After finishing a draft of a novel about the wine business in Russia, David sent it out to various publishers in the States, who all turned it down, but a publisher in Spain accepted it, and immediately had it translated and printed. He invited David to tour in Spain to promote the novel.
David took his brief trip to Spain as an education in refined corruption. Who, among those who still had a healthy liver and some curiosity in his mind, wouldn’t? For some reason, David had never made it to Spain before that.
David had met a Croatian exile, who had—once he’d escaped from Tito’s camps—worked as Franco’s gynecologist, supervising the elite bordellos in Madrid. Upon first arriving in Spain, David related this to his editor, Pedro, who said, “This would make a fine title for a novel, ‘Franco’s Gynecologist.’” Pedro, impeccably dressed in a blue shirt and fine, crimson-leather shoes, smoked a cigarette, drank gin and tonic, and had a mischievous glint in his eyes that suggested he enjoyed anything absurd and humorous and slightly strange. No wonder he likes my work, thought David, as he looked at his Spanish literary patron saint. It’s a bad sign for anybody to like my work, he thought. David was trying to quit drinking, to devote his brain and liver to sobriety and writing, but in Spain he would still make an exception, with the classic prayer from Saint Augustine: God, make me chaste, but not yet. Or maybe one could adapt the prayer to different regions: God, make me chaste in America but, God, not in Spain, please!
David and Pedro arrived in Valencia in the early evening, with the sky still blue and the lights of the city bouncing off the buildings. Right next to the train station was a redbrick bullfighting stadium. Beyond the palm trees, David had an impression that he was seeing an Arab city, reminiscent of Algiers.
On the way to their hotel, the Astoria Palace, they noticed Bel Horizonte, a nightclub. Before dinner, on his hotel-room TV, David watched the return of Bhutto to Pakistan. She declared that to err is human, and that she was human and she erred but hopefully she learned from her mistakes. Why hopefully? David wondered. [End Page 306] Either she did or didn’t. In other words, she wasn’t sure she wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of thieving and corruption? Or maybe that was a misplaced hopefully.
Soon, Pedro and David were out in the streets, looking for a fish restaurant. One remarkable thing about Valencia and Spain in general, to David, was that there weren’t any children in the streets, and the average age looked to be old.
There was a fish restaurant on a narrow, white-stone street, Civerno. Pedro recommended Atlantic swordfish and, for an appetizer, some jamón, cured better than Italian prosciutto. And for red wine, not Rioja, but Ribera del Duero. The octopus with tomato in olive oil, steamed, was quite soft and it reminded David of well-prepared mushrooms, the best cepes or King boletes, such as he used to gather in the forests of Slovenia’s lower ranges, near Maribor. The jamón was covered with something that looked like jellyfish but was jelled lily-petal juice.
The swordfish flesh looked like a section of a pine tree, with linear circles around the spine. Maybe the fish got more fat for the winter to deal with colder waters, or it migrated to the colder waters regularly. If it weren’t for people, this fish would be top of the food chain, and until several decades ago, when people decided swordfish was edible, it was.
After the meal, David and Pedro walked back through side streets, and although the streets were angled, it was easy to guess the general direction of the hotel. They were in the street where Bel Horizonte blinked its neon blue against the white walls.
“I see where you are navigating,” said Pedro. “Good thinking.”
“Yes, with the wrong head perhaps.”
“You want to go in? I’m not going...