AS a teen-ager, Maria Alberti led a typically traditional, limited social life. ``If I had wanted to go to the movies with a man, my mother would have considered me a prostitute,'' recalls the editor in chief of D'Unia, the Spanish version of Cosmopolitan. In her plush office on Castellana, Madrid's equivalent of Fifth Avenue, she grins and chuckles: ``The changes have come so fast that now it seems ridiculous.'' Since the passing of Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975, a social revolution has transformed -- and troubled -- this country. A modern, assertive generation has destroyed much of old-fashioned, church-going Spain and in its place constructed an open and even hedonistic society.
Maria Alberti represents this new Spain. In her presence, the old ster-eotypes of the trampled-upon, prudish Spanish woman vanish. In appearance the 39-year-old editor rivals the chiquest of Parisians.
Most of the changes date only from 1976. In that year, the old ``marital contract,'' which required that a woman produce the written consent of her husband before she could sign legal documents finally annulled. The 1978 Constitution guaranteed equal work rights. In rapid succession came the end of the ban on contraception, legalized divorce, and most recently, under the Socialists, restricted but legalized abortion.
These reforms spelled the end for the large, authoritarian Spanish family in which the husband ruled and the wife toiled at home with a bunch of children. From 1977 to 1982, the number of births tumbled by one-quarter and the number of marriages by one-third.
Today, women attend university, then get jobs. Twenty-five years ago, only 13,000 women received a college education. Today, women make up 30 percent of the campus population. Twenty-five years ago, if women worked, it was probably in the fields. Today, women make up 30 percent of the urban work force. A record 18 are members of parliament. ``Spanish women are copying Amer-ican women,'' Ms. Alberti asserts. ``Look at me: I'm independent, I work and earn my own living.''
But large problems remain. ``In many ways the changes have come too fast,'' she says. ``We have not digested them well.'' Divorce is one example she cites: ``It's the great shame. Divorced women find it almost impossible to remarry.'' The scent of change. At the Plaza del Mayo, not far from Maria Alberti's fancy office, you can smell the change. Literally. Marijuana smoke floats around the bright lights. Punks and hippies congregate around the caf'es.
In Franco's era, such people faced arrest. Spanish jails overflowed with petty offenders. It was even illegal for a boy and girl to be seen kissing in public.
Democracy ended many of the old authoritarian laws -- then went much further down the path of permissiveness. In their first summer in power, the Socialists released from prison thousands of detainees who had been awaiting trial more than six months. Possession of drugs, from marijuana to heroin, was decriminalized.
Plaza del Mayo illustrates the problems of this live-and-let-live approach. In the year following decriminalization, crime soared, the number of drug addicts swelled, Spain became an important link in the European drug connection. The Socialists have been forced to reverse course.
Today, law and order is a national obsession. Prime Minister Felipe Gon-z'alez has appointed a state attorney to handle drug cases and parliament has passed 17 anticrime measures, including building more prisons and hiring more police.
But there is a recognition that tough measures are not the whole answer, that Spain cannot turn the clock back to the strict old days.
``With Franco, we were accustomed to 100 percent security,'' says Rafael Lopez-Pintor, a sociology professor at the University of Madrid. ``Then all of a sudden there's freedom -- and crime. To deal with it, our society must mature.''
Even conservative opposition leader Manuel Fraga agrees. In an interview, Mr. Fraga criticized the Socialists ``for creating an atmosphere of insecurity'' and ``increasing control over the press and television.'' Fraga, by the way, was once Franco's minister in charge of censorship.
Traditionally, Spain has been Roman Catholic in the way Saudi Arabia is Muslim. The church set the rules -- and guarded them. When the republic rashly tried to separate religion from government in the 1930s, the church joined Franco and declared a holy war.
Yet the 1978 Constitution declared succinctly, ``There shall be no state religion.'' This time the church agreed. It withdrew from politics, refusing to align itself with an Italian- or German-style ``Christian Democratic party.'' More recently it kept its distance from street protests against a Socialist bill limiting state funds for parochial education.
``We can't go against history forever,'' says the Rev. Antonio Saina-Parto, secretary-general of the Toledo episcopate. ``We can't force our ideas on people.''
He talks about a new generation of priests who broke with Franco and pushed for democracy, of the church's spiritual duty to stay out of politics, of the acceleration of change.
``Secularization has hurt,'' he admits. Throughout the country, church attendance is down. National studies show that one in three Spaniards considers himself a ``nonpracticing'' Catholic, compared with only about one in nine in 1973.
``You can't force people to believe,'' Fr. Saina-Parto says once more. A touch of the Orient
As soon as you enter Grenada, the citadel of the Andalucian south, you feel it. You see the modest women in black, smell the spices in the marketplace. Then you arrive at the magnificent fountains and faades of the Alhambra -- and you think the Moor never left.
In fact, the illusion holds much truth. Spain's national character still shows the effect of eight centuries of Muslim rule, which ended with the surrender of Grenada in 1492.
The Catholic Church and the central authorities in Madrid tried to erase this heritage. The last Moors were expelled in 1609 and the Alhambra was used variously as a debtors' asylum, a hospital, a prison, and a munitions dump.
``Even when I arrived here, people would paint graffiti on the walls,'' says Francisco Sanchez, director of the site. He notes a change over the years he has been here. ``Spaniards are more respectful,'' he says. ``There's real freedom of religion.''
To find the proof, walk up to a second-floor apartment in the heart of the old city. Outside, incense fills the air. Inside, a man chants a prayer in Arabic. His name is Abdul Hasib Castiniera.
``We are the first Spanish Muslims in 600 years,'' the 29-year-old man proudly proclaims. There are about 5,000 Muslims in Grenada, he says. Grenada's mayor encouraged them to settle in the old Moorish capital. Despite some resistance from ``militant Catholics,'' Mr. Castiniera says the reception on the street has been understanding, sympathetic, even affectionate. Another Oriental element
Behind the mosque in Cordoba lingers another touch of the Orient. White brick houses, unchanged since the 11th century, form a lovely labyrinth. The delicate building in the central square reveals the neighborhood's secret: On the wall is carved a beautiful frieze of Hebrew script.
Until the 15th-century Reconquest, Jews flourished in Cordoba. Maimonides was born here. The Jews of Cordoba were Spain's doctors, its philosophers. Many even served as diplomats and generals. Then came the expulsion. Jews who stayed were forced to merge into the Christian whole. Jewry was remembered with distaste. ``When I was a child, we considered this neighborhood dirty,'' says Concepci'on Ruz, a native of Cordoba.
But at a history lecture a few years ago, Mrs. Ruz heard about the Jewish influence on Spain and realized: ``My grandmother's name was Salom'e. That's Jewish. . . . My father covered his head before dinner. That's Jewish.
Even as Mrs. Ruz was discovering her Jewish roots, Madrid's attitude toward Jews was changing. Jewish refugees from Morocco were permitted to immigrate. They have formed vibrant, if small, communities in the major cities, which the government officially recognized in January of this year.
In this new Spain, swirling with change, do the castanets still click? Do jasmine and orange still hang heavy in the air? Do the sad voices still wail through the night? Yes, the romance persists. Not in the industrial north. But in the the south, especially in Seville, listen to the tune.
On bullfight day, townspeople dress up and parade. Polished carriages jog by, the coachmen decked out in turbans and toppers. The trumpets blare, the crowd cries, ``Ol'e, ol'e.'' Look hard and the Carmen of your dreams will be dancing the flamenco.
``There's something true in the myths,'' asserts Jesus Cosauo, Seville's cultural director. ``There's a tragic sense here, an emotional sense you just don't lose. At parties, everyone will start dancing the flamenco. You just feel it.'' But even in Seville, times have changed. Rock-and-roll is heard everywhere -- even with the flamenco. ``Rock and flamenco go together,'' says Antonio Pulpan, a flamenco impresario. ``We have lots of great rock flamenco groups.''
The modern world also is squeezing the bullfight. The famous old bullring at Ronda, where the rules of the modern bullfight were invented, is used as a cinema on off-season Saturdays.
``The bullfight won't disappear. It's a festival, a tradition,'' says Seville's sports director, Felipe del Valle. ``But the young are playing soccer and basketball -- even baseball.'' That's the new Spain. Rock-and-roll flamenco. Saturday afternoon baseball. Who would have believed it 10 years ago? -- 30 --