Living and Learning in Málaga—Year 2, Book, Birthday, and Friend Magic

Close-up of three women friends

La Feria del Libro, Madrid

Book lovers will agree that bookstores and booksellers are magical. Imagine that magic replicated in a book fair of 358 stallsPoster of 2024 Madrid book fair showing a cartoon figure against a drop back of multi-colored book spines. stretching the length of a famous park in a city that is already magical for the writers that have scribbled novels and poems in its cafes. That is the annual Feria del Libro in Madrid. I chose which two of the sixteen days of the fair to attend based on when Mariana Enriquez would be signing books.

Last winter, I read the Argentinian writer’s story collection Las cosas que perdimos en el fuego. Sometimes when I read it at night, I had to put the book down and tuck it away in a drawer because it spooked me. But the next day, the stories lured me in again and I took the book to a café where I read in a public space about the terrors that permeate people’s everyday lives. I didn’t know Enriquez’s reputation as a writer in the “horror genre” when I bought the book while browsing in a Málaga bookstore. It just looked like something I could read in Spanish without too much difficulty. Reading the book was both a literary experience and a language acquisition triumph that I wanted to imprint on my memory and in my copy of the book with an author autograph.

A crowd of people at an outdoor book fair.I scheduled my two days in Madrid for June 9 and 10, a Sunday and a Monday. When my train arrived around noon on Sunday, I dropped my bags at a nearby hotel, remembering to take my copy of Las cosas from my backpack, and immediately made my way to the book fair, about a twenty-minute walk. Enriquez was signing books at one of the casetas and my plan was to get in line for the start of the one-o-clock signing. Major miscalculation. Who knew that half of Madrid would be squeezed in the space between the line of casetas on either side of the paseo? As I inched my way to the caseta where Enriquez would be signing, I noticed long queues getting longer at various casetas and when I finally reached my destination, I realized that one of those long lines was for Enriquez. The lines rivaled the wait for rides at Disneyland, which is to say, I had to be prepared to stand an hour or more in the midday sun. I wasn’t. I was hot and hungry and tired. I went back to the hotel, ate some snacks, and rested.

At five, I met my friend Miguel, watched him eat a bocadillo de calamares, while I satisfied myself with a sliver of tortilla española, because have you seen the size of those sandwiches? A giant baguette stuffed with rings of fried breaded squid. Eat it if you’re carbo loading for an ultra-distance-a-thon. Then we walked to the book fair, making sure we acknowledged theWoman signing books in a bookfair booth. Fountain of the Fallen Angel, apparently the only “prominent sculpture dedicated to the devil,” according to Miguel and Wikipedia. It was 6:45 when we reached the caseta where Enriquez would be signing. And this time the line was short! I was about to take my place in line when I realized I had left my book at the hotel. Miguel held my spot while I went to purchase another Enriquez book. Back in the signing line, I noticed that Enriquez greeted each fan, asked their name, and made a bit of small talk. When it was my turn, I did what I always do—explain (in Spanish) as sort of a public service advisory that I’m still learning Spanish. I also told her I had read and enjoyed Las cosas and that now I was eager to read her latest Un lugar soleado para gente sombría, the book I had just bought. She answered me in English, which served me right for forewarning her about my imperfect Spanish when I should just speak without preamble or apology.

Getting Enriquez’s autograph was a cool moment for me. But another extremely cool encounter awaited me the following day. It rained all morning and into the afternoon and I was happy to stay in my hotel room with the books I’d bought the day before. When I finally emerged, the book fair was just reopening after the siesta break so there were no crowds, just a smattering of early birds like me. I could browse leisurely. The first caseta I stopped at proved to be magical. A woman immediately engagedThree women in a book fair booth, the middle one holding up two books for display me in conversation, in which early on I inserted my standard disclaimer about still learning Spanish. She began telling me about two books that she thought I would have little trouble reading. One was by an Ecuadorean author and the other by a Bolivian. It turns out her press Editorial Candaya focuses on publishing Latin American writers. This woman, Olga Martinez, had me mesmerized with her animated descriptions of the books and their authors. I couldn’t stop looking at her face, which emanated such passion for the books her press had brought into print. I could not walk away without buying a book. And when I did walk away, I was compelled to return to take a photo, which doesn’t come close to capturing the glow of her face. We talked some more, and I mentioned that I live in Málaga which prompted Olga to tell me about another book she had published, this one by a well-known writer who lives in Málaga. Jose Antonio Garriga Vela is a novelist who has also written for the theater. For almost thirty years he wrote a weekly column called “Cruces de Vías” for Diario Sur, a regional newspaper in Málaga province, beginning when he was thirty-nine years old and ending when he was sixty-eight. Candaya has gathered some of those essays in a book. In the prologue, Garriga Vela describes the series as “Un relato semanal de experiencias, sentimientos, sueños y reflexiones.” (A weekly story of experiences, feelings, dreams, and reflections.) My intention is to read one a week because, yes, I did buy the book. Olga Martinez sold me on it, her ardor and devotion for the written word filled me with joy. I wish every booklover an encounter with an Olga Martinez.

Birthday, Poetry, and Friends

When I was young, I was extremely shy, seldom speaking and when I did venture to say anything, my voice was so small, I wasn’t always heard. Making friends was hard for me. I still retain some of that shyness and insecurity, and organizing a party for myself is still an exercise in catastrophizing that no one will come. And yet, I did it. And people did come.

For my 71st birthday this year, I decided I wanted to gather with some of the people I’ve met over the past year. I invited them to bring lines from a favorite poem to share aloud and to provide to me in written form as a memento of the day. And I prepared some to give in return. There were poems in Spanish and English, and a song lyric in Portuguese. Poets whose words were read that night included Sharon Olds, Pablo Neruda, Rumi, Gabriela Mistral, Antonio Machado, Barbara Jane Reyes, Susan Rich, and Richard Brautigan.

People gathered around a table talking

Over the past year, interesting people have come into my life whose friendship I want to cultivate. There’s the visual artist and former restaurant critic, the marketing consultant who worked in Kenya for ten years before moving to Málaga, and the music blogger whose passion is music by African artists, among the other inspiring people who came to help celebrate my birthday with poems of love, sadness, humor, and wisdom. I first encountered many of these people through Facebook or Meetup gatherings.

Two women in portrait view, blonde on the left, black hair with gray on the right.But sometimes you meet a friend just by walking into a wine and coffee bar. This is how I met Claudia from Argentina, who at the time was one of the owners of Bottega. That afternoon I ordered tea, and Claudia asked if I wanted anything to eat and listed the options with such gusto that I ordered a tostado. And because there were few other customers, we chatted for quite a while and later she invited me to drop in anytime because I told her my visit had been such a delightful way to practice my Spanish. I made it a habit to drop in once a week and in that way was able to meet Claudia’s ebullient friend Rosana, another Argentinian immigrant, and one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever met.

Three women and a five-year-old boy in dressy clothesLatin Americans are among the friendliest, most gregarious, and welcoming people I’ve encountered. They make you feel like family. Such was the case with a lovely trio of Venezuelans I met who are related to Seattle friends Arline Garcia and Allison Green. Claudia, her daughter Lorena, and her grandson Rubén were among the first people I met when I moved to Málaga and they’ll always be special to me.

Leaving friends and family in the United States was hard, but a new life in a new country has also meant new friends. Just knowing that they exist in the same city that is now my home gives me the same sense of magic that I experienced at a certain feria del libro.






  1. Allison on June 27, 2024 at 10:31 am

    All of this sounds magical. And: Brautigan!

    • Donna Miscolta on June 27, 2024 at 12:23 pm

      Yes! That poem “Boo, Forever”!

  2. Maria de Lourdes Victoria on June 27, 2024 at 12:25 pm

    Te ves radiante! Feliz cumpleaños, feliz nueva vida y felices lecturas y escrituras – que la
    Magia te acompañe siempre querida amiga!

    • Donna Miscolta on June 27, 2024 at 12:58 pm

      Gracias, María! Tengo muchas ganas de verte en agosto.

  3. Martha Anne Toll on June 27, 2024 at 1:43 pm

    Donna, I just love your newsletter and read it eagerly when it arrives. I don’t think I’ve told you that, so thank you and very happy birthday! Life in Malaga sounds beautiful!

    • Donna Miscolta on June 27, 2024 at 3:29 pm

      Thank you, Martha! I appreciate that, and yes, life in Málaga is beautiful!

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