When I left the U.S. I sent, a few weeks before my exodus, all my worldly goods packed into three-quarters of a container to Barcelona. I already owned my apartment, the renovation of which was supposed to be much further along than it was. My cat, Shimi Moto, and I slept on a futon, a rather narrow futon, on the floor of the library full of bookless shelves.
Shimi did not much approve of this situation, it was difficult for the two of us to fit on the futon, but she was an amenable cat, much traveled by rail, car and most recently plane, business class with her own seat. She only complained once on the flight. I opened her case so that she could see where she was. She stuck her head out into the cabin. The expression on her face approximated that of a respectable, Westchester matron discovering herself inexplicably transported to a male brothel in Tangier. She recoiled back into the case and did not complain again.
Shimi, I should explain, entered Spain, unintentionally on both our parts, as an illegal alien and remained so until her death some two years ago. It happened this way.
I had all our papers in hand and after I went through passport control looked about for any sign about entering animals. I saw nothing. I approached a young man in uniform, pointed at Shimi’s case saying, “Tengo una gata.” She was after all a female cat. The young man was a bit taken aback by the female form but adjusted himself and asked, “Tienes papeles?” I proffered her papers.
He opened the folder and went through them very thoroughly before turning to me, laying a finger across his lips and with his other hand pointing vehemently at the exit. So out the door into Spain we went and never looked back.
Somehow I had made my way with my lame Spanish through all the necessary labyrinths to get my goods passed by customs on arrival and then arranged through, I think, my superb architect, to pay for the street to be closed in front of my building for two hours so that an elevator platform could come and lift my belongings up to my window on the fifth floor where furniture, rugs and bulky things would enter the apartment over the balcon railing. Belongings in smaller boxes came up in the elevator, all the books, which the men unpacked and rammed any old way onto the shelves so they could take at least those boxes away.
But a few days ago I relived the thrill of standing in the middle of my bookless library watching sofa, after chair, after table rise solemnly up and the men reach out to pull each off the platform before it sank slowly down for the next load.
Only this time I was sitting at my desk as I-beam after I-beam went up swaying gracefully before my window. The street was blocked from all traffic for a specified amount of time, so that the compact little elevator, not in this case a platform but a series of arms and elbows which unfold, can park in the middle of the street, lean another arm against the building to steady itself and lift things up, with the help of a winch, to the roof.
Another event of this week was to see the most up-to-the-minute style in a hat shop window on the edge of Urquinoana. It was a sun-visor with an attached mask and clear plastic face shield. Absolutely au courant and chic.
But the big event, of course, was that Mendi’s the café down stairs opened. You can only sit on the terrace under the trees and there are not a lot of tables but what joy to have a café con leche with a friend while the cat ladies are cleaning out the cat park. It gives me needed distance from demolition noise.
I think they must be hollowing out the old convent to the walls and totally reconstructing it within that shell. Facades are protected in Barcelona; you are not allowed to alter them so often everything but the façade is destroyed before new construction begins.
They are still sending rubble roaring down a chute many times a day; along with drilling there are various tonal levels of pounding going on. This all appears to be happening in the tall, front building.
The little building in the back, which is only two stories high with a curved outside stair up to the second floor where narrow balcons open before tall, arched windows, seems to be, so far, intact. Between these two buildings is a court, which I cannot see into well but what I can glimpse suggests lots of rubble. On my side of that court is a roof, which serves as a bridge between the two-story and the tall.
Two spirited young men leapt happily yelling at each other crossed this bridge that connects the two-story and the tall, went to the rear of the two-story roof where there is a bit of projecting wall, went round the wall and disappeared. I realized for the first time that there must be a stair there. What they ran through used to be the nun’s garden. I had thought the nuns only had access to the roof from that bridge of roof. Interesting what you discover about a building you have never entered during its reconstruction.
By the way, Shimi and I slept on the floor on the futon for, I think, about two months. I remember it took me a week to shelve the books. Shimi spent her days, not unhappily, curled up in one or another of the boxes in what was to become the living room, coming to bed with me at night. After the books I shelved, so to speak, my clothes, in the walk-in closet with the help of a friend from Rome. Then the master bathroom was finished. Then the kitchen. One day Shimi heard the men, cats are acute about sound, moving the bed out of the living room. A furred flash she positioned herself in the hall to see where they were taking HER bed. That was the first time I realized it was HER bed. She watched the operation and surely less than a second after they hefted the mattress onto the bed, it’s a four legged teak, Thai bed with clawed feet, she was on it, washing up with an air of delicious smugness before taking a nap on HER bed.
As anyone who has owned a cat knows, the saying “Dogs have owners but cats have staff,” is one of the unalterable truths. I was most complimented by her belief through cars, trains and planes that finally her staff could be trusted to arrange events so all would be well for her on HER bed.
(Shimi Moto means Cat Motor in Tibetan.)