Zaragoza. Those cyclists who trained, encouraged, laughed, and cautioned me along the twists and turns of New Mexico’s wine fields and onion patches up the highest peaks around. They’re a fine family of cyclists who helped make my three years of living and teaching in the border city of El Paso a different experience than I’d ever anticipated, and tripped a mental toughness in me that I try to carry with me whenever needed.
Zaragoza, Spain. Their name stood out so brightly on a map of Eastern Spain that I couldn’t pass it up.
A quiet town complete with a bull ring, abundant mixtures of baroque and classical architecture, and the beautiful Río Ebro cutting gently through the center. A town where you can find full meals for 5 euros and plenty of sidewalk cafes to keep you hopping all day and all night. A town where many Spaniards visit during pilgrimage as it is home Basilica del Pilar: a church built upon the site where Mary is said to have appeared before Saint James in 40A.D. to encourage him and reinforce his mission to convert the people to Catholicism. Zaragoza is a calm place, a city close to both Madrid and Barcelona, yet far enough away to remain sheltered from high-traffic tourism.
I had rented a room within a pension: apartment-style living where guests rent their own room and typically share public spaces such as wash rooms and living rooms. Check-in times can be very specific at these types of accommodations, and this was the perfect example. A morning train from Barcelona to Zaragoza arrived at noon, one hour before designated check-in. I rang the door bell and knocked politely with no response, so decided to have a quick bite to eat and return at the assigned time.
I walked across the street and spotted a conglomeration of chairs and tables lined up outside a brick building with a faded red awning. Before I could see more than tiny tables and chairs, I’d made my decision to go there. Many diners were seated outside enjoying their meals, so I figured the food would be decent at the very least.
As I got closer, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Hidden in shadows just above the red awning was written in blue script: ANIKA!
In this city, which had drawn me in solely for the name, sits a cafe with a name my own! Mary’s and Anne’s might not comprehend what an exciting feeling this is. But to the Lillian’s and Vera’s, you understand: It’s a big deal in the smallest of ways. Never in 28 years have I come across my name in big bolded letters; And to think, this time it wasn’t even planned! (which, if you follow Beautifulfillment, you’ll come to find that often times a name is what attracts me to certain places or experiences, simply because finding coincidence and following their lead can make for unexpected entertainment)
I sat down to lunch: just me, my backpack, and a few others laughing at my easily recognizable excitement. The waitress brought a menu which I opened as she stood watch. The left page sported the restaurant’s signature sandwich. Without looking at the ingredients, I placed an order for the Anika Sandwich. Ten minutes later, out it came: Three layers of bread with tuna, hard boiled egg, lettuce, tomato, and two rather large pieces of chicken breast. Tuna… And Chicken? What a combination. Like I said: Unexpected Entertainment.
After finishing up the house special, I walked back across the street to check in at Pension Juana Burgos. A sweet lady helped me get situated in a large bedroom in a far corner of the second story pension. She told me I could pay “ahora”. “I’ll be leaving soon to see the city,” I said, “Would you like me to stop by your office to pay before going outside?”
She stared at me with a blank expression… had I not heard her ask for payment ‘ahora’?
“Ahorita!” I exclaimed. You’d like me to pay right now!
“Ahora” : Now
“Ahorita” : Now
In Spain, Ahora means now, as in: I just cooked dinner and am going to eat it now while it’s still hot. Right now.
In Latin America, Ahora means now as in: I’ll come to the party “ahora”, so in reality I’ll be there within the next 5-6 hours. If I really hurry.
Ahorita means I’ll be there much sooner, possibly in the next hour or so.
Upon hearing “Ahorita”, her eyes got wide. “Where are you from?” she asked.“Los Estados Unidos”
That didn’t sit right with her, “But you use ‘ahorita’. Why?”
I explained that I’d studied in Venezuela and lived on Mexico’s border for several years, so had learned Spanish with a Latin American dialect.
“Venezuela! Soy Venezolana!” She told me that as Zaragoza is a fairly small city, the influx of Venezuelan tourists is not quite as strong as in other Spanish cities. It had been years since she’d spoken with anyone about her home land, and she was more than happy to share stories of her time there. As she spoke, she slipped from a Catalan-influenced Spanish back to one with Latin American flair. Her speech increased in speed, and mine increased in fluidity, though more often than not I paused every occasional sentence so she could help me fill in the blanks with forgotten vocabulary.
What’s in a name?
A journey. An experience. A connection.