The first and last time I boarded a plane set for Spain I was in my junior year of college at UW, ready to see beyond North America, feeling drawn to Latin culture and language from my time in Mexico and now wanting to see Europe.
I had flash cards with words written out “Llave” on one side “Key” on the other. I had little ability to combine sentences with any fluidity but wanted to be able to get by with the homestay family that I’d be arriving to in less than 12 hours. I remember setting foot in the 5th floor walk-up on Calle Muntaner, Barcelona, so warmly greeted by Senora Cristobal and her son Roberto. Less warmly by the French exchange student who was a dead ringer for a young Sean Penn. Within 5 minutes we had covered introductions and her giving me my llave and so I sat and listened while my head swarmed with these pretty words that flew by, landing nowhere near a conclusion I could draw. A girl came by from the American Cultural Exchange to help me get situated. All I could do was feel envy at her perfect prose interacting in Spanish with my new temporary family.
Today I board a plane destined for the south of Spain, no flash cards but a book in hand; hopeful, eager, tired, ready to vacation. My first time was so beautiful and I have forever held Barcelona itself on a pedestal, separate in my mind from the rest of Spain, she’s the girl at the party with the perfect dress you later find out she made herself. She stands out but decidedly wants to, never awkward as she owns her flare.
I remember girls in heavy denim wide leg jeans sitting at cafes of marble table tops, the boys we met and with whom we danced all night, eating churros y chocolate caliente at dawn, laughing about the antics of the prior night.
My senora though, she taught me the most. I sat and watched her move about her tiny kitchen every morning making me a stovetop espresso alongside my toasted pan with Sevilla marmalade. Sausage hung above her head on a string she’d fashioned to keep them out of her way. Her husband had died and she wore black and went to mass every day. I sat in my long black skirt and figured out how to tell her I didn’t really want to hang out with the American girls at school that day. She seemed to understand. But every night she’d push me out the door – “Vete!” go have fun, dance, be in Barcelona!
I did. But I’d wake again so happy to wander into the kitchen and take a quiet seat in the corner after the others had left and have my own time with my Senora huddled over the stove.
I don’t mean to sound precious about travel or unique in my love of it, I am almost equally moved by seeing a cat in a rain slicker, non-ironically, walking in Seattle. It’s the observance and newness and curiosity of it all that we share, whatever the subject matter that stirs your heart I am glad to share mine with you!
This blog began and remains in honor of my brother, my first travel companion and forever champion.
My spot in Seattle, room with a view