My mother spent a year in Edinburgh as a college student, and afterward she hitched through France with two girlfriends. She remembers sitting in a car, a friend by her side, the other up front, their hair flying in the wind entering through the windows, crying out “C’est magnifique!” That was all the French she knew, but it was enough to express her thrill.

Almost 30 years later, I too went to Edinburgh on a foreign study program, and afterwards I met a girlfriend in Paris and we too hitched through France. But it was April and cold, and we headed south. In Bordeaux we took a train into Spain, traveled across the countryside at leisure, until, leaving Madrid, we hitched again. We got to Valencia and then headed down the coast. A car with two men stopped for us, and we climbed into the backseat. My friend, who spoke Spanish, found out they were going right where we wanted to go and would take us the whole way. She was the one who chatted with them, answering questions and making small talk. After a while, she turned to me and said they’d invited us to stop for a drink at an apartment one of them had. “What do you think?” she asked.

“No way,” I said. “When they stop, we go on.”

She shrugged, I remember, surprised by my vehemence though not disappointed, just uncomfortable at having to refuse their hospitality. They weren’t evil. They shrugged too, as I recall, exchanging glances, as if to say, “No luck, oh well.” They took us to our destination. And after another few days, our time was up.

It was a great trip. We saw San Sebastián and walked along the marvelous long beach and then into the winding streets of the old town to the bars where we ate tapas, which are there on the counter, each bite of food with a toothpick doing double duty as a handle and then as a counter for calculating what you owe when you are ready to pay and move on. In Madrid, we stayed with my friend’s cousin and went out for a proper meal at the cousin’s favorite bar. We slept on a beach in Alicante after we finally found the youth hostel we’d been counting on, and it was boarded up. For years a wineskin I bought in the market in Valencia hung in my kitchen, and though I knew the wine would go bad before I drank it, I kept the skin filled because if you don’t, the wineskin itself is ruined.

My friend and I reminisced not too long ago about the trip, and most of our memories are the same, including of the two guys in the car. But she believes she was the one to scotch the plan for a drink at their place, and I remember very clearly that that was me. I spoke no Spanish then, but you don’t need a common language to divine someone else’s intentions. As for your own, sometimes memory can both clarify and confuse the issue. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. My friend and I agreed on the important point, all these years later: that it was a wonderful trip. ¡Magnífico!

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Clellan Coe, a writer in Spain, is a contributing editor of the Scholar.


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