¡Viva España!

This is how the proposed new text of the Spanish hymn begins, that was just rejected by the Spanish Olympic Committee when I arrived to Spain. Throughout its ephemeral life this text has caused much tempest that has even reached as far as to Hungary. Simultaneously, the leaders of the right-wing party decided not to enter in the approaching elections their last trustworthy face, the Mayor of Madrid Gallardón, but to nominate instead Manuel Pizarro, a businessman of a controversial past on the second place of their list. The web forum of readers of El País of which I also have the honor of being a member has immediately discovered, with a good nose, the subtle relationship between these changes and my travel to Spain. The East-European agent arrived to Spain for the subversion of the Right, and he has already hitched up to the job.

Caserna antigua en el centro de Palma de Mallorca / Old barrack in the downtown of Palma de Mallorca, Spain
My first step is to look for an internet spot to receive my instructions. The members of the readers’ forum had promised me to compose a list of the bars I should unconditionally visit in Madrid in those few days while working in the National Library. I get in touch with them in the quarter of Carabanchel, in an Ecuadorian internet locutorio that has established an exemplary internationalist brotherhood with the proletariat of a large number of the countries of the world. Half of the room is occupied by a Columbian food store in which the wares are not arranged by sort, but by countries of origin. They line up on the shelves under handwritten shelf-marks like in a good library, in order the guest worker should not browse for long: Ecuador, Argentina, Peru, Poland, Romania... The countries known by me are unequivocally represented by wares in lack of which the guest workers of that country are orphan kids: for example mineral water of Borsec and poteen of Braşov for the Romanian immigrants who are just illegally dismantling and selling as Francoist souvenir the iron grids of the once notorious, today abandoned prison of Carabanchel, thirty euros a piece of an ell. “Does it really sell?” I ask of the little round Columbian seller, with a hint to the water of Borsec. “Like hot cakes!” he answers with a large smile.

La cárcel de Carabanchel abandonada / Abandoned prison of Carabanchel (Madrid), Spain
The first program item is the visit of the Rastro scheduled to realize on Sunday morning. However, this flea market spreading over the steep southern streets of Madrid has lost much of its glamor, today it is rather a tourist spot and a market of cheap Chinese commodities. Nevertheless, the seafood bars coming in quick succession on the Ribera de Curtidores offer a generous compensation to the observer who arrives from a country without sea.

Bar de pescado, Ribera de Curtidores, Madrid / Seafood Bar, Ribera de Curtidores, Madrid (Spain)
In the evening we still go with Ana to the Bukowski Club run by their friend, the Argentinian writer Carlos Salem, but with this the thread is altogether broken. I will not get to the Cafe Comercial at the Bilbao metro station, neither to the antiquarian shop on Moyano, not even to the Pizzeria “El Trebol” at the Sol station, where I should greet Gerardo and Arturo in the name of Ariel. I come down with flu, and lay with fever throughout the two days I had dedicated for working in the library and exploring the city. Mission incomplete. It is a luck that with my last forces I had been able to drag myself to the National Library where I get to know that it has unexpectedly closed, because an Argentinian diplomat had been stealing books for several months and now as he’s got pinched they make inventory. Better so, at least I am not annoyed that much by the idleness forced upon me.

Ana and José, our friends whom we had known in Iran attend me with devotion. They cook tea for me, look for pills, and give me Orsón, the big plush St. Bernard dog as a bed-warmer. I ask them to bring me some Borsec mineral water from the Columbian shop, as this is also used as a medicine in the Carpathian Székely land from where it comes. With the poteen of Braşov I do not dare to make experiments.

On Wednesday morning I am roaming still dizzy with illness on Terminal 4 of the Madrid airport, looking for a plug for my notebook. On Spanish airports I always find a place where I can work some hours until departure. Here, however, I have no success with this either. In the cafés, the salad bars, and even in the always reliable McDonalds envious hands smoothed out the bottoms of the columns and the walls alongside the chairs.

I sit down at least for a coffee, with a book in the hand. In the meantime it is announced that the plane to Mallorca will leave with a delay of an hour. I am just reading about how hopelessly Kapuściński tries to find a plane in the middle of the revolution in Kongo, when someone next to me begins to hum a tune. I jerk up my head. A young woman is softly singing to herself at the next table above her coffee, still half sleeping, persistently. I cannot grasp the melody, the rhythm is also free. It sounds like flamenco, and then perhaps like a ballad. The throaty alto voice fills the café and makes it homely. Bienvenido a España.

Madrid, Terminal 4, flight departure