Revisiting Spain

 

May 2007

Jean's Stories

Provence

Grandpa's Cabin

Pay-It-Forward Latte

England and France

N. Italy - 1

N. Italy - 2

N. Italy - 3

N. Italy - 4

Lessons from 4 Corners

Mexico

Going to the Dogs

Don't Embarrass Me!

Letter from Siena

Arrivederci Roma

Joining the Matriarchs

Living History

Newlywed Game

Chaos Theory

Zach on the Road

Huckleberry Season

Stanley & the Sunbeam

I Dare Say

Middle School Relay

Grad Party

Yellowstone

Moving On

Newlywed Couches

Visitors

Old Faithful Inn

Snowbound

Sweet Potato

Mother Bear

Two Blondes in Iberia

Revisiting Spain

Curly's Truck

Old Buildings

Chelsea's

Split Seams

All Nighter

Talent Show

Travel Photos

England

France

Siena

 

Jean, (in middle) taking on a baby bull in Spain, 1977

We’ve already packed away most of her cold-weather wear and some miscellaneous kitchenware.   Now we’re working on transporting her personal collection of Daddy-paintings and figuring out a day when Taylor can haul the Lazy-Boy rocker down her stairs.  We’re having to think ahead because Annie faces a week in June when she’ll:  a) take final exams, b) move out of her apartment, and c) fly to Spain for a university summer abroad program.

On June 14th, Annie leaves for a six-week study in Segovia.  She’ll live with a family that owns a bakery and has small children.  (Annie requested that—the kid part, not the bakery.  But she likes that, too).   She’s brushing up on her Spanish and wondering how it will all go.  Maybe that’s why she asked me if I had any old photos or journals from my own trip to Spain as a teenager.   As I am my mother’s daughter, I kept everything. 

During the final week in June of 1977, I:  a) turned 16 and got my driver’s license, b) secured a waitress job at Mr. Steak, and c) flew to Spain.  I’d saved up enough money babysitting and helping at my dad’s oral surgery office to join my high school Spanish teacher, Cheryl, and eight other Sprague students for a month-long tour of Spain. 

My parents were were very trusting of me.  In the end, I kept that trust, except for sneaking out for late-night disco dancing.  (This was the 1970’s, after all.)  I still mentally return to the discotecas whenever I hear “Brick House” by the Commodores. 

Jean (in white swimsuit) at a Sitges beach with her teacher, Cheryl (in green)

In Spain in the late 70’s the politics were precarious, undergoing a tremendous change, much greater than we fully appreciated at the time.  Francisco Franco, the fascist dictator, had died just a year and half earlier, and the country was recovering from 40 years of his oppression.  The first democratic elections would come just a month after our visit under the leadership of Prime Minister Suarez.  Suarez was a gutsy guy, and also good-looking, as you can see by this photo I took of him smiling at me.

Spanish Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez

We’d been walking through the streets of Madrid looking for somewhere to eat when we came upon a crowd of reporters and gawkers camped outside some government buildings.  Word was that Suarez and Golda Meir were meeting inside and would soon emerge.  I honestly didn’t care much about this as I was feeling horrible--like I might faint at any moment.   One of the more compassionate girls in our group, Karen, commented on my pasty and clammy appearance, but we still stuck it out on the street for another half hour.  Now I wonder what might have happened had I actually fainted?  Imagine the international headlines, “American girl faints as Suarez passes by.”  

(Suarez did succeed in bringing Spain to full democracy, despite a coup attempt in 1981 by some of Franco’s old fascist general friends.  Here’s a link of it, something that could be right out of the movie, Evita.  It’s in Spanish, but it’s short, and the scary music and gun-waving fascist in the funny hat don’t require translation.  You’ll hear General Tejero screaming for everyone to take to the floor.  The only ones to disobey this order were Suarez and a couple colleagues; they remained seated on a front bench, smoking cigarettes.)

http://mysterier.org/politikk/23F/23F_Tejero_smaa.ram

 

After connecting with Suarez, we found a restaurant where I recovered sufficiently to enjoy a language blunder by Scott, one of the brew-loving boys in our group.  Scott hadn’t taken as much Spanish as most of us but learned some important words, like for beer, cerveza.  Only when the waiter brought Scott a bowl of cherries did we realize he’d omitted the “v” and had ordered cereza.  I don’t remember all the different fruit words, but I’ll never forget the word for cherries. Scott didn’t find this as funny as we did. 

Cheryl helped with our language preparation by teaching us the words for “stop it” (dejalo!) and “leave me alone” (dejame!), which we ended up using quite a bit.  As young American girls, particularly young blonde Americans, we got more attention than we ever wanted.  I stopped wearing make-up or doing my hair:  it made no difference.   (Annie hears that the blonde-thing still exists in Spain.  I made sure she knows about dejalo and dejame.)

We further improved our Spanish skills with the language and cultural classes provided by our Foreign Study League program (“A subsidiary of Reader’s Digest!”).  They divided us up according to fluency level and had native speakers give lectures.  I remember feeling amazed at my comprehension during these hour-long speeches—I understood nearly everything.  Now I realize the speakers were probably using language and annunciation similar to that which I’d use with my four and five-year-old nephews, Jacob and Sam. 

One particular cultural class in Barcelona stuck with me.  The instructors discussed politics and explained how everyone celebrated with champagne when Franco died.  They said that they never could have talked so openly like this a couple years previously; they would have been looking over their shoulders for the police to arrest them. 

Something else that has improved over the past 30 years in Spain is the transportation.  In my travel journals, I wrote about 10-12 hour bus rides on routes that now take a couple hours on the freeways or high-speed trains.  The Spanish train system, with the acronym RENFE, no longer stands for “Really Exasperating, Not For Everyone” to English-speakers.  Annie will have no problem traveling around the country on the weekends with friends she makes from school. 

I managed to make friends in Spain with some girls from Michigan.  They shared similar values to me and I was grateful to find them.  Still, I missed my family and close friends terribly when I was in Spain.  I wondered what it would have been like to have them along with me, how much happier I would have been, how much more I might have enjoyed my experience if I’d had somebody along who truly cared about me. 

Exactly thirty summers later, I’m finally getting the chance.  I’ve got tickets to Spain. 

After Annie wraps up her studies, we’ll meet in Madrid.  I’ll nurse a Fanta Limon at a sidewalk café while I wait for her.  I probably won’t need dejalo or dejame anymore, but Annie might--especially if I drag her to a discoteca later.  Maybe I should just brush up on enough Spanish so I can make a special request for “Brick House.”  I can’t wait.