I’ve struggled to find clarity in penning these Adventuring posts, and all along I kept reminding myself that something would trigger the words to unfold on the page. I had to be patient. I had to remember to embrace the journey where introspective learning happens. I had to relish the anticipation of the writing euphoria that descends whenever a trigger happens.
This time, the trigger was one of those lucid dreams that wake you with a start, mind racing with memories and messages, and intuition rattling your cage. I dreamt about my friend Maria, my Spanish instructor for a night class during the time I was engaged to my husband, and leading up to our wedding in Greece.
I was taking the class for marketing purposes and Maria, my instructor, instantly intrigued me. She was authentic Castilian and that’s the type of Spanish she taught. Maria grew up first in Spain then moved as a teenager to France in the mid-50s to live with her cousins and become fluent in French. The way she taught us her language included captivating stories of the life, people and foods of her home. She traveled and experienced much before moving to the United States and landing in the classroom in front of me.
Maria took an interest in me as well because I was in the middle of planning my first trip to Europe and headed towards a region close to her homeland. In getting to know her, I also expressed my love of Spanish food, and that I’d struggled to choose between Greece and Spain for our wedding trip. Greece simply won because the Aegean islands had beckoned since childhood, and so I needed to satisfy that first. Either way, Maria was an expert who provided much needed, perfectly timed insight and advice.
Among our early conversations, Maria asked what Spanish foods I liked. Paella was and is my favorite dish of any cuisine, and we talked about how frustrating it was at the time to not be able to get it locally, and that I knew nothing about how it’s prepared. Maria, in her open and hospitable way, encouraged me to join an upcoming dinner party at her home where she’d planned to serve the saffron-infused magical rice and seafood dish. I thought she was just being nice but then I realized how serious the invitation was when she said she’d see us at her house that Saturday and I was to bring Manchego, Kalamata olives and fruit for the sangria. I was also informed that dinner was her treat this time but moving forward I would serve as sous chef for upcoming dinner parties. Maria planned to increase my responsibilities until the entire dinner was prepared by my own hands. Maria was serious and I was game.
That summer and fall I did learn how to make paella, and flan, and delicious sangria. I learned that true paella is made over an open fire pit. I learned salad is served last to help with digestion, and meals are community that unfold over many hours. Many of those dinners concluded well after 1am and with that I also learned it’s bad form to immediately follow the first guest who leaves the party. I tucked these notes into the corners of my heart because they gave me a sense of a culture that immediately felt like home.
I could end the story here – for me it was perfect and more than I could have wished for. But the real magic was the gathering of the most intriguing, surreal, diverse, and captivating guests week-to-week in Maria’s Spanish garden. Then and looking back now, it felt like something sprinkled with fairy dust and conjured by the Mad Hatter on the way to the Night Circus. At Maria’s home I wondrously stepped through the looking glass into the stories I loved reading the most.
The cast of those dinners included everyone from a defected Russian ballerina, to a Reiki master who thwarted hungry mosquitos in the garden and later professed to a former life which ended at Auschwitz. It was a treat at one dinner to include my best friend and her husband while they were visiting from out of town and where, like every dinner, we heard the incredible stories of Maria’s life while sitting around a dining table in her cozy and cluttered library. Maybe someday I’ll detail a few of my favorites like how she once met Picasso in Montmartre at a charming old house that served dinner to hungry, late night wanderers. And then the one when a black mamba bit her on a tennis court in Gabon (and she lived to tell about it) – I saw the angry scar on her arm as proof.
Since the wedding trip to Greece, I’ve only seen Maria once, at our post-wedding trip reception. It meant so much that our family and friends got to meet her and experience her vibrant personality that never knows a stranger. Beyond that party, Maria and I’ve only spoken by phone a few times because life rolls on and sometimes people connect for only a brief moment. In that time, we were busy renovating our house and Maria went back to Spain for an extended visit. I’ve thought about her often wondering about other dinners since my Paella project, and the fascinating people I’m sure I’d find still gathered around her table. Tomorrow, I kept saying, I’ll call Maria.
Fast forward back to today, in the midst of deciphering all of my recent adventuring, I had that lucid dream about Maria. Sadly, in my dream I learned it was too late for me to call but that she’d remembered me before she left. Maria affirmed our connection, leaving me an unexpected and mysterious gift. It was an open, one-way ticket to Spain to use whenever I wanted or needed. Accompanying the ticket was something most precious. She left me a notebook in her hand filled with details; where to go, what to see, insightful maps, phone numbers for people I would want to meet or who could guide me, and recommendations for every morsel of food I needed to sample.
It was a heartfelt and thoughtful guide for the adventure of my life. The author was a teacher and friend who knew I’d eagerly follow the path she’d written, just for me, across her home of Spain.