When I was little, my parents decided they wanted to go live somewhere else for a time. They packed up our house and we got on an Iberia airlines airplane that served scrambled eggs the next morning as the sun shined so brightly through the little window that it blinded us. When we got off the plane, we were in Spain. We lived in a house on a hillside that was surrounded by olive trees and potato fields and octopi hanging from a clothes line in the sun. Outside our door was a road that wound up the hill past our house and ended at a very small village. Above the village, the road turned into a donkey path. The village was filled with white-washed buildings, white as snow.
Every day my brother and I walked up the hill to go to school in the village. One time we decided we didn’t want to go school that day and instead sat in an olive tree playing hooky. Neither of us spoke Spanish when we arrived and in the early days I sat in class and took dictado in a tiny ruled notebook, furiously scribbling words I did not understand. School started at 8 or 9 in the morning and had a lunch break at 12. All the children went home for lunch then, a long mid-day break for everyone, kids and adults alike. When we broke for lunch, we all streamed out of the classroom onto the narrow, white-walled streets that were cobbled with small black stones. And amid all the chattering children – all the Marias and the Lolas and the Jesuses and the Jose Miguels and the Antonnnnnios – there were always two vendors waiting for us. One was the churro man, who had a huge boiling vat into which he would squirt some dough into a circle, and then fish it out a few minutes later, all crunchy and sweet, looped onto a long reed. The other vendor was the kiko man. Little, little plastic bags of roasted, salted corn.
Back in August when the news told us that Irene was coming I stopped into a Whole Foods downtown on my way home thinking I’d pick up one or two items. I didn’t walk into a grocery store, but rather into mayhem – shelves stripped bare and epic lines at the cash registers illustrated pre-hurricane panic. As I endured the long wait in line, I noticed a display of these tubs of kikos (I have always spelled them kiko. quico?) stacked in little pyramids. Imported from Spain. How could I not? And unbelievably they transported me back to another place – back to childhood, to a time when I couldn’t understand a word in a place that was foreign; a time when every taste and scent and sight was so poignant; a time when one of the highlights of my day was finding a man selling corn on a small street in a small village. They tasted of that time. They tasted wonderful.