Day 42: Su Majestad

Today, I had the pleasure of meeting the King of Spain.

It was an absolute honor to learn more about the Spanish Fulbrighters and see how proud their country is of their accomplishments. Today, Fulbright España celebrated it’s 60th anniversary. This marks the 60th year of cultural and intellectual exchange between Spain and the United States through the scholars of Fulbright.

A few of weeks ago, the Fulbright Commission sent out an email to all grantees regarding the upcoming celebration. Grantees completed a brief application and were later selected to attend. A few of us received an additional email stating that we were some of the lucky few to take a photo with His Majesty and a small group of… 50 people. How exciting!

At the event, those who were to be in the photo lingered in the lobby as the remaining audience filtered into the auditorium. Thirty minutes prior to the King’s arrival, the organizers began to herd us onto platforms. Imagine, trying to take a picture at a family reunion, except the photographers are calling out to you quickly in languages that not everyone fully understands.

But

We made it work

I was standing behind two people, hoping to find a “window” big enough so that when the photos were released my mom could at least recognize my glasses and nose. Everyone was pushing towards the center, hoping to get as close as possible to where the King would be standing. That was when the main organizer stepped up, and began to point and rearrange people.

I almost felt like I was on America’s Next Top Model and the head organizer was Tyra Banks ready to move you to the sides if you didn’t fit. I tried to smile pleasantly and not look too eager to be close to the center. He looked at me and said something quickly in Spanish. I realized that he wanted me to move out of my cramped space and into a more open space in the second row. CLOSER to the center. After moving enough people from the center, there was a little space left in front of me.

Another man walked up to the gap and held his tablet vertical on his head. “This is the King,” he said in accented English, smiling. An American Fulbrighter near me explained simply, “The King is tall.”

Claro.

After 10 additional minutes of waiting, the crowd suddenly hushed and shifted. I turned around and observed a group of suits walking towards the platform.

The crowd began to murmur, “El Majestad” “That’s him in the red tie!”

I saw Rey Felipe VI de España towering above the rest of his posse (including security). According to Google, he is 6’6”, FYI.

I turned around to the Fulbrighter to my left and whispered, “Estoy flipando.”

He made his way to the platform and was greeted with a wave of “Good day”-s in English and Spanish. He stepped up to the platform and smiled, mentioning, in Spanish, that he hoped he wouldn’t block anyone in the photo, triggering a light chuckle from the group. You could feel the room relax. He faced the cameras and triggered a barrage of flashes and shutter clicks.

I couldn’t help but realize that his Majesty was blocking me from half of the cameras. I hoped, for the Commission’s, Embassy’s, and the Palace’s sakes that the one my mother sees is one that I’m visible. She very well may call up the King and ask him to redo the photo!!

Following the photo-op, no one moved until El Majestad left the area. We were then herded into the auditorium. You would have thought we all became royalty by how the remaining audience twisted in their seats to watch us enter.

The ceremony itself was lovely. A commemorative video was played that shared the stories of Spanish Fulbrighters from the 70s to today living in the U.S. and recent American Fulbrighters participating in cultural exchange through Spanish classrooms. A few brief speeches were made, the King distributed two awards, and then there was a vino español (refreshments and mingling) in a beautiful hall of the Prado museum.

El Majestad entered the hall, surrounded by security and other officials, and was immediately swarmed. My friend and I stepped away from the chaos in search of drinks. Each waiter was walking around with trays of cerveza, vino blanco, tinto (red wine), Coca-Cola, and Fanta naranja. I plucked a glass of Fanta off of the platter and turned towards the mass of people crowding the Guest of Honor.

I waded through the crowd towards friends that I spotted closer to the nucleus of the cluster. After chatting for a few minutes, we realized that, if we were strategic enough, we were next in “line” to meet the King.

The group in front of us finished their conversation and His Majesty stepped right into our half circle. I willed silently, ~ Por favor, do not turn to me first! ~

You see, I had been practicing how I would introduce myself when this moment came (in reality, I didn’t think it would). Here goes:

I am Stephanie Washington

First of her name

Daughter of Steve and Casondra Washington

Hailing from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Alas, in the moment when El Rey extended a hand towards me. I took it and said…

Hola”

To be continued…