May 25, 2007
Jean, (in middle)
taking on a baby bull in Spain, 1977
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.
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
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.
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.
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.