August 8, 2010 by David Gillaspie
“No one could ever match you, sweetheart,” is an amateur effort, but the best I’ve come up with.
Travel is different. I’m not talking about driving to the store and back. Half way around the world is travel. Night for day time zones is travel. It’s foreign language in a foreign land travel with minimal back-up.
Travel is where you can’t run home if things don’t go right. It’s where you learn the meaning of ‘doing what is humanly possible.’
So what is humanly possible?
Keep an open mind, for starters.
I went to an olive oil tasting tour in southern Spain during the time of Michelle Obama. Olive Oil? Yes, I heard that. And it turned into one of the best afternoons ever. Was it because of the olive oil?
How likely is it to be in southern Spain during Michelle Obama’s trip to begin with? To be at the Alhambra the day before she showed up. The stars lined up nicely and there I was.
The locals were buzzing with excitement. Spanish words spoken by Spanish women included the words Michelle Obama often, so I knew it was important.
A series of unfortunate events had me leaving the American Hotel in the middle of the night before Michelle Obama’s visit, but I still felt the excitement. It was good to be an American in Spain, especially at the American Hotel.
The olive oil tour of southern Spain came a couple of days after leaving the American Hotel. The tour bus stopped at the Princessa Ana, my new hotel across from the hospital my wife checked into with pneumonia. My mother in law and I needed an outing between hospital visits and she picked the olive.
Who would you expect to meet on an olive oil tour? A cook? Bored tourists? Germans? The short bus, not that short bus, pulled up with no one aboard. The driver said he booked another couple and started off toward the Alhambra. When he pulled up at the swankiest place on the hill, the one with the parking lot full of Mercedes luxury rides, I expected some fat load rolling out ready to chug olive oil all day.
Instead, a young couple came out. The driver loaded gear into the back of the short bus and opened the side door near me. That’s when I heard my favorite voices in all the world.
Here it is in southern Spain and I hear the beautiful cadence of the American South. Maybe it’s Pat Conroy, or maybe William Faulkner, or maybe my Texan grandmother, but when I hear a southern accent I feel relaxed. There’s something about the lilt of words that tells me I’m in a good place.
The man was South Carolina, his wife from Georgia. Together they sounded more all-American than Herschel Walker and his many personalities. Without my wife in the bus I had to govern myself to keep the conversation within reason. It was an olive oil tour but I wanted to hear all about them.
What I did learn confirmed any notion I had about the South. The man was an Army Captain just in from Iraq where he was an attorney looking after the law. His wife had been in Spain studying for six weeks. This was their time together before he went back to Iraq.
Just so you know, I’m a veteran from the mid-70’s. They call us Vietnam-era vets. I call myself a Ford Army vet, after President Gerald Ford. I served in Philadelphia, a tough place but not a war zone.
I’ve seen Coming Home and Garden of Stone and every other Vietnam movie. The couple I met on the olive oil tour were straight off the silver screen. He was a handsome Kevin Bacon, she was a prettier Julia Roberts. Together they were more all-American than baseball and apple pie. You couldn’t meet better people at a better time. They made me homesick in a way I’ve never felt.
In a world of right and wrong, the couple on the olive oil tour raised the bar of goodness. My wife says we don’t have ‘couple friends’ because I never like the husband part of the deal. And she’s right. Droopy guys wear me out and I should make more of an effort. She would have loved the tour and the couple I met.
If I had to name a Mr. and Mrs. America off the top of my head, they’d be the ones. My hope is to see them again and hear about their further adventures in the best voices I’ve yet heard. Safe traveling to both of you.
I wish Michelle Obama could have met you and gone back home knowing folks like you are out here representing us.
Do I hear an Amen?