Leaving Spain in the fall of 1953
As summer faded, I grew weary and eager to return to the States and join my husband again. I had learned and absorbed a great deal. Over months of study and practice I had to retain all kinds of material in memory. Now it was time to try my fortunes on the East Coast. One is never ready. It is an ongoing effort but at this juncture some exposure had to be opened and in the end it was a good idea. There had been two opportunities in Madrid to introduce my work; once at the Circo Price Theater where I performed in a program along with other dance artists as a soloist in my Intermezzo from Goyescas where I was able to display my prowess with castanets and classical movement based on Escuela Bolera. I danced with orchestra. The other was the appearance at the opening of the Castellana Hilton in Madrid, an important event. I danced an Alegrias in male costume with the excellent flamenco guitarist Eugenio Gonzalez as accompanist. I was also in the dual role of honored dinner guest as the featured dancer in “Here come the Girls” The connection of Hilton with Hollywood had quite some clout and carried weight. I have written about this episode in another post.
I arranged my travel plans which included a date for a ship leaving Spain. It was necessary to go to Gibraltar to board the US Independence. My fare had already been paid for in a return trip. I had felt more comfortable having the ticket to go back at any time. I was alone and there was always a feeling of vulnerability in this adventure.
The first route was a trip by rail to Sevilla from Madrid. An overnight booking. My funds were low and I had to economize as much as possible. I sat up in the compartment and found myself accompanied by an all male group of Spaniards. One was an officer in full uniform probably en route to some assignment. The others were a Cuadrilla of bullfighters (the men who backed up the matador in the preliminary maneuvers before the main event.) As I remember, four of them all seemingly of middle age were pleasant and very polite to me. I became overcome with weariness and fell asleep leaning against the officer. “Tienes sueno, Senorita? One of them asked.
The officer knew I was a married woman and corrected one of the men when I was addressed as “Senorita”… It was “Senora”, No? Complete respect.
We arrived in Sevilla and I found a pension. I decided to stay a week and absorb my surroundings and become familiar with the town. The pension was located on the famous Calle de las Sierpes, a narrow passage hardly more than an alley. I wandered everywhere and walked incessantly to explore famous sites such as the Guadalquivir River. I noted it was occupied by the US Navy. Of course I gazed at the famous Giralda tower, the Barrio Santa Maria and other well known areas, but kept to myself. I did not attend any performances or study as I dared not spend a single peseta for fear of running out of money. I thought wildly of cabling home for extra cash but decided against it as I did not want to put more pressure on my husband.
In the course of staying at the lodgings, where I also took my meals, I would occasionally speak with people. One day I snapped my fingers and a group of young Sevillanos marveled at my ability to do such “pitos” This prompted them to invite me to a juerga –a flamenco party. I asked the cost and it could not have been much but I declined as a sliver of fear gripped me to go off with strangers despite their obvious friendliness.
Looking back over the experience, I should have taken a chance.
After the week was over, I had two more journeys ahead of me to reach the port of Algeciras which faced Gibraltar to board the ship. I arranged to take a bus “gran lujo” a luxury vehicle. It was a few hours away from my destination in Algeciras. The bus broke down in Jerez de la Frontera. During repairs on the bus, I recognized some performers that I had met at the Circo Price Theater where I performed while in Madrid. They were extremely friendly and warm during the time at the theater. I supposed the initial attraction was that I was American and they did seem to admire my work. Later they said that they would have wanted to invite me after the performance. Somehow I missed that connection. Now stuck in Jerez while the vehicle was being serviced, we stopped in a café to have a drink and talk. My Spanish by now had improved to an extent so I could carry on a conversation more easily and they commented on that. One of the girls asked for my address in the states and I gave it to her. Sometime later in Los Angeles I did receive a letter from her in Spanish, of course, and her handwriting was difficult to read and understand. But it pleased me as I treasured any contact with Spaniards. I remember the bus driver or the man in charge gave me an odd look when he saw me go off with them. Probably he regarded them as low lifes and he may have wondered about my association with them.
That stay of several hours in Jerez was memorable for the odd experience, but there was more. We finally landed in Algeciras, a port on southern coast of Spain. I embarked with my entire luggage which was considerable and managed to find a place to stay in a simple pension for the night and several hours to again pick up and arrive at Gibraltar. I had to find someone to help with my things and a young man offered to carry all those heavy suitcases and a footlocker by means of a belt slung from his shoulders. I marveled to myself about his strength and gave him as much as I could afford as a tip.
I obtained transport by boat to Gibraltar and settled in for the night at a hotel to await the boarding of the ship docked in the harbor. Therein lays another tale. Meanwhile I went around the town a bit to see the terrain and I was reminded that this was not Spain. At a shop I visited I was asked if I had dollars and I made an exchange for some reason. The man behind the counter was East Indian by his appearance.
I also brokered a ride in a taxi to take me to the pier, but the last minute I arranged with a man with a wagon and horse who agreed to take me there for one dollar. As I was so short in money I opted to take a chance and go in this way and it was an adventure. I suppose I cheated a bit by leaving the other man without his fare, but one lives by one’s wits occasionally.
At last I boarded the US Independence for the states. It was a shorter voyage back of six days. There I saw Juanele Maya and his wife Salome on their way to New York and a contract with Jose Greco. I identified myself and stated my admiration for them. Salome seemed sad to leave Spain and was saying her tearful goodbye as she gazed over the railings of the ship. It was during this occasion that I had the fateful collaboration with Juanele. He played guitar for me for the little performance I did for the passengers.
Salome was not feeling well and did not participate. I was able to dance an Alegrias in male costume and I surmise Juanele was impressed. I arrived in New York City after the six days crossing, and settled in to begin a new chapter.