The Germans Chapter 17

 

          Within the expatriate scene there were all kinds of people and cross currents. It was a moveable feast, in Hemingway’s words, a congregation, always changing but balanced and constant in its character because it had a center, La Plaza de Santa Ana, and because everyone was transient to one degree or another.

          The memory of the Spanish Civil War was still painful and World War II was not far in the past. I had a German friend, Hans, who was my age. He lived around the plaza too. His father had sent him to Spain to learn the language for business reasons. We traveled together to Segovia outside of Madrid on my motorcycle to see the Roman aqueduct. We visited Avila, the home of Saint Teresa, one of the “doctors of the church,” one of the greatest saints.

          Hans told me how to say not guilty, “un shuldige” in German, and orders are orders, “befehlt est befehlt”. We laughed like hell nervously about that, acknowledging the horrors of the holocaust and trying to get past it, which is not possible. He was there in Madrid with an older German friend who was studying at the University. That guy would not even meet me to shake my hand because I was an American. These young men had grown up in a Germany flattened by American bombing. They were the sons of Nazis.

          I had another friend, Reynold Eston, who was Jewish from the Bronx and had some mysterious purpose in Madrid. He had graduated from college in the states and hung out with the FBI guy who claimed to be a writer but was actually some kind of a spy. They would occasionally “get lucky” with some middle-aged schoolteachers from the states eager to bone up on their Spanish skills.

          Reynold was a good guy with red hair like me. We saw each other back in New York for a while but my goyisha, non-Jewish, identity made the friendship impossible there. He lived in a big apartment building with his grandparents and they wouldn’t even let me in the house. I tried to fix him up with my sister and he introduced me to a real smart and interesting Jewish girl at a concert in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. We hit it off well. I asked her out but when I showed up at her apartment she came to the door and said her father wouldn’t let her go out with me. The Germans didn’t like me because I was American and the Jews had a problem because I wasn’t Jewish. Oy vey!

 

 

El Cordobez Chapter 16

           During the time I was there Manuel El Cordobez was a rising star, more like a comet. He came from the poorest of the poor and learned to fight bulls as a youngster by jumping the fences at night on ranches where the bulls were raised, taking his chances with an old coat for a cape. His courage was so astounding that he began to attract attention and with every opportunity he proved again that he had great skill and also the biggest pair of balls in all of Spain.

          He was just a year or two older than I and people said we looked alike. It was true to a certain degree. His first fight in Madrid was scheduled while I was there and it was a very big deal. Some of the controllers of the bullfight had tried to keep him from fighting in this greatest of all venues, (Madrid in May, La Feria de San Isidro), because his style wasn’t classic but mostly because he came from a poor background. In those days less than a hundred families controlled all the wealth in Spain and they didn’t like this kind of upstart kid giving the peasants ideas. But he was too good and too exciting and everybody felt it.

          It was impossible to get tickets for the arena but it was on TV. Every bar and café was packed with fans when he strode out into the ring, faced the bull, and made a series of breathtaking passes before getting gored in the groin and rushed to the hospital.

          Many bullfighters have been killed in the ring. In the museum in Ronda, you can see stuffed heads of the famous bulls that killed them. The bulls all have names and there’s a plaque to tell how those bulls fought and won before dying themselves, the meat given to the poor.

          El Cordobez recovered to fight many more times and gain riches and fame. I had heard he played the guitar. One day I went to get my motorcycle, which was getting some mechanical attention, and there he was, coming out of a house on the alley with his guitar. His guitar teacher lived there. I went up to him and asked for his autograph and he signed my passport “Con todo afecto, Manuel El Cordobez”. I still have it.