After My Father’s Footsteps

I don’t have jet lag on my way to Spain, but I’m a verified basket case when I get back. I know, it’s supposed to be the other way around, but go figure. This time going over was hard because at the last minute one of my granddaughters contracted mononucleosis and they weren’t able to come with me. I had to cancel all their reservations and I booked a different itinerary for me. I didn’t want to go to Valencia, where I was born, without them, for example. Next time soon, I hope.

In any case, I’m back reflecting on one of the characteristic immigrant experiences: the trip back home. One of my favorite pastimes is learning new words. This year in Málaga everyone was talking about the “calima” they experienced two weeks earlier. “Calima is the Spanish word used to describe when there’s sand or dust in suspension in the atmosphere.” The English translation is haze, but haze doesn’t do it justice. Basically, calima is a mud storm coming from the Sahara Desert. All over Andalucía it stained the buildings with red dirt despite power washing; cars were caked in mud… you get the picture.

I also learned a new expression: “Irse por los cerros de Úbeda.” Actually, I knew it already, but I used it the wrong way. It doesn’t mean to go as far as the heights of Úbeda, a far away place -although Úbeda is indeed far. It means to go off at a tangent, to beat around the bush. Sort of what I’m doing today here. Well, this year I went to Úbeda for real. It’s a jewel of a city in the province of Jaén, in Southern Spain, which together with Baeza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its collection of forty-eight medieval and renaissance monuments. It sits over the Guadalquivir River Valley with its famous elevations covered with olive trees as far as the eyes can see.

What was I doing there? You may ask. Together with a PhD student from the University of Málaga , who filmed our trip, and Helen, a friend from Philadelphia, for three days I went through the towns where my father was stationed during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Aside from the stunning Úbeda and Baeza, we visited Linares, Andújar, Marmolejo, Arjona, Arjonilla, Mengíbar, Porcuna and several more towns. Retracing my father’s footsteps was indeed emotional and meaningful. When some of the local inhabitants heard that he had been there during the war, they insisted that we go inside their patios and see how real Andalusians live, in their private paradise protected from the heat of the day.

I had never visited this area of Spain, but I have been working for almost ten years on the letters between my parents during the war and I finally had to see for myself. The descriptions of these places in my father’s letters were moving, although, thankfully, nothing is left from the war’s destruction now. The magnificent Santa María de la Cabeza Sanctuary atop the Sierra Morena  Mountains is fully rebuilt, the fields are neatly plowed, covered with fruit trees and the eternal olive groves. The Guadalquivir River flows peacefully next to the Marmolejo baths, the highways are immaculately kept. For a few days I could image what it must have been to march through those fields, to walk on the stone-covered streets under the hot Andalusian sun, to climb those mountains. A trip to Spain, indeed, like no other.

7 Responses to After My Father’s Footsteps

  1. conchaalborg says:

    This sounds like a wonderful trip-very different from your original plans, but moving to walk in your fathers footsteps.
    Linda Lelii

  2. conchaalborg says:

    Ay, que pena lo de las nenas. Con lo que llevas ansiando ese viaje juntas! Bueno, a la tercera va la vencida como dicen. Pero tu radiante como siempre! Cristina
    Gracias, Concha

  3. conchaalborg says:

    Really enjoyed the recollections of your trip. It was quite an undertaking and you did it so beautifully.
    Hope we can get together soon.
    Best, Diane

    Thanks, Concha

  4. conchaalborg says:

    Loved the blog and seeing Helen! But so sorry to hear that the girls couldn’t go.
    Jean and George Dowdall

    Welcome home, traveler.
    I’m sorry you had to change your plans but your trip sounds fantastic.
    We are at the shore…hope to see you soon.
    Love, Alan
    Be in Brigantine soon! Concha

  5. conchaalborg says:

    He leído tu blog y me he quedado con ganas de más. De que siguieras contando tu viaje. Ha tenido que ser emocionante todo el periplo de Jaén. Verlo todo reluciente y compararlo con lo que tu padre vivió. Es la historia de nuestro país. Ojalá que no vuelva nunca más ese tipo de experiencias. Besos, Inés.
    Poco a poco. Me limito a 600 palabras en cada post. A la próxima las fuentes de Aranjuez…Stay tuned, Concha

  6. conchaalborg says:

    ¡Fantástico viaje! A recuperarse Concha. Siento mucho que tus nietas no te pudieran acompañar esta vez.
    ¡Hasta pronto!

  7. Winnie Galbraith says:

    Hope to see you on the pball courts in Brig this summer.