A tour of inspection to Simesite’s editorial office

By Morton Bryer (special envoyé from Norwalk)

St. Paddie’s Day in old Madrid! I couldn’t resist the idea of taking a trip to swinging Madrid in late February to soak up some Spanish culture, to gas, gossip and hit some pubs and grubberies with Senor Besas, but more importantly to check out the modus operandi of the editorial office of Simesite. There had been rumors about some irregularities, of how the editor didn’t get to work till 10 or 11 a.m., or how he was wont to stray from the path of total commitment and instead take long walks in the park and sip wine in cafes, or spend hours on the Internet exchanging gossip and questionable political opinions with some of his cronies.

As my plane descended towards the Madrid airport, I glanced out my window and much to my surprise and, frankly speaking, alarm, saw that the ground, as far as I could see, was covered with a layer of snow!  Never thought of Spain, at least the Madrid area, as snow country. Caramba!

My first thought was, “Phew, hope Peter can make it out to the airport.”  He had kindly offered to pick me up, even though I was arriving in the wee hours of the morning, at least “wee” to him, about 9 a.m.

The notion of having to take a cab to the Simesite office, also his home and the former Variety office, depressed me, since he had emphatically warned me on many occasions that Madrid cab drivers were a combo of Al Capone, John Dillinger and worse, a gaggle of Enron corporate execs.  I made my way through passport control and customs, smuggling in a genuine Nathan’s corned beef, which I intended making for a tasty St.Patrick’s Day dinner, cooked with my own dainty paws. I figured it would appease him. Cabbage and spuds to be purchased locally (kind of heavy to lug spuds and a cabbage over from the States, you see).

Peter showed up right on time, despite having lived all those years in Spain. He had fought his way through the white stuff with his little Volkswagen Polo and we split for the Simesite digs. These are in a fairly posh part of town, and I was ushered into a guestroom with clean sheets (so he said) and a bookcase full of back issues of VarietyHe seemed to be taking his Simesite duties seriously.

But then, instead of hunkering down to work on the Site, what does he do but suggest we go and have some drinks followed by lunch?  I asked him if he didn’t have work to perform for the Site, but he shamelessly waved off that suggestion, and true to form for old muggs, we headed off to a local drinkerie. Now in Spain they still pour man-sized drinks, and the waiter will fill up your glass to the rim unless you say “when”. Mr. Besas’s was full to the rim. I, of course, was more modest, since I wanted to keep a clear head in observing his actions.

The drinkerie, in fact, was a café in the city’s main park, in the center of Madrid. He obviously hadn’t realized that this was to have been a serious business meeting, and even brought along his faithful and eternally hungry pooch, Max, who seems to be a cross with a turtle judging from her speed. (Yes, “Max” is a misnomer, since she’s a female he picked up in some dog pound three years ago!).

So there we were, adrinking and apuffing, but not at all discussing Simesite. Moreover, Peter seemed in no great hurry to get back to his computer. All these years in layback Madrid have clearly corrupted him and sapped all initiative. Though the smoke Fascists, or rather smoke-Falangists, have also struck in Spain, you can still light up in many restaurants and most bars without feeling like a criminal. And I mean cigars and pipes. After the unstrenuous jaunt in the park, we went to one of his favorite (and mine) eateries, the Cafe Gijon, where we both gobbled a soup to nuts lunch. The tab came to only 10 Euros ($12) and lit our respective stogies over a cup of java. I must say, it was against my Anglo-Saxon work ethic, and I resisted as best I could, but I slowly started to slip into my host’s lackadaisical lifestyle. I later learned that he spends a good deal of time in this place, instead of striving for success and riches.   Anyway, this two-hour-long lunch then required taking an afternoon snooze back at his place. I, at least, had the excuse of being jet-lagged! Peter then obliged me by turning on Fox News and CNN so I might keep abreast on the day’s happenings. Finally I managed to get him back to his workroom, and we fired off a few e-mails to assorted folks, but I failed to see him knocking out any copy for Simesite.

And so the week went by swiftly. The routine was similar each day, with me ready to work at 7 a.m. and my host dawdling and procrastinating over breakfast until about 11 a.m. When civilized people are having lunch, he’s just about finishing off his breakfast!

One day I knocked off a big pot of that nectar of Hibernia, the corned beef and cabbage,which went over big time.  At least, Senor Besas indicated, “Not bad stuff!”

As for kultcher, well, we did hit an exhibit of old 1950’s photos of  Madrid (no charge, how nice) taken by some Dutch photog. And we did take a gander at the Royal Palace, but from the outside only since my host insisted upon having still one more drink in a café opposite the Palace. He had even brought along his hound. As for the Palace, not a bad pad for the former kings, I thought. What a racket, while it lasted. Nice to be a king if you didn’t run into a revolution or have a Republic pull the carpet from under you.

On Sunday morning we drifted through a stamp and coin show in the Plaza Mayor, and my host, noble soul that he is, purchased a large silver coin with the mugg of a former king on it and gave it to me. Doubtless he was hoping to influence my report on the Simesite operations. This poor 19th century monarch lasted just one year. No, not bumped off, just plain kicked out and sent back to his native Italy.  I think he was dubbed “The Macaroni King” by the locals.

On Oscar night, a group of people showed up at the Simesite digs to catch the Hollywood show. Since direct transmission on Canal Plus didn’t begin until 2.a.m local time, several hours of our “American evening” were first spent attacking an immense number of hot dogs with trimmings, plus assorted beverages ranging from beer to wine. Not a bad pooch, Spanish hot dogs (perritos calientes), large they are and quite tasty. (Actually, Oscar Mayer brand). With one exception, all the guests were Spanish and the gals were all quite good looking. The pooch spread out in the midst of it all on the carpet once she saw that no one was slipping any food her way.

After midnight and as a non-Oscar aficionado, I split for my sack.  Much to my amazement, I learned next morning that a few stalwarts had lasted through the night, though a few nodded off on the couch and easy chairs but then woke again for the finale, at about 5 a.m. My host and I failed to win that Simesite sweepstakes, however he did tie with another guy in a separate cash bet where he correctly guessed eight out of ten categories. Alas, after a nine-day stay, I realized that it was useless trying to hammer the Simesite editorial operations into any kind of American efficiency, such as we’ve done in Iraq, and that it was best to let him continue in his lackadaisical way.

For my last night in Madrid, Senor Besas, generous to a fault, sprang for a great dinner at a famous old line beanery, Las Cuevas de Luis Candelas, located in the bowels of the 17th century Plaza Mayor.  Colorful place it was, famous for its lamb and suckling pig dishes and its waiters dressed up as 19th century highwaymen, such as Luis Candelas had been. The founder of the eaterie was a bullfighter, and there are plenty of taurine mementos all around the place. I opted for the roast baby lamb, but mooched a chunk of roast suckling pig from Besas Jr.  A jolly place, but a bit pricey. I asked to take a gander at the bill, which I swiftly handed back to Peter, a touch of one of Groucho Marx’s scenarios from an old 30’s movie.

Next am, up early, grabbed a cab, trying to fake it as a Spaniard, which worked fine until I got to the airport, when the driver babbled a blast of Spanish and I just handed him a bill and prayed. Worked out fine. I even received some change and off to the Continental check-in counter I went, happy as a pig in mud.  Nine hours later, I was back in bucolic Connecticut, tired but satisfied that I had done my all to improve the Simesite operations in Madrid.