“When you are abroad, and you fall, it hurts more. Falling in New York is not the same as falling in Madrid.”
In the Romanesque church of San Nicolás in Segovia, the Spanish writer Elvira Lindo was talking to broadcaster Ann Bateson about her life in New York, where she lives for part of the year with her son Miguel and her husband, the author Antonio Múñoz Molina.
Lindo was explaining how she came to write her latest book, Lugares que no quiero compartir con nadie (Places I don’t want to share with anybody), published by Seix Barral.
“I wanted to write something about New York, after I’d been living there for a while. Of course, people in Spain were well aware that I was there, because of my columns in El PAÍS and my radio programmes. These days it’s really easy to contact anyone, so people were forever getting in touch with me to ask me to recommend a hotel that wasn’t too expensive but wasn’t grotty. Or somewhere that included breakfast, which is the norm in Spain but not in New York, or a good restaurant that wasn’t touristy, where locals went, or whatever.”
Lindo admitted that she got a bit fed up with being bombarded with these requests for insider information and realised that she didn’t really want to divulge the places she goes to with her family and friends. In the end she decided to recommend the same restaurant to everyone. “It’s one where you always eat well and in an area that’s handy for visitors to the city, but they were never satisfied and were always coming back and asking for more tips. I wondered why they didn’t just buy a guidebook to be honest; particularly as some of them are really good.”
It struck her that it had taken her a long time to build up her relationship with the city and that really she should be putting all this information into a book about her experiences – but not a guidebook; something much more personal.
“So I started thinking about writing about the places that were really special to me, including places that had been going for 25 years or more, some of which have closed down now.”
The book is an entertaining insight into her life in New York, and shows how you will always feel like a foreigner sometimes, no matter how well integrated and happy you are. She made her comment about how you feel pain more intensely when you are away from home when she was talking about the day she fell awkwardly out of the lift in her apartment block.
“That day, I was on my own, Antonio was away. But I’d been out to dinner in Harlem, in a place I really like, so I was feeling pretty good as I arrived home. My building dates back to the 1920s and is really unusual, with this old-fashioned lift operated by an attendant, who has to crank a handle to get it on the same level as the landing. They used to be a traditional feature but you don’t see them so much now. Anyway, that day, he didn’t get it quite level, and I tripped and went flying and banged my head against the wall. It being New York, the attendant was worried I’d sue, and that’s what everyone seemed to be concerned about afterwards too, how much compensation I could get.”
Lindo was okay, although she said everything ached for a while. But it didn’t occur to her to sue, because no matter how at home she feels in New York, compensation culture just isn’t part of her Spanish character.