Salamanca, February 2022


Flamenco, Caliente and Paella... Welcome to Spain! I arrive at Salamanca's Plaza Major in mid-February 2022 and sit down in one of the many cafés before I start thinking about where I will spend the night. The square is amazing. The three-storey baroque facades that stretch around the square hide the rest of the city. A perfect rectangle with 88 arches, 247 balconies and 6 entrance gates to navigate between neighbourhoods. The square is teeming with people, it's a constant hustle and bustle. But all the people seem to know exactly what they came for. Often to have a coffee in the sun, to meet friends under the tower clock, or to get to another part of town. This architecture is a real discovery for me. Although I had been to Spain before, I find the atmosphere that this square spreads through its wide gates and individual entrances particularly beautiful. I sit for a moment and watch the people walk past me. 

The town, and especially the old town centre, is very small but there are finely crafted sculptures and ornaments carved into the stone everywhere. The light-coloured sandstone reminds me of the sandy beaches of Brittany. The most beautiful building for me is the old library. Looking at the building from the steps of the church relaxes me. The scallops known from Santiago de Compostela are embedded in the stone. They seem to literally cling to the facade to keep from falling to the ground. Legend has it that a treasure is hidden under one of these shells. The main attraction of the city remains the frog on the facade of the university. According to legend, if you are lucky enough to find it among all the details, it means that students will successfully complete their exams. For visitors, discovering the frog means that you will come back to Salamanca. With a little help, I found the frog. 

Very soon, I learn that Salamanca doesn't have much of the Spanish clichés to offer. Only tourists eat paella in the plaza, the only flamenco dances you get to see are with the dolls in the showcases of the tourist shops, and el calor...well, el calor is not there. I have to admit that I'm a bit cold with my spring jacket on. 

I spend 10 days in Salamanca, Valladolid and Madrid. I hadn't thought about how I was going to find an Abuela (grandmother) and a Nieta (granddaughter) in a city where I hardly know people and barely know the language. A friend started to call me the "granny hunter". One afternoon I went to the laundromat. There I met a woman with her dog. She was probably in her early 70's. She is folding her laundry and offers me a coffee from the coffee machine. That's how we strike up a conversation. Cyndia and her dog Booba actually live in Mallorca and were just visiting her granddaughter who was studying in Salamanca. I told her about my project and about my grandmothers hunt in Spain. She finds the project interesting but is not sure if she would have a story to tell. A few minutes later, just before I leave, I turn to her again and ask her if we can exchange numbers in case she would be interested in helping me with my project after all. A few hours later, I wrote her a message, but never got a reply. Waiting for a response from her almost felt like I was excitedly awaiting a message from my crush. In Spain, I definitely gave my number to more old women than to people on Bumble. Granny chaising remains a tough place, though.

In the end, I decided to go to the Europa-Direkt to try my luck and find contacts with potential women to interview. There I had a long chat with the staff about the place of the narrative of the Franco dictatorship in Spain, the women's perspective on this period and much more. The three women are very helpful and send a participation call through their mailing list.

Get to know each other

Najwa responded to the European Direct's call less than 24 hours later. Najwa is an Arabic name, which means dialogue with God.She stresses that it means a dialogue, a denomination, but not a prayer. I don't think it's a coincidence that she contacted me. It is already in her name. Najwa is half Spanish, half Moroccan. Her father comes from Marrakech and studied in Tanger. Her father always spoke Spanish with her, so unfortunately she doesn't speak Arabic. However, she learned French at school and her cousins live in Paris. That will be a great help for the interview! I'm glad that during our conversation, she keeps making sure that I understand her stories, because my Spanish is very rudimentary.

At first glance, Najwa and Angela don't look very much alike. Angela has blonde, almost white shoulder-length hair. Najwa has long curly hair, the reddish tone reveals a henna colouring. She has large, almost black eyes, painted with black cabbage. Her winter coat covers almost her whole body. Both have a broad smile and an elongated face. Najwa and Angela are not only grandmother and granddaughter, they are also flatmates. Najwa's parents also live in Salamanca, but further out of town and thus further away from the university, which makes it easier for Najwa to stay with her grandma. A bit unusual for her generation, Najw notes. She has a very close relationship with her grandmother.

During the COVID period, Najwa lived with her parents. The most difficult thing for her was not being able to see her grandma and support her during this time. Najwa cannot imagine what this time would have been like without being able to talk to her grandma on the phone via WhatsApp or Facebook. Her student life, like that of many others, was also turned upside down. Najwa is a fourth-year pharmacy student. She not only sits in the lecture hall, she actually has to do tutorials, which was much more difficult in that time. Salamanca is a very famous student city, the university is one of the oldest in Europe. The city is living by the rhythm of the students. There are an incredible number of cafés, restaurants and bars. Every night you can go somewhere to party, especially in February because it's carnival time. Every day I see hundreds of students dressed up and sitting in the Plaza Mayor. Najwa doesn't go out every night, she has to concentrate on her studies. But she likes the atmosphere of the city and likes to go out on weekends - now that it's possible again. That was the biggest change for her during Corona. In Salamanca, a lot of things take place outside. She left the house early in the morning and came home in the evening. A big difference to the rhythm of her grandmother's life when she was 22 years old, Najwa realizes.

Angela is happy to do an interview with her granddaughter, she did not hesitate to agree. Her teint is fresh, she wears mak-up, has put eye shadow on her eyes and some glossy lipstick. She has gold earrings. Small, dangling rings in the front ear hole and a golden stone in the back ear hole. In keeping with the trend of the time, she wears white, spotless trainers with blue trousers and a white blouse. Right down to her fingernails, she has dressed up. I would almost say that Angela has dressed up especially for the interview. But dressing up has a very special meaning for Angela. 

Angela was born in 1950 and was therefore 22 years old in 1972, the same age as Najwa is today. It was only three years later, in 1975, that the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco died, leading to the end of the dictatorship that had lasted for almost 40 years. Angela tells us:“As a young woman it was very difficult, almost impossible, to go out. Women are supposed to be home by 9 o'clock, at the latest by 10 o'clock. It was unimaginable for a woman to go to a café or cinema alone. It is better to be out with a male presence, with the father or the brother. Greeting a male friend on the street is unthinkable!” "Today, everyone greets each other with kisses on the cheek without any problems,"says Angela amused. "Today ", interrupts Najwa, "you can fall in love several times and with whoever you want!".

"There was a lot of fear in the country overall" , Angela continues in a low tone. "There were many nececidades" ( A difficult word to translate, wich means that there were a lot of needs mainly material)..Silence reigns between us for a few seconds. Only the American pop music in the background and the clinking cups in the café can be heard. 

While for Najwa Corona was without a doubt the most important event in her life, causing sudden and such big changes in her life, Angela talks about the 23 February 1981. Six years after the death of Franco, parts of the military and the Guardia Civil (police force) tried to make a coup on the young democracy and re-establish a dictatorship. In daily life, this event is referred as 23-F in Spain. This attempted coup took place during the period known as theTransition, the period of transition between 1975 and 1982. Angela tells us that 23 February was very scary, the Spanish people were afraid of another civil war, another dictatorship.die Spanier und Spanierinnen hatten Angst vor einem erneuten Bürgerkrieg, einer erneuten Diktatur. Wir wussten nicht, was kommen würde, ob es gut oder schlecht wird.“

Angela schaut auf ihre mit Silberfarbe lackierten Fingernägeln und erzählt weiter. „Nagellack… Nagellack, war früher der größte Luxus für mich. Heute bin ich verrückt danach und habe 30 oder 40 verschiedene Farben in meinem Regal.” Nachdenklich erinnert sie sich: "As a child, she recalls, nail polish was sold in very large bottles. You only had a choice of red, white or pink. Nail polish was only used for special occasions.” Der Nagellack wurde nur für besondere Anlässe aufgetragen. Auch eine neue Strumpfhose kaufen, wenn die eigene kaputt gegangen war, kam nicht infrage. Die Strumpfhose wurde repariert und gestopft.

Angela's father was very absent in her youth. He worked in the textile industry in Germany for four or five years and regularly sent money to his family in Spain. Angela never travelled to Germany. At the time, her father didn't want her to come to Germany because his life there was very precarious."He was an immigrant in Germany,, erklärt Angela, “he didn't want us to come there." It was a very sad time for her, and for her father too. Einmal brachte er ihr Haarspray aus Deutschland mit. „Das war für mich wie eine komplett neue Welt, erzählte sie mit einem Leuchten in den Augen. -Damals sagte ich meinem Vater: Ich will auch nach Deutschland gehen. Es muss toll sein in Deutschland!”, sagte sie lachend in der Hostel-Küche, wo wir das Interview aufnehmen. Doch nach Deutschland ist auch heute nie gereist. „Today, I have everything except the young age." Najwa agrees with her. "I can have everything today. If I like something, I buy it."Angela and Najwa agree: today, people lack „illusión", as it is called in Spanish. "Material things have lost their unique aspect"says Angela. That nail polish, that dress you are looking forward to for days, even weeks, before you get it. There are hardly any moments like that anymore. "True, the excitement has disappeared"remarks her granddaughter.

Wir diskutieren weiter, Najwa übersetzt mir vieles auf Französisch. Ich verstehe zwar die einzelnen Wörter, aber in so schnellem Tempo habe ich keine Zeit, die kompletten Sätze zu übersetzen. Ab und zu machen wir eine kurze Pause und Najwa und Angela erklären mir einige Satzstrukturen, die dem Französischen ähnlich sind, doch im Redefluss ergeben sie für mich wenig Sinn. Mithilfe meiner bereits übersetzten  und vorbereiteten Fragen lese ich sehr langsam die nächste vor: Woran denken Angela und Najwa, wenn man von Macht spricht? Angela ist fasziniert von Frida Kahlo. Wenn sie für einen Tag lang Frida Kahlo sein könnte, würde sie sich mächtig fühlen. „" We need more women who speak their minds,, findet Angela, “so wie Frida Kahlo eben!” Für Najwa sind wir, was Feminismus und Anerkennung betrifft, auf halber Strecke angekommen. Aber es gibt noch einiges zu tun. Es ist Ende Februar, bald ist der 8. März, der Frauentag. „Hätten Frauen wirklich die Macht, die sie brauchen, um ihrer Stimme Verhör zu schaffen, bräuchte man diesen Tag nicht.”

Najwa wünscht sich, nach ihrem Studium für ein Praktikum nach Avignon oder Bordeaux zu gehen. Sie möchte ihr Französisch verbessern und Frankreich ein bisschen erkunden. Zu Europa hat Angela nicht viele Gedanken. Sie ist zufrieden hier, aber denkt nicht, dass Europa an sich dabei eine große Rolle gespielt hat. "Politics decides what is good for people, and we are like sheep” sagt Angela. Najwa erwidert: „Es gibt unglaublich viele extreme Menschengruppen in Spanien, die nicht mehr miteinander reden. Und sowieso, wenn es in Spanien gut geht, liegt es an Spanien. Wenn es aber schlecht geht, ist Europa schuld.”

Welche Welt wünscht sich Najwa für die Zukunft? Die Vorteile von heute, aber die Familienwerte von früher, zum Beispiel durch die Selbstverständlichkeit mit anderen Generationen zu leben im Studium. Wie sie es mit ihrer Oma macht. Meine letzten Tage in Spanien verbringe ich in Madrid, ich muss an Najwa denken. In der Stadt hängen unglaublich viele Poster, Banner und Flaggen für den 8. März. An öffentlichen Gebäuden, aber ebenso an privaten Fassaden. Auch LGBTQIA+ Fahnen sind an vielen Ecken zu sehen! Ein ganz anderes Bild als in der Zeit von Angela. Welche Fahnen wohl dort hängen werden, wenn Najwa so alt sein wird wie Angela