There are times when a town is more than just a town.
It’s the place you grew up: summer picnics, fireflies, and sprinkler dancing. There, you remember the times you cried in school and came home broken. The times you spent at your friends’ houses, dressed up like Sporty Spice, singing into a hairbrush. The times you spent at school in the hallways, “working.” The times you cheered at the football games for a team that never once won. The times you ran up and down your street in a last-ditch effort to get in shape. The time you wore your graduation gown as your mother took endless photos on the patio. The time you drove off to college, when there was finality in every step you took, every item you packed in your trunk.
It’s the place you went to college: lush green lawns, professors in tweed overcoats, the smell of stale beer at the frat houses. The time you first went to a class, so nervous you thought you might vomit. The times you studied until 2 AM, hyped on caffeine and the I-used-to-have-a-4.0 fear of failing. The times you spent all night having totally deep conversations with the people who would become your best friends. The times you spent gorging yourself on horrible cafeteria food because, hey, it was free. The time you got a paper back with a grade that made you cry. The times you wondered if your ears would be permanently damaged from loud music in a bar. The time you wore a black gown and a red sash and thought to yourself, “What now?”
For me, Zamora is a place that will remain forever locked into my memory. It is not a famous town; it’s not well known outside of Spain, perhaps even outside of Castilla Leon. But it’s famous to me and to my family.
Zamora, located on a rocky hill in the northwest of Spain, is the city Henry IV called the “most loyal and noble.” Known for its Romanesque architecture and abundance of churches, it is called a “museum of Romanesque art.” Spain’s version of the expression, Rome wasn’t built in a day is Zamora no se ganó en una hora (literally, Zamora wasn’t won in an hour), which references the battles between supporters of Isabella the Catholic and Juana la Beltraneja.
For me, though, Zamora is the first journey I took with Mario, the place I first ate cocido, and first realized I was in love.
I taught there. The students were surly and unwilling, but surely they learned a little from me. I learned there, too—Spanish and how to survive and why I never want to eat morro. I learned to buy fruit and vegetables from the fruit stores and that expressing myself in Spanish wasn’t so difficult after all.
I ate countless meals there—lentejas and lomo adobado and pollo guisado. I drank little cups of coffee with the skim milk Mario’s mother was always sure to have on hand. I baked for them a few times, which caused Mario’s father to comment that we put chocolate chips in so many things. (True!)
I laughed. I laughed and I cried and I swore things I didn’t always do. I walked miles upon miles around town, people watching. I drank coffee and cappuccinos in dark cafes while using the free wifi. I drank Elias Mora, 2 euros a glass, and ate plates of briny olives. I watched soccer games at friends’ houses while we passed around plates of chorizo, queso, and empanada. I watched as my friends exploded in glee after a particularly important Real Madrid victory. I too jumped up and down, although I didn’t exactly know why.
I ate in tapas bars, weekend after weekend. We ordered rounds of red wine and cañas, plates of patatas ali-oli and montaditos. We wiped the grease off our faces, crumpled the napkins, and threw them on the floor. A mark of a good place was the presence of numerous napkins on the floor. We chatted; I didn’t always fully understand. I practiced my Spanish, at first haltingly and later with more confidence.
I went to weddings unlike any I had ever known. There were cocktail hours, five course meals, limitless wine, and chaotic dancing to music I’d never heard before. There was raucous laughter and the shouts of children who had stayed up way past their bedtimes. There were even Conga lines. There was, of course, love.
Lots of it.
In short, I’m not Zamora’s best advertiser. It is a lovely city, in the core of Castilla, a place to get lost and remember that not all of Spain is bulls, flamenco, and Sevillanas. In Zamora lurks the heart of a Spain that remembers what many have forgotten—hard times, famine, bitter cold. But there also lurks true grit, people that take you in their hearts and love you truly, people who won’t take no for an answer.
I’m good at saying no, not so good at saying yes. So next time I go, I vow to say yes: yes to more, yes to dancing, yes to laughter, yes to life.