When I was 15, just after my sophomore year in high school, I went on the Spanish Club trip to Spain for two weeks. It was my first real taste of being away from home, away from my family. And I really could not have imagined a better place to go.
Because part of the trip was to experience the culture, our parents had to sign a permission slip that we could drink alcohol while we were there. I assume it was so we could have wine with dinner, but we took it as carte blanche. I mean what were they thinking giving 15 Catholic school girls (from an all girls school, no less) permission to drink?
So we took advantage of the permission slips. We went out to bars and clubs. We'd make it back to the hotel for bed check at 11 and then sneak out again. We thought we were so cool ordering drinks like we were adults. The drinking age in Wisconsin at the time was 18 so some (not me at the time) had experience going out to bars.
But Wisconsin is/was a beer and brandy place and they don't really serve beer and brandy in Spain. It was funny to see what everyone ordered. Some people stuck to the old family standbys of Old Fashioneds and Manhattans (sweet of course). I thought it would be cool to drink Tequilla Sunrises (thank you Madonna in Desperately Seeeking Susan). Basically we had no idea what we were doing but we had loads of fun doing it.
One night we were in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid at about 9 or 10 at night. Everyone was out walking around before or after dinner. We were sitting at an outdoor cafe with our teachers and the tour rep from Wisconsin. We thought it would be totally lame but then the tour rep decided to order a pitcher of sangria. Well one turned in to many. And soon it was "Waiter, Sangria for everyone. For all my new friends."
It was one of those magical nights. I soaked in the culture. I think it was there that I decided to study the language for good. I fell in love with Spain and all it had to offer a midwestern girl. And yes, I fell in love with Sangria. What's not to like? Wine, mixer, alcohol soaked fruit. Its genius.
I went on to major in Spanish in college. And my Spanish accent is shaped by what I heard on that trip. After college I studied in Spain for a summer, living with a family in Madrid. One of the first nights I was there, I went to the Plaza Mayor and sat at a cafe much like the one I was at when I was 15. My friends and I ordered a pitcher of Sangria and then a few more for our new friends.
That summer I retraced many of the steps I took on my high school trip. I was older and wiser and I appreciated things a bit more. But I still had that wide eyed innocence. I still saw things through the same lens. And I still love Spain and all it has to offer this more cultured midwestern girl. To me its that dream place, representing what is and what could be.
As you know I've been kind of in the dumps lately. On Monday I got an e-mail from my friend Beth, inviting me to a Sangria party. It could not come at a better time. I thought about my past and the adventures I've had. And it made me realize that I have so many more adventures to come.
So I raised my glass and toasted to the past and to the future. And although my Spanish isn't what it used to be, I say Sangria for everyone.