Salamanca, February 2022


Flamenco, Calor 1 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 go to the laundromat. There I meet 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 grandma 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 hunting remains a tough place, though. In the end, I decided to go to the Europa-Direkt 2 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. But she likes it. 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 Major. 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".. 3Silence 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 the "transition", 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. Najwa's mother was only 9 years old at the time. "We didn't know what was coming, whether it would be good or bad." Angela looks at her fingernails, which are painted silver, and continues. "Nail polish... nail polish, used to be the biggest luxury for me. Today I'm crazy about it and have 30 or 40 different colours on my shelf. "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.” Buying a new pair of tights when one's own had broken was also out of the question. The tights were repaired and darned. 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,Angela explains,he didn't want us to come there." It was a very sad time for her, and for her father too.  Once he brought her hairspray from Germany. It was as if he was bringing her a completely new world, she recounted with a gleam in her eye. At that time I told my father: I want to go to Germany, too. It must be great in Germany!" she says, laughing in the hostel kitchen where we are recording the interview. “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. We continue to discuss, Najwa translates many things for me into French. I understand the individual words, but at such a fast pace I don't have time to translate the complete sentences. Every now and then we take a short break and Najwa and Angela explain to me some sentence structures that are similar to French, but in the flow of speech they make little sense to me. With the help of the already translated interview questions, I read the next one very slowly. What do Angela and Najwa think of when they talk about power? Angela is fascinated by Frida Kahlo. If she could be Frida Kahlo for a day, she would feel powerful." We need more women who speak their minds,Angela thinks, just like Frida Kahlo!" For Najwa, we are halfway there in terms of feminism and recognition. But there is still work to be done. It's the end of February, soon to be 8 March, Women's Day."If women, really, had the power they need to make their voices heard, there would be no need for this day.".” Najwa wants to go to Avignon or Bordeaux for an internship after her studies to improve her French and explore France a bit. Angela doesn't have many thoughts about Europe. She is happy here, but doesn't think Europe per se has played a big role in that. "Politics decides what is good for people, and we are like sheep” sagt Angela says. Najwa replies "There are an incredible number of extreme groups of people in Spain who no longer talk to each other. Also, if things go well in Spain, it's Spain. But when things go badly, it's Europe's fault.  What kind of world does Najwa imagine for the future? The advantages of today, but the family values of the past. I'm spending my last days in Spain in Madrid, thinking about Najwa. There are an incredible number of posters, banners and flags for the 8th of March in the city. On official buildings, but also on private facades. LGBTQIA+ flags can also be seen on many corners! A very different picture than in Angela's time. I wonder what flags will be there when Najwa is as old as Angela?

1. The heat
2. The Europe Direct Centre in Salamanca provides citizens with information and answers to general questions about the EU
3. needs