UNITED STATES—Our friend and publicist in Madrid, Dave America, set up two events at a bar called Aleatorio (what better name for the accidental tourist!) Thursday night to present the bilingual journal, the first event was a night of story readings, the previous Tuesday.
Tuesday started calmly enough, after a night of beers in the suburb Las Rozas, with the poet Oscar Noviembre, Boxer of the Night, who was getting less shy, but still very shy, facing his first public reading ever. Miriam, Dave America’s girlfriend was there, and Oscar’s too. We got toasty on Estrella Galicia, like one of those good nights that made up for the heat in Memphis. And I remember just staring at a video from the last year of Johnny Cash, and he looked a lot like death warmed over, all moldy, but that voice still sang and hurt. There’s some real solace in that.
So in the bright morning Patricio and I set out to the brick village of stores and had some morning espresso and a croissant and stared at the tapas in the case. It was a fine morning. This was the day we finally moved to 87 Cartegena, the home of Dave America’s family, and before going into Madrid to the Malasaña neighborhood (it rhymes with lasagna), we had a great siesta in the room on the top floor I shared with Juan David and Patricio slept in the other room. When you travel you learn about people, and I envy how soundly some can sleep. It’s something I find hard to pull off in the mornings, with or without Estrella Galicia.
However, this afternoon before our story reading, sleep submerged me in that three-story townhouse. After 20 minutes, submerged in sleep in that three-story townhouse, I woke and grabbed the peach notebook. In a spasm of writing, I wrote a detective tale called “The Velvet Suicide,” and I hope it lived up to what Carmen told me about putting beautiful things in that notebook when she gave it to me.
We got to Bar Aleatorio before anyone else. A kindly guy with gold round glasses was signing up at the bar. We had a long time to drink and talk before the mic and lights went on. We spoke about how hard it is to hook up in Los Angeles, compared to a place like Madrid. We spoke about a brush with death early in a writer’s life and its importance in later formation—though I think more than death, it hurt to keep the pen bleeding.
When the time came, we all read. Patricio did the news-flash poem from 80 mph, the collection whose name went on the bilingual anthology.
A contest followed, Joaquín Sabina played and other composed based on a phrase “Es la muerte mirando fijamente” (death is looking fixedly). Then each read theirs, more participants appeared than in the set of readings, who’d sat at the back bar. We had a great judge, Dani, a translator of poems and fiction. He deliberated (“People see me taking notes”) and gave a discerning summary hinting at the strengths and weaknesses of the different stories.
Finally, he pronounced Patricio’s name. The poet born in Ecuador was recognized in the mother country. Up he came to get the prize, a bottle of red wine. It was a triumphal moment, for Patricio and the story touching on two Equadoreans, that meet in Madrid, one a laborer and one a tourist that Patricio read, taking his time.
That night the bottle of wine followed us to different eating places, like the yayo–crowded bar that served one purple drink only and all sorts of botanas, and everybody in the yayo held that chill fluted glass, everybody crammed into a narrow space between the brightly lit bar and the glass front evocative of an old apothecary. The deep red drink was made of anise, gin and vermouth, sweet and nice with a lemon slice in a tall oval glass–everybody stood shoulder to shoulder, drinking this one drink in the confines of the strip between the long bar the establishment’s glass front.
Then outside we strolled to the still warm plaza Malasaña, awhile. It was warm and muggy as a summer night in the American South, the tall old apartments with balconies and double shutters looking over us, the purest evocation of New Orleans in its stately deterioration. I could live here.
That fact is I already was. This was living.
To be continued…