It’s November 4, 1988. My 49th birthday. I am in Barcelona with Bill and Debra (Stokkan). We together have been on the road for two weeks now, visiting our editions in Munich, Rome, Istanbul, Athens and now Barcelona. This is our last stop before we would board the plane tomorrow afternoon, heading back home to Chicago. I have spent a wonderful day celebrating from the moment I got up. We have sumptuous sea food lunch at La Dorada, hosted by our Spanish partner Jose Manuel Lara of Editorial Planeta. We drink his favorite Marqués de Cáceres. And then suddenly Bill’s nose begins to bleed. Embarrassed, he sits there with his handkerchief pressed under his nostrils. Goes back and forth to the wash room. It takes a long time before the bleeding slows, if not completely stops. Jose Manuel Lara is kind and understanding.

Following the lunch, Bill runs back to the hotel, I head to the editorial offices where Sebastian (Martinez), Jose Luis (Cordoba) and Rosa (Oliva), along with the entire editorial staff are waiting for me to pop a few bottles of champagne. There have often been times when my birthday has become a cause célèbre to my total amazement. And so it is today. Not much I can do about. After two weeks of back-to-back meetings, being wined and dined and hopping on and off the planes, running to and checking in and out of hotels, packing and unpacking, all three of us are beginning to feel bit of fatigue settling in.

Must have been around half past six or seven when I come back to the hotel and experience total collapse. As I lie in middle of the bed, sinking deeper and deeper in the human indentation, and when finally the shakes and chill and the fever I felt earlier subsides somewhat, I know I can’t just turn over and go to sleep. The finale is yet to come. Playboy Spain’s publisher, Fernando Castillo and his wife Anna are to come pick us up from the hotel at nine. This is our last night in Spain and its my birthday. He knows that I love Paella, especially at my favorite restaurant Quo Vadis in Ramblas But he has his own favorite and wants to take us to Lauria. I somehow manage to compose myself, and get out of bed and take a refreshing shower. Feeling just a little bit better, but not well enough to go out on the town and sit through an entire evening and be my old social butterfly self.

Fernando has pre-ordered Paella for me. Its sitting there, sizzling in its traditional pan, the lobster tails shining orange and the little shrimps with tails staring at me with their ink black eyes. The rice is beginning to simmer and I don’t even smell the pungent Spanish saffron. I want so bad to dig in and devour this succulent, most delicious and exotic of  the Spanish delicacies. But instead, I find myself staring at it as if the Paella pan were an objet d’art.  Soon the waiter brings whatever the others have ordered and dishes out some Paella and gently serves a portion in my plate. I pick up a fork-full and put it in my mouth. I can’t taste it at all. Fernando is looking at me with anticipation and somehow I manage to say, esta sabrosa. I am thankful that there are also Bill and Debra and the burden of making the conversation doesn’t fall entirely on me. But still!  I have a choice of facing up or take a couple of more bites and risk throwing up. I face up. I don’t feel too good. Bill and Debra aren’t feeling that hot either. We somehow manage to wing it.

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