The whole purpose of the trip to Spain was to see an older cousin of mine, Jeff, who moved to the Basque country with his wife, Begona, and their 6-year-old daughter, Satya. Jeff grew up in Southern California and then ended up living for years in Spain, mostly in Madrid, after he graduated from college. He met Begona in Madrid, though she's originally from San Sebastian, and they got married in Seattle. My family went to their wedding, which was when I was about 15. It was the first time I had seen Jeff since he stopped by my parents' house on his way to Europe after college when I was only about 7. A couple of years after they got married, Jeff and Begona moved to the town where I was going to college because Jeff got a job as a Spanish professor at another college nearby. Even though they were just a short drive away, I only saw them once in the couple of years we lived in the same town. I knew they wanted to go back to Spain though and I always planned to visit them when they finally moved back.
They live in a small town called Hondarribia which is right next to the French border, on the coast. It's a lovely little town with hills and old streets and interesting hotels built in refurbrished noble houses or fortresses. There's a bay with a couple of harbours and a beach, and a lively enough center with bars and restaurants. It's about a half hour away from San Sebastian which is where Satya goes to school at an English school. She can speak English, Spanish (which I think she prefers), and a bit of Basque (taught in all Basque schools) and French. Sometimes Jeff takes her to a kid's movie over in France to help increase her exposure to it.
As the time came closer to going to see the family, I started to worry about what I was getting myself, and O as well, into. We'd be staying at their house and be shown around by them, which is great, but it can also go horribly wrong if you don't mesh well with the other people. Also I could only hope O liked them and vice versa. My worries were only quelled by remembering how well I got on with them the last times I had seen them, I remember how easy they were to talk to. That still left me worrying about how 4 days with a 6-year-old would go.
In the end it all went fine. As for the 6-year-old, I think it took us a couple of days to get used to each other, but by the time we left, I could tell we were all more comfortable with each other. It was difficult when she was being really fussy the first night we were there, but most of the time she was fine to be around. It helped that when we went out sightseeing, it was only me, Jeff, and O, so we had a lot of time away from the kid and mostly only saw her in the evening. Also she was on school holidays and spent a lot of time out playing with neighbourhood kids.
At first I felt Satya was a bit princess-y and not polite, but I think it's just that age, mostly (and Jeff said one thing they're working on a lot lately is her manners). It was funny how one moment she would be playing pretend and make-believe, but the next she would be very matter-of-fact. O was wearing a shirt one day that has a muffin saying "Ah munna eat choo!" on it (no, it doesn't make much sense, but that's not the point). So O was asking Satya if she could read what the muffin was saying, and she couldn't really get it, but O helped her out and once Satya knew what it said, she just looked confused, like "What's that supposed to mean?" So O made up some story about the muffin being angry for everyone eating his muffin friends and he was going to take revenge by eating everyone. And Satya gave him this priceless look of "What are you on
?" She didn't buy a word of it. She asked O how he knew why the muffin was angry, and O said the muffin told him. She said shirts don't talk. He said, that doesn't matter, the muffin told me. She just kept looking at him with one eyebrow raised, all "I don't think
so!" She was not impressed.
Satya was however happy with the present we brought her, a Nijntje doll, because we of course had to bring something Dutch. I was worried that she would open it and say something like "I hate rabbits!", or say Nijntje was ugly, or who knows what, but her eyes went wide when she opened the gift and I think she even immediately gave Nijntje a hug. Nijntje was then instantly christened "Christina" for reasons unknown. But Satya had her nearby often when she was in the house, like on the table while she was eating breakfast or next to her as she did some summer homework, so I was very pleased with that. She might have ditched Nijntje/Christina by now, but at least in the days we were there Satya genuinely loved the doll.
For some family history, I didn't grow up near any of my dad's family, so I don't know that side of the family very well at all. We visited various people when I was a kid, but then my dad had various falling-outs (the reasonings of which I know nothing about) and we didn't reconnect to some parts of the family until I was in high school. My dad's side is also rather complicated due to his older age and various remarriages by him and his brothers. It's why Jeff is about 20 years older than me, but is my cousin, and he has a half-brother and half-sister who are a couple of years younger than me (I also was an aunt before I was born because of an older half-sister of mine). But despite not knowing these people as I was growing up, and despite the age differences, I discovered a lot of connections running through that part of the family, and a lot of things that were common. For one, there is certainly a creative streak in the family, in one form or another. My dad did building as a job and is an excellent artist and painter. I didn't know that his brother - Jeff's dad - also is artistic until I saw the drawings Jeff had of his dad's around the house. Jeff does a bit of DIY himself, and his younger half-brother is also a talented builder to the point that he was hired on straight away with a company when he hadn't even finished college. I got none of the artistic talent (which I'm still bitter about, I would love to be able to draw anything past stick figures), but I can write, which Jeff and his half-sister do as well (and my dad has dabbled in, but I don't think it's his strong suit). I think I maybe grew up around the wrong side of my family, feeling all out of place growing up with my mom's sister and brother and their families, and feeling like they never understood my interests. It was just a bit weird connecting again with someone from this half of me that has largely gone ignored and seeing that maybe I belong more on that side than I thought.
Another thing I had in common with Jeff is a massive sweet tooth. I was surprised by it. But there we were, after our first lunch at their house, having some tea and biscuits, and Jeff was eating one biscuit after the other. That, and eating digestives with a nice layer of butter in between. I guess I thought he'd eat healthier, though I'm not sure why. And when O and I would go out with him to see the area, he would always be checking out the desserts or bakery windows or encouraging ice cream, which I totally do as well (and get laughed at by O for doing it). One day we had ice cream for lunch, on his suggestion, though he asked that we not tell Begona that we did that. I loved it. As someone who doesn't understand when someone says something is "too sweet", I felt like I'd met a soulmate.
O got on really well with both Jeff and Begona which, for him, was a sort of relief, to find a part of my family that he could relate to more than the people he's met from my mom's side of the family. We had a lot of good chats with them about all sorts of things, and of course they understand wanting to travel and live in Europe vs the US and all of that. They were as easy to get along with as I had remembered, which was really good since we were around them for 4 days.
The last part I will write about Spain is about what we did and saw in those 4 days, and I hope to get that posted soon.