HRH the Infanta Cristina, Duchess of Palma, and her husband Iñaki Urdangarín, Duke of Palma, have announced that they are pulling up stakes in Barcelona and moving to Washington, D.C. this summer. The Infanta Cristina is the youngest daughter of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, while the Duke of Palma comes from the gentry of the Basque region of Spain. The pair met at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, though at the time both were residents of Barcelona. They married in the Barcelona Cathedral a little over a year later, and a picture from the beautiful nuptial mass appears below.
The Duke was Spain’s best handball player, winning numerous trophies and captaining their Olympic team, before he retired from the sport in 2000 and used the MBA degree he had earned from Spain’s top business school along the way to move into business consulting. The Duchess continues to work as an executive of the charitable foundation of the Catalan investment bank La Caixa, while raising the couple’s four children at their home in the Pedralbes neighborhood of Barcelona. The Duke and Duchess have a reputation for stability, hard work, and level-headedness, doing their duty while avoiding scandal, that has made them very popular with Spaniards in general but with Catalans in particular, who tend to appreciate such values more than flash and glamor.
According to the first articles appearing in the Spanish press, the Duke accepted a position with Telefonica, a company with which he has worked since 2006, to be based here in D.C. as the Spanish telecom giant hopes to establish a greater presence in the U.S. as well as expand its holdings in Latin America. I imagine the office will be somewhere out in Tyson’s Corner along with the other hi-tech firms, but my readers may be more aware than I of the exact location.
After having tipped off DCist to the initial news (yes, I am the unnamed “tipster” in their piece), I decided to keep my eye on things. Current speculation in the Spanish press, at least as of this writing, is that the family is looking into property in Georgetown, and will be sending the children to Sidwell Friends. I have not seen any confirmation of this as yet, but there are certainly a number of properties in Georgetown on the market at the moment.
Given the size of their brood and the small size of Georgetown houses, a suburban choice may prove more practical, but one factor to consider is that the Infanta Cristina is already very familiar with Georgetown, from when her brother Prince Felipe and her cousin Prince Pavlos rented a townhouse together at The Cloisters off Reservoir Road back in the mid-90’s. Prince Felipe comes back to Georgetown regularly, as he has endowed a chair in Spanish studies at Georgetown, and I ran into him (and his many bodyguards) last year near The Four Seasons.
Which all leads me to a rather amusing story:
Prince Felipe graduated from the MSFS program at Georgetown the same year I graduated from the BSFS program, and we were fortunate to have King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia spoke at graduation. The night before the ceremony, I took some red and yellow masking tape and laid out the Catalan flag – known as the “senyera” and featuring four red stripes on a gold background – on top of my mortarboard. Truthfully, I have usually found the American tradition of decorating the top of the mortarboard to be…well, a bit tacky. It does detract from the decorum of the proceedings. However given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I simply could not resist the impulse.
As we marched in to graduation, the Spanish and Greek Royal families were seated in the row directly behind me, and I heard Jaime de Marichalar, Duke of Lugo and the (now seaprated) husband of Prince Felipe’s oldest sister the Infanta Elena, audibly gasp and say, “WHAT does he have on his hat?” That alone would have pleased me no end. However, there was more to come.
When I went up to receive my diploma from Their Most Catholic Majesties, as “N” is midway through the alphabet, you could tell that they were beginning to fade a little, their smiles becoming fixed and barely noticeable after shaking so many hands and with so many more to go. I bowed deeply to them both, so that they could clearly see the top of my “hat”. As I brought my gaze back up to shake their hands, I could see the King was laughing, raising his eyebrows and forehead to indicate he had seen my Catalan flag, and the Queen was grinning from ear to ear. I thanked them both – in Castilian – and the King commented, “Well done!” As I moved down the receiving line, Father Leo O’Donovan, who was then the President of the University, shook my hand and said, “Well William, you certainly win the price for best ethnic mortarboard this year.”