Here is what I learned after spending five weeks overseas, mostly in Spain.
It’s the same thing I learned on previous trips to Russia, Japan, Norway, Italy, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland, England and Ireland.
People are, basically, the same. And decent.
Babies cry on trains, couples fight in public squares and beggars beg on street corners. Teenage girls, everywhere, roll eyes at their mothers. In Azpeitia, Spain, the city where St. Ignatius was born in 1491, I saw a 10-year boy kick a can down a street.
Fifty years ago, in another city far way, that boy was me. He was no saint.
The blame for everything, universally and assuredly, is always on adults and governments.
Another thing I learned: Bordeaux really thinks its wines don’t stink. No, really. It even built its own monument to this fact: a towering wine “museum” that makes no appellation mention of Napa.
Also: nobody in Europe cares about our American sporting scandals (excepting Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong).
Europeans have their own “scandals” to deal with, all of them in soccer.
Example: I couldn’t get any sort of local “eyewitness” news handle in San Sebastian on the crisis brewing in NCAA college athletics.
Arizona basketball Coach Sean Miller allegedly did what!? (Truth: Miller always seemed a little shady to me).
Hold on, maybe it’s ESPN that needs to worry. (Truth: ESPN always seemed a little shady to me).
“I have done nothing wrong,” Miller categorically stated Thursday in defense of his innocence.
Oh, as far as Spain knows, the Super Bowl never happened.
I covered six straight Winter Olympics for the Los Angeles Times, yet can tell you I was virtually blacked out from all information regarding the 2018 Games in Korea.
It was strange. I covered Lindsey Vonn when she raced her first Olympics, in Salt Lake City, at age 16. She was Lindsey Kildow then. I was in Vancouver when she won downhill gold.
This year I found out she won bronze a day after the race.
I haven’t even seen a replay of it.
Now, I did sit transfixed one day watching a Basque channel doubles tournament of “poleta,” a game related to handball.
Getting back to my point: people are the same it’s the technology that has changed–often for the worse.
There is no translation needed for a person walking straight toward you, head down, on a busy street, while typing a Twitter reply.
In English I say: “You idiot!”
In Spanish I say: “Eres muy estupida!”
In French I say: “Vous etes tres bete!”
The world, to my liking, is too connected now. It used to be you went overseas on vacation to escape everyday worries—to get out of your discomfort zone. Now the news follows you down every rabbit hole, to all the outskirts.
We were Google alerted to another American gun tragedy in the tiny Spanish town of Haro, in the Rioja wine region.
I think my wife paid a water bill while siphoning the free wifi off a crepe stand in St. Jean de Luz.
The world is what it is. C’est la vie.
One is reminded of home-vs-away in unusual ways. A woman giving us a wine tour in Rioja still referred to us “Californians” as being from “the new world.”
Yes, I guess we are.
One day way we stood on a train platform in Hendaye, a border town between Spain and France. It was the same platform where Hitler and Franco met, for seven hours, in 1940 to discuss Spain’s role in an unfolding human catastrophe.
We also found out, maybe, why the meeting didn’t last longer. There is no restroom in the train station.
It’s funny what sticks with you on a long trip like this. We saw breath-taking structures, Roman ruins and paintings by Picasso and Goya. We toured Frank Geary’s masterpiece of architecture—the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
In fact, you could argue the building Geary designed is better than anything in it.
All the while I was reading the new biography on Leonardo Di Vinci. Author Walter Isaacson convincingly argues Di Vinci was the most creative mind to walk the Earth.
Yet, there I stood, at our modern AC Hotel in Madrid, standing over the incredible invention of a toilet seat that didn’t slam.
“Now that,” I said, “is genius.”
So, anyway, it’s great to be home in time to gear up for the NCAA basketball tournament.
It’s great to be home, too, just for our coffee.
Wait. There is still going to be an NCAA tournament, right?