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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Emails and Osbourne Bulls: The Trip of a Lifetime, Part 4

Arriving in the early morning.
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
My husband and I were diehard Manolo García fans, and in spite of a severe lack of cash that saw us in Arizona, hunched on folding chairs in a one-room apartment with little other furniture, we purchased his 2011 album, Los días intactos. Through the wonders of the internet, we heard the brilliant new songs the same day the Spanish did. But there was no way we could consider going to Spain for the million-city, small-venue tour for that album. 

In 2014, on the other hand, I had been working a regular job for some time. When Manolo García released the latest of his mind-blowingly great albums, Todo es ahora, we were able to listen for the first time together on real furniture in Massachusetts. Because it had been so long since our honeymoon in Spain (in 2009), we decided we would head over for that concert tour. I would finally see Manolo García live and fulfill my lifelong dream, which had been so thoughtlessly obliterated in 2008. 

Being an authentic artist, Manolo can’t be rushed. Instead of launching the 2014 album with a tour, he went back to the studio with his buddies and made a five-disc collection of gorgeously remastered and re-recorded old gems, which of course I snapped up with glee. We waited, but it didn’t look like a tour was forthcoming, so in March 2015, Stanley and I went to Spain for the second time together and had a grand, mostly medieval time. We spent most of the ten days in Seven Noble Knights territory, so it was fitting that the day of our return, I was surprised with an email in which Bagwyn Books accepted it for publication

Later that year, concert dates were published. We conferred briefly and my sweet, wise husband said we should take this opportunity because it doesn’t come around often. I think, empathic soul that he was, he sensed the giant hole in my existence because I had never been to a Manolo García performance. We investigated the concert venues, and they were all enormous, which felt overwhelming to our sensitive introversion. We chose to see Manolo García at the bullring in Valencia because the venue had the smallest capacity. I had never been to Valencia, though I’d always wanted to. 

Ecstatic in 2014 with an unexpectedly signed copy of Todo es ahora 
Photo by Stanley Coombs 
When the tickets went on sale, I jumped on them like the lifeline they were. Eighty Euros apiece gave us admission to a dream come true. I ceded the desk chair to Stanley and he strategized our plane tickets with memberships and miles, and I leaned over his shoulder to help him choose a rental car. Between the purchase of those tickets and the time we would use them, we moved from Massachusetts back to Arizona, so it was quite the geographic brain twister to arrange. 

Two days before our flights, on a bright Arizona May 14, I awoke to an email. (My translation follows.) 

Hi Jessica, 

Are you there? Is this your email? I’m Manolo García. I received your letter and know about the unexpected events you had when traveling. 

Please answer and tell me if you both are coming to the concert in Valencia. 

A hug from this sinner of the prairie [a cultural reference too complex to explain here], who is, 

Manuel García. 

My head exploding, I checked the from address and verified that it was coming from Carmen. Not just any Carmen, but a talented and creative Spanish music artist who happens to be Manolo García’s sister. 

Only when I was half convinced of the message’s legitimacy did I call Stanley in to see. Are there words to describe what it’s like to be contacted by Carmen on behalf of Manolo García? Not really. That day still stands out as unique. Stanley came up with a lot of scenarios, but I focused on accepting that this was enough, that even if we never heard anything from them again, we would still love Manolo and Carmen for all the joy they’d already brought us. We composed a message in reply and checked every time we could as we traveled to see if someone wrote back. Not yet, not yet, we kept saying. 

Stanley and I always divided up the labor of a journey in a way that maximized the use of each other’s talents and made for the smoothest journey. I took care of everything on Spanish soil except the rental car, and Stanley assumed responsibility for all transportation, including how to behave at the airport to get the best service. I was happy to comply with any suggestion he had because the result was always magical. 

We had some concern about making a connection at the Charlotte airport, and it turned out that even though it’s manageable in size, we arrived at the gate only eleven minutes before boarding. It felt like one more charm in a series of charmed events. For example, our tickets put us into the TSA precheck line. The flight felt long, mostly because it was on one of those fancy airplanes that pressurizes the cabin to almost normal altitude, and when there’s more oxygen it’s harder for me to fall asleep. 

T4 at Aeropuerto Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas
Photo by Stanley Coombs 
We arrived on May 17. Oh, the exhaustion! Oh, the crustiness! We knew the drill about the rental car from the previous year. It was a tiny black SEAT no one would ever want to steal. Then we went back up the flat escalator for carts, and ate donuts and a paleta de ibérico sandwich with orange Fanta. That was several things off the list already. 

We had no trouble finding where to go, even though it was tough booting up Susie, which is what we called our phone GPS navigator, in a "foreign" country. The landscape changed dramatically every few kilometers, and we passed into Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, and Aragón. We saw tons of iconic Osbourne bulls. 

You won't see these wordless liquor ads anywhere but Spain.
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
When we caught a glimpse of Medinaceli, which is mentioned in Seven Noble Knights, we stopped and marveled. It turned out to be one of the pueblos más bonitos de España. Yes, this is a thing. Spain officially chooses its most beautiful towns. Next, Calatayud was amazing with thirteenth-century churches and a million castles, but we couldn’t get to any of them in the car, and were too tired to walk. Stanley did some amazing maneuvers on the small streets in that car. There was a statue of Alfonso el Batallador (notorious husband of Queen Urraca) tucked into a corner we swept by. 

Our SEAT for two weeks.
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
When I was telling family and friends about this journey afterward, Stanley would contribute a story about when I was trying to get the above photo in Calatayud. Stanley didn't even want me to have to get out of the car—that's how tired were were—and, still getting used to the stick shift, he backed into a random invisible concrete block and scuffed the back right bumper. He was concerned that the rental company would charge us for the damage and started hatching a plan to avoid that. 

Our hotel in Zaragoza was in the middle of a big commercial area with trucks and malls. We had trouble finding somewhere to eat and ended up at McDonald’s. That must've been a direct result of my dad, because when he called me while we were on the way to the Phoenix airport, he asked if we were going to eat McDonald’s in Spain. As if Spain weren’t one of the best food countries in the world. But this McDonald's wasn't like any I'd been to in the United States. It had a fancy electronic ordering system, and I ate deluxe fries with curry sauce. 

The Ebro, the signature roof tiles of the Basílica del Pilar, and lovely Zaragoza
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
We slept for an hour and a half and drowsed a little more before resolving to go to Zaragoza's famous basilica. This place is the reason so many Spanish ladies are named Pilar. We went to the top of the tower with the help (but not all the way) of the attended elevator. Amazing views of the Ebro, the biggest river in Spain. We walked around in the Pilar plaza a little, and when we saw a pharmacy, we got Stanley an expectorant because he thought he had either bronchitis or Valley Fever. Then we had gorgeous lemon and chocolate/crema catalana gelato and got back in the car to take a Susie-led tour of Zaragoza’s posh shopping streets and the places only the locals go. It was so attractive, I thought I wouldn’t mind living there. We ended up at the palace, but it was so late in the day we didn't have time to go in. It’s huge! We strolled around it and enjoyed the gardens with the locals at the end of the day.

Palacio de la Aljafería, Zaragoza
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
At that point, we headed for a big mall anchored by Hipercor (one of Spain's Walmart approximations) and shopped for detergent, hand lotion, shaving cream, black shoe polish to "repair" the car, and candy. We had dinner there at a local joint, sharing a menú of esparragos blancos with jamón serrano and a scrumptious bistec with pepper sauce. Natillas for dessert—yum! 

After a day that lasted about 48 hours, we slept well.

Next time, a romantically rainy day in Catalunya. 

Catch up with the rest of the posts in this series here.