All Roads Lead to Spain, Part II
2 July 1991 was the date that Part II of my Spanish Adventure started. In Part I one in a vibrant post-transition Seville, I played the role of a free-spirited young adult turned responsible hardworking wife and mother. In Part II, I would now play the role of hardworking single mother in one of Spain’s most quintessentially “Mediterranean” seaside resorts, Javea, Alicante.
Javea, or Xàbia, which is the original name in Valenciano, is situated in the north of the province of Alicante, on the eastern-most point of the Mediterranean coast. The coastline of Javea, which lies just 90 km west to the island of Ibiza, is made up of four dramatic capes; Cabo de San Antonio, Cabo de la Nao, Cap Negre and Cap Martí. The Montgó Mountain shelters Javea from the harsher north winds, providing a microclimate that the World Health Organization named as one of the healthiest in the world. The flat central valley is made up of flat agricultural land dedicated to citrus and vineyards, crisscrossed by often dry rivers and streams. Javea, the Pearl of the Costa Blanca, is nothing short of paradise.
Since the 1970’s Javea had become a popular retirement destination for affluent Northern European expatriates and a summer holiday destination for the equally affluent Madrileños, Basques and Valencianos. Javea was also famous for its colony of international artists and spiritual-seekers, apparently drawn to the magnetic pull of the Montgó massif. Javea is also where the famous Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla produced some of his most famous pieces, and where the most lauded couturier of all times, Cristobal Balenciaga, retired to and lived out his final days. “What better place to raise my two young children?” I thought. And what a change from Seville!
Life in Suburbia Again
The most important change of all was having my family near me. My parents had retired in Javea two years earlier and they were now on hand to lend me their full support to help raise my children as a newly single mother. Although I was in an understandable funk after having ended my marriage, the joy of new motherhood and the house full of brothers and sisters visiting from abroad for the summer anesthetized the pain. Plus I had a whole new life to look forward to! My boys and I soon occupied one of the floors of the spectacular retirement villa that my parents had built overlooking the entire bay of Javea. Meanwhile I still had my home in Seville, which would take me two more years to sell, and my ex-husband would make frequent trips across the country to be with the boys. We had many neighbors from Valencia with children of similar ages who owned weekend and holiday homes in our urbanization and long lasting friendships were immediately struck between my boys and their “brothers from another mother”, friendships that endure to this day.
Another important difference between my new destination and Seville was that Javea was a small town with a population of only 10,000 inhabitants in 1991 (although it would swell to over 100,000 in the summer months). And with no public transport to speak of, no shops near the urbanizations, why, it felt like American Suburbia but with lovelier views. And yes, you had to drive everywhere, which did not bother me in the least being the American that I was. In fact it was a minor price to pay for the big spaces, peace, quiet and privacy that living in a villa offered in exchange. What did not feel like Suburbia and felt downright Third World was the lack of telephone lines, though! They wouldn’t come until three or four years later, along with paved roads. Javea at the time was certainly a mix of the developed and underdeveloped world.
That September my 5 year-old son Ruben started school in Javea. I was rather reluctant to send him to a public school, as they were not known for their particularly high standards in Seville. But Javea had no reputable Spanish private schools and I was certain that I did not want to enroll my son in the local private English college, which had proven to be a fly-by-night operation when my younger brother had attended. So after consulting with my friend Marilo (remember her?), who had since moved from Alicante to Javea, where she worked as a Special Education teacher in one of the local schools, I decided to enroll my son in the culturally diverse public school in Javea’s Port District.
Remember that I mentioned in Part I that Valenciano was spoken in the Alicante province? Well, it was also the language the children were taught in at school. Apparently regional language defense, nationalism and political confrontation went hand in hand, something else that was very different from Seville. In fact, many parents from other regions of Spain were outspokenly opposed to Valenciano language education, but I chose not to make an issue of it and embraced adding a third language to my children’s repertoire. With this open-minded attitude and the friendship that I already had with several of the teachers, I soon felt very welcome in our little school community. And with my good old American attitude of “If you don’t like the way things are, change them”, I quickly got involved in the Parents Associations, where I would remain for a full 11 years serving as Secretary, Vice-President and President.
Becoming a Business Woman and Pro Meditator
I started teaching again when I was asked by the directors of two of the local schools to launch an afterschool EFL program for the children, something my company had successfully done in many schools in Seville. The response was so overwhelming that I had to hire a second teacher and effectively went into business. Over a 13-year period I would go on to teach English to thousands of young javienses who to this day still call me ”Teacher” on Facebook. The truth is that in those early days it took me no time to become part of the local landscape in Javea, and being the small town that it was at the time, everyone knew who I was, some getting more into my business than I would have preferred. Ah, small-town living!
Socially Javea was also very different from Seville, where very little home entertainment took place. Thanks again to Marilo and a new wave of cultural creatives flocking to Javea, I soon had a group of fun and enriching friends from Javea, other parts of Spain and other countries, most of with young children, that kept my social calendar very busy. Potluck dinners were celebrated every weekend at a different homes. Weekend excursions to the mountains and the beach with all the kiddies in tow were also a mainstay, and summer garden parties and barbecues were held weekly. There was a lovely sense of community and of a village raising a child, and in all languages. Indeed, culturally Javea was much more diverse than Seville.
There was also something about Javea that was more profound than Seville, perhaps due to the sheer beauty of the landscape, something that turns people inward in search of deeper meaning. I did mention that Javea was also a haven for spiritual seekers, didn’t I? Since the early 70’s Javea has been home to groups of Neo-Sannyasins with an Ibiza connection, Buddhists, Hindus, Shamanists, Psychics, Healers and Soothsayers. I soon began shopping the Javea spiritual market place and would finally settle on Tibetan Buddhism. I would take it quite far, becoming a very dedicated meditator and practitioner for 10 years, even founding the largest meditation center in Europe, The International Sakya Foundation, in the Sella Mountains in nearby Pedreguer. I had the privilege of becoming a heart disciple of His Holiness Sakya Trizin, who imparted many wise teachings and initiations upon me during the course of those ten years in various destinations all over the world.
As my children, friendships and spirituality grew, so did my business. I had opened my own learning center in Javea, adding specialties like French, German, Spanish, Computing, Accounting, Homework Tutoring, as well as Speech Pathology and Social Skills Training for ADHD / Asperger spectrum children. I also ran several International Student Exchange and Au-Pair programs berween Spain and America. I had acquired several offsite corporate clients in the area, including the Marriott Hotel in Denia. As the business grew, I moved to larger premises where I was able to extend the course offerings to Yoga, Tai Chi, Belly Dancing or Theatre, attempting a more integral teaching model. I began investigating Integral Theory and Spiral Dynamics, going to Workshops and Seminars in the U.K. and America, hoping to apply these new theories back home.
Finding Last Minute Love
Javea, and Spain in general, was undergoing another massive transformation, this time at the hand of the housing bubble. As more and more EU funds poured into Spain, Town Hall politicians and building developers began overhauling the landscape and lining their pockets. Between 1991 and 2004 Javea had tripled in size from a population of 10,000 to a population of 30,000, and the majority of the new residents were from other countries. Instead of integrating, the local society was becoming more and more fragmented as different groups and nationalities began to acquire critical mass. Economically, signs of a downward turn were already present by 2004, and business was starting to fail. Clients stopped paying, several corporate clients began going bust and I was working 12-hour days just to pay staff wages and overhead at the end of each month. I was barely home for my children and they spent more time with me at work than anywhere else. So in April 2004 I made the gut-wrenching decision to shut down my business and ship my belongings to Los Angeles, California. I was done with Spain and I was going to go back to America that summer for a fresh new start in the prosperous economy I had left behind, except love got in the way.
Yes, it sounds maudlin and trite, but I found the love of my life at the very last moment. In those 13 years of single motherhood, I had done my fair share of dating, but no one worth bringing home to my children. Enric had just moved from Barcelona, where he had lived all his life, on a job offer in Javea. In Barcelona he had been an interior designer for decades and had grown weary of the city and his personal life there, which included 2 daughters with 2 exes. When he was offered the position of Project Manager for a luxury villa building company in Javea, he accepted immediately. He was ready for a major change in his life. He quickly discovered that he needed to learn English to deal with the British clients, and someone recommended me.
I had a tough decision to make: the love of my life or an uncertain though promising future back in America? I chose the former and had my belongings shipped back from Los Angeles. Enric and I found a place together and my youngest son Adrian, who was 13 at the time, came to live with us. My eldest son Ruben had begun university in Madrid and would come on the holidays. And so my new life started and I had to reinvent myself professionally and personally once again, though still in Javea. Adjusting to a two-parent home was tricky for my young son, but he and Enric soon bonded and to this day they are the very best of friends. My eldest son eventually transferred from the Complutense University in Madrid to the Valencia Polytechnic University in nearby Gandia, so now he was home every weekend. I finally had a normal family life and Enric and I ultimately tied the knot, making our union official.
Javea Adventure 2.0
I carried on teaching English and Spanish privately and to corporate clients, as well as translating for American clients. One of those corporate clients approached me about a new independent local political party that they were going to launch, a party that would represent the diverse interest of Javea’s international residents, and invited me to join. I had, after all, majored in Political Science and I was deeply concerned about the fragmentation I perceived in the local society. Plus, by then I had already obtained my Spanish nationality, so I was able to participate legitimately in electoral politics. I immediately got on board and got to work on the communications and party manifesto. The party went on to become the fourth most voted option in the 2007 elections, but we did not have enough seats to join the governing coalition and served out the term in the opposition. In 2010, I was recruited to launch yet another Independent party, this time made up of local Javienses and international residents combined. I was hired as campaign Manager and Press Officer, becoming the heart and soul of the new party, which would find electoral success in the 2011 elections and form part of the coalition that currently governs the municipality. By the time I abandoned politics in 2012, completely desillusioned by the evident “business-as-usual attitude” I had witnessed in both parties, I had become quite an ace at Social Media Marketing and Political Communication, so the next logical step was to study a Social Media Masters Degree at the Polytechnic University of Valencia. Going back to school, where I nurtured myself with a state-of-the-art education and the company of the brilliant and wonderful youths of this country has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life in Spain.
So I have rebranded and reinvented myself once more, now as an Interactive Digital Media + Social Media Strategist and Localization Copywriter, working locally and remotely with clients all over the world. My eldest son is now a movie producer in Hollywood and my youngest son is finishing his last year of University in Seville, where he and his father have been playing catch-up for the last 3 years. As many are aware, Spain is in the midst of a deep economic and moral recession, with the legitimacy of its political parties and institutions being called into question by the citizens, and with structural unemployment figure of 27%, 57% for youths. Even before the foreseeble crash and burn of the system, I had already engineered a plan for my children to get their degrees in Spanish universities – with several international exchange programs in between – and go to America (a “serious” country in my eye) to carry out their professional carreers. I can safely say that everything is going according to plans for the moment. Meanwhile, my parents continue to live comfortably on their American pension in Javea. Enric and I are also carrrying on in Javea for the present, where we have fallen in with a dynamic group of artist friends from all over the world that run a wonderful art gallery here. However, in the near future we may be ready for a move to a culturally richer and economically more vital urban setting anywhere in the world. Who knows if all roads in my life actually lead me to Spain or if the next one will lead me away from here, especially in light of the inescapable decline that the briefly “Great Nation of Spain” seems to be heading towards.