Letter: Veteran had real Spanish class trip

I was in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years.  My first overseas assignment,1962 to 1964, was to San Pablo AB, Spain, about five miles north of Seville (distance and direction are based upon a 55-year-old memory).  The wife and I went to Spanish classes two hours a day, five days a week for two months.  My guess is that we could speak Spanish as well as a 2-year-old Spanish kid.

There was a “convenience” grocery store across the street from our departmento (apartment) that sold the daily staples.  The staples that were available included salt, flour, eggs, pan (buns), etc.  If you wanted meat, you went to the open market and picked out the fly covered, featherless chicken, of your choice, hanging upside down in front of a tent.

When my wife went to the store and bought a dozen eggs and a dozen pan, the people couldn’t believe their ears and eyes.  The locals, or if you prefer, indigenous, people only bought what they wanted for the day, i.e., four eggs and five pan.   

We had an icebox in our kitchen and the iceman came once a day.  We had three windows in our apartment and each one was actually a door going out to a small balcony.  The sun and breeze was controlled by a persiano, wood slats that could be closed or opened or could be opened a little on top and closed on the bottom.

I would suggest that you go to Seville a week before Easter.  When we were there, they had semana santa, holy week.  A huge statue of the weeping Virgin Mary was taken out of a cathedral and put on a wooden platform about 25’ by 50’.  Around the four edges of this platform were four beams. The beams protruded away from the platform by three or four feet.  Fifty to 75 men would pick up this platform and carry it in the street.  They were doing penitence.  They were followed by a group of 100 men, each waiting to do their turn of carrying the platform, to do their penitence.  When one man got tired, he would slip out and another man would take his place.

Francisco Franco was the dictator at that time.  We were told to have a good time down in Seville, enjoy the sights and sounds and vino, (wine).  We had all the freedom we had in the United States except for freedom of speech and there were two subjects, 1) Franco and 2) the Catholic Church.  If we were caught talking bad about those two subjects, there was nothing anyone could do to help us.

One of the driving rules was the rule of the right of way.  That rule as practiced: whoever got to the corner with the biggest vehicle had the right of way.  You did not want to be involved in a traffic accident and kill a donkey or a chicken.  They were considered money-makers and the man who lost them would lose much, much money.  If you killed the man who owned the animals, that was not such a big deal.  You might be fined $100.

JFK was the president when I was in Seville.  Whenever I went into a bodega (wine cellar), I would raise my glass of Cuba Libre (rum and coke) and say, “Viva el Franco”.  A Spaniard would buy me a drink and say, “Viva el Kennedy”.

We walked to Bar Nervion quite often and enjoyed tapas (fingerfood) calamaras (squid) and learned a lot of Spanish there.  A lot of our learning was done with drawings on the bar top with chalk.  We were taught the game of Dados Poker (poker dice).  We became acquainted with the owner of the bar. 

One Sunday we took him, his wife and two boys to his hometown in the mountains.  When the town’s people saw who was in the car, they came a runnin’.  My wife and I got out of the car and were stretching out.  About 30 minutes later, we got back into the car and started driving down the mountain, away from his village.  I was told to take the next right turn, onto a dirt road going into a pasture.  We went a couple of hundred yards into the pasture and stopped.  The ladies started getting stuff out of the car.  More cars arrived and more stuff was brought in.  There was a big clearing surrounded by logs and in the center was a big rock fire pit.  A group of men gathered wood for the fire and another group brought water from the river and poured it into a big (2’ - 3’ in diameter and 6” deep) black frying pan.  A fire was started under the frying pan and a lot of the guys decided to go for a dip in the river.  An hour later, the water was boiling and the ladies started dumping whatever they happened to have, meat, fish, rice and vegetables into the pan.  When it was ready for consumption, we were handed a plate and silverware and a big spoon to dish up our plates because they knew Americans were not use to eating their way. We walked to the frying pan, dished out what we wanted and walked back to the log.  The Spaniards went to the frying pan and scooped their food out with the hands. 

That was a very memorable day for the both of us.

Dale Schunke

Tucson, Arizona