La Cronica AburridaCapitulo Dos:
Zap-a-teria y Rejuvenitunitidades
Exhausted for the moment from wandering through room after room of heroic and majestic paintings by Goya, Valesquez, Ribera, Piero della Francesca, Bosch (Bosco), El Greco, and inumerable other Dutch, Flemish, German, Italian and Spanish artists, Lillian and I are sitting in the cafeteria of El Museo de Prado, which is located three floors below the main gallery of the museum, in what appears to be formerly the catacombs. Dos cafes negro con azucar and a couple of small sandwiches of ham and soft cheese help us recuperate and give us energy for the next activities on today's list.
First, a word about the spanish money system. The basis of the currency is the peseta. At the airport, Lillian exhanged $1000 of our traveller's checks for pesetas. The exchange rate there was 138 pesetas per dollar, which makes each peseta worth about 0.078 cents, i.e., less than a penny. However, we walked out of the airport with 138,000 pesetas. Cheap items cost from 100 to 500 pesetas, and expensive items cost 5000 to 20.000 pesetas (they use a dot instead of a comma to mark the divisions). I've noticed in the newspaper, cars and houses selling for 15.000.000 or 135.000.000 pesetas, but I can't get accustomed to the scale, so I'm often wrong by an order of magnitude. It seems odd to have bills in my pocket marked 10.000, and I've got a pocket full of heavy coins in various sizes, with and without holes with denominations of 100, 200, 10, 5, 20. Which one goes in the telephone? And how many does it take to buy a pack of gum? Usually, I just hold out my handfull and let the patron take what is required.
We pay la cuenta for our snack, which totals 1.545 pesetas, leaving a 2000 peseta note and a couple of 25 peseta coins to cover the tip, and head out onto the boulevard toward the center of old Madrid. The dead-center of Madrid is Puerta del Sol, and is exactly marked by an equestrian monument. The monument is surrounded by a circular plaza, which is surmounted by a traffic circle with 10 streets radiating from the center like spokes on a wheel. The traffic circle is bounded by wall of grand old buildings, topped with huge billboards and what look to be gigantic electric signs, which must light up the place like Times Square in the night-time.
Looking around the circle we see lots of cafes, shoe stores, tiny specialty stores, a couple of elegant department stores, record shops, and many jewelry stores. We do a lot of window-shopping and then decide that we should see a movie. We head out from the center of the circle on one of the small winding spokes, walking towards the area of the cinemas, eight blocks away. Our route is indirect, but our meandering shortly brings us to our destination, and now we have to choose between a dozen theatres and twenty films. Some of the films are V.O. (version originales, i.e. english with spanish sub-titles) but most are either spanish language films or american films dubbed in spanish.
Our choices include: Mirage, Basquiat, Oscar Wilde, The full monty (V.O.), Spawn (V.O.), Dos chicas de hoy, Las Ratas, Jerusalen, Afterglow (V.O.) with Julie Christie, L.A. Confidential, In&Out, el celuloide oculto (the celluloid closet), Yo despare Andy Warhol (I shot Andy Warhol), Todos dicen I love you (Everyone says I love you, V.O., Woody Allen) and El Impostor (Liar, with Tim Roth, http://www.isid.es/tripictures).
After some moments of indecision, we pickPerdita Durango, which Lillian had read about in La Cultura, the monthly arts newpaper of Madrid. It's playing at MultiCines Ideal which is a gigantic recently refurbished old movie palace with 800 seats and a 50 x 100 foot screen. We are literally ushered to our seats by a red-jacketed attendant. Each ticket is marked with a specific seat number. We're among the first to be seated and our seats are in the dead-center of the house. We ask if we can sit closer to the screen and are told that later, if the house does not fill up, we can be moved. We decide to sit back and be comfortable, and soon are surrounded by loud-talking and excited madrileanos in their teens and twenties.
Perdita Durango stars Rosie Perez and appears to be a multi-lingual multi-national production, directed by Alex de la Iglesia and produced by Pedro Almodovar. It also stars Screaming Jay Hawkins, whom I had forgotten about completely, having not heard his music or about him for over twenty years. Outside, the film was marked V.O., but as it begins, its obviously dubbed totally into spanish. It's going to be interesting for me to try to figure out exactly what's happening. Perdita Durango is played by Rosie Perez and in a series of intense jump-cut-flash-backs we discover that her brother-in-law has killed her sister in a fit of murderous rage in their trailer, somewhere in Mexico. Perdita (the little lost girl) is hanging out on the border of Mexico and Texas, carrying the ashes of her sister in a large aluminum can, and looking for a place to bury them. She is accosted in a bar by a fat gringo, and after some rapid fire dialog which Lillian transliterates for me, Perdita chases the guy away after offering to do him numerous sexual favors, which he likes the idea of, if he'll help her rob some locals and split the money, which he doesn't like the idea of, at all.
We see Perdita ridding herself of the ashes, and next, she is seduced by Romeo Dolorosa (Javier Bardem, who Lillian and I are both are certain we've seen before, but neither of us can be sure where). Soon, Perdita is riding shot-gun in Romeo's souped up Ford Bronco, while Romeo and one of his compadres rob a bank at gun-point. No one is murdered, but they make off with a bag of thousands of dollars, crossing the border near Nogales, hiding the loot under an indian blanket, topped with a necklace of amulats belonging to Romeo's mother, who, in another series of flash-back-jump-cuts, we learn, is a voodoo priestess. For kicks, Perdita wants to kidnap someone and, she taunts Romeo, kill and eat them. I don't get this part, but Lillian briefs me on what's transpiring. Romeo jumps out and grabs a street wino, but Perdita rejects him, and instead, herself grabs a teenage couple who are just coming out of a movie-palace, both of them pale-white and blonde-headed. They scream, she points a gun at them, and shoves them into the Bronco, which speeds off towards Tuscon, Arizona.
Romeo, having pistol-whipped his robbery compadre and taken all the cash for himself, heads them next to his dead father's ranch, where he, as the leader of a Santeria group, performs ritual sacrifices and ceremonies for big piles of money from the locals, while spinning, screaming, and stirring a huge pot of steaming blood soup, accompanied by Screaming Jay Hawkins, in the background, who also appears to be a voodoo priest.
The teens are prepared for sacrifice, by being covered in white makeup and white chicken feathers pasted all over their naked bodies. In the interegnum, Perdita seduces the boy and Romeo forcibly attempts to rape the girl, while Screaming Jay Hawkins stirs the pot. In the middle of the sacrificial ceremony, just as the girl is about to be tossed into the soup, the ex-comrade of Romeo, bursts onto the scene, shooting the place up, setting fire to the house and barn and immediately chasing everyone out into the night. Perdita grabs the girl, Romeo the boy, while Screaming Jay Hawkins holds of the attackers with a shotgun, but suffers a fatal shot to the head, collapsing to the ground as Perdita, Romeo and the white teens scream down the road in the Bronco, headed for Nogales, again.
In Nogales, Romeo takes a meeting with the chief mexican mafioso and arranges to take delivery for him, of a semi-trailer-load of bottled fetuses which are to be sold to an american cosmetics manufacturer with facial- cream plants in Mexico. Perdita holds the teenagers hostage while dreaming again and again of the death of her sister. At one point in her dreams, we become her, and her late-brother-in-law again storms out of the trailer, having shot her sister and screams at her (us) that it is all her (our) fault, we (she) caused him to do this to her; and then he shoots himself in the mouth, collapsing to the ground and waking Perdita (us) up.
For some reason having to do with close proximity, travelling together, stress and other more nebulous factors, the teens are becoming tolerant and affectionate towards the dark ones. They'd still like to escape their hand-cuffed predicament, but they begin to act nice toward their captors.
One evening while they're all sitting around together, Romeo has a calmer flash-back, filled with fade-ins and fade-outs and chiriscuro lighting. In this one, he sees himself as a small boy sitting on the ground behind a bedsheet-movie-screen that is showing the assembled townsfolk, Gary Cooper and Bert Lancaster, in Vera Cruz. Lancaster is a swarthy mexican bandito, and Cooper is a tall, white, loping law-and-order-man. The film ends with a showdown in the middle of the street where Cooper shoots and kills Lancaster, who dies with a smile on his face that is matched by the one on Romeo, the child, dreaming his way into the movie scene.
In the background of our film has been a short, fat, white, cigar- smoking law-and-order-man who has been shadowing Romeo and is about to arrest him for burglary, border-hopping, false-religion and other bad activities, but, for the moment he waits, wanting to catch Romeo in the act of delivering the truck-load of face-cream ingredients. Romeo is scheduled to do this in Las Vegas, turning the truck over to his cousin, who works directly for the mafioso, El Jefe, who at the moment, is hosting a birthday party at his sprawling desert rancho, for his niece and her friends. El Jefe wears a red-clown's-nose and he and all the adults at the party, as well as all the kids, are carrying or playing with plastic guns, knives and machettes, while listening to Herb Alpert and the Tijuan Brass on the stereo and watching re-runs of Mary Tyler Moore on the television.
Prior to the rendezvous, Romeo has a few more rapid fire flashbacks of his days as a professional wrestler, wearing a white-head-mask, like El Diablo; whom I remember from my tv-infested youth. He also relives a few of his santeria happenings, and so, we have a fuller picture of Romeo, the man, and maybe can indentify with some of his misdirected rage.
Romeo's cousin, meanwhile, has been ordered by El Jefe to kill Romeo during the transfer of fetal-material and money. He is reluctant to do so, but a gun to his head is very convincing. Romeo and Perdita have been playing a lot of games with the Tarot cards and time after time, Romeo draws The Skull and or El Diablo. Death and damnation are stalking him now.
We race to a conclusion. Semi-truck and Bronco head for the warehouse on the outskirts of Las Vegas to make the transfer. The law-man calls in his force using his pocket-mobile phone. Perdita stops the Bronco and sets the teenagers free. They run off into the night, trailing white feathers behind them. Romeo drives the semi into the warehouse. Perdita takes the Bronco around to the back entrance. Law-Man fills the parking lot with cop cars and troops in riot-gear. Romeo and his cousin have a mexican stand-off over the money. Romeo takes the money and walks away. His cousin aims his Israeli-mauser at the back of Romeo's head. Romeo walks without turning around or saying a word. Perdita burst through the back door, shotgun in hand. The cousin shoots Romeo, who collapses to the floor. Perdita shoots the cousin. Law-men blow open the warehouse door with an explosive charge. Law-Man saunters over to the supine body of Romeo, who looks up at him with a Bert Lancaster smile, and the frame literally does a slow dissolve into and then out of the final scene of Vera Cruz.
Perdita has managed to sneak back out the back door in the mele and she walks away, unscathed and into the middle of Las Vegas' main drag. The camera does a long-low-down-to-the-ground-tracking-shot of her as she walks the street, the day-glo signs of Las Vegas filling the sky, flashing multi-colored dream images of wealth and fortune, behind her head, tears running down her cheeks as Screaming Jay Hawkins screams on the sound track, his rendition of "Down so long it looks like up to me". The credits roll and the crowd rises to its feet, en-mass, before we have a chance to see who worked on the film and when and where it was put together.
We follow the crowd back onto the boulevard, and for the moment, Madrid looks and feels everything like Las Vegas, Las Cruses, Nogales, San Diego, San Bernadino, and every other flashing, hot, glimmering city with a spanish sur-name and Madrid for a mother.
As we turn off the main boulevard and back onto one of the winding narrow streets of old Madrid, we see a sign above a cervesateria/ carneceria advertising 'treatmento medico con electrico-technilogico para pelo de cara y los pies'. We look at each other, and decide, what-the-hell. Since turning fifty, I've been bothered by random hairs growing out of my ears, and no amount of picking and plucking seems to keep them from coming back, and I do think they make me look older. Lillian has occassionaly been subject to a few hairs growing on her chin, so we decide to be bold, and pay a visit to 'el doctor' and see if they can rid us of these annoyances. We might return home, changed persons. We climb the stairs, and the doctor's assistant welcomes us into the office. Lillian handles the negotiations, while I make sure were have our tarjeta credito (i.e. Visa) with us. The price, per person, is 10.000 pesetas. A bargain I figure ($10.00 seems like a reasonable price to me). They will use a new laser-treatment, which takes only 10 minutes and according to Lillian's translation, 'lasts a lifetime'.
O.K., let's do it. They sit us down in opposing chairs, exactly like barber chairs, as I remember from my youth in Kenosha. They drape white sheets around us and fasten them in the back, at the neck, with little chains with alligator clips on each end to hold the cloth. First, they daub Lillian's chin and my ears with some astringent ointment, which they then wipe away using alcohol pads. Next using electric razors, they trim the few hairs from Lillian's chin and whatever's growing out of the little pads on my ears. Another dab of alcohol pad cleans us up, again. Next comes the black carbonized material which has to be applied to her chin and my ear pads in order to attract the laser beams deep into the pores of her chin-skin and my ear-lobes. This is applied with what look like popcicle sticks and they use the sticks to work the carbon deep below our skins' surfaces. It doesn't hurt, but it does feel strange, and certainly make us look weird. Lillian looks a bit like Bella Lugosi with a goatee, while I look like one of the Mickey Mouse Club, with large, black ears.
Now they're ready to apply the laser. They're going to do Lillian first, and me next; her idea, not mine. I'm actually feeling brave about this. She just wants to get it over with quickly. They drape a white kerchief over Lillian's face, covering her head and hair, just allowing her chin to protude by itself, looking like a black fist poking out from the white blankets. El doctor, pulls the laser into position, and ZAP!, the beam is aimed at her chin, a puff of smoke wafts to the ceiling, she shreiks, "Aye, carrajo!", and they are done. Now it's my turn.
El doctor's assistant pulls a white mask over my head, completely covering my head and my face. There are tiny slits for my eyes, two holes for my nostrils, and on the side, two other holes where my ears are allowed to protrude. Lillian is laughing, trying to contain herself. El doctor shushes her. I am sweating inside the mask. Now I'm the one who wants this over quickly. I can't quite see myself in the mirror, mainly because my glasses are on the shelf and without them I am "El ciego" (the blind-one). I hear el doctor moving the laser into position; then his assistant stuffs some cotton deep into my ear-holes, to protect them from the beams, I suppose, and now I am "El Sordo" (the deaf-one) as well. My nose is still working, and as he applies the laser-beam to my ears, I can smell the burning flesh and feel the smoke rising from my orejas. It's over in a second.
The assistant has been washing Lillian's chin and now cleans my ears thoroughly as well. I can see and I can hear! I feel a slight tingling around my earlobes, but the assistant cautions me not to touch my ears for the next half-hour. O.K. She's the boss, for the moment. Once we're cleaned off, el doctor, brings a jar of skin cream to each of us and as he applies some to Lillian's chin and more to my ears, he tells us that we should take it with us and use it every day for the next three weeks, morning and night. It is, he says, a very special formula, from a famous american pharmaceutical company, Shearing-Plough, who, I know, have offices and manufacturing plants in Puerto Rico. We drive by the plant every year on our way to Fajardo, to catch to ferry to Vieques. This is a particularly effective rejuvinating cream he says. It is made from essential oils, medicinal plants as well as placental materials. Not only will it help the healing process for our mis-treated pores, but if we rub it all over our hands and face, twice daily, as directed, it will make our skins softer, smoother and more wrinkle-free. All this for $10.00 each. I can hardly believe it. I hand him our Visa card, he processes the claim, I take the receipt and put the card back into my wallet.
Moments later, chin stinging and ears ringing, we are back on the street. We need only find the Metro stop, catch the first train to the Atocha station, where we can pick up the electric-train which will take us away from the city, back to Estacion Aravacas, where we have a short walk down the hill back into Urbanizacion Rosa Luxemburgo.