Randy Ford Author- EL CONQUISTADOR Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Approaching Madrid, there were many things to see: arches, buildings and great churches; and, just as you approached the city, Segovian Bridge. Across it Carlos went, as he entered favored Madrid. Here, he got caught up in whirlwinds of dust and cesspools of garbage and smell of stench. Incessant traffic, streets filled with carriages, mules and people, it left little room for mistakes. Safety was on his mind. He was also tired, but Carlos couldn’t imagine any place better than this capital of “the Spains.”

Castilian streets were straight. They were open and wide and like Spain encouraged aloofness. Aloof, like the blue, snow-capped Sierra de Guadanama in the distance. No haste. No city had a more lively sense of idleness. And even the King recognized that he couldn’t prevent foreigners from residing in his capitol, or tourist from coming, those who simply came to enjoy an enchanting country and beautiful scenery.

Everyone came out at night. Each and every evening, hundreds of carriages paraded up and down streets, in strict order, amid vast throngs of people. But everyone wasn’t formal. For instance, nocturnal dancing and bathing nude in fountains gained popularity. And noisy behavior of young troublemakers and singing of indecent songs filled the air, disturbing prudes.

Crisscrossing the city, up and down long streets praised for their width and length, Carlos eventually stumbled upon Puerta del Sol. There, on a street corner, gathered the “lunatics,” so called because they proposed visionary projects. Often frivolous and fantastic, they were also filled with ideas about governing and organizing the country. These young people excited themselves. They excited themselves with ideas and had heated discussions about news of the French Revolution. They also glorified Spain’s past and criticized the present. Here, Carlos felt liberated and found companions who talked continuously. They talked continuously, but they smoked as much as they talked. They ate, drank and talked. And they formed a clique that owned a small corner of the plaza and therefore owned a big piece of Madrid.

Life on this street corner was invigorating. Especially so for Carlos, as he assumed a princely posture. Enjoying new status, he indulged in absurdities, which never failed to please people who noticed him. Brazen and swaggering provincials like Carlos were expected to show contempt. They were expected to show contempt and project self-importance. They were supposed to act like people owed them a living. To act the part, Carlos wore a bulky necktie, an embroidered waistcoat, with low-buckled shoes, and a brightly colored coat, which took most of his money. Then whenever he was ridiculed, he felt flattered.

 Sometimes, Carlos invited himself to parties. He crashed parties in the best houses, homes of people who prided themselves on their good taste and impeccable manners. He shocked them with his bad manners and volunteered to play his violin. People accepted him because of his violin playing. It amused them. And he was tolerated because of his violin playing, and he was considered a provincial. He played his violin while they danced the contra and the minuet. He did this with pomposity and disdain and, while snorting, he intended to annoy everyone. Carlos enjoyed his victims’ caustic responses.

In Madrid, there were many young people like Carlos. All shared a code, a code that said they could “dance the fandango on top of anybody,” or “be so breezy as to give a passerby a severe cold.” There he was, with no better example of him than a monocled Captain at an opera, who loudly hums melodies, and regardless of the pitch, hums in the same monotone, and at the conclusion of each aria, applauds loudly, shouting “Bravo, bravo, bonissimo.” Again, Carlos was only tolerated because he was considered a provincial.

Carlos, then in search of glory, searched for an occupation in which he could lose himself.

Carlos gravitated towards adventurers and sailors, many of who recently returned from distant lands with incredible stories. He listened to their stories and took it all in. He heard them talk about treks and odysseys to places he never heard of before. He heard about people that he didn’t know existed, people like pigmies and headhunters but God only knew what was true and what was not. He heard about treasure seekers and men of God conquering new worlds. And some found gold … brought home gold and stories of adventure and gold. He listened to stories about conquistadors, men discovering new lands and looking for gold. Looking for gold, some of them found it.

Conceited, they sought fame and fortune. Opportunistic, there were few Magellans among them. But nothing prepared one for different climates and primitive conditions. Take his dear friend Don Pablo’s experiences in the jungles of the Philippines. For sheer adventure, take a cobra hunt, or an encounter with a caiman, “with enormous jaws, large enough to swallow a man and a canoe.” Or shooting iguanas and bats for dinner, a “savory and delicate meat.” But did they ever mention dysentery or tropical ulcers? No. Obviously they preferred to talk about getting decently drunk.

With stories of dangers and hardship, Carlos should’ve been duly warned. Undaunted and eager, he wasn’t intimidated. If he were intimidated, he wouldn’t have signed on with a ship outward bound for the Far East. In Cadiz, he signed on before the mast with a British ship outward bound for the Far East. At this point in his life, he reveled in naivete and a weird and wonderful sense of bravery and stupidity.

He felt uneasy about the old rotten ship and worried about it withstanding storms, but the old captain reassured him. Unfortunately, the old man didn’t instill confidence. He seemed shaky on his feet and seemed like he had no business running a ship. It also seemed obvious to Carlos that he lost respect and control of his men. He was too loose with them. He needed to be firm to earn their respect. He paid heavily for being too lax, having the opposite of a “taunt hand.” And he was shaky on his feet. He ate and lived alone and rarely left his cabin. He drank alone and was shaky on his feet. He didn’t make a show of himself. Like the ship, he seemed past his prime. Had he known anything about sailing, Carlos would’ve redirected his fears to the crew.

Too drunk to care, with their skins and bladders full of red-eyed gin, laughing sailors brought half-dressed women aboard. They brought half-dressed women aboard, and the captain didn’t care. Normally imprisoned like convicts, the crew made the most of their time in port. They drank and brought women aboard. Carlos wouldn’t understand their behavior until he had been at sea for months himself. With high tide, the boatswain through a speaker’s horn barked orders.

Farewell and adieu to all you ladies of Spain.

Farewell and adieu to you until next time.

Instead of hoist this, this, that or that other sail, the boatswain’s mate yelled only “make sail;” and the crew obliged in sad silence. Then instead of running across the Atlantic toward Veracruz, the ship sailed south, along the coast of North Africa. At the same time, monotony set in.

Randy Ford

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Filed under El Conquistador, Randy’s 2nd Novel

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