21 years ago my wife and I embarked on our life together and began our marriage with a honeymoon trip to France and Germany. For those of you who can remember that long ago, it was 1985, The Gipper had just been re-elected, much to the consternation of Europe's smart set, and the cold war was beginning it's final days.
It is hard to find many folks now who will admit to being against US foriegn policy back then, but I can assure you that when it came to anti-anti-communists, Europe had more than it's share. As a young adult who grew up with friends who were first generation imigrants - some of whom were smuggled out of Hungary and other Soviet client states as young babies - I was a strong Reagan supporter and couldn't understand how anyone could see the world differently than we did. Yet it was clear that some did.
I came to understand the opposition a bit during an overnight stay on the Rhein in Germany. We arrived at our hotel in the early afternoon and had a wonderful room at the top of a spire in an old castle that overlooked the river. To this day I remember standing on the balcony and marveling at the amount of military air traffic that was present in the sky. I had no way of knowing if it was a normal day, but I did gain a different perspective. As I watched the helicopters and jets pass over my balcony I thought, "my God, these people must just want for all of this to stop". There wasn't any shooting of course, but in some way that was worse. There was no obvious evil, those in the gulags were strangers far away, and the sheer relentlessness of it all had to be strong argument for trying to find a way of accomodating our enemy. After all, they really weren't hurting the peaceful people of Germany's Black Forest were they?
I also remember the strong anti-Americanism that I experienced in Paris on that trip. The French in many cases were just plain rude, and made it clear that it was our President and his policies that upset them so. Still, there was a very interesting thing about the French anti-Americanism that I experienced; it had a distinct age bias. The French who were my age were the worst, and had nothing good to say about Americans. The older French though - those old enough to remember the war, were very different. They were gracious, helpful and welcoming. It was clear that they still remembered what America did for them.
I mention all of this because today I had a similar experience. Today we awoke in Barcelona and drove the 600 kilometers to Madrid. Upon arriving at our hotel I drove the car into the parking lot and was greated by a cheerful gentleman who ran the garage. He said to us immediately, "you are not Spanish". A bit odd we thought, but acknowledged that yes, we were Americans. He said he could tell as soon as we pulled in. I wasn't sure what all of this meant, but he was a pleasant enough fellow and we chatted a bit more and then went up the stairs to reception.
We checked in, and frankly the hotel was bit of a disappointment. It was old, more than a bit tired and to be honest a little dirty. To say the least, I was becoming quite disenchanted with our accomodations. We had tried to save a couple bucks when we were booking, and frankly got what we paid for. Those who know me know that I can be a bit particular when it comes to cleanliness and this place was a bit lacking.
So it was in a bit of a hassled state that I returned to the garage to pick up my luggage. My friend was there again and he helped me take my bags to the elevator and said that it was good to practice his English. He said he wasn't from here, that he had emigrated from Romainia. "When Caucescu was in charge it was good to know several languages" he said - clearly an invitation to talk more about those awful days.
Well, I dropped the ball, folks. Here was a man from the front. A man who lived the hell that the accomodationists didn't want to see. A man who didn't have quite the same amount of luck as some of those kids I grew up with had and he wanted to engage an American in cold war talk. Incredibly, I was so distracted about my accomodations I really didn't give him enough time.
No, the irony of it all isn't lost on me.
Anyway, when I got to my room I started dialing for new accomodations and I secured improved lodging for Thursday through Saturday night. Happy with this accomplishment I was keenly aware that my work wasn't quite done. I then told my wife I had to go get my glasses out of the car and left our room to return to the parking garage. As I got there I saw my friend was just getting ready to leave. "Thank God I caught him" I thought.
"Going home?" I asked as I approached.
"Finishing my 12 hour day" he said.
"So how long have you been in Spain?" I asked.
"About 5 years. I came here to help my son get school. He graduated two months ago, so now I don't know" he said.
"Do you like Spain?"
"It's ok, better than Romania, economically. I have a German girlfriend so I have three choices; Spain, Germany, or Romania"
"Or maybe others" I said, "you have the world!"
"Yes, maybe even America. You know these countries are nice, very nice, but I always remember what my Grandfather said".
"What is that?" I asked.
"He said this: 'America, is always.....America', I remember that"
He turned and started leaving, and as he looked back at me, I nodded and said, "thanks".