Beyond My Odyssey by Roger R. Fernandez - HTML preview
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Beyond My Odyssey
Copyright © 2007 Roger R. Fernández
Chapter 1. THE ART OF TRAVELING
The 10 commandments of a good traveler
Chapter 2. OVERPOWERING CRUISE
Penguins by heaps
Stanley, FALKLAND ISLANDS
Chapter 3. WRANGLING QUELLS
“To prevent so as not to lament”
“The sound makes the song”
“The UN and the War of Iraq”
March 11: the Madrid massacre
Presidential elections in the USA
Chapter 4. FAMILY REUNION
Chapter 5. ENDEARING RETURN TO MY ROOTS Indelible Easter celebration
Presentation of Odyssey Fulfilled
The Little Church of the Divine Christ
Chapter 6. FROM A MIRAGE TO A DREAM PEDESTAL
On The Road To Yellowstone National Park
Around The World In Eighty Years
to my brothers: the dearly departed Joaquín who counseled and inspired me with dedication, and Enrique who patiently tolerated and endured me, as well as still-living Antonio whose experience serves me as a guide, which I hope will continue
for many years to come.
Beyond My Odyssey is a new book of lived experiences, this time in the first person, in which Roger R. Fernández delights us one more time from his home in Los Angeles, the United States of America, country where he has lived practically since his youth. It is the fourth one of his “personal odyssey”. During a cruise through Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), a fellow traveler suggested to him Odyssey Dreamed as a more appropriate title, for he perceived what his eyes were contemplating as a real dream.
Beyond My Odyssey takes us traveling with the author through inaccessible places for the common of mortals, but brought to the reach of our imagination thanks to Roger’s talent and ability to mould in paper what his eyes were seeing.
In the years 1950-1955, Roger and I were studying with the Marists at their International Saint Francis Xavier School, located in the little town of Grugliasco in the Italian Piedmont, very near Turin. I remember that to incite us to contemplation, one of our teachers, Brother Heliodor Balko, would frequently repeat the following quotation from a French writer: “Qui a beaucoup vu, peut avoir beaucoup retenu”, which is to say: “Whoever has seen a lot may have retained a lot.” It is obvious that Roger Fernández has kept in mind the wise advice of that Hungarian teacher, Heliodor Balko.
The reader will enjoy, as I have enjoyed, the reading of Beyond My Odyssey, delighting in the infinity of historic and experienced details that Roger has adroitly laid to bear with his style so personal, of exquisite simplicity, doing without unnecessary decorations, allowing the imagination to divert itself in what is being read.
Beyond My Odyssey offers a first chapter on “the art of traveling” with ten norms that every traveler must consider before undertaking a trip. Two chapters are dedicated to each of two voyages: the first, a cruise along the extreme coast of South America, and the second, a trip to the Philippines for family reasons. Between the two trips, the author inserts a third chapter whose title “Wrangling Quells” has the flavor of an epistolary discussion whereby Roger lays open his own version, as a person living in the United States of America, of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and their post consequences. And, as nothing less could be expected, the book concludes with a chapter dedicated to his beloved Bierzo, and in a very special way, to the two villages where he spent the first years of his life: Los Barrios de Salas and Fuentesnuevas.
The reader will move along, understanding, as he goes beyond each page, in the first place, the so-called “Cone of South America” with its valleys and fractured grounds, fiords and glaziers, “Penguins by heaps”, the Chilean Patagonia from Punta Arenas to Cape Horn, Tierra del Fuego…and then in the Atlantic, something about Argentina and Uruguay, all of it soberly described and ornamented with very interesting references to history.
In the trip to the Philippines, the reader will take delight in truly celestial places, such as the “Pagsanjan Gorge” and its deafening cascade, besides an unending number of exotic names, such as the “Chendol” drink, the “Durian” fruit “that smells like hell and tastes like glory”, or the “Barangays” etc…
I wish to leave in writing the pleasant and gratifying surprise it meant for me to be able to read the four books of “The Odyssey” lived in person by my friend and old college companion, Roger Fernández, while encouraging him, at the same time, to continue sharing with his readers his addiction to traveling, though the title “Beyond My Odyssey” sounds to me like the end.
José Diego Rodríguez Cubero
THE ART OF TRAVELING
“There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away”, wrote the American poet Emily Dickinson in the second half of the 19th century. She thus expressed, as an illusion, a human aspiration that history records as action: from the primitive nomads to the modern astronauts, the human being has always sought to conquer sea, land and space to better its condition, realize dreams and ambitions or broaden knowledge.
In truth, the art of traveling has always fascinated the human mind and has flourished as a literary form from time immemorial. Several adages, proverbs and sayings reflect this truism in many diverse and varied cultures. While a wise Genoese adage prudently asserts that “It is better to wear out one’s shoes than one’s sheets”, a very stimulating Arab proverb affirms that “Voyaging is victory”. For his part, Cervantes has written a practical Spanish saying that advances the accepted assertion that “On a long journey even a straw weighs heavy”.
Unquestionably, many people travel much more nowadays than in times past. To move by air from city to city, from country to country, from continent to continent has become routine, even after September 11, 2001. At the same time, adventurous trips to less known, or rather out of the way places come now in tour packages. Even thus, the classic concept of voyaging, which is that of going to a place radically different from one’s place of departure, has almost disappeared. The most successful ones in this regard are those done in cruises, whereby the traveler succeeds, at times, in visiting out of the way ports and going on excursions to places far away from all civilization.VITAL EXPERIENCE
My vital experience seems to confirm that traveling or wandering through the world creates addiction, invigorates the body, enriches and broadens the spirit and knowledge, and frequently becomes a source to prolong conversations. Similarly, it makes valid, once more, American writer Mark Twain who ratifies that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness”. It could hardly be otherwise, since by traveling we become “citizens of the world” and open our minds to new cultures.
It has certainly been my fate to have lived a life somewhat adventurous, risky and daring, but also protected and somewhat favored. However, I would like to make it clear, before anything else, my total agreement with Italian dramatist Carlo Goldini who, towards the half of the 18th century, observed that “A wise traveler never despises his own country”. As for me, not only have I never scorned, nor will ever scorn my beloved Spain nor my “Small Fatherland”, El Bierzo, but rather, I resort to them for consolation, fortitude and rejuvenation. For that reason, I decided to write the first chapter of this book with the purpose of sharing with my compatriots and readers some of the benefits that I have harvested from traveling beyond my literary odyssey. Frequently, travelers must elevate their sights to establish aims and goals as difficult to reach as high to contemplate. There is, besides, a challenge to explore the planet, a lure or enticement to dare the unknown world in order to achieve greater satisfaction, to venture into a constant aspiration in the human being to know more and to go farther: to contemplate, lastly, the eagerness to abandon the trodden path and encounter something new, something mysterious. It is fitting to examine if the unhappiness and sadness that at times besiege our lives emanate from a single perspective that fills our existence.
For me, the places that I visit seem to absorb the memories that I have created for myself. Wherever I go, I stumble into my past, which those remembrances always stamp and will never be erased because of them. However, though not necessarily incompatible, memory and comfort are frequently at odds. When I mend my difficult moments, memory appears first… then I happily hear the transcendent music that my remembrances compose, frequently consoling, but always vital and essential.
Among the messages that emanate from my memories are found, besides those from my nostalgic childhood and youth, foretaste and curiosity in traveling, attraction of the exotic and the sublime, the necessity of a fantasy escape from city to countryside, or the latter from the former, and the high light to which the art can take the human being to appreciate its environment.
For the enthusiastic and confident traveler, the perspective of wandering translates, essentially, into a vision of adventures, pleasure and enjoyment, free from the anguish and anxiety of the hidden or the unknown and the comforts of the daily routine. As for me, far from dreading the unknown, I try to delve into it and make it my ally. I consider traveling an escape of enchantment and understand the inevitable reality that, to be a good traveler, the best way to know and experience a place that I wish to visit is to abandon myself completely to it, and not to an imagined fantasy or to a reality close to the one I have left behind. That is how I have been able to confront and overcome the challenges that I have frequently faced in life.THE 10 COMMANDMENTS OF A GOOD TRAVELER After reading the first two books of my autobiographical trilogy, several readers asked me to write some basic suggestions to travel as comfortably as possible and be worry-free.
There are several types of travels and, of course, each one requires different preparations to carry out and attitudes to take along. A business trip is not the same as one dedicated to study. Furthermore, not every study trip is equal. A research tour that takes the traveler to several localities in a country differs from a program of expansion of knowledge, but centered in a university city. There are, in addition, tourist voyages that concentrate in seeing, observing, evaluating and comparing, but devoid of the purpose of studying.
Whatever the object of one’s trip happens to be, some norms are indispensable to achieve the highest degree of success. The traveler needs open mindedness, a pleasant disposition towards flexibility, positive expectations, much enthusiasm and unexhausted wealth of courtesy. To better help the interested reader, I would like to print here THE 10 COMMANDMENTS OF A GOOD TRAVELER, which I used to distribute to my students to prepare them for their international study abroad in Salamanca, Spain and Florence, Italy. I stumbled upon this anonymous but very valuable true gem while making preparations to conduct my first group of students of the Study Abroad Program of the Los Angeles Community College District in which I exercised my professorial duties:1. Thou shalt not expect to find things as thou hast at home, for thou hast left home to experience things different.
2. Thou shalt count every moment as precious and use it well for thou might not pass this way again.
3. Thou shalt not let other travelers get on thy nerves, for
thou hast paid good money to take this trip and to enjoy thyself.
4. Remember to take half as many clothes as thou thinkest
thou shalt need and twice as much money.
5. Know at all times where thy passport is, for a person
without a passport is a person without a country.
6. Remember that if thou wert expected to stay in one place,
thou wouldst have been created with roots. Get thee out and explore.
7. Thou shalt not worry, for he that worrieth hath no
pleasure and few things are fatal. Take along a positive
8. When thou art in a foreign country, be prepared to do as
the local people do. Observe their ways and try to
9. Thou shalt not judge all the people of the country by
the person who hath given thee trouble.
10. Remember thou art guest in other lands. He that treats
his host with respect shall be honored.
Finally, well informed and serious travelers must bear in mind at every moment that they can only profit from a trip according to their degree of compliance and the amount of care they personally put into it. Similarly, they have to constantly assume the role of travelers who accept challenges and totally disregard the role of tourists who compare what they see with what they invariably notice in the surroundings of their place of provenance.It was precisely conscious of all these norms that I made my most recent cruise through South America to enjoy its extraordinary beauty, its mysterious origins, its abundant fauna and delightful flora.
“I am the Albatross that waits for you
at the bottom of the earth.
I am the forgotten soul
of the death sailors
who crossed Cape Horn
from all seas of the world.
But they did not die
in the furious waves.
Today, they fly in my wings
in the last trough
of the Antarctic winds.
Sara Vial, 1992
This quotation of Chilean teacher and poet Sara Vial, who in 1955 met Pablo Neruda in Viña del Mar, Chile, faithfully conveys a glimmer of the majestic feeling of gravity and solemnity of the passengers that encircle Cape Horn. It also reflects accurately the sense of importance and seriousness that assumed, at least for me, the cruise that my wife Lucille and I made through South America during the second half of February and the beginning of March of 2003. It was, above all, a memorable cruise that deeply affected me for its historical and cultural meaning, for the frantic and radicalized world atmosphere of the moment and for the peace and spiritual joy that I experienced in the Norwegian Dream liner.
Such an evaluation of that instructive cruise is inevitable if a serious analysis is made of the circumstances that conditioned its realization. We lived through a truly moving moment when we stopped to contemplate, from the liner anchored in high seas, Cape Horn where 149 shipwrecks have been registered from 1643 to 1990. On the other hand, agitated protestors, enraged by the possible war in Iraq seemed to compete to fill the streets of cities throughout the world. Furthermore, and for the first time in my cruises, I was able to find spiritual refuge attending daily mass, I managed to enlist in an excursion completely conducted in Spanish by a Spanish lady from Barcelona and felt encouraged to take classes in Argentine tango taught by the married couple Miró, Christian from Buenos Aires, Argentina and María from Madrid, Spain. The effectiveness of the trip was also influenced, as will be evident later on, by the erratic climate, lack of good transportation and, at times, though seldom, poor preparation of guides that occasionally turned out to be practicing students.SANTIAGO, CHILE
Our traveling date from Los Angeles via LANCHILE was February 15, 2003. In spite of arriving at the airport almost three hours before departure, the waiting line to pass security checks was so immensely long that, had it not been for a lady in a wheelchair who claimed us as her family in order to go through a very special line (though we were only acquaintances), the airplane would have perhaps left without us. Waiting already inside were some of our friends from NORGEN who had also accompanied us in the Alaska cruise already described in my book Odyssey Resumed.
We left Los Angeles in the afternoon. We made a one-hour-and-a-half stop in Lima, Peru. The lighting of the Peruvian capital could be seen from the plane as a huge tapestry of stars. It just presented to the onlooker an impressive view of cosmogony. During that short stay we could not leave the airport, but we had the opportunity of doing some shopping. In a store that showed some articles that interested us, we had to wake up the clerk who seemed to be enjoying a very pleasant dream. Thank God that there are still some honest people in this world: anyone could have stolen his items for sale without him noticing a thing…
Less than four hours later, we landed in the Chilean capital of Santiago early in the morning and were taken to the Sheraton Santiago Hotel, surrounded by beautiful gardens, luxuriant vegetation and a delightful view of Andean peaks covered with snow. We had over six hours to gloat on a good breakfast and wait for the departure to Valparaíso where we would embark for the cruise. During that hanging around period, walking the hotel surroundings, I stumbled unto the Metropolitan Park of Santiago from where the visitor can relish a privileged view of the city.
With a 712 hectares surface, which includes the Chacarillas, Pirámide, San Cristóbal peaks and Bosque Santiago, the Metropolitan Park is the biggest urban park in all of Chile and one of the biggest in the world. Until the beginning of the 20th century, those peaks were rocky places, devoid of any vegetation. Fortunately, in 1917, a law passed allowed the creation of a public park in that location under the auspices of the Ministry of Housing and Urbanism.
Since then, the park has undergone a truly remarkable development. Nowadays, a funicular takes the visitor to the entertainment center of the park during the season from November to March. There, one can find the Mapulemu Botanical Garden, the huge Tupahue and Antilén swimming pools, a beautiful green area with great distribution of Chilean flora and numerous picnic areas, which the Chileans call “implementadas”, where families can go picnicking or on excursions. It is just an exquisite location.
The panoramic visit of Santiago took place by bus on our way to Valparaíso, one and a half hour from the capital. Though very sparing in explanations, the guide uttered a few somewhat interesting statistics, some of them very well known around the world. It is common knowledge that Chile is the longest and narrowest country in the Americas. It consists of approximately 2600 miles in length and an average of 11 miles in width. All through its territory contrasts abound: the Atacama dessert in the North, a fertile orchard in the center, and virgin forests, lakes, volcanoes and snow-capped mountains in the South. This shows very unique landscapes as is the case of the majestic Andes range. It also implies great challenges to resolve successfully monumental problems in telecommunication and land transit. On the other hand, Chile is divided into 13 regions, of which Santiago is the Metropolitan Region. With its seven million inhabitants, Santiago is the political capital of the country, in spite of the fact that the Congress resides in Valparaíso.
What stands out in the run through the city is the remarkable amount of construction work in progress. Though the edifices being built are many, what impresses most is the configuration of a freeway under the main course of water supply. It was scheduled to be finished in 2005. However, there is little heavy industry which, according to the guide, is found further south, particularly in Concepción.
Of special interest to the traveler on the way to Valparaíso from Santiago is the serene and appeasing open space along Ruta 68, a four-lane modern highway, two in each direction. Other than the two tunnels that must be crossed, one and a quarter mile long the first and half a mile the other, the panorama is ornamented with lush and delightful vineyards. I felt that I was traveling through Tuscany in Italy or El Bierzo in Spain.
A very peculiar detail catches the eyes of the tourist. To lessen or to blot out air pollution in one of the villages, they have started building, at the lower slopes of the hill, houses that have a very peculiar characteristic, asserts the guide: “all of them have been built in colonial style”.
We crossed two very beautiful valleys: the fertile and lush Valle Curacaví, which produces abundant fruit, and Valle Casa Blanca, very rich in white wines, but not in red ones. This valley owes its name to the fact that there was a very big white house where travelers used to stop to eat, sleep and change horse.We also went by a famous sanctuary erected in honor of the Immaculate Conception. Every December 8, when pilgrims come from all corners of Chile, all roads leading to it are closed to all car traffic. VALPARAÍSO, CHILE
Valparaíso constitutes, not only the port city of the same name, but also Region V of the country. In the stretch of Santiago-Valparaíso, Ruta 68, the auto-car travels alongside a forested nursery of trees that are bred there to be planted later on throughout the country. We also travel alongside Lake Peñuelas. Built between 1895 and 1900, this artificial dam supplies potable water to the upper sections of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. Both of these cities form part of the Peñuela National Reserve that belongs to the Valparaiso Region. Located about 20 miles from the port, that national reserve occupies a surface of 9,094 hectares, at an altitude of anywhere from 1078 to 1960 feet above sea level. It enjoys a pleasant average temperature of 14° Celsius (57° Fahrenheit) and a medium precipitation of 520 mm. (20 inches) annually. Amidst a very rich fauna of mammals, fowl and fish, as well as a diverse flora of introduced trees such as pines and eucalyptus, and native trees as “quillay’ (soapbark tree) and “litre” (of the terebinth tree family), the Peñuelas National Reserve enjoys a lay-out of 14 picnic areas with bench-tables, fireplaces and trash disposals.
The city of Valparaíso itself sits on the hills as the oldest city in Chile. Today, it has a population of about 700,000 inhabitants and has become the most active port of the country. What most impresses the tourist is the view of its houses, packaged among its 32 hills, seemingly without motive or cause, without noticeable architectural sense or detail of any particular order. Before such a spectacular environmental atypical disorder, the visitor cannot help but marvel and ask, somewhat confused: “How can those people get to their houses?” The landscape is so incredible that even those of us who have seen the scenery of San Francisco of California become stunned.
Proceeding from Santiago, we enter the city through Avenida Argentina, a wide and crowded street, so named to honor Juan Bautista Alberti, one of those who initiated and promoted the writing of the Argentine constitution who first retired to Valparaíso, until he finally moved to Paris, France, where he died.
Another surprise that intrigues the tourist is a statue dedicated to San Juan Bosco, founder of the Order of the Christian Brothers in Turin, Italy, as readers of my Odyssey to Opportunity may remember when I describe my studies in Grugliasco, in the outskirts of that great Italian city. Similarly, the visitor is surprised by a flee market, like Madrid’s “Rastro”, but much more similar to the open market of Calais, France, which I delineate in my Odyssey Fulfilled.
PUERTO MONTT, CHILE
This was our second cruise after September 11, 2001. The boarding in Valparaíso turned out to be fast and much easier than I had ever imagined. New security measures had already been implemented. For the first time, all passengers had to notify the civil authorities, before boarding, of their participation in the cruise. This new requirement does not impose any sacrifice, improves the security system and also accelerates the boarding process. No complaints were heard from passengers, but praises were rather common.
At six in the afternoon, then, the Norwegian Dream sailed towards Puerto Montt, the first port of call, known for its lakes and volcanoes. It belongs to Region X – Los Lagos publicized to the tourists as a “naturally wild paradise, immersed between Andean peaks where the spirit of southern Chile lives”. Furthermore, it represents the door to Patagonia. The sea was quite stormy due to the gusty and cold Antarctic winds. Still, we could sleep well.
The port is a big bay of calm waters, protected by mountains of the Tenglo Island, a narrow and rocky coast. Founded in 1853 by Vicente Pérez Rosales with the help of German immigrants who had come to settle in the surroundings of Lake Llanquihue, Puerto Montt served for many years as a “support town” in the colonizing effort. Nowadays, it is the capital of “Región de los Lagos”, has a population of more than 84,000 inhabitants and enjoys a remarkable development that rests on some thirty salmon hatcheries, a vigorous forestry, fishing industries and companies of local service.
Being a very rainy place, the climate is affected by a precipitation of an average of 225 days annually, which produces a landscape truly worthy of contemplation that brings enchantment and repose. I had already become aware of that delight and calmness through a video that I used to show to my civilization and culture students. However, now I could feel it and see it personally as self-evident. Nevertheless, at the present time, serious problems of circulation disturb that tranquility. Due to the good economy of the region, many people rush to live there. The fleet of cars grows and the number of streets remains the same. Many black cars can be seen that resemble taxicabs. In reality, though, they form part of the public transportation system.
Before proceeding to the chosen excursions, we took a panoramic tour of the city, during which we traveled along the coastal avenue, similar to the Havana and Santo Domingo dykes. The guide would point out places of interest and narrate something about their historic importance to the locality. That is how we stumbled into a market of local arts and crafts where we could value, for instance, sweaters made of alpaca wool. We also drove by the “Museo del Papa” (Pope Museum), founded in 1986 to celebrate and commemorate the Holy Father’s arrival in Latin America. We were also made aware of some of the peculiarities of the Cathedral, built in neoclassic style in 1856. It stands as the oldest building of the city. After the 1960 earthquake, its façade was rebuilt with wood. Though it still preserves a strong classic look, its dome was modified to Byzantine style. The guide called our attention to La Escuela San José, one of the best schools in the country. It is a free Catholic school for girls up to the sixth grade.
All houses are made of “larce”, which is the most commonly used wood, typical to the region. It is worth noticing that each house differs from the other by their painted roofs in many and diverse colors. Roofs of houses are painted due to the climate, which is to say to the abundant rains. Citizens can become owners of their house either by following a private process or availing themselves of the help of the government to acquire living quarters. They save one thousand dollars and apply to obtain their own home. This public process can take up to two or more years. Then, they pay monthly, until they finish paying their house.
Exiting Puerto Montt for the various excursions, a big surface can be observed sprinkled with somewhat attractive green round shrubs called “chacais” or “ulex”. They are not native to the region and were brought by the Germans. The local people consider them a plague because of their unusual growth. They have very strong roots, flourish twice a year and produce yellow flowers.
During clear days, the Osorno volcano can be seen, in its splendor, some 8,500 feet above sea level. It can be reached by traveling through a stunningly beautiful landscape along Lake Llanquihue, the biggest in Chile, a clean and cold water lake where salmon can be fished. In the olden days, the lake served as a means of communication or transportation between the surrounding villages. Nowadays it is mainly for tourists. Salmon was introduced in the region only some twenty years ago. It procreates and grows in fresh water and later develops in salty waters. It constitutes a great source of work and thus generates important income in the area. In fact, salmon is now the prime export of the region, and second in the country. It was rather surprising to hear the guide claim that Chile ranks today as the second country in the world to export salmon, second only to Norway.
This Chilean region is also rich in wood, from the pine and eucalyptus trees of its dense forests, and ranks as the second most important export of the region. Mountains of sawdust in the port reminded me vividly of Chalmers Port, at the entrance of the city of Dunedin in New Zealand, which I described in Odyssey Fulfilled.
Primarily, the surroundings of Puerto Montt form part, however, of a land of volcanoes (50 volcanoes can be counted), of lakes and of very thick vegetation. In light of these details, I selected an excursion that would fill my intense desire of getting imbued by that environment. For the first time in all my cruises, I chose an excursion completely conducted in Spanish. Though she understands and speaks Spanish very well, my wife Lucille chose to accompany our good friend Amante in her excursion in English.
All that I have just described is found on the way to the Petrohué waterfalls and to Lake Todos los Santos (All Saints), better known as Lago Esmeralda (Lake Emerald) because of the vivid green-blue color of its waters, which accentuates in intensity according to the sun’s light reflected upon them. Once at the lake, we boarded a “catamaran” (like a ferry) to enjoy the beautiful landscape of forests of a fascinating blend of native trees, a most delightful panorama crowned by the volcanoes Osorno, Puntiagudo and Tronador, which that day were covered with snow. It is good to bear in mind that, with its 10,900 feet above sea level, Tronador is the highest peak in the region. It was a marvelous cruise of some 45 minutes in the tranquil waters of that lake, considered as one of the most beautiful in the world. In spite of experiencing a little bit of cold at times, it was nothing that a good cup of hot coffee could not cure.
In that same lake, and in the shape of a delightful narrow beach, the Petrohué River initiates its course. We later visited a charming waterfall in a locality of the same name where waters flow between unique formations of volcanic rocks and lava.
Petrohué means “place of the petro”, a small insect that stings like a grey fly. However, what must worry the tourist while visiting the Petrohué Waterfalls is not so much the itching of that little insect, but rather the danger that the uneven road leading to the cascades represents, for it is partly slippery and always very crowded. Walking with extreme care, the visitor reaches the leaping places of the river. They bear some similarities with the “Bufadora” (the Puffing) of Ensenada, Mexico, already described in Odyssey Fulfilled. In these cascades, however, the foam does not “jump” up, but rather falls. Besides, in Petrohué, the rocks are volcanic.
On our way back to the port, we stopped at picturesque villa of Puerto Varas, known as “the City of Roses” for the many and varied rose-bushes that decorate its colorful surroundings on the shores of Lake Llanquihue. Moreover, it can proudly show eight houses declared “Monumento Nacional” (National Monument). Founded in 1854, that pleasant and attractive German colony bears the name of Antonio Varas, one of President Manuel Montt’s ministers. It has 54,000 inhabitants and a university. Due to the increasing demand in housing, it has become a satellite community of Puerto Montt. Through it passes the Carretera Panoamericana, an approximately 14,000 miles long highway that stretches from Alaska to about 150 miles south of Puerto Montt.
We also crossed through Chiloé, a native community where descendants of the “Huiliches”, still conserve local customs and traditions. They dedicate themselves to fishing and agriculture, and manufacture the best arts and crafts of the region.CHACABUCO, CHILE
With a little bit of professorial nostalgia, I prepared myself mentally to bid farewell to such a lovely corner of the world and explore, further south, the 11th Region of Chile, known also as Región Aisén del General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo. It is considered the most humid and windy territory of Patagonia. We called at Chacabuco port, which offers to tourists landscapes of spectacular natural scenery. Still virgin to the tourism of masses, it suffers the effects of a very limited tourist infrastructure: the buses have to come from a town 150 miles away and the guides that accompany the sightseers are students, anxious to share their region with visitors and make their visit memorable.
“Transhipping terminal and port for large boats”, Puerto Chacabuco is a small fishing village of about one thousand inhabitants and the entry door to the Aisén Region (from the English ice end). Packing sea products, especially trout and salmon constitutes an important industry. That charming and picturesque little town, active and flourishing as it is, can only offer basic services. It has two schools, a hospital and two restaurants that serve excellent food near the disembarkation area. Everybody knows each other and everyone seems “good and decent”, the guide informed us. The two main sources of work are fishing and the military.
The region benefits from the four seasons, at times all on the same day. It even snows in the nearby Andes around whose peaks a condor can be seen flying. It is the third largest but least inhabited region of the country: 85% of its territory is virgin land, interrupted only by some cultivated fields around the Carretera Austral (Austral Highway) between Chacabuco and Coihaique, the capital of the Aisén Region. It exhibits a garden of spectacular beauty for nature lovers and a sorrowful deception for tourists interested in historic buildings: there just aren’t any.
At about 5 miles from Chacabuco, Aisén (also written Aysén) was some time ago the Region’s capital. It has now some twenty thousand souls and lost its capital title after huge fires during the 1960 decade, which lasted ten years, since the “lenga” wood keeps the fire alive in its roots. After those fires, “originated by the colonizers to inhabit the prairies”, “great erosion resulted, which ran aground the port”. From then on, large ships anchor in Chacabuco while only fishing boats and schooners reach land in Aisén. Similarly since then, Coihaique, with a population of 50,000 has maintained the title of capital of the Region.
An excursion through delightful surroundings, with an impressive view of the Andes, took us to Reserva Nacional Río Simpson (River Simpson …) of 41, 369.5 hectares in extension. During one hour of bus riding, one could behold splendid landscapes of rivers whose transparent blue waters, at times, flow amidst deep cliffs. Other places of great scenic beauty awaken the interest and curiosity of the tourist, among them a hill, or rather a round rocky peak, which due to its shape covered with snow resembles an English muffin and is precisely named “Queque ingl´es” (English cake). Similarly, two seductive waterfalls catch the eye of the visitor: el “Salto Velo de la Novia” (The Veil of the Bride Jump) that allows tourists to walk to its edge, and “Cascada de la Virgen” (Waterfall of the Virgin) which forms a crown and a mantle of water and can only be admired from the bus. “Each February 11, people of the region come to bring flowers and candles to Our Lady of Lourdes”, commented with pride our guide, a young female student.
For travelers of an adventurous spirit, the excursion of Chacabuco and its surroundings could be very ideal. Those interested in enjoying nature, to walk in the open air and make a detailed study of nature in Patagonia can join other excursions to the “Parque Aiken del Sur” (Aiken Park of the South). The tour includes a two hour walk through the forest and shores of the river, during which sightseers can discover fascinating details of the flora and fauna of that humid and windy zone of Patagonia where there is no air pollution and people live long lives.PUNTA ARENAS, CHILE
As previously stated, Puerto Montt represents the entry door to Patagonia in Chile. In addition, its rugged and deep coast gives birth to estuaries with steep rocky shores, narrow arms of the sea or inlets that penetrate the littoral all the way to Cape Horn. Its scenery has repeatedly been compared to the beauty of the coasts of Norway, New Zealand and Alaska. Though there is, indeed, great scenic beauty, those analogies do not convince me, for those estuaries are too wide to produce the impressively dazzling natural beauty of the Norwegian fjords, the Interior Passage of Alaska or the Sounds of New Zealand. The liner anchored awhile to allow passengers to contemplate Glazier Eyer, some 150 feet deep and 3 miles long. On the other hand, we could not appreciate the awe that causes Glacier Amalia because it was dark and cloudy. The small section that could be seen of that 2.5 miles long glacier seemed impressionable. Its highest peak reaches 2500 feet in height.
In the stretch between Chacabuco and Punta Arenas, spreads one of the most courted fjords in the world by scientists and explorers in waters up to 16,000 feet deep: the small but famous and attractive Magellan Strait. That relatively limited geographic area has caught the attention of world renowned geologists and biologists. Captain James Cook crossed that strait, thus providing botanical scientists the opportunity to collect samples of aboriginal plants. Similarly, an expedition from the United States in 1829 succeeded describing the natural history of that ravishing zone. Such a description included the first known collection of stones and fossils of the region. That same year, Captain Robert Fitzroy traced the first detailed nautical maps of the strait, and three years later, in 1832, Charles Darwin accompanied him on board The Beagle as biologist “ad honorem” (without pay). Nowadays, many biologists recognize the Magellan Strait as a fault boundary that slides between the South American and Scotia litho-spherical plates.
During the trajectory of two nights and one day between Chacabuco and Punta Arenas, the sea proved to be quite violent at times, due to the winds that were furiously blowing from the South. During that same travel stretch, I met a very knowledgeable Chilean. He was Ramón del Valle Benavente (not Inclán, the renowned Spanish writer, he insisted…). Moreover, he was from Punta Arenas and very proudly informed me that Glacier Eyer, previously cited, was known by the Chileans as Glacier Pius XI in honor of the Pope of the same name. He seemed to me very well read and recommended that I entitled my new book Odyssey Dreamed. I liked that title and thought much about it, but as the reader now knows, this book bears a different title, perhaps less attractive, but more appealing to my taste.
Finally we were approaching Punta Arenas. It was Saturday, February 22. I woke up very early, went up to the upper deck to observe the city lit as Norwegian Dream accosted the port. It is surprising beyond measure, however, that after so many steep mountains on each side of the liner’s course we now reach a historic port wide open and geologically unprotected. In spite of that, Punta Arenas served, before the construction of the Panama Canal, as an important port where numerous ships concentrated before proceeding to go around Cape Horn. “Museo del Recuerdo” (Memory…) shows a picture of such an activity at the beginning of the 20th century.
Built in 1848 as a result of the move of the population of Fuerte Bulnes to Punta Arenosa, the name then given to that location, Punta Arenas suffered through a prolonged and slow coming about of almost half a century. It overcame, however, its initial development as well as its embryonic condition of a penal colony to become, after a spectacular commercial push towards the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, a well defined, prosperous and charming city. It appeared to grow frantically, and today it has a population of 120,000 inhabitants, mainly Spanish but mixed with Croatian, Italian and German communities. It is the capital of Region XII, Magellan and Chilean Antarctic Region. It has two universities: Magellan University with 7 distinct disciplines or vocational opportunities, which benefit some 4,500 students and the relatively new St. Thomas University.
Following Ramón del Valle Benavente, my new Chilean friend’s advice, I walked, very early in the morning, to the Plaza that is named “Plaza de Armas” as well as “Plaza Muñoz Gamero”. In that attractive center, shaded with beautiful conifers or canvas tent-like cypresses, I was able to contemplate and admire a great monument in Magellan’s honor, inaugurated to commemorate the fourth centennial of the discovery of the strait that bears the same name. In the olden days, the buildings that today surround the Plaza were the big mansions of the pioneers of cattle-raising. At the present time, many of them are banks or stores, except the attention catching Casa de España. The features of that fascinating city conserve the seal applied to it by the colonists that industrialized its agro-commerce and transport. Some more recent structures, such as Sara Braun’s mansion, Hotel Cabo de Hornos and other public buildings, stand out but preserve that tradition.
On my return to the ship to join the excursion that I had selected, I passed by an old edifice built in Greek style with four huge columns, dilapidated by the winds and the humidity emanating from the ocean. It houses the offices of the “Confederación Deportiva de Magallanes”: athletics, basketball, boxing, cycling, football soccer and other sports.
Several excursions originate in Punta Arenas. Those that depart for Parque Nacional Torres del Paine use Cessna aircrafts of five to six passengers. That excursion, which takes 40 to 45 minutes to reach its destination, almost always experiences turbulence and, at times though rarely, severe climatic conditions cause its cancellation. Those of us who have seen videos of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine know that the 181,414 hectares area of wild life, spectacular landscapes, icy fields and sharp-pointed mountains excels as one of the places with marvelous views most admired in the world.
On the other hand, the excursion to the Antarctica Peninsula becomes more difficult and arduous. In general, the main purpose of Antarctic tourism is to enjoy the landscape and marine life. The tours are more regulated and controlled due to the Antarctic Treaty signed in 1959 by 12 countries, among them Argentina, Chile, the United States, South Africa and New Zealand. For that four hour flight expedition, a Boeing 737 is used to carry 60 passengers only, since the aisle seats cannot be utilized. Many passengers who have participated in that Antarctic flight talk about it as stunning and spectacular and that it gave them “goose-flesh”. It is a place of extremes: “beautiful and serene, wild and violent”. White color dominates the panorama. Ice and snow prevail everywhere. “One does not need to be a great poet… to be seduced by white infinity”.
Frankly, I would have liked to be the author of those quotations, so imaginative, so succinct and exact. Nevertheless, that has not been my reality this time, for I chose, rather, to be imbued with the spirit of that peculiar city by visiting the best of Punta Arenas in a four hour tour. After crossing “Plaza de Armas”, we then traveled to “Cerro la Cruz” (Hill of the Cross) from where we could contemplate a delightful panoramic view of the city, the port, the Strait of Magellan and the legendary “Tierra del Fuego” (Land of Fire).
A must visit, however short, is Punta Arenas cemetery. It is most remarkable for its gardens confined behind straight lines of very green and well kept tall cypresses, between which stand imposing, towering, splendid mausoleums of pioneer families, which have been erected as true homes. Some of those exhibit the onionshaped cusps of Russian or Turkish churches. A ponderous and formal engraved copper-plate marks the place where lay the remains of the last of the aboriginal Onas, extinct race of Tierra del Fuego. Open in 1894, its impressive portico of entry was donated by the eccentric and well known Sara Braun, of Russian origin. This cemetery is frequently compared to the “La Recoleta” cemetery of Buenos Aires, Argentina, with the difference that it exhibits many more attractive trees than the latter.
Not very far from the cemetery, is found “El Instituto de la Patagonia”, which investigates the history and resources of the region. The gardens of its enclosure exhibit “El Museo del Recuerdo” (Museum of Remembrance) that evokes for the visitor a vivid image of the agricultural life in Punta Arenas and Tierra del Fuego during the second half of the 19th century when they produced potatoes, carrots, onions, lettuce and white cabbage. It contains a collection of old carriages and machinery, a maritime pavilion, two houses, a bakery, books and other printed materials from that era.
We visited the Maggiorino Borgatello Museum, impressive for its ethnographic collection of the various ethnicities that inhabited Patagonia, especially the Alacapulan Indians of small stature who lived naked. Moreover, detailed collections of the fauna catch the visitor’s attention, as well as accumulation of samples of mineralogy, Antarctic and the Salesian missions that Monsignor José Fagnano Vero conducted through Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands. The museum belongs to the Salesians who still maintain it. It contains much information of great interest, but in my view, it needs more space and better organization. That precious museum caught my close attention and awakened my curiosity, for it vividly reminded me of my stay as a Marist student in Turin, Italy, where several times I visited the cradle of the Salesian Order founded by San Juan Bosco.
Punta Arenas is a city that publicly recognizes citizens who have distinguished themselves by their service to the community. It is truly a city of commemorative monuments, many of them along Avenida Bulnes. Many monuments are seen in a huge stretch of gardens. “El Ovejero” (the Shepherd) stands out. It is a sculpture that represents a figure on horseback, conjoined with a dog and a flock of sheep. It commemorates the First Centennial of the occupation of the Strait of Magellan.
It is most fitting to point out here that Punta Arenas stands out as one of the windiest cities in the world. At times, its winds reach 90 miles an hour. Because of this, there are no tall buildings, and, due to the rains, the roofs of the houses are kept painted in various colors as with the houses in Puerto Montt. Weather temperatures are not at all comfortable: in the summer they oscillate between 48° and 59° F and between 29° and 10°F in winter.
On the other hand, economic development represents a vigorous struggle against penury, against leanness and against pain in that unique confine of the world. In an environment that appears naturally rough at first sight, Punta Arenas has become a pleasant modern city, palpitating with creative life, whose economy is cemented in the cattle trade, production of petroleum, fishing, coal mining and its more recent petrochemical industries. This impressive economic development, together with a great agro determination, represents, in my opinion, a challenge to the impossible and a constant quarrel against the desire to exist. Therefore, its history merits a succinct introduction to chronicles of praise.
In 1876, Punta Arenas initiated its cattle economy by importing 300 sheep from the Falkland Islands. The importance of sheep grew and, within five years, 172 steamboats and 36 whale schooners reached its port. Subsequently in 1910, waves of sail-makers migrated to settle there. The city could already count on young men who would become pioneers in cattle-raising, owners of trade houses, hotels and touched by gold fever. After the First World War, huge cattle societies were formed as well as slaughter houses and refrigerators. Several shipping companies extended their trade throughout Patagonia. The discovery of petroleum in Tierra del Fuego in 1945, changed the face, not only of the region, but also of the city, which became in fact “the administrative and residential center for it operation”. Years later, in the 1970’s, the fishing industry began to appear. Still later, in 1987, the city initiated the exploitation of its coal. One year after, a methanol plant was established and became the base of a huge petrochemical complex.
The surroundings of the Strait of Magellan initiate a new phase of the cruise: penguin colonies enter the picture. Two of them stand out, and in both of them, tourists can observe the Magellan Penguin. In the penguin colony of “Isla Magdalena”, in a protected wild area 21 miles north of Punta Arenas, more than sixty thousand pairs of those “Magellan birds” (phenicus Magellanicus) can be seen. They have excavated a great number of nests where they laid their eggs of reproduction. The “Seno Otway” penguin colony, which attracts most passenger lovers of those birds, is located some 42 miles northeast of Punta Arenas and spreads one and a half miles along the coast. Nowadays, that penguin colony can count some three thousand seven hundred pairs of very timid Magellan penguins that reach 27 inches in height. In an approximately two and a half miles walk, visitors must walk on quite uneven and densely populated terrain and take good care not to step on the numerous nests where penguins live.PENGUINS BY HEAPS
Some readers, perhaps not many, may ask: “What are those famous penguins?” I do not pretend to be an expert on those biped creatures. My interest in them was stimulated by the enormous amount of curiosity that they awake in cruise passengers. It seems that many of those tourists make the trip only to contemplate them in the cruiser’s port calls.
With a robust body build, in addition to a compact and impenetrable plumage, penguins are in reality birds that are disabled to fly and well adapted to aquatic life. Simply put, their wings have been transmuted into “small swimming wings”, making the penguin a matchless swimmer that crosses the waters in a horizontal position, impelled by the wings, which become its “beating propellers”. Thus, it swims like a fish in search of food, be it krill, octopus, squid, sardines or a variety of mackerels. Nevertheless, every three or four minutes, it jumps to the surface like a dolphin to restore its air supply. While on land, however, the penguin walks erect on the tip of its feet. The adult birds measure anywhere from 20 to 40 inches long and acquire from 12 to 20 pounds in weight.
There are 17 known species of penguins spread throughout the Southern Hemisphere. Chile nests nine species, among them the Emperor, the King, the Magellan, the Humboldt and the Antarctic. Though the large majority of those birds have grey eyes, there are also some with yellow eyes like those in the Penguin Beach of Dunedin, New Zealand; some with red eyes in Ushuaia, Argentina, and a white eyed Adelia variety in the Antarctic Archipelago. Similarly, the plumage of the penguin is usually white with black or grey on the back. Nevertheless, there are some that show a different coloration. That is the case, for instance, with the King penguin in the Oamaru Colony of Blue Penguins in Dunedin, New Zealand, of which I wrote in my Odyssey Fulfilled. However, as a general rule, along the coasts of Patagonia, penguins, usually Magellan, show off as “small birds of black shoulders and white breasts”, which could evoke, when together, “the image of gentlemen in tuxedo.”
During the nesting period, which in Patagonia takes place in Spring and Summer (from September to March in the Southern Hemisphere), these aquatic birds abandon their marine life and migrate swimming in order to take possession of large sections of coastal slanting beaches that will provide them with indispensable fishing incursions into the sea. They settle in their nests, which they excavate in preferably clay terrain. Males and females initiate their courting and also a period of “jealousy”. The process of settling in the colony is quite noisy and the rivalry between males can last a long time. The “amorous” emulation between males does not represent the only source of fighting. At times, tough and loud quarrels result from thefts and proximity of nests, but always between males. Close to her companion, the female waits for the end result of the contest. Some females reach the colony already impregnated and others become so while settling in their new habitat. Male and female unite their beaks frequently at the same time that they rhythmically rock their bodies. The female lays one or two eggs, very seldom three. If more than three eggs are found in a nest, it is a question then of theft or adoption. The birth of young pigeons begins to be noticed in the colony some sixty days, more or less, after the arrival of the first group. The features of the colony, too, begin to evidence changes: according to the guides, curious scenes of protection and feeding can be observed. This latter process can result repugnant to human sensibilities.
Penguins consecrate many years to their consort and are more faithful, as well as more jealous than men, maintain the guides. Males and females share more or less equally the tasks of the habitat: initial excavation of the nest, the incubation of the eggs and the raising of the young pigeons. They dedicate much time of the year to reproduction and have to constantly defend themselves from their predators: the marine leopard and giant petrel. They also have to defend their young ones from the grey gavotte, and the eggs of their nests from the cook gavotte, the austral gavotte or the Antarctic dove.
At the start of autumn, the month of March in the Southern hemisphere, penguins migrate swimming toward their marine life, of which very little is known. On its return to the sea, the Magellan penguin has been observed taking two divergent directions: one toward the Antarctic waters of the South and the other to the North, toward Río de la Plata and the coasts of Uruguay and Brazil. Once in their new habitat, they have been watched in big groups, asserts Centro Editor de América Latina, S.A., “swimming in small fleets, jumping at times in the water like dolphins or floating like ducks while greasing their plumage with their beak, or reclining on water on their back in a placid horizontal suspension”.
Before abandoning this fascinating world of the penguins, I would like to relate some anecdotes on the intense and long reproductive activity of these attractive birds. Tourist guides say that in some species, specially the Emperor, when the epoch for nesting arrives, the male migrates two weeks before to prepare the shelter where they are going to live and procreate. When the female comes, the nest is already in order. The first thing they do is make love, “penguin style”. Soon, the female lays the egg or eggs and then she leaves in search of food, while the male takes care of the incubation and waits, patiently and without food, for the return of his female companion, even if she delays one month or longer. When the female does not appear or dies, the male spends the rest of his life crying for her. On the other hand, if the male dies, the female looks for another companion… This is an interesting, but curious detail, I dare say. Is it male stupidity or intelligence and the reproductive instinct of the female…? “Who knows, Lord!”USHUAIA, ARGENTINA
I wanted to digress a little here so as not to have to repeat the penguin theme each time we encounter them. In the next pages, only short and concise reference to those birds will be made when necessary, for, during the cruise, we had the opportunity to visit penguin colonies in Ushuaia where it is fascinating to contemplate their red eyes and beaks, in the Falkland Islands five hundred pairs of King penguins and half a million pairs of other species make their nests, and in Punta Tombo of Puerto Madryn, Argentina, where almost one million pairs of those aquatic birds establish their colony.
We bade farewell, then, to Punta Arenas, and sailed towards Ushuaia, Argentina. We crossed the beautiful and enchanting Beagle Channel region. This sort of fjord, beautified with a series of glaciers that crown its mountains, runs through Tierra del Fuego in a stretch of approximately 130 miles. Among those snow caps, one stands out seeming to hang and to disjoin, covered with snow, however, without showing any active calving. Nevertheless, the traveling through the Channel exhibits before the visitor an impressive and delightful contrast of colors.
A curious detail about the Beagle Channel is that the English naturalist, Charles Darwin, made its first description known, when he accurately wrote on January 15, 1833, according to the information provided by the cruise: “This channel… is a most remarkable feature in the geography of this, or indeed of any other country; it may be compared to the valley of Loch Ness in Scotland, with its chain of lakes and firths… and throughout the greater part so perfectly straight, that the view, bounded on each side by a line of mountains, gradually becomes indistinct in the lost distance.” That is indeed a very perspicacious and opportune description, of which passengers become aware and it is read on the loud-speaker while the ship mildly slides the tranquil waters of that picturesque natural channel.
South America ends at Tierra del Fuego. This southern triangular island stretches so far south to the Magellan Strait that it still fondly shows features of a frontier culture. Its capital, Ushuaia, embodies the social and political magic of the farthest away region in the world. Legend has it that, when Magellan explored in 1520 the Strait that today bears his name, he became perplexed by “the fumaroles that stood out on its shores” and by the fact that the Selk’man (Onas) Indians maintained constantly lit. For that reason, that zone was given the name “Tierra de los Fuegos” or “de los Humos”(smokes). Years later, Charles V, King of Spain, modified that denomination to Tierra del Fuego, determining that the smoke must have come from tinder-box or fires.
We finally anchored in Ushuaia, an intriguing city of fifty thousand inhabitants, some 600 miles from Antarctic and 1800 miles from Buenos Aires. Before arriving to that locality, the Andes ran from North to South. There, where the Martial Glacier spreads in all its glory, the Andes extend from West to East. In this regional capital, weather cannot be predicted. It is very diverse and tends to change from day to day. It could even be said that, like in Chacabuco, the four seasons of the year can be felt in the same day. In reality, it has no summer, since its normal temperature is 50°F and in winter 32°F or less. Flights depart from its small Malvinas International Airport, not only for Antarctica, but also for other Argentine or Chilean cities. From its commercial port, many fishing excursions and small tourist embarkations depart, as well, for Antarctica and Cape Horn.
In its short existence of a little more than 100 years, Ushuaia has threaded a rich and varied cultural history of very distinct characteristics. In 1871, the Reverend Thomas Bridges settled an Anglican mission in Ushuaia. Jealous of the sovereignty of that zone, only 12 miles from the Chilean border, Argentina raised on high, for the first time, in 1884, “the national colors of an Argentine institution”. Since then, the national government has persisted in achieving and securing definitive real estate to populate the locality and has dedicated large amounts of funds and much institutional energy to reach that goal. Towards that end, it tried several times to install a presidium in the regional archipelago, until finally in 1992 it was moved to the outskirts of Ushuaia. Though in 1947 the national government decided to eliminate the prison, visitors can still observe today the building that sheltered common, military and even political prisoners of the country. In that sense, Ushuaia followed the model of Punta Arenas, Chile, whose presidium also sheltered national prisoners. Having visited some English colonies, such as New Zealand and Australia, where the English set up presidiums for prisoners imported from England with the purpose of relieving congestion in their own jails, I cannot ignore the contrast of the Spanish colonies where prisons were installed for local convicts, not for prisoners brought from Spain in order to lighten the burden of her own jails back home.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Ushuaia experienced the arrival of several Croatian families. Instead of settling in Punta Arenas as did many of their compatriots, some Croatians decided to buy real estate in this small Argentine village. Then, in 1913, some Spanish families sailed from Spain “with a full factory to can sardines”. Some Spaniards returned to their country, but others remained in Ushuaia. On the other hand, in 1948 a contingent of Italians arrived to build housing. As the Spaniards did earlier, some Italians left as they finished their tasks, but others remained to live there. That same year, quite a few Chilean families began to settle in that attractive town. Furthermore, the Law of Industrial Promotion of the 70’s, encouraged a great number of Argentines to look for jobs and accumulate savings in this growing town, which by law did not have to pay taxes. So it happened that, little by little, the pioneers, known today as “the old founders” who came from various parts of Argentina and the world, started to settle in that city.
To effectively immerse oneself into the past of that striving city, the tourist traveler has only to visit the Museo del Fin del Mundo (End of the World Museum), the Ex Presidium, which also houses the Museo Marítimo, to examine its streets and its stores, to be present at some of its artistic shows, even in the open air near the port, penetrate its forests, climb its mountains and contemplate the waters of its crystalline rivers. Visitors will definitely be delighted by its origin, its people, its music, its arts and crafts, its surrounding nature and its delicious gastronomy (especially suckling lamb, or various black cod dishes or marine spider-crab). To know the short but rich history of that village, which soon became a town and then a city, is indeed to reach the end of the world, but also the beginning of a fascinating adventure.
The excursion that my wife and I selected took us first by bus to the Tierra del Fuego National Park and then to “the End of the World” by train. On our way to the National Park, we stopped to see a “gaucho” folklore show while tasting little meat pies and some other delicious local goodies. It was a very entertaining and educational presentation. I suppose that experience captivated me, perhaps, much more than the other tourists, for among the artists, there were two youngsters, brother and sister, from Rosario, Argentina, where my most beloved and remembered mother was born.
We were informed that, in fact, there are no more “gauchos” in Argentina. Nowadays, they are called “paisanos” (fellow countrymen). “Gauchos” were nomads and their land had neither limits nor borders. Now, however, the “paisano” stays in the same place and his land has boundaries and is confined.
After that pleasant experience, we arrived happily satisfied at Tierra del Fuego National Park, created in 1960 to protect the sub Antarctic forestry. In very remote times, that park was covered with glaciers. Presently, it is overlaid with beautiful trees of shallow roots with little depth. Though forests of local “lenga” and “guindo” wood prevail, what caught my attention was the “calafate” (caulker), a thorny shrub that produces a small violet bluish fruit which enjoys the legend that “whoever eats calafate returns for more”. Along the road which led us to the beautiful Ensenada Bay, trees could be seen, naturally decorated with false hanging mistletoes, described thus by the guide because they only appear to be so. From a look-out point in the bay, the sight-seer could observe the Isla Redonda (Round Island), the Isla Estorbo (Impediment or Nuisance Island), and several mountains. A very diverse fowl fauna is abundant. It is easy to observe along the coasts “southern oysters”, “white mackerels”, the “dark eye-brow albatross”, the “diver petrel” and the “steamer duck”. Besides, tourists can also find, as a peculiar race of the region, the mammalian “gawk” and the “colored fox”. One can also find there, introduced to the region, species such as the rabbit and the “Canadian beaver”, which is very hated because it causes much environmental damage by felling trees in order to build its dykes, thus provoking inundations that cause the death of many trees by drowning.
The moment came to go to the Platform of the National Park Railway Station and take with the trepidation that its name suggests, the so-called Train to the End of the World. That austral railway from Tierra del Fuego attracts the curiosity of the visitor because of its relation to the Ushuaia development, more so than by its slow run through almost desolate lands. It crossed territory where the convicts tried to redeem themselves from their crimes with forced labor. They cut wood in a near-by forest and loaded it in the train to transport it to the city in full development. That same train would take them in the morning to the place of work and would take them back to prison in the evening. Guides relate for the sightseers that the topography of the environment they are seeing continues to be the same as it was observed in 1903. The day of our visit figures in history as one of the best as far as climate goes. We did not have to get off the train on account of weather roughness, or ground unevenness, or snow or ice. At the end of a fifty minutes trajectory at a speed equaling almost that of a green turtle that causes wonder, not only for its name, but also for its panoramic view, we got off the train at the End of the World Railroad Station of surprising scenic beauty.
One of the many pamphlets, which the Argentinean Office of Tourism distributes free of charge to whoever drops by, warns that tourists “will not be able to affirm that they have known this far away corner of the earth planet without having experienced its nature and its culture”. It was precisely to that end that I dedicated my short visit to that picturesque and attractive city. I was fascinated by the etymological origin of its name, for in “Yamana” language, Ushuaia means “Bay that penetrates towards the West”. Some tourist pamphlets promote it as a place “where imagination is born”. As for me, it turned out to be a very delightful place for its esthetically attractive natural features and the welcoming and friendly disposition of its people.
While I walked through San Martín main street and the embankment thoroughfare that is Avenida Maipú, I wondered to myself in the euphoria of the moment: “What else could anyone wish to live a tranquil life, far from the “worldly noise”, as Fray Luis de León wrote longtime ago, away from international intrigues that so intensely preoccupy our modern society?” However, now that I am living once again the reality that habitually surrounds me, I do confess to share, partly, the feeling that my poet friend Héctor Blanco Terán conveyed to me after he received some postcards that I sent to him from that city with the inscription “the End of the World”. He wrote to me: “Ushuaia is truly very beautiful, but if I get lost, let no one look for me there.” It seems to me that Héctor expressed faithfully the feeling of many who visit that most remote corner of the world. Certainly, a prolonged stay to live in Ushuaia may not command great appeal, but a visit, no matter how short, will surely delight the sightseer.CAPE HORN, CHILEAN TERRITORY
Up to the most recent history of the twentieth century, the mere mention of the words “Cape Horn” caused shivers with horror in the experienced and valiant sailors as much as in many curious and avid readers of travel narratives. Both groups knew that the world as known in the map ended there and that there also died many who, dreading the rough and unsavory passages of the Magellan Strait were playing with their lives daring the very dreadful heroic feat of “doubling the Cape”.
Almost bewitched by the fascination of the paradise-like Ushuaian landscape, I made it a point to read something about that famous austral small barren island, renowned and feared extreme boundary of the world which the Dutch named “Hoorn”. In that promontory of hostile climate and flagellated by hurricanes, lived, in the nineteenth century, one hundred or so Indians, considered the most primitive on planet earth. They were the last survivors of the obscure “Yamana” tribe, which is nowadays extinct.
It did not take me long to image the ship anchored in the center of confluence of the frequently turbulent and agitated waters of the three oceans which encircle that environment: the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Antarctic. To discover that it was precisely in those surroundings so inhospitable that 149 shipwrecks were registered from 1643 when Orangie Boom sank until 1990 when Oceanus 7° suffered shipwreck, that in itself stimulates terror and decrees solemnity. I wondered, then, grieved and anguished “how many more ships have disappeared in these mischievous and treacherous waters?”
It was in that state of anxiety and mental curiosity that I went up to deck 12 of the Norwegian Dream, very early Monday morning, the 24th of February 2003, to behold the surroundings of that hostile Antarctic headland, especially the promontory itself, and participate in a commemorative ceremony while we were “doubling the Cape”. Mindful of that history, the passage of our ship through that tragically historical place became overwhelmingly intriguing to me.
Following the tradition of the cruiser, a great number of passengers defied the strong icy wind that resounded through the zone and reported shivering to the upper deck where we were provided with a Viking hat and were “baptized” with the gelid water of Cape Horn poured over the hat. Many maintained themselves warm drinking Glog Wine, which is hot Norwegian wine.
The ship turned around to navigate through the Cape twice. The second time it anchored for over half an hour in front of the promontory so that we could better observe the rock and the monument that was built at the edge of the Cape in memory of the sailors who lost their lives there. To that end, in an impacting ceremony charged with emotion, the Captain sounded the ship’s horn three times, asked for a minute of silence and prayer. He then ordered the reading on the loud speaker of the English, Spanish and German versions of the poem that Chilean poet Sara Vial wrote at the end of the last century and that now is inscribed in a memorial erected in 1992, which could barely be noticed from the cruiser. Thus reads the English version of that poem:
“I am the Albatross that waits for you
at the bottom of the earth.
I am the forgotten soul
of the dead sailors
who crossed Cape Horn
from all seas of the world.
But they did not die
in the furious waves.
Today, they fly in my wings
in the last trough
of the Antarctic winds.
Though this literary composition begins this chapter, I wanted to reproduce it here so that readers can experience with me the solemnity of the moment, without having to interrupt it by turning back the pages to read it again.
I hope, dear reader, that in spite of the deficiencies of my narrative, you can feel, even slightly, the gravity and solemnity of that moment. To navigate through Cape Horn and be able to relive the memory of so many lives lost in those very waters, is impressive, majestic and respectfully grandiose. Unfortunately, I cannot find adequate words to describe that sensation, so unique and unimaginable. I felt very close to God… as if in that windy and frigid environment, a divine blanket had covered the deepest part of my heart with warmth. Sincerely indescribable!A good and great friend sent me the following message, which, with his permission, I reproduce here:
“I received your e-mail and have read your plain and precise description of Cape Horn. It is impacting as you say. No matter how much you read and reread its history or the tale of some old sailor, the impression that produces on the visitor overtakes and stirs the emotions, perhaps because of that, for its history and its legend have been written upon the silence of all those sailors and navigators who perished in those tumultuous waters.As you well know, when something makes an impact on me, I cannot but reflect it in a poem. Let, then, go in a sonnet the impression that your narrative has left on me:
To Cape Horn
With the wind that furiously blows
I drag along the waves’ foams
And in collision with the breakers through the mist
My moan can be heard between the rocks.
I have heard the sailor’s shout
Calling for his mother in the penumbras
Being this place crowded with tombs
That silences its voices and its sounds.
The force of three seas becomes my challenge,
They wash and agitate all my surroundings,
I infuse to the sailors my respect
And in a mysterious and quiet silence,
If you pass through here, “Cape Horn”,
Your mind will be forever restless.
(To my friend Roger, impressed by his narrative of Cape Horn)
Héctor Blanco Terán - Bembibre del Bierzo, Spain, 11/7/2003”
STANLEY, FALKLAND ISLANDS
We continued navigating, bearing North now. The winds continue to blow furiously, manifest themselves powerful and frigid, and earnestly strive towards Isla de los Estados (Island of the States). No signs of life appear along the extremely cold spots of that wild and inaccessible coast. After several hours of cruising through those gelid waters, I went to the upper deck to contemplate a beautiful sundown. It was as impressive as the one I observed in my cruise towards Juneau, Alaska, which I describe in my Odyssey Renewed. The rays of the sun projected a red-yellow shade of color onto the water to form a lake of fire, gloriously supervised by mountains and valleys of snow and ascending clouds: simply, a dazzling scene.
Early morning, on February 25, the boat anchored at Port William in the city of Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands. Located at about 300 miles east of the Argentine Patagonia, Stanley has nowadays two thousand inhabitants of the two thousand nine hundred that live in the Falkland Islands. They use the English sterling pound as their currency and English as their language. Of all the stops of the cruise, this is the only one where Spanish is not the official language.
From the ship, people could observe, in the capital itself, luxuriant trees and very well kept gardens…with flowers, and elegant houses with corrugated roofs of metal painted in shining colors. What immediately stands out and overwhelms the visitor is the contrast between the picturesque capital city and the rocky, semi-arid and bare terrain that surrounds it. In that treeless land, vegetation appeared very poor and of very little agricultural value. What was there was simple meager Lenten pasture for sheep. In fact, sheep trade is the most important industry in the Falkland Islands, composed of two big islands and seven hundred smaller ones. Fishing and tourism also contribute to their economy.
These islands are British territory. For that reason, the cruiser had to go through some official procedures before allowing passengers to disembark and step on land. However, it was very windy and the captain decided not to put the “vacating boats” into action because there was a fierce storm forming in Antarctica and was due to reach Stanley in one hour. That would have made the return to the cruiser impossible by the vacating boats. Passengers would have had to spend the night in a hotel and, frankly, there was no room in the city to accommodate them all. After half an hour of waiting, the captain decided to evade the storm, and the ship sailed once more, this time towards Puerto Madryn, Argentina.
Many travelers, “lovers of penguins”, did not appreciate the captain’s decision and much less his explanation. As for me, I remained indeed convinced, but I considered it a pity, for I would have liked to visit the museum and the cathedral, stroll through the streets of the city and taste the local gastronomy. The inclement weather made it impossible. However, due particularly to the military conflict between Argentina and England on April 1982, I am including here a brief synopsis of the history of the Falkland Islands.
The first known person to have sighted those islands was, in 1592, the English navigator John Davis, Captain of the boat Desire. Nevertheless, the first sailor to set foot on those lands was, almost a century later, Captain John Strong in 1690. Several decades after, in 1764, French colonists settled in Port Louis, to the east of the islands, which they definitely abandoned after being pressured by the Spaniards. That also became the lot suffered by an English detachment that had settled at Port Egmont in 1770, to the west of the islands, which they relinquished in 1774. The last of the Spanish governors abandoned the Falkland Islands in 1806 when he became aware that the English had occupied Buenos Aires. The British lost Buenos Aires, but remained masters of the Falkland Islands and continue so after the defeat of the Argentine forces in the 1982 conflict. After this sketch of history, it strikes me as ironic, that to the north of the Falkland Islands, one and a half hour away from Stanley, is located Gibraltar Station. It reminds me of the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 when Spain yielded its Rock to England…
During its history, Stanley, which in 1845 the English elevated to the rank of capital of the Falkland Islands, has initiated and changed a great number of industries, among them that of repairing ships that had been damaged while “doubling the Cape”. With the opening of the Panama Canal, that industry ended as did others yield to the imperious demands of the surroundings. Today, only three types of industry previously mentioned remain, thus making valid once more Pedro Antonio de Alarcon’s acute observation that “History is the slave of Geography”.
We spent two days and two nights at sea on our way towards Puerto Madryn some 800 miles south of Buenos Aires. The first night we watched a spectacular rendition of Spanish flamenco and Argentine tango dancing. It was a truly dazzling show of the artist couple Miró, the Spaniard María from Madrid and Argentine Christian from Buenos Aires. They live in Madrid, but join cruises and give tango classes.As the ship cruises north the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the climate becomes gradually warmer and the reception of TV programs becomes clearer and exhibits less blurred and static interference.
I experienced my first impressions of Puerto Madryn while the boat was gently cruising towards its berth in the port of the huge bay of Golfo Nuevo at five o’clock in the morning before dawn. From the ship, it glowed like a beautiful tapestry of lights. When daylight came, I realized that we had arrived at a city built at the foot of the reeds of an arid, dry, windy and dusty stretch of land. I was truly amazed that, unlike the majority of seaports I had visited, protected by hills, highlands or mountains, that huge Argentine port was open and flat, protected only by the desert. Except for the city itself, everything had the air of an arid plateau.
Nevertheless, Puerto Madryn, enriched with the influence of several cultures and civilizations, offers the visitor places of tourist interest. Known and proclaimed as the ideal place for snorting and submarine hunting, the excursions that most attract the tourists of cruisers are, however, the visit to Península Valdés, renowned as one of the most important wild reservations in South America, an expedition to Punta Tombo, the second largest penguin colony in the world with more than one million penguins, and finally Punta Loma and Museo Eco Centro, which combines varied and diverse aspects of the region. It includes an introspective of the lifestyle in Patagonia, a visit to the new Eco-Centro Museum a colony of marine lions and a country farmhouse in action.
Our friend Amante, my wife Lucille and I chose to discover architectural styles walking the streets of the city. A bus took us to the center of town, seven miles from the port. The first one a half mile resembled a wilderness sparsely sown with dry bushes. We traveled along a cemetery, but after having toured the one in Punta Arenas, Chile, it failed to stimulate our curiosity for lack of vegetation and of monuments. Further into the boundaries of the city, a small park to promenade in caught our attention: its outer edges consisted of car tires.
Once we arrived downtown, we visited San Martín Plaza where an open air market was taking place that day. Among the many monuments, one in particular stood out, dedicated to motherhood. Walking through the streets of Puerto Madryn, the visitor can appreciate the representation of the various architectural styles. A series of buildings linked together through a gallery are constructed with thin metal plate and wood, showing the style of the end of the nineteenth century. One can observe, as well, buildings and locales constructed of bricks, with metal-plate roofs, representing the style of the beginning of the twentieth century. In addition, a more modern construction is in evidence: concrete flag-stone without ornamentation, thus underlining the pattern of American life in the España and Estivariz Streets, for example. But what best embellishes the city environment is the wellcared-for gardens and trees and the welcoming and friendly smile of its citizens.
The tourist should not walk the streets of Puerto Madryn without knowing the historic Chalet Pujol, erected in 1917 as property of the Spanish merchant Agustín Pujol, which today houses the Museo Oceanográfico. This is the best equipped place where to obtain information about the flora and fauna of Patagonia.
Another structure that evokes the past is the Estación de Ferrocarril Patagónico that Spaniards, Italians and Gales erected in 1886 upon constructing the railroad that linked Puerto Madryn with Trelew, which functioned until 1961. Renovated in 1994, the edifice today maintains its original structure and functions as the Bus Terminal of Puerto Madryn.
The people from Puerto Madryn feel rightly proud of their culture and the activities that bring about its spread. They cheerfully offer their much appreciated movie and theatrical entertainment at Cine Teatro Auditorio and at Teatro del Muelle. Furthermore, there is in Puerto Madryn a university choir: it is that of the Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan Bosco. They do not confine, however, their cultural activities to those places. To the delight of their clients, at a market in a very modern building, the owner entertained them with a folkloric and tango dance.
I believe that at this juncture, the reader must be wondering: “All this is well and good, but where does such name for an Argentine city come from?” I would like to satisfy such natural curiosity with a brief synopsis of its history.
Puerto Madryn traces its foundation back to the 28th of July of 1865 when 150 Wales arrived there on board the Mimosa ship. Upon settling in Golfo Nuevo, they wanted to pay homage to Sir Love Jones Parry, Baron of Madryn in the country of Wales. He had been one of the founders of the Emigration Society of his countrymen. That is why they named the place Puerto Madryn.
Its development became truly effective as a consequence of the starting of the railroad in 1886. From then on, Puerto Madryn’s growth depended on railroad and harbor activities, and still years later, on tourism. Its current population amounts to some fifty thousand inhabitants. It suffers from lack of precipitation, in summer as well as winter, and has an average temperature of 57°F, with a high of 95°F in summer and a low of 41°F in winter.MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY
As the Norwegian Dream moved away from Golfo Nuevo towards Montevideo, the tyrannical and merciless wind of the Pampas was swiftly crossing the space. The greater the distance we put between the seashore and the ship, the better could we distinguish a treeless plateau which gently leaned toward the abrupt and rugged Atlantic coast. Notwithstanding the assaulting winds of the Pampas, the climate was relatively moderate. The captain of the ship was prompt to add on the loudspeaker, however, that those winds “can at times make the summer quite uncomfortable”.
After one day and two nights on the high seas, we stepped on land in the beautiful and friendly city of Montevideo, the only South American capital which can benefit and boast of a series of beaches wholly within the urban area. We just found ourselves before a jewel of a panoramic city facing the sea. That happy blend of beaches, connected by a 12 miles scenic littoral highway and more than two thousand hectares of parks and gardens, functions as a lung of oxygen that purifies the air and makes it more crystalline and less contaminated.
Founded in 1731 by Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, Montevideo was an answer to the Nova Colonia de Sacramento, which the Portuguese had established in 1680 on the shores of Rio de la Plata. It soon developed as a vibrant and important city harbor. Nowadays, this large metropolis encompasses a surface of about 300 square miles and has approximately one and a half million inhabitants, almost half that of the whole country.
Many travelers make the trip to Punta del Este, about 90 miles from Montevideo, the best and most famous bath spa of South America. Perhaps in the future I will be able to participate in that tour, but this time I wanted to see “all the best of Montevideo”, to discover all its facets and get imbued of the spirit of that flourishing capital city.
For that reason, we joined the panoramic tour of that city, political, cultural, industrial and commercial center of Uruguay. We crossed by bus, with necessary stops, all the neighborhoods and suburbs of that modern large metropolis. What most fascinated me of the old section, was the Plaza de la Constitución where I could appreciate exquisite details of the crafts of the city, specially the delicate Italian marble fountain surrounded by bananas, and the sober and elegant colonial style of the Cathedral.
From there, we proceeded to Plaza de la Independencia where two buildings of relevance can be contemplated: the Estévez Palace, until recently Seat of the Presidency of the Republic, and the Salvo Palace which was inaugurated in 1928 as the highest building of the city. Similarly, in that Square can be seen the first wellknown equestrian statue of grandee Gervasio José Artigas. In February 1923, it replaced a luminous fountain that had been installed in that same place only 7 years earlier. That impressive structure, erected in honor to the Uruguayan national hero, measures some 57 feet high and weighs 62,120 pounds. In the Mausoleum of its subsoil lie the remains of Colonel Artigas who fought for Uruguayan independence and obtained it from the Spaniards in 1810. Furthermore, in that plaza begins the most important commercial street of that large capital city: Avenida 18 de Julio.
Indeed, the tour proceeds along Avenida 18 de Julio, surrounded not only by commercial nuclei in all the branches of businesses, but also of famous parks and monuments. Thus, we could contemplate the famous sculpture La Carreta (the Cart), outstanding work of art of Uruguayan José Belloni. Located on a promontory and reflected in a lagoon, its numerous bronze pieces, mounted on a pink granite and bronze seat, evoke the traditional vehicle of the settlers of the field at the time of the colonization.
Another sculpture also of José Belloni is La Diligenica (the Diligence), whose seemingly spirited horses make an effort to take, out of a swamp, a full cart of correspondence and merchandise. That vivid graceful sculptural representation recalls the first means of communication with the towns of the interior of the country. Located in the border of the Prado Park, that work, also of bronze, adduces verisimilitude to the represented event.
Another bronze monument with seat also of bronze and pink granite catches the tourist’s attention. It is the sculpture “The Last Charrúas”, which renders homage to the primitive race that populated Uruguay. That sculpture is composed of three men, a woman and a girl in her arms. It is the work of Edmundo Prati, Gervasio Forest Muñoz and Enrique Lussich, and represents an assembly of natives, among them a woman and her husband, all of whom Captain Curel took to exhibit in Paris, France. The men of the group passed away a very short time after the trip. The woman gave birth to a girl in Paris and passed away in Lyon, France, in 1934.
Worthy of admiration in that route is “The Obelisk”. That outstanding work of art, constructed in the decade of the 1930’s by Uruguayan José Luis Zorrilla of San Martín to honor the backers of the Constitution of 1830 is of granite with base and pedestal also of granite. Nevertheless, the three figures that embellish the base of the obelisk are of bronze and represent Law, Freedom and Force. The fountain that frames it, the surroundings of ample avenues and the pleasant forestation of the park where it is located seal the enchantment and charm of its delightful silhouette.
We passed by the Legislative Palace, a beautiful and multicolor structure of solely local quarry: marble, granite and porphyry, which the dictionary defines as “hard and compact rock of black color, formed with crystals of feldspar and quartz, very highly regarded in decorative art”. That work was built as had been conceived by Italian architect Víctor Meano, who died without knowing that he had won the contest he had entered. It was later finalized by the creativity of architect Cayetano Moretti, also an Italian.
The bus then took us to Montevideo Hill. It is a 460 feet high mountain. As the story goes, Ferdinand Magellan descried it at a distance in 1520 and then wrote in his diary: “... there is a mountain, like a hat, to which we gave the name MONTE VIDI”. From there came the name Montevideo. At the top of the hill, there is a Spanish fortress that has been transformed into a military museum. From the summit, the tourist can appreciate a splendid panoramic view of the Uruguayan capital.
We arrived at the limit of the city to visit the residential zone known as Carrasco. The name made me think about the berciano writer Gil y Carrasco and his romantic sentimental novel El Señor de Bembibre. In addition, visitors are struck by its beautiful houses with ceilings of red roofing tile, its well-taken-care-of gardens and its shining white sand beaches.
The bus crossed through the beautiful and famous Playa Pocitos (Little Wells Beach). According to the legend, Juan Pedro Ramírez wanted “to establish a town in desert sandy grounds where the brown launderers excavated” little wells “in the coast, to wash the clothes of their masters”. From 1868, the date in which a plan was drawn for the village of Our Lady of the Pocitos, until today, many years have past and that zone has become “one of the most selective and picturesque sections of the city”. In fact, it is a residential zone of high level and “la Rambla de los Pocitos” (the Boulevard of the Pocitos) is truly beautiful and delightful.
After our return to the harbor zone, the bus left us in the Market of the Port, built according to plans devised in Liverpool, England, and inaugurated in 1868. That beehive of activity offers tourists the opportunity to enjoy the visit at their own ease. There, they can satisfy all their tastes for souvenirs, to entertain and to delight their appetites, tasting the typical plate of the region: meat and offal of young pigs roasted to live coals in the Grill. It was hard for me to bid farewell to Montevideo. During that four hours excursion, I was delighted by the artistic and scenic variety of that great large city. Many are the buildings, the ample modern avenues, the leafy and flowery parks that deserve, if not serious study, at least close attention. Although not all of them can be mentioned, naturally, I would like to point out their soccer stadium, one of the best in South America and declared “Monument of World-wide Soccer”.
But beyond all of that, there is another delightful aspect of that great city. Visitors are always warned to be careful with “pickpockets” or thieves of portfolios. However, rarely are the good qualities of the great majority of the local inhabitants mentioned. It seems that the people of Montevideo like to socialize in cafes, and it is very common to see bankers, poets and clergymen sharing the same table with salesmen, workers and even tourists. Simply put, they are good natured, sociable and treatable.
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
Caminito that time has erased,
That together one day saw us go by.
I have come for the last time
I have come to tell you my pain.
Caminito that was then...
Since I went away Sad do I live
Caminito my friend I also go away.
Since it went away It never more returned
I follow its steps Caminito to God.
As many of the readers will notice, the preceding text is the English translation of a select reproduction of parts of the script of an Argentine tango of melancholic air and romantic words (“caminito” means little road or path). But it is, in addition, the exact representation of a poster in one of the stores that I visited in the “San Telmo” district of Buenos Aires. It also projects, at least for me, the soul of the “warmth” of which Jorge Luis Borges writes in the fervor of Buenos Aires. What better way to experience that warmth than to visit the city in its diverse districts? That is precisely what my wife and I did with our faithful friend Amante, after disembarking and before taking our return flight to Los Angeles.
To be in Buenos Aires is like finding oneself in a great European modern large metropolis with its fascinating panoramic architecture, its ample avenues, its exquisite cultural taste and its accelerated rhythm of life. It is an animated, busy and hard working city of three million inhabitants, seven million when its suburbs are included, in a surface of about 120 square miles. According to the statistics, it never snows there and the annual precipitation is approximately 900 mm. Its temperature fluctuates generally between 41° and 63° Fahrenheit, but in summer it oscillates between the 77 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
That wonderful city was founded twice. Pedro Mendoza founded it in 1536, but soon the Spaniards had to abandon it due to the scarcity of food and to the persistent indigenous attacks on the inhabitants. Years later, in 1580, Juan de Garay returned to found it on “La Boca de las Aguas” (the Mouth of the Waters), the name by which Río de la Plata was known at that time. Garay baptized the city with the name of “Santísima Trinidad” (Very Holy Trinity). Later, the name changed to “Puerto de Santa María de Buenos Aires”.
Soon, this attractive and bewitching city began to prosper, especially after 1776 when the Virreino (Viceroyalty) Río de la Plata was established. As a result of the Argentine independence from Spain in 1816, the metropolis gradually assumed more and more importance, until in 1880 it was declared “Capital Federal de la República Argentina”.
Of the 47 districts which make up that large metropolis, we could only visit the most outstanding tourist attractions. We began the tour by bus along Avenida Nueve de Julio (9th of July Avenue), considered the “widest avenue of the world” with its 460 feet width. It nowadays stands as the most important public thoroughfare of the city open to traffic.
Soon we arrived at Plaza de la República where the shields of each one of the provinces of the country are exhibited. There, one can find, in addition, the imposing and showy, 220 feet high Obelisk. It is considered the most representative monument of that celebrated port city. Of course, all the surroundings inspire amplitude and greatness. Before that huge magnificence, I asked myself: “How is it possible that all this splendor and proud work of a great town of long ago, is not able to inspire feats that will alleviate the country of its well-known political and economic pains of the present?” Thanks to God, the situation had already begun to improve less than a year after that visit.
We continued our tour along Avenida Nueve de Julio. Although the main entrance to the imposing and worldwide recognized Teatro Colón is in Calle Libertad, the beautiful architecture of its profile impressed me. I imagined myself enjoying, there, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “Aida”, the show with which it opened its doors the 25 of May of 1908. We passed, in addition, by the Teatro Nacional Cervantes, inaugurated in 1921 and whose façade reminded me of the one of the University Alcalá de Henares, birthplace of the author of El Quijote, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. It exhibits architectural features of Spanish Renaissance style. Nevertheless, what caught my attention most was a very interesting detail that the guide wanted us to know. In order to construct the building, they imported certain material from different cities of Spain: stone slabs from Tarragona, tiles of ceramics from Valencia, armchairs from Seville and carpets, draperies and main drop curtains from Madrid.
After passing many other buildings of extensive architectural interest and considerable national importance, we were in the middle of the glorious Plaza de Mayo, impressive historical and political core of the city. In its center stands the imposing and splendid Pyramid of May. There, the tourist can also admire the Fort of Buenos Aires, the Chapter House and the main Church, which correspond respectively nowadays to the Pink House and residence of the president of the republic, to a museum, and the metropolitan cathedral. Twelve impressive columns, which represent the twelve Apostles, decorate the façade of the cathedral of neo-classic style. Nevertheless, the reader should not be surprised that the building most admired, contemplated and photographed by the tourists is none other than the Pink House, especially the window from where Evita used to address “the shirtless ones” when her husband, Perón, governed the country.
From Plaza de Mayo, we proceeded to Plaza de los Dos Congresos ( Both Chambers of Congress), the last place that we visited in the enjoyable center of the Argentine capital. It represents a gorgeous green space, placed in a majestic monument frame, among them the impressive copy of the Thinker of Auguste Rodin, and the magnificent Monument to both Chambers of Congress.
Lack of time forced us to leave the center of Buenos Aires. On our way towards the north of the city, we passed first by the “Las Catalinas” (The Sprockets) district, whose subsoil contains a sort of volcanic rock called “tufa”, which can endure the construction of high and elegant buildings. There, I was awed by the many luxurious hotels and offices of multinational companies that rise high into the sky. They consist of steel and crystal, patterned after the modern style of Chicago, in the United States. There, tourists can also behold the “Edificio República” (Republic Building), renowned and shocking work of the famous Argentine architect Caesar Pelli.
The bus crossed, quickly and without stopping, Plaza San Martín where several buildings and monuments of historical relevance can be observed. Several of those structures can easily revive the interest of historiographer tourists, among them, the Monument to General San Martín with a red granite base, which supports the statue of the Liberator, and the Monument to the Fallen of Falklands War, which exhibits plates with names of the Argentine soldiers who died in the war of 1982, fighting England for those islands. In addition, the style of Palacio San Martín and that of the Paz family palace makes those buildings stand out. Both structures function, nowadays, in the service of the federal government of the Argentine Republic.
The district that most attracted me in that section of the city was La Recoleta, whose center of greater seduction rests in the Iglesia de la Pilar, a basilica since 1934, and now a National Historical Monument. With its Jesuit architecture and elements of the baroque of austere religious disposition, it constitutes a delicious vestige of the Spanish colonial time. Next to the church we found the famous Cemetery La Recoleta. In that cemetery rest the remains of the most illustrious personages of the cultural, ecclesiastical, political and military past of Argentina.
But we must also visit the south of the city, the Boca (Mouth) and San Telmo districts: the first suitably appropriate to eat, and the second to cross typical narrow streets, to enter stores of antiques, and to buy native souvenirs before going towards the airport to take the flight for Los Angeles.
It is time, then, to take leave of that wonderful Argentine capital. An opulent city in architectonic, artistic, historical and, to a certain extent, ecological wealth, Buenos Aires has left in me a delicious after-taste of large cities that I have visited all over the world, among them Madrid, Chicago, Vancouver and a few more. For that reason, I offer my good bye cheer to the Argentine capital as in another occasion I did to Melbourne, Australia: I dedicate the same composition to it, making a small change only in the last verse. This cheer reads thus:
Before I knew your shining light,
I dreamt about you with delight.
I have you toured from side to side,
and grown to love you from that sweet ride.
Far from you, I can’t help but often try
to recall your cultural fortune for which at times I cry.
Even before I finalized my cruise through South America, the entire world was at a crossroads: to choose between civilization and barbarism, that is to say, close up ranks and attack with bravery and resolution the increasing danger of terrorism without borders, or to yield with cowardice and recklessness to cruel tyrannies that protect, finance and shelter global terrorism to maintain themselves in power.
Naturally, not all democracies considered militant terrorism from that point of view. In the United States, where that international terrorist plague triggered on September 11, 2001, a true confrontation between civilization and barbarism, president Bush spoke of an “axis of evil” that was necessary to neutralize and perhaps to eliminate. The regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq belonged to that axis of evil.“TO PREVENT SO AS NOT TO LAMENT”
Logically, the phrase “axis of evil” constituted a challenge to debate, not only in the United States, but also in the democracies of the entire world. In a debate, however passionate it may be, opinions are expressed to try to reach a common solution, if possible. In a democracy, the debate is not limited, but it is rather extended to all kinds of ideas. For that reason, I decided to participate in it and I wrote the following article that appeared in Bierzo 7, a Ponferrada weekly:
“In the Bierzo 7 edition of September 19 (p. 25), I read my poet friend Amparo Carballo’s article Mundo pobre, pobre mundo (Poor world, pitiful world). It reminded me of Miguel de Unamumo’s response to one of Pío Baroja’s essay in which he admonished Spain of “Poor country...” I had hardly finished writing a friendly dialogue with her, when I received the next issue of that weekly, September 26, which carried another of her articles Raspaduras de vidrio (Glass Scrapings) (p. 21). Frankly, this article disappointed me greatly. I felt that with it, Amparo was making fun of readers and deceiving them. She repeatedly claims to have knowledge using the word “we know” and repeatedly shows ignorance with incomplete or false information. It seemed to me a caricature exhibition of reality, particularly American actuality, resembling Valle Inclán’s style of creating absurdity through concave mirrors.
Being a poet, Amparo makes extensive use of poetry in both articles. In fact, verses of the Uruguayan poetess Vilariño Idea begin and conclude Mundo pobre, pobre mundo. Though I hold lyrical writing in high esteem, I find it difficult to accept illusionary utopia of poetry as moral authority in a real world, whipped by global terrorism without borders. The sweet poetic resonance never has dissipated, nor will ever dissipate, the bitter sound of the discord between nations. Unfortunately, peace has always been obtained and continues to be obtained through armed force and balance of power. A world that yearns for peace and tranquility cannot bundle up in the mantle of hope in a poetic fantasy.
Amparo is right when she maintains that there has been a change as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. She is mistaken when she declares that from that attack “... the tendency has been accentuated in the international policy to use force as the only method to reach strategies, to provide satisfaction to the great merchants of arms and to the crazy driven military strategists.” Here in the United States, what counts above all is security of the country and protection of its citizens. If they attack us, we defend ourselves. We lost many innocent lives on that deadly September 11. We will try to prevent so as not to have to lament. In the case of Afghanistan, the Taliban were given more than sufficient time to bring to justice the evil perpetrators of an atrocious act of barbarism and to finish the war that their acts of savagery had initiated that infamous day of universal transcendence. The United States only continued the fight that wicked terrorists began and refused to end. Now that the Taliban no longer govern, the refugees have returned to their land, the hunger that was feared was eliminated almost completely, thank God, women can go back to study and people can once again play sports. In short, although Afghanistan is not a paradise, the long-suffering Afghani people have their own government, enjoy more freedoms, live better and express their joy openly.
Amparo should not worry about a new declaration of war against Iraq. Saddam Hussein has seen to it that the Gulf War is continued. He initiated it when invading Kuwait and he continues it by refusing to fulfill the agreements that suspended it. From 1991, Saddam, whom Amparo does not name in her articles, has continuously scoffed at such agreements, has violated and continues violating more than a dozen sanctions of the United Nations, has developed chemical and biological weapons that he can put within reach of terrorists whom he assists and protects, and is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. In spite of all that, the United States has not used force as the “only means” to obtain from Saddam Hussein total observance of the United Nations demands. On the contrary, knowing full well that to postpone action is to risk security, Bush has been going to the United Nations to reiterate that the Security Council’s resolutions be made effective and that Saddam Hussein be disarmed. Meanwhile, the American Senate and Congress still debate the mandate that allows the president to use diplomacy if possible and the Armed Forces as a last resort if necessary.
Amparo writes, in addition: “The master of the world is not concerned with poverty, injustice, discrimination, cultural isolation, trafficking of people, hunger... the environment, human rights... cooperation... the universal outcry for life, education and peace...” Those particulars and others that she erroneously attributes to Bush are in fact those of Hussein, but not those of the American president. If she implies that such conditions exist in the United States, she is totally uninformed and the only thing she has to do to find out is to visit this country. Nobody is going to prevent her from doing so. She will be able to go anywhere and discover the truth by herself. Even more, if she comes to Los Angeles, she does not have to worry about a hotel. My wife and I would receive her very happily in our house that is very welcoming. I suspect, nevertheless, that she refers to conditions that exist in other parts of the world. If that is so, why blame the United States and not the countries where those conditions exist? I do not think I am mistaken when I present the view that the United States is the country that most helps people in need throughout the entire world. That aid comes from the common citizen from all walks of life who goes to work and pays taxes. We help wherever and whenever there is a need and we are called oppressors. If we help more than any other nation and, sometimes, less than what they request from us, they label us as ruthless and arrogant. What are we supposed to do, then? Poor world, indeed, Amparo if the United States was in fact so as you accuse it to be...
I do not know from where my friend gets the idea that “Bush, the master of the empire; Blair, his devoted subject... sell their ideas to us as antiterrorist revenge and defensive retaliation; ... will open the doors of hell in the name of a supposed assumption global danger.” In addition, she cites Neruda to prepare us once more for war and signals out as an excuse the pretext “to finish with terrorism. Wrong: money, petroleum, sale of arms, world supremacy”. In what world does my friend Amparo live? Does she pretend that terrorism did not exist and that we fake our tears? To finish terrorism is neither a pretext nor revenge. It is an imperative necessity so that we all can live peacefully and with tranquility. Were we to choose between loose terrorists, encouraged by an armed dictator who provides them with chemical, biological and perhaps even nuclear weapons and an American president, does Amparo suggest that the world ought to choose the first? Bush must respond for its actions to a Congress, to a Senate and to a whole nation. Hussein is the only authority in Iraq: he has beheaded hundreds of rivals, poisoned hundreds of thousands of his compatriots, invaded neighboring countries and killed more than a million and a half Muslims. Now, in spite of the 1991 agreements, Hussein continues to refuse to allow a total and unconditional scrutiny of all the facilities, especially the eight presidential palaces that comprise more than one thousand buildings. It is proper to ask: “Why?” Simply put, to use clemency towards Saddam at this point is equivalent to sacrificing world peace.
Like you, Amparo, I do not want war either. But that, my dear friend, is in the hands of Saddam Hussein and the terrorists. The world must understand, nevertheless, that the United States does not need “global supremacy”: it has it since long time ago. It will use it, if necessary, to defend its own security and that of all the other nations that want theirs; not to conquer, nor, as you suggest, to exterminate either. Would you prefer that that “global supremacy” belonged to the Husseins of this world? Frankly, my friend, what a pity that you do not know this country better!”THE SOUND MAKES THE SONG
As the reader can well imagine, my friend Amparo felt stimulated to answer me and extend or amplify her thesis. So, she wrote a third article which, in my estimation, not only did she ignore and discarded our friendship recognizing me as “Mr. Roger R. Fernández” and “the gentleman who lives in Los Angeles”, but even worse than that, it constituted, in my opinion, a malicious and unjust diatribe against the United States. My first reaction was to ignore her and considered the discussion finished, but after reading and re-reading the imposture of that supposed reply to my previous writing, I decided to make some clarifications for the benefit and information of the reader. For that reason, I sent to Bierzo 7 the following essay, which gives the reader a much more accurate picture of the United States. (Some of the figures, particularly in education, have since changed):
“The French have a very appropriate saying with respect to questions of public dialog: “C’est le song qui fait la chanson”. (It’s the sound that makes the song). I make this observation with reference to Amparo Carballo Blanco’s article “No a la paz de los cementerios (No to the Peace of Cemeteries), which appeared in Bierzo 7 (10/24/02), and was supposed to be the author’s reply to my answer to two of her previous essays published in this weekly. It is surprising that, writing about the crisis around Iraq, never once in her three articles does Amparo mention Saddam Hussein and seldom his country, while she repeatedly disfigures the United States and its president Bush.
In the article in question, I have detected much idealism, which is admirable though illusionary, much sarcasm with regard to Afghanistan, an almost total evasion of the main theme, much rancor towards the United States, very little knowledge of that country and its president Bush, and certain hypocrisy with respect to the author’s aspiration to a world interested “in listening to words… that reject the war they call preventive”. Perhaps I may be mistaken, but that essay is not conducive to a productive debate of ideas. Frankly, I did not want to dignify it with an answer, for in reality it is an invective full of falsehoods against the United Estates. Finally, I opted to correct for the reader some of its many fallacies. Nevertheless, I would like first to repeat what I wrote in two previous articles in reference to words and terrorism: sincere and friendly dialog could well resolve conflicts between rational people, but it would turn into cynical cunning of the soulless fanatics who accept as virtue the dishonor of deceit. At this point in history, no dialog can be maintained, either with terrorists or with Saddam. To do it, would tantamount to sacrificing world peace.
Amparo is very wrong when she writes: “…because those great American values of liberty, democracy and human rights are being forgotten by that country”. On the contrary, it is precisely to defend and preserve those values and its security and that of the countries that want it, that the United States has launched an intensive international diplomatic effort and a passionate national debate.
I concur with Amparo that “It is not necessary to travel to Los Angeles… to know data like that offered by Carlos Taíbo of Center of Solidarity Collaboration”. Frankly, she would make the trip in vain because she would be disillusioned to find out that such data does not square with the American reality. As far as I am concerned, I personally like to couple experience (what I see and observe) with reference (what I read and hear), to discover the truth and then write about it. Amparo doubts about my awareness of the data she presents as reference. I know it very well, and some of it for a long time. She expresses satisfaction to presenting such data to the reader as the true reality (“So far, some facts. This is the reality”). Actually, it is an obtuse reality as seen through Carlos Taíbo’s concave mirrors, which distort it in each of the points therein enumerated. Due to lack of space, I shall limit myself to show the falsehood in three or four of those cases.
The first fallacy that stares in the eyes of this “gentleman who lives in Los Angeles” is the supposed fact that “40 million” inhabitants in this country “do not take benefit of health assistance”. That misconception has circulated throughout the entire world since the 1992 American electoral campaign. Because of it, Hillary Clinton tried to impose in the United States a system similar to the one in socialist countries. She roundly failed, thus causing her party a historical defeat in the 1994 mid-term elections. All the polls showed that 80 to 85% of the Americans were in favor of preserving the system. Candidly speaking, in spite of some problems, everyone in the United States can receive medical treatment. The majority of those who have no insurance are young people who trust their health and refuse to pay for their personal insurance, or are students and obtain medical assistance through their parents insurance. There are, in addition, thousands of free or low cost clinics throughout the country, many here in the Los Angeles area, one of them near the College where I taught for 36 years. Beyond that, there are more than 8 million illegal immigrants (11 million in 2006) without insurance who can receive free medical treatment, which has created a heated debate in California. One of my relatives who came to visit us some seven years ago did not have to pay a single cent for a treatment in the hospital. How many citizens, residents or foreigners have been denied medical assistance, or how many have died for lack of insurance in the United States? I do not know of a single case.
Amparo claims that there are “52 million illiterates” in the United States. I have dedicated my entire life to teaching here in the United States: High School in New York, High School and College in California. Education is compulsory in all the states of the country up to the eighth grade (tenth at the present time). Furthermore, public education is free up to the college level. In addition, in the Community Colleges, of which there are 8 in Los Angeles with a total of 130,000 students, the fee is three dollars per unit for each semester (much higher now). Most students take twenty units or less. In other words, they pay sixty dollars or less for the entire semester. Naturally, state universities are more expensive and the private ones cost an arm and a leg, still all of them overflow with students. The situation is similar throughout this country, which Amparo does not need to visit because she knows Carlos Taíbo’s data.
I must correct another of the many falsehoods that are found in that article about the United States. It seems to me that if there were, in reality, “46 million indigents”, those of us who live here would be able to see them. But that is not so. What we do see when we shop at the supermarkets are people who use welfare green stamps which they receive from the government to subsidize their expenses: food, housing and other needs. Many of the recipients of welfare spend their time at the beach while the rest of us go to work. Are there needy people who cannot work? Yes there are, but for them we do not mind to do some sacrificing. But there some who abuse the system and that is what we are trying to change. Not long ago, I went to a party held at the house of one of those families on welfare. The lady of the house confessed in front of everybody that it was not beneficial for her to look for a job because she lives better this way. In the neighborhood where I live, lives also another one of those families. It is shocking to see that house decorated with new cars. Similar cases abound. How many people go hungry or die of starvation in the United States, the one and a half million or perhaps two million homeless? This is a real problem, but they do not number 46 million. Many of them like that kind of vagabond life and refuse to accept state help, be it economic or medical. At the local level, many churches take turns in serving them food. At times, the faithful eat with them. Some asylums have been built, but this is a free country and they are entitled to reject offers of help and many do just that. Perhaps this may come as a little bit of a surprise to Amparo, but this is a land of opportunity, not of mendacity.
When I was young, I heard it said in Los Barrios and in Fuentesnuevas: “Never look at a gift horse in its mouth”. Today, Amparo complains that “the aid that the United States provides for development – 5 dollars per capita – is extremely low”. Accepting that number as correct, that would amount to more than one billion two hundred fifty million dollars. How much do the other countries contribute? However, I was not referring to that kind of aid, but rather to the Foreign Aid included in the national budget which amounts to more than three billion dollars annually, to the help sent to the various catastrophes around the world, a figure that varies year after year, and to other types of very extensive relief of food and medicine, a very long list to enumerate here. All this shows the generous spirit of this country, not the monster that Amparo describes in her article. Many people want to come and live here, and many risk their lives to reach that goal as two hundred Haitians tried just a few days ago. Does Amparo believe that the more than 8 million illegal immigrants and the other many more millions of legal ones would do even the impossible to be able to live in the country she describes? Certainly not me, and I am one of them.
I do not want to abuse the reader, but each one of the accusations found in her article deserves the same scrutiny. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, I would have preferred that my quotation which Amparo includes in her essay were exact and complete. I did not write “The Afghanis enjoy freedoms, live better and are happy”, but rather that “The Afghani people have their own government, enjoy more freedoms, live better and express their joy openly”. I also wrote: “Now that the Taliban no longer govern, the refugees have returned to their land, the hunger that was feared was eliminated almost completely, thank God, women can go back to study and people can once again play sports”. This improvement does not seem to satisfy Amparo. She appears rather to deride this new situation in Afghanistan. Naturally, I respect her style as well as her opinion, but in the Hispanic community of this region runs the saying: “Mockery is the mask of ineptitude and impotence”.
In conclusion, Amparo ignores the concrete situation provoked by terrorist havoc and the violations of the United Nations resolutions by Saddam Hussein whom Amparo refuses to mention. It is said: “He who keeps silence, consents”. I do not want to accuse her of consenting in this case, but I do of evading. Finally, I would like to apply to defeat against terrorism the incisive description which General Macarthur made of a military defeat in two words: “TOO LATE”. If in these critical times in history, war or preferably the threat of war does not achieve peace, it will not take the terrorists long to sow the planet with cemeteries like the Twin Towers of New York, the tourists of Bali and movie goers of Moscow. Must we wait so that it will be TOO LATE for us?”UN RESOLUTION 1441
Under the title “C’est le son qui fait la chanson” (It’s the Sound that Makes the Song), Bierzo 7 published the article in its November 7, 2002, edition. I highlight that date because the next day, the United Nation Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1441. After “deploring” the many infractions enumerated in the text, said resolution granted the government of Baghdad “the last opportunity to fulfill its obligations of a complete and verifiable disarmament”. At the same time, it pointed out that Iraq:
1. “has been and remains in flagrant violation of the United
Nations Security Council’s resolutions”.
2. would be confronting “grave consequences” if it continued
to violate its obligations before the international
3. ought to carry out “complete and immediate compliance
without conditions nor restrictions of its obligations
under resolution 687 and other pertinent resolutions”.
4. had a period of 30 days to give a “faithful, ample and
complete” account of all the programs of weapons of mass
destruction (chemical, biological, nuclear), as well as
materials related, including those of double use, that
is to say: civil and military.
5. would incur a new flagrant violation “because of false
testimony or omissions” in the submitted declarations
or because of “any non-compliance at any moment to
cooperate with the application of the resolution.”
With respect to the disarmament inspectors or the United Nations members responsible for the Verification, Inspection and Surveillance of the Disarmament in Iraq(UNMOVIC) as well as those of the Organism of Atomic Energy (OIEA), resolution 1441
1. ordered them to resume their work before the 45 days
after its adoption.
2. granted them “immediate access without impediment,
restrictions or conditions to any place in Iraq, including
the presidential palaces.
3. conferred upon them the authority to interview inside and
outside of Iraq the persons that they would judge
freely airplanes, helicopters and remote control
4. granted them the discretional right to “remove, destroy
and disable” all prohibited weapons as well as the
“materials, systems and equipments” to produce them.
5. required from them an account of their work and the
level of cooperation from Baghdad within 60 days
after commencing those new duties.
The account that Saddam Hussein’s government submitted on December 7, 2002, on its program of weapons of mass destruction, did not correspond with the information that the Security Council possessed since 1998 and did not provide information about what they had done with the weapons that were missing. That, by itself, constituted a violation of Resolution 1441 which required a “faithful, ample and complete” account of all the programs of weapons of mass destruction and did not allow “false testimony or omissions”.
On the other hand, the UNMOVIC Commission’s first report indicated that Iraq’s disarmament had been “very limited” and that it needed better cooperation from the Iraqi Government. That represented another violation of Resolution 1441 which demanded “complete and verifiable” disarmament and cooperation without reservation or conditions.
In that twelve thousand pages report, Saddam Hussein denied possessing the most minimal forbidden military element, though on March 3 of 2003, General Amer Saadi acknowledged that he had found “550 projectiles of mustard gas that were missing” which had been misplaced due to an “erroneous document”. The Commission also contended that it needed more time to “search” for the armaments that were missing. So now, the responsibility of the inspectors, which, as the name of the commission well asserts is to verify, inspect and supervise, has changed into “searching”, searching for the weapons, not “to verify” their destruction.
Since Resolution 1441 also included the notion that, after receiving an account of violations and noncompliance, the Security Council should immediately call for a meeting, soon began the diplomatic conversations as well as street demonstrations. Meanwhile, the United States armed forces started preparing for combat, with the most immediate intention to pressure Saddam Hussein into compliance with Resolution 1441.
A second report from the Commission, though perhaps more hopeful, still showed nonconformity and noncompliance from Iraq. Just as he had in the first account, the chief inspector, Hans Blix, requested more time and more inspectors to continue the “search”.
French president Jacques Chirac, not only did he warn, on his own, in February of 2002 that “the probable possession of weapons of mass destruction by a country, Iraq…”, but also declared that “the international community was right in deciding that Iraq should be disarmed”. Nevertheless, yielding to his desire of financial profit and of weakening the United States influence in world stage, he was doing everything possible to impede any action against the dictator from Baghdad. He threatened to “veto” a new resolution against Iraq and sent his foreign minister Dominique Villepin to Africa to campaign against the United States position.
Opposition to the war against Iraq was growing throughout the world and the demonstrations against it began through the streets in many cities, including in the United States. The most important and largest in numbers occurred on Saturday, February 15, the day I started my trip to venture a cruise through South America. In the United States, it signaled the beginning of a very popular boycott against France as well. I joined ranks with that boycott. For that reason, upon my return from the cruise, I picket up my new itinerary ticket for my trip to Spain towards the middle of April. I canceled my trip to my native country on Air France, via Paris, to present my Odyssey Fulfilled at the book fair in Ponferrada. Consequently, I decided to fly from Los Angeles to Madrid on Delta Airlines, making a stop in New York. It cost me more because of the change, but I did not want to have anything to do with France while Chirac was president.
After my return from the cruise, I maintained correspondence via e-mail with my friend Héctor Blanco Terán, in which I stated my state of mind with respect to the war against Iraq. Here I share with the readers some of that correspondence:
“… As far as our friend the reporter from Paris Match, you can give him my e-mail address as well as my telephone. Unfortunately he had the bad luck to come here when there is great resentment against France in this country. There is a growing boycott against French products. Support for Bush, though still high, is declining not because opposition to the now inevitable war against Iraq, but because he chose to go through the United Nations. Many of us here believe that, had France and Germany not put so many obstacles to the negotiations, Iraq would have already disarmed and we would not have to think about war any more. Now, there is no going back. There will be a very quick and effective war. Even though efforts will be made to avoid innocent casualties, unfortunately there will result some. President Bush must protect the security of this country, not the political feelings, the grandiose ambitions and economic interests of an ungrateful country like France which the United States defended and protected during the two world wars of the last century. It will be difficult for French pride to come out untarnished from this conflict in the United Nations. Without this country, France would not have the “veto” power in the United Nations and would not be speaking French nowadays… And now that it is a question of protecting our security, they shoot us in the back to protect their economic and oil interests in Iraq. The United States does not need to go to the United Nations. Resolution 1441 is already specific enough. The disarmament had to be immediate, complete and verifiable, and cooperation unconditional on the part of Iraq. After 4 months, none of that has occurred, just as the last 12 years and the 16 previous resolutions. Some consequences must follow, and they will. If the United Nations does not approve the new resolution (which is already number 18, with respect to Iraq), the bombing will start backed by Resolution 1441 and the stellar future of France and even that of the United Nations will not be very shiny. Perhaps the United Nations may even disappear… The United States will not continue to contribute 25% of its cost just so that individuals like Dominique Villepin use that forum to prevent the United States to protect its citizens. … This is the way the vast majority of the Americans think, though clearly that is not the opinion of a small percentage of them. These, however, do make their voices heard. If, that group of demonstrators reaches one million in number, which is very doubtful, more than 275 million do not seem to share the thinking of that minority: they have demonstrated their protest by staying home. Does that not represent an overwhelming majority against the one million demonstrators? Europeans should not confuse the public discussions that take place in this country as a repudiation of the president’s policies. This has always been the process followed in this democracy to carry out actions as decisive as war. In the end, the president is supported once the decision has been made.
… I agree with you, Héctor, that France, Germany and Russia have been responsible for the present situation. Had they remained united with Spain, Italy, Poland, England, the United States and many other nations, Saddam Hussein would have already fled and there would not be a need for war. Those three nations have been, as we say in English, “enablers”, that is to say, they facilitate certain behavior. Knowing the history of Second World War and having read Machiavelli, they should understand that “war is not eluded: it is only postponed with advantage to the others”
In his electronic dialog with me, Héctor expressed his thinking as well as his feelings with respect to the growing threat of war that caused fear throughout the world. In one of those communications in March 2003, he sent me the following poem, which gratefully with his permission, I reproduce here in free verse translation:
Wake up Europe!!
Who wants war? The foolish one.
Who wants peace? The wise man.
But it is a sad truth and necessary
To seal liberty with a contract
Which, giving all the same treatment
The road can be taken in serious steps
Judging the one who hides with mystery
Its strength and spur with surprise.
For he keeps and enriches arsenals
And imposes his power with compulsion
Boasting of effects that are deadly
Already reach fields that are universal
Laying as the base his reason
And his won personal powers.
000 O 000
Do you remember the sound of these kettle drums?
Can such reflection be tolerated?
A wait and coward indecision
The two wars of Europe are a guarantee.
THE UNITED NATIONS AND THE WAR IN IRAQ
Over and above this e-mail exchange with my friend Héctor, I sent the following article to the weekly newspaper Bierzo 7 which published it on March 20th, 2003, with the title “The United Nations Security Council and the War in Iraq”. It filled the whole page 8 with a photograph and an account of the second demonstration against the war in Ponferrada:
“On February 16, I was in Santiago, Chile, ready to begin a cruise though South America. During my breakfast in the hotel, I told a waiter that I did not want anything that would remind me of France, not even a “croissant”. Once the dining room was vacated, that waiter approached me and, after offering me excuses, he asked me: “Why does any reminder of France bother you so much?” I explained to him that I do not like war, but that in the case of Iraq, the opposition that French president Jacques Chirac leads against it will have as a consequence a greater catastrophe because Saddam Hussein can put in the hands of terrorists weapons of mass destruction that he possesses. The young man showed interest and surprise. Then, he asked me: “Why don’t they explain it like that?”
That question caused me to think that in the demonstrations against the war through the streets of our cities, many of the demonstrators, well intentioned and sincere, are unaware of the real truth. Were they to know it, they would join the ranks of the great majority of the population who, with their silence, oppose those demonstrations, reject the leadership of pacifists who sponsor peace under any pretext and at any price, and trust the good sense and judgment of governing leaders who, backed by concrete facts, row against the current, mark out urgencies dictated by reasoning and make decisions of grave consequences for the benefit and security of the people they govern. Democracies can well afford open and passionate debates, but they cannot allow irresponsible leaders who are only interested in the political well-being of the present.
Well intentioned and sincere voices are being heard that yell out the fallacy, in my opinion lethal, that there is no reasonable rationale for the war, which in itself is not “just” without the sanction of the United Nations Security Council. Frequently, good intentions cause more problems than they intend to solve, and produce greater harm than the one they want to remedy. Putting aside the fact that a war branded as “just” does not imply, in and of itself, a just peace, one should not forget that an attack on Iraq would amount only to a resumed conflict: the continuation of the war approved in 1990 and suspended in 1991 due to an accord which Saddam has failed to fulfill. It would be well to notice, too, that the United States is the only country to resort to the United Nations in similar situations, and not only in 1990 and 2002. France did not do it in 1955 when it sent its troops to Algeria to fight against “enraged Muslims”, nor even last year when it sent its troops to the Ivory Coast. And, how about Germany? Had it not been for the United States, France would be speaking German today… When have Russia and China gone to the United Nations in their military excursions to subjugate other nations?
Furthermore, can the world really consider France a sincere ally? Not only did France not help Spain in the Perejil crisis, but it blocked European support as it is doing now to the United States and tried to do to Turkey just two months ago.
The United States has been accused of following an exclusively economic policy, particularly one based on oil. Perhaps the international behavior of the United States has not always been ivory pure, but that is another fallacy already evidenced in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq. Had oil been the reason for action in Iraq, the United States would have already taken control of that industry in 1992. That did not happen. Rather, the United States ceased all trade with that Arab country and resumed its importation of Iraqi petroleum only when, several years later, the “oil for food” program was initiated for the benefit of the Iraqi people. Today, that trade constitutes less than 5% of the total petroleum imported by the United States.
Quite different is, however, the case with the countries opposed to full compliance of Resolution 1441 that was unanimously adopted just four months ago. Lately, The Washington Times has been publishing well documented articles on the trade of arms and oil with Iraq. The financial rivers that link that country with Russia, China, Germany and above all France flow wide and deep, and most of all abundantly. With respect to the Gallic nation, not only did France sell to Iraq its first nuclear reactor “Osirak” which the Israeli destroyed in 1982, but still continues to sell spare parts for its Mirage F-1 planes and Gazelle helicopters to that Arab country. In addition, French petroleum company Total Fina Elf has negotiated the development and exploration of the Iraqi petroleum fields Majnoon and Nahr Umar which represent 25% of all the oil reserves in Iraq. Before Christmas of 2002, eighty-one French companies participated in the annual trade fair in Iraq. And there is a lot more to tell…
On the other hand, France has ambitions and designs of grandeur and power. She wants for itself the leadership of Europe and the right to serve as a counterweight to the influence of the United States in the international theater. For that it needs a robust and vigorous economy and preponderant military power. At present, France lacks both of them and, without Iraq, its situation will worsen in the future: hence, its iron strong opposition to any action against Saddam Hussein.
War is bad, but appeasement to secure peace is very bad and more mischievous and harmful when it postpones a worse war. This judgment can be deduced from the Machiavellian principle that “war is not eluded: it’s only deferred with advantage to the others”. It is easy to identify in the tides and currents of history times when lack of courage and resolve to confront a threat in its initial impulse ended up costing catastrophically more in its final unraveling. Had Hitler been forced to comply with the treaty of Versailles, we would not have suffered a disastrous Second World War. Had the United Nations not limited the action in 1991 to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, the United States and the coalition would have taken him out of Baghdad as well. So then, there are people who consider that delaying this war is neither ethical nor practical, but rather irresponsible and suicidal.
I do not think I am mistaken by maintaining that France, Germany and Russia have encouraged Saddam’s present haughty and defiant behavior with their inflexible posture of resistance to compel faithful compliance of Resolution 1441 and the new resolution, number 18. Had they remained united in their determination to making their resolutions effective, forcing Saddam Hussein to show the “complete and immediate” fulfillment required, the dictator would have already fled from Iraq and war would no longer be urgent. However, the very shrewd takes delight with great glee contemplating the spectacle of a disunited and impotent Security Council. He continues giving more time to make allowances for the world to tire, debilitate and exhaust its will. He shows beginnings of cooperation and limits it to destroying little by little some 120 Al-Samud rockets, which he originally denied he had, but not long ago has confessed he possessed.
If the international community does not act with force, Saddam Hussein will obtain his objectives. Perhaps then we will not be able to think of a just war and perhaps then, a just peace will be beyond our reach. The United Nations will have then abandoned Iraq to the shameful and inhuman luck of Rwanda, and the defenseless world to the horrific wait of another September 11.”
At the beginning of the demonstrations, there was only one position on the war being heard, and that was the one opposing the war. In addition, few were the means of communication that would permit opposing views in defense of the war. Editorials and political commentaries rushed to foretell numerous deaths of soldiers and many more of children and innocent civilians. Some estimated those casualty lists into the millions. Furthermore, they branded the approaching war as “unilateral”, notwithstanding the fact that dozens of nations kept enlisting in support of the military effort led by the United States. They would also predict grave political consequences for Blair in England and numerous losses for the PP (Popular Party), José María Aznar’s political party, in the May elections in Spain.
As people were becoming more and more aware of other points of view, of the true reasons that justified the war and the horrific conditions of the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein, the street demonstrations decreased drastically in attendance and degenerated dangerously in behavior, until they finally ceased in several parts of the world, discouraged by lack of support, especially after the fall of the statue of the dictator of Baghdad on that famous 9th of April of 2003.
The year 2004 being a year of presidential elections in the United States, the debate started and continued with respect to the exact and correct “intelligence” about the “weapons of mass destruction” that Saddam Hussein was believed to possess. Overlooking the fact that such information emanated from the United Nations and from many other sources of intelligence of other countries such as England, France and Germany, and disregarding furthermore the fact that Saddam had used those very same weapons against his own people killing thousands of Kurds, for example, it is fitting to remember that non-compliance of Resolution 1441 did not limit itself to “weapons of mass destruction” and did not consist, of course, in finding them. Indeed, Baghdad had to show that he had destroyed them. According to the United Nations inspectors, Saddam had them in 1998. They even indicated quantities. Where are those weapons? Are they buried somewhere in Iraq? Are they in the hands of terrorists or hidden in Syria? In my opinion, at this point in time this last possibility is far more alarming than the worrisome question “why the intelligence was not more precise and exact”.MARCH 11, 2004: MASSACRE IN MADRID
The results of the May, 2003 election in Spain proved wrong the predictions that José María Aznar’s party would suffer serious losses for having supported the United States in its war in Iraq. Months later, Spain sent a contingent of 1300 soldiers to help in the reconstruction of that country which had just rid itself of a perverse and bloody dictatorship.
The year 2004 was a year of presidential elections not only in the United States, but also in Spain, the former in November and the latter in March. Though Aznar was not the candidate of the Popular Party, but instead Rajoy, one week before the voting was to take place on March 14, everything pointed to a victory for the Popular Party. However, terrorism sowed terror and succeeded to incite indignation, hatred and fear with the infamous massacre of March 11 in Madrid, just three days before the elections.
There is no doubt that on March 11, Spaniards in Madrid acted with dignity and even heroism. Even more: the next day, all of Spain gave the whole world a great lesson of unity and solidarity of national mourning and of a deafening repulse of terrorism with impressive massive demonstrations throughout the whole country. Not only did the TV news programs showed multitudes of demonstrators through the streets of the most important cities of the country, the newspapers exhibited them in the front pages. I read three newspapers daily and that day, the three carried impressive images of the massive manifestations throughout Spain. One of them, The Daily News of the San Fernando Valley of California showed in the front page pictures of Barcelona, Zaragoza and Pamplona (and of Madrid in the interior of the paper), below the title across the page which read in huge letters: “SPAIN WEEPS”. This caused me to write the following article to Bierzo 7:
“At almost seventy years of age, few are the days whose memory has remained recorded in my mind, and awakened the universal conscience at the same time, as did September 11, 2001. I was in El Bierzo, then, and my berciano friends offered me their condolences for my adoptive country. Similarly, on March 11, 2004, when in my home of Los Angeles, my American friends offered me theirs for my lovely Spain where I had the privilege of being born. I fervently pray the Good Lord that macabre days such as those will never again mark neither my existence nor the history of countries that move me and make me tremble.
The bloody televised images of murdered, mutilated or wounded persons produce fury and pain at the same time that they incite feelings of incapacity and provoke a desire for vengeance. Nevertheless, it is baffling, though perhaps understandable, to hear voices to insinuate that the national government stimulated the beastly attack of March 11 by allying itself with the United States in the war of Iraq. Overlooking the fact that, for more than three decades, ETA (Basque terrorist group in Spain) has been causing desolation, which has resulted in more than 800 deaths, before Madrid there were already New York, Bali, Moscow, Baghdad, Najaf, Karachi, Istanbul, Mombassa, Jerusalem, Riyadh, Casa Blanca… What do those voices want to accomplish, blame the Spanish government and justify, or perhaps even applaud, the atrocities of soulless terrorists who only desire to kill? In addition, do those heralds long for Spain to be ready to surrender its foreign policy to the demands of pitiless and savage terrorists? Were that posture of appeasement to be adopted, it would create infinity of problems much more severe in the future.
Fortunately, those voices are few. The Spanish people have shown unity without division for the same cause and the same sentiment, and that will make Spain stronger and nobler, much more than it already is right now. With its prints of style and use of materials (though perhaps not in strategy) in that brutal massacre, ETA has sealed its future by signing its own death sentence. War on terrorism in Spain continues now more determined than ever, for the Spanish people have shown with solidarity its overwhelming repulse of terrorism, at once devastating and without a conscience. In its massive demonstrations, Spain has declared to the entire world that it will not surrender, neither through fear nor indecision, to any more terrorist atrocities. The cry throughout Spain is deafening: “No more terrorism. It’s finished!”
As a Spaniard, I have suffered much pain and shed many tears these past few days, but I have also felt very proud of my compatriots. Their exemplary, and at times heroic, conduct has rekindled around the world the flame of memory and hope. I trust that such manifestation of unity, firmness and determination, sonorous and impressive as it is throughout Spain, will succeed in suffocating the flapping of wings of global terrorism and in making disappear for ever that sore of humanity.
After that blunt demonstration against terrorism, the country seemed united in showing to the world that it was also determined to face it without fear and with resolve to support a definitely antiterrorist government as was the one Aznar led. This would be the result that several polls had indicated prior to the elections and as the absentee votes would prove that gave in fact a 13% victory to the Partido Popular over its opposition the PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español).
Nevertheless, the votes of March 14 gave the power to the PSOE. ¿What happened? Two things occurred: the March 11 massacre in Madrid and, as Ignacio Sánchez pointed out in the ABC digital edition of March 15, “…the pre-electoral low blow, the dirty play…”, but worse, “the will to muddle the clean hours of the Spanish grief” by a sector of the Spanish Left. Torn by pain for the signal which, in my view that electoral result was sending to terrorists, I mailed the following article to Bierzo 7, which published it on its Thursday edition of March 18 where the previous article also appeared.
“Today, I continue to weep for my country of birth. Indeed, I continue crying because there are still victims to be buried, but I also weep for the message that a young, blackmailed democracy has just sent to all soulless terrorists around the world. Pain and indignation may have blinded momentarily the Spanish voters, but by punishing the government, in fact they have also congratulated, applauded and emboldened those perverse terrorists whose only purpose consists in causing devastation and eliminating lives. The Spanish vote has succeeded in functioning as a lung of oxygen that purifies the contaminated air of their last flapping wings.
What a pity! To think that Spain had in its hands the weapon to exterminate its internal and, perhaps even international, terrorism for ever…! Unfortunately, what it has done has emboldened and energized both of them to act the same way in other Western democracies with future similar circumstances.
Let us, indeed, celebrate our democracy… but let us prepare ourselves for another September 11 and also for another March 11. No one wants to be wrong. However, this is an occasion when I wish wholeheartedly to be very wrong. What a sad day, today, March 14 of 2004 if I am not!”
Contrary to the accusation that the Aznar government lacked sincerity in the details of the police investigation, I read in several sources that the Aznar government was actually very responsible in the revelation of such an investigation. In point of fact, the declassification of certain information of the CNI (National Council of Investigation) showed with certainty that the government had not hidden any information nor lied as it had been falsely accused. Similarly, it became also clear after the elections that Ángel Acebes, Minister of the Interior, had made public all the information that the government possessed at the same time as it was receiving it. The truth was coming out, naturally, after the elections, but it was too late, and the will of the people, blackmailed and deceived in my view, must be respected, as it must be done in any democracy worth that name.
Obviously, in questions such as this, not all of us think alike. In any democracy, civil debate is always a necessity. God help us when that is not permissible! Personally, I have never despised, nor will I ever despise those who think differently than I do. The right path to follow is for everyone to serenely and frankly examine the conduct of the government and that of the opposition during those three days between the horrible massacre and the elections, including March 13, the “day of reflection”… and then, draw a personal conclusion.PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS IN THE USA
On November 2 of that same year, presidential elections were held in the United States. Though many hoped for, and intensely desired the defeat of that nation’s president, the results gave an uncommon personal victory to Bush and his Vice President Cheney. Few days after the election, I sent to Bierzo 7 an essay in defense of the win of the Republican candidates and their program. The article appeared in the November 11 edition of that weekly under the title: The candidate who has received most votes in history:
“To inform its readers of the result of the recent elections in the United States, The Daily Mirror of London asked in its front page: “How can 59 million people be so dumb?” Unfortunately, that British newspaper accurately reflects the thinking of many newspapers and commentators with respect to those who voted for Bush in the above mentioned election. In my view, all those “thinkers” have subordinated their analysis and reasoning to a wish and to sentimentalism. I further believe that they use injurious insult to debate when they lack logical arguments to persuade. As a retired professor of civilization, language and culture I assign to them a just failing grade and to the reviled voters a deserved grade of “excellent”.
When I was in Spain this past month of August, many people asked me about the elections the United States was scheduled to have on November 2. Without hesitation or vacillation I answered them that Bush was going to give Kerry “a beating”. As in any good democracy, after explaining the reason for my conclusion, some were convinced that it would indeed be so. Others showed much skepticism and still others assured me that the one who would receive the beating would definitely be Bush. Then, at the beginning of September, I returned to the United States and started a process of education, so that I would be able to cast a conscientious and informed vote. As a result, on November 1st, one day before the election I sent the following e-mail to some of my friends from the Bierzo region of Spain, though not the same complete text to each one:
“I have a feeling that Bush will win with more than 5% of the votes, and all the lawyers will have to pick up their suitcases and go back to their homes without glory and without money. In spite of the fact that the media coverage of Bush is about 80% negative and that of Kerry 75% positive, there are compelling reasons that, in my view, will bring Bush victory. For one thing, never at the voting booths of its history has the United States gotten rid of its president at the time of war, and for another, Kerry has not presented a coherent policy, guided by a definitive plan for the future: he seems to react to the news of the day like a weathervane reacts to the direction of the wind at any given time. Furthermore, he left a very vulnerable trail in the debates. What people remember most about them are Kerry’s three huge errors. In the first debate, the Senator declared that the United States has to pass a “global test” before using the armed forces for its security. In the second, Kerry repeated that Saddam “was a threat” before the war in Iraq, and two questions later, he contradicted himself as he has frequently done, protesting that Saddam “was not a threat”. In the third debate, the Democratic candidate took gratuitous refuge in the lesbianism of one of Republican Vice President Cheney’s daughter to defend his own position with respect with homosexuality.”
In spite of the fact that the media refused to point out those mistakes, as they have also refused to examine closely the Senator’s history and weaknesses, at the moment of truth, the American voter is going to be thinking about who is going to dedicate greater persistence to the security of the country. The “Security moms” show that with conviction. According to polls, a great percentage of women, who in the past voted Democrat en mass, will vote for the president this time. In addition, I do not believe that polls have considered the strength of the Evangelical Christians who this time have decided to vote, and will do it in defense of traditional values and against same sex marriages, embryonic research, abortion and the Democrat’s opposition to the selection of well qualified judges whom the president has submitted for senate confirmation”.
All of this helps Bush. Similarly internal details of all the polls show the president superior in leadership qualities, determination against the war on terrorism and also in the manner in which he is conducting the war in Iraq. Soon, we will know whether I am right or wrong.”
Now the reader knows the results. According to the most recent numbers of the Los Angeles Times, Bush has obtained 59,117,382 (52% of the popular vote) and 286 electoral votes (270 electoral votes are needed to win the election). As for Kerry, he has received 55,435,808 (48% of the popular vote) and 252 electoral votes. These numbers that continue to distance the president further from the senator as the absentee ballots are counted, perhaps do not mean much to the readers of this article, but they document for the American people an uncommon victory for the president. Not only do they legitimize Bush as resident of the White House one more time, but they constitute a mandate for his administration because of its historic significance. Bush has secured his place in history as one of the three presidents who have won the presidency consolidating the electoral vote and losing the popular, and the only one to win reelection. Furthermore, with almost 60 million votes, the president will stand in the annals as the candidate who has received the greatest number of votes in history. In addition, he is the only candidate since 1988 to have been reelected with a majority of the popular vote. Clinton, for instance, was elected twice by plurality only; that is to say with less than 50% of the votes cast.
The magnitude of that triumph amounts to a sweep if one considers that the president has carried along with him other Republican candidates in the Senate and the House of Representatives, so that since 1900 when republican McKinley was president, neither party had succeeded in reelecting simultaneously the Presidency, the Congress and the Senate, while at the same time adding seats in both chambers of congress. And that is not all. For the first time in more than 50 years, a leader of either party in both chambers has not been reelected. Tom Daschle, the highest ranking Democrat as a minority leader in the Senate, conceded his seat in South Dakota to the Republican winner John Thune.
Bush procured that sensational win over an Europeanized Kerry in spite of an undeniable and, in my view, shameful machination of the United Nations, which is in disrepute because of scandals such as the oil for food program, and the media that has become, from beginning to end, the “misinformation column” for the Democrat candidate’s campaign. Of course, I do not refer here to the editorials, which in any democracy enjoy a degree of legitimacy and demand respect. I have in mind, rather, the reporting of news, which in that same environment requires consistent impartiality. With regard to the economy, for instance, the 5.4% unemployment, which in 1996 reporters pointed to as an imperative to reelect Clinton, now that very same level of unemployment is mentioned by the same reporters as justification to cause Bush’s defeat. What’s more, they conscientiously seem to ignore that the president inherited an impending recession, and completely forget the disastrous effects of that unforgettable September 11, as they also forget the more than 2 million jobs created since the month of August of last year.
In the war on terrorism that is being carried out on several fronts through global cooperation of some 90 countries, that apparent “collective blindness” has blinded reporters to see what the great “silent majority” of the American voting public has been able to appreciate. In spite of the fact that Osama bin Laden seems to be alive, in reality he is hiding and his offensive impotence limits its effectiveness to threatening tapes, videos and Web pages in the Internet. His bases of operation in Afghanistan and the one he had in northern Iraq have been destroyed. Afghanistan already has, for the first time in its history, a government elected by the people, and women have been able to cast their vote. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein is imprisoned and waiting for trial, an Iraqi interim government rules the country, and though a reduced corner still suffers from lack of security and is still dangerous, that same government is preparing with determination for free elections in January of 2005. Besides, Pakistan has joined the allies in the fight against terrorism. In Libya, fearing that what happened to Saddam might happen to him, Kadaffi has renounced terrorism and nuclear weapons as well as those of mass destruction.
On the other hand, Kerry voters were short of explanations when reminded of his numerous contradictions, undeniable inconsistencies and the constant incoherence of their candidate. In addition, in time of war, many did not believe that it is logical to elect a senator who in 1971 vilified, with unfounded allegations before Congress, the armed forces of the country he was now aspiring to govern as commander-in-chief. Neither did the senator inspire much confidence when, after voting to send the troops to Iraq, voted later on against the 87 billion dollars for the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. He cast that “no” vote, just one week after he had declared in a program on television that “it would be irresponsible not to vote in favor”. Finally, Kerry sealed his fate before those doubts and many others, when one week before the elections, without proof and in complicity with the UN, the New York Times and CBS, he accused the troops that were heroically fighting in Iraq of not protecting 380 pounds of explosives, overlooking the more than 480,000 pounds of those explosives that they had already destroyed or were in the process of doing so.
The Daily Mirror of London may very well not agree with these view points and call “dumb” those of us who voted for Bush after a conscientious study of the positions of the two candidates. Nevertheless, the Democrat debacle in this election remains very clear and that dilapidated Democrat party has already started to heal its wounds in preparation for the 2008 elections. Several names are mentioned. Obviously, in politics, four years can seem an eternity and bring about many changes. Personally, I would love to see a presidential campaign between the “polarizing” Democrat senator Hillary Clinton and the very popular Florida governor Jeff Bush, brother of the present resident of the White House. Is that possible? Who knows, Lord?
On the 25 of November, 2003, two days before Thanksgiving in the United States, Lucille and I flew to the Philippines for a reunion of the Paradela family. The flight on Singapore Airlines left Los Angeles punctually at 1:20 in the afternoon. The organization within the airport had improved significantly; the waiting lines were not as long as in previous occasions. Even so, the process one has to go through to travel by plane as a result of September 11, 2001, though it does sooth the nerves, also torments the body and dampens the spirit.
Nonetheless, the flight was good, the food varied and of exquisite taste. Besides, the service provided by the slender and busy-as-bees attendants resulted excellent and friendly. And what a pleasant surprise! Singapore Airlines still uses stainless steel silverware, not plastic ones which frequently break, particularly when eating meat…
After a two hour stop in Tokyo, we landed in Singapore early Thursday, November 27. The airport stands out as one of the most beautiful and comfortable that I have ever seen: it relaxes the body, comforts the soul and enriches the spirit. There are several places where one can rest comfortably, except obviously, when encountering someone who snores…In addition, it offers free use of the Internet at set hours. I used it to send emails to relatives and friends in Spain and the United States. It’s truly and astonishing airport in a city-state like the Vatican.
After a considerable time of rest, we boarded a three-hour flight to Manila. The flight attendants were as pleasant as in the prior runs of the trip. The food, though good, was not as tasty as previously, but the service was still superior. Once in the Philippine capital, we boarded another aircraft from the Philippines Airlines and landed for a two-day stay in Cebu, “Queen City of the South” which I have already described in my Odyssey Resumed.
Without doubt, Cebu has changed a lot since I visited in 1996. What strikes the visitor at first sight is the intensity of the traffic, which unfortunately seems to have assumed imperfections and faults that are similar to the ones I observed in Manila during my first visit to the Philippines. Nevertheless, the transformation that most affects tourists is one that has been imposed in that beautiful city, as well as in the capital of the country, as a result of September 11, 2001. Conscious of the danger of terrorism, the hotel industry is applying security measures similar to the ones at the airports. They inspect cars, equipment and people before entering the property of the hotel and repeat the inspection of the vehicle when it stops in front of the door of the main entrance. Once inside the hotel, they carefully examine and search from head to toe every person that desires to enter. Those are annoying and burdensome inconveniences, of course, but at the same time they produce tranquility to whoever travels throughout this world enveloped in terrorism.
In that corner of our planet, there always exists the danger of typhoons. In fact, when we arrived in Cebu, a very destructive one was being announced and we faced the risk of not being able to continue the trip to Pilar, in the island of Ponson, where the family reunion was to take place. Thank God it changed direction that night, and two days after, together with other family members still in Cebu, we boarded a magnificent yacht and arrived in Pilar in five and a half hours. The festivities had already started, but Jesús Paradela Fernández, Lucille’s first cousin and mayor of Pilar, was waiting for us at the pier with transportation to take us to the reunion venue.PILAR, PHILIPPINES
In my book Odyssey Fulfilled, I quoted in 2002 a Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, who six centuries before Christ maintained that in traveling “to follow the main road is easy, but people like to deviate”. That is what Labadee, a small town in Haiti, represented for me. It became “a pleasant deviation from the normal route, a true encounter with nature…”
That was indeed what Pilar meant to me, as well: an escape from the pressures of civilization, though not of its pleasures, but very far from the “worldly noise”. With its green space of heavenly environment, that charming country city holds a warrant for new emotions. There, people can breathe clean, fresh, unpolluted and uncontaminated air, enjoy the pleasurable morning sun of blessed relaxation and lazy evenings among friends, and count the stars in the silent obscurity of night… and all that, accompanied by the indefatigable singing of roosters in that place of true rural rest.
Indeed, even though that may seem something out of this world, such is Pilar: an idyllic pastoral city of luxurious vegetation in a healthy and religious environment. In that privileged world spot of unsoiled air, the people are simple, welcoming and friendly. Furthermore, never in my entire life have I seen roosters as exhibitionist as those in Pilar. They sing twenty-four hours a day… It seems that they have learned the verse: “Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done great things”. The only thing is that the singing of those roosters is not a new song, but rather, a continuous melody…
Not only do the roosters show jubilation and wellbeing in that charming city. Dogs also seem to appreciate that scenic work of the Lord. During the two Masses which we attended at Saint Francis Xavier church while we were in Pilar, a black dog lay down in the middle of the center aisle and would wag its tail when the faithful sang. Another brown dog remained on its paws and seemed to observe with severity those who would come late or failed to participate with enthusiasm. The locals say that at every Mass, those two dogs are always present…
Pilar was shining, not only with the natural beauty of its delightful and tranquil environs, but also with its external festival decorations in the main street and the plaza, urban center for every community activity, in preparation for St. Francis Xavier celebration which was approaching. The church exhibits a modern look, with reinforcement columns in Y shape beams, open without walls, which were substituted by low railings made of steel.
Though certain houses in Pilar had electricity because their owners owned private generators, the city had provided electricity since a few years ago, from six in the evening till one in the morning. From December 1st, 2003, the supply of electricity was increased to twelve hours a day.
Recently, the educational system has improved. Nowadays, Pilar operates several primary schools, established in various neighborhoods (barangays) of the city and one secondary school. While in the past, only a couple of families, besides the Paradela family, could send their sons or daughters for their university studies in Cebu or Manila, today that practice is rather common in many of the families of that city of 20,000, although the census only shows some 13,000 inhabitants.
During our stay in Pilar we attended a local show that accurately reveals the soul of that beautiful city. As a preparation for the 144th festival of its Patron Saint Francis Xavier on December 3rd, “Teachers’ Night” was celebrated in the community center. In a cordial, wide-open and friendly environment, teachers from all the schools put on a show for the benefit of the public. Through a very interesting combination of songs, dances and play-acting, it revealed at the same time, at least to me, a very important aspect of that place: the educators throb at the rhythm of the community they serve. That represents great richness for the city, and Jesús Fernández, who headed that exemplary and inspirational performance, deserves a warm hand of applause for its success. With the enthusiasm and dedication that the teachers showed, there is no doubt that education will continue to improve in Pilar and that it will adequately prepare their students for future university studies.
Pilar is the main city of Ponson Island, one of the Camotes islands which include those of San Francisco, Poro and Tudela. Ponson Island itself has an area of about 15 square miles. As the other islands just mentioned, Ponson enjoys very luxurious and pleasant green vegetation, and it is almost uninhabited. Throughout the whole island, the “barangays” (neighborhoods) are connected by roads along the coast as well as in the interior.
I went by yacht with other members of the Paradela family to one of those “barangays” known as Kawit or Barangay Kawit. It is a fishing village with a white sand beach, which changes its size and shape depending on the strength and direction of the winds. The day of my visit, the tide was very low and the sand of the beach overlay with very small shells which created difficulties for walking without shoes or without sandals. The water, however, was warm and delightful for swimming. Throughout that village, as in the very city of Pilar, a great variety of fish can be found that can be served barbecued or even “kinilaw” (raw) as they say in Visayan. True, one can swim or fish in Kawit, but tourism there still remains a wager for the future.
All through the Island of Ponson the sightseer can find certain patrician homes, already somewhat rare nowadays, which show the architectural style that prevailed on the island. In Pilar itself, visitors will be impressed by the house of Señora Felisa Ababat as well as that of the Santiago-Paradela family. Though presently abandoned, the latter is being planned for restoration by very enthusiastic descendants of that venerable family who want to preserve its external basic structure of the past while changing its interior to adapt to modern comfort.
Pilar is essentially an agricultural city: about 80% of its economy emanates from agriculture. The “carabao” (local type of oxen) is used to till the land which, in its present composition due to the closeness to the sea, renders as impractical the use of modern technology like the tractor. Besides fishing, there is abundance of coconut trees from which they extract the delicious drink called “tuba”, white in color when squeezed out of the fruit, but which later takes on the color red when new ingredients are added to it. From the dry meat of the coconut, known as “copra”, they produce oil for multiple and diverse use. They also cultivate rice, corn, “camote” (sweet potato), “casaba” and mangroves. Nevertheless, coconut and its diverse products constitutes Pilar’s main source of export.
That rural city delights the sightseer with its placid meadows and flower carpets of orchards fully blooming. It stands out for the environmental richness of its natural beauty. Its inhabitants seem determined to preserve it as a truly attractive and scenic green zone, remembering their ancestors with special dedication to that idyllic pastoral type of life, laying aside factories and industrial complexes that contaminate the air and complicate living.
How did Pilar come to being? I have always thought that the Ponson Island belonged to the Paradela family. There are indications that such was indeed the case some time in the past. Monico Paradela, born in San Fernando, Cebu, married Margarita Gocela when he was assigned judge in Pilar in the second half of the 19th century. She was born in Pilar of good dowry and a very comfortable life. Wisely using his knowledge, connections, great prestige and experience, and his wife’s fortune, Municipal Judge Monico Paradela bought great part of the island, or as the saying goes “as far as the eyes could see”.
Thus, the Paradela family became the first family to own property in Pilar, though not the first family of that locality. Besides the Gocela family, there was also the Santiago family of great sense of determination, constancy and honesty. Noé Santiago married Candelaria Paradela, Monico’s youngest child. Other families from various parts of the Philippines that married into the Paradelas include: Casas (Teresa Casas, wife of Vicente Paradela, my late father-in-law), Galenzoga, Legaspi, Sy, Merino, Cabigón, Fernández (no relation to myself), Regner y Borinaga. All those families gathered at the end of November, 2003, to celebrate together in Pilar, the first reunion of the Paradela clan after World War II.
Unfortunately, there is no place in the world without problems. Pilar is no exception, of course, for in the Philippines there are two types of land: the “transferable land” that gives rights to private property and inheritance, and the “inalienable land” which cannot be transferred because it only belongs to the government, such as mountains, rivers and marshes…
In 1989, the Aquino’s government declared as “marshes” the entire Ponson Island, and therefore nobody was entitled to own property, not even in Pilar. All those who possess real estate in Pilar, including the Paradela family, have to surrender it to the government. Some people in Pilar have already done so, but the great majority has not, and do not intend to do so. That law, many assured me, will be impossible to enforce, and much more so now that the Aquino government no longer exists. They are trying to change the law through lawful means, but I do not believe that the citizens of Pilar will surrender to what they consider a great injustice. Clamorous voices can be heard that refuse to give away something that is legally theirs: they would rather fight than yield. Their challenge to the government is already known and in place. Who will win? My bet goes for the good, honest and generous citizens of Pilar.
Whatever the final resolution of that public policy will be, I want to state with all sincerity that my visit to Pilar had an impact on me, for I appreciate with pleasure and delight, human simplicity and plainness, and idyllic natural beauty.
Approximately 18 miles south of Manila is found the vibrant and picturesque province of Laguna, a garden truly fertile in innumerable aquatic delights: lakes, waterfalls and abundant springs. Well known for its many summer resorts, that privileged province has become, in addition, a genuine treasure of religious, artistic and historical attractions, some of which I described in Odyssey Resumed after my visit to Villa Escudero. However, now I am going to present to the reader a place for a real waterborne thrill in the confluence of two rivers, the Balanac and the Bumbungan Rivers, some sixty miles southeast of the Philippine capital. I am referring here to Pagsanjan, tourist center of Laguna.
Pagsanjan is above all a small city of universal acclaim for its adductive traditions and landscapes, its entertainment and aquatic activities and its culinary delights. It is specially enriched by its terrifying gorge, its roaring rapids, its charming waterfalls, its luxuriant tropical forests and fertile gardens… a true plethora of panoramic views which leave the visitor in awe.
To live this experience more intensively with others, Lucille and I joined Chuchi Santiago Paradela, her husband Jim Whelan, their daughter Jaime and her husband Ryan Bloom who had traveled from Florida, USA, for the family reunion. At the Western entrance to the “old Spanish village”, the “Puerta Real” (Royal Gate), a national treasure of many a lustrum with its three Romanesque arches of stone, receives the visitor like a solitary sentry standing on guard. Crowned with two lions which seem to protect the royal coat of arms, that historic gate, constructed between 1878 and 1880 and inaugurated in 1894, stands erect as a monument to the glory of Pagsanjan when it was the capital of Laguna at a time during which the Philippines was still a Spanish colony.
As the story goes, the Spaniards took the name Pagsanjan from the Tagalog word “Pinagsangahan” which means “branching off” or “joining”, an adequate term to describe the place where the two above mentioned rivers meet. History relates as well that, originally, that locality was nothing more than another neighborhood of Lumban, a city that Franciscan missionary Fray Juan de la Plasencia founded in 1578. Almost half a century later, moved by the strategic location of the neighborhood, eight Chinese and Japanese businessmen settled there. They developed the betel-nut industry, which soon brought wealth to the locality and attracted to Pagsanjan the immigration of the inhabitants of surrounding towns like Pila, Cavini, Santa Cruz and many others. Naturally, the industry has since diversified, and nowadays it includes heavy industry and other businesses such as pastry, of which the coconut variety was the one that most delighted me.
In 1668, Pagsanjan evolved from “barrio” to city and was the capital of Laguna from 1688 to 1858, a 170-year period of great prosperity as well as greatness. It blossomed as the commercial and cultural center of the province and became known as “The Athens of Laguna”. It was occupied by the “Revolutionists” in 1896, the Americans in 1899 and the Japanese in 1942. Finally, the Filipinos liberated it in 1945.
Nowadays, Pagsanjan is one of the most attractive tourist centers of the Philippines. It owes its celebrity to the wonderful natural views and the most famous waterfalls in the whole country, the “Pagsanjan Waterfalls”. That beautiful city has become, besides, the favorite place where to film, whether local or international. Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” was filmed there in 1975-76.
Naturally, we were overwhelmed with deeply felt satisfaction and great interest by the successful struggle against the stunning noisy rapids through which we had to navigate up stream to reach our anxiously desired goal: the spectacular, clamorous and terrifying “Pagsanjan Falls”. The ride, two passengers by “banca” or canoe, provides the visitor with a unique experience of sensational shuddering, particularly the ride up the river. We were treated to numerous and frequent moments of surprising ravishment and unexpected relaxation upon contemplating the natural beauty and harmony of the tropical gorge, similar in intensity, stupefaction and amazement to the Interior Passage in Alaska and the Sounds in New Zealand, which I described in Odyssey Resumed and Odyssey Fulfilled, respectively.
The ride begins very innocuously in tranquil waters until entering the picturesque and enchanting tropical gorge, which is surrounded by an exceptional mixture of natural beauty of flora and fauna: vine, orchids and wild ferns, garrulous monkeys, occasional snakes, lizards lying on rocks, dragon-flies and a countless number of multicolor birds that ramble through shrubs. That and much more in a delightful and hallucinating scenery of shining rays of the sun which vigorously pierce through the branches of the trees and gently warm the environs.
The adventure rows with excitement up river. In an incredible display of exceptional dexterity and ability, two young men, expert in shooting the rapids on narrow and rocky river-beds, one being the pilot and the other the navigator, maneuver the canoe with hands and feet through some sixteen rapids between rocks, large and small, raising the canoe two or three times to carry it across impenetrable stretches. And all that with a speed that cuts one’s breath…
Finally, the canoe reaches the last and main waterfall. Once there, the visitors can transfer from the canoe to a “maderada” or lumber float that takes them through the waterfall to a cave which constitutes the walls of the gorge. Few are the tourists who dare to board the lumber float. Most of those who reach the spot where to board the “maderada”, just behold the majesty of the surroundings and then return to their canoe. The waterfall terrifies. The noise of the water stupefies. The unknown behind the resonant and dreadful fall of water frightens.
However, in our group, Jim, his daughter Jaime, Ryan and I defied the unknown and jumped into the lumber float that was guided by long thick ropes attached to very large rocks. We crossed the water that was falling loud, bombastic and heavy from a 320 feet steep cliff, distributing infinity of almost unbearable blows to our soaked bodies. We saw the cave that resembles the profile of the devil… and returned enduring once more the whipping punishment of the furious water, which seemed to last interminably… But what a feeling of satisfaction and delight when the lumber float was navigating away from the waterfall! This was a unique experience in life that cannot be lived in any other part of the world that I have the pleasure of knowing. Simply stated, this majestic waterfall produced in me an incredible and indescribable sensation. Yellowstone Park has indeed a waterfall even more majestic in sight, but nobody can navigate under it.
Though delightful and touching, the return down stream to the point of departure was not as ravishing and thrilling as the run up stream when the skill of the two rowers who were competing in swiftness and ability against pilots and navigators of other canoes exhibited extraordinary agility and bodily strength in a scenery of spectacular natural beauty. Certainly, the return trip did not produce in me as much shivering down the spine nor sifted as much adrenaline as the run upriver. Even so, the return turned out to be a true delight as well.
Finally, that two hour run up and down river known as “shooting the rapids” succeeded in becoming stimulating, invigorating, entertaining and amusing. This is an adventure that every visitor to the Philippines should experience, crowning it with the tasting of delicious regional cuisine while relaxing at one’s ease in one of the many excellent local restaurants of legendary hospitality.
Nevertheless, it is good to keep in mind that Laguna is a hive of activity and that one must plan well the excursion for the return to Manila. Nowadays, to return from Pagsanjan to the capital of the country takes twice the time, and quite often even more, than it takes to go from the capital to that impressive resort.SINGAPORE
Naturally, during that special stay in those islands of enchantment which make up the Philippines, we reduced the number of excursions so as to spend more time with members of the family. The two weeks that we spent with them went very fast. Very early in the morning of December 10 we left Manila for Singapore in whose magnificent airport we landed before noon. We very soon realized that we were in a country where you do not play with the laws of the land. We were surprised to see several infra red cameras installed at the exit of the airport to take the temperature of each passenger who entered the country. Sitting behind each of those machines, was an agent in national uniform reading the results with a Good Friday face so solemn that it scared even the most innocent. Nevertheless it was somewhat comforting to know that they only wanted to prevent the spread of a contagious and dangerous pneumonia that at the time was threatening the region.
In ancient times, Singapore was known by the name of Temasek, which in Javanese means “City of the Sea”. It does not appear so designated until 1365, though it may date back to the second century. Its renowned symbol, the mythical Merlion, a term that derives from the words “mermaid” and “lion”, takes the shape of an icon half fish and half lion. In addition, it represents homage to the history of the city and mirrors adequately the legend of the origin of the term “Singapore”, which stems from the old Sanskrit “singa pura” and means “City of the Lion”. It relates the tale that when Sumatran prince Sang Nila Utama first stepped on the island, hundreds of years ago, he observed a strange animal with a red body and a disheveled black hair, which looked like a lion.
Symbols assume a very important significance in the culture of the people of Singapore. It is so expressed in its national flag. The crescent shows a young nation that grows firmly. Its five stars signify democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality. The red color represents universal brotherhood and parity among men, while white symbolizes purity and virtue.
Nowadays, Singapore is an independent city-state, similar to the Vatican in a political and administrative sense. The composition of its population of 3.8 million inhabitants is constituted along the following lines of various ethnic groups of diverse cultures: 77% Chinese, 14% Malaysian, 7.6% Indian and 1.4% of other civilizations of mostly European origin. In that fascinating city, English and Malaysian are the two main languages spoken, the latter representing the national and official language of the country. Besides Buddhism, other religions are nowadays practiced, some of which are Christian. Right in the center of town and not too far one from the other are located the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd and Saint Joseph’s Church, both constructed by the Portuguese and both Catholic.
We stayed two days in that clean city, vibrant and energetic, inspirational and suggestive, of pristine streets and of abundant and delightful flora, but also a city of discipline and fines. Every violation of the law, no matter how insignificant, such as spitting on the side walks, is severely punished.
Unfortunately, the drizzling and, at times, heavy rain of the first day interfered with our determination as tourists and deprived us from appreciating the night life of that stunning city, such as enjoying the sunset in one of the bars in front of Sentosa Island, or observing the nocturnal animals in the only Night Safari in the world, or participating in many other entertaining and instructive opportunities which can be found in the late evening in that large attractive modern city where East happily meets West and where the old and the new harmoniously mingle in a dramatic contrast of style and substance.
At the airport, we rented a private passenger van with a guide so as to visit and appreciate the city at our pleasure and rhythm. While in the very center of the city, we traveled through Arab Street of intense commercial activity at that hour. Then, we proceeded to visit one of the ethnic enclaves that most interested us in experiencing that humid afternoon: Little India.
That picturesque little corner of Singapore formed in previous times a marshy zone with cattle fields of vegetable plantations as well as fields of plantains and the medicinal plant known as “Uncaria gambir”. Today, it exhibits, however, a chronicle of vertiginous rows of jewelry, textile, colors, sounds, aboriginal gastronomy, fragrances and above all flowers, which the Indians consider a symbol of prosperity. Along Serangoon Street, I came to understand that, in reality, “Little India” had become a true Eden of enchantment for tourists who wish to overburden themselves with souvenirs.
In that ethnic district of Singapore, many religious structures of diverse beliefs stand out. In Serangoon Street, one can see the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali. Though the majority of Indians practice their devotion in the Hindu religion, sightseers can also find the Abdul Gaffoor Muslim Mosque, the Anglican temple Church of True Light, and Our Lady of Lourdes, a Catholic church, similar to the pilgrimage sanctuary of Lourdes, and built with iron brought from France.
Gastronomic flavors were already sharpening our appetite. On the way to the center of town, which the guide suggested as the place where to eat well and with good taste, we crossed several sections of the city, among them a very curious one known as “The Market of Thieves” along Bencoolen Avenue. That market, where stolen goods are sold, functions every day in late evening, except on Sundays when it opens the whole day. Out of curiosity I asked the driver: Why is it that in such a disciplined and fined society as this, people sell stolen items openly and with impunity?” His answer that “they do it for benevolent purposes” did not really convince me, but I had no other choice than to accept it with reserved doubts.
The reader who may have read my Odyssey Resumed will probably remember the question with which Chinese people in China greet each other at any time of the day, which is : “Have you eaten?” In Singapore people greet each other with the question “Have you already eaten?” This question does not imply lack of food, but rather as a pastime or entertainment, as well as to express “the fact that to eat well and without rush is a vital part of the life style of Singapore”.
Without a doubt, Singapore is a paradise for Asian culinary selection no matter in what part of town people find themselves or what time of day it is. However, the drink “chendol” and the fruit “durian” incited my curiosity. In a way, “chendol” reminded me of the drink “tuba” of Pilar, Philippines, for that Singapore drink consists also of coconut milk, but mixed, however, with brown sugar, strips of green starch and red beans. On the other hand, “durian”, thorny in the outside and creamy in the inside, known as “the king of all fruits” is renowned for “smelling horribly and tasting heavenly”.
We continued the panoramic view of the city on our way to Chinatown. Everywhere in the English speaking world there seems to be a “Chinatown”… Nevertheless, it is rather curious that, in a country where the largest majority of the population is Chinese, there is a city district so designated. On the other hand, that is the way it was determined at the beginning of the 1820 decade by the founder of Singapore, Sir Stanford Raffles, when he divided the city in four ethnic quarters, one of them being Chinese.
That fascinating section of Singapore stands out for its Chinese architecture of traditional character in its temples and commercial stores. It was there that the first Chinese immigrants settled initially while searching fortune. It was there that they lived, worked, suffered and also had a good time. Nowadays visitors can haggle or drive bargains as do the ladies of the houses, taste Chinese tea, appreciate or perhaps even buy medicinal pomades, modern optics as did Lucille and, of course, Chinese antiques. In my estimation, that is certainly the most appropriate place to submerge at the same time into a humiliating and endearing past, and a vibrant and remunerating present.
Nevertheless, what most attracted us to Chinatown was the universally acclaimed Hindu temple Sri Mariamman. Built in 1827 and dedicated to the goddess of health, Mariamman represents the oldest and most important sacred structure of that denomination in Singapore. The colorful and ornate architectonic and baroque Chinese style of the façade made me think of the cathedral of Canterbury, in England, which I describe in my Odyssey Fulfilled. That feature and the elaborate designs that decorate the ceiling in the interior are instructive and indeed attractive. Since 1973, that temple has been recognized as a national monument.
In contrast with the rain and the clouds that at times complicated our first day in Singapore, light and sun encouraged and rewarded our second day, thus making possible for us to enjoy two excursions: one to Singapore River early in the morning when there were few tourists and the other to Sentosa in the afternoon, just before the crowds of tourists invaded that exciting island.
In the tourist quarters of Singapore River, the true cradle of the city, we stumbled into numerous contrasts between the ancient and the modern, between the historic and the tendentious. From there, one can contemplate the charming and delightful view of the silhouette of midtown Singapore. If a cruise through Thames River is indispensable in London to know the heart beat of the English capital, in Singapore it is indispensable to do it through its river in an authentic “living boat” in order to imbue oneself of its miraculous economic history.
On the other hand, a pleasant and enjoyable short stroll takes the visitor to modern buildings of historic significance: the Parliament, the oldest edifice in Singapore; the Asian Civilizations Museum and Empress Place complex, made up of ten thematic galleries of all of Asia; and Fullerton Place, now a five-star Hotel and, in earlier times, a very strengthened Fortress.
Once in that location, tourists should extend their walk to the peaceable and relaxing Merlion Park, located on the shore of the river, behind the Parliament building. A balsamic mitigating sea breeze inspires, distracts and incites visitors to marvel once more at the pleasant outline of the city and to examine more closely one of the two majestic statues of the legendary icon Merlion. The other is found in Sentosa, the island of the thematic park of Singapore and exalted last century as the impenetrable Fortress of the city during Second World War. Sentosa was precisely where we proceeded to go after our pleasant entertaining visit to Singapore River. Known as “the island of peace and tranquility”, Sentosa offers opportunities of amusement and relaxation for all tastes. Families with children will find their earthly paradise in Palawan Beach, to the South. The newly married will be able to discover their “romantic den” in Tanjong Beach, to the East.
No matter how seductive, tempting and persuasive we could value Tanjong Beach, Lucille and I did not choose, of course, the attractive sea shores… Somewhat fond of history, we visited “Images of Singapore”, a sort of museum where tourists can experience Singapore’s history and culture in four distinct and impressive zones: sea stones, pioneers of Singapore, Second World War and Surrender Quarters, and Festivals of Singapore.
Then we took a stroll though Butterfly Park and the Kingdom of the Insects where visitors see exhibited specimen of more than 3000 species of both anthropoids. It represents without a doubt one of the biggest collections in the world of such nature. The walk goes though a refreshing conservatory in the open air where more than 1500 live butterflies swarm the air. Simply awesome!
We intentionally left for last visiting the Tower of the mythic, magic and majestic Merlion. The first thing we did upon arriving in Sentosa was to stroll for a while in the Merlion Walk, a magic path of some 125 yards that stretches between the Merlion Tower and the Beach Amphitheater. That enchanting footpath, inspired by the style of the renowned Spanish artist Antonio Gaudí, snakes around colorful sea animal statues that spout jets of water out of their mouths.
I initiated this writing on Singapore mentioning a legend that links the chimerical Merlion to the history of the city. Nevertheless, another legend of local folklore maintains that “a series of relentless sea tempests had whipped Temasek. While the helpless local people prayed feverishly for a miracle, an imposing animal, with the head of a lion and the tail of a fish, surged from the turbulent seas and fought the ferocious storms until calm was restored”. According to this version, that is how the impressive image of that marvelous icon of Singapore was hatched.
The Merlion Tower, with the head of a lion and the body of a mermaid, which we wanted to visit, is 120 feet high. We reached the top of that attractive structure by elevator. From that height we could contemplate spectacular landscapes, with a 360º bird’s eye view of truly sensational contrasts between the silhouette of the city and the islands that surround it. Unfortunately, that particular occasion, the elevator was not functioning well and could not be used to go down to the ground floor. There was very little time left for us to return to the airport and we did not know what to do. I suggested to Lucille that we should take the stairs to go down. In another country we would definitely do so, even though a very red sign said: “exclusively for personnel” (clearly from management). In Singapore, she did not dare. She was afraid of the authorities. Finally, a family with three or four children, after some hesitation, stealthily sneaked through the stairs door and… hurriedly started running downstairs. We decided to follow them and moved quickly to run downstairs close to them, until we were finally on the ground floor. Not even the kids dared to smile. We silently opened the door to the lobby and left the structure calmly and without signs of nervousness, as if nothing had happened.
We would have loved to visit much more of that delightful and truly eolith city: more of its museums, more of its abundant flora, its Botanical Garden and especially its renowned “Bottle Box”, located 30 feet below surface in one of the underground pits of Canning Park Fortress. It represents the biggest complex of military operations in Singapore during the Second World War. It is a reminder of February 15, 1942, when English officials decided to surrender, and Singapore passed on to the Japanese who, in August 1945, ended the occupation of which the locals talk so much even today. That happy August, Singapore came to be governed once again by the English until the decade of the 1960’s when Singapore became a totally independent state.
During our travel through the city we passed by the huge Canning Park several times, but it was not possible for us to enter due to the lack of time in which we always found ourselves. Now, late in the afternoon of our second day in that stunning and enchanting Asian city, we had no more time at our disposal. The only thing that mattered was to meet the schedule of our return flight to Los Angeles with a two hour stop at Taipei, capital of Taiwan.
ENDEARING RETURN TO MY ROOTS
Usually, I prefer to go to El Bierzo in mid August to celebrate in Fuentesnuevas the deep rooted festivities for Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Roque, and the most recent Festival of the Sardine. In 2003, however, I took advantage of the opportunity to participate in the Book Fair of Ponferrada to present Odyssey Fulfilled, the third book of my autobiographical trilogy, and to celebrate Holy Week “with history, tradition, devotion and brotherly love” as it was written that year in the program of Los Barrios.INDELIBLE EASTER CELEBRATION
Truly, that Holy Week became for me not only spiritually beneficial and rewarding, but also humanly enjoyable and busy. I commemorated Holy Thursday in Fuentesnuevas with family and friends and the rest of that glorious week in Salas de Los Barrios, Villar and Lombillo, reliving with delightful remembrance my years of childhood.
I also experienced once more, as I had done in 2001, very emotional moments upon fully participating in the Procession of the Encounter in the main Plaza of Salas on Good Friday and in the amicable and generous customary communal sharing from house to house or from wine cellar to wine cellar that traditionally follows the religious procession. It was in this environment that I was able to enter for the first time since 1944 in the historic and renowned “Cabildo” of Salas de los Barrios, a huge wine cellar that formerly belonged to my uncle Daniel Tahoces and is today the property of his descendents with whom I could recall some pleasurable moments of the past.
That Friday, April 18, I joined the liturgical celebration in Santuario del Cristo in Villar with its impressive Drawing out of Nails and Descent of the Cross, as well as the following solemn procession of the Holy burial while singing the Miserere Mei Deus which three or four men would intone at intervals to accompany the recital of other devotional prayers. One of those men was my altar boy companion in our childhood.
Following that devotional and touching religious rite, several citizens of Villar generously opened their homes or their wine cellars to those who together walked the streets of the town, openly exhibiting with joy their remarkable spirit of affability, friendship and kindness, plainness and frankness. This was an exquisite and pleasant feature of Villar, of which I was totally unaware and which I was happily able to experience in a moment of sacred fervor when unity and communal cordiality are desired and appreciated.
After that joyous sharing of brotherhood, more religious pageantry took place late that evening, such as the Sermon of Solitude delivered in the “Santuario del Cristo”, dealing with “La Virgen de la Soledad” (Virgin of Solitude). This was followed by the humble, but rather impressive Procession of Solitude through the uphill streets of Villar which ended with the Great Hail Mother of Sorrow sung by the parochial chorus of Santa Columba church. I was moved beyond measure by the solemn and profoundly devout composure of the congregation and the spirit of sacrifice and mortification of the women who carried upon their shoulders the very heavy statue of Our Lady of Sorrow during the prolonged run through the steepest streets of the town. It was just exemplary and worthy of admiration and praise.
Unfortunately, I was not able to participate in the Procession with the Mother to the little church of Lombillo on Sunday, after the solemn Easter Mass in the parochial church of San Martín, where I was baptized. However, it was possible for me to join, that same day at five o’clock in the afternoon, the Procession with the Mother on its return to San Martín through the blooming fields of that village. Not only that, but for the first time in 50 years I was able to enter the little church where so many times I had served mass during my childhood. I found it less dark and bigger than I remembered. They had renovated it and painted its walls white.PRESENTATION OF ODYSSEY FULFILLED
The purpose of my visit to El Bierzo, on this occasion, was to present the last book of my autobiographical trilogy to the greatest number possible of my countrymen from the region of my birth. Since I reside in California, it becomes very difficult, almost impossible, for me to schedule book presentations and signing sessions there. For that reason, I decided to supply Bierzo 7 with a written text of my presentation, which, as on previous occasions, that weekly newspaper published in its entirety. I include it here with few modifications for the benefit of the English reader, in the third person as the book itself was written:
“Odyssey Fulfilled concludes the autobiographical trilogy of Roger R. Fernández. In this work, the author hurls once more a challenge to explore the planet. He seems to lure the reader to venture into the world unknown in order to achieve greater satisfaction and to fulfill that constant aspiration in the human being to know more and to go farther. He contemplates the eagerness to abandon the trodden path and encounter something new, something mysterious.
In Odyssey Fulfilled, Fernández sketches once again a pleasant painting of each region he visits and presents the culture through the keen eye of an attentive and fascinated traveler. He does not supply a product of the imagination, but rather a picture of real places, events and people. As luxuriant as the soil he depicts, the content stands as a poetic evocation of life, with its magic and tragedies, of the various countries he tours.
This book conveys enthusiasm and dedication and provokes delight. The paradigm that emerges from its tale is one that constantly reappears: fanciful longing and pleasurable satisfaction. Among its messages, the reader can find foretaste and curiosity in traveling, attraction of the exotic and the sublime, the necessity of a fantasy escape from city to countryside and the highlight to which art can uplift the human spirit.
In Odyssey Fulfilled the author seems to endeavor to cultivate the elements that produce trust: attention and detail, passion and desire, memory and history, gratitude and patriotism. The scenic arrangement throbs with life. The writer’s mind is captured immediately by the surroundings: a magnetized world of sensations and impressions, trust and optimism. For him, the perspective of wandering translates into a vision of adventures, pleasure and enjoyment, free from the anguish and anxiety of the hidden or the unknown and the comforts of the daily routine. Far from dreading the unknown, the protagonist delves into it, makes it his ally and describes what he sees and pries, touches and analyzes.
Odyssey Fulfilled ought to be read to plow the waves of joviality and illusion. It leaves the reader with an image inflamed with the sense of liberty that the author affirms through his genuine bond to a life of daring. It embraces a fascinating narrative put together with description and meditation, history and geography, spirituality and education, a diary of trips and political thought. Through it all, however, a current of peace and enjoyment runs between the seeker of truth and the master of the theme as the author strives to connect the two worlds that he rides with ease.
Fernández splashes his latest book with quotations from writers who have left written opinions on the art of traveling, creating a sort of universal time frame where the future appears to be defined by the past. In this context, he painfully contemplates with a deeply felt sense of patriotism how the Twin Towers of New York, once marvels of engineering and imagination, on that infamous day of September 11, 2001, became mausoleums of perfidy and tombs of innocent victims of terrorism.
In this new work, Fernández advises readers to elevate their sights. He considers traveling as an escape of enchantment while relaxing in an undisturbed and sunny beach of Labadee in the Caribbean and gazing at the awe inspiring Sounds of New Zealand. An excerpt from his description of the Mildford Sound reinforces the point: “Somewhat overpowered by Mitre Peak, which rises steep from the deep waters of the fjord as a wall that contains the current of a natural canal, magnificent waterfalls cascade down into the Sound. …That wonder of geological treasures is an inexhaustible source of impressionist paints that make the sightseer sigh: “I wish I was a painter!” As in Alaska, that is a fascinating landscape, a feast for the senses, a true natural scenic orgy, a peaceful and tranquil refuge where to escape from the earthly problems that constantly besiege human beings.”
For readers in love with nature and with traveling, Odyssey Fulfilled can very well be the enchanting book they are looking for. In it, they will perhaps appreciate the gift of evoking places, people and environments, from the idyllic pastoral calm of a fertile valley to the desolated panorama and the dreadful sounds of war. Nevertheless, an indescribable stream of charm and satisfaction seems to refresh and cheer the narration. But what thrills the reader’s fancy, above all, are the detailed accounts of the author’s trips throughout the world, which with enthusiasm and passion he takes delight in describing.”
There can be no doubt that the Easter festivities turned out to be spiritually enriching to me, but at the same time sociable and peregrine, not only in the religious sense, but also in the notion of wandering into a emotional past, for after that week of worship and celebrations, Ponferrada inaugurated the week of “book exaltation”.
My arrival at the Bierzo capital for the presentation of Odyssey Fulfilled coincided with that of Marist investigator José Diego Rodríguez Cubero’s as well. He had just published his fascinating and well documented work Don Lope García de Castro y Baeza de Grijalba, Viceroy of Peru, born in Villanueva de Valdueza and unknown till then in El Bierzo. Providentially, I heard on the radio that, in a few hours, he would present his book in one of the big halls of Obra Cultural de Caja España. I found out in the offices of Bierzo 7 that it was indeed the José Diego whom I knew. I attended the presentation where we greeted each other enthusiastically… and started to recall bygone days…
By itself, this coincidence would not have been unusual, for in other similar situations, I had run across other “berciano” writers dedicated to advance and popularize the culture of our most beloved region. In José Diego’s case, however, it was a question of someone very special and transcendent in my life. We had studied together in Grugliasco and Bairo Torre, Italy, and had not seen each other for over 50 years. In addition, while students in Italy, the Cardinal Archbishop of Turin came to Grugliasco to administer the sacrament of confirmation to many young people in town, among them, José Diego who asked me to be his sponsor.
At present, Diego and I are both retired. He continues to dedicate his time to investigation and I to traveling and describing what I see. Nonetheless, now we communicate frequently via e-mail, and I am very fortunate that he accepted to write the prologue to this book.
It would be fitting to include here that during our encounter at Caja España, José Diego served, without his knowing, as an angel of reconciliation between the editor of his book, Amparo Carballo Blanco, and me. As the reader may well remember from the third chapter of this very work, Amparo and I went through a public exchange of letter writing, adverse in nature…and even hostile to a certain point. She was very surprised when she saw me arriving at the presentation of José Diego’s book. She then heard directly from me: “…the author is my godson of confirmation”. During the Book Fair, she and I met once again. We made peace, after admitting with a smile that “we hit each other hard”. As authors most often do, we exchanged books: she offered me her La sombra de las palabras (The Shadow of Words) and I handed her my Odyssey Fulfilled. It was thus that Amparo and I forgot our pen differences and renewed our good friendship of old.
Another telling encounter occurred in site during the Book Fair on Friday, April 25, the day after Bierzo 7 published two articles about my literary work, one of them being the presentation of Odyssey Fulfilled. Many came to buy the third book of my autobiographical trilogy, among them a first rank personality: Cristóbal Halffter, a composer of world fame. I am ashamed to admit it, but I failed to recognize him. He was accompanied by his wife, the Marchioness of Villafranca del Bierzo. While he was talking to Alfredo Rodríguez, president of the Instituto de Estudios Bercianos at that time, and other personalities there present, he frequently directed his attention, with reserve, towards my book. At the same time, I was talking to his wife with much candor: “You seem a well read and educated lady and, without doubt, you must have heard about the Opera House of Sidney”. She smiled very graciously and replied in the affirmative. Then I proceeded to show her, in my book, a photo of that very famous building. After Don Cristóbal bought my Odisea Realizada (Odyssey Fulfilled), I asked him: “To whom do you want me to dedicate the book?” He replied: “Well, put: to Ana and Cristóbal”.
Since he did not volunteer his last name, it still did not dawn on me who that person who looked very distinguished really was. I should have recognized him, since I had read about him and seen his picture in Bierzo 7 and in the Internet… but that did not happen. When they left, someone informed me of the names of the two for whom I had autographed my book. I ran after them, and when I caught up with them, I effusively offered them my apology for not having recognized them, and let them know how privileged I felt to have met them. I was truly very happy, for I had wanted for a long time to make their acquaintance personally. On the other hand, I was very ashamed for not having recognized them immediately. What can one do, though? Such is life… but what a pleasant lesson of simplicity and modesty did I receive from those two personalities of world fame!
THE LITTLE CHURCH OF THE DIVINE CHRIST
Readers of Odyssey Fulfilled may perhaps remember that in 1999 Fuentesnuevas had chosen me as “Pregonero” (Guest Speaker) of the August Festival of Our Lady of the Assumption and of San Roque. In my “pregón” (talk), I evoked the history of the “Ermita del Divino Cristo” (Hermitage of the Divine Christ), part of which reads as follows:
“We remember, besides, the hermitage, symbol of our religious unity, since it was part of our traditions, our processions during the Feast of Corpus Christi and our warm welcome of pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela…”
I included this evocation in my talk because, like many other citizens of that sprightly village, I fondly and nostalgically recalled that sacred icon which our ancestors from earlier centuries had bequeathed to us and which a mayor and a priest had, just a few years ago, secretly and foolishly demolished some four centuries after concrete documents rendered evident its existence. Of course, I was not aware of that evidence, but I knew that the “Ermita de la Vera Cruz” (Hermitage of the True Cross), its name from very ancient times, enjoyed a very long history. I only found out about such documentation at the 2003 Ponferrada Book Fair when the distinguished Marist Brother José Diego Rodríguez Cubero provided me with a copy of his own investigation of the “Little Church” of Fuentesnuevas. Those writings which José Diego has discovered in the Historical Archives of the Province of León (Caja 2089, Folio 618) and which he has allowed me to reproduce here, show clearly that the “Ermita” existed already in 1662, the date when a carpenter named Blas Varela was contracted, so that he would
“…construct, regarding all carpentry, a hermitage that is in such place, which is called “la Vera Cruz” and which the residents, the council and the fraternities have tried to build, the work of which will be done on the walls that are already built…”
Those same writings also reveal specific names and concrete quantities which the reader can find in La Ermita del Divino Cristo de Fuentesnuevas, an informative small book, which I authored and which the town’s Junta Vecinal has recently published. It includes a very instructive prologue written by Héctor Blanco Terán and the Diego investigation on the town and the Little Church.
On the other hand, with reference to the present situation, it is fitting to emphasize here that during a period of about fifteen years, many local residents had lamented the disappearance of the Little Church, which was replaced by a simple Cross-Bearer. The possibility of its reconstruction stimulated great interest in the local residents and aroused political passions in town, particularly from 2000 to 2003. Nonetheless, due to the Junta Vecinal’s opportune and determined pledge, under the leadership of Mayor María Concepción Crespo Marqués and her lieutenant Félix Barrio Fernández, and due, additionally, to the persistent and unselfish dedication of many of the local residents who contributed talent, time and treasure, the memorable Little Church was rebuilt. Thus, the 2003 Corpus Christi Festival was celebrated with its inauguration and the restoration of its sacred procession, as it had been done for many centuries in the pleasant town that Fuentesnuevas is.
Unfortunately, it was impossible for me to participate in the inauguration on that Saturday, June 21 of 2003. I had made the necessary reservations to be present at that touching ceremony, but unforeseen circumstances forced me to cancel the trip and had to resign myself to a video. Nevertheless, during my visit to Ponferrada for the Book Fair in April of that year, I left in the hands of the parish priest, Father Benedicto, mayor María and other residents, the following poem which I composed in December of 2002 when political discussion was most passionate. It is here translated in free, blank verse from the Spanish, which was written with rhythm and rhyme:
Hermitage of Christ Divine
Smooth rest in St James Road,
‘Cause of you lustrum hundreds of years
Has Fuentesnuevas brightened the map.
Without barriers, without chains
You fill us with pride and honor.
To our town you’ve brought fame;
You relieved us from the cross of oblivion.
From your mystic and sweet charm
Assiduously the world is overtaken.
You’ve touched the soul of happy travelers.
Without you, their stellar path will never shine.
For centuries you’ve lived to serve,
For hundreds of years you’ll serve to live.
Your radiant resplendence has guided the pilgrims,
Well do you receive them with a welcome embrace.
Your long and touching history
A rich tale of glory does tell.
Sure path that leads to the Lord,
The errant takes shelter in your loving arms.
Continue, O hermitage of evoked illusion
Your illustrious history of inviolate mission!
You’ve set right the loyal penitent of old,
Firmly guide today’s devoted faithful.
It’s now time much to appreciate,
An unexpected pause to copiously praise,
A jealous reason for joy, for jovial unity:
It’s time to restore the procession of Corpus Christi.
This has not been the only poem written about that charming hermitage. My good friend Héctor Blanco Terán, also a great friend of Fuentesnuevas, composed a sonnet and a prayer that mayor María recited during the inaugural ceremony, which was presided by Bishop Camilo Lorenzo of Astorga and attended by many political personalities of the region, among them, mayor of Ponferrada Carlos López Riesco who warmly praised the recovery of the popular Little Church. Translated in free verse, the sonnet reads as follows:
TO THE HOLY CHRIST OF FUENTESNUEVAS
My holy Christ of the True Cross,
Eternal guardian for pilgrims,
You will always be their guide on the road,
A fervent light of their efforts.
Today here in the penumbra, against the light
We want to bring remedy to the folly
Rebuilding this place divine,
Stay of silence and beatitude.
We want upon doing it, with respect,
Laud the fervor of our debtors,
For they, in their silent and quiet work,
Stone by stone, and with tenacity discreet
They carved each stone with love
Showing towards your all their affection.
Here is Fuentesnuevas at your feet,
Bless us, Lord, with your glance
Which, like a light in your dwelling,
May it illuminate our lives and our labor.
We ask you, Lord
FROM A MIRAGE TO A DREAM PEDESTAL
Such proposal seemed to me a mirage, a stroke of chimerical fortune, a fiction, a delirium… and it naturally stimulated my curiosity. So I e-mailed some of my friends to ascertain the reality of what was happening. Pretty soon, someone notified me that the village was very hurt and mortified that I had been informed of the homage that Fuentesnuevas was planning for me, since they wanted it to be all a surprise.
As for my endeavor in this matter, I tried to soften the misunderstandings by informing the people involved that, for me, neither the “surprise” nor the particulars surrounding it count as much as the “honor” that the homage brings with it. I tried to convey to them that the surprise is ephemeral and fleeting, it lasts only an instant: it comes and it goes. The honor and recognition is imperishable, perennial: if it comes, it remains and lasts even after death. I wanted them to know that, even though I had received part of the unexpected news, since nobody had provided me with concrete details of the forthcoming homage, neither the time nor the intensity of the surprise will ever be able to diminish either the degree of satisfaction or the hierarchy of the honor received.
When time came to make the arrangements for my annual visit to El Bierzo, I received the following sonnet, which I translated in free verse, from my friend Héctor who expressed official notification of María Crespo Marqués, mayor of Fuentesnuevas:
A STREET IN FUENTESNUEVAS
Between the old Church and La Casona
In the street perhaps with greatest signpost
As a pearl of shining banner,
A plaque in its writing proclaims
And in homage an outstanding person
Consciously Fuentesnuevas so hopes
That upon praising its son, considers
Giving him such honor and so boasts.
To Roger of its sons a headman,
For his vigilance and soul feeling
Its people with pride towards that man
Demands that a street carries the name
Of one who vigorously and quietly,
To Fuentesnuevas brought much fame.
Better informed now about the public recognition, Lucille and I started planning our trip to Spain in a way that would coincide with the Festival of Our Lady of the Assumption in Fuentesnuevas in August. Besides, I decided to write a speech of thanks and appreciation for that memorable occasion.PORTUGAL
Lucille told her daughter Marguerite of her decision to accompany me to Spain to be present at the inauguration of “Calle Roger Fernández Rodríguez” in Fuentesnuevas, so designated and approved by Ponferrada City Hall officials. For her part, Marguerite notified us of her great interest in joining us in the trip with her children Bobby and Danielle.
We flew from Los Angeles to Madrid, with a stopover in London, on August 4 in the afternoon and landed in Heathrow Airport early morning of next day. I have never witnessed such chaos at any airport, including London’s where I had previously stopped dozens of times. Our trip to Madrid via British Airways was cancelled. They booked us for a much later flight on Iberia. Then, our original British Airways flight was reconstructed, but we were told that it would be better for us to remain in the flight with Iberia because the suitcases may have already been transferred there… Naturally, we were not the only ones affected, since there were other flights also cancelled. What was the result? We arrived in Madrid hours late and without our suitcases, which arrived in Spain two days later.
Normally, I would not include this squeamish, cumbersome and boring detail in any of my books, but I do it here because it represents a perfect example that illustrates the spirit of flexibility to which I referred in the chapter entitled “The Art of Traveling”. Our intention was to go from Madrid airport directly to Salamanca where we would stay two days before we proceeded with our tour through Portugal and northern Spain. Waiting for our luggage, we remained in Madrid for two days and reconfigured our itinerary for visiting cities in the Iberian Peninsula. Instead of proceeding to Salamanca from Madrid, we decided to travel to Lisbon and advance towards the north of Portugal into Spain.
By itself, this trip should not overexcite readers of my previous books, as they may have already read prior accounts on my travels throughout the Iberian Peninsula. A new set of circumstances stimulates me to explore this new itinerary a little more. I refer specifically to the participation in this trip of grandchildren Bobby and Danielle Lincoln, which would enrich the trip with new goals and challenges, and the expectation of visiting the latest flaming new places and discover details as yet unnoticed in already described locations.
Our three-day stay in Lisbon has moments of delight as well as of disillusion. For the first time, I entered the Portuguese capital without getting lost…thanks to Marguerite, whose professional expertise in organizing conventions around the world helped her to acquire great experience, and develop practical knowledge and an exceptional sense of direction. Only because of her and her extraordinary intuitive qualities did we go directly to the Marriott Hotel where we had our reservations. Without delay, we settled comfortably in the Portuguese capital. We went on local excursions to the historic Torre de Belém (The Bethlehem Tower), the modern “Monumento (or “Padrao” - stone structure) dos Descubrimentos” (Monument to the Maritime Discoveries), and other farther away places, like Estoril, Cascais and Sintra, English poet Lord Byrons’ “Glorious Eden”. Unfortunately, the day that we went to Sintra was Monday and the best well known monument that we wanted to visit, the “Palácio Nacional da Pena” (National Palace of the Rock), was closed. We had to resign ourselves to behold, from the Castle of the Moors, its colorful and attractive ensemble of ramparts and buttresses, of medieval towers and Byzantine domes. This was our greatest disappointment in this visit to Portugal.
On our way north towards Porto, we stopped at Fatima first, and then at Batalha. Both localities, already described in my Odyssey to Opportunity, presented us with an opportune occasion of talking to Bobby and Danielle about the apparition of the Virgin Mary to the three little shepherds Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, and about the magnificent “Monasterio de Santa Maria de la Victoria later on in Batalha, which Juan I, first Portuguese king of the Avis Dynasty, ordered to be built to celebrate the defeat that his troops inflicted on the Spanish forces in 1385. Being a Spaniard, the task was a little bit difficult and painful for me to explain the history of Batalha. On the other hand, it was overwhelmingly gratifying to observe the kids’ reaction in the small Chapel of the Apparitions in Fatima, when they made a little prayer throwing the lit candle to the fire, then go to the fountain to drink “Fatima water” and fill bottles with it to take home to their friends.
We arrived at the historic city of Porto, universally known for its famous wine. We crossed Luis I Bridge and soon realized that this great city enjoys a fertile and worthy past, but lacks the kind of pictorial glowing beauty that stuns the sightseer, in spite of the voluminous presence of baroque style and decorative tiles in many façades and walls that are tarnished by numerous surrounding discolored structures.
We stopped to see its beautiful cathedral constructed like a fortress built, dating back to the 12th century, a Romanesque period. It later underwent some rebuilding, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries. Consequently, its present look displays a delightful ensemble of very diverse styles: its top view and the entry rose-window lay out Romanesque elements, the cloister exhibits gothic exquisiteness, and the porch, the chapels and the main altar delight us with its radiant baroque art.NORTHERN SPAIN
Rain began to fall at break of day and, even though this was the first time we had been in Porto, we decided not to spend any more time there, but to continue instead our way north. After a short stop in Braga where we visited the cathedral and admired the house and the chapel of the Coimbra family, we resumed our trajectory towards Túy, Spain. I wanted Lucille, Marguerite and the children to know the idyllic place where I spent the first year of my student journey. We proceeded to the Marist campus and residence and, in spite of the persistent drizzle, we were able to appreciate the luxuriant fields where we, students, used to do essential manual labor, such as pick fruit from trees. However, it was impossible for us to enter any of the various buildings of the compound because the Brothers were on vacation. For that reason, we resumed our travel towards Ponferrada to attend the very deeply rooted festivities of the Assumption and of San Roque in Fuentesnuevas.
After a few days of rest, we resumed our trek through northern Spain, beginning that delightful tour with a visit to Santiago de Compostela, an ancient Galician city which I had toured twice before. In spite of the intensive rain that greeted and complicated our arrival, walking through that beautiful city turned out to be much more enjoyable and memorable to me than on previous occasions, not only because the year 2004 was a “Jacobean Year”, but also because of Marguerite’s extraordinary organizational ability, we were able to realize the dream, coveted by many and attained by few, to take lodgings in “Hostal de los Reyes Católicos”.
Known also as “Hospital Real” for having been built by orders of the Catholic Kings for the purpose of “sheltering sick and tired pilgrims because of their long travel”, that hostel appears as “Parador de Santiago” in today’s tourist guides. To walk its halls that have so much history inspires feelings of magnificence and solemnity. To rest in its rooms of modern antiquity generates a sense of sublimity and grandiosity.
Neither Bobby nor Danielle remained immune to that feeling of historicity and antiquity. They were also in awe while beholding the exquisite and elaborate art of the cathedral and the pulleys system that supports and operates the famous “botafumeiro” (hanging incense holder), proclaimed to be the biggest incensory in the world. What a pity that we could not see it functioning! It would have been an unforgettable remembrance, especially for the children…
Before leaving Santiago, we managed to visit the museum of the cathedral, but we were unable to see the attractive and impressive organs and arch, as well as the very beautiful main Retable of the church of San Martin Pinario. That day, the church was closed and we had to resign ourselves only to admiring its artistic main façade. To marvel at its dazzling interior, we would have had to wait another day…, and we still had other places to appreciate and underground escapes to explore and enjoy, for our plan was to visit the caves of Valporquero in Leon and those of Altamira in Cantabria.Located to the north of Leon, the Cave of Valporquero displays a spectacular portrait of the heart of the southern slope of the Cordillera Cantábrica.
It causes numbness and delight, at once, to behold the unconceivable effects of the force of nature, water in this case, which for thousands of years has been molding that massive calcite, transforming it into a kind of a “subterraneous cathedral” with its capricious and dazzling formations of columns and drenches, stalactites and stalagmites that spread out in glorious disorder and make of that labyrinth a true fairy landscape. This is an excursion that I proudly recommend to all my readers.
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about our excursion to the Altamira Caves, not because lack of charm dissatisfaction of their delightful history of prehistoric rock art, but rather for the administrative disorganization, which disallowed us to visit, not only the caves, but the renewed museum as well.
We arrived at the complex before noon, and there were no more tickets to that “Sistine Chapel of the quaternary art” as someone has called that artistic center. To protect the caves from deterioration, they must limit the daily number of visitors. Those measures are easy to understand and to accept. What is unconceivable is that the ticket to enter the caves and the museum is one and the same and that tourists cannot visit the museum when the caves are not accessible. Marguerite begged them to let us visit the museum, at least, for we had come from very far and we might not be able to come back for another visit. She insisted, besides, that she understood the determination and the need to protect the caves, but maintained that that did not justify the decision not to allow us to visit the museum which was an artistic entity totally independent and does not require the same protective measures. There was no way for Marguerite to make the supervisor yield. She had no other alternative than to fill out a rather constructive complaint to the Board of Directors of the museum.
While Marguerite tried to negotiate in English our possible admission to the museum, I remained silent so as to avoid creating doubts in the fact that we really came from California. Once the determination was made to deny us admission to the museum, I calmly spoke to them in Spanish and let them know how disappointed I was of the manner in which they administered that cultural center of such historic significance and that I was going to write an article to let the world know what I considered an “inconceivable administrative ineptitude”. I exited the place very disillusioned and without spending a single penny, though in reality I felt very happy to see that Lucille, Marguerite and the kids remained behind buying some souvenirs.Approximately one month after that incident, Marguerite received in her residence in Los Angeles the following communication from the Board of Directors of the museum: “Dear Mrs. Lincoln: In answer to your complaint of August 18th of 2004 in your visit to the renovated Museum of Altamira, we regret that the information given to you was not to your complete satisfaction. We are working so that such information will be more fluid and will be available in whatever channels that have been created for that purpose.
We invite you to visit our Web page: http://museodealtamira.mcu.es
We hope that your next visit will be totally satisfactory and that you will see those problems resolved. Receive our cordial greeting…”
Before reproducing this letter, I visited the above mentioned Web page. I am pleased to communicate to the reader that, according to the information provided therein, the prices indicated for the visit to the museum do not include the visit to the caves. For that reason, I suspect that the administration has wisely decided to separate the visit to the caves from that of the museum. If that is so, I congratulate them, though I still feel a certain disenchantment, which still heavily weighs on me that they had failed to understand before the soundness of such practice. Our complaint was not about the measures taken to protect the drawings of those historic caves, which do require certain restrictive norms, but rather the inconsequence of those measures with regard to the museum. But, “it’s never too late when the news is good”. The only consolation that remains with us is to know that our constructive objection, produced, in the end, positive results.
Nevertheless, the end of our vacation was getting near. We returned to Fuentesnuevas to pick up our suitcases and, after a two-day rest, we left for Salamanca. The children had never been in that magnificent city which I have already described in Odyssey to Opportunity. The only thing new that we adults visited for the first time was a section of the San Esteban Monumental complex where it is said that Christopher Columbus stayed. Being the private residence of the Dominican Fathers, that section is never opened to the public. We were granted that exception because Luis Lago Alba, a great friend of mine and of whom I wrote in Odyssey Fulfilled was our guide and presented us with the gift of a deliciously charming and instructive visit of the place. As the readers of that book can well remember, Luis and I became very good friends as a result of our correspondence, some of it adversarial in ideological positions but always respectful and friendly, through several articles published in Bierzo 7.
On our way from Salamanca to Madrid, and following my friend Luis’ advice, we stopped in Ávila to admire in the cathedral the beautiful and fascinating exhibition “The Ages of man” which very often I had wished to see, a dream, however, that I had never been able to fulfill previously.
Due to immutable compelling reasons, Lucille, Maguerite and the children could not stay any longer in Spain to witness the uncovering of the plaque giving my name to a street in Fuentesnuevas. Even though that was the ultimate purpose for our trip, the dedication date of the street could not be rescheduled before August 31st. In view of that impossibility, they had to return to the United States on the 24 of that month. Lucille had to attend to the arrangements for a reunion on August 28th of medical professionals of the Veterans Memorial Medical Center who were to come to Los Angeles from different parts of the USA and Canada. Danielle, on the other hand, had to start her school year on the 30th. For those reasons, they flew back to Los Angeles and I returned by car to Fuentesnuevas where I remained until September 2 for the official celebration.REMARKABLE HOMAGE
In my long journey around the world, I have being recipient of some acknowledgements for various successes here and there. Nonetheless, two of those rewards are dearer to my heart and make me feel exceptionally honored. The first consists of a trophy and a medallion that the Association of International Poets granted me on August 17th of 2003 at their annual reunion during which one of my poems was read. According to the trophy’s inscriptions, the award was given to me for “outstanding achievement in poetry”.
No matter how much I appreciate and value that literary prize, it does not compare with the honor that it represents and the gratitude that stirs up in me the homage that Ponferrada rendered me, at the request of the governing Council of Fuentesnuevas, for naming a street after me in the neighborhood of that locality where I grew up and was reared in my youth. A sort of mirage appeared like a light reflected of something chimerical and fictitious when I first received the news. Yet, now was becoming a moving and emotional reality that was approaching at an inexorably rapid pace with radio interviews, newspapers articles and news and television appearances.
The day broke sunny, shining and attractive that August 31st 2004. Very early in the morning, we received an unexpected phone call at my sister’s Esterita’s house from my nephew Manuel Ángel Sánchez Fernández. He sounded very emotional because, on his way to work he rode by the street that was to be named after me. He was the first to see the plaque just before employees from the City Hall of Ponferrada covered it with a golden curtain, which at 7:30 that evening I would have to uncover accompanied by Mayor Carlos López Riesco of Ponferrada, Councilman of Culture, Manuel Rodríguez and Mari Crespo, President of the Ruling Council of Fuentesnuevas.
A large crowd of people gathered to participate in the act inaugurating the naming of the street. Moments before the ceremony, Mayor Riesco addressed the press, and then… it was my turn. Very moved and emotional, I made some commentaries, among them one that thanked City Hall because the homage rendered to me, also served to give tribute to the mothers of El Bierzo, who in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s had made heroic sacrifices for their children… and I am a product of that generation and of those sacrifices.
Finally, the moment of truth arrived. The Mayor first and Mari Crespo later, both spoke in flattering terms that described for the public present the reasons why that street became “Calle Roger Fernández Rodríguez” (my name in the Spanish tradition). Then, turning towards me, they invited me to draw the curtain to uncover the plaque. Since I lacked practice…, the Mayor showed me how to do it. But, upon seeing my name shine on the La Casona thick-old wall I became once again overcome by emotion and was overwhelmed by the sustained and warm applause…After expressing effusive thanks to City Hall and local authorities, I addressed the people of Fuentesnuevas in the following terms:
“During a cruise that my wife and I took last year, a distinguished, affable and learned traveler suggested that I should entitle my next book Odyssey Dreamed. I thought a lot about it, disregarded his wise advice and opted for the title Beyond My Odyssey. Had I known what Fuentesnuevas is doing for me today, I would have followed advisedly his suggestion, because, my friends, all of this is a true dream. This place where I am is defined by a dream. And perhaps some of you may wonder: “What is a dream place?” It is simply a place where everyone wants to go.
I feel very privileged and honored that this village, of which I have sung many of its praises in verse, has put me on this dream pedestal. Yes, here I stand, but here you stand also along with me, for you have proved once more to the world that this is a village ready to break molds, to cut open new paths, as our good friend from Bembibre, Héctor Blanco Terán, has made evident in his sonnet For a Gesture of Fuentes Nuevas. In that poem, he evokes the “ancient way of choosing between shepherds, when they elected the Elder shepherd, or “Rabadán”. He writes of Fuentesnuevas:
“… Roger, for his love and for his labor
Has named him of its children “Rabadán”.
And the concept that no one in his country is a prophet
Has forever gone hiding into the garret.”
Certainly, it has been my luck to lead a life somewhat adventurous, risking and daring, but here I am, as the Mexicans say in their “telenovelas” (soap operas): “once again, the female donkey to the wheat”. Please take note that they use the term “ female donkey”. It seems that they do not know how to “spur up the (male) donkey” the way I had to do as a youngster when my father used to irrigate Doña Viruca’s farm, yelling: “Roger, area el burro (spur up the male donkey)”.
My past has affected me profoundly, but it would have been erased but for my memory. When I dissect my most difficult moments, my memory appears first… then I hear the transcendent music that my remembrance composes… if not always consoling, invariably vital and essential.
It is frequently said: “He who gets close to a tree, good shade covers him”. I have become close to this noble village and in the cover of its upright people I heard its vigorous and robust heartbeat. Here, I nourished my aspirations. Here, my destiny was sealed, and since then, my life has slipped away like a roulette of luck guided by faith. When nostalgia invades me and my courage weakens, I come back here to raise my spirit and recover my breath. Here I find pure air that maintains my wings and tranquil waters that relax my soul and body.
So then, I return here because I want to imbue myself with that simplicity that irradiates candor, that sprightliness that invigorates the spirit and that dignity that embellishes a healthy existence. And this year, I came back accompanied by my wife Lucille to thank you, besides, for having honored me by making me an integral part of the history of this sprightly village, this “Idyllic dream-like town, flaming, rustic and joyful”, which “continues to evoke to the world gallantry with immortality”, for “in its name it embodies eternal spring and luxuriant youth”.
A thousand thanks from the bottom of my heart for this remarkable reward and distinguished homage.” At the end of the ceremony, and after numerous congratulations and best wishes, the authorities, members of my family and of my brother-in-law Marcelino’s family and my most special friends from El Bierzo, all went to Restaurante Missouri to crown the celebration with supper, branded as “un vino español” (a Spanish wine).According to my friend José Diego Rodríguez Cubero, author of this book’s prologue, “the inauguration of the street was spectacular”. I agree, and, in addition, I AM VERY GRATEFUL. EPILOGUE
I decided to embody this epilogue here because two very important events in my family life occurred after the Spanish version of this book was published in Spain. First, Lucille’s family wanted to commemorate together, in a very special way, her sister’s Golden Wedding Anniversary in July of 2005 with a trip to Yellowstone National Park. Secondly, we celebrated on April 8, 2006, one of Lucille’s most significant birthdays.ON THE ROAD TO YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Upon our return from the trip to Yellowstone National Park, I wrote an article for Bierzo 7. As in all my writings, I tried to adopt content to features that attract a wide spectrum of readers, both in Spanish and in English. The composition that follows was published in the above-mentioned weekly on May 25, 2006 with a picture of “Old Faithful” Geyser:
picture of “Old Faithful” Geyser:EYEWITNESS NEWS in Los Angeles traveled with me in one of my visits to El Bierzo. Accompanying us was my friend and colleague Raoul de la Sota, painter and nephew of Mexican actor Anthony Quinn, who, years later, also visited our delightful region. Some readers of Bierzo 7 probably still remember Anthony Quinn’s flattering and endearing commentaries towards our privileged territory, but perhaps are unaware of several television reports that Fred made about El Bierzo for the American public. What’s more, he incorporated our “Little Fatherland” in one of his writings on the Spain he loved and admired. He was fascinated by the Valley of Silence, the Castle of Ponferrada… and the Médulas emplacement or land mass whose scenery reminded him of panoramas of Western United States, and whose posters glowingly decorated his office in Hollywood.
My wife Lucille, the Ang family and I traveled recently through those states to which Fred alluded when he referred to the Médulas. It turned out to be a very splendid vacation time to celebrate Lucille’s sister Virginia and Daniel Ang’s 50th wedding anniversary. We crossed the seemingly endless California Mohave desert. We traversed Arizona, the Grand Canyon state and other impressive canyons, to run into the stunning view of the descent of a mountain, parsimoniously covered with shrubs, towards the imposing Virgin River Gorge a few miles from St. George, Utah’s first city where we spent the first night of our memorable trip.
The visitor is truly amazed by the panoramic beauty and the architectural skill that is necessary to construct, in that mountainous and rocky topography, a four-lane freeway. Not too far beyond St. George, a very welcoming city that reminded me of several sections of Ponferrada, we entered red clay territory, with geological formations similar to the “Médulas” from El Bierzo which had delighted my friend Fred… Even Lucille and her daughter Marguerite Lincoln who have visited El Bierzo several times commented to that effect.
We stopped overnight at Salt Lake City. Early the next day, we traveled north along the shore of the lake where we observed several shining-white-salt deposits on the surrounding fields, dropped by the salty-water-laden winds after the liquid evaporated. Finally, at third day’s sundown, we entered West Yellowstone, the town of our destination, where we rested four nights, and point of departure for our daily visits to Yellowstone National Park. Of the five entrances to the park, we chose the West entrance, in the state of Montana that derives its name from the Spanish word “Montaña” (Mountain), and which conjures visions of natural marvels. The Spanish influence is also noticed in the state flag whose seal has the motto that reads in Spanish “oro y plata” (gold and silver).
During my dawning daily walk the day after our arrival at West Yellowstone, I heard dreadful wolf howls in the surroundings inside the park, reminiscent of the many hungry wolves of El Bierzo after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). I also observed the presence of a huge grizzly bear whose frightful bellow quickly convinced me to rapidly return to the hotel… When everyone in the group was ready, we started a caravan tour of the park in three minivans.
During our travel through the park, long lines of cars would form, causing standstills because forest-born wild animals, like the bison, could be seen grazing in the prairies or crossing the road, and tourists stopped to take pictures. On one occasion, several members of our group got out of the car, and it so happened that a young member of the family, “JC” (James Christian Rodríguez) and I walked quite frightened about five to six yards along with a tall, long and beautiful elk. This was a curious trailing indeed, though somewhat scary and of course dangerous… a good enough reason (beyond park regulation) for me not to slide my hand along the spine of that elegant animal.
Founded in 1872 and situated in the states of Idaho (1%), Montana (3%) and Wyoming (96%), Yellowstone National Park stands as the world’s oldest and largest national park comprising 3,472 square miles in area. It is active volcano territory, incredibly beautiful where God, mankind, nature and wild life can cohabit in a huge, 2.2 million acre sanctuary enhanced with high peaks, a volcanic tableland, rivers and lakes of crystalline waters, boisterous and thundering waterfalls, basins of erupting geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and sulfuric mudpots that smell like rotten eggs, luxuriant valleys, spectacular scenery of flora and fauna… and all that, in a huge ensemble of panoramic vistas and, at times, truly dazzling landscapes.Naturally, there is a great deal to do and to experience in such a dissimilar natural environment. I will limit myself to point out just three of the numerous possible activities.
Every visitor to Yellowstone National Park must observe and feel the eruption of the most famous geyser known by the name “Old Faithful”. Every 94 minutes it erupts and emits forcefully, for two to three minutes, thousands of gallons of boiling water in the form of a thick and solid jet which it furiously throws up to 90 feet (or more, at times) into the air. This is something that must be seen, to be believed…
Another scene, dazzling for its height and width, as well as for the stunning sound that it produces and the picturesque vistas that surround it, is the stupefying and deafening Lower Waterfall, seen from the bottom of Uncle Tom Gorge. It vividly reminded me of Pagsanjan Fall, which I describe in Chapter 4 of this book.
Finally, another interesting place that caught my attention is Boiling River that runs underground (something similar to the Guadiana River in Spain) from Mammoth Terrace and then reappears amidst rocks to mutter boiling and warm the waters of Gardner River. It is impossible to swim at one’s ease or even walk since the water is rather shallow. Big slippery rocks and small ones that hurt make such activity almost impossible. Though many tourists present tried to cross the river, Bobby Lincoln of our group was the only one who succeeded, adroitly balancing his body, during the hour that we spent there. However, every visitor can relax, resting curling up in whichever pond at the confluence of the two rivers. It is a truly pleasant sensation.
Unfortunately, all good things come rapidly to an end. On our way back to Los Angeles, we stopped one more time at Salt Lake City to celebrate the Golden Wedding Anniversary of my sister-in-law Virginia Paradela and her husband Daniel Ang with a very special dinner in a Chinese restaurant. Then, part of our group went to the Mormon Temple to hear a practice session of its very famous 450-member choir. We were fortunate that day to witness, instead, an impressive concert performance which more than 20,000 people attended.
About 45 minutes from Salt Lake City, we also took time to visit Park City, a world-renowned ski resort in winter and ideal-mountain abode for art festivals in summer: a true paradise for athletes and artists. For visitors like me who love nature, Park City is a place to “breathe in the crisp mountain air, gaze at clear blue skies and relax into the beauty…” This short stop will remain in my mind as a heavenly moment.
Two days later, we all arrived home. Personally, I give thanks to God for having granted me the opportunity to appreciate and enjoy the natural beauty of another corner of the world, which I did not know, and to associate with two persons as loyal and exemplary as my charming sister-in-law Virginia and her faithful and devoted husband Daniel have been for half a century.”
AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY YEARS
This was the theme of Lucille’s “significant” birthday to which I alluded before. Normally, a lady’s age should be kept a secret… However, Lucille is a very special lady, for she looks ten to twenty years younger and the rhythm of her activities convincingly reflects those younger years… and that is its “raison d’être” here.
It was a very well planned and jubilant celebration. Many people contributed time and talent to execute the international motif under Marguerite’s guidance. The diversity of foods of various nationalities also correlated the event with Lucille’s love for traveling. While extending here my thanks to those who participated to make that day exceptionally successful and enjoyable, I will only share here my somewhat emotional verbal participation as I presented my special gift to her:
“We are gathered here to celebrate life together. In doing so, we honor Time, which does not abandon us, but rather gives us the strength to pursue and achieve our goals. However, time never stops. Yet, more often than not, people crave to remember, so as to relive. Unfortunately, we cannot reconstruct our past through our body, but we can, magically, through our mind. And so, there comes a time in everyone’s life when it is good and rewarding to look back, once in a while, and begin to remember.
I have become aware in recent months, and perhaps even longer, that Lucille chooses to recall her past by listening to very selective musical selections. Today, I wish to remind her of her past through poetry. Juan Gelmán, an Argentinean poet wrote that “poetry is an act of love, a useless, but necessary glowing-red type of job…” As most of you know, poetry is one’s lyrical spirit highlighted, and coincides with the harmonized conditions of the heart… So, I decided to play for her, with a poem, the melody that today fills my heart: a ballad that I wrote to celebrate her birthday with a very special gift: A POETIC KISS.”
… AND HER LIGHT STILL SHINES…
(A ballad to Lucille Paradela-Fernández)
Hardly eight full decades ago today,
A baby girl in Cebu saw her stellar dawn of day.
As she blossomed through her splendid long life,
She moved to weave a story of awe without strife.
They christened her Lucille, a portrayer of light
That brightens rich memories of cheer and delight.
Her lucid bright eyes conveyed grace and support,
Which are two of her virtues, and do not inflict tort.
From candied girl to clairvoyant woman,
She accrued great merits, divine and, yes, human.
She nobly grew ambitious, strong-willed and sage.
She sought new horizons, readied to turn a page.
She mirrored a maiden spreading her kindness
Wherever she went, for whoever lacked fondness.
She never gave way to despair, nor discarded a dream,
But her mission of caring led her to the height of esteem.
Fully matured, she found love beyond passion,
For she turned it into a gift of devoted compassion,
Into a virtue that transmits life, praise and glory.
Therein lays, in part, the warm thought of her story,
For captive in the savory walls of love maternal,
She gave life to a Marguerite flower of glamour eternal.
Her kindled love radiates in her such facial fair glow
That emits vernal splendor, like a shining morn rainbow.
Its long rays resplendent touched and lightened my life,
Projected a heavenly human gem, a much loving wife,
A gift from God, whose tender smile and warm embrace
Unfurled her heart’s feelings and drew glee in my face.
As her journey through space, land and sea still proceeds,
More remains to be achieved with yet other such deeds.
Her odyssey by nature will reach, no doubt, an end some day.
But its golden fruits, by God’s design, are forever here to stay,
For hardly eight full decades ago today,
A baby girl in Cebu saw her stellar dawn of day.
As she blossomed through her splendid long life
She moved to weave a story of awe without strife
Normally, I write my poetry in Spanish and then I translate it into English. This time, however, I wrote the original in English. Its Spanish translation was published in Bierzo 7 in March 23, 2006. I include it here for readers who might be interested in reading the Spanish version:
...Y SU LUZ AÚN ALUMBRA…
(Balada a Lucille Paradela-Fernández)
Apenas hace hoy ocho décadas de vida completa,
Una niña en Cebú vio su alborada de estrellas repleta.
Como en su espléndido existir cual capullo se abría,
Una historia de asombro sin contienda a tejer acudía.
La bautizaron Lucille, pintora del resplandor
Que aviva ricas memorias de festín sin dolor.
Sus lúcidos ojos brillaban donaire y sostén,
Dos de sus virtudes, y no infligen desdén.
De niña adulzada a sagaz y atenta mujer,
Divinos y humanos méritos logró recoger.
Creció noblemente ambiciosa, sabia y resuelta.
Buscó más horizontes, a más hojas dio vuelta.
Espejaba una joven que derrama bondad,
Por doquiera que vaya, a quien le falte amistad.
Ni cede al desaliento, ni desprecia el soñar.
Toca el ápice del aprecio, por su misión de curar.
En plena madurez, halló amor más allá de pasión, Al transformarlo en un don de sacra compasión, En virtud que transmite vida, alabanza y gloria. Ahí yace, en parte, el vivo recuerdo de su historia. Prisionera en el dulce entorno del amor maternal, Dio vida a una flor Margarita de embeleso eternal. Su amor en llamas irradia así en su rostro un fulgor Cual matinal arco iris que emite un vernal esplendor. Sus largos rayos lucientes encienden y conmueven mi ser, Proyectan una joya humana celeste, una apasionada mujer, Un regalo de Dios, cuya tierna sonrisa, y abrazar caluroso, Despliega llano el corazón, exhibe en mí, rostro dichoso. En más jornadas que por tierra, aire y mar anhela ejecutar, Más le queda a conseguir con similares proas a concretar. Su odisea, es natural, alcanzará sin duda un día finalidad. Mas su fruto dorado sellará, en plan divino, continuidad, Pues apenas hace ocho décadas de vida completa, Una niña en Cebú vio su alborada de estrellas repleta. Como en su espléndido existir cual capullo se abría Una historia de asombro sin contienda a tejer acudía.