The Angst-Ridden Executive (A Pepe Carvalho Investigation) by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán:
It made little difference whether it was two weeks or three. Either the second San Francisco voice was lying, or the whole scenario had a logic which just didn’t fit. A senior Petnay executive seems to quit two months previously, remains undecided for a month and a half, writes to his sister, and only finally decides to leave—abruptly—the day after Carvalho’s phone call. Carvalho was suspicious as much by nature as by his profession. Rhomberg was obviously very worried about something, he thought, as the morning clouds lifted from his stomach and made way for a sizable hunger. He couldn’t decide whether to ask Biscuter to improvise a meal, or whether to walk up the Ramblas in search of a suitable restaurant. A sudden telephonic idleness prevented him from ringing Charo to invite her out, whereupon a restless nervous energy took him to the Ramblas and a thoughtful deliberation regarding a possible choice of restaurant. He had a beer on the Plaza Real, and pined after the long-lost tapas that used to be the speciality of the most crowded bar in the neighbourhood—squid in a spicy black pepper and nutmeg sauce. Instead he had to make do with squid floating in a brown, watery liquid, which was all that was on offer under the new management. The problem with cultures of the transient is precisely that they are transient. This restaurant had once witnessed a genius in the art of cooking squid, a man who had created the illusion of a taste that would last forever—but then he had gone, leaving a void. There was no one left who could match his genius. Once lost, a good barman is gone forever—especially these days, when all you need to be a waiter is to wear a white jacket that is dirtier than yesterday’s but not as dirty as tomorrow’s. As he tormented his brain in mourning for the squid of yesteryear, Carvalho decided to eat at the Agut d’Avignon, a restaurant which he appreciated for the quality of its cokking, but which disappointed by the paucity of its helpings. When Gracian wrote that ‘a good experience is doubly enjoyable when it’s short-lived’, he can’t have been thinking of food. Or, if he was, then he must have been one of those intellectuals who are happy living on alphabet soup and eggs that are as hard and egg-like as their own dull heads. More than one musty philosopher has declared that ‘man should eat to live, not live to eat’, a sentiment nowadays taken up by dieticians, whose principal endeavour seems to consist in the oppression of fat people.