From Kraków to Malagá via Stepney Way

Sometimes, it’s easier to give up. Storm Ciara had blown in. It wasn’t keen for me to fly out. I wanted one thing above all else. I was desperate to return to Spain. Any route would work well enough.

Ciara and channelling my inner calm

Sometimes, it’s easier to give up. Storm Ciara had blown in. It wasn’t keen for me to fly out. Following a family emergency in London, I wanted one thing above all else. I was desperate to return to Spain. Any route would work well enough.

I was booked on a flight to Malagá to meet Helen from Toronto, my last hope of finding someone sunny from my paternal side of the family. After donating a kidney to Dad, I absorbed myself in my family tree. At one end of a branch was Helen, Dad’s Canadian cousin. What I hadn’t reckoned with was that successive flights would be cancelled. Queuing for the second of these, I reflected nothing else could go awry. How stupid I was.

At Gatwick, a tannoy announcement advised us the plane was too small for all the passengers booked on the flight. A hotel stay within a decent distance was dangled in front of me, as compensation for staying at – Gatwick airport. Resenting the passengers who filed past, I pondered how hard it would be to reach Spain. When a woman collapsed by Gate number 8, I was shattered of any illusions I’d soon be in Andalusía, let alone meet a Canadian member of the clan.

An angular woman at Easyjet offered a flight from Liverpool as an alternative route. I tried to channel the calm I knew I was supposed to possess having started a life coaching qualification. I failed. It was only when a drunk septugenarian started throwing his weight around and barked at Easyjetstaff to let him board that I reached what on my course we refer to as ¨coach state¨.

British, Spanish or simply European?

In the circumstances, examining why I was determined to return to Spain was therapeutic. Fellow students on my course in Barcelona ask whether I consider myself to be ‘British’. Over a lunch that stretches into the afternoon, an espresso outdoors and a debate about British identity has the lustre of a week ensconced in new marital bliss. I invariably respond, ‘I’m British but I’m a Londoner too. And in London we’re European.’ Prententious, perhaps, but that’s increasingly how I feel.

I know it’s Spain that’s pulling me but family dynamics in Britain are pushing me too. In a cab hurrily booked by Easyjet for a few of us keen on the Liverpool to Malagá option, I write to Dad. After a week of inertia mostly consisting of Chinese meals sat in silence, I set expectations for our ‘third age’ together as father-and-son. A saccaharine song by James Taylor comes on the radio, the same song we used to hear in the months after Mum passed.

I’m joined by a middle-aged couple, the embodiment of Home Counties stoicism. At Liverpool John Lennon, we receive a warning from the receptionist. The winds are picking up and the Mersey looks unsettled. From my hotel room, the river is silver and sends me back to when my sister studied at university here. We booked her tickets to speedily fly down when Mum was terminally ill. That Liverpool route was suffused with dread.

Wherever we travel, perhaps we take family in our hearts, however hard we try to go it alone. I arrived in Malagá. Shoulders back, I relaxed and headed direct to the Alcazaba.

There was a Scottish woman sat in the square, who had a gentle lilt to her Caledonian tones. As I munched on pintxos, I allowed myself to be carried on the waves of her dipthongs. She ordered patatas bravasin the politest possible way. That’s a Brit I can be proud of, I smiled to myself.

Helen, who was holidaying, was full of tales about our shared Jewish history. You may recall another blog-post about my Grandma’s letters – well, it was to Helen’s mother, that my Grandma was writing between 1958 and 1985. She talked about my paternal grandfather, Arthur, who I died before I was born. He was a complicated, very clever man, who was born in the late 19th century and married my Grandma when she was a very young woman.

Grandma smile
Visiting Grandma

It was that beautiful art of letter-writing spanning decades between Grandma and Sarah, the ex-sister-in-law she so admired and respected, that helped us to find one another.

The Kaufmanns were from 19th century Kraków and some of us ended at Stepney Way. Here we were, Helen and I, at the heart of Al Andalus, living testament that the diaspora has survived many inquisitions. Giving up has never been in our language.






If you are interested in reading more of Andrew's blogs and other published work, do take a look here.