It is the middle of my second month living in Barcelona, Spain, and although I have shared with you a general account of my impressions of the place, the report of an individual human experience has been missing. That is why today I will tell you the story of Jan and Magdalena: two Spanish people I met during my travels who have given me permission to share their life stories. This account, I hope, will help us understand the difficult time Spain is living in its history and offer a particular point of view on some of the current struggles of the Spanish people.
Magdalena was born in a small city in southern Spain in the middle of WWII and was three years old when the war ended. By the time she was five, her older sister—who suffered from sudden visual impairment—and her mother, traveled together to Madrid to seek treatment. It had been a year since the pair had left, and Magdalena’s father decided to send Magdalena north to live with his sister. Magdalena lived with her aunt for several years while her father struggled to move his shoe-making business to the capital. At the age of thirteen, her family was reunited in Madrid and Magdalena began working as a seamstress.
Jan worked at a sausage factory in the year of 1958. He was born and raised in Catalonia and had moved to the capital at age fifteen to get away from the harassment of Franco’s regime. He avoided speaking Catalan in public, but his Catalonian accent gave him away and he was often times stopped by the police. Once, he was caught speaking to a friend in Catalan and the police beat him with sticks and told him not to speak in “polish” ever again;
Some things are better left unsaid.
In the year of 1960 Magdalena and Jan met, and in 1965 they tied the knot at a simple wedding. After the ceremony, they moved to Barcelona and raised three beautiful daughters there. Forty years later, Magdalena celebrated her 70th birthday on Día de la Merced.
That was the day we met.
Today Magdalena is the embodiment of Spain’s struggles. In the wrinkles of her face and her homemade dress I see all of the Spanish mothers giving half of their 400 Euro pensions to support their grown-up children. In the case of Magdalena the money is for Lolita—the middle 40-year old daughter who, although divorced, cannot afford to move out of her ex-husband’s apartment. Someday, Lolita will find a stable job and will be able to provide a better home for her children. Someday, she will travel to Paris and save up money for the college tuition of her son;
Some things are more easily said than done.
Jan is a strong, opinionated man recently weakened from a hip surgery. He is the incarnation of Catalonia: he wishes to be powerful and independent but cannot. He feels the weight of the economic need of his daughters, but fails to find ways to support them. Like his health, his pension money decreases every month because the working force does not make enough money. His youngest daughter lives in a camper and has postponed getting pregnant until her finances improve. His oldest daughter, a chemist, is working part time as an office receptionist and is going to beauty school on Sundays.
Magdalena worries about the cost of living. She wishes to see her daughters back on their feet.
Jan fears for the future of his grandchildren. He wishes to see his nation’s livelihood redeemed;
Some things are easily dreamed and rarely lived.