Tangier, Morocco

My parents, Tangier, Morocco

I was born in Tangier, Morocco, to Spanish parents and a riot of languages. The first years of my life, I heard family and friends speaking in English, French and Arabic along with our native Castilian. When my family moved back to Spain, I was introduced to other Spanish languages—Catalan, Galician, Basque (Euskara)—and in summer when we descended to the shore on the obligatory summer vacation, the gabble of other European languages was all around our beach umbrella.

Sounds in Language

“The sound of language is where it all begins,” Ursula Le Guin writes (here). It’s how it began with me. As a young girl, I fell in love with words. I repeated words under my breath, memorized the foreign lyrics of Eurovision contest songs, made lists. I had favorites: tomato in English; canzone (song) in Italian; lune (moon) in French; habibi (beloved) in Arabic. I didn’t know until much later why I loved some writers while others left me cold. I didn’t know I instantly responded to  internal melodies. “Language,” Virginia Woolf said, “is wine upon the lips.” It turns out not only did I enjoy that wine but I was fond of different grapes.

Christian and Moorish art, Cordoba

Really, it doesn’t clash.


I decided to study English at seventeen. No one in my family considered it an insurmountable hurdle. My father spoke English, French, and Arabic. I had cousins in the United States. Moreover, in a country like Spain, heavily dependent on the tourism industry, it was a practical move. Never mind practicality was the furthest thing from my adolescent mind. I wanted to read Shakespeare without a translator’s filter.

As fate would have it, I married an American GI, who became a diplomat, and we set out for  faraway lands. I taught ESL and ended up writing in English. Why English and not Castilian? Isn’t one’s native language a determining factor? Not necessarily. Not for me anyway. Language is the vehicle. Language serves the story.

Toksu Palace roof, Seoul, South Korea

Toksu Palace, South Korea

The countries in which we took up residence (from Korea and its magical mountains to Brazil’s uproar of jungle and asphalt) have left an indelible mark. Vastly different cultural landscapes inform not only how I think and see the world, but what I write. I speak three languages, read six, and my influences run the gamut from Borges and Saramago to John Gardner and Clarice Lispector, and to anonymous folk tales. I understand those lines of Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass: “I am a real Parisian, I am a inhabitant of Vienna… Constantinople…Madrid.”

I’m a little bit from everywhere I have lived.

About Adelaida

Adelaida Lucena de Lower is a writer and avid reader. She has just finished THE RED RIBBON, a novel about prejudice and love set in 15th century Spain. She is writing and researching the next. Think Moorish invasion, Goths, treason, mayhem, and brother against sister.