Even though I never made it to Spain, in the early ‘90’s Spain came to me. At the time, I was working as an elementary teacher in a bilingual classroom. This meant I was teaching subjects in Spanish and English to students who were transitioning to English as their second language. I was totally in my element. This educational approach for second language learners is what I had studied, trained for, believed in, and promoted while pursuing my degree at UCR. In California’s Coachella Valley where I taught for 20 years, there were many students in need of this type of instruction but not enough bilingual teachers to serve them so the school district made a recruitment trip to Spain and returned with some spectacular teachers with whom I had the great pleasure of working. In my late 30’s, it was the pinnacle of my career and highlight of my life up to that point.
Not only did I gain knowledgeable colleagues in the work place, but I also gained very special friends. During a period of about three years, we spent much time together both in and out of school. Since my new friends preferred to speak Spanish, I had ample opportunity to develop vocabulary that was more than just academic. We got together for lively discussions on all topics, enjoyed good food and wine, and laughed a lot. I learned so much from them and began thinking about my life in different ways than I had before. This experience opened a new door for me… one that I had failed to enter so many years before in college. This time, I walked through the door without hesitation. As I look back on this time now, I realize it was the beginning of the end of what I refer to as “my previous life” — life before Norman who became my “knight in shining armor” saving this Sleeping Beauty from a stressed, depressed slumber.
The Spaniards were all from Madrid (madrileños). However, it was during the time we were together that Barcelona gained its first big dose of worldwide recognition in the form of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games and they were extremely proud that their country was hosting this event. They always returned home to Spain for the summer so they were there and I was here vicariously enjoying their company while enthusiastically following the daily Olympic coverage. At the same time, I was savoring the soundtrack of the games aptly titled “Barcelona Gold” which I just recently repurchased to add to the “¡Viva España!” playlist I created for our trip. The opening and closing songs on this album were the most memorable, each sung by an eclectic duo. Freddie Mercury, lead vocalist of the British rock group Queen, teamed up with Spanish soprano Monserrat Caballé to produce the moving Olympic theme song, “Barcelona”. For the closing ceremonies, British soprano Sarah Brightman and Spanish tenor José Carreras performed “Amigos Para Siempre” (Friends for Life) — expressing deep emotions about friendship which seemed to me just as appropriate for the Olympic athletes as my relationship with the Spaniards.
Eventually, it was time for each of the Spaniards to return home or set off on a new path. I was a bit devastated by this transition to say the least. I endeavored to keep in touch, but in those pre-internet days that was pretty much limited to the old-fashioned custom of letter writing, a habit which they weren’t particularly good at maintaining. Sadly, in the end, I lost contact with all of them. I don’t even have any photos to share with you here.
In my heart, through the first part of our journey I will be reflecting back on those times and emotions to cherish them once again. At the same time, it will be an opportunity to tick off some of those boxes on a very old list and tie up loose ends in my mind. It’s one of several reasons this trip is so important to me. I can’t wait to get started!