Martha Gellhorn once said, “humor is what joins us all.” If we can understand what makes each other laugh, we can begin to understand our similarities.
In Spain this semester, I have thought about this phrase a good deal, and these words of wisdom floated through my mind once more as we rocked with laughter around Lluisa’s dining room table Saturday night.
Lluisa is my host mom for the semester, and on Saturday she invited her daughter and two nieces over for dinner at her apartment. My roommate and I were given the chance to join the family gathering.
There was no pretense, no formal niceties, just warmth from the family as I walked in the door. The table was set with a new white tablecloth, red napkins, and wine and water glasses for six. I had spent fourteen hours at Tibidabo that day volunteering and enjoying the amusement park, but after being in Spain for two months, Catellano was getting easier to slip into whenever I walked into LLuisa’s apartment.
I introduced myself as I took my seat, and I had no idea what a feast we were about to enjoy. Traditional Catalonian food is delicious! To start, we had mango, walnut, and pomegranate salad, fresh bread (an absolute must for every meal in Spain), guacamole, sushi (her niece’s favorite), and homemade canned roasted red pepper and eggplant.
A few days ago, I had seen Lluisa roasting eggplant and red pepper over her stove on a grate, pulling at the charred vegetables as she worked. At the time I had no idea what she was doing, fearing if I asked I might be offered a blackened vegetable for supper. Now I was assured by the Catalonian women that this was a classic Catalan dish. The Catalans are fiercely proud of all that is Catalan.
LLuisa then brought out vegetable paella and white wine, and when I thought I couldn’t eat anymore, she came out of the kitchen with fresh muscles and clams. I was given a plate-full and enjoyed every bite.
For dessert, she brought out small plates with the two desserts my roommate and I had brought from home, candied pecans from South Carolina and Buckeyes from Ohio. I explained that these pecans were popular as gifts around Christmas time in my hometown and loved how excited everyone was to try something new.
The conversation slowly turned to old family stories of “antepasados,” the mother of Lluisa and her hilarious mannerisms, and funny stories about Ana’s trip to Chile and the confusion it caused when she missed Christmas at home. And, as with every family gathering, we talked politics. Independence for Catalonia is a hot topic in Barcelona right now. While no one at the table believed that independence would be a good thing for Catalonia, everyone in Lluisa’s family still identified as Catalan first rather than Spanish.
I really enjoyed hearing the difference in opinion between the women regarding the “Fiesta Nacional de España.” It is an annual holiday celebrating all things Spanish on October twelfth. It was mandated by the dictator Franco during his rule and is still celebrated today as a national holiday. The nieces believed this shouldn’t be a holiday anymore because it is part of Franco’s legacy and Catalonia should stop celebrating it, but Lluisa argued that it was a necessary holiday, because it encourages patriotism in Spain, which Spain needs more now than ever with the economic crisis. I had not heard any of these arguments before, but it reminded me of how important history is wherever you are; it never stops influencing our lives today. At our small table in the city, no one had all the answers to fixing the problems facing Spain today, even though we all desperately want Spain to continue to improve.
Then someone points to Xina, Lluisa’s cat, stealing a clam from the table while we’re engrossed in discussion and we all burst out in laughter. I am reminded once more that no matter what problems face our countries, as long as we can learn to laugh with each other, there is still hope.
The world awaits…discover it.