Sebastian would be my counterpart in Spain and therefore I would be his charge. As different as we are, we get along famously. Based on his pre-conceptions of the Americans and a bit of an exposure with some of them, he has this European stereotypical and cynical view of them. It helps that I am an American born in India. Years later, still in our Playboy days, the best compliment anyone could have given me turns out to be my super skeptical friend Sebastian Martinez. You’re the human face of Playboy.

He is as secretive about his private life as he is skeptical in his day-to-day dealings. I feel lucky to be taken in by him and know this much – he is married to Berit, a Swede, and they have a young daughter Maria – four or five years of age. They live in a modest two bedroom apartment in the center of the city. I don’t know anything about his parents and whether he has any siblings. I think he is the only child. Over a period of years that we worked together, I would be a frequent dinner guest at his home and later at his weekend cottage a couple of hours drive from Barcelona. And he would be ours during his visits to Chicago. The two or three times he comes to Chicago, I try my best to expose him to the American life and the people that run contrary to his preconceived image and the opinion of the country. At times he is impressed. Others not so much.

Beyond that, I can say Sebastian is a true bon vivant. He has good taste in food and wines. Even though he makes fun of me sprinkling generously the best sea food paella in the world with Tabasco, like the most Americans he has seen dousing everything in ketchup – he forgives me my – this one horrendous sin. So do the maître de and the old time waiters at the restaurant Quo Vadis, tucked away in a dark alley behind the wide strip of the famous pedestrian zone of  Ramblas. For in all other things culinary and otherwise, I am an ideal open minded American, who is willing to and tries everything. Be it drinking Jerez from a streaming beak held up above your head at an angle, drinking cognac over teeth crushed pomegranate seeds and the juice lining inside of your mouth to enjoy eating basic bar foods, such as tortas de papas, Spanish ham, the different varieties of sausages and a whole slew of  tapas served at the counter.

We’re a good pair at and away from work. Normally of the stern demeanor and a permanent frown on his face, his eyes squinting behind his rimless glasses, you never know what he might be thinking. Does he feel happy? Unhappy? Indifferent? Anyone’s guess is as good as mine.

Not that I ever try to dig deeper into his personal life or into his past, but as guarded as he always is; when and if the subject comes up, he would answer: it’s not that interesting! And then you see his eyes suddenly go still and sad, fogging up the inside of his glasses and assume a distant look as if staring in infinity – somewhere far far away. I don’t think he is aware of it. Seems he is turned off momentarily. And then, as if suddenly waking up from a deep sleep and realizing the silence that has fallen between himself and the person he is talking to, he emerges from the frozen frame of his face and shakes his head. Like someone with apnea having stopped breathing for a moment and then springing back to life. You notice the lower part of his body shudder a bit. He removes his glasses, pulls out the handkerchief from his pants’ pocket, wipes his eyes lightly, gets himself together and shaking his head again, this time sideways, goes well! and picks up where he had left off. More often than not, I have observed him mesmerized by the twirling bulbous glass over the flame of the silver cognac warmer, his eyes and the frozen look reflected in the whirl of the liquid gold. I could almost feel and see the tumult he must feel watching the swirls inside the glass rushing like wild waves of an ocean.

I don’t want to say that this ever bothered me beyond the moment, but something I often think about without ever reaching a conclusion.

Pages: 1 2 3