I’m certain that while I have experienced rites of passage in my life, I’ve never stopped to consider them or their significance in my moving on to another point in my life.
Save one: my trip to Spain in 1994.
This was the first overseas trip I’d ever taken, and it was the first trip I’d gone on without one of my parents as a chaperone. And I was going nine hours and an ocean away—a feat my parents endured to let their only child do her own thing. I’m grateful they allowed me to do it, and from this point in my life, I’m sure they were both barely sleeping with worry. I’m sorry you had to go through that, Mom and Dad.
But this trip was a crucial step in my development as an adult and as a human being.
It was a zany trip in many ways. I had my first bile-producing encounter with Brie cheese. Luckily my friend Derek saved me from that one on the plane ride there. He also saved me from a shrimp on my plate that still had its eyes later in the trip. I can honestly say, aside from homesickness the last day of the ten-day excursion, these culinary scares were the worst parts of the experience.
The trip pushed me in many ways to grow up and to take notice of what matters in life. I had to ask for directions from a policeman in another language, and make sure I understood the answer to get where I needed to be. I had to continuously know that I had my passport on me and where my money was. I had to work to make new friends from another school (who traveled with us).
But we did so many things none of us had done before in our trip throughout Spain. In Barcelona we climbed over seven hundred steps to the top of the spires on the Templo de la Sagrada Familia—a church still under construction even today—to get an afternoon, miles-into-the-distance view of the city and the Mediterranean Sea beyond. We saw El Entierro del Conde de Orgaz by El Greco in Toledo—and it was massive—and much more impressive than the print our Spanish teach, Señor Romanski, had shared with us in class. We toured the Palacio Real in Madrid. We talked to locals over churros y chocolate in Torremolinos. We drove a boat on the river in Sevilla. We walked where so many others have through the halls of La Alhambra in Granada. And our penultimate night we ate fresh sardines cooked over a bonfire and drank homemade sangria lounging on an empty beach in the moonlight.
The lessons went well beyond the boundaries of the trip though. Derek and I hadn’t been friends—in fact, we’d been Spanish class rivals—until this trip. But we stayed friends until his unfortunate death when we were in college. Together we saw the class inequalities of people, especially in southern Spain at the time, where small children would swarm you to buy flowers from them to make some money—or use the group as a distraction to try to get your wallet instead to make some cash. But mostly, we learned to be ourselves. I’m sure this trip was when that idea really began for me. We could do what we felt was right, even if we were geeking out about nazarenos knick-knacks just like Señor had, or trying to learn to appreciate slowing down or a siesta before some patatas bravas for tapas in a late, and baking hot, Spanish afternoon.
The Spanish have a saying: no hay color. Literally it translates to “there is no color,” but idiomatically it means “there’s no comparison.” Without Spain I might not be who I am today. And there’s no comparing that if you ask me.