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Arco de Cuchilleros Madrid

These are strange times (no pun intended)!  This Sinatra tune keeps rattling around in my head—“riding high in April, shot down in May.[1]” 

One day I’m looking at a week replete with author events—a book signing at Barnes & Noble, presentations to the Sisters in Crime writing group up the coast, to the students at a local university and Senior citizens at a nearby community center.  The next day…well you know what happened the next day.

If there is a silver lining in this cloud, the time off has provided the chance to complete a project I’ve always dreamed of—translating my new book, It’s Your Camino: One Couple’s 500-Mile Pilgrimage Across Spain. And so, after several months of back and forth, translation and review, I can now say, it’s ready to be published in the language of Cervantes[2].

The translator in chief, my dear friend from Madrid, Spain, Ramón Tejeiro Vidal, did all the ‘heavy lifting.’  I pitched in where I could, working with American slang, reviewing the manuscript a dozen times until we were comfortable with the final product.  Translating a book has been an eye-opening experience—it’s not as easy as it sounds.  Fortunately, Ramón is an accomplished author in his own right and has a certain comfort level with the English language.  It also worked on a personal level; I worked hard (I wanted him to succeed with the translation) and he reciprocated calling it his “gift” for the many years of friendship including our Madrid nights (and days).

We go back a long way—to 1975 when Francisco Franco was the Spanish dictator.  Although Franco was in declining health, this stubborn ‘Gallego[3]’ was reluctant to go gently into that good night.  Some might call it kicking and screaming. There were student demonstrations at our university, riot police shooting rubber bullets in our direction, these were heady times.  During this restless period, I was an impressionable Junior Year abroad student living in Madrid, on the banks of the Mazanares River, with a Spanish host family of modest means.   The son, a handsome young man named Juan Enrique, was my age and so it was inevitable we would run around together with several of his chums—one of them José Manuel, brother of Ramón.  Don’t hold it against us–we were a musketeer like group of fun-loving young men—Juan “Don Juan” Enrique, José Manuel, a blue-eyed blonde boy named Curri and Juan Enrique’s cousin, Jesús, a graduate student and accomplished organist.  Our stomping grounds were the Plaza Mayor and the contiguous mesones[4].  It seemed like every other night we were prowling this area and I came to know them all intimately—the Mesón de la Guitarra, the Mesón del Dracula, Mesón del Champiñon, the Mesón de la Tortilla and many more.  I probably knew them better than the heavy weight of American literature, Ernest Hemingway, who was known in his time to take a meal nearby at “Sobrino de Botín” or “Botíns” on Calle Cuchilleros.

I must admit, I fell in with a group of charming men who introduced me to the world of Spanish “copas” and “cañas ”–think of these as tiny glasses of red wine and beer respectively.  Snacks included the “tapas” specialty of each bar.  The mesón would fill every evening with tourists, international students, and locals.   If you were lucky, a small gypsy contingent would grace the mesón with flamenco guitar and palmas[5].  But I digress.

José Manuel introduced me to his older brother Ramón, at the time a bohemian poet with an unabashed romantic streak.  But what was not lost on me was their loyalty to their father, Ramón Senior, who ran a small machinery company.  Ramón Senior was a short stocky Spaniard who had fought against Franco during the siege of Madrid.  For some reason, (maybe his sons were bored) he singled me out to tell his epic stories!   I’m not complaining—it certainly improved my Spanish listening comprehension.

Eventually, I had to turn in my mesón badge and return to my country but I received sporadic visits from the Tejeiro Vidal brothers—I was now a Spanish teacher at a high school.  When Ramón visited, I put together a slide show about Spain and Ramón took it from there.  To my students, the man with the black handlebar moustache was a “rock star.”  In 1985, my wife and I visited him in Munich, Germany.  He now had a son and was living with a Sociology Professor at the university; Ramón had completed his first book—a novel. 

Last year I was more than excited to share my first book with “Don” Ramón who promptly returned it with a translation.  The Spanish version of the book is now titled: Es Tu Camino: El Peregrinaje de 800 Km. de una Pareja a Través de España.

“What’s next?” asked my wife.  

That’s a very good question.  I suppose I will treat it the way I did the English language version of the book except this time our audience will include those readers from Spain, Central and South America.  Although my father can’t read Spanish, he’s already asked for a copy.  Wouldn’t want to forget the actor Martin Sheen, aka Ramon Estevez, either—he’s 50% Gallego.  I think he’d get a kick out of it.

A book signing in Madrid?  A congratulatory “copa” in one of the mesones with Ramón?  Anything’s possible.

[1] “That’s Life”

[2] Miguel de Cervantes, Author of Don Quixote

[3] A person from Galicia, Spain

[4] Cave bars

[5] A handclapping style


  1. Rikke Olsen says:

    Great piece!

  2. Rory Strange says:

    I love it when you always sneak in a heartfelt sentiment in your writings❣️~~ “It also worked on a personal level, I worked hard (I wanted him to succeed with the translation) and he reciprocated calling it his “gift” for the many years of friendship including our Madrid nights (and days).”

  3. Like!! I blog quite often and I genuinely thank you for your information. The article has truly peaked my interest.

  4. Give my regards to los hermanos Tejeiro Vidal. I remember an evening walking through Madrid near the Palacio Real with Ramon, singing that life should be like a musical–singing instead of talking. Your article brought back great memories of a magical year. I think Jose Manuel visited me the same year after our return to the states, in Wisconsin. Congratulations on your book!

    • ken says:


      Great to hear from you. I certainly will pass on your regards to the boys. One memory which sticks out is a party which their cousin threw somewhere near El Rastro in 1976. There were people from many programs there–USC, Schiller, Marquette. The song I heard at the party and which I’ll never forget was Peter Frampton’s “Something’s Happening.” Lot of good memories. We had a nice Junior Year Abroad group…but was sorry to lose our classmate from Maryland, Jeffrey Byrd, while he was there. I try to get back to Spain as often as I can. BTW, you’ve done some incredible things in your life…speaking languages…working in Dubai and London. Wow! I’m sure you’ve got a few stories to tell. Hasta pronto.

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