Yes, those were the days. The days in heaven. Days that could have lasted a lifetime. No one can ever take these days away from us, for they have happened, and I keep my part of them stored within a broad chest where I keep all my personal belongings. Some of them were such that they transformed a different person within us as we lived them. But death could never touch us at the Westin Palace anyway, they had golden bidets and toilet paper with crowns on every third sheet.
There were many good bars around the hotel, but the hotel bar was the best. The bartender’s name was Afonso, a tall man and an even better bartender. He knew many cities and could speak their languages, having conversations in simple, beautiful forms. He told us everything we needed to know about Madrid, bullfighting and flamenco, of which it is composed. I had always admired bullfighting and flamenco, but since I got to know Afonso, I also know what makes them admirable. His way of talking about them and serving drinks was so kind, and in reality, our conversations were never very long. He would always start talking and end up somewhere, but it was more about the pleasure of discovering what the other person thought about this or that, about bullfighting and flamenco, and whether we shared the same opinion, becoming kindred spirits. If we did, he would always smile as he passed by our table, as if our agreement was now our little secret.
The most beautiful thing about the Westin was its location in front of a large roundabout, surrounded by sidewalks on which many small cafes spread out. Surrounding it were the city’s monuments in stark brilliance, and at the end of the street stood a tall equestrian statue against dark green trees in a hot square. The harsh light separated the square, the trees, and the rider from each other. Across from us was the Prado with its masterpieces. I remember being in the cool museum, standing in front of a beautiful painting by Joaquín Sorolla and then a disturbing one by Dióscoro Puebla. It depicted El Cid’s freshly violated daughters, half-naked and tied to a tree with leather straps, while men were riding away in the background. Of course, there were many biblical themes, like Susanna at her bath, and I didn’t like biblical themes, but the Spanish masters handled them quite well.
Behind the Prado, the Parque del Retiro began, where we spent our last hours on the evening of our departure. The concierge at the Westin had arranged transportation for us. It was a very hot evening, and without the park, Madrid would have been unbearable that night. The air was charged. You had to chew it before you could breathe it. As we walked through the park, the rain came, turning into a thunderstorm that even knocked down a few trees. We didn’t want to stand under falling trees and got very wet, but we remained very much alive and very happy, even though we would have been ready to die. We pressed our soaked bodies together which reminded us of all the expensive gin we had spilled on the first day in paradise. Not a drop of it seemed wasted.
The next day, I went to the museum alone and angry. I didn’t care about her plans. It was hot, I smoked early, sweated, and the whole world was irritating. I stood in front of Picasso’s Guernica and found it terrible; I had no eyes for Cézanne, not even my buddy Van Gogh could shine anymore. I left the museum and strolled up the book market at the park without stopping anywhere, not looking anywhere, even though book markets that meander up the park in the heat are good places to stop, look around, and spend a year. Eventually, my phone vibrated. A text message from her saying: Lunch at Botin?
I’ve reserved a table for us at 1 pm. And so it began, the day that brought me to tears.
I love Botin and she knew that I love Botin. It was a gesture of reconciliation. The rest would be taken care of by the suckling pig and the Rioja wine. And then there was Antonio, the owner of Botin. A handsome older man with a full head of hair and happy wrinkles, who showed me his Viagra and constantly talked about testosterone. His standpoint was that sexuality is the most important thing in the world because no one would be willing to sacrifice their sexuality for anything in the world, those hypocrites, not even for world peace. He was married to a wonderful woman and loved my girlfriend and me because we reminded him of himself and his wife before they got married. Antonio understood our issues right away, for we had none. We sat in front of each other like two mirrors, and Antonio guided our process of coming closer with calm, wise sentences that only a man who had lived life fully could say. We reached a great level of warmth, and our smiles turned into laughter. Lunch turned into an afternoon, and the waiters had already taken off their jackets when we left the restaurant. We smoked and linked arms, walking down the street to Plaza Mayor.
We sat down under the arcades in a café and started talking. Someone was playing Astor Piazzolla – Café 1930. The sentences just flew by and we were partners again, drinking ice-cold martinis brought to us by a waiter called Jesus. An old woman came by and said how great we were and if she could paint us because we were so great. Her hair was knotted tightly behind her head and pulled at her face, but she couldn’t do anything about the deep wrinkles. Being great wasn’t enough for her either, so we gave her another 20 euros for being so great. When the woman was done and the sun disappeared behind the balconies, we were horny and drunk. Compromised, sunk, drunk, horny, animals wearing clothes. Every inch of her exposed brown skin made me angry. She looked like a painting and had wonder in her eyes. We rented a scooter that wasn’t a motorbike and set off, blazing hot as we were, through many red lights without helmets, on the fastest route to the hotel. We got lost many times, but finally ended up in that room 428 where we found our truth.
This is an excerpt of the story ‘Regen im Retiro’ by Konstantin Arnold.
Original story written in German. English translation reviewed by Joseph Hildula.