by Barbara Wilson
1993, pp. 52-55
“Senor Martinez fell into my Spanish as passionately as into a beloved’s arms. Not that he’d previously been parsimonious (according to Jack) with his ungrammatical English, but his Spanish was a force of nature that now gushed out of his mouth like water from a blocked pipe.
‘And you’re the one who will be my translator?’ he said to me in Spanish. ‘Then please tell Senora Eva that her eyes are as blue as the Mediterranean.’
‘Senior Martinez says he’s dying to try some paprika chicken,’ I said. ‘But I suggested the stuffed carp.’
Eva handed him her menu. ‘Please.’
‘I speak of love, not food.’ He pushed it away and fixed her with a tender look.
‘I can’t persuade him,’ I said. ‘It’s gotta be the chicken.’
The Gypsy musicians had appeared . . . ‘Tell Senor Martinez this is a real Gypsy tune, not for tourists.’
‘I translated and Senor Martinez sighed eloquently, his hand at his heart. ‘The Spanish and the Hungarians are very much alike. We have the wildness and also the sadness, what we call duende. We have both ben conquored peoples, we have the souls of Gypsies and the heads for business. That is why I think I can sell our beautiful bathroom fixtures here. I believe they will be understood. And now you have democracy. Hungary, I salute you!’ He raised his glass. ‘Down with fascism!’
‘What’s he saying?’ asked Eva.
‘He says he wishes the paprika chicken would hurry up. He’s starving!’
But Senor Martinez was a single-minded man when it came to the similarities between Hungary and Spain, and the possibility of a spectacular union, plumbing and otherwise, between them.
‘While the Gypsies made wild music over our shoulders, Senor Martinez outlined a theory of history. ‘Both Christian Spain and Christian Hungary fought agasint the infidel Arabs,’ he said. ‘We stopped the Mohammedans from overrunning Europe.’
‘But surely you must admit, Senor Martinez,’ I corrected him, ‘that the Moors in Spain created a brilliant civilization of poetry, philosophy, gardens. Not only did they have the first lighted, paved streets in Europe, they had the first sewage system in the world. Plumbing. Senor, they had plumbing.’
‘The Reconquista was Spain’s finest moment,’ he disagreed.
‘What’s he saying?’ Eva demanded.
‘He thinks the Turks have gotten a bad rap,’ I said. ‘He says, Really, what’s so bad about a culture that drinks coffee and sits around in bathtubs all day?’
‘The Turkish infidels?’ said Eva, shocked.
‘What does Eva say?’ he asked.
‘She says she wishes these Gypsy musicians would take a hike. They’re starting to remind her of a Luftwaffe raid, except there are no bomb shelters.’
Senor Martinez stared at me a moment and then spoke in laborious English, with a pleading glance at Eva, ‘I am think Senora Reilly is have fun with me.’
‘Oh no, Senor Martinez, you’re wrong about that. Believe me, I’m not having much fun at all.’
Eva whispered, ‘Cassandra, don’t tease the poor man s much. He’s paying for our meal.’
‘Cassandra, you are being just the slightest bit rude, dear.’ Jack smiled wickedly. ‘See? There’s my mother speaking.’