These are my grandparents.
He, Santiago, was a jazz musician from Barcelona. He mainly played the double bass, but his education was the violin -he could just play any instrument whatsoever. He really had a gift for music.
In 1954, he spent three months in Helsinki, playing with an orchestra. I believe he had to dress with extravagant shirts as if he was Caribbean. His skin was not very dark and he was rather not hairy, but up north he was actually playing the Latin lover.
One of those nights, in a club near the sea or the port (or the river), she met two sisters, Raija and Anna. Raija didn’t speak a word of Spanish, and Santiago didn’t speak Finnish. They communicated in English. They communicated so much, that at the end of the three months, Raija left Finland and came to Barcelona with Santiago. Some months later, my mom was born.
This story has always fascinated me. They were both quite a character, so, as strange as it sounds, the story always made sense to me. Yes, it was a crazy thing to do, but I can totally see them doing it.
My grandma (la mumu, in our adaptation of the Finnish word into Spanish) was this amazingly beautiful, intelligent, strong, independent woman. She left everything behind, and never came back. She spoke from time to time to her sister Anna, but international conferences were expensive -I wish she had known Skype.
She had this funny accent. She used to confuse feminine and masculine pronouns -no matter how many times we said that it is ‘el crucigrama’, not ‘la crucigrama’. She wore leopard print swimsuits, and red sandals that looked like coming directly from the fifties. She was tough with us, she was funny, and I never heard her complaining -until very late.
My grandpa (el bari, as we called him) was this grumpy, politically incorrect man that loved buying me and my sister records and changed the name of our favourite bands. He had had an accident when he was a kid (he fell off a tramway when he jumped to catch it) and since then he had had one side of the upper lip lifted. I always thought it was so cool that he looked like Elvis Presley.
I remember I was keeping a diary when he died. I didn’t know how to continue writing after that and I just stopped.
One of the things I regret the most is not having asked them more questions about their lives. I know bits: I know that my grandpa was a communist when it was forbidden in Spain, and became rather right wing when the socialist party was in power . I know that he used to make jokes to new musicians in the band, and that once they all locked one guy in a double bass case made of hay and started to pee on him -as a joke. I know that my mom was almost born in Egypt. My grandparents settled down in Barcelona. Apparently, nobody told my grandma that what she was learning was Catalan instead of Spanish -there was a bit of confusion when she moved later to Madrid. I know that just by going to the market and talking to the neighbors, my grandma learned both Catalan and Spanish. I’m really impressed by that. I remember receiving books in Finnish when I was a kid and thinking how on earth that language could make sense. But la mumu managed to do it.
I went this summer to Barcelona, and visited the place where my mom and grandparents had lived. It was so moving walking down the streets they had walked. It was like seeing traces of their history.
As a teenager, I always fantasised about writing a novel about them. I pictured scenes in black and white, of jazz clubs filled with people smoking -they smoke so much. It would be a novel that intertwined music with the political events of the fifties and sixties in Europe.
I’m obviously not writing that. But who cares.
They never told much about their lives, but somehow they managed to be very present in our lives. My sister is married to a musician. They and my nieces have the same excellent ear for music, such a natural talent. For my part, I’m also communicating myself in English, and I’ve become a migrant too. Obviously not in the same conditions as my grandma. But I like to think that her funny accent resonates in mine.