The crowd was sparse, more like the audience of a smaller venue – a second-rate circus, a blues club, a fairly unloved play. Families were lined up, branding white linen handkerchiefs, waving goodbye to the soul of the soaked, torn and speared animal – wide-eyed, panting, collapsing, muscles straining to the breaking point – and then compulsions to the last breath, only dust, no sound, no bellowing. The upper rows of the snail-shell-shaped auditorium was mostly empty, only the seats of the bottom rows were full, the ones closest to the circular fence and the arena dust floor itself. It was the kind of action you would have to watch up close, within blood splatter proximity, I guess.
Nigel and me had chosen our seats, the weather-torn and static plastic of one of the upper rows, where we could watch but not get to close. He ordered a beer and some crisps from a tired looking man with a tray and a cooler, and I was starting to realize what a terrible, terrible idea this had been. It was my first day in Barcelona, and I was watching a bullfight at The Monumental arena. One bull, the third, refused to die. There was stampeding, turning, chasing, pecking, stabbing and screaming, voices hollering and dark, deep vibrations of caustic pain, wild despair. I looked at Nigel – he was looking unsettled, nauseous, like he’d been holding back visiting the bathroom for an hour, now in a cold sweat. ‘We’re leaving, right? I asked. He nodded and we got up.
Nigel was a nervous and very talkative redhead, with milk-blue skin, freckles sprinkled in abundance, unevenly lowlighting his distinctive, chiseled and unmistakable British features. His eyes were wide, round, slightly bloodshot, and he reminded me of a nocturnal, skittish, sly, curious. He had a passion for music (and Marmite), I would learn – walls paper thin – the constant trumpets, racketing, growling and howling of Tom Waits at all hours. (This was way before I’d ever managed to listen to Tom Waits, when he was still something of a pain and a crazy storyteller to me, this in the setting of a murky, dark and lonely house – painful).
It was my first day in Barcelona, I’d arrived at the cramped, dark three-and-a half-bedroom flat the previous evening, street lights softened by a light mist, people and cars moving in a blurry dimension, wrapped in grey. The neighborhood was quiet, the dark hallways cave-like in the dim light of the night closing in. The faces of the buildings were all drawn in shadows and dust, deep and ashy brown, metal grey, dark and gothic. Every building another shade of brown, charcoal grey, rust and bone. In the bright daylight and humid heat I am thinking of sandcastles, slate and petrified wood.