We arrived at Madrid Barajas Airport at 7:07 am. New, shiny, and silent, the place was like a movie set in Futureworld on a day when the cameras weren't rolling. Spaniards seem to have a civilized air-travel schedule: no flights leave before 8:00 am.
I am in Europe, I said as we walked toward passport control.
So ahn’t I, said Katie, with an accent to which I am accustomed after 28 years, but an equally Bostonian expression that will never make sense to me. So aren’t I?!
We made our way to gate J44, for our continuing flight to Venice and found a good omen waiting.
A nun, I said, noticing a Dominican sister all in white in the first chair by the check-in counter.
Two nuns, Katie said, pointing out the first nun’s companion. And as usual, Katie was right.
As I fell asleep, jet-lagged, before the Venice flight even took off, I was aware of an all-Spanish commotion behind me. A bunch of kids in matching white athletic shirts. I didn’t think more about it until I woke from a dream about American football. A college quarterback was taking forever to call signals and count one-two-three-hike, and the camera feeding me the dream zoomed in on his coach's face, patient but grimacing over the QB’s hesitation. I laughed out loud and woke myself with my laugh.
I woke to discover that the lads in white athletic shirts were the under-18 team from the professional soccer club Colo-Colo out of Santiago de Chile.
I struck up a conversation with Camillo Rodriguez, obviously the clown of the bunch, who sat one row behind me and across the aisle. Camillo made fun of my hiking boots, large Salomon sloggers. He picked up one and put it to his ear, pretending it was a telephone.
Behind me were the wife of the Colo-Colo coach and her two daughters, Anastasia, who spoke French with me, and Florence, who spoke only Spanish, which I do not. I asked Anastasia if Camillo was her boyfriend. She said that if Camillo tried to make a move, her father, the coach, would -- she made a universal sign of thumb slashing across windpipe. That is, her father would kill him.
Camillo gave me a Colo-Colo sport bracelet as a gift, and I put it proudly on my right wrist. In exchange, he asked for the Russian chaplet that I wear on my left wrist. No, I said, I can’t part with that, but you can have this. When I left the plane, the 17-year-old from Chile was wearing my gift, a ball cap from Siesta Key in Florida, sideways on his head.
Before we said goodbye, Camillo asked if I were on Facebook and when I said I was, he promised to friend me.
This is what I love about European travel: suddenly realizing that not everyone speaks English with a Boston accent, or follows the Red Sox, and still finding ways to communicate.