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Monday, September 13, 2010

Love and Madrid

Today is the first anniversary of the day I married the love of my life! I'll use the occasion to talk about something that happened more than a year before that, in August 2008, to really consolidate our relationship.

I had never seen Manolo García live, but the summer of 2008, I planned to go to a concert. It was the tour accompanying his last release, Saldremos a la lluvia. In order to afford the airfare, I had to save money for months ahead of time and justify the expense. I had only moved in with the man who would be my husband one month prior, and the mere fact that he accepted and encouraged this trip impressed me hugely. It was only for the weekend, and the cost was something like a hundred dollars per hour that I would be on Spanish soil, but he alone understood that this was to be the culmination of a life's dream for me. He couldn't come with me only because we had just spent so much money moving him from Idaho to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

My visits to Spain have never focused on Madrid. It was a mere stopover on the way back to the States, or on to other, more quintessentially Spanish regions.

I made my way quickly from the airport to the main train station, having honed my navigation skills on previous trips. I waited in line for an hour to buy my ticket to Ciudad Real, the concert venue. Then, instead of stopping to eat, I called my significant other from a bank of phones, because I knew he would want to know I was safe and on my way.

I learned immediately upon hanging up that it doesn’t do to get so comfortable in the biggest train station in Spain that you drop your guard, even for a second. When I turned away from the phone bank, back to my suitcase, my purse was not where I had left it. I stood, astounded, and a fellow traveler started making signs as if to ask whether he could use the phone now.

“Creo que me robaron” (I think I was robbed), I said, unable to believe it.

“Que te han robado?” (You’ve been robbed?), he replied in surprise. He kindly led me to the security guards, starting a very long afternoon for me. It happened to be Friday, and a holiday, so I had to search the neighborhood for a police station that was open in order to report the theft. With the purse, I had lost American and European cash, credit cards, the train ticket I’d just purchased, a digital camera, and, most importantly, my passport and all my other forms of ID. At the police station, I learned that you cannot have money sent to Spain from the United States without a proper ID.

By the time I had made my declaration, the time for the train for Ciudad Real had come and gone. I had still not eaten, and I had hotel reservations in Ciudad Real, but no way to get there. I had Spanish friends, but they were all outside Madrid and I hadn’t brought their phone numbers with me, since it had been planned as such a short trip. It was looking as though I would have to sleep in the train station and beg for crumbs until the American Embassy opened on Monday so I could replace my passport. I have never been so stranded and without resources.

I refused to give up, and eventually, the police called social services. Two pleasant young Spaniards -- fans of Manolo García, no less -- came to deposit me in a halfway house, where I could sleep in a shared room, take public showers, and eat terrible food, all at no charge. Grateful as I was, all I could do was wait and try not to think of all my ruined plans.

Each time I had come to Madrid previously, it had struck me as a hulking modern behemoth: overwhelming, busy, and not open to being enjoyed. This was in spite of my programmed tours of the typical tourist destinations. This time, without a Euro cent to my name, I couldn’t spend money on goods or attractions, and so I would have expected to enjoy Madrid even less than before. But, without the distractions of timetables and costs, I could focus instead on learning the streets on foot. I took advantage of churches with free admission for something to do, and since I couldn’t even take pictures, I found myself becoming much more present and receptive, observing and experiencing the life around me. I fell in love with Madrid through the purity of those three days. 

Landscape by Manolo García. My name is visible in the inscription!
In the halfway house, I got to watch a Star Wars marathon dubbed in Spanish because of a ten o'clock curfew. I got to watch parades and festivities in honor of the holiday from the balcony. I got to observe all manner of people passing through the residence, and I helped some of them by interpreting between them and the staff. Perhaps most importantly, I got to read a gift from my significant other, The Power of Now. Without that book's sane perspective, I would have had a completely different experience. I only got to speak with him on the phone twice, for about three minutes at a time, as I milked the last minutes out of the calling card I'd bought from the States. What was really important? I was safe and I had my future husband's love and support, albeit from afar. More than any other experience, this confluence of events taught me to accept things as they are. Wishing they were different would only have made me miserable, since there was nothing else I could do to change the situation.

Monday rolled around, and with my new passport, I had money sent, and was able to stay in the Madrid hotel I had reserved from home before leaving for the States, as planned, on Tuesday. Iberia upgraded me to first class at no charge, as if they somehow knew I hadn't been able to live my dream and wanted to compensate. I still haven't seen Manolo García in concert. But there are worse things than being stranded and penniless in Madrid. I wrote Manolo a letter and he responded with a beautiful watercolor and a personal note (what a great guy!). 

The following year, not much less than one year ago today, I returned to Madrid with my new husband on our honeymoon. We spent a couple of enchanted days in the capital of Spain, and I was able to show him around all the better for the crazy experience the previous year. Such a glorious time, with the man I love most in the place I still love above all others. 

Now, we're more or less stranded in Pennsylvania. All my writing and creativity, and all his hard work, aren't keeping us out of the poorhouse. But, better hungry in Pennsylvania with him, than in Spain with all the money in the world without him. I love you, wonderful man! Happy Anniversary!