Madrid Memories

We attach significance to spaces--memories and emotions that are very personal and can be very meaningful. Madrid is one of those spaces to me.

I love the buildings and history, the metro and boulevards, the language, tapas, cañas, bocadillos, Retiro Park, cafe con leche, chocolate con churros and I actually like the ubiquitous cigarette smoke. I'm tempted to start smoking.

We look for the same spots and still look for new adventures. "I" became "we" when my six week college experience five years later became Amy and my first international trip together and 16 years later became a sabbatical experience with ten year olds. Now we look at each other with the same "we love this" expression.

In 1981 I saw a flyer posted in the Spanish department for a scholarship to El Centro de Estudios Hispánicos. I don't know why I was interested. I had just chosen my Spanish major that fall, mostly because you have to declare something and I had twenty advanced placement units in Spanish and I could still graduate in four years. No one in my family and none of my friends had travelled or studied abroad. I applied, got the scholarship, borrowed money and followed my heart.

My mom dropped me off at LAX and just last year told me she cried all the way home. I arrived at Miguel Angel 8 alone with my backpack and was stunned by the language, smells and the Guardia Civil with rifles at the airport.

The three story building on the corner was our school for six weeks. We went inside this trip to see the remodel they did 10 years ago. It's no longer the summer home Bryn Mawr , but still houses several university abroad programs, including USC.

I met kids mostly from the east coast and were told to only speak Spanish. I lived at a house outside Madrid with the directora and three students who commuted every morning forty-five minutes in her manual shift Seat. My cafe addiction began that summer with a cafe solo right before class from the stand across the street from the school.

All our professors were Spanish and interesting--the ascot wearing tapestry artist Luis Garrido who led us through the Prado once a week and through cathedrals in Avila, Salamanca and Toledo; the lit professor who taught about Miguel de Unamuno and "El Sentimiento Tragico de la Vida," smoked a pipe and coughed so violently in class so badly we all thought he was going to die.

I found out this week in Madrid that Luis was interviewed in a 2012 publication as a maestro de arte, whose career spanned the Franco years and during the 50s, 60s, and 70s made political statements through his large tapices that hung in galleries and office buildings. He was born in 1925, which makes him 88 years old. I wish I had a way to contact him...

I bought a real bota bag that summer and learned how to drink from the arc. I dreamed in Spanish and couldn't remember English words to say when I called home. I learned to make sangria from the neighbor kids and learned slang like "no sirve pa' na'" from our cook Rosa. We had a party one weekend at the house and learned quickly how potent the Sangria fruit is.

We walked all over Madrid. I remember walking into a hotel with a girl student asking where the baños (toilets) were and received a strange "no hay baños (baths) aquí" response. I was blown away by the boulevards and monument fountains along the Paseo. I worked hard at my c's and z's and th's and vosotros that was never on the test in high school ("It's not important--they only use it in Spain...")

After those six weeks of cultura, literatura, historia and arte, I railed through Europe alone, making friends along the way, taking pictures and journalling my experiences. I visited my roommate Alfred in his parents' house in Ossingen, Switzerland. We traveled for a week and he spoke all four languages of the country fluently, plus, of course, English and Spanish.

I walked the streets of great European capitals before I ever visited Washington. I couldn't believe I was seeing in person what I saw on a projected slide or textbook in art history. I traveled alone and shared stories with strangers because I had to share the stories with someone, anyone. It's so fun now to share those memories and create new ones with our family and this trip with Amy. 

The waiter the other night said "You have come back to remember." Amazing how that flyer and that summer impacts me so profoundly 32 years later.


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