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 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.”