How was your trip?
The Big Apple Circus is a one-ring spectacular famed for taking excellent care of their animal and human performers. When Thirteen and Sixteen were just about Two and barely Five, we drove from our urban home in Bethesda to rural Maryland where the circus was performing in their tent, erected in a vast field. It was a late-afternoon into the evening performance and I remember the worries: would they stay awake? Was it too much money to spend on tickets for people so young? Would they enjoy the performance? Would the clowns scare them? What would they eat for dinner? About half-way through the evening, when Five was sitting on his father’s lap and Two was on mine, so that each of them could see better over the heads in front of us, they were leaning forward, eyes wide, completely absorbed. Tears sprang to my eyes and I thought, sometimes, sometimes as a parent you get to get it completely right.
I felt the same way over and over again touring Spain with my teenagers this summer. Two weeks took us to Madrid, Córdoba,
Granada, Barcelona, Valencia, and back to Madrid. We marveled at some of the most visited tourism sites in Spain, including the Alhambra and the Sagrada Familia, and enjoyed the markets, the grocery stores, and hanging laundry on the line out of our apartment window. We learned about hotel rooms where you have to insert the key card in the slot just inside the door to make the electricity work and sometimes struggled to find wifi as reliable as that which we are used to. We rode in taxis, buses, trains, shuttles, and even a Spanish airplane, and we walked in the surprise summer heat wave so much that Sixteen came home five pounds lighter in spite of eating every wonderful thing imaginable and ice cream nearly every afternoon around five or six. (My treat was sangria, almost every night with dinner. Yum.)
There were speed bumps, naturally, like the flight to Madrid that left Atlanta nearly five hours late, in part because Sixteen was held at the gate while the Delta employees struggled to figure out what had become of his suitcase. We each took our turns feeling grumpy and out of sorts, and there were a few scary what-will-we-eat moments, like the free tapa that was a dish of batter-fried fish, complete with their heads. But most of the time the trip was charmed, and even things that might try our patience around home, like waiting in line nearly two hours for train tickets, became interesting as we considered how we would ask for what we wanted in Spanish when it was our turn.
We stayed in apartments in Madrid and Barcelona. In Madrid, especially, it made us feel like locals, on the residential side of the most beautiful Parque del Retiro, where Sixteen ably rowed us around the lake and a turn around any corner brought us to another glorious fountain.
The cathedral in Córdoba and the Alhambra in Granada were inspiring. But the flamenco trio we lucked into in Córdoba and the sales women in the tourist shop who knocked a few Euro cents off Thirteen’s purchase when they saw she was paying herself were the delights we couldn’t anticipate, just enjoy as they occurred. It was with real pleasure, too, that we navigated the country without a car of our own, settling in to read and write and daydream or nap during our journeys from place to place.
It’s been forty years since I saw Barcelona. In the taxi from the airport I was stunned—the joyful creativity of the architecture clicked into place, the landscape of my dreams making sense after all these years. Top that with sitting in the café where Picasso sat with his friends, and I couldn’t have been any happier.
If it was hard to leave Barcelona, it was with pure bliss that we splashed in the Mediterranean Sea. And the day following may have been the most charmed of all—back to Madrid by train, the perfect paella, twentieth-century art at the Sofia Reina museum, and an upgrade on our birthday-gift last-night rooms at the Airport Hilton to the elegant and massive Presidential Suite.
We planned and saved for this trip for two years. To work for such a trip, enjoy it fully and then arrive home is to set the last period on a chapter. That is, all except the telling about it afterwards and the distilling of all that we learned—the gifts of travel. These include the valuable lesson of setting a goal and making it happen; the intrigue of being plunged into a foreign culture and noting the similarities and differences; the opening the door on the world to my children; the contrast of a technological developmental arc that’s different from the one we’re used to; and the opportunity to be completely present, somewhere new and unknown. Here at home, it almost seems like a fantasy already.
Back home on my treadmill, confused like a newborn about day and night by jetlag, I rubbed my eyes, not comprehending how it was that the credits for the show that I had just finished could be in Spanish. Were my electronics playing tricks on me? I noticed the same phenomenon the next day and it was then I realized that no, it was not a trick. Those Spanish credits rolled every time, right at the end of the broadcast, but I had never watched all the way to the end before. And at that moment I realized that bright eyes, eyes that can see the familiar in new light, are among the greatest gifts of travel, alongside renewed and replenished hope for the future and my faith that all will be well.
My hand is healing, and it felt great not to drag my computer around Spain, but it’s wonderful to be writing again. Thanks for your understanding that life’s events mandated a break from OverneathItAll. Full and new moons have come and gone since I last posted, but the crescent moon hung huge and low in the western sky last night and I’m celebrating summer along with you. Thank you, as ever, for sharing a bit of my journey. Namaste, Rxo