In the surreal and tense wake of the 9/11 al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in the United States, we headed off to England on the first flights out after a week of quiet skies due to the air travel ban. We needed to get away, stretch our lungs and legs in the English countryside.
A circuit through the al-Gharb (Algarve, Portugal), across the Strait of Gibraltar to al-Magrib (Morocco), then back to the Iberian Peninsula through al-Andalus (Andalucia, Spain) — a journey through Arabic lands! We met in Madrid having traveled from London via different means: I arrived fresh via 1.5 hr British Midlands flight, and Paul weary and worn from a 36 hr slow train odyssey through France and half of Spain.
The next night we took the sleek and shiny Ferrol “Rias Gallegas” train to Galicia where at dawn we crossed into Portugal and arrived in Porto for a seaside lunch, then onto Lisbon. We made a side trip to visit the Castelo dos Mouros, an Arabic hilltop castle dating from the 8th century, and to taste the queijadas, or delectable cheese and spice pastries I has “discovered” on my first trip to the area in 1990 and had since enjoyed at Chave d’Ouro (“Golden Key”) Portuguese bakery across the street from my East Cambridge apartment where I lived after university.
From the seaward capital we headed to southern Portugal, the Algarve to enjoy a couple days of beachy R&R then to hip Tarifa, Spain. The hills around this town were dotted with wind turbines, symbol of Spain’s emergence as a green energy superpower. We then departed Europe from Algeciras en route to Tangiers, gateway to the great African continent.
My first return trip to Spain to visit my college friend Andrés then living in Madrid. We were joined by his sister Cristina and her friend from Miami, and the four of us headed to Asturias in the north. Those were fun-filled days of carefree touring through the scenic Cantabrian Mountains, enjoying phenomenal regional cuisine, and visiting Andrés’ distant but welcoming relatives. His paternal grandfather left the village of Pola de Allande as a youth and headed to Puerto Rico, so this was a heritage trip of sorts for Andrés and Cristina. I was lucky to be able to tag along!
I spent my junior year in Madrid as part of Wesleyan University’s study abroad program. I was a young man in Europe, establishing a life in a new continent, loving the beautiful language and culture and sensuality of Spain. My experience was overwhelmingly positive but I often felt alone in Madrid, lost perhaps in a bustling metropolis in a foreign land, but each day I discovered new things about myself and my confidence grew steadily.
Change was in the European air: Spain was progressing at breakneck speed a mere decade after Franco’s despotic fascism loosed its death grip on democracy, the culture and economy a whirlwind. The Maastricht Treaty was in the works, promising full European Union economic integration. The Iron Curtain was crumbling, mass migrations were straining every border. There was war in Iraq, US fighter jets landing at Torrejón Air Base and tanks on the streets of Madrid. In the spring I suffered the most extreme personal tragedy I had known. I was on the move constantly, visiting every corner of the Iberian Peninsula and much of the Continent. I was restless, emotionally and intellectually hungry, and my identity was changing too; in Madrid I found enormous courage to finally accept my sexuality. I came home from Spain stronger, grown.
I have returned to Spain countless times since that first year. While it continues to change, Madrid always feels like home.
So it’s been a typical, Arcadian summer here on the Maine coast… weather has been dry and warm with sunshine, the best in memory! Mark and Amy have provided super companionship, a renewed interest in all the area has to offer, and we have welcomed a number of visiting guests.Continue reading “Summer So Far”