In the Playground - Miami Playa, Tarragona, Spain, 1981

It's the summer of 1981. The school year is over. No more driving up to Salou for several weeks to my five year old son's school, El Colegio Elizabeth. Instead, my days are now busy with taking him to different activities. Down by the main coastal road there's a swing park that we frequent. It's a pleasure to watch him smile as he runs about and interacts with children from different places. Being a foreigner isn't so important here in the playground.

You can hear French, Spanish, English, and Catalan ringing out in between squeals of giggles and loud laughter. But, it's the giggling that is the common language.  It binds the children together and supersedes all adult concerns about politics, prejudices and the latest shocking events in the news.

For example, here in Catalunya, Catalan is being used more and more. It's become a scandal almost. People say that in order to get into the university at Tarragona you need to speak Catalan. Too bad if you're from Madrid, or some other part of Spain, for the chances are that you won't know Catalan. At the end of last term at El Colegio Elizabeth, some parents got angry at meetings. They had asked a question in Spanish but the headmaster responded in Catalan.

"Catalunya is part of Spain!  Spanish is the language of Spain. How dare you answer us in Catalan!"

Even at the weekly market, from one week to the other, all of a sudden everyone is speaking in Catalan. Normally they speak it among themselves, certainly not to foreigners.

"If you're going to live here in Catalunya, you better learn Catalan!"  Yikes. What happened to the normally cheery woman whose oranges I buy?


I've already learned Spanish, what more do they want? If Catalan people were to live in Scotland, nobody in Scotland would expect them to speak Gaelic or even any words remotely related to the Scottish dialect. Stuff that up your jumper.

All around me young children communicate with one another. It doesn't matter if they're talking in French, Spanish, English or Catalan. They offer toys, they offer smiles, they chase one another and run zig-zag in make-believe worlds where everyone is accepted; where even the baddies and the goodies change roles.

I keep thinking about the actress, Romy Schneider who has just lost her son in a freak accident. It's been in the news a lot. He was climbing over a metal fence and got impaled. I can't get the image of her son being impaled out of my mind and of how she, his mother must be feeling. I wonder how many other parents are right now overly-protective, fearful that something similar could happen to their children?

When my son runs over to the swings with another little boy I shout out to him, "You be careful! Hang on tight. You could fall and hurt your head!"  But I don't think he hears me due to the laughter of the  children in the playground, and  the music coming from the bar close by. It's Julio Iglesias who's singing away,"Hey" followed immediately by "De Nina a Mujer".

My son swings back and forth, going higher and higher, then he jumps off, landing perfectly on his two feet. He looks up in my direction me as if to say, "See? There's nothing to worry about."

I give a sigh of relief.

"Hi, how are you?"  It's my Flemish  friend who has just arrived with her two boys. "What are you thinking about?"

"Julio Iglesias!  If he were to ask me to dinner, I would not refuse!"

Her boys run over to where my son is and the three play together.

"Gosh, it's hot today. I made cold soup. Come by later and have some." She's smiling at me, her long dark hair glistening in the late afternoon sun.

"Sounds good."

I enjoy being with my Flemish friend.  I help her with her Spanish and English,  and she helps me with my French. Occasionally we'll even come up with a Catalan word. Ha ha. We glide from one language to another without a thought. I believe it's because we just like to talk to each other that makes us able to use different languages even mid-sentence.

I'm not familiar with the Flemish culture. I only know that my Flemish friend keeps to herself, doesn't mix much with anyone. Perhaps she and I would not ever have become friends if it hadn't been for our sons.  They brought us together. It's as if the simplicity of how children play and laugh so easily has made us less cynical, less prejudicial and more accepting.

And so the frustrations about life in Cataluyna and concerns over shocking events in the news dissipate as we sit on a wooden bench, converse about recipes and watch our children play in the playground.