Far below, in the square, a busker has started playing alto sax, a tone-deaf cover version of "Roxanne," loud enough for me to have to close the doors of the balcony and switch on the hotel TV. Heres whats on: a dubbed Brazilian soap opera starring a middle-aged actress with a bad nose job; a press conference with the governments interior minister, Félix Maldonado; a Spanish version of the British show Trisha, in which an audience of Franco-era madrileños are staring open-mouthed at a quartet of transvestite strippers lined up on stools along a bright orange stage; a rerun on Eurosport of Germany winning the 1990 World Cup; Christina Aguilera saying that she "really, really" respects one of her colleagues "as an artist" and is "just waiting for the right script to come along"; a CNN reporter standing on a balcony in Kuwait City being patronizing about "ordinary Iraqis"; and BBC World, where the anchorman looks about twentyfive and never fluffs a line. I stick with that, if only for a glimpse of the old country, for low gray skies and the stiff upper lip. At the same time I boot up the laptop and download some e-mails. There are seventeen in all, spread over four accounts, but only two that are of interest.
Subject: Basque visit
Re: our conversation the other day. If any situation encapsulates the petty small-mindedness of the Basque problem, its the controversy surrounding poor Ainhoa Cantalapiedra, the rather pretty pizza waitress who has won Operación Triunfo. Have you been watching it? Spains answer to Fame Academy. The wife and I were addicted.
As you may or may not know, Miss Cantalapiedra is a Basque, which has led to accusations that the result was fixed. The (ex) leader of Batasuna has accused Aznars lot of rigging the vote so that a Basque would represent Spain at the Eurovision Song Contest. Have you ever heard such nonsense? Theres a rather good piece about it in todays El Mundo.
Speaking of the Basque country, would you be available to go to San Sebastián early next week to meet officials in various guises with a view to firming up the current state of affairs? Endiom has a new client, Spanish-based, looking into viability of a car operation, but rather cold feet politically.
Will explain more when I get back this w/e.
All the very best
I click "Reply":
Subject: Re: Basque visit
No problem. Ill give you a call about this at the weekend. Im off to the cinema now and then to dinner with friends.
I didnt watch Operación Triunfo. Would rather cook a five-course dinner for Osama bin Ladenwith wines. But your e-mail reminded me of a similar story, equally ridiculous in terms of the stand-off between Madrid and the separatists. Apparently theres a former ETA commander languishing in prison taking a degree in psychology to help pass the time. His exam resultsand those of several of his former comradeshave been off the charts, prompting Aznar to suggest that theyve either been cheating or that the examiners are too scared to give them anything less than 90%.
All the best
The second e-mail comes through on AOL.
Subject: Coming to Madrid
As expected, Heloise has now kicked me out of the house. The house that I paid for. Logic?
So Im booked on the Friday easyJet. It lands at 5:15 in Madrid and I might have to stick around for a bit. Hope thats OK. Ive taken three weeks off work to clear my head. Could go to Cádiz as well to stay with a mate down there.
Excerpted from Spanish Game by Charles Cumming. Copyright © 2008 by Charles Cumming. Excerpted by permission of St Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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