My husband just completed training in the F-4 fighter in Florida when our orders to Spain arrived. I rushed out to buy a copy of James Michener’s Iberia and was already dreaming of cobblestone streets and sunlit courtyards.
When I stepped off the plane in my new country at 5:30 a.m., I found myself in a flight line mess hall, watching a man in a stained apron plop a glob of creamed chipped beef on my toast. Welcome to Michener’s mysterious and romantic country, I thought.
For two weeks we remained cloistered in the officer’s quarters on base because my husband, the aviator, was afraid of getting lost in Madrid.
“We’ll find our way back to base by way of some wonderful experiences,” I Said. “I want to see the sights and sounds of Madrid. I want to be a consumer in Madrid!”
Another week passed. The only sights I saw were the Base Exchange and the Thrift Shop. Night after night, I lay awake dreaming of sipping brandy in some smoky café and dancing the Flamenco. But each night, it was the same routine—dinner at the Officer’s Club followed by pilot talk in the bar.
One day the Operations officer asked us to dinner at his apartment in Madrid. On the afternoon of the event, our quarters looked like a pre-mission briefing; maps, compass and Spanish dictionary lay strewn on the bed. A dog-eared envelope covered in coffee stains had some numbers—what I can only assume were longitudes and latitudes—scratched on the back.
“This is simple,” said my husband, looking up from the chaos. “We turn left onto the freeway and take the third exit.”
I grabbed my handbag and a plant I’d picked up as a housewarming gift. I was finally going to experience my new country!
Two hours later, we were standing on a loading dock at the Madrid International Airport. We had circled the same loading dock three times.
“I get you off base and look where we end up!” I shouted, but my husband couldn’t hear me over the roar of jet engines.
Then, two sinister looking men approached wearing black patent leather hats and black cloaks. I gripped my arm rest in terror.
“Tranquilla senora,” said one, reaching into his pocket. I ducked instinctively as he produced, not the semi-automatic I expected, but a pack of Spanish cigarettes and a police I.D.
“Policia?” I asked.
“Civil Guard,” he said, but he could have been an angel.
In only the briefest of moments, all cultural barriers disappeared. I knew I was at home, and this was my first experience in my new country.
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