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.
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.