Stories About Spain
A Love Story: How I Discovered Spain
Written by: Donald B. Harris
The month of July has a special place in my heart because on the twenty-fifth day is the celebration of Santiago, Saint James, the patron saint of Spain. Some of you know who I am talking about since you have walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route to Galicia or have visited Santiago’s burial site in Santiago de Compostela. It is one of my favorite sites in Spain, and I am also sure it is my son Jonathan’s as well. He walked the Camino as a college student, starting in The Pyrenees. He and his wife returned to walk the Camino together on their honeymoon.
I first learned about the Camino many years ago – 66 years to be exact. I was a newlywed and a brand-new chaplain assigned to minister to the crews of five Navy destroyers. It was my first Mediterranean deployment and our ship’s mission was to navigate from Spain to Lebanon, passing through the Suez Canal to sail on to Pakistan! Quite an exotic itinerary, but what changed my life was my visit to four ports of call in Spain: Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona, Valencia and Rota.
We were tied up in Valencia during their celebration of Las Fallas, the spectacular annual festival complete with rockets and flaming statues built to be burned in seemingly perpetual bonfires. It was there, walking along the waterfront of Valencia, that I met many Spaniards, including their young ones, and was struck by how open and friendly they were. I felt as if we were all part of one family.
One day I decided to make a quick visit to Madrid. At the magnificent Prado Museum, I saw rooms full of beautiful and emotional paintings by the finest Spanish artists. For me personally, the most meaningful were the soulful paintings by El Greco. So, I asked the attendant where I could see more. He directed me to neighboring Toledo, a city with a medieval beauty. It was there that El Greco lived for several years.
While I was absorbing many of El Greco’s spiritual masterpieces, I happened to pick up a pamphlet talking about the ancient Gothic churches built along the Camino to Santiago pilgrimage route, which was largely unknown at the time. It was then my lifetime adventure began. The next year, my wife Ruth and I rented a tiny Seat 600 car and, armed with the leaflet, spent a month traveling to tiny villages and majestic cathedrals throughout the land.
In 1965, Spain was still recovering from a civil war where, sorrowfully, brother was killing brother. On our journeys we saw so many widows dressed in black, mourning the loss of loved ones. It was a somber time of great poverty. Yet we were almost always greeted with smiles and embraces of genuine hospitality. And that feeling persists in Spain. I know I will have that warm experience whenever I return.
That is why our family started La Tienda. It has been a way to bond with and to support our generous and hospitable friends in Spain, many of whom we have known for decades. And that is why we chose Peregrino, the Pilgrim, for our house brand. What started as a trip of discovery on the Camino de Santiago 66 years ago continues, as we travel Spain seeking out great products and new friendships in the country that I love.
In appreciation the magical journey of the Camino de Santiago, this year our family set up a foundation to sponsor students to walk the pilgrimage. We hope they will have a life changing experience just as I did.
+ Add a Comment
"What a heart-warming story, and an inspiring reason for founding one of my favorite places to shop!"
"I loved reading about the bond you have with Spain. My son-in-law is from Barcelona and he and my daughter are there right now on a month long vacation. My daughter has come to love Spain also, the people, the scenery and most especially - the food. That’s why I am so happy I accidentally found your sight. I want to order all the things needed to make a good paella for when they return. I’m sure it won’t be like what they ate in Spain, but I’m going to try! Thank you so much for having these products available for us here in the U.S. Best Regards to you and your family. "
"Walking the Camino is the only life-wish not yet achieved. But, I am still healthy and strong and the dream lives. "
"Thanks for sharing your story, Don. My own love affair with Spain began in the summer of 1965, when I studied Spanish in Madrid in a university program that included some weekend side trips to Segovia, Toledo, Andalucia, and a few other places. At the end of the program, I spent 2 weeks hitch-hiking to Paris, spending several days each in Valencia, Barcelona, and the Costa Brava.I did not have an opportunity to return to Spain until the late nineties, when my wife and I spent a couple of weeks on a road trip from Barcelona to Madrid. Since then, we have returned several times, and loved each visit.I was happy to discover La Tienda years ago, and have been a loyal customer ever since, visiting the store on each of my infrequent visits to Williamsburg, as well as ordering online. I was disappointed to discover the store is now mainly a tapas bar when we visited last week. I had hoped to show my sister the wide assortment of Spanish culinary items you used to have on display. Her own love of Spain began when she spent a semester in Valencia a few years after my first trip. We were all very happy with the tapas and wine, though, so I have to say the new incarnation is a success, (and I can still order everything online.)."
"Your story reminded me of my attending summer undergrad school at the Univ. of Valencia in 1966. We Americans were guests of the 6th fleet on board a ship for July 4 celebration. The weeks I spent in Valencia were a great time for me, but still one of restrictions and financial problems for the Spaniards. Fortunately I 'dated' a Spanish guy who was a student in Sweden and had a broader perspective. Even since then, when I've returned to Spain, a part of me still feels as if I spent a past life there."
"I want to thank you for loving my country of Spain "
"Don, every time I get a chance to read your article, I really enjoy your reflections on Spain. I’m not a Spaniard but I adore Spain: its culture, food, wine and art. My wife and I had our honeymoon is Spain. We took the southern route from Barcelona to Madrid and did not get a chance to visit Camino de Santiago, which sounds like a must destination. However, we did visit the Prado, an absolutely amazing Museum and like you, I adore paintings by El Greco. Keep writing these wonderful blogs and keep bringing in the great foods of Spain. "
"This is a moving tribute to a country I also love, having traveled there in 1963 and having taught the Spanish language to high school students for 35 years. With each bite of LaTienda’s products I am transported to the land whose culture I also love."