Getting back to the studio presented problems. I spent half an hour stumbling around, drunk, trying to find where I was meant to put the code in to open the door. In desperation, I banged on various doors but the residents were either dead or, wisely, choosing to ignore el Tontin ingles hammering away at some ungodly hour.
Reader, fear not. I eventually found it and fell into bed, and slept the sleep of the righteous. Not that I am but you get the picture. At midday I awoke, the floor-to-ceiling windows flooding in sunlight. Then I saw what had awoken me. Seven missed calls from the removals firm and a message to say Pawel had claimed Pole position (I know, I’ll get me coat) outside my flat but was blocking the one-way street with parked cars crammed along both sides.
I stumbled into the shower and sallied forth towards my destiny, my new life and my lovely apartment. I had wisely booked a couple of Dutch guys, Pim and Mwenya, via a Facebook group for expats in Valencia, confusingly called Expats in Valencia, to help with the unloading and Pim was waiting patiently for me, also, despite my tardiness. By God, say what you like about the Dutch but they rank second only to the Polish in resourcefulness and carthorse work ethic.
On a side-note, Pim and Mwenya have subsequently become my brothers-in-arms and we have formed the Ruzafa Massive, as have their girlfriends, Louise and Carmen. I am known as Ruzafa Huge, Mwenya is Notorious (his initials are BMG), Pim is Dutch Piet, Carmen is Bizet del Barrio, Bizet for short, and Louise is Streets. I have gone to the trouble of ordering T-Shirts with our names on the back and a clenched fist logo on the front with the legend, Ruzafa Massive – Harder Than You Think. It’s a nod to our gang theme song, by Public Enemy. It’s a fine line between amusement and insanity born of utter boredom.)
Anyhoo, we unloaded the lorry into the cobbled courtyard behind the heavy-duty medieval castle-style wooden doors that is on the ground floor of my finca. It soon filled up but we thoughtfully left a path for other residents to thread their way through. It didn’t mollify one resident, though, an old man in his eighties who came up to me on the street as I was unloading, quivering with rage and flecking loose spittle on to me boat race as he demanded I move everything that minute.
I said, my flat is eight flights of stairs up, I am on it but it will take a while.
At that, he punched me in the face.
I’ll say that again.
At that, he punched me in the face.
When I recovered from the shock, I shouted at him: “Do you want some? But I’ll warn you now, I’ll give you a proper punch and I’ll leave you in the fucking gutter looking at the stars.”
(I like to think that, even when I am threatening violence, my anger has a certain Wildean quality.)
By now, a man who I later learnt was Pedro El Mecánico proceeded in a westerly direction out of the car workshop next door and staged an intervention. He spoke to my neighbour, who would turn out to be Joaquin, and eventually persuaded him to wander off on his mission to the local Mercadona. He then turned to me, and said, “Best to leave it. He is a crazy, angry old man and there is something wrong with his head.”
[Pedro is un buen huevo, before I moved here I had toyed with bringing my mountain bike here so the landlady arranged with him that I could keep it in his workshop and use it whenever I want. That would never happen in Walthamstow. In fact, when I left my car at the local workshop car park over a weekend, somebody slashed two of my tires. Mysteriously, the owner knew nothing about it, the CCTV hadn’t been working over the weekend and perhaps it was someone from the cab firm opposite. Quite why they would object to me parking in his car park, he couldn’t really explain…]
Dutch Piet still chuckles at the memory; before the lockdown he was in stitches trying to recount this anecdote to Notorious, Streets and Bizet Del Barrio in Backstage on Literat Azorín one night where we were downing jugs of Agua Valencia.
[I am indebted to the Oh, The Things We’ll Make site both for the recipe and the following fascinating nugget:
In the book Valencia, Noche, by María Ángeles Arazo, the story of its origin is told. In the story, it’s said that some Basque visitors were at the Café Madrid in Valencia one night. They had been ordering cava, calling it “Agua de Bilbao” (water of Bilbao). Sick of always ordering the same drink, they challenged Constante to come up with something new. He offered them “Agua de Valencia” instead. He made it by adding a glass of orange juice and a shot of vodka and one of gin to the pitcher with the bottle of cava. They loved the resulting cocktail so much that they came back and ordered it on future visits. Eventually, it caught on, not only at the Café Madrid, but at other nearby cafés and bars. It is also said that Constante tried to register his cocktail officially. He was denied the registration because it was said that the name was too generic for a trademark.]
And here is something incredible. I did not know who my landlady was, I did all my dealings with the agency. Ten minutes later, a car pulled up and a lady of advanced years, elegant and simpática, stepped out. She spoke in Spanish and said (don’t worry, I shall translate): “Eugenio, soy Pilar, la dueña. I am so sorry about this, I am livid and mortified. My brother is crazy, I worry that he has a brain tumour that makes him act thus. Two neighbours rang, as well as Pedro, they are all happy to give witness statements. Would you like me to call the police?”
I said that it would not be necessary, that the situation had defused – and diffused – itself, and I, for my part, was sorry that I had threatened an old man with physical violence.
She said, “Oh, don’t worry about that, I and my sister also do that. Regularly.”
Turns out that Pilar, her sister Amparo and Joaquin all have flats in la finca, one above the other, but Pilar and her husband live in the city centre, and had decided to “reform” the flat to rent it out. Her grandfather built la finca, and each of them inherited a flat, though the building is now a maze of apartments owned by others, with una presidenta allegedly acting as freeholder, though no one ever seems to hear from her.
Pilar is, quite simply, the best landlady in the world and is part of the constellation of angels that have replaced the confederacy of dunces I fled London to get away from. More of her later. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. But I am a little bit in love...
So back to the courtyard that now resembled a hoarder’s home where it takes the police some weeks to track down the putrid smell that neighbours have been complaining about. Dutch Piet had to go off to the daily football training session that is his main gig, but promised to return with Notorious the following day to help re-assemble my furniture. Heroes, the pair of them.
I wasn’t too worried, though I should have been. Jorge’s boss who owns the estate agent’s is Inma. She is a force of nature that reminds me of a Marianne Faithfull type of character, with tight leather trousers, leather high-heeled boots and a tasselled suede jacket that she teams with cheesecloth shirts and hippy bead necklaces (left). She lives on nervous energy, cigarettes and lots of coffee. She has been an angel to me; here she is (below) when we went out for lunch before El Encierro, or "Clampdown" as I call it, in a tribute to my beloved the Clash.
Inma had arranged for a couple of removals guys to come and help. They were supposed to come at midday; they tried to cancel but after a furious call from Inma, they finally begrudgingly turned up at 5pm in T-shirts with the company name emblazoned on their T-shirts, promising far more than they would deliver.
In fairness, they worked *quite* hard but really only brought up the loose stuff – bags of clothes, kitchen shit, you get the picture. After three hours, they said, “Bastante, nosotros estamos en huelga.” (“Enough, now we are on strike”. Insert your own stereotype…) All my furniture was still in the courtyard, and I was beginning to fear for old Joaquin’s ticker, though in fairness he probably felt the same way about me. They had quoted €20 per hour, but that turned out to be per person; even so, he said, actually, there was more to be done than we had anticipated, it’s 25 so that’s €150. Cash, please.
Nothing else to be done at 8pm, so I handed over a wheelbarrow of sausage and mash and thought, fuck this shit. And went to meet the Dutch posse in a charming bar in Ruzafa I had spotted the night before, La Bella de Cadiz (it’s on Calle de Cadiz. Yeah, I know, I found it confusing at first, I thought my Google Maps had really fucked up and I had relocated to a city a good 12-hour drive away…)
Outside, La Bella proves to be a mannequin dressed in a gorgeous vintage red frock. Inside, they channel what my dad would call antique-shop chic, what my mum would call “rotten oul dusty junk-shop style” and what I politely call “intriguing retro chic with more stories than you can shake a stick at”.
[That puts me in mind of when Churchill was encouraged to redraft a memo by creating a subordinate clause to avoid the solecism of ending with a preposition, he replied, saying something like, “This is the sort of English up with which I shall not put.” SUBS PLS CHK. The liberating thing about writing for fun is you don’t have to fact-check anything. I might switch to this as a career. Whatever my accountant says.]
Long story short, they serve Agua de Valencia by the pint and lovely Jorge came and joined us. We stopped off at Los Cuatro Monos on our way home since they are open until 3am. The bar manager is Carlos – whom I immediately renamed‘Carlito’. My State-appointed NHS psychotherapist once asked me, “Why do you feel you have to change everyone’s name, Eugene? Is it to somehow own them?” Her name is Ella and her surname begins with G, so I wittily replied, “Dunno, Elegy?” How we didn’t chuckle.
Anyway, Los Cuatro Monos is my kinda place. Full of wrong ’uns, the battered and bruised detritus of humanity, and also Carlito looks like my Walthamstow pal, Will Harding, which is A Good Thing. Plus he is a lovely man. Every time I walk past, he runs out, kisses me on both cheeks and always gives me a drink on the house.
The bar is right by Mercat de Ruzafa, a glorious art-deco edifice that puts me in mind of the glorious Hoover building on the A40 in Perivale, Ealing (I happen to have been born in the Perivale Maternity Hospital, so you can understand my dismay when they turned it into a Tesco Fucking Superstore. One time I was giving a lift to an Italian girl named Eularia out to the Cotswolds for a friends’s wedding, and I told her of my love for this building. She said, earnestly, in heavily accented English, “Yes, many people have a love for this Fascist phase of architectural styles.” I don’t think we spoke again until we were past High Wycombe. I didn’t give her a lift back to London, that is all I am prepared to say on the matter..]
Anyway, I am rambling now. I don’t mean, Janet Street-Porter-style, marching all over ancestral estates and insisting upon her legally entrenched right to march through people’s hallways because she has a 17th-century ‘Rights of Way’ map that says she can, obv. I have a great story about JSP ringing me to tell me I was “a fucking little wanker” in her Plumstead accent, which is odd since she was born in my old stomping ground of Brentford, grew up in Fulham and went to Lady Margaret Grammar School for Girls in super-posh Parsons Green. Still, strangulated vowels are Her Thing, yo supongo. Thank God I changed my number some years ago. Might be time to do it again.
Anyway, eventually I made it home, ascending the 81 steps without Sherpa Tenzing (got a funny story about Edmund Hillary an’ all) and went to sleep on the floor (furniture all in courtyard, do keep up, Bond).
I had successfully negotiated Day Two, largely through the use of self-medication. I was falling in love with my new barrio…