Subtitled Tales of an Ambassador’s Wife, Susan Solomont’s memoir Lost and Found in Spain is a travel book from an unusual perspective.
Barack Obama appointed Susan’s husband Alan to represent his country as the Ambassador to Spain. From 2008 to 2012 the couple lived in the United States Embassy in Madrid. Clearly, the Spanish experience of the Solomont family was different from almost anybody else’s, but it wasn’t all caviar and cava. Living in Spain for four years would make their experience with the people and the culture deeper and richer than any of the rest of us who might have only spent a vacation or two in that country.
Susan Solomont had a background in fund-raising for philanthropic organizations in the United States. One could assume she was used to dealing as an equal in a world of talented—and monied—people. However, the author suggests that a woman in Spain, even the wife of the American Ambassador, is primarily to be supportive of her spouse—subordinate, rather than competitive. Perhaps chafing a bit at this role, she nevertheless acquiesces to it, while looking for her own ways to contribute to her country’s presence in Spain without rocking the boat.
Often thought of as “a Catholic country,” Spain has a rich Jewish tradition and Susan Solomont’s experiences with her heritage in this part of the Iberian Peninsula seem both familiar, yet different, from her American experience.
Cultural lessons are learned, often from the household staff, whose familiarity with their American predecessors helps them to explain subtlety and nuance of the Spanish to the Solomonts. Protocols of representing the world’s most powerful country abroad are important, but not so rigid as to preclude innovation and a fun-loving exposure to the American personality. Inviting many of their Madrid neighbors to a barbecue highlighted by the presence of the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile was one such example.
Food is discussed, as it’s often a window to the culture in any country. There was information of interest, but for “foodies” the volume and details might be considered scant. Her dinner at Ferran Adrià’s famed elBulli restaurant on the Costa Brava was wonderful, she says, but details about the specifics of her encounter with his molecular gastronomy are lacking. A writer who missed a chance to dine there when he was in Catalonia would have loved to hear more. On the other hand, maybe too much information would lose readers whose interests in Spain run to other themes Mrs. Solomont has included. For those planning trips to Spain or looking to relive their earlier visits, Lost and Found in Spain may be worthwhile.
--reviewed by Dan Clarke