UNITED STATES—Humblest apologies to the reader for our picaresque luncheons occupying the last column. You were left wondering about aporphobia, which lurks at the center of my Madrid experience. The digestion of we three travelers from America we was working away on croissant, milanesa and chicken wrap when we ventured toward the Central Park of Madrid, El Retiro.
We didn’t get very far, as far as an island encircled by wrought iron, and occupied by a century-old Moorish Revival building made of brick recessed in intricate designs, it’s two stories accentuated by windows discreet as the scent of night-blooming Jasmin and peaked archways which telegraph ‘Arabesque,’ even in old bungalows of Echo Park, built when the movie business was getting off the ground. The building was wreathed in silence, it was insular in the muggy summer afternoon. Not a soul in sight.
Something compelled me up the steps to this cultural institution. The security guard just inside the door, sized me up and said come on in, there’s an event on now. I hailed my friend to come inside.
In the air-conditioned realm, there was a cocktail party in full swing. There were canapes and cocktails, good strong coffee and little sandwiches. There was always good coffee in Madrid. A man in a fez, who could have been the ambassador of Egypt, stood talking to a pair of socialites who listened raptly. The event was for a conference on tolerance. Soon enough we were all called into a side auditorium. There the conference resumed. A woman distinguished by her lack of confidence addressed how Spanish society was dealing with racial, sexual and religious prejudice and aporphobia.
In her lack of confidence, the speaker paused and every so often asked if there were any questions. Of course I wondered about aporphobia—what could this phenomenon be? I obeyed the wishes of the organizers to “leave the questions to the end.”
When the halting speaker finally got to the end of her talk, I lifted my arm high. The leader of the conference, a woman in a burka, shut me down, and said we have to get through the last speakers and will save the questions for last.
The next speaker, an emphatic blond woman, spoke about tolerance and religious education in Spain. She made two references which stood out in Madrid, which in less than 48 hours was a kind of heaven for the accidental tourist. “The hellish afternoon,” and the “hellish and paradisal society.” At the first reference windows were closed and the AC was allowed to kick in. Another careful European detail appeared, like the latex gloves provided at a gas pump. Below the air-conditioning vents in the ceiling were plexiglass panels that protected those seated below from the blast of the air-conditioner.
Meanwhile, the blond woman, in her severe style, talked rata-tat-tat about religious education in Spain. There was a period for every student where he or she could study their own religion; she underscored with a soreness of the defeated, “the classes are no longer strictly Catholic as they once were” and concluded that in religious classes today cater to every faith and denomination and they are mandatory.
I was still wondering about the meaning of aporphobia, what could it possibly be, and where was tolerance with the irreligious? My fellow travelers came to a quick consensus that it was time to leave the conference and get to the park.
On the broad pathway leading into El Retiro, Juan David was able to lookup aporphobia on his phone…
To be continued…