Dispatch from Madrid’s Doorways

Since my first trip to Europe, I have been fascinated by doors. Doors don’t seem to be a thing in the US. Perhaps it’s because we are so busy building walls, we don’t understand the significance of a door.

Doors make a statement. They say something about the life that exists just beyond. Unlike walls, doors beckon strangers to step closer. A well-crafted door is a sign of welcoming hospitality. It practically yells, “C’mon, join me. An adventure awaits us all, if you will but enter.”

C.S. Lewis was all about creating doors, for our imagination and for a community’s well-being. So was Jesus. What person of faith doesn’t have an appreciation for the depiction of Jesus standing at the door, knocking?

And what reader doesn’t love the story of the Secret Garden just beyond the wooden door, or the charming archway of the Hobbit’s home?

So when I heard that there was a secret door in Madrid that, if discovered, would lead seekers to the abode of cloistered nuns selling cookies, I just had to make sure that Miz Shelby and I took that adventure.

First things first, though.

I had also read about this off-the-beaten path cafe where one could get the most amazing tapas of garlic shrimp and the crustiest bread, and the best $2 glass of wine one might ever imbibe.

Because tourists are unaware, this place only had two other couples inside when we arrived. We were greeted warmly and attended to with care. And ohmyword! Those shrimp were steaming in all that deliciousness of butter and garlic, which we happily sopped up with one of the best loaves of bread I’ve ever eaten. It’s a rich dish, though, so if you go, one order will suffice for the both of you.

They have a wine that has been around for 100 years. I could have sat inside that cafe drinking wine and eating bread for the rest of the day if only I’d had a party of 10 to swap stories with.

The photograph directly behind Miz Shelby’s head was a snapshot of a bookmobile. Who knew they had bookmobiles in Spain? Nothing opened more doors for me as a child than the bookmobile that used to frequent our Georgia trailer park. I love these poetic moments that happen in the most surprising of places, don’t you?

We weren’t exactly sure where the secret door to the cloistered nuns was located, but Miz Shelby and I kept turning corners until we came across a tiny little sign above a discreet doorbell that indicated this just might be the place.

As we approached, a beggar woman sitting outside the door rose to greet us, to welcome us. She didn’t speak my language. I didn’t speak hers, yet somehow we came to an understanding. Look beyond the wind gust that blew my hair catawampus, and see the kindness reflected in her smile. What a juxtaposition, a poor woman welcoming the stranger, rather than the rich man trying to keep the poor and people of color locked away behind a giant wall.

I don’t know her name, I only know her heart. Whatever her words were, I knew exactly what she meant – “Come this way. Yes, through this door. Step on inside.”

She did not ask to see my credentials.

Like all the grandest adventures, there was a bit of trepidation involved. Once the beggar woman shut the door behind us, we found ourselves in almost absolute darkness. Unsure of which door to step through next, we just pressed onward. Isn’t that what adventures are all about, after all? Not knowing what awaits us exactly, but trusting that it will be something good.

We were grateful that just beyond the darkened doorway was the light. Lots and lots of light. But even in the light of day, we weren’t all that sure of which way to go. So we did what people the world over have done when faced with uncertainty – we took another step toward the light.

And there, through a few more doors, and around another corner or two, we happened upon the secret place where the cloistered nuns make their cookies that they sell to those willing to take the adventure. Shelby studied the process by which seekers call out their orders – Shortbread? Almond or orange? What is your pleasure? – in Spanish. A nun, sheltered away on the other side of the wood turntable, repeats the order, then places a bag on the Lazy Susan, and spins it to the seeker, who then puts money down and spins the Lazy Susan back again.

It’s almost magical the way the cookies appear in a lovely box, wrapped in love and with the a tape so strong it puts Duct Tape to shame.

Afterwards, Miz Shelby and I sat on a stoop, inside the alcove and bore witness to other seekers on the adventure.

It was, as C.S. Lewis wrote, that moment when you look across a room and see another and say, “You too?”

You, too, are a seeker?

You, too, are an adventurer?

You, too, look for doors to open instead of walls to build?

You, too, love the sacred, and shortbread?


It’s a moment of beauty and grace when you find another who may not speak your language, whose language you may not speak, and yet, you share in that adventure of moving from darkness to light, from trepidation to joy.

Miz Shelby and I sat on that stoop, underneath that glorious blue sky on our first afternoon in Madrid, knowing that this would be a journey we’d hopefully always remember.

Then we walked back to our hotel, the long way, through the park. Bone-weary but happy-hearted.

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of BURDY, Mercer University Press.

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.


Sam Alden

about 5 years ago

Karen, why did it surprise you to see a bookmobile in Spain? They do read there, and have even written a classic or two!


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 5 years ago

Sam: Yes, of course, bookmobiles are a universal thing. It's just growing up in that Georgia trailer park I didn't know that and it certainly never occurred to me then that one day I'd be sitting at a cafe in Spain with my daughter, who would be sitting in front of a historic photo of a bookmobile that had traveled in Spain. That's the poetry I was speaking to. Of all the places we could have eaten, of all the places we could have sat... we got the spot in front of the bookmobile photo.


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