Malaga, Spain

January 12, 2015

My month in Spain is almost up and I am mulling over the places I saw and people I met. Mostly I think of the relaxed ways, the openness to strangers and the smiles and welcome that I received.

I had joined a walking tour in Madrid. I should have known better – in my usual fashion I went wandering off and soon realized that I had lost the group. But in wandering in my usual aimless fashion I met a group of four women. Friends from childhood, they were on a short holiday without their families. A conversation that started as a request to take their photograph ended in a tapas bar over wine, tapas and laughter. They are teachers and broken English and my hash of Spanish notwithstanding, we bonded over shared stories life in academia. And parted with hugs and smiles and invitations to visit. I did not make it to Valencia this time but who knows? I may very well visit in the future.

On a bus ride from Granada, I sat next to a young woman, a student at the university. We chatted the entire ride and I learned of the trying times they have in Spain now. Of the lack of jobs when students graduate; of the vast numbers who are leaving Spain to find jobs elsewhere in Europe; of the rising costs and frustrations in everyday life. We hope to stay in touch. Who knows? Maybe I can be of some help.

Way back in 2008, I spent a summer in Brazil, a large part of which was spent in the Amazon. When nobody else would agree to go with me into the jungle on what they called my hare-brained scheme, Ximo agreed. He had graciously allowed me to coax, cajole and bully him into joining me. And just as graciously invited me to meet him in Madrid this time. Despite not keeping in touch over all these years, we connected again. I met his wife and his friends and tasted the best tapas yet!

Sitting at a small tapas bar in Toledo, I fell into conversation with a trio of elderly gentlemen. Friends since childhood, they visit this particular bar almost every day and know the staff by name. Chatting over wine and tapas, they gave me tips on little-known places that I should visit and told me stories of Toledo. They had already left by the time I finished and asked for the bill. Imagine my surprise when the waitress said, they had paid for it already without my knowledge!

“Ole!” I say and raise my glass to the spirit of Spain.