Its been a long day here, a whirlwind so unrelenting I’m not even sure where I am right now. Let’s reconstruct …
Spent the morning making one last run through Barcelona before catching the high-speed to Madrid at 2:00. Almost immediately, I fell into conversation with the hijab-wearing Syrian student sitting next to me. The Spanish countryside raced by, as did the time, while she disabused me of virtually everything I thought I knew about modern Syria.
I only gradually let on that she was talking a full-on representative of the international Jewish media conspiracy. Likewise, it took her an hour to disclose that her boyrfiend worked for the Syrian embassy. She invited me to visit her family’s farm in Syria. I asked her if I was allowed to as a Jew. "You’re Jewish?" she asked, eyes momentarily widerning.
She got on the horn to the fiancee. Then she asked if I’d ever visited Israel. I showed her the Ben Gurion entry stamps in my passport. She kept chattering away. Yes, she told me finally, you can go. You just have to apply for a visa.
A visa? I was expecting this all to end with a first class press junket.
We landed at Atocha at 5:30 and within an hour I was seated on a couch in the waiting room at Casa Sefarad Israel, a Spanish government organ trying to improve ties between Spain, Israel and the Jews. If I had a nickel for every non-Jewish European I’ve met working on some variation on this theme, well …
The org’s director, Diego de Ojeda, is a jumpy guy who fiddled distractedly with a pen for the whole of our 90 minute interview. When I asked him how anti-Israel the Spanish media was, it was like poking a hornet’s nest. He pulled out a dossier from his desk of — well, I don’t know what exactly. There was a pamphlet in there from Stand With Us featuring a timeline of every evil Spain had ever perpetrated against the Jews. A photo of some swastika/Star of David/skull and crossbones mashup with the dates March 11th and Septmber 11th — the former referring to the Atocha train station bombing, the latter to, well you know.
Diego talks like a freight train and it seemed he could go on forever disabusing me of every negative thing I’d ever heard about Spain and the Jews. You seeing the pattern?
By now it was coming up on 9, and I was tired and hungry and hoping someone would give it to me straight. I asked if there was a kosher place in town, maybe somewhere I could meet some real folks, not the representatives of officialdom I’d been dealing with.
I was led to a subway train, told which way to head, and somehow found myself 25 minutes later walking down a dark street towards a yellow light. Just as I got close, a woman opened the door.
"Kosher?" she asked. I nodded.
Inside, the place was empty, but she insisted on seating me at the table closest to the door. There’s no menu, so she set about describing in Hebrew the various shapes of meat I could have grilled for me.
"You want salad?" she asked. Israeli salad? No. Hummus? No.
Sure, I told her. Bring it on.
And that’s where we’re at — sitting at a table, somewhere in Madrid (I literally have no idea where), eating a pile of grilled meat and some pickley-salads, and writing this.