Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Spain

Hector and I were sent to Spain on a business trip during the time General Franco was still ruling the country.  I don’t really know or care what strings were pulled to get us there, but the company we worked for had stores in a few of the cities, and I was chosen to oversee several changes within the Spanish store chain.  Hector was sent along as my interpreter, and we expected to be there for many weeks, and possibly up to a year.

Hector was a colleague and my equal in position within the organization, so it was a bit odd to both of us that he would be selected to travel with me.  The department he ran for the company was important, and not just anyone could fill in for him while he was gone.  But we were assured that Hector’s position was not in jeopardy, and he was just being rewarded for his years of great service to the company.  Still…  But there was nothing that could be done about it.  Besides, he and I were good friends, and the fact that he was born in Puerto Rico and had a Hispanic surname should also be a benefit.

I, on the other hand, traveled so much that my department would probably not miss me.  My assistant/secretary was plenty capable to fill in while I was on the road.  So there was no problem expected here.

Our route had us changing planes several times with layovers in some great places.  We flew from Dallas to Chicago to New York.  We both had offices in New York City where we made one last check of our departments before boarding for Montreal.  From Montreal we flew to Heathrow outside of London where we took a four-hour break before flying to Paris.  Finally a long break.  We had two full days and a little more to see the city, but we spent the first day just sleeping in the hotel. 

French was not a language I ever mastered, and the French people were very happy when I didn’t try using it.  We took time to visit a few of the biggest landmarks, but all too soon the time was over and we had to take a flight to Dresden.  Again we had enough hours available to do some quick sightseeing.  From Dresden we flew to a city in Italy where we switched planes and flew to Madrid.  Eight days, six airlines, and our luggage arrived when we did.  It was a miracle.

It wasn’t until after we arrived in Madrid that I realized we just might have a difficult time in Spain.  In attempting to get a taxi, Hector pulled out of his pocket a Spanish-English/English-Spanish translation dictionary.  I looked at the book then at Hector then at the book.

“No one ever asked me if I could speak Spanish.  I was just told to travel with you as your interpreter.”

As I thought about it, I realized I might have done the same thing.

Business was business.  For many long weeks we dealt with what we had to do at the store in Madrid and several others in the western and southern regions of Spain.  Oh, we had breaks, and we definitely enjoyed the people, the culture, and the nightlife.  As we neared the end of the Madrid portion of our stay, one of the gentlemen at a store invited us to join him in hunting red-legged partridge. 

Hector wasn’t a hunter, but he was a fisherman, so he took time with another gentleman to fish one of the local rivers while I went bird hunting.  The hunt was okay, I guess.  It was a driven hunt with several men beating the landscape with sticks to chase the birds toward where I was waiting with the twelve-gauge.  I just stood there and waited until a bird flew by.  Boom.  Another bird.  Boom.

That evening the gentleman who provided this opportunity for me told me it was the best time he had ever experienced hunting.  I replied I had never done anything quite like it before.  Hector, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed his fishing trip.  Honestly I was jealous.

We found ourselves with a six-day break at the end of our work in Madrid, so we decided to take a flight over to Florence, Italy, just to say we had been there.  We went, we got lost, we had fun.  I do not believe I’ve ever seen so many pigeons in one place in my life.  I wish I had done some research before going there, but like most of my adventure plans, there was no real plan. 

We returned to Madrid to retrieve our belongings from our apartment just one day before we were supposed to be in Barcelona.  Again, we should have done some real planning, but the adventure would have suffered because of it.

Neither Hector nor I could figure out the train schedule from Madrid to Barcelona.  Suddenly no one understood our English or our attempts at Spanish.  And we watched as the train we needed left without us on board.  We hired a taxi.

The distance between Madrid and Barcelona is nearly 400 miles and it isn’t all flat land.  Somewhere in the dark of the moonless night we found ourselves on a winding mountain road in a taxi traveling at a high rate of speed.  When we left Madrid it was about 5pm, and we told the driver we needed to be in Barcelona by 7am the next morning.  The driver told us he needed to be back by 7am the next morning, so he would get us there as fast as he could.  And he was doing it.

Hector and I were actually thinking about getting out and walking.  In those mountains, the road took many hairpin turns with no guardrail such as we were used to seeing in the United States.  And the driver was doing it at 100 km/h or faster.  Each time he would come to a turn, he would turn off his lights and honk his horn twice.  Then he would turn his lights back on, but never did he slow down.

At a gas stop in one of the towns after leaving the mountains, we asked why he kept turning off the headlights.  He replied he did that so he could see the lights of any oncoming cars.  But he always honked twice in case they had their lights off also.  We made it to Barcelona in just under five hours.  And we got there before the train did.

Again, business was business, and we were all about business, that is until the end of each day.  Then it was all about the nightlife.  About three or four weeks into the Barcelona portion of our trip, we were invited to join a group of people on a quail hunt.  Again, Hector arranged a fishing trip with someone, leaving me to another driven hunt.  But this time was much more enjoyable.

I was never a fan of the twelve-gauge shotgun, but since no one with a sixteen- or twenty-gauge would make it available to me, I was saddled with the big twelve.  To my surprise, it was a muzzleloader.  I had never before fired a muzzleloading shotgun, so this could potentially make the hunt quite interesting.

I had a blast.  Literally.  It was another driven hunt where I stood in one place while some men beat the bushes with sticks to send the birds my direction.  But each time I pulled the trigger, the smoke would block any hope of seeing if I downed the bird.  Even the dog with me had no idea if he was to go search for a bird, or if he was to continue to sit and wait.  Once I decided I had missed a bird, but on the next fly-by I knew I was successful; however, the dog brought back two birds.

By the end of the day, I was tired.  A muzzleloading shotgun is a lot of work, but I was already a big fan of the muzzleloading rifle, so I was glad for this experience.  My shoulder was quite sore, and I found I could easily remember my reasons for preferring a twenty-gauge.

We finished our work in Spain in a few more weeks, and seven days and eight airlines later we (and our luggage) were back in Dallas.  As far as jobs go, it really was the experience of a lifetime.  We made many friends, and enjoyed a people and culture before the political changes occurred with the passing of the dictator Franco.  Hector’s job was waiting for him when he got back, and no word was ever mentioned of the dictionary he carried with him.

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