The Red Butterfly, Part Three – That Is Why You Are Here
I sat at a table to the right of the stage. From this angle, nothing is hidden from view. That is, nothing that mattered to me. The audience members who face the stage directly see the show as it is meant to be seen. A person who is seated to the side or even better, from behind, can see all the little tricks that are not meant to be seen. They are invited into the inner workings of the troupe. The dancers perform to the front of the house, and in doing so, they hide the true essence of what they do. They swirl and spin and gesture grandly, and the audience applaud in approval, ignorant of the little truths. What they are seeing is a facsimile of who these people are. From where I sit, it is as if they are speaking directly to me, with a little wink they say: “Mira amigo, esto es cómo lo hacemos, look friend, this is how we do this.”
I waited patiently as the tablao slowly filled. Manuel Agujetas played through the PA, then gave way, to Cantares by Joan Manuel Serrat.
Nunca persegui la gloria
Ni dejar en la memoria
De los hombres mi cancion
I never pursued glory, nor forget from memory, the men my song. I looked around the tablao to see if anyone noticed; the exiled Catalan singer lived in Mexico and had not visited Spain for many years.
“El Caudillo esta enfermo.”
“What?” I said. I looked over to where the voice came from. An old man sitting at the next table was looking back at me and smiling.
“Que dices?” I asked again.
“I said, it’s because El Caudillo is sick, very sick. Esta enfermo. Do you prefer ingles?”
“Castellano is fine.” I replied in Spanish.
“Ah, I see, an Inglés that speaks Spanish. That’s very rare, are you en Torrejón?”
“No, no estoy con la Fuerza Aérea, I’m not with the airforce.”
“I’m not English either.“
“Well, that’s even better,“ said the old man, “Me llamo Pablo.”
“Y yo, Robert.”
“Robert,” he said, chewing the word around in his mouth. “Robert- Roberto no?”
“I prefer Robert, actually. Roberto is what they called my father.”
“Yes? They called your father Roberto? That is a story to tell.”
“Maybe, but not today, maybe some other time.”
“Very well,“ said Pablo. From the inside pocket of his jacket, he took out a small box of rolling paper, pulled out a sheet and folded it lengthwise, making sure that one end of the fold was shorter than the other. From another pocket he removed an old leather pouch and extracted a very dark tobacco. He pinched the tobacco with his thumb and forefinger, grinding it into the fold he had created in the paper. He repeated the process until he was satisfied with the quantity of tobacco in the crease. He wrapped the short end of the paper over the tobacco, then neatly rolled the longer end, leaving just a small tab, which he licked, and sealed, completing his porro. He twisted one end and stuck it on his lips and lit the other with a match. He leaned back on his chair and took a long satisfied drag from the cigarette, held it, savoring the fresh fragrant tobacco, and exhaled a long plume of smoke. He looked at me and smiled. “I will tell you why it is good that you are not from Torrejón. Those ingléses son perros. They are dogs.”
“I’ve heard that.”
“Yes, they come here for our women. They get drunk, they vomit on the streets, and they take our women. And when a Spanish woman says no, basta, they rape her. Are you here for our women Roberto?”
“No, no I’m not.”
“Why not? are they not beautiful? Do you think they are ugly?”
“No, no, they are beautiful-”
“Then you are here for our women!”
“It’s not that, they are beautiful, but I’m not here for that.”
The old man laughed. “Relax Americano, I am only joking,” he said. “pero de verdad, those from Torrejón son muy malos. They are very bad.”
“What about el Catalan?” I said, changing the subject.
“Ah, yes, el Catalan,” he said, “I saw you. You looked surprised when they played him on the radio and that made me think: ‘Pablo, this man knows something about this country.’ Well, things are changing here is Spain. Maybe ten years ago, you don’t hear Joan Manuel Serrat in Madrid. Maybe twenty years ago, you might get shot for playing him on your record player. Or maybe not.”
“Twenty years ago he would have been too young.”
“Yes, that’s true. Maybe he’s coming of age at the right time. Es de Estilo, it‘s in style now.”
“Do you like him?” I asked.
“Me, no, no me gusta. I prefer el cante jondo de Manuel de los Santos Gallardo, Manolo Caracol, and when I was young, La Niña de los Peines.
“I see, that is why you are here.”
“Sí, es por ello que estoy aquí.”
next chapter: The Red Butterfly, Part Four – Just an American Fantasy
previous chapter: The Red Butterfly, Part Two – El Banderillero
all chapters: The Red Butterfly
more by SERGIO REMON ALVAREZ