Several years of High School Spanish, as well as years living in southern Arizona near the Mexican border, made travel in Latin America easier. Traveling to Spain, on the other hand, was a little more of a challenge. Though I had a Freshman year of castellano, Madrid-dialect Spanish, I soon found that they do not necessarily speak “Spanglish” or the Sonoran (Mexico) dialect there.
My second Mediterranean deployment on the USS PETERSON, a SPRUANCE-class guided-missile destroyer, began in October, 1994. One of the first ports we visited was Cartagena, Spain. Located in the state of Murcia, it is a port city that has seen sailors on its streets for a few thousand years. Having lived in or visited modern cities, from San Francisco to New York City, seeing a Roman-era coliseum and medieval architecture – much of it incorporated into modern structures- made some of the oldest American buildings practically new.
I ventured out on liberty alone, trusting that my Spanish would help me get around. Being adventurous and with an affinity for foreign languages, Europeans were more open and chatty to me (Except for a Northern Italian shopkeeper who must have assumed I was an arrogant German -but that’s for another story). A family-run cafe, Restaurante Casa Pepe, (a small lighter I kept all these years in trinket box, reminds me of that port visit), welcomed me. I learned that eggs and bacon are served a little differently there. Chatting with the family, the son who was about my age, offered to show me around his city. He enjoyed correcting my pronunciation, teasing my accent. I teased him that he didn’t speak Spanish either. Murcia has a distinct dialect from Castilian or other Latin dialects, where “c”s often are spoken pallatized (a “th” sound), e.g., “Mur’th’ia ” . One of the buildings in the older part of the city near the waterfront was elevated to display a site that I recall pre-dated the Roman times. It may have been Phoenician. I should plan to visit the places I saw while in the Navy. Now that I am thirty years older, I imagine my acquaintances have long forgotten one Spanish-speaking American sailor, but I still long to revisit these ports of call with my wife. Though I think I will upgrade our mode of travel to a cruise ship. With no intentional disrespect to the Navy, anything will be more luxurious than a destroyer.
Ed: this revised post was originally published here in August, 2021