So I ended up spending the entire next day in the airport because I didn’t make that standby flight after all. They did book me on another flight late that night, though, for certain. I didn’t complain. Orlando flew ahead and said he’d meet me on the other side. At least I hoped that was what he had said.
Orlando and his girlfriend Carmina were there to meet me at the airport. She was Italian, supposedly, so she spoke about the same amount of English as Orlando did–i.e. almost none–and from what I could tell her Spanish was a little questionable, too. From Orlando’s perspective, I think, she could have been speaking martian and it wouldn’t matter so long as she had that long dark hair, glowing with auburn highlights, and those long, long legs that made every dress she wore look too short. Maybe he had understood me when I’d asked if he was gay and he said no.
They brought me to the apartment they were sharing with a guy and another couple, and ceremoniously showed me the couch, which had visibly been cleared of clutter to make room for me, given how the rest of the place looked. Understand, the place wasn’t dirty, but it was a jumble of books and cassette tapes and half burned candles and you name it.
My arrival was apparently a good excuse to open a bottle of red wine, and the other woman, whose name was Gabriela, washed out a glass for me. Her boyfriend’s name was Rafi, which I think was short for Raphael, and the other guy was Vicente. They mostly drank out of mismatched coffee mugs, some of which were missing their handles, and their voices grew faster and more raucous as we drank, meaning I went from catching every fifth or sixth word to catching none. That was all right. I can’t explain why, but I felt at home. Even though Orlando had introduced me as “Dión.” He simply couldn’t say “Daron,” not the way I say it anyway, with the “r” getting crushed up against the “n” like the “o” jumped out of the way of an oncoming Camaro on the New Jersey Turnpike.
When the wine was done, Vicente went back to studying, and the two couples took me out to eat. The apartment was on the second and third floors of the building, while the entry door was at street level. The street was narrow, only fit for smaller vehicles. The building itself was three stories, stucco on the outside with bright yellow plaster molding around the windows and shiny black wrought iron bars across them. It was one of the lower buildings in the area. The small street we were on ran to a larger street where the buildings were eight and ten stories high, and that one ran to a main drag that had apartment complexes that were twenty or thirty floors. We walked along that main street to a wide bridge over a small river. Off to the left there was what looked like one fat turret of a castle standing by itself.
“Is that a castle?” I asked.
Orlando said something, then Carmina said something, and I put two and two together to make out something that sounded partway familiar. “Oro! That’s gold, right? Tower of Gold?” They were enthusiastically supportive of my interpretation of what they said. I never did find out why it was called the Tower of Gold, though.
They led me into the old part of the city. When I say old I mean some of the buildings were actually medieval. And yet still had taverns and restaurants in them, and I don’t mean in some cheesy historical recreation way. They took me to a tapas bar, and introduced me to a bartender. I tried to tell the bartender my name was “Daron” and he said “Dión,” too.
Food and wine flowed freely. Orlando and the rest must have been regulars at this place because many people dropped by the table to say hello. I was introduced as “an American” to some of them and as a guitar player to others. Those two words I heard over and over, Americano, guitarra.
One older woman, her face set with heavy jowls, her hair dyed black and pulled straight back, spoke at some length to Orlando after cursorily meeting me. The woman glanced at me a few times but I couldn’t tell if this was because Orlando was saying something about me or because she really wasn’t listening to what he was blathering on about and looking at the new guy was more interesting.
That night I think we ate everything. Tapas can be sort of endless. The servings are small and there are so many things you can have. Imagine a restaurant with an appetizer menu a hundred items long. It’s about like that. I would eat a lot of meals in that place and in other tapas bars and I swear every dish I tried we had that night. It was an epic night. I lost count of the number of bottles of rioja we drank.
The bartender didn’t, though. He said something to Orlando when we were stumbling out. I found out in the morning what. At the time I was more concerned with getting home and taking care of my last order of business for the night: figuring out the phone number of the apartment. Gabriela wrote it down for me and I called Carynne and left it on her machine, and then curled up on my couch. Even the sound of Orlando and Carmina fucking enthusiastically wasn’t enough to keep me from conking out. I slept quite contentedly until morning.
Okay, by morning I mean the early afternoon when we actually woke up. The couch was pretty comfortable, as they had given me a pillow and a blanket and I’m not a tall person to begin with.
Anyway, Orlando explained, as he washed his face in the kitchen sink a few yards from where I was struggling to sit up, that it would be a good idea today for him and me to go out and make enough to pay back what we’d eaten. I think he said something like this–“Good food, si? We need it. Pay.”–followed by him miming playing a guitar. This was the point when I realized they really, really had no idea who I was. They also didn’t have the concept that tucked away in my guitar case was a credit card with a twenty grand limit. For emergencies.
This didn’t sound like an emergency. This sounded rather like business as usual. I got myself up. They had running water. I had my own towel in my bag because I hadn’t been sure what there would be in Virginia. The place wasn’t in any worse shape than the places Roger and I had lived as students.
We got our guitars, tuned in the living room before we left, and hit the streets. We got strong coffee from a place that served right onto the street out a window. It would have burned a hole through my stomach but there was a kind of roll that went with it, like a sandwich roll, only softer, sweeter… and no sandwich inside. It was good.
We went back into the old section and scoped out the areas around the cathedral, where there were a lot of tourists. Orlando hurried me out of one courtyard and into an alley though, and I assumed he had seen a policeman.
“Is busking legal here?” I asked. I mimed playing. “It’s okay?”
“It’s okay,” he assured me. Then he jerked his head back in the direction we had come. “Gypsies.”
He waved his hand in a gesture I was starting to realize meant “I can’t explain.”
We skirted around an old wall and then around another building that must have been as old as the cathedral. A young woman was walking there with a small bouquet of flowers in her hands, as if she had just picked the flowers herself. When she saw Orlando she frowned suddenly and barked something at him.
We hurried along again then, but a man came out of a side alley and blocked our path. I immediately looked behind us. No one was there. Okay, good, if we had to run for it, we could, I thought.
We didn’t have to run. Orlando and the guy, who didn’t look much older than we were, exchanged angry words, complete with some dramatic hand gestures, ending with Orlando muttering a few sullen things and then pressing past the guy. I followed, trying to mind my own business, though I was trying to guess what that could have been about. Was the woman we saw Orlando’s ex-girlfriend and the guy her protective brother? Did he owe them money? I could only guess.
I followed him through enough winding narrow streets that I would have had trouble backtracking alone. We ended up in a fairly large park, and he set me up in a spot by a fountain, with the clamshell case of the Ovation open to catch money.
He threw a couple of coins into the empty case. You have to do that when you busk, you know. It’s called “salting the basket.” If you don’t put some money in to start with, you won’t get more. I don’t even know who taught me that. Remo probably. Except I never played on the street with him.
Orlando went to find a different spot.
I was hungover, jet lagged, and had no idea where I was, but that really didn’t matter. This I understood. This I could do. Busking was something that came pretty much second nature and two hours went by before I knew it.
Orlando dragged himself back to me at that point, looking somewhat dejected. He brightened when he saw what I had in the case, though.
“How much did you make?” I asked, racking my brain for the textbook-Spanish question words. Who, what, where, why… “Cuantos?”
He showed me his meager take and then tossed it in with mine.
“Really, that’s all? Orlando, that’s pathetic.”
“Look, go get a bottle of water. Agua. Get agua then come back and I’ll show you how to do it.”
He understood the agua part anyway, and took some of the money and went to the snack stand that I could see not too far away. While he was doing that, I picked up everything and moved us closer to the snack stand.
He looked at me, puzzled.
“It’s a much better spot over here. Look. People will sit and listen to the music while they eat their ice cream, and here they have to get out their money anyway, so more change will fall to us. Also, you can hear the guitar better without the fountain right there.”
“Better here?” he asked.
“Yes. Better here.” If he hadn’t understood what I said, he’d see for himself soon enough. I wondered how these things weren’t obvious to him. “Plus with both of us together we’ll attract more of a crowd. Louder.” He was giving me a blank look. I tried fewer words: “Louder is better.”
Of course there was the problem that we didn’t know that many things in common. From the bit we’d played in the airport and in the hotel, I knew we only had a little overlap. But that was all right. This is how you learn new things.
We did a lot better in that spot. I was kind of surprised there wasn’t someone there already, but I would later learn there were so many places to play in this city that they weren’t all full all the time. Also the weather was in the mid-sixties, which some Sevillanos would consider too cold, so we were among the few out that day.
Another factor was a lot of them had gigs at night and didn’t come out until sunset at the earliest. But I didn’t know any of that yet.
And we played so freely with each other. We passed things back and forth. It was the opposite of the way Remo and I played with each other. Remo and I knew each other well. Orlando and I didn’t know each other at all and everything was new and different, and yet it wasn’t because it was still the guitar. More stuff I can’t put into words. Me, Orlando, guitars, music. Sound, music.
We played until it started to get dark, when the park emptied out and the snack stand closed. We had a much more respectable take by that point, and we sat and counted it on one of the stone benches.
“Is it enough?”
“Is enough,” he said, folding the bills and putting them the interior pocket of his jacket and sweeping the coins into a bandana.
He handed me the bandana and I tucked it into a pocket inside my guitar case.
“You good,” he said then.
I looked up from the case and he was giving me that open stare again, like he had when we’d first met in the coffee shop.
“Orlando,” I said. “Are you gay?”
“No,” he answered again, but gestured to me to follow him around the back of the snack stand. I carried both guitars.
Against the concrete wall in the dark he reached into my jeans and I wondered if maybe he had a sort of fetish for handjobs or what. The air was getting chilly, but I didn’t much care about that. What I did care about was getting deported or thrown in jail if the police here didn’t like gays, but when Orlando used his mouth, did I stop him? Hell no.
So it was that I had a streak of his come dried on my boot when we walked into the restaurant where we had been the night before. Orlando undertook some kind of a negotiation with the guy tending bar, who I was beginning to gather was more of a manager or an owner than merely a bartender. That’s how we ended up having a somewhat more modest supper there, with a lot less wine than the night before, and then I played a gig by myself in the courtyard in the back of the place. Which was really amusing, because although I played a tiny bit of spanish-style stuff, it was only a tiny bit, and the rest of the time I went through my usual repertoire of pop and rock. An American couple sat very near me and complained to one another, assuming that I couldn’t understand them, that they didn’t come all the way to Spain to hear Van Halen. Of course, they weren’t clueful enough to realize that “Spanish Fly” was also Van Halen, but whatever. No skin off my nose.
Anyway, that’s how I ended up playing two gigs in one day and got my dick sucked on my first full day in Spain.
(And today’s flamenco-influenced video, Lara y Reyes “El Turco”. It’s audio only because there don’t seem to be too many live videos of them. -d)