Emilia Chapter 15

          Her life wasn’t easy but, other than being tired occasionally, she never complained. And even though I am describing times we had together they didn’t come easily or often. It took a lot of work at the café for me to get her to commit to a meeting and sometimes a week or more would go by and it didn’t happen.

          There was another young Spanish guy who, it seemed, was doing the same thing I was, showing up at the café mostly to talk to her. Naturally this made me more focused. If you had ever raced homing pigeons, like I have, you would know that one of the most reliable techniques for getting a cock bird home fast is to introduce another cock into the scene right before the race.

          Sometimes Emilia wouldn’t show up at one of our meetings. No doubt she had to play some games at home to manage the time to be with me. But, even if she couldn’t show up, Pedro would be there and we had good times on our own. We went to a big swimming pool at the Casa del Campo, a rural park in Madrid. It’s a green place on the outskirts of Madrid, a bit of the country in the city. Emilia and I would go there too on the motorcycle sometimes and sit under the trees by the lake. It was very much like the Seurat painting Dimanche Matin a la Grande Jatte, city people relaxing and enjoying the coolness under the trees and looking out on a sunlit lake.

          Pedro’s mother worked for a rich man as his housekeeper and we would visit her, going by the back door to the kitchen to get something to eat. Of course, Pedro loved the motorcycle and, even though I wouldn’t let him or anyone drive it, he wanted to go as fast as possible. Once we went one hundred miles an hour down a very mediocre piece of road. It was scary but a big thrill and the two of us were hollering and laughing with all the energy and ebullience of youth.

          One of the big saint’s days came around. There was a fair at night and the three of us went. A carnival had been set up with all the games and rides and even a test of strength where you swing a big wooden mallet and drive a projectile up a shaft to ring the bell at the top. I won fame, honor, and glory with that! Emilia and I held hands for a little while. It was a magical night full of the color of the carnival and a happy crowd; people enjoying the simple pleasures of their culture.

          Sebastiano naturally made fun of my young love which was on the opposite end of the romantic spectrum from where he was busily sticking “the brute” into every good-looking woman who passed through our scene. He wanted me to take that hillbilly girl, Marlene, out into the bushes for the real thing. And she was willing and even suggested it but I was not ready for that. It was hard for me to figure how Don, the guy she was living with, would feel about it. So, life rolled on and it was full of good people and experiences for us expats living in Franco’s Spain. Madrid’s attention was on the bullfight and it interested me, perhaps because of Hemingway but also because of my lifelong attraction to hunting and fishing. There is a lot of danger and beauty in it. When you get to know the bullfight, the bull himself becomes equally as heroic as the matador, maybe more so. It’s very complicated. In Ronda, in Andalucía, where some of the best bulls are raised, there is a sign by the entrance of El Corrida which says, in effect, “The bullfight is not something up for discussion.” It’s as much a part of Spanish identity as the language.

My Friends My Age, Kids Really Chapter 14


          Finally, word came that my luggage had arrived and I went to collect it at the main rail station. In a huge building I walked through giant rooms full of piles of luggage and my hopes collapsed thinking it could not be possible for my things to be found here. My guitar, a Martin D-28, had been shipped in a soft case – no protection. We walked through the endless long aisles with luggage on both sides and over to a pile that was distinctly mine. It was all there and in good shape. The guitar was unblemished which I now consider a miracle.  

          My guitar gave me something to work with other than just hanging out. I began to make a few friends of my own and to talk with a little Spanish girl on the other side of the counter in the “El Principe”. She was around my age, just a little younger. Her name was Emilia Cruz. She worked the afternoon/evening shift with Pedro who was also our age. The three of us started talking and enjoying each other.

          I would say to her,

           “Hola guapa,” which means “Hi good looking,” and she would say,

           “Hola guapo!” She had spirit and was very bright but poor and involved in supporting the family. Her father had died in the Civil War and every Sunday she and her mother visited the grave. Felipe, an older waiter at the café, lived in the same apartment complex as Emilia on the outskirts of Madrid. He kept an eye on her and brought her home at night.

          Our friend Pedro was a good young guy full of energy and humor. The three of us recognized our common youth and stage of life even though our lives were very different. There were vast cultural differences, which I should have appreciated because of my experiences in Mexico two years earlier.

          Emilia was not free to just “go out” with me or “date” me. Even for her to move in that direction required major decisions and risks. I understand that now, but I don’t think I gave it much thought at the time. My interest was in re-enacting “Romeo and Juliet” in real life and adding a happy ending. These are difficult intentions to criticize. Yet someone so cavalier, playing with the human heart and refusing to weigh the consequences, is dangerous, even cruel. I focused on her and little by little the tide began to turn.

          She couldn’t see me on her own. We would meet in the El Retiro Park on Sunday morning before she had to go with her mother to her father’s grave. Pedro would be there as a chaperone and friend. We genuinely liked each other. El Retiro is in the heart of Madrid. The Prado and many other great institutions are located on the edge of the El Retiro. It is a big, elegant park with lakes and places to sit and picnic. There are cafés and boats to hire on the lakes.

          In the early mornings of that May in 1964, with a chill still in the air but with the promise of a hot day to come, I would fire up my Triumph and cruise over to the lake where we would meet and hire a boat and row around together. Even though I was not perfect in the language, it didn’t seem to matter. Most of what is important is said in other ways, body language, eyes and tone of voice, a million signs that are older than language and more trusted.

          Both Emilia and Pedro were giving me some exposure to their lives and watching how I reacted. One time I met Emilia by herself and she had a baby with her, her cousin’s child. She got on the back of the motorcycle with the baby and we drove across town through heavy traffic to her cousin’s apartment. Before we got there, she got off so that no one would see. It seemed to me she wanted to get a sense of how I was with the baby. At one point she had me hold him. And by getting on that motorcycle with the child she showed her confidence in me and her own courage. She was like a bird, thin and quick. I doubt if she weighed a hundred pounds. She had a beautiful smile and an easy, wonderful-sounding laugh we heard often.


The Bullfight Chapter 13

          The women, the men, the young and the old watched every fight during the big Feria de San Isidro in May. In the café they would say, “Ah look at the magnificence of the Spanish man. Every other man looks like nothing compared to him.” And Sebastiano would say, “That’s bullshit. These guys are just a bunch of sadistic pig fuckers with no balls of their own so they have to pick on a dumb animal.” Now if those aren’t fighting word. But we never got into a fight and I say “we” because where I come from if you get in a fight and I am with you I’m in the fight too. So, I was often on edge when he would go off like that. And it was often. He would bait people mercilessly. He wanted them to respond so he could blow off some steam.

          Around nine o’clock Ruth would show up from her teaching jobs and we would go have dinner at one of the innumerable places in the center of Madrid, modest places with good food. And that was usually a good time, walking in the evening to a place we had decided to try. Madrid is one of the great walking cities. There are scores of restaurants and small businesses and parks. The smell of good things cooking, of olive oil and garlic and a million spices fills the air and the nights are warm and gentle in May. Nobody wants to go to bed and they delay it as long as possible. It’s fun to be with the crowd, run into friends, try a new tapas bar. Great seafood and shellfish are delivered every day fresh from La Coruna on the Atlantic and the din of the crowd is a positive, life-loving sound.

          During the days, Sebastiano liked to ride on the back of the motorcycle and I would drive him over to the movie studio or to an agent to see if there was some commercial work for him. At the same time, I was also trying to get some order to my own life. Tagging along with Sebastiano and witnessing the unfortunate dynamic between him and Ruth was exhausting for me. She was the type of person who would not say shit if she was standing in it. And he took tremendous delight in saying the most God-awful atrocities in front of her. They were so outrageous and beyond the pale that she would first be shell-shocked and then pass beyond that and smile or even give a little laugh. I got tired of not knowing how to react to it all.