   If I had guessed that, when I wandered up to the Fundación Juan March four weeks ago or so with the innocent intent on just rediscovering Madrid on a human scale, I’d been in the predicament I am in now, I just may have reconsidered.  But such is the world of a teacher/writer who can’t keep his nose out of other people’s business!   So the Desperate Artist’s Guide will continue, but beween good meals and siestas, and hopefully everything will turn out all right.  I’m sure it will. 

       In the meantime I’ll be adding more to an upcoming book on my tumultuous relationship with Spanish, and other projects.

       I just uploaded and made available an eBook version of my first book on Spain and Spanish Wine called “Let’s Open a Bottle” (for a nice price too) and my new books on the Camino de Santiago (both in Spanish and English) are just about ready, so hopefully they will be out no later than September 1st. 

       So, that’s the latest.  I’ll just keep posting and rolling…and rolling and posting!

       So, I am keeping busy and doing my best to buoy the struggling Spanish economy…both as a producer and consumer! 


The Desperate Artist Visits an Aunt

Scott had apparently gone home, in the middle of July, in the middle of July, he had apparently gone home.  He must have been in a hurry because no one seemed to know about it; it was coarse of him.  But it was Scott, a man who had entered and exited my life just a couple of times and not once with forewarning, not once in advance.  He was just there and then he wasn’t, going about his business the way millions of others do in this very city.  Except for the fact I knew him.  I knew him.  And I knew he did these things.

         Not even Jaime, his friend who needed a brushing-up on English for his bank test could tell me where he was.  It was news to him that he had returned.  He told me they had plans to go to the horse-races at the hipódromo next week because he had just bought a horse. 

         “Scott bought a horse?  How much can one of those guys cost?”

         “I think he was part of a group of investors.”

          Jaime had called me the very next day and told me we could meet that afternoon, but not at his regular apartment (for that was where he was hiding the body, I figured), but at his aunt’s flat down on the Castellana, just before the Villamagna Hotel.  That’s one of those modern 5-star wonders in Madrid.  His aunt lived in one of those buildings which still had a carriageway at the entrance.  The reception was lofty and regal, with stone and wood cladding throughout.  The lift was in the center, octagonal and with windows on all sides.  It creaked and cricked all the way up to the fourth floor.  It was so quiet I could hear the elevator’s ropes and the belts tensely swinging from above.

The Desperate Artist and an Armenian King

Of all the curiosities of the History of Madrid, my favorite by far tells of how this city back in the 14th Century became the capital of Armenia.  That’s right.  That country east of Turkey whose current capital is Erevan, I bet you didn’t know that, was under foreign control back then and its leader, Leon V, was being held prisoner in Palestine.  King of Castile Juan I took pity on him and paid his ransom.  Then he had him brought back to Spain where he granted the fallen leader lordship over three cities, Andújar, Villareal (now Ciudad Real) and Madrid, the last would be his residence and temprary capital.  The year was 1383.  It would be nearly two hundred years before Madrid would even be named capital of Spain and some 620 years before parliament would confirm Madrid as the government center of the nation, but there you had it; an exiled monarch from an ancient but war-torn distant land going into the Madrid’s old city castle and saying, “Thanks, I think I’ll stay here for a while.”

       That, naturally, was not a big hit with the locals.  People like to be conferred with before they let some foreigner take control of their land.  As a rule.  Juan V, realizing that maybe he had overstepped his boundaries as a ruler promised the people of Madrid that the tlittle part about the capital would only be effective while Leon was alive.  Then the city would return to Spanish hands.   Disgruntled but encouraged that it was not a permament change, the residentsput up with the new situation. 

       To be fair, apparently Leon never claimed the throne and did what we could to befriend his new subjects, but he was never entirely accepted, and I imagine few inhabitants invited him for a few beers and tapas down at the local taverns.   A few years later, he departed for Paris and…died…at some point.  The reason for my vagueness is that the sources don’t seem to coincide.  I have, to date: 1390, 1391 and 1393 as possible RIP years. Who knows.  That fact is he is no longer around and his lordship of Madrid appears to have had little lasting effect on the city as there is not an unusually high number of Armenian restaurants here, nor does the local dialect include any Armenian terms for peach or pillow, but there is a street which honors his name in the classic Madrid district of Carabanchel.  Most tourists would not go there if they did no have a reason to go, nor did they normally have a reason.  But if you want to get the feel of a classic working class neighborhood, cross the river and get lost in its endless streets.      

         I wrote that much.  I wrote that much and got that far.  What a way to introduce Carabanchel, by talking about an obscure moment in this city’s history which, though fun to read about, had nothing to do with that part of town.  I used to live in Carabanchel.  Lower Carabanchel, which is not the same as Upper Carabanchel which people from that part claim is the real Carabanchel.  People always bicker over those things as if they really matter.  I guess if I was from Upper Carabanchel it would be matter to me, but since I lived in Lower Carabanchel, I think it’s inane. 

          It’s a sprawling neighborhood which starts on the western banks of the Manzanares River and spreads upward and westward to the edge of the city.  Carabanchel was a great neighborhood to live in.  Modest and vibrant, it is one of Madrid’s oldest an most beloved areas not for its beauty and upscale nature but for its everydayness, the land of the common man, as depicted in numerous movies and books. 

          Carabanchel started out as a separate part of Madrid.  It probably gets its name from the rocky terrain which was ideal for growing chickpeas.  For many centuries, some of Madrid’s wealthy families had land and summer homes there because the climate was cooler.  But it was always considered the outskirts of the capital, which explains why that district has so many cemeteries, the most of any in the city.  I used to live right next to one, walled like the city Jericho.  Recently they have built one of Madrid’s fanciest funeral homes there.  It looks like a hotel, but the kind which evokes the jingle of the famous Roach Motel commercials, “where people check in but they don’t check out.”

         That’s really harsh, isn’t it?  Anyway, Carabanchel grew rapidly in about a hundred years ago, and continued to expand in the years following the Civil War when there was a flight from the country in search of a job and new opportunity in the capital.   Many buildings were thrown up and designed in humble conditions by today’s standards.  The place I lived in for three years had no air-conditioning (ha, ha, ha) and, this was more distressing, no central heating – Madrid can get cold in the winter, I tell you – and we had to share the rent with about 600 cockroaches.  But it was a great neighborhood, I tell you, and I loved it.  I am not sure the feeling was mutual.  I just noticed recently that during those years, precisely the time I was there, Carabanchel suffered a population de cent of massive proportions, going from 240,000 in 1989 to 210,000 in 1995.   That’s a 12.5% drop in six years.  Was it me?

        Back then, it was still mostly lived in by Spaniards.  But since then, there has been a big explosion of immigration, and now they form about 24% of the entire population there making it one of the city’s most culturally diverse districts. 

       I had to take a break from my research.  It had been one of the best summers I could remember but the days still cooked up by late afternoon, afternoon when it was late, and late it was afternoon.  I called Scott to see if he finally had a chance to get together.  It seemed ridiculous that so many weeks had gone by and we still hadn’t had a chance to get together, but that always seem to happen.  People I know always come to Madrid for weeks on end and we make all sorts of promises that never materialize.  Maybe they should stay for shorter periods of time. 

         The phone hadn’t even rung before the line was interrupted saying the phone was turned off and that I should try again later.  Sure.  That’s what they always say.  Sounds courteous but what they want is for us to call again and pay.  I called again with the same result.  I don’t know I did that but it made sense at the time.  It doesn’t now.  So I called his aparto-hotel but they didn’t put me through because they said that Scott had checked out the evening before saying he had to return to the United States. 

          He was gone.  That was strange.  It made no sense at all.  He hadn’t even call.  That was possible, it was possible.  That…was…possible.  Scott didn’t always call when he came and went.  He just appeared at times.  The woman who told me this had little more to add probably because she really didn’t know anything else.  She said he was supposed to be there for another week, but that he suddenly had to go.  It was probably more information than she should have given, from a professional standpoint, but that was all right by me.  I think she felt she was being helpful.

         Which she was.

The Desperate Artist and the Noble Bullfighter

The bullfighting encompassed just about all the ingredients a spectator would want to see in one.  Except for the fact that no ears were cut off, which was a bummer.  But my expectations had been so low that it didn’t really matter.  There were still some interesting touches and loads of anecdotes. 

       There were three bullfighters, two of which were making their debut in Las Ventas.  One was from Melilla, a Spanish city-province in northern Africa, and the other from Seseña, just south of Madrid in the province of Toledo.  In a sense, he was the local boy.  Then there was a Mexican who had seen duty here a few months before which was why he was wearing his cap as he entered…which was why he was wearing his cap as he entered. 

       The Mexican took on the first bull, a light but strong animal which responded well to the provocations.  The final showdown was solid and the toreador did a good job of killing it, getting it the first time around.  Much of the crowd drew out its white handkerchiefs and waved them furiously begging the president to award an ear, but there was no go there.  This was Ventas, and they just don’t give ears away.  But the bullfighter did a slow lap around the ring to accept adulation from the crowd.  So far, so good.  The herds of foreigners had had their first taste of the real thing.  

        The next bull was slightly more complicated.  It was bigger and less predictable and it jerked its head up a lot making it a tough bullfight to guide when it came time for the faena at the end.  That was when the bullfighter uses the cape.  The torero from Melilla was a tall and lanky boy and he clearly was not ready for the challenge.  Not for the bullring; not for the large crowd; not for an animal that size and with that temperament. He looked unsure throughout his turn and when the faena came, you could tell he didn’t really know how to handle the situation.  A bullfighter must try to remain has still as possible and let the bull move around him, but this poor lad skipped all around and shifted here and there, left and right.  You could almost see the bull standing up on its hind legs, planting its hooves on its hips and barking, “Hey!  What the hell are you doing?  Are we gonna bullfight or what?  ‘Cause if not, I’m going.”

        The bullfighter from Melilla didn’t seem to get the hint, so the bull just bowled him over and lifted him high up into the air.  The when the man was on the ground, he stepped on his head.  All he would have needed to do was piss on him to complete the degradation.  Somehow the torero had managed to make it though without getting gored.  So he continued, but what little confidence he possessed had been shattered.  He now lost completed command.  By this time, the first wave of Americans were exiting the arena in horror; several young ladies were in tears and one was shaking.  The crowd complained because you aren’t supposed to depart until after the bull is dead.  But they left anyway, and thank God for them, because when it came time for killing the bull, the toreador stuck the sword in the side, punctured its lung and the animal began coughing blood up through its mouth.  That doesn’t happened all the time, but it can.  That really got the foreigners to take flight.  Many were Americans women with looks of shocks on their faces followed young men with apologetic looks on theirs, as if to say, as if to say, as if to…say, that they would have liked to stay but you know…maybe they wanted to get laid that night.

        I didn’t really feel sorry for them.  I felt bad for the bull.   But not for them.  They are free thinking animals.  These are people who cringe if they see an owner slap its dog, or who choke up when a fluffy duckling has a broken leg.  They should know what they are getting themselves into.  What would they expect from an event in which you kill a 500 kilo beast with a sword?

        No better off was the guy from Melilla who was knocked over yet again by the bull and beat around like a doll.  He was going to have his share of welts and bruises the next day.

    The third bullfighter, the one from Seseña, was clearly the best of the three.  He looked good and handled a tough bull well.  The animal actually managed to jump over the wooden fence and into the passage where the rest of the team, known as a cuadrillaa, and other officials and aids were.  It seems inconceivable for a bull that big to do such a thing.  My guinea pigs can’t surmount the lip of a dish, but they can.  The crew back there has seen that happen and knows how to lure the animal back into the ring.  Anyway, the bullfighter did a satisfactory job and the crowd once again petitioned the president for an ear, but the man must have been in a bad, he must have been in a bad mood because he wasn’t going to have anything to do with it.  Good…but not good enough.  That’s what makes Ventas so prestigious. 

      The fourth bull came out and looked ready for a rumble.  The Mexican leapt onto the stage prepared to outdo himself and take home an ear before the night was over.  They went through the earl stages all right, with a few comical moments with the bandilleros, and when the faena began, the crowd was finally settling down to see a good matchup.  That was just when some woman to the right of us, a Spanish woman, started to lay into someone sitting next to her.   She was too far away for us to hear well what her gripe was about, but she was loud enough to make a quarter of the arena look in her direction.  Just as she was calming down and I was turning my head back to the bullfight, Andrés grabbed my leg and cried out, “Jesus!  He just got gored.”  And gored indeed.  The man was on the ground and the bull continued to butt its head at him.  Eventually they were able to pull him away and carry his inert body off the ring and to the infirmary.  You could see the open door on the opposite end of the ring.  A green light emerged and there was a shadow of a doctor waiting motionlessly by a bed.   They crew got him onto the cot, and they were rolling him away as the door closed. 

       Well, a bull which has gored a man is considered a dangerous bull because it has learned to ignore the cape and go after the guy holding it.  Or at least, that is what they say.  What is undeniable is that the animal will no longer respond predictably, so it is up to the next torero to finish him off as quickly as possible.  Our man was the poor boy from Melilla who was nearly shaking as he entered the ring with a “Why me?” expression.  He was nearly caught himself.  Slowly he regained composure and managed to kill the animal. 

      After that, the bullfight lost steam.  The torero from Melilla went on for his second bull, and he did a little better the second time, but it was clear his manager had made a mistake by sticking in the Ventas before he was ready for the big time.  Premature adventures of this kind can cost a bullfighter’s future.  The toreador from Seseña continued to show he had promise, so we agreed we would have to keep an eye on him in the future.  As Andrés put it, he had “oficio”.

      Afterwards we went down to the see what the official report on the bullfighter was.  They usually post it next to the infirmary, but there was none there because the goring had been so bad that they had to operate on him right there and then.  The Mexican, a brave if not slightly reckless torero, had received for gorings, one a six inch puncture in the neck which surely would have killed him had he been at some small bullring in Spain.  We saw the bullfighter taken out by the ambulance about a half-hour later.  We was in terrible shape but he would survive.  The toreador from Melilla had waited around for him and didn’t leave until the Mexican had.  The one from Seseña had taken off almost immediately.

      That was the problem with the bullfighter from Melilla, I thought to myself.  He’s too nice a person.  He’s got too much of a heart.  Too sensitive. 

      But all the respect the Melilla bullfighter had lost in the ring, he gained with me as a human outside.  The honor of being a bullfighter on and off the stage.  I no longer wanted to call him a boy.   He had become a man.  If only the rest of the crowd had been there to see it.  Maybe they would have taken their white handkerchiefs out and waved them too.  

The Desperate Artist at the Bullfights 2

The tickets were cheap, much less expensive than what you expect for a bullfight, for a bullfight, for a bullfight.  Only: 5 euros.  For that price I could only get half my body in the Prado museum, two-thirds into a movie theater and a toe or two into a play.

       The Ventas Bullring is in Madrid, just not in the center.  It’s a couple of miles to the east on Alcalá Street right next to the M-30 highway.  It was built in 1929 but the first bullfight didn’t take place for another two years.  The design is what they call neo-mudéjar, or new-moorish style, characterized by its ornate brick layout.  At the top, in tiles, are the year of completion, and the simple words “Plaza de Toros”.   It has a capacity of nearly 25,000 spectators making it the third largest ring in the world.  But more significantly, it is the most important bullring in the world.  Just like New York, if you can’t make it there, you can’t make it anywhere. 

        That was a pretty crappy start.  Oh, well.  This time of year is normally not a good time to go to the bullfights; I am warning you; this time of…year…is not a good time of…year…to go to the fights.  The big tournament, the big season, takes place in May and early June in the San Isidro Fair, where are the best toreros want to prove their worth or worthlessness if the case applies.  Better.  I am at peace.  The summer events are for the small-timers looking at a shot down the road for the big time.  The summer events are for the tourists who don’t want to miss out on that great Spanish tradition.  The place was crawling with visitors from other countries: Japanese and Americans overall.  They came in droves.  They came dressed up in their best; they came with smiles and an air of excitement. Then there were loads of followers of the three toreadors. The three novilleros.  And then people who had no reason or excuse to be there like us.  Just a Sunday night, what-do-you-want-to-do-let’s-go-watch-a-few-bulls-get-stabbed-to-death-like-attitude-if-you know what I mean.  These shows bring the best out of me as a snobbish American in Madrid making fun of ignorant fellow countrymen who were in no way prepared for what they were in for. 

          Andrés was a kind of expert in bullfighting.  He had an encyclopedia at home on the subject which had so many volumes it required its own bookcase.  I liked to go with him just to pick up a few more details on the practice. 

          The went through the ritual: Go to a bar for a beer; buy a sub to take into the bullfight (Spain is still civilized in that sense and allows people to bring in their own food); mull around the souvenir stalls; go inside building and upstairs to a large balcony that looked out over the main entrance; scope out the prettiest girls as they came in; walk through to the ring and find our seats.  They are made of concrete.  The bull suffers, why shouldn’t we?  But Andrés was a veteran, as you know, and had brought his own cushions to boot.  A few minutes later the horns blared announcing the beginning of the bullfight.  Andrés said to me, “Hey!  Two of them are performing here for the first time.  You see how they are coming without wearing their caps?  That means it’s their first time.”  That’s why it was good to go with Andrés.

The Desperate Artist at the Bullfights

There were plenty of things to do that Sunday, as there are most Sundays.  Buy I was beginning to get caught behind on all the sights and sites.   After all, why should it be called sightseeing when what you are looking at are sites and not really sights?  This would be a question I would pose to my co-workers after work, but first with the aid of a few drinks.  English teachers don’t really have a lot to say; they just talk about their students and their jobs and grammar and accents.  It’s what they do best, which makes it no wonder they drink as much as they do. 

       I planned on returning to the neighborhoods and slashing away at the streets and the sights or sites and the buildings.  There are so many interesting buildings in this city.  And to think how little we stop to gaze at them.  I was worse at talking about buildings than talking about museums, so I had to abandon that idea until future notice. 

       That was when my friend Andrés, my friend who almost perished on the Camino de Santiago or the Santiago de Camino as it were, who called me and told me about the bullfight, to which I said yes enthusiastically because I hadn’t seen six innocent animals stabbed to death at all this year and I was feeling in the mood for a little. 

       In the mood for a little.  Scott was going to come along too, but he had already made plans and got mad at me for not telling him before because he liked going to the toros and didn’t want to miss out.  The Las Ventas Bullring, by far the most important and influential bullfighting venue in the world, held Sunday novilladas during the month of July.  Novillos are smaller bulls, but they can still weigh in at a respectable 1,200lbs.  This was no kiddy show, I can assure you.

The Desperate Artist at Times

The Prado is a gentle place to visit in the morning.  I thought about returning that evening when it might even be gentler, I even planned on it.  I even planned on…it.  The trees over on the Paseo del Prado, which is none other than the Castellana but a little further south, even further south of the Paseo de Recoletos, which is also the Castellana, as I was telling you about, buried the air below and blotted out the light with their immense lime green tarps made of the broadest leaves that part of Madrid could produce.  It exuded age, as I think you should know and understand, and the conveyed long periods of knowing and knowing and knowing even more.  That’s what trees sometimes do, as I was telling you about.

     But I didn’t get there.  Something always came up.  I ended up spending most of the afternoon at home actually planning out a few things here and there.  I whipped up a curry chicken with wild rice and I asked my friend Aitor to come over for lunch.  He enjoyed the meal and then fell asleep on my choked-orange couch in the middle of the Tour de France stage.  I eventually did the same in my armchair…until it was time to go back to work for a while.

       I told him about the missing girl and he said that he had heard about it.

       “She could have easily fallen in the river,” I said.

       “She could have easily fallen in the river,” he repeated, but I could have sworn he hadn’t heard, I could have sworn he hadn’t heard what I had said.  But I hadn’t finished.

        “But for some reason I don’t think she is.”

        “What makes you think that?”

        “Just a hunch.”