(Photo by Kathy Tran)

(Photo by Kathy Tran)

Neighbor accidentally makes it her business to celebrate Spain

Janet Kafka never thought marketing Spanish wine would land her a position where she dines with royalty. But her knowledge of the country impressed the Spanish government so much that they asked her to serve as honorary consul in 1997, even though she has no Spanish roots. Kafka — who still manages her marketing firm — has dedicated the past 20 years to planting pieces of Spanish culture throughout Dallas, whether it’s promoting the Meadows Museum or hosting royalty in her home. She splits her time between Spain and Preston Hollow, where she’s lived most of her life.

What sparked your interest in Spanish culture?
My family and I always vacationed in Mexico as a child. My aunt was a Spanish-French teacher. She noticed I had a facility with the language and really took an interest in me.

It was unusual at the time, but in high school (she attended Greenhill School), I studied in Mexico and lived with a Mexican family.

I’d never been to Spain before I went as a college student. When I went in ’76, it was a very transformative moment in Spanish history, because, Franco, the dictator, had just died. I was at the University of Madrid, which was the epicenter of the revolution. It was transformative for me as a 19-year-old.

What do you love the most about the country?
I feel as at home in Spain as I do in this country, really because of the people I’ve met. I love the food, the wine, the music, the dance, the lifestyle. Everything about the way Spain lives suites me. The value they place on human relationships is something exceptional. It’s not a waste of time to spend time with friends.

How has your role as honorary consul changed over the years?
I started with 13 counties in North Texas under my jurisdiction, and I now have 69 counties. Mostly it has changed because the maturity of the initiatives I’ve started that Dallas has embraced. Among the most important is the Meadows Museum. The Sister Cities program [with Valencia] is another relationship I’ve started, and under that banner, we also have a medical exchange program between UT Southwestern and the medical school in Valencia.

You’re known for welcoming foreign officials into your home. Who has been the most memorable?
We’ve welcomed two prime ministers of Spain. Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has been here several times. Prime Minister Zapatero has also been here. President Fox from Mexico has been here. I’ve had five ambassadors to Spain at the house. Of course, I’ve had every mayor that’s ever served in Dallas here.

Is that nerve wracking?
At first, it was. The good news is in my business life I’ve done a lot of special events and organizing. The food and wine pairings, incorporating Spanish wine and Spanish recipes came naturally to me. But the protocol was the difficult part. Spain is very protocolista, as they say in Spanish, which means they adhere a great deal to it.

I was very instrumental in planning the royal visit when the king and queen came to inaugurate the Meadows Museum in 2001, and all the royal protocol people came over in advance. That’s when I realized, “Boy, you better up your game.”

What’s something that surprises people about you?
I think it would be surprising for people to know I live in the same zip code that I grew up in, because I live such an international lifestyle. I lived away for eight years — part of that in Spain and part of that in Chicago and Phoenix.

What’s changed the most since you grew up?
We built this house. We were among the very first modern houses. It was a very traditional neighborhood when we dared to put a white box in the middle of Preston Hollow. Now there’s more modern houses and great architecture in Dallas now.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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