Friday, December 17, 2010

ArtTraveler gets drunk with Irishman spending his last five bucks gambling on serendipity

The streets of Madrid are full of performance artists.(Circa 2007.) Foto by S. van Drake
When you're 23, have only five bucks to your name and resign yourself to no plan B, you wander into one of Hemmingway's old pubs in Madrid on Plaza de Santa Ana:  a long rack with scores of newspapers all sheathed in wooden grippers, all lined up, there to read, in many languages.

Free to use.

A long wooden bar seemed to wind off into infinity. Not really, but it was a curving bar of at least 15 metres. The interior was spacious but sparse.Well lit from within and without. Wooden tables and chairs. People sitting reading, talking, sipping coffee or cognac or wine or whatever, having a tapa or bitufo of this or that.

You could go in here, not buy a damn thing, and like at a public library, spend the day reading, talking with friends. It was a Bohemian center of convergence where people came to talk and to think.

All under Franco's extended nose. And sometimes the conversations died under the din of laughter, the drinking, the joviality and the individual; solace of silence and devotion to focus that merged complexity, hilarity and serenity.

This is where our gang of six or seven came to talk about life in Madrid, at work. And get high. For me work was assistant managing editor at the Spanish Daily News, somewhere across town by underground in a small office in a large non-descript office block.

Our cast included a Phillipino-American photographer, an Irish reporter who had lived most his life in Spain, a managing editor from Australia and me, in charge of Reuters wire copy and making up the paper and putting it to bed late at night (about ll p.m.) with Spanish printers (using hot lead).

Then came fiesta.

The party, however, grew as time ticked beyond midnight and the many oyster bars beckoned.

This all started as a journey into serendipitity and survival.

With five bucks in pesatas in my pocket, I sidled up to the bar, started talking to Sean, the red-headed Irish reporter who made all this possible. His newspaper, the Spanish Daily News, an English language daily paper mainly dedicated to UK and USA and other English-speaking tourists,  had just that day fired their assistant managing editor who was from Nigeria.

What did I know about putting a newspaper together? Sean asked me.. Quite a bit at the time, having edited the area sections of the St. Paul Dispach & Pioneer Press in St. Paul, MN.

OK, now after four or five pints, I was invited to get pissed with the managing editor over dinner the next night. This became an ideal sequence of interviews. I got offered the job.

I started the next day: $200 US cash per month, enough to support a Spanish family of four at that time in Spain. You could buy a tourist menu of the day, a three course meal with ample red wine for the quivalent then of $.50 USD.

Next post you'll learn how Franco and his Minister of Information threatened me with jail for violating one of two sacred rules of self-censorship.

Rock on and practice peace. Check out ArtTraveler's videos:

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM)

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