During the first two years that my family lived in this country we spent summers traveling from coast-to-coast and from North to South. When my father’s Fulbright Grant would spire, we would need to go back to Spain and we didn’t want to miss anything. We lived in Seattle, since my father taught at the University of Washington. We owned a white 1958 Plymouth Fury –sans AC, of course– with huge fins and red trim, which made us feel very American. My mother and I rode in the back seat with our kitty cat; my brother and dad took turns driving, commandeering the front seat. The rules were the rules, we still were very Spanish. I wrote about these adventures in my first work of fiction written in English, Beyond Jet-Lag. Other Stories.
English was the main point of contention. My dad could read it and even use it for his research, but he couldn’t understand it at all. He had learned it with a British program and he thought Americans sounded as if they were eating soup. My mother, somehow could understand it –must have been female intuition– but hardly spoke it. My brother, who had studied it at school in Madrid, thought he was an expert. I had learned French, but seemed to catch on the new language fast. The other important issue was the food. My parents didn’t like typical American road fare: hot dogs, hamburgers or anything fried. Thank goodness for pizza until they got tired of it and started complaining about that too.
On a memorable visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, my father thought that the food should be good there; he told my brother and me that “since we were so smart, see if we could find something tasty in the menu.” We knew right away we could get in trouble; we were used to my father’s daring antics. We thought we were safe when we saw a Salisbury steak on the menu. My father agreed; he had heard that Chicago was known for having fine meat. No one could ruin a steak. When the lunch arrived and my dad saw a hamburger covered in “shit” as he called it, all hell broke loose. And here my brother and I were showing our English off. I remember leaving the table with the excuse that I wanted to check on the kitty.
My father’s Fulbright was extended to teach at Purdue University, where I started my freshman year of college. Lafayette, Indiana, was a very small Midwestern town and my mother couldn’t find olive oil. “Can you imagine? No wonder we don’t like the food in his country, they don’t use olive oil,” my mother used to say. Chicago was two hours away and we often went to its gourmet shops, where olive oil was plentiful. I discovered Peck and Peck, the ladies’ clothing store, and bought there my fist mini-skirt and tall, black boots for my new coed life.
Last month I decided to make a trip to Chicago, where I hadn’t been in many years. How it has changed, the skyline from the air and later from the architectural tour on the river is magnificent! My mother would have loved the new high-rise buildings and the red spiral sculpture by Santiago Calatrava, she was always so proud of being Valencian. With her leftist tendencies, she would have appreciated the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park by the Catalonian Jaume Plensa.
Needless to say, I went back to the Art Institute. There was an exhibit of Salvador Dalí’s drawings worth the trip alone. I admired anew Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grand Jatte” and Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist,” which now has a new meaning for me. I don’t remember, but I’m sure my family admired them as well so many years ago. And, certainly, I had lunch at their cafeteria. Oh, my goodness, I was so glad my father couldn’t accompany me. Now one orders on a screen in the hallway, outside the restaurant, Wawa style. He would not have liked that, although there wasn’t a Salisbury steak on the menu, but there was “Le Burger.” I had a Caesar salad. That tells you how much things have changed indeed.
It was enjoyable to learn about all the new adventures you and your family experienced, Libby
So glad you liked it, Concha
Thanks, Concha. I loved the olive oil story and the memory of Peck & Peck!
So glad you liked it, Concha
Hola. Recuerdo el artículo original de tu libro. Delicia regresar a una ciudad tan espléndida como Chicago y sobre todo salpicada de toques de arquitectos españoles. Te ves muy mona.
Gracias, Cristina, son tus ojos…
Love this essay for the clarity with which I can “see” you and your family on those road trips many years ago. Hugs, Randi
Thanks so much, Concha
Me han gustado mucho tus ideas, Concha. Yo también despotriqué un montón con la comida americana y mucho más con las propinas, excesivas para mí, durante mis primeros años allí.
Me encanta compartir las ideas contigo y gracias, Concha
I liked your blog on Chicago – I am glad you took the boat architecture tour on the Chicago River – it is such a good survey of the history of modern American architecture – and the Art Institute truly remarkable. XO, Philip
Thanks. I loved them both, Concha
Me encantan tus recuerdos de Chicago y del Seurat. Es una ciudad que me gusta mucho, pero hace años que no la piso. Abrazos, Inés
Muchas gracias, Inés. A mí también me encanta Chicago, Concha