University of Salamanca professors, attired in red, blue, purple, and yellow 13th-century academic robes, paraded through the patio below the second-floor window of my classroom. This surreal sight captured the ebb and flow of a vibrant Spanish lifestyle punctuated by medieval traditions. Our Spanish professor told us that they were on their way to an award ceremony.
Three weeks before this, our group from Montgomery County Community College had boarded a bus for a two-hour ride from Madrid to Salamanca. The group included seven students and professor Georgina Elortegui. Recently retired, I was the oldest student by many decades. This trip was another step in fulfilling my lifelong goal of becoming fluent in a Romance language. When I was a child, the musical flow of Italian conversation that filled our kitchen during the holidays was for me the essence of love and family. I vowed from a young age to learn Italian, but my high school offered only French and Spanish. Ms. Recupido's Spanish class was the first step in a long journey that led to Salamanca.
As the bus came to a stop in front of the library in Salamanca, we were met by a group of women, our hosts for the month. My host, Clara Isabel, wearing a beaded T-shirt and capri pants, strode through the crowd and introduced herself. We became confidants as we chatted for an hour over lunch every day in her kitchen. Duing my first few days at the university, I wanted to flee to my room immediately after lunch because my head was exploding with verb conjugations. Eventually my interest in Clara and her family overcame my reticence. Her persistence in engaging me in conversation was heroic. She shared with me that she had been separated from her husband for nine years. As a single mother of a 10-year-old son, she maintained the apartment by working in an accounting department in the mornings and taking in exchange students and business travelers.
In contrast to the modern lifestyle I experienced in Clara's apartment, I saw glimpses of medieval Spain in the picturesque streets leading to my classes. My biggest challenge was not conversing in Spanish but finding my way around Salamanca's winding streets. Having grown up in Philadelphia, a city of well-ordered blocks, I found Salamanca challenging. One morning an elegant gentleman escorted me arm-in-arm to the appropriate street, all the while greeting his neighbors. Another day two little girls, chattering away in Spanish, helped me find my way.
My Spanish adventure came to an end much too soon. After successfully completing my exams, I proudly accepted my diploma on the last day of class. It was with sadness that I bade goodbye to Clara and my professors after a month, but we continue to converse and share our lives through Facebook.
As a result of this trip, I am living a fuller life because I am open to new and wonderful experiences. I recently audited two Spanish conversation courses at Villanova Unversity with the fulltime students and felt right at home.
As a twentysomething I saw Spain. As a sixtysomething I lived it.
Jo-Ann Maguire writes from Norristown.