I found a piece of wet cardboard on a miserable plot of grass in front of Fuente de la Mora. The place didn’t challenge to inspire. You have to leave before you end up like the man in ragged clothes asking change to law abiding citizens who are waiting for the traffic light to turn green to continue their venture to wherever their routine is taking them.
On the wet cardboard I wrote ‘Burgos’ in big bold letters. I even left some space to add a smiley face, as to say: ‘I mean no harm. I am a smiling man. Even on paper.’
Over an hour later I was still standing in front of the depressing train station faking a big smile to drivers who I couldn’t identify because of the reflection on the windshield. I smiled anyway. I had learned always to smile towards the driver’s seat. When the cars came closer I could look inside the car and smiled even more sincere. What I got in return was grumpy looks. If I was lucky I got an index finger that was making the movement of a metronome. I decided to draw a little sun around the smiley face. That must have been the problem the entire time. My smiley was not warm enough.
Another hour later I drew more maniacal smiley faces and added some colour to the dried cardboard. Five minutes later I wrote ‘Fuck This’ in bold letters on the other side and threw the cardboard back on the grass where i found it and took a train back to Madrid.
The previous day I passed a bookstore that said: books and booze. Desperate Literature. That was everything I needed at that moment. I think I need that most of the time. It was closed for siesta so I waited half an hour in the sun on the concrete steps towards Calle Veneras.
A guy pushed up the rolling doors and I watched him putting flowers outside and hanging two small book cases on both sides of the entrance. When he finished I walked towards the shop. My backpack was filling up the bookstore for 20 percent. I asked if I could leave the bag somewhere and the bookseller looked around and randomly pointed at a place that was just as inconvenient as any other place.
I walked around and looked for no book in particular. I needed a friend in this new city, and thought a bookseller might be a good start. So I tried something like: ‘nice bookshop.’ and before letting him thank for this average compliment, I continued: ‘I graduated on bookstores like yours. Yes it’s true.’ I felt stupid, but at least we had a conversation going. We talked about literature and book marketing and Madrid. When it was mutual understood that there was nothing left to converse about I put my backpack on and went to my hostel, he asked: ‘I didn’t even give you a proper tour yet.’ I looked around the 15m2 and frowned, he meant that he hadn’t sold me a book yet. I had been walking around the shop and fell over my own bag a couple of times. But sure. ‘A shot of whisky is handed out by the purchase of a book on this shelve.’ I was tempted, but had already read all the books on the shelve.
My eyes fell on the travel and food section. I explained that I was a traveling pancake chef. ‘that explains the frying pan.’ He said. I decided to buy Anthony Bourdain’s bestseller. The bookseller, who I now know was called Terry, said: ‘if you make pancakes tomorrow you can stay the night in the bookshop.’
I thanked him and added that I had to wake up early to go hitchhiking back to Amsterdam. ‘No problem, another time, maybe.’
‘Yes, another time.’ I repeated almost dramatically. I printed the view of the bookshop in my mind and imagined myself sleeping among all my literary heroes. I wish I wasn’t in such a hurry.
Fortunately my hitchhike adventure failed and I booked a plane ticket to Amsterdam for the next day. In the bookstore I hoped to get some desperate literature and a shot of whiskey. I needed this place more than I needed it the day before. I arrived again with my backpack and frying pan.
Terry wasn’t there. Now there was a younger guy who looked like (and was) a English poet. He seemed fluent in Spanish, which is to admire of a native English speaker. I told him how I had agreed with Terry that maybe a next time I could make pancakes in return for a bed in the bookstore, and that ‘maybe a next time’ was now. The poetic looking bookseller put his long blond hair behind his ear and said that he couldn’t refuse such a deal.
He showed me through a narrow door to the back of the shop where I could put my bag. Next to the door was a comic edition of Narnia. This must be a secret door. I thought by myself. Behind the door was a small kitchen, a bathroom and Rob’s bedroom. Just the place a poet belongs.
We made a big pile of pancakes. Rob invited Charlotte, the other bookseller and Christina a regular customer. There was not enough people to finish all the pancakes. So we decided to take them to the street to hand them to the homeless. They didn’t want any. They just wanted to talk to someone. So we talked with the homeless and fed the young club promoters. Rob was holding a knife in one hand and toilet paper in the other assuring people that if the pancakes wouldn’t kill them, the knife would. Christina grabbed the plate of pancakes from my hands and was eager to hand out pancakes to everyone, even when they refused.
Of everyone on the entire scene, the two heroes who were handing out the pancakes enjoyed it the most. “Thanks so much for this opportunity.” Rob said, “I had such a good time, giving these pancakes.”
I didn’t really get what they were so thankful about, since it was their effort and joy that created the whole experience. It made me extremely humble.
Back at Desperate Literature I put a mattress on the Persian rug. At my head were Hemingway and Bukowksi looking down on me, on the left was Henry Miller to ease my lonely night and on my right a collection of obscure French pornographic literature that haunted me in my dreams. I fell asleep with a smile that no tearjerker could erase.