04 Aug, 2010 | Posted by: bswenson
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AT RADIO MADRID
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THE MADRID VESPA FACTORY
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LEARNING THE SPANISH GUITAR
There I was. It’s a funny feeling.
You’re in a city you’ve never been in before. You’re talking to people you’ve never seen before. You’re wearing clothes you’ve never had on before (except your underwear), and it’s all in a language you hardly understand. And we are sitting there in the vestibule of the national Vespa Club of Spain. We got there an hour early. No one’s around and who should walk in but that bastard, Senor Moreno.
“Well, good evening, my good friends, Rohn and Rudi. I saw the picture of the two of you in the newspaper. Very good, very good, smiling showing his large group of white pearly teeth.
Ugh! I thought myself. That slimy ass-kisser now cuddling up to us. No wonder he’s the manager. He’s brown-nosed his way all the way up to manager of this place.
We’ll, what do we do in a situation like this? Punch him in the nose? Ignore him? Stand up? Sit down. ?
Rudi had it right.
He stood up, saluted Moreno and stuck out his hand and shook hands with the slimy guy. I followed suit. I shook hands with the slimy bastard.
I was learning my first important lesson of public relations when on a world tour. If you want to survive, smile, even if it hurts.
I also learned that with hard-nose bastards like Moreno, you have to look tough, almost like you could snap your finger and two gangsters would come up behind him and stick a knife in his back. No kidding. These kinds of guys are all over the world. You never know when you’re going to meet one that’ll be a roadblock for you. And you’re never quite sure who is one and who isn’t. I guess if you exposed yourself enough to them, like we did, you learn to smell ‘em out.
This is particularly hard for me. I didn’t grow up in a dog-eat-dog environment like Rudi did. I’m kind of a softie by description. I’m trusting as hell. This doesn’t work when you’re meeting new people everyday. But whatdahell. I didn’t have any money to lose, or reputation, or girl friend, -all those things men usually try to be macho about. By the way, I looked that word up, macho. It means manly, virile, arrogant. -I’m not like that. And I guess I’m proving, so far anyway, you don’t have to always be that way if you want to travel on a world trip.
Moreno sat down in a plushy chair next to us. He sat closest to Rudi. You can learn a lot from a guy like Moreno. He sized both of us up. He knew Rudi was the less emotional of us and if he played his cards right he could twist things to even telling the president of the club that he, Moreno, was the guy that arranged for the newspaper reporter to interview us at the Vespa Club. The Law of Probability was on his side. No one would suspect that that wasn’t so. Now, mind you, I didn’t realize all this right there on the scene. It’s just that I’m telling you the kind of things I learned on a trip like this. I began to see a pattern in people. And it just wasn’t in one country; it was everywhere, even in black Africa.
I can’t remember what we talked about. My concentration was more on how I could prevent myself from offending Moreno.
Rudi on the other hand acted as though he had met Moreno for the first time and was unaware of the nasty way Moreno treated us the day before. . He was good at that.
Like that guy that tripped Rudi on the way out of the tavern back in Belgium. Rudi lay there for a split second and then started doing push-ups! Just two or three and then turned and stared at the guy doing a couple more push-ups at the same time, with one arm! And that stare! He gave that guy the stare. I saw it. It was like a couple of zaps that Batman or the Green Hornet could produce.
And then again, I’ve learned since then that if it were important to Rudi for getting where he needed to go, Rudi would’ve gotten up off the floor and bought the guy a beer!
I learned also this about Rudi as we traveled on through France. There were no rounded corners about his diplomacy. He always came straight to the point. He did exactly what needed to be done to smooth out some rough corners on our trip.
Yes, he had principles and he had respect for himself, but if he had to stoop to conquer, so to speak, he always chose stooping. It’s not that he didn’t have any pride or that sort of thing. He knew what to do if you want to survive.
Back to our waiting period with Moreno. How do you ‘small talk’ in a language you can’t speak, and with a guy who almost threw you out of the place you are now sitting? I don’t know, maybe I’ll learn that later on in the trip because Señor Ibarra arrived.
“Hello, Muchachos! I see you made it on time!” Señor Ibarra greeted us, as he entered the club a few minutes late. “Let’s have a drink, and then we’ll head on over to the hotel.
“You sure have a nice club.” I commented to him.
“Yes, motor scooters are very popular in Spain. People here don’t have money to buy cars like they do in your country, so they buy scooters. We don’t get much rain, and besides, they’re very economical.”
“Are they manufactured here in Spain?” Rudi asked.
“Yes, and oh, that reminds me. You fellows are invited to visit the Vespa factory day after tomorrow. Take your scooter down with you and they’ll make any necessary repairs.”
“Well, that’s wonderful!” I commented.
In an hour, we were in the lobby of the Emperador, waiting for the elevator to take us to the top floor to the gala banquet room.
Upstairs we found at least a hundred and fifty people mingling, sipping cocktails and talking motor scooter talk. The visiting club was from Valladolid to the north, a city of a hundred thousand or more and a center of the Castile country. Señor Ibarra introduced us to the President of the Valladolid club, and other dignitaries who were present for the affair. For dinner, we had chicken consommé, vegetables of all kinds, and a juicy steak with a fiery Spanish wine sauce. Pretty fancy for two guys who just 48 hours ago were grateful for a bowl of rice.
Near the end of the meal, the president of the gathering rang a little bell, made a few announcements, and then introduced various personages who were sitting at his table, including us.
“Let’s have a song!” someone shouted.
They had probably read the story about us in the newspaper that morning. We got out the guitars and sang a few examples of songs we had learned in our travels. When the meal was over, we stood around in little groups for a while, and then retired to an adjacent room where an orchestra had begun to play. Señor Ibarra introduced us to some of his friends.
This all felt like I was back in Baltimore. You attend these kinds of things and your face hurts the next day from all the smiling you had to do. But for your career, it pays off.
“And this is José Bermudez. He’s Spain’s most popular radio comedian.” This guy had the twinkle of a clown in his eyes when he spoke to us - - a small, jovial man in his late forties.
“I sure enjoyed that singing, fellows!” he could speak a little English. “How about coming around to visit me at the radio station tomorrow?” he said, handing us his card. “Would you like to see what a Spanish radio station looks like?”
“Sure,” we both answered and then joined him in a drink at the bar that had been set up. He introduced us to other radio people friends.
Señor Ibarra came by, “Checkin’ up on you two. “You enjoying yourselves, boy?” he asked.
“Yes!” Rudi answered. “This isn’t much like the surroundings of a stable we generally know at this hour.
“Ha!” he laughed. “Which do you like better?”
“Give you one guess!” Rudi said.
At two o’clock the crowd began to thin out. “Let’s go have some coffee,” Señor Ibarra suggested.
Out in the street once again, it seemed that the city was living and moving like a noon rush hour. “Why are all these people in the streets at two in the morning?” I asked Señor Ibarra.
“We have a different day here than you have in America,” he began. “In the summer time, our working day begins at ten in the morning. At two in the afternoon we close our shops, have our midday meal, and take a siesta until four-thirty. The working day is over at eight-thirty p.m., which puts the evening meal at nine o’clock and the beginning of nightlife around eleven. So if you go to a movie, or a dance, or just sit around in a café, you can expect your evening to be over around two o’clock!”
“Why so late?” Rudi asked.
“It’s cool! It’s cool!” Senor Ibarra said. “No one likes the heat of midday in Spain in the summertime.”
Our evening was over at 3:00 a.m. After a coffee and a visit to a few cafes, we wearily bid Señor Ibarra buenas noches.
The next day we visited Señor Bermudez at the Radio Station.
“You boys want to take that tour now?” he asked after we were in his office a few minutes.
“Fine, we answered as we went out into the halls lined with studios and engineering booths. The radio station supplied most of Madrid and affiliate stations with everything entertaining over radio.
“Radio’s an important item in the Spanish home.” Señor Bermudez said, “We don’t have television in Spain,” he said as we passed into one of the engineering booths, where a technician was taping a program of some local singers in the adjoining studio.
“Will that program be played later on?” Rudi asked.
“Several times!” Señor Bermudez answered. “Not only here in Madrid, but in Barcelona, Seville, many places, all over Spain.”
“Are they paid for making that tape?” I asked.
“Sure,” Senor Bermudez said.
As we looked into other studios, getting an idea of the technical operations of the place, I got an idea myself.
Rudi and I had sung before- -why not at Radio Madrid- -especially if they paid for entertainment? I didn’t know how to go about asking Señor Bermudez; I hoped I wouldn’t make any blunders. I simply said, “Rudi and I are professional singers. We’ve sung together in Belgium, Holland, and France. How ‘bout if we make a tape for your station?”
Rudi gave me an evil look. He knew I had never sung over a microphone before, and before today, he had never even seen one.
Señor Bermudez paused for a while and then said, “Well, fellows it sounds like a good idea, but I’ll have to talk it over with my superiors, first. How ‘bout coming by tomorrow at this same time, and I’ll let you know their answer?”
I felt a sigh of relief that he didn’t turn the idea down, and also that he didn’t ask us to go into an empty booth and make a test tape that very moment.
We finished our visit and left the studio to return to camping site. As soon as we got outside, Rudi turned to me boiling mad, “Now what the hell did you go and do that for? You know damn well we’re not professional signers. I wouldn’t know the first thing to do when I got in front of a microphone. You’re not going to make a fool out of me in front of those studio people. After the first song they’ll tell us to come back some other day! No, sir! You can go up there tomorrow but you’re not going to get me to go!
“Now wait a minute!” I said. “This is a chance we might have to make some money.”
Rudi was pretty mad. “It doesn’t matter to me. I’ll go out and sweep streets before you get me to make a fool of myself in front of all Spain!”
“Who’s going to make a fool of himself? We didn’t do anything like that in the Rotterdam tavern, where we met, or in Paris, or in the rest of France did we?”
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