Subscribe to Jessica's exclusive newsletter

Subscribe to Jessica's newsletter

* indicates required

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

New Life: The Trip of a Lifetime, Part 13

It was June 2016. Stanley and I were waking up to bright blue skies and doves cooing in Arizona. For an instant each morning, I could fool myself into thinking I was still in Spain, on that trip I wish had never ended. Arizona will always live in my heart, especially now that I don't live there, but the disappointment was palpable, the lighting angles all wrong, the smell of the air off somehow.

I've lived in quite a few places, and geography has been a central preoccupation in my life. After I first traveled to Spain, when I was sixteen years old, I noticed a tiny seed of anxiety that I imagine in a manner similar to traditional depictions of the angel and devil hovering over a decision-maker's shoulders. As I moved east and west, north and south, and across the Atlantic for education, employment, and finally to be with my roaming true love, that anxiety devil grew from a seed and blossomed into something formless but huge.

The view from my study in Arizona could almost be Andalucía. 
I had a lot of freelance editing work that June, and as I pounded away at the keyboard in the little study I so appreciated for the short time I had it, I cogitated on this eternal geographical anxiety in the background. I noted that it affected my mental state at all times. It calmed down quite a bit when I spent time with Stanley and especially when we purposefully centered ourselves in the present moment. But maybe, just maybe, a physical place existed beyond that anxiety's reach.

Looking through the photos and videos from our Trip of a Lifetime, I came to one of those realizations that break the world open, that energize you and let you see new possibilities: I had an epiphany. I leafed through some old journals and photo albums and confirmed my suspicion that this new truth wasn't run-of-the-mill traveler's regret. Someone once told me I was born in the wrong country, and I was only beginning to understand how true that was.

Stanley was parked on the couch in front of the TV, a place he'd been more often than not lately, but I was too wrapped up in my epiphany to notice. I went out to him and spoke from my heart. "Spain is the only place I ever feel at home, the only place I don't feel as if I should be somewhere else." Over the course of the next half hour, with tears of emotion, decision, and joy, we hashed out some of the feasibility of going to live in Spain. I was convinced his visa would be easy as a retired person; mine, as a "working person" (a productive member of society or a drain on it), would be much more difficult to obtain. Stanley hadn't been feeling well—that's as much as he ever said—and all this was overwhelming at the time, but he agreed that we would look into it and figure it out "as soon as you get better," as I so naively put it.

I felt better because I always feel good with a plan or even a plan for a plan. My true love, however, never did feel better.

Without going into too much detail, he entered the hospital about a month later on a Friday. Stanley's sister flew in to help, but she considerately left me alone to chat with him his first night in the ICU. I played him several of his favorite Manolo García songs on his phone. In all the emotional strain, I was convinced that Stanley was now in a position to understand the Spanish in the songs perfectly. And so I closed the Manolo García bookends of our marriage.

Then I told him I'd found a program through which Americans could teach English in Spain, and that if he needed to leave, he didn't have to worry about me. I would be living the dream. Everything else he already knew.

The following Friday in the early morning, barely a week after arriving at the hospital, Stanley passed away. I have no working memory of much of anything that happened for the following four to six months. In spite of my best efforts, my life has become increasingly difficult and meaningless since then. But I had the resilience to undergo the complex, all-in-bureaucratic-Spanish application process for the teaching program I'd promised my husband I would apply for.

That small but epic act of hope has come to fruition. I'm just getting started with what promises to be a long and winding road, but barring further catastrophes (Have I had enough yet? Please?), this autumn I will start an academic year imparting my English expertise in a high school in Zamora.

This close-up of the frontispiece of the Cantigas de Santa María, Códice rico,
shows Castilla y León, Zamora's region, with its castle and lion insignia. 
This feels like exactly what I should do. Much more about this magnificent location in later posts.

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

Monday, June 12, 2017

Leaving Madrid: The Trip of a Lifetime, Part 12

We thought we were tired in 2015! 
In 2015, at the end of the trip that was mostly about visiting Seven Noble Knights sites, Stanley and I had made plans to have dinner with my good friend—okay, he's an ex-boyfriend—who lives in Madrid. In the event, we were too unspeakably tired and emailed our regrets the day of. In May 2016, there we were, unexpectedly in Sevilla, at least six hours driving from Madrid, when the original itinerary I carefully put together back in Arizona had indicated we would only be three or four hours away. The itinerary would've given us plenty of time to see the city we would've been staying in and mosey over to Madrid to get to our makeup dinner date in plenty of time.

Hasta luego, Sevilla.
It was scary and exciting to drive the car straight into an elevator in the hotel garage. 
The unexpected joys of this trip were worth just about anything, but not disappointing my friend again. After that insanely wonderful night in Sevilla, we got up dutifully early and dragged ourselves to the car to get going. We took the time to finally use the black shoe polish to cover the scuff on the bumper from our first day, in Calatayud—which of course seemed like a million years ago. That's where Susie (as we called our phone GPS navigator) gave us a beautiful gift: When I gave her the address of our Madrid hotel, she showed me we didn't have to take the due north, six-hour route I was accustomed to. If we went through Extremadura, NNW and then swerving east, Susie thought it would shave an hour and half off the time.

Susie's route sent us through
Talavera de la Reina,
home of fine ceramics. 
I can't thank Susie enough for that insight. Not only was the trip shorter, but it also let me check off the last region of peninsular Spain I had never been to before: Extremadura. To Spanish ears, the name of this region sounds harsh: "extreme" and "hard." (Really the name comes from the fact that it was at the edges of "reconquered" territory.) In reality, it looks lush and inviting. The landscapes changed every few minutes into beautiful new configurations, and we still had that wonderful Spanish road trip feeling of being the only ones on the road. When we stopped at a roadside rest for something to eat, it seemed all of Hispanic humanity had converged there and Stanley's astonishment lasted all day: Where did they all come from? We didn't see any cars! 

We made it in plenty of time, relaxed and still on a Manolo high, to regale my Spanish friend with the first account of our trip of a lifetime. My friend is from Valencia, so of course he asked what we'd seen in his hometown.

"Manolo García," I said. "We had no time for anything else!"

My friend took us to a traditional Madrid eatery, where we enjoyed various tapas and larger plates, my friend practiced his English, and Stanley learned a lot about a Spaniard's point of view and my life before I met Stanley. 

Afterward, Stanley said, "He's a nice guy."

"Yes," I answered, self-satisfied. "I didn't always date jerks." Stanley was, of course, the ultimate proof of that. 

Sad section (skip if you desire)

Throughout the dinner, Stanley had a nagging, dry cough. "Allergies," he claimed so my friend wouldn't recoil in horror. Because Stanley never lied to me, I even believed the allergy excuse to some extent, telling a lady at the airport the next day who was constantly blowing her nose that my husband had them really bad this year, too. And so my true love's quiet distress was folded into the bizarre new reality I mentioned in previous posts. 

I asked why he hadn't eaten much at the delicious tapas dinner, and Stanley said it tasted weird—way too salty. I said I thought it had the normal salt level of cured meats. He was a salt lover, so the comment was even more bizarre. Food never tasted right to him again. 

End sad section, although it's always sad to leave Spain.

T4, Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas never looks as cheery on the way back. 
The next day, I tried to memorize how the streets, sights, sounds, and people made me feel because I wasn't sure how quickly we could come back. We were then subjected to some of the worst flying of our lives. Loads of turbulence, horrible treatment at US security, and we sat in the North Carolina airport starving but unable to stomach any of this weird food. Grief, mourning as only a traveler can experience it. I broke down in tears when we got on the plane from CLT to PHX, I was so done with everything. The ups and downs were so drastic, I could barely process them. 

The collage we made together includes photos, our VIP wristbands, a map
of Sevilla, and our Metro card from Valencia, which won a major design prize.
We both felt severely jetlagged, but when I recovered, I got some pleasure out of uploading videos and photos, playing Carmen's and Ricardo Marín's albums for Stanley, telling people the amazing things we did for two glorious weeks, and putting together a large photo and scrap collage of our last four days in Spain, i.e., the Manolo days, with Stanley. The finished project exerted a fascination over me and we never moved it from its spot on the breakfast table, so it was at eye level and I could stare at it before getting on with the details of this strange and foreign life in America. Once, Stanley contemplated the collage and said, "That's the best gift I could ever have given you."

"Yes," I said, because it was the honest truth. None of it would've happened if Stanley hadn't insisted I write to tell my story. "Have I thanked you?" I had, of course, but it was never enough to match my gratitude. True love creates an upward spiral of wonderful things. 

Next, the grand finale of this blog series: what Spain means to me and how it's still in the picture...

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

Friday, June 9, 2017

Sevilla Without Losing Our Seat: The Trip of a Lifetime, Part 11

There's always time for a fangirl moment. 
There's a rhyming saying the Spanish use in a musical chairs situation: Quien va a Sevilla pierde su silla (Whoever goes to Sevilla loses his seat). Stanley and I went to Sevilla, and did not lose our seats; on the contrary. However, there were many moments when I lost my mind with too much happiness. 

Monument to Don Quijote in Valdepeñas 
We got up groggily the day after the life-changing Valencia concert, although my head was pretty clear. No cobwebs could come in with all those neurons firing. We had debated exactly what to do about the laundry, and in the end we went to a lot of trouble to get our car out of the garage at the mall early, threw our clean laundry in the back, and felt very satisfied. Clean clothes! At last! 

Once we were on our way to my city (Sevilla! I thought I wasn’t going to see you! You sly gal.), I drowsed, but the smile never left my face. All the events of the past day kept replaying for me in the most delightful way. We had brought our mp3 disc with all of Manolo's songs, and listened to about six hours of it. The beautiful countryside looked so familiar. We zipped past Córdoba and I had a straight shot to see down the Guadalquivir to the Mezquita. Be still my heart! 

When we arrived, it was like an embrace from a beloved friend. I soaked in the sights, got to practice my Andalusian accent, and the enchantment of Sevilla tugged at me all night. 

We woke up early considering how late we were going to stay up. Happiness doesn’t let me rest. It was cloudy, which is weird for my Sevilla, and we consulted the weather report and it was supposed to rain! I agonized over my hair, which responds poorly to humidity. We wanted to know what was going to happen that day, so I called Marta. She said Manolo was very tired, and I said I understood. Stanley insisted I mention the coffee Manolo had invited us to, and we had to wait and see, but with the knowledge that the sound check would be delayed because of the rain. Even in the absence of news, no one could be sad in Sevilla, where all three of my true loves were converging (Stanley, Manolo, and Alfonso X, el Sabio). We thought we’d go have some lunch and come back so as not to miss anything. 

It was weird to have the sky grey. Was this really Sevilla? We started at the Corte Inglés, department store par excellence, where we looked in the tourism section for an umbrella. It was hard to decide—how many times are you going to need an umbrella in Sevilla?

Stanley wasn’t sure where we were—we'd only been in Sevilla a few hours on our honeymoon—but I led us fearlessly, using the new umbrella against pitterpats of rain. We found the nicest traditional shop, and I went in on a mission to get new fan. It was a complete shopping experience, not unlike wedding dress shopping, with me telling the saleslady what I wanted, and she showed us what she had, and I made more specifications, and there were loads of lovely fans, but I ended up with a fantastically gorgeous red one with polka dots and flowers. The fan is too pretty. The only thing I've used it for was to spruce up my display at the Spring Into Art event this last April. 

750 Years in Sevilla 
We passed an elaborate temporary archway near the town hall celebrating 750 years of the Catholic Church in Sevilla (since 1266!), and Stanley took my picture with the Alfonso X statue in the Plaza Nueva. That completed my trinity of brown-haired men. We made it to the cathedral and here might be the first time I noticed my own break with reality. Alfonso X is buried in the royal chapel in the cathedral, and it's only open to the public during masses. I wanted to check the schedule so we could spend some quality Alfonso time the next day, after staying up who knew how long at the concert. Stanley was so scandalized by the thought that I would be trying to do anything except get out of Sevilla to make it to Madrid the next day that I took a step back. Too much pleasure had skewed my reason. There was much more pleasure to come, I knew it, so who cared if it drove me crazy.

Jessica and perhaps the most bookish of her loves, Alfonso X 
I saw a British couple walking and the lady was talking about shopping, needing to get something “preferably with polka dots.” Ah, yes, my Sevilla satisfies everyone’s idea of Spain. Polka dots? Bring ‘em on!

We wandered down some of the side streets around the cathedral and passed an empty bar. I could see inside and there was a lone barkeep, and “Pájaros de barro,” Manolo's most popular song, was playing. Stanley heard it, too, and it’s out of character for me to play a joke, but the spirit was upon us. I came up with a whole fictional scenario of Manolo García playing music in a little bar for three people because that’s the kind of intimacy vibe I got from him. “Is he in there?” I said. And Stanley looked! But I wasn’t laughing at my love, because at that moment anyone could’ve done the same to me. With everything that had happened so far and the fact that we were going to another Manolo concert later, there was magic in the humid air.

Our plan was to rest up at the hotel for the long night ahead, but not a lot of rest took place. I called Marta to get the scoop, with Stanley egging me on, but again, Manolo was too tired. “He won't be at the sound check?” I concluded. I couldn’t help my voice rising a bit. But Marta gave lots of apologies and I maintained my understanding because how can you not when everyone’s so nice? She said Manolo would meet with us before the concert, and to be there for 7 p.m. I didn’t have a chance to picture what that might look like because as I was hanging up, comfortable with my Spanish phone manner by now, I heard Manolo say “Hasta luego” in the background! Surreal. Why wasn’t he taking a siesta? 

La Barqueta Bridge 
We returned to the front desk to ask if there was any good ice cream nearby. Stanley used the word gelato and the receptionist had no idea what he was talking about. “Helado al estilo italiano,” I said, and that worked, and was the perfect thing to do under the clearing skies before trekking to the auditorium. 

Stanley with bougainvillea on the Expo side of the river 
After a lot figuring, we decided we would take the trusty bus to the banks of the Guadalquivir to the correct bridge, La Barqueta, then walk. And did we walk. The auditorium wasn't on the map, so we had only faith to guide us. 

The 1992 Expo grounds, of which the auditorium is an integral part, were run down, even more than when I’d last seen them in 2004. After the Expo, it appeared to be neglected. We were there during the dead of siesta, which added to the ghost-town feel. It was hard to tell which buildings were closed for the afternoon and which closed forever. We walked and walked, our spirits never flagging, but doubt was creeping in. The map wasn’t too helpful because I wasn’t sure where we’d gone straight when we should’ve turned—there had been nowhere obvious. Then we came out of the alley created by buildings into an opening and far to the left, there appeared to be an auditorium, and we could hear music—the sound test! I’m not sure how far we went out of our way, but it wasn’t terrible because nothing was terrible. Todo es ahora

At the special guest entrance, segregated from the huge line 
We were amazed at the number of people in line already, but I knew we needed to find a place where there was a sign for press and special guests. It was just beyond the regular entrance and no one was there. We made it there around 6 p.m., way too early, as usual for us. We stood in the shade of a tree full of lovely bright yellow blossoms and looked through the gates and imagined what was beyond.

After the bullring chat, Stanley and I had batted around the idea of where in the world could a person actually have a Cola Cao with Manolo García? It would be madness anywhere public. He gives the impression he can move about freely, but I don’t know that he could honestly have had a quiet time with his new best friends. The world may never know. 

We chatted and waited patiently while the wind buffeted us. Some guards came out and gave us bottles of water and little posters advertising the concert in Badajoz, in June, much too late for us. A certified groupie arrived and acted as if she was on the special guest list. She wore a white t-shirt elaborately printed in black with “Mira Manolo lo que tengo pa’ ti solo” (Manolo, look what I have just for you). Yowza! I told Stanley what it meant and we both had the impression that nothing like that would move him. A friend of hers wearing the same shirt stopped by but didn’t stay, showing us that there’s more than one person who not only thinks of Manolo as a sex object, but also thinks he might cast his sexuality toward his fans. The idea didn't belong on the Planet Manolo we'd experienced. 

Sometime after 7, I called Marta again and we learned that Manolo was still resting (understandable, of course, after giving it all in Valencia) and he wouldn’t be there until 8 p.m., which was the time they were going to open the gates. I hope I didn’t seem too pushy. I asked her if we could come in and just sit down because we’d been standing and there was a lot of wind (whine whine). But she said okay, and kept calling me guapa. The whole thing was the most civilized and goodwill-filled experience anyone’s ever had.

Miguel came out to the gate, and we went through and the groupie and some others tried to come, too, but Miguel said, “Solo ellos.” 

Our VIP bracelets led to a pun that led to a huge compliment to my Spanish! 
He walked us in with the usual “qué tal” stuff, and before we went through the doors, he taped bracelets around our wrists that said “Manolo García en concierto auxiliar.”

I made a silly pun based on auxiliar in Spanish that made Miguel chuckle. “¿De dónde eres?” (Where are you (just me) from?) he asked. 

“Los dos somos de California” (We're both from California), I replied. 

“Sí, pero ¿de dónde en España?” (Yes, but where in Spain?)

I just shook my head.

“¿No eres española? Creía que eras española” (You're (just me) not Spanish? I thought you (just me) were Spanish.)

Yay! I told Stanley what had just happened—a Spaniard thought I was a Spaniard! He imagined Miguel had been wondering what this Spanish lady was doing with some American dude. That would’ve been a headscratcher. Best compliment ever! I’ve had people make assumptions before, but this is the longest anyone has heard me speak while maintaining that mistaken conclusion.

Backstage to catering, where the VIPs go 
He walked us through the backstage areas—I couldn’t get back there with a GPS now, there was too much stimuli—and it seemed like the catering tent was literally behind the stage. It was big, with a large kitchen area and maybe as many as ten tables. Miguel sat us down at an empty table, but there were several people eating at the next one, and they said to come sit with them, so we did.

A red-haired lady whose face was all smiles said, “¿Sois amigos de Manolo García?” (Are you friends of Manolo García?)

I was taken aback. Were we? What universe had we entered? “Sí.” And saying it made it so.

Someone brought bottles of water and we nibbled discreetly on some bread rolls, but soon enough Spanish extraversion, mainly Pilar's (“Pili”), took over. They were from Málaga, and we talked about being from the United States, and pretty soon I was regaling them with the long story about 2008 and the letter and the watercolor and this year’s letter and Valencia and now Sevilla. Talking about things I love and understand. Is it any wonder I felt in my element?

Manolo García's amigos are all amigos, too. 
It turned out that the older couple had had a son who was a huge Manolo fan, and then he passed away from an aggressive cancer. They struck up a relationship with Manolo after the initial shock and have met Manolo a few times in setups like this one. It gave me the idea that once you’re an amigo, you’re always an amigo in this universe. My tenuous grasp on sanity couldn’t stand up against it. I followed these friendly people down the rabbit hole, as it were.

We talked about how much Spanish Stanley knew, and he cleverly replied, “Café con leche.” 

We're even amigos with the caterers! 
They took a few pictures, including with the caterers, because everyone was a friend there, and they encouraged us to get something from the catering. I ordered a salad for Stanley, thinking I would eat my sandwich we still had in the bag if my head ever reattached to my body, but they brought a salad for each of us—flavorful lettuce, nice tomatoes, and peppers. Stanley was well occupied while I kept jabbering with the malagueños.

They said the American band had just been there, after I said I preferred the Spanish band. We talked about PhDs and teaching and editing. Then Pilar's husband got into telling us to come visit them and they would feed us and they would invite Manolo (invite, but not see) and they would take us to a national park near them with incredible gorges and dangerous-looking bridges. 

A much bigger venue than Valencia, the better to fit all the creative genius in. 
All the while the anticipation was building. They started talking about needing to grab our seats, they’re letting people in soon! They made sure we were going to sit with them, and I was thrilled to lay the responsibility for choosing at anyone else’s feet, because we’d seen that it wasn’t going to be as close as Valencia—you could fit a couple of bullrings into the open standing section—and we had left the binoculars behind.

When there were murmurings that in another five minutes, Manolo would be there, Pilar brushed her hair, “Pa’ que me vea guapa” (So I look pretty for him). “Yo también” (Me, too), I said, trying to undo the rough texture my hair had picked up in the rain, which was long gone. A simple comb can't do that. 

The American band must be on the ground floor? 
At last, Marta came through and led us all with our VIP wristlets to an elevator with a printout of which mythical beasts were on each floor, through some run-down hallways, and to a long, plain dressing room. The light poured in the windows that looked out onto the concert area. Manolo was standing next to these windows and was backlit the whole time, natural halos imitating the ones I detect are hidden on him, anyway. The Málaga people swarmed him. They all had bags full of something: Stanley thought they had presents for Manolo and wondered what we should’ve gotten him. Trust my true love to imagine something so nice. They were actually things for Manolo to sign. I already have two signed items from him, and it never occurred to me to use this meeting in such a manner. I must be unusual. Or demented, like the lollipop! 

Backstage! Photo by Jessica Knauss 
I wish I’d brought Carmen’s CD with me so she could sign it. Who knew she would be there? She ran through and Stanley tried to talk to her because he missed out the first time. She said thank you and “Hasta luego.” The Spanish have a severe aversion to saying adiós (goodbye).

Marta the magnificent, Jessica, Stanley. Photo by Pilar 
While I was hanging back there, Marta came by and chatted a little. We thanked her so sincerely for everything she'd done, and she was all, “A ti,” which is “No, thank you,” but I can’t imagine what we did that was thankable. Just enjoyed ourselves!

Listening to the maestro. Photo by Stanley Coombs 
Once the Málaga contingent left, promising to find good seats, it was time to say something to Manolo. What could it be? What would be appreciative and poetic and memorable? He was holding forth to a bunch of people I didn’t recognize, but later focused on me. I felt like the only human who mattered in the entire world for those few minutes. Stanley was hanging off to the side trying to get pictures. Manolo reminded me to read Lucia Berlin's stories, so I scribbled the name down later, taking it to heart. (And I'm not sorry I did! Great stuff!) 

The photographer who took the picture that's the cover for Saldremos a la lluvia (the first album Stanley heard) was there and Stanley took a picture of the three of us, and then got one of me with Manolo in which I put my arm around his slim waist and he returned the gesture. Because we’re amigos, right?

Amigos. Photo by Stanley Coombs 
When it was time, he shook Stanley’s hand again, and I went in for the two Mediterranean kisses I wanted so bad. I was so overwhelmed feeling that smooth-shaven cheek against mine that I whirled away, choked up, to grab my purse. It felt like the end and we hadn’t said half the things we’d hoped to. We waved goodbye with loads of smiles and hasta luegos all around, and found our way to the elevator. 

All the VIP amigos sat together. 
The auditorium was completely full by the time the show started. 
Valencia was meant to be a once-in-a-lifetime concert event. Sevilla didn’t make it less special because, in spite of the identical set list, the experience was totally different. Twice the wonder, or even more, because all was unique. 

I've always loved tortilla de patata and Stanley did, too! 
For one, it was a more social experience because we found our Málaga friends and conversed while we waited, and even ate with them. We didn't eat the sandwiches we'd bought, but gladly accepted their hospitality and chowed down on homemade tortilla de patata baguettes. Pilar in particular got a kick out of the Americans eating such iconic Spanish food. 

It was just as exciting when the show started and I took just as many videos of the unique performances. I tried to keep up with what my Málaga friends were doing, and they in turn were amazed that I knew all the words to all the songs. No casual listener, this American! So, they asked, Manolo García is your favorite performer? "I have two great loves in my life," I answered. "My husband and Manolo García." (I skipped Alfonso X for simplicity, but he wasn't far from my thoughts.) That utterance got a lot of olé mileage! 

Because he had so recently expended so much energy in Valencia, I thought Manolo seemed a little tired, loopier at times, missing a couple of musical cues. I couldn't believe it at the end, when people were already filing out, when he unhooked all his earpieces and leapt off the stage to bodysurf in the crowd. He used to do that all the time, but as I had mentioned to my new friends, he might want to consider doing it less, since he's getting up in years. That night, no one had any age at all. We were nothing if not innocent children. 

I thought I'd loved it when Manolo talked to the audience in Valencia, but in Sevilla, during the second half, before they played "Para que no se duerman mis sentidos," he came to the mic stand, very solemn, to deliver the speech to end all concert speeches. "My musical companions and yours truly... I know some of you have come to our concerts for many years, since you were little. We're grateful, we treasure it, we enjoy it, I promise and swear. Thank you very much. You've come from Cáceres"—here Pilar yelped and grabbed my leg: "He's gonna say it! He's gonna say it!"— "from Albacete, from every part of this peninsula, and even, even... from the United States. Thank you very much, truly."

"You've come from Cáceres... from Albacete..."
"and even, even from the United States."
Of course I stood and threw my hands in the air and yelled as if my life depended on it. I wanted everyone there to know who Manolo García was talking about. Stanley asked me what was going on and I said, "Manolo García gave us a shout out on stage! He's up there performing his heart out, thinking of us!" 

I've seen a closeup video of this incident, and while Manolo's expression is pleasant throughout, the smile that crosses his lips when he says "Estados Unidos"—priceless. 

Left: Ricardo Marín, guitar and voice;
center back: Nacho Lesko, keyboards;
center front: Olvido Lanza, violin;
right: Manuel García, voice and guitar. 
"We saw the show in Málaga at the start of the tour and we thought that was great," Pilar said after the finale but before Manolo jumped into the crowd. "This was even better!" I could just about believe it. I couldn't compare Valencia and Sevilla because they were parts of one amazing whole, but if a musical event ever got better than that, I was sure the universe would implode. 

(Marta and Carmen can be seen in this short video looking after Manolo's athletic welfare.)

We spilled out of the auditorium afterward and followed the flow of people as they gravitated to the nightclubs and other music venues that were now open. If the Expo '92 area seemed like a ghost town before, now it was all flashing lights and activity, as if we'd been transported to the world of The Jetsons—but with no taxis to be had in the sky or on the ground. We said friendly hasta luegos to our Málaga amigos and pushed against the crowd, facing the fact that we were going to have to walk all the way back to the hotel. It was more than two kilometers, for sure, and remember that even if we weren't aware of it, my husband was suffering from Stage IV lung cancer. Knowing that, you would never believe the brisk pace he kept up the whole way. I explained that we were actually safer then, in the middle of the night, than we had been during siesta. "Why is everyone out now?" Stanley asked. "Are they trying to prove something?" While there is a bit of bravado in how little sleep you can get by on, in southern Spain, culture takes place at night because before air conditioning, it was unquestionably too hot during the day. We didn't get back until three in the morning, but we were safe and happy. 

In the hotel room, I got a flash forward of being back in the United States. It seemed unbearable. How could that life be real? This life, here in Spain, full of joy and belonging, that should be real. 

Next: the Trip of a Lifetime comes to an end with a friend. 

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Valencia, City of Dreams Come True: The Trip of a Lifetime, Part 10

Line up here to stand in the sand!
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
Time moved strangely the afternoon of May 26, 2016, and Stanley and I quickly felt it was time to get back on the subway. We looked around at people—how many of them were going to the concert? When we got out at the bullring, a line had already formed with hundreds of people, enough to wrap around the bullring and down the street that’s between it and the train station. We’d been so nervous about being in such a big arena with so many people, but now that we weren’t going to have to wait in line at all I was even more nervous! The excitement of achieving this dream that had been so rudely snatched away from me!  

Just a few people in line. Photo by Jessica Knauss 
We went to the ticket booth area where we’d gone in before and called up our friend Marta. It was already much easier to do so; she started calling me guapa and I tried to pick up normal Spanish phone habits. Miguel, the bodyguard from before, came out to get us. 

“¿Qué tal? 

“¡Bien, muy bien! 

We went through the gate, as important as you please, this time going up the stairs to get into the tendido, the riser benches. Stanley had no interest in standing for five or six hours and I can't blame him. Miguel took us where he knew we would get the best seats. Wow, were they ever.

Still sunny and the place to ourselves, with the beverage station 
Miguel said we could sit anywhere we wanted in a certain section, then left to prepare to follow Manolo while he jumped around in the audience. (I’ve since seen him in videos and pictures, so serious! Oh, the questions I would’ve asked if I’d known exactly what he does.) We sat in the first row of benches, directly across from the stage, next to the front door opening where people come through to get into the sand. The only thing in front of us was railing to keep us from falling. 

The beverage people were set up at the barrier the bullfighters leap over when chased. They were getting briefed and psyched up and one of them asked is if this was going to be a private concert. We were the only people in the audience! How we were doing? he asked. Awesome, really. The anticipation was so sweet, we didn't even need any drinks. 

An hour later, they started letting people in. They admitted groups in at different times, and so in spite of the long queue, the bullring filled slowly. The places next to Stanley and me filled right up because they were so desirable. Over the sound system, they started playing the first few songs from two albums, one by Carmen and one by Ricardo Marín. When the arena seemed about half full, Carmen walked through the sand. People were taking pictures with her and shouting her name from the tendido. “I didn’t know she was that recognizable,” Stanley said.

Carmen García with fans. Photo by Jessica Knauss 
The next time her album came on, I said, “That’s her!” When we listened to her album later, Stanley thought it was fantastic, and that it was kind of unfair to have so much talent in one family. 

Great seats, oh yeah! 
Everyone was so happy—a true communal experience. A large beach ball made its buoyant way across the bullring. People were bursting out into flamenco clapping and doing the wave. As it got closer to the start of the show, some people did the “Man-O-lo” chant. A lone guy sat next to Stanley and sat there eating multicolored popcorn without offering any, and in the end he got really excited and was dancing, knocking Stanley’s cell phone so I had to use YouTube’s shakiness corrector when I uploaded the videos later. I waited until it seemed like everyone was in their place, and then visited the souvenir table.

I looked over the merch and wanted everything, anything to feel as if I could take this happiness with me. Knowing that was impossible, I bought only five items, most amazingly, a demented lollipop. It’s the graphic from the cover of Todo es ahora. When the album first came out, many talk show hosts guessed what the artwork was supposed to be, and in an interview with Manolo, Buenafuente guessed, “It’s a demented lollipop.” Manolo said, “That must be it.” It struck me as hilarious. 

Demented lollipops!! 
I got back in plenty of time, exhilarated with my booty and with the fact that this thing was happening! No gumption trap, no distance, and no petty thief managed to get in my way.

Can you find us? It's filled to the rafters! 
It started with a surrealist film featuring a lot of eggs and some chickens. Mass production and nature contrasted in the scenery. Then the lights go low and the American musicians come out and play a long, almost psychedelic introduction, during which the man himself walks out with no lights on him and stands stock-still until you think you can't stand it anymore, until just the right moment. 

"¡Tú me obligaste a sentirme bien en soledad!" Heaven in Valencia.
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
Then it all happens: lights, music, Manolo’s voice—“Tú me obligaste a sentirme bien en soledad”—with a rock-star swing of the mic stand and stamp of the feet. It was everything coming together in the right place at the right time. Stanley said it was an effective opening because when Manolo started to sing, a tear came to Stanley’s eye. I was so touched that the moment meant so much to both of us. I hadn’t been the biggest fan of that first song, but after seeing this, I recognize its amazing qualities. For instance, it hits the sweet spot in Manolo's voice over and over. Or maybe they’re all the sweet spot!

The sound was incredible at our seats. We were all, thousands of people, submerged in this experience, without it hurting our ears. I couldn’t hear people singing along like you can in the YouTube cell phone videos afterward. I found myself singing along—it was an obligation!—and cheering and shouting and all the algarabía de alegría. A wonderful loss of control, a surrender to the moment. Stanley and I got to sit there with no one standing in our way. We took some videos with the sensation simultaneously that the moment was eternal and that we needed to record everything because its end was imminent. And that they were the best videos ever taken at any concert, except for the fact that Manolo likes to go off randomly into the crowd. It’s terribly exciting, but you can’t follow him with the camera to save your life! Sweet madness. Sometimes I would watch the moment and just hope the camera was capturing some of it. 

Here you can see the agile person dressed all in black who
captured images for the giant screens. 
With a lot of premeditation, thinking we would be last in line and up in the top gradas (nosebleed section), we’d brought binoculars from the States. I might have used them more if it hadn’t been a pain to take off my glasses and keep track of them while using the binocs. We didn’t strictly need the binoculars, in the end, because we were plenty close. Crazy Manolo was in good form—where does he get the energy? He threw the mic stand in the air. Stanley said he was going to get injured doing that kind of thing. But he’s been doing it for thirty years, so he understands the physics. Even some men were shouting “¡guapo!” 

Manolo would often talk with the audience, and I think those were my favorite moments. Before “Estoy alegre,” he declared that being happy is the most important thing. There was a fireside chat about people with diseases you can’t see, and lots of current Spanish politics before “Subo escalas, bajo escalas.” 

“All the good songs,” Stanley said at one point. And it’s true, song after song of wonderfulness, no clunkers ever, and what excellent playing, and that voice never even sounded tired. 

During an intermission while they changed the set instruments, they showed pictures of the audience on the monitors with some kiss cam moments. I’m not sure how long it lasted, but people got clapping and chanting again, always wanting to see their Manolo. They don’t know he belongs to me and I was just lending him. (wink

Starting the second half with the flamenco version of "En el batir de los mares"
complete with acoustic guitars and Juan Carlos García on cajón.
Photo by Stanley Coombs

The second half brought out the Spanish musicians who always tour with Manolo and are recognizable in their own right. It also featured the earlier albums and even a few old gems from before Manolo went solo. People can never get enough of their favorite old songs, it seems, so this was where people really lost it. 

My favorite from before the latest album, "Rosa de Alejandría," surprised me because the audience went almost as crazy as I did for it. I had no idea it was one of those crowdpleasers. What a thrill to share my little song!

Before "Somos levedad," Manolo talked about how good it feels to sing, and oh did it ever, to sing the ahaaahaahahh part with thousands of people.

"Prefiero el trapecio" was the pretend end. Manolo introduced the band and said good night, and after a bit of screaming and chanting, he came back out and asked if we want more. “¿Seguuuuurrrrooooooos?” (Are you suuuurre?) We convinced him easily. 

I tried to film "Sobre el oscuro abismo"—which I later found out has a verb conjugation error in it! But it was utter chaos with Manolo all over the crowd.

By the time they get to "Viernes," everyone was totally nuts, onstage and off. The backup singers took over the vocals for some of the song so Manolo could fly all over the place.

"A San Fernando" was an opportunity for massive improvised solos and general yelling and screaming that was completely different in every concert. 

Oh, that there could be such joy in the world. 

Taking their bows with a few laughs 
After more than three hours of music and several changes of shirts as Manolo soaked them through with sweat and passion, high on performance and possibly a little on the pot we smelled, Manolo brought both bands on the stage. They were being silly, and when people were already filing out, he gave his valediction, “¡Buenas noches, haced el amor!” (Good night, make love!) We were to see the same human being again in two days. What an amazing sensation, to be winding up the best thing you’ve ever done and know there’s more to come.

All these people left before we did. 
We had to wait to get out, and by the time we were on the street, all the taxis were gone from the stand. Stanley saw some people snagging the taxis farther up the street, which meant the people waiting to do it legit at the stand would be waiting a long time. So we went up even father than those naughty people and before I had time to think we would have to walk back, we were in a cab. Where were we going? Hmm… We were going the right direction, and we glimpsed the hotel out the window, and I said, there it is, and that was when the driver turned off to who knew where. Um, it’s back there. Sorry, sorry! We're just so tired. We walked into the lobby and there were people milling around, but it was quieter than anything before in the history of the world. We took sleeping pills, but I still don’t think I slept!

And there you have it. I hope this suggests something about what it’s like to want something for a really long time, and get it, and have it be even better than you could've dreamed. It was that way when I met Stanley, too. I knew I wanted true love, but had no idea what it looked like until he showed me every minute of every day we were together. 

We'd built up this high for the whole trip, and having reached the summit, it didn't come down until I was on the nasty plane rides home. I can see how the feeling might be addictive, and why some people go to every concert they can. 

Next time: Sevilla! Three loves in one place! Another unique concert! 

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