“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 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.