In the ‘70s, number 12 Plaza Real (where Nazario still lives today) was almost as popular and eccentric as 13 Rue del Percebe, which, for those who might not know, is the unique building that gives its name to and illustrates a series of comic strips from the ‘60s, created by Francisco Ibáñez. Its peculiarity is that it doesn’t have a façade, leaving exposed the interiors of all its apartments and the ludicrous adventures of all the neighbours living therein.
The initial comparison comes to mind because, at the end of the ‘70s, Nazario reworked this idea of using the cross-section of a building in his comic Los Apartamentos La Nave, and at the beginning of the ‘90s he pushed it even further, ‘to the extremes of mariconeo’ (in his own words) in Ali Baba and the 40 Maricones. But, to be clear, the two apartment blocks reproduced in these comics are not number 12 Plaza Real, nor do they feature the real tenants who passed through the various storeys over the years. (In his books Plaza Real Safari and La Vida Cotidiana del Dibujante Underground, Nazario evokes the strange nuns from the nursing home of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and the Hare Krishna temple worshipers on the mezzanine; the world-renowned flamenco dancer who’d fallen into obscurity and was sheltered by two old bourgeois women—a mother and her spinster daughter—on the ground floor; the diverse guests from the hostel, mostly Black people and Moroccans, on the first floor; and so on and so forth.) But what is reflected (especially in Ali Baba) is this crazy desire to live and to fuck that was so much a part of the ‘70s and so little a part of the ‘90s (due to the ravages of AIDS), that general state of excitement that reigned on the second floor, where Ocaña and all the others exuded youthfulness and pheromones.
Leaving aside these macro vignettes, it’s easy to imagine (like in an ensemble film by Robert Altman, Luis García Berlanga, or Adolpho Arrietta) a long sequence shot filmed down the U-shaped corridor that joined the eight studios on the second floor, with a mess of cast members acting like flaming fags, coming and going, in and out, from here to there, revolving around Ocaña, the only star protagonist of number 12 Plaza Real:
In the first studio lived a very young and very handsome Galician student named Alex; Ocaña fell so madly in love with him that he made hundreds of portraits of the young man. Next door, the second studio was home to María Luisa, a young fag hag from Madrid. She was studying at the university and was a fan of Ocaña and all that hive of creativity. Even though her true obsession was dancing, ‘the sole mention of the word “disco” was like a drug for her’ and, given the tiny cube limited her movements, she’d go into the corridor to dance. When she left the studio, Nazario and Alejandro took it over.
Behind the third door was Josep Maria Caralt, la Carala (or la Pequeñita or la Princesita, depending), a young Catalan who had an antique shop called Tarzan, where he also sold modern objects (like the first Mariscal figurines) and where fashion shows were organised with Ocaña and his friends. In one of these shows, Ocaña had the idea of going down the catwalk with a basket full of buttons that he threw to the audience as if they were flowers, until he injured one of the assistants. Later, Adolfo, la Adolfa, also passed through—another student from Santander, with his recently divorced sister. When he wasn’t involved in his studies in Art History or designing clothes, he used to read to Ocaña while the latter was painting; one of the books he read was called My Life, by Isadora Duncan, which (according to Adolfo) ‘taught Ocaña how great art could be inseparable from nudity’. Later still, that same studio became home to a handsome and cultured Mallorcan student named Sebastián. He would dress up as a woman, wearing gowns designed by Ocaña, and would spend hours like this in front of the mirror or the camera. Today, one of these photoshoots hangs on the walls of the Reina Sofía Museum, in Madrid (they’re both dressed up as village women and showing off their cocks). When Sebastián, in turn, left the studio, Nazario took the opportunity to expand his own (as he did with Alex’s place) and thus established what’s ended up as one of three parts in the current distribution of his house.
The fourth studio was always closed up, and no one ever knew anything about it. Something similar happened with the fifth one, which every so often was occupied by ‘sad people’ (in comparison with the general exultation). Some say it played host to sexual encounters between lawyers. One day it was rented to Perico, la Perica, a Valencian from a family of good standing (as with Adolfo and Sebastián), an ephebe with a husky voice, who, before returning to his town and filling squares and roundabouts with his bronze statues, made the plaque in the doorway that still commemorates Ocaña. It’s a replica of an original painting by Ocaña that Perico made in terracotta; he also made the wise decision of turning the flock of white angels into a small multiracial group. This corner under the plaque has become (as Nazario puts it so well) a ‘place of pilgrimage for pissers and fans’.
The sixth studio stood out at the end of the corridor: it was Ocaña’s place, distinguished by the walls and doorway painted with murals (one of which was a huge cock with eyes). Or because one day he’d leave a coffin leaning against the wall to ward off possible debt collectors, or because another day there’d be a moon hanging from the ceiling, measuring almost four metres in length, that he was preparing to crown his new exhibition. Ocaña’s studio didn’t start at the doorway; the entire hall was like a prolongation of his premises, which he occupied (as he did with the streets) by putting on fashion shows, processions, or a sumptuous altar. Half of Barcelona passed through there, and it was immortalised, as another work of art, in a long take from the documentary Ocaña: An Intermittent Portrait. When he decided to move to number 10 on the same square, he moved Fernando to number 12: la Fernanda, a country boy from Ocaña’s hometown that he rescued and who ended up torturing all the neighbours by giving Sevillanas dance lessons in the hallway. She still lives there, next to Nazario, and through hard work she’s earned the title of the plaza’s alternative queen, a high position that she exercises with comb, mantilla, and platforms. Another candidate for the throne (and not only because of the name) was Francisco Ocaña, Paca la Tomate or simply la Paca, the waiter at a bar called Kike, who between one glass and another would get up on the bar to perform an ‘anarcotransformista’ number (Jordi Esteva’s phrasing). When he lost his job due to repeated bouts of drunkenness, la Fernanda took him in and lodged him in the attic of her flat, until some disagreement led her to throw him out and la Paca stayed living in the hallway. Nazario is currently working on a book to bring him out of obscurity.
In the seventh lived Paco, el Albañil (the Builder), with his two whores. Ocaña and Nazario would amuse themselves by peeping through a keyhole at the men queuing in the corridor, waiting their turn. The two whores were very discreet and very knowledgeable, so much so that one day they told Ocaña that ‘a mortal venereal disease was running loose, a bug that nothing could kill’. After Paco and company left, Pep Torruella arrived, la Pepeta, another Catalan who rented the studio so that, when the surrounding bars were raided by the police, he could escape through one of the alleys that led to the square. Ocaña made holes in the wall to spy on him and then covered them up by taking down paintings and putting them back up.
In the eighth, there was another Fernando, la Colombiana (he was from Bogotá), who didn’t have a very good relationship with Ocaña, whom he saw as an old-fashioned fairy. He spent his days locked in one of the corridor bathrooms, straightening his frizzy hair, getting ready for hours before going out to mariquear, to go cruising of sorts. He left the studio when he moved to Germany, where he set up a gay sauna with a boyfriend he found for himself there. Then came la Ínfima (the Tiny), who (as the name suggests) was so little that nobody remembers him. In the same way that little more is remembered of the many others who passed by the second floor of number 12 Plaza Real.
Photographs from the Archivo Ocañí and courtesy of Nazario Luque.