So when Giovanni emailed to ask what would be a good place to go hear some live music I knew that no one else would be coming with us.
First, I met up with him at El Imperfecto, the bar I have been wanting to check out since Alexander and I passed by there weeks before. We had been looking for dinner so kept on moving because the bar offered only drinks and dessert. “Muy ricas,” the enthusiastic waitress had said of the bar’s mojitos. Everything about its presentation had attracted me: from the dark front window bordered with sparkling lights to the leaves festooning the door above which “El Imperfecto” stood out in serif-heavy, unevenly spaced letters.
I loved that I could walk there in three minutes from my house, and that on November 18th it was still possible to sit on the terrazza.
Giovanni talked a lot at first. I liked that too, especially because he was relating the interesting story of a blogger he had read about called Belle du Jour, biology Ph.D. candidate by day, call girl by night. As I listened with amusement I noted his darting eyes, his shifting knees. Previously I had seen him more at ease than this, a fact which may have added to my entertainment.
At length we entered the bar because no one had appeared to take our order. The somewhat warmer indoor air felt welcome, and the deep mellow acid-jazzy neo-soul made me unable to resist dancing on my own for a minute before claiming my seat. We sat on either side of a low table. A diminutive leather-look cube flanked it on one side, opposite a banquette on which rested plastic-upholstered cushions in green and orange. Strange things hung from the ceiling, like puppets on swings wreathed in winking lights. All manner of photographs and posters graced the purple walls. Behind the bar the commonly-seen white comic-book outline of a woman’s head floated above a coffee cup on a ground of red. Along the bottom ran the words, “Drink coffee. You can sleep when you’re dead.”
“I’m glad you suggested this place because I never would have come here on my own,” Giovanni said.
“Well, I would think it kitchy.”
“The mojito’s good,” I pointed out.
“Really? Don’t you think it tastes like Aquarius?” he asked, referring to a local brand of lemon-lime soft drink.
“Actually, you’re right. There is hardly any alcohol in it. What’s the point of that?”
“Well, it’s nine-thirty. Should we go?”
“Let’s,” I agreed. “The band doesn’t start till ten but it might be hard to get a good seat.”
We reached Cafe Central, which hosts live music night of the week, after a short jaunt up the top of Calle Huertas. Cafe Central faces the famous Hotel ME, that gleaming white cruise ship run aground at the juncture of plazas Santa Ana and Angel, where it throws its wash of purple light up to the sky. Its beams staged a half-hearted invasion of the small art-deco jazz club but could not match Cafe Central’s dazzling gold rimmed bar, red leather banquettes, elaborately framed mirrors and marble floor.
Giovanni and I were shown to the last available table, adjacent to the stage. OK, most of the tables were somehow or adjacent to the stage, but we got the last one and therefore did not have to sit in the rows of oval-backed chairs placed in front of the bar.
We ordered dinner and Giovanni chose a bottle of wine after I deferred to his better judgment.
The band, a bass-drums-piano outfit, launched their first set with “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” Thrilled to hear the familiar melody, I twisted my body in the red leather banquette, resting my arm on the dark wood at its top. The pianist sat with his back to me, inches away. His long brown braid swayed and bounced as he interpreted the old Ellington standard with plenty of eloquence but no unnecessary flash. Some exceptional musicians give an unruffled appearance as they pull out unbelievable tricks of technique and expression, and others use a lot of physical movement. I find both styles equally impressive and engaging. Our pianist here, of course, belonged to the latter camp.
And I imagine he had the luxury to use his chops to their fullest extent, because the bass and drums were solid, alternately driving and laying back, filling and fluting the edges of that wonderful swervy gray space we call the beat, all the while holding it so tightly knit together that you could feel it, independent, in the air: a bird beating its wings in perfect time.
Oh, for someone to dance with.
I untwisted and cast a glance at the broad checkered floor in black and white marble. Most of it held seats with people in them, but at its heart a small oval space remained. If Kendall were here he would dance with me. Hardly anyone else would, in an area so exposed. Olivier might if I asked him. I decided to send him a text. Before I met up with Giovanni I had had dance practice, and the French boy might have stayed downtown for a while before going back to his apartment in the suburbs. (It was a horribly boring area, but at least he didn’t live with his mom like most Spanish men under 40.)
Before twisting again to look at the band I caught Giovanni’s eye and leaned forward. “What virtuosity,” I said.
“And style.” He smiled. OK, maybe I couldn’t dance right now, but at least I was on a date with someone who appreciated good music and good musicians.
I got up, scraped an empty chair from a nearby table, and sat down next to him. “This is farther from the band but at least I can see them,” I explained.
“I love their music. Thanks for suggesting this place,” he answered. He refilled my wine glass.
I looked at my phone. Olivier had already returned to Boringville. Drat.
The Greeks came in during the break between sets. There must have been a whole tour bus of them, pouring through the beveled glass front door and surrounding me and Giovanni. About three plump ladies squeezed into the spot I had occupied at the beginning of the show. “Hello, hello!” they shouted at us. Their English was not great but their Spanish was worse, as I noticed when they leaned sideways toward the waiter, the better to watch one another for cues, emitting hesitant shouts to communicate their choices. Strangely, I had never experienced such a profound language barrier at close range and it surprised me more than it should have that not only would they understand little of what I might tell them in English, I could not even fall back on the few Spanish words at my disposal.