It is unfortunately no longer possible to take bullfighting as an order of romance any more serious than say, the return of the player piano or the raccoon coat. Like the new bar that just opened on Hudson St. calling itself The Speakeasy, it's just another camp of the 1920s. But the ambience dies hard. To imagine driving to a fiesta along the hot, dusty roads from Barcelona to Cordoba in a big, ancient, hired Rolls with yellow basket-weave side panels with a girl you no longer love is to feel again the old Hemingway Effect -- an out-of-date artifact that had once led me, by routes of the imagination too embarrassing to name here, to marriage, writing and a half-ass part in a war.
None of this is said pour epater les aficionados; certainly, I'm still a sucker for the whole gaudy number myself. Bullfight posters, the strange, ejaculated cries of flamenco singers, that trumpet passage they play in movies when the bull runs into the ring, eating late at night and alone in Spanish restaurants;-- all still make me feel as I did on first reading the Master: how cool to be tense, jaded, desperate and unhappy.
Thinking of the artifices of nostalgia as Maggie Singleton and I sat on the pier at the end of Gansevoort Street on a night I realized marked my first year back in New York, watching the silent ships make it out to Europe and sniffing the salt breezes of a warm spring night, we decided to go to the Running Picador for paella.
A walk first: past the rich people eating lobster dinners on the sidewalk terrace of the Fifth Avenue Hotel... past the Young Marrieds, determinedly buying lousy paintings under the street lamps to take back to the three-and-a-half out in Queens... past the glittering stream of lion tamers, pirates, hoods, Englishmen, movie stars, poets, motorcycle riders, citizens, ingénues, bright young urine-analysts and beards on Eighth St. Then through the park and under the dark, rustling trees, and the young lovers eating cantaloupe on the lawns, and out onto Fever Street, MacDougal Street, and then around taking Sixth Avenue back (stopping often to have our silhouettes drawn on soft copper by "genuine artists"), then west on Greenwich Avenue and into the Picador.
Posters lined the walls, each illustrating another ritual pose of man and bull. The people standing at the bar beside us were speaking Spanish and drinking bourbon. We started with martinis but soon wangled the honest bartender from the straight and narrow six-parts-gin-and-one-part vermouth (lemon peel, please, Pablo) into mixing certain murderers we had heard about. The best was equal parts brandy, vodka and Pernod.
Eddie Fornes, the owner came up to say hello and shake hands. He was very polite; his grandfather had run some millionaire's polo club in Madrid before Franco ran him out. We bought him a drink, and put a slug in the jukebox. Paso dobles began to play, and Eddie had the guy make us a paralyzer he had learned in Spain: champagne, crab-apple juice and vodka. And then they led us, laughing and singing, to our table.
We had paella of course, and something made with hot Spanish sausages and clams. There were chicken livers sautéed in sherry, tureens of shrimp and oysters, veal served still sizzling in wine and in the air, the lovely smell of garlic.
There was wine, first a white one and after that I don't remember. The jukebox played on and on; in the bar, someone laughed. Espresso appeared, cigars came too, and brandy. Maggie said she loved me. I read the roll call of names on the posters above our heads. Jerez... Valencia... Albacete... Cordoba... Madrid... Toledo. I was tense, jaded, desperate, wonderfully happy.
PS: I wrote the above for the Village Voice when drinking was still fun.