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The art of losing

Having done it all my life, I have attained a certain knack of mislaying things

The most autobiographical of novels I ever wrote is called El Hombre que se perdió (or, The man who lost himself). Well, I didn't really write it. It was written by Francesc Trabal; I only translated it. The protagonist is called Lluís Frederic Picàbia. He begins by losing standard things: a girlfriend, a cigarette case, three pipes, a secretary, 10 umbrellas, and other small-time stuff. From then on he moves into the big leagues: loses a high-rise building, some elephants, 1,800 cars in an airport, 5,000 Chinese children in Mexico, and such like. Finally, he loses himself. In short, someone like me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not comparing myself to Picàbia. I'm vain about my art, but not so much as to compare myself to masters. However, having done it all my life, I have attained a certain knack of losing things. The problem is finding them again.

As for this, I must take my hat off to my friend Robert Soteras, the Leo Messi of the art of losing things. He works in a bank and for years commuted between Gerona and Figueras, punctually enough. But every day he lost something on the train. Soon his unequaled capacity for losing things grew into a popular legend among the employees of the line, who formed a sort of human chain of solidarity with his plight -- or, viewed in a more heroic light, of eagerness to play a supporting role in the glory of his latest amazing feat of forgetting things on their train. Cleaning women, line managers and engine drivers were all in it, recovering daily what Soteras lost. More than once, on runs where the train didn't stop at Figueras and the lost item was not too fragile, the engine driver and the station-master were sporting enough to play throw-and-catch with it as the train went by. This is even better than Picàbia.

I told her that Málaga was loser heaven, that we ought to move here as they found everything

I tell you all this, so as explain what happened to me in Málaga. I had gone there to tell a cock-and-bull story and, registering at the Hotel Málaga Palacio, I noticed I had lost my drivers license. A few days earlier I had lost my wallet in Budapest, and had to spend three whole days getting my documents reissued. I thought I was getting too close to Picàbia, or even Soteras himself. I also had a notion I had lost it at the airport, so I called the Lost Objects office there -- a purely perfunctory call because, as every good loser knows, you never find anything at the Lost and Found office. Incredibly, after a moment, the man on the phone said he had my card. I said it couldn't be true. "It's as true as the day is long," he said with the true Andalusian accent: "Don't you know that in Málaga we find everything?" Olé, I thought.

I called my wife. I told her that Málaga was loser heaven, that we ought to move here as they found everything. I told her what had happened, and that I was going to write an article just to thank the unknown man who had seen my license on the floor and, instead of kicking it aside, had taken the trouble to hand it into Lost and Found. Yes, an article that would start with the stories of The man who lost himself, and Picàbia and Soteras before proceeding to recount my own case.

While practically dictating these lines to my wife, it came to my attention that I had somehow lost my glasses. After two hours of the usual feeling of helplessness, castration and anxiety, I found them in the bathroom, hiding in mimetic camouflage on the black marble beside the sink. The next day, back at home, I noticed that I had lost a pair of trousers and a t-shirt, and called the Málaga Palacio. They had found them. It was true. Olé.

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