My grandmother Carmen used to say – a beautiful old woman whom the Alpujarreña had called the Queen in her youth – that the best way to grow was to let herself be dragged by the imagination, and to that end she helped my brother and me telling stories about The table stretcher. They were the years when television had not yet arrived in Spain and, at night, we listened on the radio to the Argentine comedian Pepe Iglesias el Zorro. Our house was on the outskirts of Granada, so to the limit that a hundred meters further was the Andalusian countryside. In the hall, on the right, there was a small room, pompously called “the cabinet”, with upholstered chairs in scarlet velvet and an imprecise-style piece of furniture whose shelves glittered treasures of all colors: they were books. Once I was able to read fluently, I began to pass the clearest of my vigils immersed in those strange worlds and I verified the truth of my grandmother’s reasons, since, indeed, I continued to grow incessantly, as the signs showed every six months they immortalized my successive stretches in the kitchen door frame.
I do not know what would be the first book that I managed to get my teeth in completely, but there is one that left a deep impression on me: it had green covers, golden letters on the spine and a suggestive title: The Innocents of Paris by Gilbert Cesbron. In it I shared the cuitas of a band of gamins of modest origin -Cipriano, Milord, Vévu and El Pequeno- who faced a group of rich children from Monceau Park. I walked with them on Trois-Novembre Street and Ville de Bois Avenue, stroked his cat, called Monsieur Popoff, and crossed the Seine with a heavy heart in the direction of Claude Bernard Hospital, where one of those friends of mine, almost as palpable as those of reality, died on the last page and, without realizing it, the novel provoked in me that infinite love for France that has never abandoned me.
A good treasure chest must necessarily keep jewelry of different fur. The cabinet cabinet was heterogeneous like Ali Baba’s cave. There was the collection of El Coyote, by José Mallorquí (The brand of El Cobra was the novel that I liked the most), Dombey and son of Dickens, Memories of the house of the dead of Dostoyevsky, The search for Baroja, Our Lady of Paris de Hugo, fourteen adventures of Tarzan of the monkeys, Werther, Lazarillo de Tormes, Flower of legends of Alejandro Rodríguez «Casona», Espronceda, Bécquer, Quevedo and many other things.
I kept reading. I lost my grandmother, but there was no way to stop. It was shortly thereafter when I discovered Don Quixote, and in Cide Hamete Benengeli I thought I could see the fountain where one day, if I could work hard, I could secretly drink.
Life, however, makes one take unexpected steps: I ended up taking a path that has little or nothing to do with writing and that, perhaps because of that, I abandoned without regret. A bride broke my heart, another recomposed me, I left my hometown without a return ticket and chose the nomad’s fate, but always with a novel under my arm.
The books serve not only to grow, but to continue growing and, therefore, it would not be fair to forget in this hurried census to the writers of the boom or to some Americans that I admire, from Faulkner to Richard Ford.
Many years later I recovered The innocents of Paris at my parents’ house. It is an edition of the then incipient Editorial Planeta, sealed in July 1954. I have not read it again, nor will I ever do it, for fear of disappointment. I don’t know what could have happened to the other treasures in the cabinet. I have often missed their aging pages, thinking without a doubt that if I could touch them, I would be able to resuscitate the sensations they caused when I grew up.
Tastes change as much as we ourselves: already in maturity, I am increasingly attracted to the books of exquisite invoice, where there is not a word left over, obvious proof that they were composed with patience, without hurry to reach the goal. I keep reading novels with frenzy, as if the world was about to end, but I write mine slowly as a turtle, because while I live with my characters in each of them, I enjoy the same intensity as when I was a child while admiring Paris Gilbert Cesbron’s hand, perhaps because, as in the story of my friend, Leonard Antonio Pereira, the literature is wonderful as a woman’s back, with its pores, its moles and the trail of golden fluff by the tailbone, which at stroking it knows little and one loses the north wishing to turn around slowly, slowly.