If I had my way, I’d keep all my friends nearby – I’m selfish that way – but I can’t deny that there’s something special about reconnecting with people that have been out of touch. Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder.
Two weeks ago today, a friend sent me a link to a Juneau Empire article. That morning, the newspaper had published a story about an Argentinean couple who were spending a week in Juneau. There was mention of a poetry reading and solo concert at a local plant store, but otherwise it seemed like filler for a very slow news day.
Well, thank God for slow news days! The Argentinean couple turned out to be Magú and Alex Appella – Spanish teachers and friends whom I hadn’t seen in almost three over five years! Before I’d even finished reading the article, I had mentally rearranged my schedule to fit in the “concert” at The Plant People. The only problem was that I had to wait through 36 long hours. That evening after work, I told Oksana the big news and she picked up instantly on my excitement. She was more than happy to go with me to the show and meet the people I’ve often talked about.
All day Friday, it was all I could think about. I had first met Magú in 1997; He was Rick’s co-instructor on the first UAS Spanish trip to Mexico and I was one of only three students to fly down to Mexico City with him. Over the course of our month-long class, I got to know him a little bit and, two semesters later, I signed up for a conversational Spanish course he was teaching. In December of 1998, the university hired both he and his American wife, Alex, to be instructors for the next trip to Ecuador.
Joe and I stayed in South America a couple months longer than the rest of the students on that trip, but after we returned, I spent even more time with Alex and Magú. Although not a musician by any stretch of the imagination, I was able to relate to Magú through my technical skills. Alex, too, borrowed heavily from my computer knowledge as she was learning to use PhotoShop and Dreamweaver. By the time they left for Argentina, I felt as though they were far more than my Spanish teachers; they were my friends.
When Friday evening finally rolled around, I couldn’t wait to see them. As we drove downtown, I wondered if they would even recognize me. Had I shaved my head before or after they’d left? I couldn’t remember. As Oksana and I approached the doorway to The Plant People, emotions welled up inside me. Excitement over just seeing them again overrode any worry I might have that they hadn’t missed me as much as I’d missed them.
I held the door open for Oksana as I glanced around a cavernous room filled with hanging plants. Though dimly lit, I could easily make out Magú at the far end, about 30ft away, talking to someone. I barely recognized him myself before he glanced in my direction. There was no moment of non-recognition; no confusion. Magú’s body language screamed surprised delight as he dipped his head, hunched up his shoulders, and grinned from ear to ear. Before I could even ease the door closed, he had passed his drink on to his friend and was coming over for a hug.
What a wonderful feeling, seeing old friends again.
We spoke a couple phrases of Spanish greetings and then, suddenly, Alex was passing by and Magú was excitedly showing me off. I hugged Alex and stepped back into that awkward but pleasant silence when everyone has too much to say and no idea where to begin. I noticed Oksana in my peripheral vision at that moment and jumped in with an, “Oh! And this is my wife, Oksana!”
We had arrived early, it seemed, and there were not yet many people vying for their attention. We talked rapidly through all the current events. Alex and Magú had come to the States for only a month, they had just bought a house in Córdoba, and their web site, Transient Books, was doing very well. I spoke of married life, subsequent UAS Spanish trips, and mutual friends.
As we talked, more and more people trickled in. Many of them were there to see Magú and Alex and, after a while, I felt as though I were monopolizing their time. I’m not normally the party-going type – I wouldn’t have gone looking for other conversations – but after awhile I needed to extricate myself, if only to ease my own conscience. Fortunately for my undeveloped social skills, I recognized many of the new arrivals. In fact, I knew a significant percentage of them just from the UAS trips. Some of them I hadn’t seen in years: Dillan, McClean, Amy, Tia, Jeff, Amelia, and even Oksana. It was like a Spanish class reunion – half a dozen other people who I know only by their Spanish names were present as well.
As the evening progressed and the plant store filled up, Alex and Magú began their show. In a small room with a smaller sound system, they alternated between Magú’s guitar-accompanied Spanish songs and Alex’s English poetry. Taking turns with their respective art forms, they told the story of their overland journey from Alaska to Argentina.
Ever since I’d heard that Alex and Magú were in town the day before, a song had been running though my head. Rick, Magú, and Wonder used to perform Ando Ganas (Llora Llora) by Los Piojos and I had enjoyed it so much that I sought out the CD for myself (eventually having to buy it from an Argentinean web site – my first online, Spanish-language only, shopping experience!) Magú made the evening perfect by finishing the first set with that song, and after a quick lesson to the audience, we all sang right along with him.
Afterwards, Magú and Alex got back to mingling and I managed to spend a bit more time with them. They had a table of original fiction, handmade journals, and one of Magú’s CDs for sale and, after a brief consultation with Oksana, I decided to buy one of everything. Before long, Magú was back behind his guitar, someone produced some drums and a saxophone, and he was back jamming with all his old Juneau friends. We stayed around for another hour or so, but after that, Magú and Alex were mostly elsewhere.
It was late when we said our good-byes. I implored Alex and Magú to give us a call the next day if they could spare some more time for us, Oksana took a few pictures, and we left with Amelia to check in on Mike’s Hedwig show. On the walk to the hanger, I was practically bouncing I was so happy.
We never did hear from Alex and Magú on Saturday, but that’s okay. It just so happened that another friend was passing through town that weekend and wanted to meet me for lunch. Coincidentally, I met Indra on the same trip to Ecuador! She’s been living in Portland for the past few years and was coming back through for a family visit.
I was as excited to introduce her to Oksana as she was to introduce me to Ralph and so we planned a lunch at the Hanger to accomplish just that. Come time to leave, though, Oksana was sick – really, really sick – and she didn’t want to risk making a very bad first impression. Reluctantly, I left her at home, bundled up on the couch, and mentally prepared myself to meet Indra and Ralph my myself.
Funny thing, Ralph couldn’t make it either. Apparently, there was too much work for him in Portland and he just couldn’t get away. So, instead, Indra and I had lunch.
Just as much as the he night before, I thoroughly enjoyed myself! Over appetizers, lunch, and a gigantic slice of Grasshopper pie, we reminisced about old times, caught up in each other’s social lives, and talked about the future. Time flew by so fast that, two hours later, we were still nursing our drinks as the waitress no doubt grumbled about our hoarding of the window booth.
I would have stayed even longer if it hadn’t already been past time for me to get home – company was coming over and I was late. I gave Indra a hug, promised to keep in touch, and walked back to my car through the heavy snow – all with the same spring in my step and warmth in my heart as the night before.
I can’t get over the coincidences of that weekend. Not only did I get to reconnect with Alex, Magú, and Indra, but, thinking back, I ran into a least one person from each of SEVEN trips to foreign countries… all within a span of less than 24 hours! And get this: On the drive downtown to meet Indra, a car pulls along side me and the guy inside honks his horn just to get my attention for a quick exchange of waves and smiles. As I saw “Carlos,” a French-Canadian I met in Peru, I couldn’t help but think that I would always remember this as my Spanish trip reunion weekend.