a wandering woman writes

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A bus across Castilla

¿El cuatro?

He calls out the number with the confidence of a theatre usher. Boldly. Loudly. As if he's been waiting for me.

My gaze drops from the row of seat numbers overhead to meet dark, smiling eyes. He's an older man, elegantly dressed. An impeccable black leather briefcase rests on his feet. I glance at my ticket. Oddly enough, he's right.

Mmmmm, yes! Yes, four, that's me.

He shifts his case, his cane and his shiny black shoes and I climb into the window seat next to him.

We chat. A few paragraphs later he looks straight into my eyes again, head tilted aside like a curious puppy.

Are you Spanish?
I grin and offer my standard answer: I live in Salamanca but no, I'm not Spanish.

"¿América?", he asks? I sense the America he's guessed isn't North America. "Not México", he continues. "Ecuador...no...where?"

Blame the age of his ears or the roar of the engine; the man has made my day.

"América, sí. Estados Unidos", I answer.

He looks suprised. I watch him note my frustration with the soft Spanish r that continues to give me away.

You speak castellano, no doubt about that, but there is something...

(They call it an accent, I think to myself. And it tortures me. Still, I make a mental note to pick up something nice for my Spanish teacher. At least my accent has moved South, to the land of native speakers....)

We introduce ourselves and discover we are headed to the same pueblo: Madrigal de las Altas Torres, birthplace of Isabel I of Spain. Columbus' Isabel.

As the bus crosses Castilla, I travel the world from seat 4. I am rapt. Seventeenth century México, Madrigal at the time of Isabel's birth, Fray Luis de León in Salamanca, Spain's California missions.... Spain's history swirls around me. My companion is a history professor, retired from Salamanca's Universidad Pontífica. An expert on the history of the church, he is travelling to Madrigal to talk with local families about one of the town's famous sons: Vasco de Quiroga, a 17th century Spanish bishop revered in Mexico as a defender of the indigenous people of Michoacan. My travelling companion has written a book on Vasco de Quiroga, which he proudly pulls from the impeccable briefcase.

We talk about my one-woman company, my solo move to Spain and the US elections. He asks if Chicago is nothing but smokestacks and I assure him it is not. We talk about architecture and the Great Chicago fire.

By the time the bus pulls off the road along Madrigal's city walls, he's declared me courageous for marching off alone to a strange land. Never mind this wandering pueblos alone on weekends.

"But you could see the pueblos with travel groups," he tells me. He laughs as I recite the advantages of travelling solo, with spontaneity at the top of the list. His voice slows while he quietly reminisces about his own solo travels across Spain as a young professor. "I'd stop wherever I wanted, pull off the road at a wall, or a castle or pueblo. "I guess you love to go your own way, too...."

Hmmm, yes. And if I didn't travel alone, I think to myself, I wouldn't have met you, would I?

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  • Thank you for sharing him with us ... and of course, congratulations on your Spanish!

    It sounded like a sublime kind of journey.

    By Blogger woman wandering, at 10:48 PM  

  • omg!!! i can't believe it... a couple of years ago i wrote a short story focused on vasco de quiroga and what he did in michoacan (specifically in paracho). ever since then, whenever i ask any of my spanish or mexican friends about him, all i get back is a puzzled face: "¿vasco de qué?". haha, so funny how that man made your day in the country where i was born and he has made mine too, in the country where you were born. it's a tiny world.

    By Anonymous Cristina Balbás Martínez, at 2:54 AM  

  • It was sublime, ww...and it's my Spanish, it's the &%$&%( mouth - ie, the accent. Bego and I are on an r, z and c -conquering crusade.

    Hi Cristina! Oh, I think you should turn your story into a screenplay and sell it! :) What a life Vasco lead! I am so glad someone reading the blog recognized him! I ordered the book by the gentleman who told me about him. He is working on an exhibition about Tata Vasco that they hope to present in Mexico, Madrid and Madrigal...

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 9:03 AM  

  • Good morning darlin' Darin' Corcoran,
    I'd just add one teeny correction to the story. I dare say there are a few very select folks that you could travel with who would be right with you in meeting your bus companion. With me on that, Di?
    Not necessarily normal people, I will grant you,but for some of us, that has never been the goal. : )

    By Blogger Laura Young, at 12:57 PM  

  • LOL, Laura, tranquila, chica, tranquila. Of course I love to travel with those select abnormals.....But buses..I love buses now; may I never buy a car. But the co travellers, even the least normal, tend to sit next to me, at my request, mind you....so, yes, fun meetings, but fun meetings on the bus, less likely!

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 3:15 PM  

  • The stories you tell in these posts are poignant and touching. So much can pass by if we don't take time to pause, to chat...to ride the bus! Thank you for catching these moments and sharing them.

    Meilleurs vœux!

    (Oh, I almost forgot... Le Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé!

    By Blogger blueVicar, at 8:03 AM  

  • Wonderful story! And what a compliment to your Spanish! I'm afraid I have very far to go vis a vis Spanish. But I'm studying my verbs faithfully and in the new year, will take more lessons.

    By Blogger paris parfait, at 11:18 PM  

  • Thanks blue Vicar; sorry I've been scarce.
    Paris, I've been at the SPanish thing a long long long time....I have learned it is a never ending process. Good for you keeping at it back in France; that's the trick. Anytime you feel like emailing in Spanish for a little writing practice, fire away!

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 4:42 PM  

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