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Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes

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.

Intrepid travelers

Intrepid travelers

I felt the same way over and over again touring Spain with my teenagers this summer. Two weeks took us to Madrid, Córdoba,

Sixteen and Thirteen at the Alhambra

Sixteen and Thirteen at the Alhambra

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.rowing

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.

flamenco

Flamenco!

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.

Picasso was here!

Picasso was here!

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

... paella!

… paella!

Salad, Sangria ...

Salad, Sangria …

Gaudi, oh how did you ever think of this?

Gaudi, oh how did you ever think of this?

One of the soaring windows of the Sagrada Familia

One of the soaring windows of the Sagrada Familia

The Alhambra

The Alhambra

Parco del Retiro

Parco del Retiro

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Timed Travel

Why Spain?

My daughter, Eleven, makes and sells Garnet Granola. Packaged in brown craft paper bags with labels listing the contents, the granola sells well at the yoga studio. It’s like an on-going bake sale, an entrepreneurial enterprise I encourage because eleven-year-olds can’t find much work and she wants to earn money. The granola, adapted from a recipe I first encountered pregnant with her and staying in an inn in Eason, Pennsylvania, is studded with nuts and dried cherry and cranberry garnets. It’s delicious. Her client base has been encouraging and a few have asked, “What’s she raising money for?”

The newest batch of Garnet Granola and the granola company's CEO.

The newest batch of Garnet Granola and the granola company’s CEO.

“We’re saving for a trip to Spain.”

Mostly this elicits stories from well-traveled yogis who have trotted many regions of the globe, but last week someone asked, “Why Spain?” There isn’t really a short answer, I want to tell her; it’s this:

The first apartment in Barcelona was a deep green cave, rooms end-to-end with next to no natural light. We only stayed there a few weeks, and then we moved to a sunny place where I had a little room all my own. I wore a tartan skirt to school and stood on the corner of the street every morning playing cat’s cradle with my mother until the van marked Uniroyal in red letters pulled up and drove me to school. I feel like we sat on tires loose in the back, but as I fashion the snapshots of memory into something like a narrative, I don’t really know if the tire part is the story as it was or the story as I want to tell it.

I was eight years old, in third grade in an English-speaking private school in Spain. My father was on sabbatical, working on a novel and getting in touch with his inner Hemingway. The rest of us went along for the adventure. My brother adjusted the best, opting to stay through the end of high school, coming home summers and long holiday breaks. For me Spain was not a good fit—I missed my cat, my friends, my Iowa life. Maybe as a result of never settling in, I have very few solid memories of the time in Spain, a time that was meant to be a whole school year but ending early for my mother and me—we returned to the Iowa farm in January.

What I do remember intrigues me and I like to take the memories out and examine them. I can remember the markets and shopping to make paella. I can remember the vendors who sold tiny figurines for Christmas crèches. I can remember some of the extraordinary Gaudi architecture, sandcastles in bright colors dotting the city. I have an image of the beach in Sitges, a memory of wearing an orange wool poncho and clogs, and I can still taste the charred artichokes that came out of a huge fireplace grill in the restaurant high on a hill where we dined several times. As I remember one item, one smell, one flash, I am gratified when another follows. And even though I know I did not want to be living in that foreign world, the memories are not unhappy ones.

Although my earliest exposure to a foreign language was this immersion, I can manage basics in both French and Italian but speak next to no Spanish. Living there, I got practiced enough at saying, “No hablo español” that Spanish speakers didn’t always believe me and would jabber rapid-fire in my direction. As an adult, I’m disappointed I don’t know Spanish. So I am delighted that Eleven and Fourteen have each been studying Spanish since they were six. This summer they’re off to Spanish language camp, where they can immerse in language and learning. But next summer we’re heading to Spain, or at least I really, really hope we are.

I’ll turn fifty in August 2015, and two years ago when my junior high friends were visiting for a few days, we talked about how we should celebrate fifty together. One woman lives with her family in Marseilles, another in Washington, DC. The fourth comrade is in Hong Kong—Spain seemed like a natural choice. We put a pin in the conversation—let’s try, we said.

Then Fourteen came home last year talking about a school trip that would take him to Spain and France this June. He pondered it, the expense, the realities of being far, far from home. When Fourteen was born, I started setting aside a dollar a day for him. After a couple of months, I put him in his stroller and off we wheeled to the bank where I opened a savings account in his name. Every month I made a deposit and I started to do the same when Eleven arrived. Eventually those savings accounts were turned into CDs with the idea that the money would fund that school trip or similar big-ticket luxury item. So here was the opportunity.

When he realized the Spain trip overlapped with the very much closer Simpson Jazz Camp in Indianola, IA, he hesitated: “I don’t want to miss Jazz camp. I got so much out of it.” I was a little puzzled—six days of trumpet versus seventeen in Europe, but I simply said, “You know, I’d really like it if your first European experience was with me.”

“I want to go to Europe first with you too,” the words tumbled.

“You, Eleven, me. Let’s all three go to Spain together when I turn fifty.”

And just like that the dream trip to Spain became a real goal. We wish to spend a week or so traveling and a week sitting still, ideally in a house somewhere, a grand rendezvous with my friends and their families. I look forward to making new memories with my peeps and wonder if anything I see, hear, smell, eat or experience will refresh my memories of the country where I once lived.

I’m dropping change in jars and we’re saving the profits from Eleven’s growing granola business, any extra bit tucked away. Given the choice between a night out and cooking one more family meal, I’m trying to take the less expensive route so that this dream trip with my darlings can really happen. Thanks, as always, for tuning in! Namaste & much love & happy new March (spring soon!) moon, Rxo

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