Looking back over the summer we’re grateful for our trip to Spain. Ande and I, as padrinos to Theresa and longtime family friends, were invited by Joe & Rose Crowley to their daughter’s wedding in Cantabria, Spain’s north coast. It was an intimate celebration within the gardens of a 300 year old country inn, hosted by Demetrio, proprietor and friend of the groom’s family, the Ferreiras, for generations. Everything was generous and blessed, with la familia connections deep in the old world and new.
The spirit of this union, with new bonds spanning the distance of language, culture, place—along with later travels from the Picos de Europa mountains to the coastal El Camino, with the proud parents we’ve known for decades—renews my faith in traveled friendship. Both our families have had up and down challenges. Both continue to believe in extending the risk of encounter to beyond the regular boundaries, seeking immersion in the life of many different countries, rich and poor—our grown children now taking the lead.
he Basque country of Spain is especially close to my heart. Though I’d never been there before, I’d wandered, hitch-hiking, broke, through other parts of Spain for many months forty plus years ago. A young Basque of beautiful baritone voice taught me his Euskadi songs at our gatherings when I managed a few months stay in Madrid, shared the deep-rooted hospitality of his homeland, helped me buy my first Elosegui beret in the Madrid Sunday market. Though they’d suffered the wars of Franco’s fascist bombers, and for years some responded with ETA’s terror attacks, he showed me the common people were renowned for their welcome of the stranger, closeness to the land, their cooperative labor movement. I’d always hoped to go north to see their ancestral tree in Guernica, share more of their history and friendship.
City of Guernika, April 26, 1937, after the bombing by German warplanes - Euskadi archive photo
With good fortune, and lots of planning, that finally happened this trip. After a few wrong turns in the coastal town we found Guernika‘ko arbola [tree], traditional assembly point for the Basque people. Then Ande & I’d been put in touch [through Ande’s high school girlfriend] with Ester who’d been an exchange student in her school, after Ande left. Ester was now a travel guide in San Sebastian, one of the most beautiful old cities of the Basque country. Along with her husband Ignacio they gave us a wonderful evening of walking the streets and seacoast hills of their place, giving us the best of their food [pintxos], wine, and deep conversation in three languages about the necessity of travel, for peace in the world. I was even invited, at a bar table shared with strangers, to sing my remembered version of the Euskadi anthem.
These were high points in our two week trip. The marriage, and on the road with rental car. There were many small difficult decisions along the way, and one is always quite dependent on the good will of random local people. It’s easy to get lost in many senses of the word, when you don’t understand every word. Mistakes are always close by. You must pay attention.
Traveling is hard work, but it is the only way to meet those new people far away who have something important to say to you—fresh foreign perspective. Do not be afraid, despite issues we are all brothers and sisters. They meet our simple daily needs which are now complicated as we swim outside our culture in theirs—in ways that are surprising, and make us grateful. What positive connections!
Monastery at Cobreces, from the small part of the Camino we walked
We thank Mirna at the hotel in Lekeitio on Spain’s north coast, a Rumanian from Paraguay, cheerfully patiently respecting my efforts using my Spanish, bargaining down the price of our rooms. Brother Bonifa at the Camino monastery in Cobreces, lodging us creatively, always with bemused smile. Heriberto, young man in Nike cap who rolled down his window when asked directions as it was getting late and we’d found no place to stay. He was high on something, but assured us to follow, on a fast wild goose chase up and down narrow hill roads seeking a country posada—but not finding, still wrote out directions to a hotel in the next town over, which did finally work out fine. Vanessa, young professor from Oxford, and another Basque by birth, in animated discussion on the train in towards Madrid’s Atocha station, while suggesting good places to eat our last day in Spain. And so many more, in just a two weeks journey. Learning a foreign language is the key to travel, and the first step in global interpersonal understanding.
Artist's redition of Guenika'ko arbola--They've planted a new one to replace the old, of which the trunk only remains, though it did survive the bombng.
Of course we are most grateful to the extended family of the Ferreiras in Santander & Miami, and to dear friends of many years, the Crowleys who were our reason for being in Spain.
¡Que Dios les bendiga Theresa y Arturo! Que su amor crezca siempre.
Flores de Quijas, Cantabria
"The Good Shepherd" at Iglesia de Santa Maria in San Sebastian---The Basque people are famous for their shepherding skill
Illumination by Kathy Brahney
Photos by myself
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