In any case, this neighborhood in Buenos Aires, off the Avenida de Mayo near the corner with Avenida 9 de Julio, was once central to those who had emigrated from Spain. The interior of El Hispano is made up of simple wood tables, stained quite dark brown, with similar chairs. A number of succulent, wrapped cured hams hang over the bar, and yellow-white curtains cover the windows. There is the lyricism of Spanish song in the place, the feel of The Three-Cornered Hat, of Juan Ramón Jimenez's rustic descriptions of the little town, the garden, the plaza, of the music of Paco Peña or Paco de Lucía. Maps of Spain decorate the walls, old photos of Spanish cities, all manner of graphics having to do with the corrida, flamenco dance and the lush warmth of the Spanish village.
Manolo watched the storm as the levels of water in the street rose almost to the sidewalk. Lightning flashed very often and not so far in the distance, since the accompanying thunder was immediate and extremely noisy. As a result of the storm there were few customers in the restaurant, and the welcoming light of the place, enhanced by its rustic décor, made us feel safe from the savagery of the tempest, protected from it.
"It reminds me of the war," Manolo said, looking out the window.
I waited a moment for more explanation. There have been many, many wars in Argentina: colonial ones, conflicts with the Indians, civil wars. But the most recent one, the disastrous defeat of Argentina at the hands of the British in the Malvinas Islands, had been fought when Manolo himself was maybe five years old.
"Yes, señor, the one in the restaurant. Here!"
For a moment I imagined an assault upon El Hispano, its front corner door of heavy ironwood maybe a hundred years old, decorated with brass fixtures, its glass panels expertly beveled. A large barricade, maybe, with an Argentine flag flying from it, sandbags and turrets, Manolo at the ready with a rifle, taking his stand. But against whom? Perhaps el gran libertador General San Martín himself had defended El Hispano against marauding Brazilian sailors.
"The Spanish Civil War, I mean," Manolo said.
A flash of lightning lit the street.
"We fought it here," he smiled.
Manolo handed us our menus, then turned and pointed to the high wall above the restaurant bar.
"You see those flags?"
There were about six of them, on angled standards that came out from the wall itself. The flags were very old and dusty-appearing. They were made up of three horizontal stripes, red, yellow and a kind of purple.