The Desperate Artist: The Barrio de Salamanca

My friend Scott gave the number to this guy Angel who had a banker’s exam coming up this weekend and needed to pass if he ever was going to make something of himself in life, or something to that extent and length.  He had to pass the English exam so he wanted to know if I could help him out, you know just take a look at things.  I didn’t think I could because he would either be ready or not and if it was the latter, there would be little I could do about it.  So, I told Scott I would do it as a favor.  Some of my best cases came out of these private classes back in the 90s when I taught at companies and private homes and had to solve all sorts of mysteries.  At first I never intended on getting involved in that line of work, all I wanted to do was help aspiring professionals to tackle the test of learning a language they seemed they were never meant to learn.  A lot of this is influenced heavily by some deeply embedded psychological handicap that insists they will never learn English.  Not that I haven’t come across a few students who would have confirmed that frame of mind, but for the most part they are just like the rest of the world.  But things would just sort of fall into my hands. 

          He lived in the neighborhood called Salamanca, not far from me.  Some say I live in Salamanca too but that isn’t true.  And if you think that, you don’t know Salamanca, you don’t know my area, and you don’t know Madrid.  Only the cheeky real estate agents say that so they can snare better clients and raise property prices. 

        When most people think of Salamanca, what comes to mind is the university town located about 150 miles to the west-northwest of Madrid.  This district represents one of the finest examples of planned urban development in Madrid.  It came as a result of a decree to knock down the defensive walls that still surrounded the city of Madrid and which impeded it from growing naturally.  So in the second half of the 19th Century, Madrid became acquainted with a previously unknown feature: the square urban block.  Much of the promotion came thanks to the participation of a wealthy industrialist, the marquis of Salamanca, from whom we get the name of the area, and who finally put a little order to capital.  Today, Salamanca is considered to be one of Madrid’s most expensive and fanciest neighborhoods, and the most exclusive shopping can be done on streets such as Serrano, Goya or Ortega y Gassett. 

        Some people get uneasy about Salamanca feeling it is too bourgeois for their liking, but I think that it is a great area for walks.  The streets are lined with plenty of streets.  The buildings are attractive.  There are pretty shops and boutiques and cool bars and restaurants.  I don’t know.  These are some of things that I like to see when I walk around there. 

      One caveat.  Many of these edifices are top-notch on the outside but dying within.  So finding decent lodgings for a decent price isn’t always that easy.  The same goes for renting an apartment.  You can come across total dumps for the price of half your salary.  So beware.  Sticking to the streets is surprisingly far more economical and visually appealing.  The most representative areas must be Lista and Goya, as well as the Diego de León, and Nuñez de Balboa parts too. 

          The man I had to see lived in a balcony clad dark-brick building in the Lista area.  It looked all right from the outside, a little shabby, but within reason from the inside.  But within reason…from the inside.  Like a fairly well-groomed old man, unkept in only a few odd places.  I downstairs door was open but I still rang up.  He answered. 

       “Is this Jaime?”  He said it was.

        “This is Richard.”

        “Yes, I know.  I can’t do class today. I am sorry.”  He said without asking me up.  Very unusual behavior for a Spaniard.  “Maybe some time later this week, or if not next.”  His English sounded quite all right to be. He has spent some time abroad somewhere.  Maybe the U.S. from the way he pronounced the “t” in the word “later”. 

        “But your exam is this Saturday, isn’t it?”

        “Oh, yes, you’re right.”  He stumbled a little over his words. “Then it’ll have to be this week.  I’ll call you and let you know.  Thanks and sorry.  And I’ll pay you for this class.”

        “But I’m not charging.  I don’t do privates anymore.”

        But he had hung up.  In all my years hear, that was one of the strangest conversational interactions I had engaged in.  Who behaves that way on an interphone?  Why had he forgotten about the test?  He sounded flustered.  He did.  He sounded flustered.  He did.

        Just then my cell beeped twice to say I had a text message.  I was the proud owner of one of the oldest mobile phones in the country.  Maybe it was from this Jaime guy to explain a little better this bizarre situation.  But it wasn’t.  It was from Iris, the one I was hoping would contact me.  She wanted to know if I wanted to go see the Templo de Debod.  Too late.  But not for other things.  I responded quickly to say I couldn’t but that we would get together soon when I had a new plan set up and then I went for a walk…now that I had a little extra time.

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