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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.