This ornate hanging lamp from Spain was inspired by the ones I admired while drinking Bloody Mary’s with my husband, Major H. H. Macurdy, at the Madrid Hilton. We lived in Canilléjas, Spain from 1960 to 1963, while “Mac” was stationed at Torréjon Air Force Base flying F-102s. Our Saturday morning routine was to go gift-shop-hopping in Madrid, then have lunch in the Madrid Hilton cocktail lounge. Our live-in fifteen year old Spanish maid, Dioni (short for Dionysia) stayed home with our two small children, Eric and Casey.
Hanging from the ceiling of that posh lounge were fifteen or twenty lamps, identical to this one, each with a red tassel (which made the establishment look somewhat risqué). Using my best Spanish, I questioned our non-English speaking waiter about the lamps, which I thought were beautiful. At our request, he always served us little steak sandwiches called pepitos to enjoy along with our Bloody Marys. Eventually, after a few weeks of my persistence and Mac’s generous tipping, the waiter talked with the hotel decorator and brought me a piece of paper with the name and address of the local shop where these lamps had been made.
A few days later I went alone into the city. Using the address obtained from the hotel cocktail waiter, I found the tiny hole-in-the-wall shop and, again in my best Spanish, asked the proprietor if he could make me a lamp like the ones hanging in the Madrid Hilton. He understood me perfectly! With a big smile, he went to the back of the store, brought out a large sketch book, and opened it to the page which showed a drawing of the exact lamp I wanted.
I could not believe it when he told me the lamps were made of old coffee cans, then spray-painted with gold paint. He agreed to make one for me. I believe the cost was four mil, which was roughly twenty five dollars. It was a happy transaction for the lamp maker and for me. He probably overcharged me, but I didn’t care. It still seemed cheap to me. When I went back in three weeks to take delivery there were lots of happy smiles and muchas gracias and vigorous hand-shakes exchanged.
The lamp has since hung in all my homes – first in Spain, then in an old house on Lake Waubesa near Madison, Wisconsin for three years, in a house on Bayou Louise on Siesta Key in Sarasota, Florida for eighteen years, in the stairwell of a Gainesville town house in The Hills of Santa Fe for eight years, and in my current Villages of West End patio home since 1992, which is twenty-five years at this writing. So, it has been my lamp for well over fifty years.
The lamp is a treasure, although impossible to clean. A tiny hinged door allows one hand to get inside to change the light bulb. The lamp is pleasing to look at, and it brings up fond memories of three very happy years in Spain. At the time, I was in my early thirties, living like a wealthy Spanish Señora, in a fenced private villa with a kidney shaped swimming pool. I had a live-in maid, a gardener, an active social life with a squadron of thirty red-blooded American fighter pilots and their attractive wives, and the freedom to explore Madrid whenever I pleased.
I got to know Madrid extremely well and at someone’s suggestion, made a shoppers’ guide for transient American pilots who landed their aircraft at Torréjon AFB and wanted to go into Madrid and buy gifts for the folks back home. At Squadron Headquarters, where my husband was Operations Officer, the pilots could pick up a copy of my shopping guide with names of specific shops, street addresses, and type of merchandise. Equipped with that information, and without any Spanish language ability, they could change their American dollars into pesetas and mil, grab a taxi, go into Madrid and shop.
This was before personal computers and printers, so I typed the list on a manual non-electric typewriter and Mac would take it to work and Xerox a stack of copies. I was highly motivated to keep the list up-to-date, so I frequently went into Madrid in search of more good shopping places. Locating the lamp store and the lamp creator typifies my interest in prowling every inch of that historic old city.
To bring balance to this perfect picture of a seemingly perfect life, here are some additional truths. During this idyllic sounding time, there were the usual childhood ear infections, chicken pox, tonsillectomies, broken bones, hangovers, neighborhood thieves in our house, the Cuban missile crisis, concern about aging parents back home, the inability to get a simple manual lawn mower repaired, and marital discord. Real life follows us wherever we go.
The Spanish lamp, which hangs in my front entry, is a lovely souvenir of my favorite city in the world and reminds me of a very exciting time in my life.