Below is the entirety of a single text that I sent to my closest friend whilst I was out in Spain au-pairing during the summer. The premise is as follows: I was to be staying in Torrelodones (just out of Madrid) for a month caring for two girls (aged 8 and 10), yet very early on it was made clear to me that the family considered me as one of their own. The weekend of the second week that I was there was spontaneously spent in La Mancha at the home of the mother (Rosa)’s parents, and the entire experience was so moving I felt that I had to share it with someone. It seemed to justify my love for foreign cultures and even why I study them, and I now consider the experience as ‘an ode to travelling’ – my true story of integration and immersion into a culture that wasn’t my own. The icing on the cake? I loved every second of it.
Message from Zoe. Today 23:42.
Hello and okay so basically I have written an essay about my day so apologies in advance for how long it is, because my god, an essay deserves to be written. In the morning I am in Torrelodones and we leave pretty promptly for a place “near to where Don Quijote is from”. I vaguely remember my secondary school Spanish teacher Mrs Shirley telling me about ‘Don Quijote de La Mancha’, but with no idea of what or where La Mancha is. One three-hour-slept-the-whole-way car journey later, we pull into a tiny cul-de-sac. I have paid no attention to any road signs due to my much needed nap, and so when we pull into said cul-de-sac in the middle-de-nowhere, I really have no idea where I am. All I can notice is a lot of harvested land with hay bales everywhere and the ground is yellowy-white due to the kernels from the wheat. Having realised that ‘La Mancha’ is a region in Spain which resembles a classic American western, we pull up into this house which I soon notice has a leather curtain for a door and an old lady and her husband stumble out. Ah. The grandparents.
Four kisses later I am inside and sat down at a table and there is food and chatter and Uncle Davíd is here too, who I soon learn actually lives with the abuelos (grandparents). For starters we have squid with cheese and chorizo and olives and other exciting things, lamb turns up for mains and we get sandía (watermelon) for dessert. Qué bueno, as they would say. Being in a 70s style house reminds me of my own grandma’s place, except this house is way more Spanish and completely rural – this is Spain’s equivalent of the Deep South. It is strange though: I am in the middle of the table surrounded by those who don’t speak my language. I feel simultaneously very safe and welcome but also very out of my depth. At this moment I am completely isolated from everything that I know: the smells, sounds and sights are so different to what I am used to. It’s exciting, it’s new, and what’s more the grandparents are great – Julie starts joking with Rosa about how white my skin is. I laugh and explain my Spanish competence (yes, I can understand that you think I look like as pale as a corpse) while the European style inclusion continues, and as ever I feel like just another member of the family.
Having drunk way too much ‘tinto de verano’ (red wine with lemonade, like sangria but more drinkable) we all siesta for a while, and then the girls get into the pool. I have forgotten my costume, but Rosa lends me hers so all is okay. The sun is high in the sky and although it burns my skin it has clearly burnt away the clouds too as the sky itself just looks gorgeous. The makeshift swimming pool is brilliant, and part of it lies under José’s grape vines. Next month he will harvest them, he tells me, having given me a quick lesson in Spanish wine. The further northwest you go, the more acidic it tastes and down in the south and southeast it is sweeter he tells me, along with how in the north east and centre it is full-bodied. Wearing Rosa’s ill-fitting costume and simultaneously slowly turning into a tomato, I am stupidly happy. Brought back to earth by Isabella, I suddenly am asked to help create a ‘remolino’ (whirlpool) – the pool is circular so you can run around in it and create a whirlpool-like effect in the water which carries you along. We do this, and it turns out to be so so so fun, splashing and swirling around on our homemade theme park ride. Afterwards, we get out and get changed as some of us are going on a little trip with Davíd.
Now is the moment to confess that this excursion is pretty much the reason why I wrote this damn essay of a message. It was absolutely amazing and I probably won’t have something like this to experience for a long while. The deal is as follows: Davíd has this super old Suzuki designed for 4 people that somehow, myself, the two girls, Davíd and Pablo (their father) managed to fit in. It’s a super old super dirty super tiny little truck thing, and as we drove around in the hot fields we waited until we were in the middle of a field with nobody for miles around before the girls were allowed to go up on the roof. I am in the front with all the windows down, and the roof has gone and Davíd and the two girls sit up there as Pablo drives us along at speed. We are creating a river of dust behind us and because of the wind the dust is in my hair. I stick my head out the window and the experience is just so sensory. You can hear and feel the engine’s vibrations whilst gazing upon fields and fields of hay while we swing around the dirt track, the air smells of the dust and you can feel it all over you, cleansed of all urban feelings as the rural takes over. I look up at the girls who are sat on the roof of the car, watching over the Spanish fields, looking at them like they’ve never been here before. It’s just so exciting, with the clear blue sky with the sun and the moon out and as I stand up so I have my head through the roof as well, I feel so incredibly free. Then, having found some growing olive trees, we find the sunflowers.
The sunflowers. Oh my goodness. Literally fields and fields and fields and fields of them. We stop and get out to take photos, and now as the sun is setting they just look perfect. On one side the flowers face us with the sun behind, and on the other side of the dirt track is another field, and the flowers face away towards the moon. Cue hundreds of photos and even more ounces of fascination. The girls and I run into the field, and out of the thousands of yellow flowers we touch with our arms wide open we each claim one. Lela, the youngest of the two, pulls out some strands of hair from her head to tie around her flower to claim it as her own. Isabella and I do the same. If you could go to the field now, you would find three sunflowers, each tied with auburn, blonde, and brown hair respectively. We have taken that field and that moment to be ours forever. That moment was just timeless.
After much giggling, we drive on, wind in our hair and flowers in the car (we stole a lone one by the roadside and some rocks and fallen petals too) and head to see the family’s olive trees. Now the sky is almost a rainbow, with blue at the top and reds and purples near to the sun. We watch the sunset, sat next to silhouettes of more trees. And of course, more photos are taken. The drive home doesn’t need a description as it simply was a repeat of the drive out – dusty and beautiful. We arrive back and eat dinner, and of course I am now in the company of 8 other Spaniards, as Paquinita (Julie’s sister) has come over. Dinner is a selection of bread, ham, anchovies and cheese, so I am very happy indeed (anchovies are my favourite thing ever…). We eat and chat and laugh and it’s just amazing, being outside at night with another curtain door for an entrance and having crickets to listen to and a language to attempt to translate. I simply feel like another family member, and I love it. More vino down the throat and I even find myself smoking with the parents after dinner is over, and as the chat becomes louder the smoke rings become larger. I didn’t want to at first, for professionalism took over me, but as Pablo commented that ‘all students smoke really’, the grandmother laughed and shoved a cigarette in front of me.
And now I’m telling you all this. You, who is probably sat in your cosy bedroom, miles away from me in every sense. I don’t know if you will have read all of this, or even enjoyed reading my so-called ‘ode to travelling’. But just let me tell you this – there’s a sunflower somewhere in Spain which is mine. And my journey to get there can only be described with one word: timeless.
First featured in Issue 6 of Cobalt Magazine, November 2016. All content owned by Zoe Baker.