Spain 1959

Posted by on Feb 26, 2019 in Blog | 1 comment


Marilyn lined up a timeshare on the Costa del Sol in Spain and got a great deal on tickets. I’d been telling her about living there and a trip three of us made at Easter from Seville along a Roman Road built two thousand years ago, riding through country that was little changed from the Middle Ages. There were no schools or electricity or food other than what they grew and butchered, no outside news. The people had never heard of the United States, or even the New World for that matter. We’d ride horseback into a village and people would drop what they were doing to follow us to the plaza or inn where we’d dismount and sit and talk with them. They were simple as children, wide-eyed, sometimes touching our garments to make sure we were real. I was ahead of my time and had long hair and they’d never seen long hair on a man. Dimitri had brass colored hair and Tim was blonde with blue eyes, his face Scottish pink and strange looking, even to us. They watched us like kids do cartoons on television.

One time a stallion galloped up to the mare I was riding and danced around biting her, then mounted her so his front hooves were dug into my legs. He was so turned on he didn’t even notice me. She kicked with both back feet and knocked him over and took off faster than I’d thought she could run, the stallion right behind and more interested than ever. He was circling around to cut her off at a bridge coming up but she made it across and he didn’t follow. We heard his whinnies for miles. I heard that story in all sorts of convolutions for a year in Madrid.

Anyway, Marilyn wanted to travel to the places I’d known in my twenties and hear my stories with a visual reference. Deep down I wanted to leave Spain the way I’d known it, a country cut off from the modern world until the year before we students got there when the borders that’d been closed for 20 years were opened. Generalissimo Franco was still in charge, his troops goose-stepping through the streets of Madrid while Hitler’s Messerschmitts flew in accolades overhead, but his reign was over. The people were waiting for him to die and Prince Carlos to assume the throne. Long wait.

When I lived in Torremolinos after Madrid it was a village on the south coast of a few hundred fishermen. It had one sit-down restaurant, the Bar Central. Now it is part of a resort bandwidth stretching from Malaga to the Straits of Gibraltar. This is where Marilyn and I were headed. We would land in Malaga and rent a car to drive to our timeshare and from here travel to Seville, Granada, maybe even Madrid. I secretly dreaded it. It was like meeting a young lover after fifty years, you have that one look from the heart and then the mind kicks in with a Good God!! What happened to you?

At the University we studied with some of the country’s cultural heroes. One was Joaquin Rodrigo who taught a course with his wife on the history of Spanish music. She played Nacisso Yepes’ recording of her husband’s most famous composition with the Madrid Symphony Orchestra. The two of them sat in folding chairs in front of us, hands in their laps, his eyes unseeing, hers closed, listening to soaring music the likes of which none of us kids had heard.

Marilyn plays the Concierto de Aranjuez a lot. It matters to her that I knew him, that I breathed the same air as him, that I heard his soft voice and watched his wife select the records he called for to illustrate something he was saying about Albéniz or Tárrega or himself. Imagine the simplicity of the country’s greatest composer sitting there with a group of young Americans, wearing a tattered, worn shiny suit with three blind mice black glasses on and speaking to us of the influences on his music, of its roots in his region of the country and the Spanish need to be free.

Marilyn and I flew out of Minneapolis on a late April afternoon en route to Philadelphia where we’d change planes for the Atlantic crossing. We got caught in a storm and circled over the Great Lakes to let it move through, but it didn’t. We landed at Pittsburg to refuel and took off flying in lightning. We were the last plane to land at Philly before the airport was shut down.

The airline had a thousand passengers who missed their transatlantic flights that night and by the time we got to the desk the next day’s flights were booked, and the day after that. They said our luggage was lost along with everyone else’s and for us to check by every hour in case something turned up. How could it turn up when it was on a plane to Spain, and they knew it. But we didn’t. They’d transferred suitcases to the overseas carrier from our flight when we landed, then not waited for us. Our luggage got back to us in Minneapolis three weeks later.

Out over the Atlantic we noticed the light of the sunset changed from one side of the plane to the other. I thought it was a miracle but then the Captain came on the intercom to say there was a small problem that was really nothing but regulations made them head back to have it checked out. Wouldn’t take but a few minutes. Ten minutes later he said we were heading to Boston airport where they had better mechanics, then later said the better mechanics were busy so we were heading to Philly.

The head stewardess announced that no one would be permitted to leave the plane when we got in and Marilyn and I looked at one another and decided we’d see about that. We agreed that our trip was doomed, we’d missed three days of our timeshare, had no luggage and by the time we nestled into our hotel room we’d have three days left. So we had one of the younger stewardesses call back the big, old and ugly one to talk with. She started talking before we did saying she understood how terrified we were but that this was nothing, she’d been through it a hundred times and was still here, big and ugly as ever. She had some travel sickness pills that’d calm us, and turned to go get them. We called her back and explained that we were not afraid, we were giving up the trip, there were only three days left for our visit and so we decided to get off the plane. She repeated that no one was getting off, and the look on her face reminded me of the head nurse in the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest. I get calm at a time like this and told her that the rest of them could stay on but we were leaving. The airline had lost our luggage, stalled us three days, now they were turning back and it sounded to us like we were not being given the facts about this emergency. She tried staring me down for a minute, said it was not an emergency, then went forward to describe what she’d just been through with the other stewardesses.

Marilyn and I decided we would get up as soon as the plane was at the gate and get off, opening the door if we had to. We didn’t have to, but we were the only two of 300 passengers who disembarked, and that plane was still parked there three hours later getting a new engine or something when we took off on our flight to Minneapolis. To its credit USAir refunded our money on all tickets, and paid for our way back home. The older man at the desk was a sweetheart, and we took this as another sign that we’d made the right decision.

One Comment

  1. “Life is a journey, not a destination.”