Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The South of Spain, When It Was

    So as I unofficially enter the realm of 'Fogey,' those people who remember better times with a combination of happiness and rue, I read about the (almost) collapse of Spain, rescued, we hope, by its neighbors.  And I remember how it was when it was an adventure, rather than an anxious headline in the Financial Times.
    I had been in Paris after graduating from Bryn Mawr, --studying music had been the intention, but ending up singing my songs in the Mars Club on the rue Henri Etienne being the reality, which is a whole other saga.  Realizing that Art Buchwald was never going to come and discover me(for which he was decades later to apologize, sweet, gentle man) I set off to discover Spain.  I was on a rickety train, as they all were, and there was a dashing-- and I use the word advisedly-- man with luminous light eyes wandering the aisles in very tight pants that he could get away with, as he was fashioned for them, and very long pinky fingernails.  He caught the eye of everybody on the train, even those who were not 20 years old and hoping for adventure, causing whispers of "Si, es verdad," as people recognized him.  He was Calerito, El Leon de Cordoba, that city's leading bullfighter, the long fingernails on his little fingers used for sighting the bull, but on this occasion, me.
   Still more than wet behind the ears, and not having yet become disillusioned with Hemingway, I was enchanted when he was, and got off the train as he invited me to see his native city.  We did all the movie things, dinner, wine, watching and maybe dancing the flamenco-- I cannot remember, but I was very bold in those days and I assume I had had a lot of wine.  I stopped short of letting him into my room at the end of the evening, playing it like the good girl I was, deaf to his entreaties even though I understood them because Spanish had been the Romance language of my Oral Exams, which, it being Bryn Mawr, were, of course, written, shutting my door to his "Porque sufrir?" figuring I would deal with it in more hot-blooded fashion the next day, by which time he had disappeared.
    So disappointed and abandoned-- he obviously did not understand the ways of good American girls-- I stayed in Cordoba for a while, talking to everybody and carrying my little Olivetti typewriter, wondering if I was indeed going to be the writer I wanted to be, or continue on as the songwriter I was and I thought was meant to be my creative destiny.  After a few weeks, hot, and tired of white-walled refracted sun and cobblestones, I got on the train and went further South, getting off, I think, at Malaga, finding my way somehow to the then unheralded and mostly unsettled very little town of Torremolinos, that sided a mountain and the sea.  There was nothing there on the main road except one shacky place called the Bar Central, that was owned by Ferdinand Zogbaum, the Third, (really) and his friend from Connecticut, Albert whose last name I can't remember.  But it doesn't matter, because Bill McGivern, a great, charming bull of an American writer, rechristened him 'Friendly Al,' and that was the name that stayed.
    Bill was a big guy, pink, fleshy Irish on his face, and funny wonderful in his soul,  He was very successful, having written detective classics that became movies like "The Big Heat", starring Glenn Ford.  Already looking to be not one of the crowd, even though the crowd might have numbered only six or eight, I moved down into the next little village, Fuengirola, where I had an eight room house, the back doors of the patio opening onto the Meditteranean, for $20 a month, which included a low slung maid in black who walked almost on her knees, whom Bill christened 'Groucho.'
    Bill and his wife, Maureen, who'd written a Catholic classic called 'Seventeenth Summer' had two darling little children, Megan and Patrick, after whom I was later to fashion my own dynamic duo.  The McGiverns were elegant and stylish, both were hard-working writers with committed devotional schedules during the day.  But we all played at night, mostly at the Bar Central, where there were tapas and a blond sherry I can't remember the name of, maybe it was amontillado, though I might be confusing it with a story by Edgar Allen Poe.  Wait, it was Jerez.  There it is.  
    I rented an old upright piano from someplace nearby, as music was still the center of my questing, and noodled on the piano, writing melancholy songs, as I was, still being 20 and having made it through Paris unscathed to my embarrassment, hoping for love.  The McGiverns were housing a dark young American named Dick Lester, who said he had no money, and was supported by everybody as he was bright and likable. He was finally the author of my longed-for deflowering, as I walked into the night with him, and my friend Frederic Jameson from Haverford, later to become an eminent scholar at Duke, so bright he was almost unintelligible, murmured to me "Don't let yourself be used lightly."  But I did and was, and just before, Dick turned off the light and said "I'll try to pretend it's someone I like."  A real prince.
    And, as it turns out, because no one in my life seems to be without an interesting story of their own, he directed "A Hard Day's Night" with the Beatles, and became a prominent director in London where he lost all his hair, which news made me happy. I never saw him again, which made me happy, too, but I was pleased he became somebody, and hoped he pretended he was someone he liked.
    But while he was in Torremolinos everybody fed him and loaned(gave) him money, because he was always saying he didn't have any.  When he left, he drove north to Madrid with another temp resident who had one of those soft canvas tops on her convertible. Somebody cut into it in Seville and stole his suitcase, and he cried "But I had four thousand dollars in there!"  He was not loved in the folklore of ex-pats in the south of Spain.
   Also there was Frank Perry, who was later to direct 'David and Lisa.'  {Years later When my stepbrother, Mickey was institutionalized, after Kathy, the debutante he loved, parents' wouldn't let him marry a Jew, Mickey tried to commit suicide, by cutting his wrists, only on the wrong side.  He fell in love with a woman in the mental hospital he was sent to, and my mother said "Why do they call it David and Lisa.  Why don't they call it Mickey and Shirley?}
    {"They're Puggy's genes," my mother was later to cry when my half-sister Jessica was pronounced a schizophrenic.  Puggy was my step-father, a wonderful man I still think, and you can judge for yourself, by reading The Motherland.  He later left my mother for Kathy, the young woman who had caused his son to cut his wrists.  I used to say I would never have to make anything up, but my beloved friend Joanne Greenberg said I must make it clear when something is a novel, because of all the people who have lied about their memoira.  Shut Up, Memory!  I could call the book, if I were Nabokov.
    But meanwhile, back to the south of Spain, where I was the only one in Fuengirola who could afford to buy a 14 kilo lobster that was caught by the fishermen that morning.  So Groucho commandeered a giant caldron, we put wood underneath it and boiled the water on the beach, cooked the lobster, and everyone came.  Bill brought three bottles of good white wine.  "It's nothing," he said, as he gifted us. "I  just sold a movie to Harry Belafonte." (It was 'Odds Against Tomorrow.')
    I really loved him the best of everyone there.  A really funny, dear man, who drove an old low black Mercedes that they had one of in the fairly dreadful telemovie of Hemingway the other night, that made me remember and miss Bill.  One night the lights went out in the Bar Central,-- this was the late '50s, and Bill said in his cavernous voice, "Eisenhower is dead!"  One of the best laughs of my young life.
    Bill gave a suckling pig party at a restaurant in Toluca Lake where he and Maureen were later to live.  Present were Dick and Betty Dorso, a very fashionable couple in that eras' Hollywood.  Dick was the hero of 'Only You Dick Daring!' a noted book about the TV industry where he had been a heavyweight.  He was later to be the grandfather of Robert Downey, Jr., though I don't know if he lived to have that experience.  It was colorful enough to be the father of Robert Downey and have that intriguing history at CBS.
    The pig was indeed suckling, and it was, like all McGivern occasions, a memorable evening.  They don't make people like that anymore.  Pity.  The south of Spain will never be like that again, either.  I guess there's a reason it's called nostalgia.