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He spends all day in the prestigious law firm in Barcelona that he runs successfully, and then he comes home in the evenings to help his wife manage their four good-looking sons. How does a man like this manage to be such a prolific author, writing novels that become worldwide bestsellers?
«You just need to get organized,» says Ildefonso Falcones de Sierra, with a cigarette permanently dangling between his lips. «I write at dawn, at the time when I should be going into the office.» Simple, right? But the bags under his eyes are a clear sign of his fatigue and efforts, making him seem more human.
We’ve met in a bar, and are having a conversation over a cervezita, the little beer that not even the busiest man should ever renounce.
Pity there’s nothing to nibble on: Falcones is used to the Spanish tapas, what kind of impression do we Italians make by making him go hungry? I call the waitress of this little bar in the middle of the Sardinian region of Barbagia, responds to my request for snacks as though I’d asked her to bring me the Crown Jewels.
And it’s then that Ildefonso, in a nanosecond, transforms himself into a bomb of charme: he stares at the young waitress, talking to her with a suave voice and using a rather inventive form of the Italian language, and smiles with a liquid gaze that only the Spaniards can get away with. As if by magic, every potato chip in the vicinity suddenly appeared on the table (I’d swear that the girl went to buy them).
This is clearly a man who knows how to get what he wants. And he can change moods so fast that it’s virtually impossible to keep up with him. He observes the potato chips and looks depressed. I asked what it is he’d hoped for. «Pizza!» he exclaimed, like a child in a toy store.
«Everytime I come to Italy I beg my press officer, who I call the Turk, because he’s implacable, but nada, all I get are fancy lunches and dinners. I want pizzzzza!» I understand. And yet, it seems that he’s a great fan of refined meals. «Obviously,» he answers. «Like all Latin people, I believe that food is an art, a moment that should be lived to the fullest.» He pauses and then gives me an ironic look. «Especially when it comes to pizza.»
At least I know now that this man who appears so sure of himself, has a weak spot. And it’s not just pizza. That’s right, along with his law career, his historical best-selling novels and kids, he confesses: «I love cooking! And I’m not bad, either. I make a Tajo Redondo that would make your mouth water. It’s one of my great joys: I prepare the sauce, and while I wait fot the roast to cook, I smoke, drink, turn the meat, taste it. My kids love it, especially the sauce, which I have to make in industrial quantities.»
Ok then, let’s play with food. What does love taste like? «It tastes like seafood,» he says. I decide to not ask for more details and move on straight to friendship. «Friendship is sharing food. A good paella, full of different things, and lots of rice.»
And hate? «No, there’s no food pairing there. When you feel hate, you can’t eat. You lose your appetite.» But couldn’t the taste of hate be something that he doesn’t like? «I like absolutely everything,» he declares, categorically.
Then he thinks again: «Actually, I don’t like liver. And I was forced to eat it as a child. I remember realizing I had grown up when I was able to refuse liver! And I don’t like ethnic cuisine, with all those spices that cover flavours. I’m really one for Mediterranean cuisine. And obviously, I can’t stand junk food, which my kids are always begging me to give them and I never do. We don’t eat crap at home. And traditional cooking reminds me of my mother: every bite is a return to childhood, it makes me feel like my mother is still there. And so it should be the same way for my kids.»
So father’s in charge? Ildefonso bursts out laughing. «I wish! The truth is, I try, but my wife is the one in charge, and then come the kids. I do what I can, but I’m in the definite minority.» Once again, this literary superman seems human once again. He lights the umpteenth cigarette. He’s left the potato chips practically untouched, which means I’m the only one eating them. Only every so often does his hand vaguely move towards the bowl, and then he carefully selects a single chip (according to which criteria I’d love to know, they all look the same to me) and then, with seraphic calm, he brings it to his mouth.
«I like to eat slowly, tasting every mouthful. Which also prevents me from eating too much. Here in Italy you all eat a crazy amount of food!» I feel guilty, and immediately pull my hand away from the chip bowl.
Falcones is, unsurprisingly, in great shape, without a trace of fat. Women tend to adore him, especially when he uses the weapon of Iberian charm.
«You know what I love?» he asks suddenly, following his own train of thought. «Angùlas, which are newborn eels that get eaten with warm oil, guindilla (a kind of fresh chili pepper ) and garlic. They’re amazing, but one hardly finds them anymore.» He says, and then, without any warning, goes back to looking depressed. Which makes me want to cheer him up.
«Listen, why don’t we go eat a pizza?» I just throw it out there. The words are barely out of my mouth and he’s already gotten up from his chair. «Vàmonos!» he says, with a huge smile. That sure didn’t take very much.
We walk around. There’s no pizzeria anywhere. In the town of Gavoi, here in Sardinia, it seems that pizza isn’t very popular. There’s every delicacy from the region, but no pizza. «It’s a curse!» Falcones exclaims, desperate. «I’ll never get one!»
So we’ve figured out this much? The way to this man’s heart is most definitely a pizza. And I missed my chance.