The capital of Spain. The center of it all. The place where the most perfect Spanish is spoken. A city of many contrasts with a history so great and so long that I don’t dare to try to characterize it. All I know is that Birgitta and I loved every part of living here. We were blessed with the chance twice. Once in 1972 with four children and again in 1990 just the two of us. There were great contrasts in the two tours. Living with a family of 6 has it’s charms and different problems. I think living here was a great influence on each of us. A very good influence. I like to believe that living in all the places we have lived was a positive experience for each of of our children. I would urge each of them to add a little to this narrative and increase it’s value.
I think as I tell our story you will learn things about Birgitta you never knew. Maybe even the children will be surprised. So I will start with our first time here. The children attended school at Torrejone Air Force base, A US Air Force facility, so with the school day and the travel time they were gone for most of the day. Unlike Sevilla I had a full time job that took over 8 hours every work day. Birgitta took advantage of her freedom Joined the International Women’s Club and made many new friends. These women who mostly had husbands that worked were extremely inventive in finding ways to pass their days, Birgitta played Bridge once a week and took part in trips the women planned together. But she did more than that. One thing she did was find a women who gave daily lectures in English at the Prado, Madrid’s wonderful art Museum. These were very special. They took each famous Spanish artist in turn and dissected his paintings one at a time. Sometimes a painting would take several days to learn the history, examine the technique, Where did he learn it? How did he develop it? Who did it influence ? I know for a fact that she once spent 5 days on one Goya painting. She did this for several months and accumulated a store of knowledge that left me in wonder when we discussed it.I would never have the patience for such a challenge. But, she loved every minute of it and loved to tell me what she learned. Our children went to bed early so we always had plenty of time for discussion of her day. Me, I got a free education even if my interest was not as keen as hers. But you all know how she lit up a room when she told her stories. These classes were not limited to Spanish painters. There were other artists discussed. But there in the Prado they stood in front of the work and discussed it. Then at around 2pm went to coffee and discussed it further. I also know that she started this with a couple of friends but one by one they dropped out but not her. She and Edna another American stuck with it. Edna and Floyd were a couple we became friends with. Floyd passed away after they returned to the US. But, Birgitta kept in contact with Edna and she actually came to visit us on our Boat Vasa II when we passed by her home in 1993 some 20 years later. I had to rent a car to get her as she was not able to drive but she was still the same great lady and Birgitta really treasured her friendship. Unlike most people, Birgitta was contented to have learned about the artists and never felt the need to display her very deep knowledge of the works.
There was another thing she did that I found interesting. There was an exhibit on Oriental Rugs being shown in Retiro Park. The rugs were on loan from the government of Iran for a month and they had some experts accompanying them. Birgitta was very interested so one weekend we went to look. She spent some time with one of the woman in the group while we looked at the park. On the way home she announced that she had arranged to have the woman teach her more about the rugs and would be going back a couple of afternoons next week to learn more. I don’t really know how much time she spent “learning” I do know that for 5 nights she wasn’t very hungry at dinner time and she had bought the woman lunch each day after that had discussed the rugs, how they were made, how you determined the value and that the rugs in the collection we saw were extremely old and extremely well made. Some were valued in the 100’s of thousands of dollars. She had always liked oriental rugs and later when we were furnishing a place or just looking she would look at the back of the rug and explain to the person trying to sell it why it was not a very good rug. She was never satisfied with any she saw until on one trip up to Highpoint S. Carolina we saw an oriental rug shop. She went in and immediately fell in love with one rug. She examined it and declared it was a great rug and she might want to buy it. The problem was it was $30,000. We went back each of the three days we were there and she got the price down to $19,000. I said OK if it was so important to her. At that time we were on Vasa III and didn’t really have a place to keep it except in our Ft Lauderdale storage. So we never bought it. She wrote to the Iranian girl but never got an answer.
Whenever she was interest in something she would make a great effort to understand it. In Korea she tried to learn Korean. In Israel she went off to the Ulpan for a month to learn Hebrew. She was intimidated by absolutely nothing. Her reaction to my comments that she spoke a little French and German was interesting. She denied it. Yet I can recall occasions where when she had to speak she did quite well. One time we were on the Galcier Express train in Switzerland and were seated in four seats with a table in between with a German couple who spoke no English. In about an hour she was carrying on a conversation in German and did so for the rest of the day. While Birgitta had studied English for 7 years in Sweden she had also studied German for 9 years. Yet if you asked she would say No, I don’t speak German. Somehow as can happen I lost the track of the story and this should have had more to say about the children. Maybe they will speak or write for themselves. But this is about Birgitta so I don’t feel too guilty.
The second time we were there we took full advantage of the time and went everywhere and saw everything that even slightly interested us. We went to plays in Spanish and tried to understand. We traveled to every Parador that was within a reasonable distance and spent the weekend. The International women’s club had somehow lost it’s luster and membership was low but Birgitta managed to get Bridge started again. The club was never the same busy interesting place it had been before. I was tied up in some other things and was busy solving a problem which was the reason I was there. We made four business trips to the states that year and saw the children. What could have been a stressful year was made easier because I had my beautiful Contessa to lean on.
On one of the women’s clubs trips to Lisbon the bus broke down near the Portugese Border. It happened near the town of Badajoz a place I worked once a month when we were in Sevilla 18 years earlier. Once a month I would visit the air base and stay for three days and always took either Birgitta or one of our children with me. Thus she got to know the town. When she learned that the bus would be there for five to six hours waiting repair or another bus from Madrid. Birgitta took the healthy ones and walked into town and then came back with taxi’s for the rest. She took them to the Hotel Zurburan where we always stayed. They had a long lunch and no doubt a few cocktails and when the bus was ready he picked them up at the hotel. She said they all slept all the way back to Madrid. She was the hero of the day. They never got to Lisbon. She was so proud she could help. It was so like her to just take charge.
I want to relate one more thing. How Birgitta’s 1972 education about painting lasted. In September of 1990 we were preparing to go back to the USA. We decided to visit Toledo and have lunch at the Parador. After lunch Birgitta wanted to visit the El Greco Museum. This museum has an extensive collection of paintings by this artist of the Spanish Golden Age.
Opened in 1911, the museum is located in Toledo’s Jewish Quarter. It consists of two buildings: a 16th-century house with a courtyard, and an extension dating from the early 20th century. The two share a garden. The museum houses numerous works by El Greco, especially from this brilliant painter’s last period, as well as canvases by other 17th century Spanish painters, furniture from the same era and pottery from Talavera de la Reina. I spent the afternoon and early evening getting educated on El Greco. We stood in front of his work one after another while she told me the history of the work, who was in the painting, what the painting was meant to portray and why El Greco chose to paint this particular subject. She had not forgotten a thing in 18 years since she first learned about El Greco at the Prado. I was amazed. We also have some pottery from Talavera which I treat with more respect in the future.
You can see from the above why in out discussions of places Birgitta wanted her ashes placed here. She loved Madrid. Today I visited Retiro Park the place she chose. There is a manmade lake in the center of the park. Today it was full of small rental row boats in a variety of bright colors. People were picnicking all around. There are lots of small stands selling sandwiches, wine and treats for the children whose laughter you could hear all around the lake. She was placed on the lakes edge facing the large monument so she can enjoy the view of this magnificent piece of art. The monument is made up of maids and lions with fountains and of course a hero at the top. There are also several small palaces in the park. For the life of me I can’t remember which had the oriental rug display. You will see them all in the enclosed pictures which tell the story better than I can. This place is so different from the other places chosen up till now. This time she won’t be traveling, but that was her choice. This lake and this park (1.4 KM , 350 acres) will be here till eternity. Built originally in 1504 (Isabel 1st.) and enlarged in 1561 (Phillip II). It has been a part of the Royal gardens throughout Madrid history. It has now been chosen to serve Birgitta 1 st. (The Contessa.) How she loved variety. No reason why she shouldn’t have the chance to enjoy something new. So, again, my much used phrase: “She would have loved it”. I certainly do!
What I love about doing this is the memories. But with each entry I find myself wondering how I could have left out the names of our friends. The adventures we had with them. The variety of things we did, The beauty of things we saw. The lessons we learned. The ideas we gathered. I hope the friends will forgive me and if they read this I ask them to add anything they might think of that will help readers know Birgitta better. The site is designed exactly for that. Help me! Now, while it’s fresh in your mind.