Stranded in Spain when the Twin Towers fell, Ina Chadwick experienced the greatest of divides.
On the morning of 9/11 we were frantically making arrangements to break our lease on a house rental in Niguelos, a village in the Sierra Madres, Spain, where we’d just arrived with another other couple.
The garden advertised online turned out to be a rotting-fruit arbor with a carpet of decomposing figs, a pestilence of fruit flies swarming around us as we opened the door. The four-mile long, rocky, dried riverbed we had to navigate to come and go was the scenic landscape. Killing time waiting for the rental agent to call our “iffy” cell phones with a solution, we went to the Alhambra, a site synonymous with centuries of destruction and reconstruction between warring Christians, Arabs, and some small tribes of Spanish Jews.
After booking a hospitable hotel while in Seville, we went back to pick up our unpacked suitcases, only stopping to use the bathroom in a village bar. It was close to 4 pm when I saw the CNN crawler on the ubiquitous huge bar TV. “Los Americanos, Muy Pelligroso.” My high school Spanish was all that I needed to comprehend the footage of the planes hitting the towers.
American Express Platinum, the only credit card company or airline to answer a phone, advised us wisely. “Dump the car. Take a train to the hub city of Iberian airlines, Madrid.” No one’s airline tickets were good. All bets were off as cruise ships dumped into harbors, and all air passengers were on their own to find limited lodgings.
When we finally got to Madrid, it was one of the high holy days of the Jewish Holiday. I’m not observant, but in searching for any way to feel I belonged while so far away from home, we hunted down the last synagogue left in Madrid. Only one retailer in all of Madrid knew what we meant when we asked about a synagogue, a temple, Jews? Raised eyebrows.
We waited in a long line with many American-Jewish students who were on a semester abroad. When we got to the rabbi standing at the door, he asked, in Spanish, what was our country of origin? “The United States.” He asked, “Eastern European or Sephardic?” My husband, usually proud of his Austrian roots, higher up in the American-Jewish culture chain than my Russian and Polish roots, said, “Austria.”
We were routed to the basement of the magnificent Moorish synagogue. Upstairs, the several hundred Jews that still lived in Madrid worshipped in marble balconies with bejeweled balustrades. Our rabbi, disheveled and earthy, was from New Haven, Connecticut. He conducted the service at a makeshift altar with bridge chairs for seating.
I had never felt alienated before. Nor had I ever understood how the borders of a country could engender enough rage to start such hatred and war. That day I understood the recorded history of the divides between tribes, clans, and religion. How each one fed into the other. I was the lowest of the Jewish clan that day, and I felt ashamed. Powerless against religious fragmenting.
The next afternoon we went to a bullfight at my suggestion. With my alienation tuned up so high, I wanted to witness what this macho—and now, to me, elitist—cultured offered. Bullfighting is one of the prides of the country, a legend of pageantry no longer anywhere else.
Oddly, my husband resisted. He said he couldn’t bear watching torture, but he went with me anyway. I was, I suppose, numb and, like a “cutter,” trying to feel things through watching blood and seeing live beasts in pain. At the bullfighting arena, we witnessed a gender and cultural divide that still haunts me. The young Spanish men, who came out in their finery, prepared to be gored or to triumph over a stupid beast, were pumped up in their satin and beads. They sauntered and primped. They flaunted their red capes and thrust their pelvises—augmented to huge proportions with their protective crotch cups. Bulging and swelled with who knows what, they posed for the Spanish women throwing flowers at their feet.
I noted that the Spanish men do not age well, but the culture’s youthful men, full of new testosterone, are handsome as hell. My female friends in America would shun them because they seemed stupid. They thought they could win, but if they didn’t, they were happy to die with brutality. The stadium’s public-address system announced that we would all rise to hear the band play the “Star Spangled Banner” and pray for the United States. I wanted to ask if they knew they were praying for people they too had expunged from their lands. An overly simplistic thought process but true to me in that terrible time before we got home.
About five days later, after daily cab trips to the airport to check for departures, our flight finally took off, 13 hours late. I made a deep mental and spiritual note to remember how “we” were pushed into a basement by our own kind, and in a land from which we’d been expelled in 1492. I also thought about how badly I did with any macho guy I had to flatter and fawn over. I fail to flirt well with racecar drivers, with grease monkeys, with men who could wrangle a lady wrestler to bed.
And I vowed to read more stories in the Bible; those are just the beginnings of fanaticism. I came home understanding too many divides. I came home realizing that every movement from Feminism to Fundamentalism could foster terrorism. On 9/11, I understood the greatest divides.