Sunday, July 25, 2010

Genealogy Trip -- Day 1 and 2

My trip got off to a bit of a chaotic start. My son and I were dropped off by a friend at the Raleigh-Durham airport on July 22nd where we waited a couple of hours, through three gate changes, before being told the flight was cancelled. There were no other flights to JFK, and all flights through different airports were booked; so we were forced to return home. I should mention we were flying on award tickets, so I have no idea how much this played a part in the lack of seat availability, but nonetheless, we were unable to leave that day and were rebooked -- luckily for the next day. This time, my husband drove us to the airport, which was a bit bittersweet. Had the economy not wreaked havoc on us the last couple of years, I wouldn’t be taking this trip without him. But things are as they are, and wanting something that can’t be doesn’t help the situation – this is my attempt at Buddhist philosophy, by the way. Of course, Murphy’s Law still applied on this day, starting with a boarding delay followed by circling JFK for an hour before landing. We had to hustle to the Iberia ticket counter in another terminal where we managed to find two seats together on the flight to Madrid. Then, although we boarded the plane fairly on schedule, we didn’t take off for about one and a half hours because there were 12 planes in front of us. This resulted in a late arrival in Madrid and the mad dash to catch the flight to Malaga, which of course was in another terminal and the very last gate in the building. I barely had enough time to capture the essence of my first breath of Spanish air, although cigarette smoke was definitely factored somewhere in my brain as I heaved from the unanticipated jog. Needless to say, we made it to the plane, but by a minute or two.

When we arrived in Malaga, we found the glass enclosed baggage carousel meant for non-EU visitors, which was a sauna. I was dragging by now from exhaustion, but Murphy’s Law had its fun once more when I realized my suitcase was missing. The only good thing was that my Spanish was miraculously pretty intact – at least enough to handle asking for instructions and speaking to the people at the lost luggage department.

An hour later, we finally left the secured area of the terminal and met my parents on the outside. On our way to their home in Almuñecar, we stopped by a huge supermarket to buy a couple of hams to bring to Norway as gifts. The store is a bit of a Super-Walmart but with Spanish goodies filling the shelves. The deli was laden with hanging, cured legs of ham and aromatic cheeses unique to the area and other parts of Europe. Even what would be normal in the U.S. looked different – Coke and Pepsi in hourglass shaped bottles measured in the metric system and other sodas and juices we never see. Of course, I was a bit too sleepy from the trip and time difference to truly enjoy any of this, but we got what we needed and moved on toward my parents’ home.

Once there, my son and I were shown to our beds, and we took a six hour nap. We awoke around nine in the evening, local time, and headed out to town for dinner. In Spain, dinner or supper is very late. In fact, when we arrived at the restaurant, the foreigners on vacation were having their meals, and around 10:00 pm Spanish families started trickling in with their young children in tow. Next door, at the park, there was a David Sanborn concert we could hear for free as we ate. Around midnight, we finally left the restaurant and decided to go for a walk in the town.

The view from my room.
Almuñecar has grown a lot since I used to come here as a child. I remember a time when the hills were bare of houses, but now they have built up many areas. Almuñecar is hugged by the Mediterranean, and has become quite a tourist spot. In fact, since it is nearly August, the streets, bars, and restaurants were filled to capacity with all kinds of people – foreigner and local; young and old. Occasionally, I caught glimpses of budding romances – the young Spanish man and woman talking with that gleam in their eyes that says they just met and sparked. One of the women held a rose in her hands as the man cocked his head to speak to her in soft tones with a smile on his handsome face. Oh, to be young again and newly in love – there is rarely as great a feeling. In another scene, the man was on his knees and the woman was telling him to please get up, her arms flailing about wildly. They were too far for me to tell if she was embarrassed or angry. On the sidewalks were several blankets of black-market goods like pirated movies and replica fashion handbags sold by the African immigrants making their living off the tourists and locals. In the darkness of the sea, one could imagine seeing where they came from, etched on the horizon by the light of the moon.

Overall, the first day in Spain was a bit of a whirlwind. Today it has been quieter. My suitcase came, and we went over plans for the trip to Norway. Then my parents’ neighbors came over for coffee -- really nice people from England who live in Almuñecar year-round. And now, I am finally sitting on the terrace with the view of the Mediterranean, where it can sink in that I am truly here. I grew up in Spain, for those of you who don’t know me. This is my genealogical history to pass on, perhaps to my grandchildren one day. I spent six years living in Bilbao, but we always came down to Almuñecar during the summers, or for Christmas. Some of the happiest years of my life were spent here in Spain. I remember my good friends, Mili and Elisa in particular. We were always out playing cops and robbers or some other fantasy game. On the girly side, we had “la goma” which was basically an elastic band tied so that it would hug the hips of two girls while the girl in the middle got to wrap her legs around it in a dance-like fashion – the point was to get unraveled. It is kind of hard to explain, but it took the place of jumping rope and was quite fun. In fact, I brought it with me when I first moved to the United States after ten years abroad.

I should backtrack and say I was born in New Jersey but moved to Italy at a young age, and from there I lived in Spain, then Germany, then Spain again. I remember how hard it was when I came back “home.” I didn’t exactly feel like I fit in too well, and it was also my sixth grade year, which was a hard age to begin with. But I soon adapted to the culture I was born into, although my heart stayed in Spain for several years after I left. Eventually, the memories of the friends I had left behind faded as did the use of the “goma” I had tried to maintain, thanks to two parallel trees in the backyard.

Now when I come back to Spain, it feels somewhat foreign yet familiar… somewhat like home and somewhat like a vacation spot. I belong and I don’t, which is, in essence, the way I have always felt anywhere I have lived.

The game "La Goma."


  1. Cry. Whine. Whimper. Pout. I wish I were there with you. That "Room with a View" is to die for. And I'm glad you did move back to the US, or we never would have met! :-)

  2. We are planning a trip to Spain this September, and your blog posts are getting me into the Spanish mood! Don't you wish you could bring one of those jamon serranos back to the United States? That is the one thing my husband misses more than anything. American ham just doesn't compare.