My Love Affair with Spain
- by Susan Kaplan
My love affair with Spain began in 1974 when my husband and I were sent by Foxcroft School to set up a homestay/study program. We had the good fortune to find the Estudio Internacional Sampere in Madrid that would arrange housing, classes and tours. We returned the next year with 12 students and our 6-year-old daughter. We resided with Maria Teresa de Toro who would soon become Rachel’s “third grandmother” and our very dear friend. We spent hours chatting. Mari Tere taught me how to make her favorite dishes and introduced us to places we never would have gone as tourists. Nearly everyday Mari Tere’s nieces and nephews would stop by to play with our daughter. It was a lovely way to get to know the country. Each year we looked forward to seeing Alberto Sampere, the founder of the Estudio, his family and Mari Tere. While Alberto is no longer with us, to this day, no trip to Madrid is complete without a visit to the Estudio to see his family who now run the Instituto.
After a number of years teaching, I decided that I wanted a change. I accepted a job as a cross-cultural trainer for the Saudi Naval Expansion Program. I was part of a team that wrote training materials and conducted class for Americans who would be deploying to Saudi Arabia. Two years later, Marty and I decided to move to California where I began my third career. I spent the next 26 year as a Director of Human Resource and Training in hotels in Los Angeles.
When retirement approached, we were sure we wanted to make the move to Spain. We had thought it would be Madrid as we were most familiar with the city. However, fate would change that decision. My husband, who is also a magician, was contacted by a Valencian magician, Pepe. Pepe invited Marty to visit Valencia for a magic weekend with a group of local magicians the next time he was in Spain. And so it began, the next year we both came to Valencia spending some delightful days in Pedreguer, Pepe’s hometown. Pepe insisted we return the next year to enjoy the festes of Pedreguer. We couldn’t resist. What an experience! Running of the bulls in the street. Wildly snapping photos as the bulls ran in the closed off streets, hiding behind the palcos as the bulls neared, music until dawn, paella a leña.
In 2008, the year before our retirement, the National Magic Convention of Spain was held in Valencia. Of course we had to attend. It really gavus a chance to explore the city. We loved so many things about the city that we decided to return the next year and “try it out” for 6 weeks. A week after we both retired, we returned to Valencia. It didn’t take long to convince us this is where we wanted to spend the rest of our years.
Not once have we regretted that decision. After living and working in Los Angeles, California for 26 years, it is a delight to live in a city that doesn’t require a car. The pleasure of walking and exploring the city is a joy. As time passed our circle of friends has grown to include both Valencianos and members of the expat community. As a person who enjoys cooking, living next to the Mercado Central is a gift. The pleasure of returning to our usual stands and being greeted like old friends is quite different than the “supermarket experience” of Los Angeles.
We have shared birthdays, weddings, celebrations of birth, anniversaries, and, sadly, funerals. Christmas has been puchero with Pepe’s family in Pedreguer. Thanksgiving has become an international event with 18 people from 8 different countries around our table. In 2014 we were invited to be falleros de honor of the Casal Plaza de Jesus. It really gave us insight into why Valencia loves its fallas. It was far more than what one sees from “outside.” It was family, neighbors and friends. It was events for children, sharing meals and working together to create a very special experience. I watched my friends JuanJo and Vilma win their first Paella Contest. The day of the ofrenda, I spent hours taking pictures of the falleras while they prepared for the ofrenda. I watched the children cry as their falla went up in flame. As a thank you, the following year my husband delighted the children with a magic show. In 2017, Benjamin Clavin, a fellow photographer and I presented the photo exhibit “Two North Americans, Multiple Valencias,” at the Ateneo Mercantil de Valencia.
A casual invitation to a coffee led me to the International Women’s Club of Valencia (IWCV), a group open to all women who live in and around Valencia. Little did I realize that the IWCV was to become such an important part of my life, first as a member and then as president of the group for 4 years. While there are coffees, lunches and cultural events, the IWCV is so much more than a social group. Not only do we seek to support women in our group, we feel strongly as residents of Valencia we should support our local community. We are now involved in activities to support Casa Caridad, Casa Ronald McDonald Valencia and Fundación Proyecto Vivir. While no longer president, I continue my involvement as Vice-President of Membership.