Chapter 18: Madrid, Jazz of Cole Porter

Dear Readers, after last chapter, I’ve finally caught up with Huckleberry. Here’s what I have to share from what I’ve gleaned.


Xucar’s bell fizzled. The intercom coughed out a “Dime” in perfect old man spanish. We had arrived. Nearly three and a half train hours pass differently than three and a half bus hours, but the anxiousness produced by both to simply put down all the baggage Arrival-Sensations and pick up the Now-Vibrations in the big city weighed in like five and a half walking hours. As it turns out, Tomás and Huckleberry wound up a time bend.

Once they were allowed entrance to this old building secretly stashing a bare bones house turned hostal, one could see that every flight of stairs was barren of right angles. The middle of each step drifted and drooped into the next expressing with great relief the years of trudging and trodging that had passed up and down them.

Greeted by an old man at the door. Mumbled at.

“We’ve got a reservation. Name’s Andrew Grimm.” drops Huck in his every-moment-worse-sounding Spanish.

“Right. Come in.” mutes and gurgles the old man in a state of mildly active conciousness. Something of the Mayo variety crusts his lip. A strand of lettuce marks his face like a Monroe mole.

<Where did we land?> Huck muses. <Looks like something interesting awaits>

The hostal is clean, and sterile – a must, a hallmark, a signal of authenticity; but the office reveals the secret history of this flat. It was clearly, once, the home to a family. The office has souvenirs, recuerdos, photos, stacks of towels, sheets on the mantle, and a litter of hostalic bureaucracy.

“Javier?” asks the old man. He picks up a sheet of paper with facts, personal information, and a very Spanish name. He places it down next to his glass of wine and sandwich.

<Ah. That explains it.> (Huck)

Tomás and his girlfriend Patry exchange looks of discomfort and doubt. They’re Spanish and, therefore, new to this whole hostal thing. <If this surprises them, they’re in for a real trip over the next two days. Well, we’ve all been there – that first wacky hostal experience.>

“Jose?”

Huck gives the geezer his identity card, “Andrew John Grimm”

Patry says in her clearest voice, as if talking to a child, “It’s Andrew. It’s like Andrés, but in English.”

He budges not. The man ignores the card and picks up another piece of paper with another unlikely name written on it. “Brahima?”

<Shnikeys. It reads Ibrahim…perhaps I should take control of the situation> With that Huckleberry starts going through the pile of papers and encounters the one pertaining to his.

After doing the man’s job, Huckleberry and Tomás paid up, got keys, put down the baggage and left immediately. Back to the streets of Madrid, again.

The first Dunkin’ Donuts Huck ever visited in the States was in New York. In Madrid, he would go twice.

Leaving the hostal, the three headed towards Dunkin’ Donuts (which will hereby be referred to as D&D). <I haven’t seen the word Bavarian in so long. Such a creamy delicious sound. “Ba(like butter)-vvvv(velvety V)-aaaa(American R)ian.” Well, when in Rome> Huck mused.

After getting an espresso drink to go and a donut each, they headed to Retiro. Walking up a hill littered with book fair stands, he glimpsed his first vision of tall trees, wide bearthing shadows, and juicy grass. <It certainly has been a while> They grab a spot in the shade, and chill for a still bit. Chatting, pop culture referencing, D&D: ’twas a good afternoon.

They were waiting for Elena, a friend of Patry and Tomás who has her artwork exhibited in Madrid. In fact, going to see her exhibit was the reason they made the trip in the first place. It was also a good excuse to take a weekend trip somewhere.

The following was a typically pleasing afternoon of meeting new people, dining on too too too much food, drinking fathomless beers and taking a daytime stroll through Lavapies. In short, a great deal of Spanish socializing. Since Huckleberry has been to Madrid enough, and described it enough in this very blog, I – as a faithful narrator – will spare you exasperating detailings and etchings of the city. Been there, done that; thus we end a pleasureable Day One socializing in Madrid.

7:30 a.m., in the hostal, Day Two.

boodadooloodadooo. booodadooloodadoo. boooo booo. boop.

beeeep. beepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeep.

blurrtblurrrrrrrrrrrrrrlabalabalabalabalabala.

Someone was ringing the bell to the hostal from the cold morning streets of Madrid.

Who arrives to a city at 7:30 a.m. hoping to gain entrance to a hostal? They continue insisting with blurts, bleeps, and bloodaloos of numerous rhythms and melodies. No one answers. After ten minutes, apparently it wasn’t obvious that they should just go enjoy Madrid for several hours and then return to check in at noon when the hostal opens for business. That, or they were in some sort of emergency. No, let’s just say that someone who blurts the intercom for 20 minutes straight isn’t, logically, in any hurry to go anywhere for any reason.

<Once again, looks like I’ll have to clock in and get some work done here> Huck submits.

He leaves the room and walks over to the intercom, picking up the phone to talk to whoever so tenaciously hoped to enter the fortress.

“What room are you in?” asks Huck.

“I don’t speak Spanish. I only speak English” says the kid.

<Great> “What room are you staying in?” Huck repeats, this time in English.

“I don’t understand you” says the kid, in English.

<This sounds like a complete scam. Not the most original; yet, perhaps therein lies the authenticity of his needy requests to enter. Maybe, just maybe, he had a room in the hostal afterall and simply forgot to bring his keys as well as failed to mention to any of his travel companions that they should let him in when he rang up. Maybe he was travelling alone.>

“What’s your name?

“Victor”

“O.k., Victor. What room?

“Victor.”

“No, what rrroooooommmm?”

“I don’t know, 9 or 8, I think.”

<        ?!      ,    .>, thinks Huckleberry. “Ok, Victor, what are your friends’ names?”

“Victor”

“No, your friends’ names”

“My name is Victor.”

“Ok, ok, I’m going to wake up rooms 8 and 9, and if no one knows who you are I’m not letting you in, ok?” dictates Huck the tyrrant.

“Victor”

Huckleberry proceeds down the hallway and wakes up the couple in room 8 and the dude in room 9.

“Are any of you staying with a certain, Victor?”

“ehh, a-nooh” responds the french dude of room 8.

“no” responds the spanish dude of room 9.

<Right>

Huckleberry grabs his things for the shower, and takes a cleansing wash. When he finished his shower, the kid started ringing the bell again. Huck went to his room to dry off, and during the next 10 minutes heard the events of a new old man let in said Victor. Finally, someone with the authority to let in a stranger had arrived. Hopefully the kid slept well after what was probably, for him, an extremely stressful moment of frozen abandonment in an unkown place after what was probably a night out on the town of Madrid. Sleep well Speak-neither-Spanish-nor-English Victor. As for Huck, the day had only just begun and there was much drinking and socializing to do – like any old day in Spain.

Breaking fast in Toma Café in Malasaña with a decent flat white spooked the shivers off the moist frigidity of morning air in the city. Then they headed over to meet up with Elena to see her artist studio in the neighborhood, Tetuan.

The studio was a nice sight: evidence of concentration, exploration, imagination covered the walls and floors. Furniture was beyond afterthought. In a common room, against the wall stood two plain unadorned mattresses proud and tall. Crashing, in every sense of the word, seems universal in the realm of artistic growth.

<Thank God, finally a bit of normality.>

They chatted with Elena in her studio for several hours over beer and chips. It was refreshing to have a conversation with an artist, to say the least; more refreshing than the beer, and much more satisfying than the Frito Lays and Doritos. Eventually they took a break from chilling in the studio by grabbing a meal at a local dinner. Chorizo cooked in cider, roquefort croquetas, and beef empanadas followed by ‘relaxing cup of coffee and milk.’ On the heels of the previous day of dining and cañas in Lavapies, Huck was now overflowing with food. The typically round spanish belly was starting to take form in it’s native habitat.

Having eaten, they all met up with Elena’s friend in arms, Irene who also rents space in the art studio to which they were entreated rare visions. It was a charming afternoon of food and chatting that passed rather quickly and was topped off by a tour of the art exhibit where Elena’s works were on display.

In short, her manner of weilding stencil appears to be nothing more or less than the motions required for weaving. Charcoal weavings on paper, one might say. Looking at the works, one could see where a gesture covered the entire paper with implicit motion left by markings. Swoops of motion left thin and articulate trails that formed faces, naked bodies, and the like. Well played smears and drops of “Hope I pull this off well or the whole work will be destroyed” sort of dangerous effects were the real loot of the exhibit.

Afterwards, meeting up in Sol to grab cañas, Huckleberry tried explaining this in Spanish to his friends, and failed miserably. Meh. You can’t win’em all.

At this point it was Tomás, Patry, Manolo, and Francis with whom Huck had the fortune of tagging along. The group went to the bar Malaspina to grab a few beers. Sometime during the second tercio of beer, Manolo uncharacteristacally exploded in the same manner that one explodes awake from a dream, or the matrix in one of those crazy human energy farm pods. Remember? Yes, that unmistakeable just-woken-from-a-crazy-dream-as-if-thrown-in-the-air-by-a-giant kind of gesture. His arms swinging wildly to grasp hold of this reality and re-plant himself on solid ground, Manolo says,”Tony’s Bar!” He continued on, describing this bar known affectionately as, El Bar de Toni. “You’re gonna love it, Andrew. It’s this place that almost entirely wood. It’s this old house that someone converted into a bar. The floor and the ceiling are all crazy like, going round in strange angles. Sense of ground orientation is strange there, and accentuated by the unending conglomerations of Vintage house items that the owner goes around buying simply to put aleatorically somewhere in his bar. It’s wooden like the inside of an old ship, dark like a cave, and extremely comfortable.  The best thing, however, is the owner – who seems to open the bar at whatever time he pleases, and how he pleases. You order a drink, but who knows how you’ll get it. He might make it in a short glass, a fat glass, a tall glass, a coffee mug, a martini glass whatever however. Contrary to what you might be thinking, though, it’s the best service in Madrid. The old half-blind, leather hat wearing man is more accomodating than a southern grandma.”

And so, they killed their beers and headed towards el Bar de Toni stopping to say hello to the convent where Cervantes is buried and the house Quevedo bought merely so that he could throw the inhabiting rival intellectual out on the street.

It’s 11 thirty, and the bar isn’t open yet. From the outside, it even looks like it could be an abandoned house. Apparently, the shutters have been shut for so long that they’re rusted in place. A cute girl whose job is to round up thirsty pedestrians into the nearest bar affirms, “yeah, he’ll open, but who knows when – that’s Tony for ya”

The groups decides to grab a drink in the neighboring bar to pass the time until Tony opens up shop, and .. he will open. After a few hits from generations ago like O Sweet Child of Mine, Billie Jean, and Pretty Woman go by, Huck walks outside to see if the huge doors to Tony’s bar are open.

<Yes.>

He runs back in and informs the troops. Everyone kills their beer, they pay up and head over.

<Tinny trumpets salute us, a clarinet bubbles down low, and a violin sachets across the stage. At the back, a woman sings to us. This is no karaoke club. Make no mistake about it, this is a jazz joint. Just like Manolo said, the floors walls ceiling(s) and wall-lining-cushion-covered-benches are wood founded. It looks like someone hollowed out a large block of wood into one seemless, though often crooked and unalined, wooden bar. It’s tiny. And the bar takes up most of the building in a large horshoe.

All the crooning comes from that large tuba hanging from the ceiling. As it pours forth a frothy croon backed by a small ensemble that likely made its living during The Prohibition off of bottle caps, I notice the clamour.

The clamour, the crowd, the In’s and the Hip’s.

They hung around, on around and about each other, in strangley alive formations. Sampson the Iron Stove cuddled next to Linda the Space Fan and Anna the Yoga Mat curled up next to Zach the Antique Cash Register. All these folks and more, who’ve undoubtedly seen more of Madrid and – The World- than I have are exchanging oddities eye to eye.

What am I doing here, again? I feel out of my league next to Laura the Stack of Vintage Clothes and her man Stuart the Antique Radio. Stuart, needless to say, is all over her in that typically Spanish public expression of I-Wanna-Do-You-Now. God they’re cute together. Edric the Clothes Hanger is overwhelmed, horizontal, near the crack between the ceiling and the wall by the entrance. How is he overwhelmed? All the Ladies of Luxury Handbags Cerca1950-1960 are hanging on him like he was a Beatle or something. Poor guy, hope he gets a little shut eye tonight, at least. Skylark is telling it like it was, in the 40’s, and I’m having trouble remembering where and when I am. The windows..they’re covered by old white curtains, shut by wooden shutters and glass window panes. No light from the outside enters this temporal black hole. We sit down.

 A man, in his 50’s, comes round. A black leather baseball cap covers his face. You can barely see his eyes. His body language is a mixture between the most hospitable Japanese grandpa and the gestures of an Italian grandpa. This is home, and apparently there’s no turning back. With every little grandpa step he takes each one of us sinks in just a bit more into the comfy cushions of the benched seating.

Manolo told us to come here and order a caprihina or mojito, and thusly we order 4 mojitos – knowing that the vessels (and possibly contents) in which we receive the drinks will be unpredictable.

“4 Mojitos, please, Good Tony” orders Manolo.

“Just like always” Toni replies. Of course Tony, just like last time I never met you. Wait, I’m mistaken – that thought was entirely built on linear logic. Here, I always drink mojitos – simple as that – whenever I come, even if that involves leaving the door to step in the river of conventional time, and re-enter. Whenever I come, I always am in the mood for a mojito here. Well, said, Toni. More people enter and I notice that everyone says, “Hey! Tony!” like they knew him. Some did. Some didn’t, like us. We didn’t; but, we do now for – that is where Tony lives. Tony doesn’t fear death. Tony has no concerns. Not even for guests. We will enjoy ourselves, and that’s that. It is being written.

Old Yass keeps flowing. I hear our mojitos manifesting behind the counter. It sounds delicious.

“I wonder what a conversation between Toni and Huckleberry would be like” says Manolo.

I wonder the same thing.

Soon, our mojitos arrive. Usually you get nuts, crunchy bits, salty edibles and the like when you get a beer in Spain. You know, munch stuffs. Of course, if you go to Granada or Jaen, you get free food. What came with our mojitos here was better.

Four giant baseball-stadium-soft-drink-sized mojitos in glasses that look like they were forged by Chihuly Patchouli himself, I kid you not. Blues, turqouises, greens. I expect a mermaid’s face to pop out of the with-water-constructed-cocktail-vessel and start up a conversation. The mojitos are delicious. In the center of the table, Toni puts down a bowl of fresh strawberries on ice. We are pleased.

We spend the drink on a conversation based on marvel. This place was certainly an odd one, as far as Spain was concerned. Some-untime thereafter, Toni leaves the bar to stand outside the door.

“Here’s your chance!” says Manolo excitedly.

“Sure, but I’ll need a smoke. Can you roll me one?”

Francis get’s on it. It’s beautiful. I’m not a cigarette smoker, but the idea of asking Tony for a lite in the most cliche manner to start up a conversation is oddly hilarious; and, if I have my wits about me, I bet it’ll be hilarious to Tony, too. Tony sees through all things and fears not.

I walk outside, “Tony, got a lite?”

“No, they do” Apparently Tony isn’t outside to smoke, just to watch the people pass down the river.

I interrupt a lovely couple. Somehow, I know that they’re Laura and Stuart from the bench in back by the bathroom. Staurt has an alternative look, and Laura looks like she walked straight out of a fashion ad. “Got a lite?”

“Sure thing”

She lights my fire, and I walk back to the front step to talk with Tony. I almost start talking when I realize that my cigarette is already going out. Like I said, I’m no smoker.

“Mind lighting me up again?”

“Sure thing, darling”

I get lit, again, and return to iniciating conversation with Tony, the enigma of Madrid.

I skip shooting shit and the small stuff, Tony doesn’t fear death.

“That Davis the Tuba is quite the character, whenabouts did he become part of the entourage?” I say.

“Careful, your cig’s about to go out again.”

“Ah, thanks” I don’t know how he could tell. The man only looks straight ahead of him. He appears to be half blind, but now I wonder if it’s just a habit. What use does he have for those things(i.e., looking around), living so far from linear time? I take a big pull, in hopes that dragging a bit will keep the rolled beaut on toast long enough to have a convo with enigmatic Tony.

“Well, Davis the Tuba’s been round for about 20 years, actually. Not much of a market for vintage jazz folks out there but he makes it work here. You don’t have a Madrid accent.” He ends his response just like that. You don’t have a Madrid accent. Boom. No further context nor explanation.

Two can play that game, Toni.

“Wisconsin is near the border of Canada.” Me, face expressionless, looking out at the street

“I knew a girl, that came around here a lot, she was from those parts of the US.” -Tony, face expressionless, looking out at the street

“and?” me, eyes streetwards

“A blondey, super nice” Tony, toothpick in hand.

I nod.

“Taught english here in Madrid” Toni, talking about the girl

“Huh, me, too.” me

“Where” toni

“Cáceres” me

“no way.” toni

“yep” me

“gotta have lots of patience to live there. people are weird.” toni

I laugh, he laughs, I put out my cig and we both head back into the bar, giving my friends half truths to update them on the coversation above. Not everyone can handle the truth. Not in that state. Risky business, entering into conversation with Toni.

A laughter-hour later, which is longer than a train-hour, Toni comes round to check up on us.

“How is everything?”

“Great!” we say, “but, we’re thinking of heading out. Can we pay for the drinks?”

Then with the grace of an angel, or the assertion of a Mediterranean grandmother he opens his arms and says, “but, (en Ustedes) you’ve just arrived!”

And just like that, we all relax back into our benches and order another round of Mojitos. Francis doesn’t want to drink much more so she asks, “but, can I just have a small drink?”

“I’d make you a big one all the same” he replies instantaneously, there’s only one size here- afterall- the size Toni wants to serve you. I decide, in the next life – should I decide to become a business man – if businessmen still exist – I’m coming here to study the art of hospitality and persuasion. Tony is a master. We all laugh at our weakness, our lack of backbone in our attempt to leave the time oddity of El Bar de Toni. Some things just can’t be helped, and if Toni thinks it’s time to drink another massive yet impeccably prepared mojito, it most certainly is. In the corner across from us Lupe the Ruby Red Jacket and Jack the Oil Lantern exhange sweet nothings. Davis spins forth his best latin jazz LP’s. Max the Washboard and Zeek the Empty Portrait Frame Cerca1910 laugh heartily about intangibles. Where will the night go from here?>, experienced Huckleberry the third of May.

 

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