Subscribe to Jessica's exclusive newsletter

Subscribe to Jessica's newsletter

* indicates required

Monday, May 22, 2017

"I think I was robbed": The Trip of a Lifetime, Part 3

Although I've loved Manolo García since 1995, I had never seen him live. It was a matter of not believing I deserved to experience even a moment of the happiness a Manolo García concert would surely provide. In 1995, 1998, and 2005, I had opportunities involving varying degrees of difficulty and expense, and seized exactly zero of them. 

As I wrote last time, the summer of 2008 was already a huge deal because I moved in with the love of my life, and in August I was finally going to a Manolo García concert as well! It was part of the tour for his fourth solo album, Saldremos a la lluvia. In order to afford the airfare, I had to save money for months ahead of time, when I had only odd jobs. Stanley’s acceptance and encouragement of this crazy trip meant the world to me. It was only for the weekend, Friday to Tuesday, and the cost was something like a hundred dollars per hour that I would be on Spanish soil, but Stanley understood that this would fulfill a life’s dream for me and regarded it with utmost respect. He couldn’t come with me only because we had just spent so much money moving.

My visits to Spain had 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 train station, having honed my navigation skills on seven previous trips. I waited in line for an hour to buy my ticket to Ciudad Real, the city where the concert would take place. Then, instead of stopping to eat, I called Stanley 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 rolled luggage, 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.

“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 long afternoon. It was Friday, and a holiday—the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary—so I had to search the neighborhood for a police station that was open in order to report the theft, darting here and there, sweating copiously in Madrid in August with my rolled luggage, and stopping to ask people directions every so often. With the purse, I had lost American and European cash, credit cards, the train ticket I’d just purchased, a digital camera Stanley had leant me, as well as 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’d made my declaration, the time for the train for Ciudad Real had come and gone. I still hadn’t 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, anyway, 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 refused to surrender to panic, and eventually, after I’d insisted enough about how destitute I was, the police called social services. Two pleasant young Spaniards—fans of Manolo García, no less—came to deposit me in a Good Samaritan 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 enjoyment. 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—people, birds, plants, art—around me. I fell in love with Madrid in the purity of those three days. 

Photo by Jessica Knauss 
I got to speak with Stanley on the phone twice, for about three minutes at a time, as I milked the last minutes out of the calling card I’d brought from the States. Overall, I think he had a worse weekend than I did, worrying about my safety and comfort. 

In the Good Samaritan house, I viewed a Star Wars marathon dubbed in Spanish because of a ten o’clock curfew. From the balcony, I watched parades and festivities in honor of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in the street. 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 Stanley, Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, which had been in my rolled luggage. Without that book’s sane perspective, I would’ve had a completely different experience. 

What was really important? I was safe and I had my future husband’s love and support, albeit from afar. 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 I could do to change the situation.

Photo by Jessica Knauss 
Monday rolled around, and using the subway fare the Good Samaritan house had given me, I got to hang out at the American Embassy. With my new passport, Stanley was able to send me money, and I stayed 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 hadn’t seen Manolo García in concert. But there are worse things than being temporarily stranded and penniless in Madrid, as I have come to understand. Stanley thought I should let Manolo know what had happened, so I wrote a letter. Nearly a year later, Manolo responded with a beautiful watercolor with his signature and a personal note (with my name, lower left) thanking me for my efforts. If I wanted to come back to Spain (he thought so), I should let him know. I’d earned a coffee, or a beer, or whatever I wanted, with “un amigo.” He was referring to himself! What a great guy!

Art by M. García; photo by Jessica Knauss 
A few months after that, I returned to Madrid with my new husband on our honeymoon. We didn’t call up Manolo because we were still astounded that he’d responded at all, never mind so nicely, and couldn't conscience taking advantage, but we spent a couple of enchanted days in the capital of Spain. I was able to show Stanley around all the better for the crazy experience the previous year, and I’m sure it helped to convert him into almost as big a Spain fan as I am. Eventually, we returned to Spain together twice. Such a glorious times with the man I love most in the most magical place. 

I first wrote about my cutpurse adventure on the occasion of our first wedding anniversary:

Our marriage was relentlessly tested with threats of poverty. As you can see, we were happy anyway. At least in part because of that disastrous 2008 trip to see Manolo, we appreciated what we had while we had it. Non, je ne regrette rien. 

After that, Stanley and I were never apart if we could help it. The passionate love we started with matured quickly into devotion forever. The small details of day-to-day care and kindness were already apparent in this short, fraught time we were apart. 

And so Manolo García provides the first bookend. This story of happiness continues in the next posts with our decision to return to Spain in 2016 and a short communiqué from one Sr. García. 

Catch up with the other posts in this series here.