We first met almost two years ago in Madrid.
I’m used to beggars in Paris.
Some beg thrusting their open hand to you. Some are women with children, sitting down in the subway passages. Some get into the subway cars and start begging, using the same sentences they all have learnt by heart. Others stand at the lights, waiting for cars to stop by.
It was quite a shock when I came upon these two men, very close to my hotel.
Hard to understand what they were representing. But they were there on the sidewalk. Petrified below a very hot sun in a very thick reddish rubber covering.
People were attracted to them but it took me quite a while to understand that actually there was only one man «alive» there. Because from time to time he’d close his eyes while the other one never did.
It was a very unusual, fascinating and artsy way of begging. «They» got a lot of attention and I’d say, a lot of money too. Which was totally right because it did take guts to do something like this on a burning sidewalk in Madrid.
We were very busy and while I kept bumping into «them» every time we’d leave the hotel on our way to the museums, I kind of put him in a tiny spot in my brain where he got lost for quite a long time.
Last month, I went back to Madrid.
Right after checking in the hotel, guess where we went. To El Prado of course. One year and a half without Las Meninas or El Greco and Goya... You’ve got to be kidding!
At the very same corner, we bumped into... the «couple», sitting right there on the same spot... as if they had been waiting for us.
The «couple» drew crowds. People crying out in admiration but very interested after a few minutes. Were both twins alive? Who was real? The one with closed eyes? Or the other one?
Easy to find out. You only had to drop a coin in his begging bowl and the «real one» would very briefly open his eyes. He definitely could not smile so he opened briefly his eyes and looked straight to the donor. And then back to closed eyes.
I was flabbergasted once again. Incredible man.
I walked to him and told him how great this was. (Yes, I manage to speak enough Spanish to convey my admiration. And yes, I may have used a few signs to communicate better.)
Well, it worked. (Of course, I also gave him money because he was so gracefully saying «Gracias».)
And I took pictures. And he knew very well I was taking pictures...
After a couple of days, it became a game. I’d turn up and he’d flash a smile at me as soon as he’d notice me among the crowd surrounding him.
Yes, a smile. At least, it was as close to a smile it could be considering how «petrified» he had to be for the admiring crowds around him.
And I’d smile back: «Muchas gracias, señor.»
He disappeared from the street corner two days before I left Madrid. I missed him!
I’ve tried the trick in El Prado with sculptures. It did not work at all. Probably because it is forbidden to take pictures in the museum.
*Good Luck, and Good Night*