My husband’s mother’s soap opera life brought us to Madrid.
Or more accurately, Morata, Spain.
My husband’s mother’s first love died in 1938, during the Spanish Civil War. He was a member of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion in the 15th Brigade. He was a good kisser. He survived Jarama, but was killed at Belchite after fighting for a year and a half against Franco’s forces. His name was Izzy.
My husband was born 8 ½ years later, but he wondered what it would have been like to have had this man as a father, and he wanted to pay him homage. Before booking our flight to Madrid, he found a guide who could take us to Jarama, and he reserved a car at Puerto del Sol, which the car reservation website map showed was located in the center of Madrid.
We practiced the 16 lesson set of Pimsleur Castillian, so we could converse in minimal tourist dialogues, like where is it? and what does it cost?
We stayed in a room at a hotel in the center of Madrid near Puerto del Sol. My husband asked the hotel clerk at the desk for directions to the car rental office listed on our reservation.
The map was wrong. Yes, there was a Puerto del Sol, just blocks from the hotel, but the car rental office wasn’t there. It was in the suburbs.
For decades, I’ve tried to convince my husband that maps are only approximations. Even this glaring error could not convince him. Maps have gotten him lost before, but he always wants to blame himself and his map reading skills instead of inaccurate maps.
We went online to find a closer rental office. According to the car rental website, the nearest agency office had no cars available.
We tried to phone the agency headquarters. Our cell phone global plan refused to connect us.
We tried the hotel phone. It got us a busy signal, for which we had to pay 80 cents.
We tried a pay phone. Still no connection.
It looked as if our trip to Jarama might end like my husband’s mother’s romance – lots of planning, but no action.
So we decided to walk to the nearest car rental office, hoping to talk to somebody who could find us a car inside the city of Madrid.
The hotel clerk and the website agreed on the location of this office. We were running out of time to meet with our guide. We speed-walked to the designated address. The office was supposed to be in a hotel. The hotel did not exist. We asked people on the street, using our best Pimsleur Castillian. Nobody could direct us. We weren’t sure if our Castillian was incomprehensible or if the hotel truly did not exist. We had heard about traveling angels, but never the anti-travel sort. Surely, there was no reason we shouldn’t visit the war museum and the old battle grounds.
Finally we walked into a hotel near the listed address. As we waited in line to talk to the hotel clerk, I noticed a small desk at the back of the lobby decorated with a car rental sign.
Nobody was at the desk. I imagined there would be a phone at the desk, and that we could use it to call the agency headquarters. This seemed like a desperate last hurrah. Who knew what language they might speak on the other end of that phone.
As we walked towards the desk, a door in the wall opened. A man came out and sat in the chair behind the desk.
My husband handed him our reservation receipt, and explained that we wanted a nearby car. The man understood. He looked at his computer screen, clicked a few keys and printed us a new reservation form. This one was in Spanish. I dreaded where he might send us next.
But then he opened his desk drawer. In it lay 2 sets of keys. He handed my husband one set, and directed us toward the elevator. He told us to find the car at 23. This was all in Castillian, but we understood him, and thanked him.
While we waited for the elevator, I looked back at the desk. Again, the chair was empty. I guess traveling angels don’t hang around when their jobs are done.