Odyssey Fulfilled by Roger R. Fernandez - HTML preview
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© 2002 Roger R. Fernández
Chapter 1.PLEASANT SURPRISES
Guest speaker in Fuentesnuevas
Fountain of the Pear Trees
Chapter 2.PROMISING MILLENNIUM
Leeds Castle, England
Chapter 3.CULTURAL REVIVAL
Odyssey Resumed presented
“BOTILLERA AND BOTILLO”
“TO LA COGOLLA”: seductive mountain
“OUR LADY OF THE EVERGREEN OAK”
“TO EL COQUÍN”: idyllic prairie
“TO EL CACHAPÓN”: natural pond
“THE CHURCH MOUNT”
Council woman Nevenka and Mayor Ismael
Book Fair in Ponferrada
Salas de los Barrios
Chapter 4.INDELIBLE CRUISE
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Puntarenas, Costa Rica
Chapter 5.CRUISING THE CARIBBEAN: dazzling escape… Miami, Florida
Nassau, The Bahamas
St. Thomas, Virgin Islands (USA)
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Chapter 6.TERRORISM STRIKES THE UNITED STATES
September 11, 2001
“To justify an unjustifiable abominable atrocity”
Truths about “G. W. Bush and the Long War”
“I share the pragmatic sentiment of the United States”
There are four very special women in my life: my sisters Delia, Dorita, Lydia and Esterita.
By Héctor Blanco Terán
The content of this book, which its author entitles Odyssey Fulfilled, so penetrates one’s heart, that it submerges the reader into an unmanageable eager desire to continue devouring its pages once the reading starts.
There are two clearly distinguishable parts to the book. It seems as if the author intends to show a before and an after, the transition of a century into another. The line of demarcation of their borders lies at the very heart of its plot. It consists of a tight, precise, almost philosophical presentation of his book Odyssey Resumed and an article in defense of some moral convictions, where no doubt is left as to his stand on the September 11 terrorist attack on the city of New York. And, of course, a lesson of commonsense ethic in the face of such topics as councilwoman Nevenka’s sexual harassment accusation against Mayor Ismael of Ponferrada. These are, definitely, passages that stand out to reveal and well define, dear reader, the true soul of the author.
One can find in the first part of the book, as usual, a profound feeling of patriotism when speaking about Spain and El Bierzo. He uses them both as the measuring rod to compare new experiences. It seems, furthermore, as if El Bierzo were the perfect gauge to evaluate all that is beautiful and surprising in that world which he has endeavored to know and to convey in such a marvelous style.
Similarly, in the second part, Roger shows a deeply felt patriotism towards the United States, his beloved adopted country. He describes with poignancy the events following September 11, 2001, one of the saddest days in the history of that great nation brutally assaulted. He defends his solid convictions declaring himself an enemy to death of terrorism and presents the American people united like a pine-cone with President Bush in his determination to do justice and his unequivocal principle to reject crime as money to exchange for liberty.
On the other hand, his precise and precious accounts of the Caribbean have left me with a natural sense of pride, both personally and as a Spaniard, since through them I have been able to appreciate the enduring cultural imprint that our ancestors left in those lands.
His unique style to describe landscapes, historical data and the most subtle details is a charming way to let readers know his experiences, making his book pleasant, delightful and, I dare say, a good consulting guide for future trips. And, when reading the second part, a journey through the Australian continent fills the soul with that soft gentleness and stimulating sensation that the seas of the south have always afforded their visitors. Thus, as the old mariners saying goes, their pure air, impregnated with the scent of a mysterious island, a solitary volcano, blissful reefs inhabited with tranquil and happy people, makes one feel eternally young. Those southern seas are like potent venom that penetrates into the blood. Those who have tasted it hardly ever forget. They strongly feel the powerful desire to return and sense the winds. These, impelling the sails of life, urge them along the waves of those waters and when the evening sun projects its rays upon its surface, it shoots forth golden, blue and coppery colors making the mortal human that contemplates them feel close to heaven.
And, its nights? Oh! its nights with that specially blue sky where the stars seem to sparkle in different ways, excelling amongst them that unique one: the luminous lady of the south as a blinking lighthouse, guide, stimulus and muse of navigators. It is not surprising that it takes a place of honor in the flag of the Australian people as an admirable symbol of its open, honest, courageous and brave spirit, which has created a marvelous nation.
The readers who already know Roger through his Odyssey to Opportunity and Odyssey Resumed will feel unbounded joy to meet their author again, and continue, through his hand, the journey through “the World Continent that I have yet to know”, as he used to say. In reality, not only has he known it, but he has been capable to transfer to us, delicately and sensibly, its people, its surroundings, its landscapes and its light with that charm that a good professor always brings forth when he communicates his material to his students.
To exalt here the content of this section of the book would amount to show lack of consideration for the readers, for it would deprive them of the glee of unfolding, step by step, a fan of sensations, experiences and beautiful descriptions where the author has left his inimitable touch.
Those of you who are lucky to live in those lands will simply feel proud when reading each one of their passages. Those at the other side of this Planet who still do not know them will sense that beautiful desire of traveling along some ship’s courses full of the subtle beauty that the sea, the sun, gusts of wind and huge reefs put on a delightful stage.
Some of us, without knowing that continent, are lucky to have in possession lovely videos of the coast and ports of Australia. Specifically in my case, I received such a video from my deceased good friend César Josa Álvarez with whom Roger maintained long and interesting conversations, which delighted us for many hours. I heard, also, passionate descriptions from my dear friend Rubén García Frades who lives there. None of that has been able to fill, however, neither my spirit nor my heart as the narration of this book.
In sum, dear reader, it is easy to imagine Roger on the highest deck of Legend of the Seas crossing the Tropics on a serene and tranquil night next to two charming ladies, Lucille and Amante. Indeed, those are suggestive names for such a night, remembering perhaps the thousands of experiences that could be surmised in a poem:
On its way the breeze sings
A “nana” with all sweetness,
Thus producing freshness
Of indelible experiences.
It returns to us the memories
Of lovely times gone by,
Which hidden in the soul
Make us again being born.
The caresses of a mother,
The warmth of a tender kiss
Leave the heart prey
Of such sweet solitude.
And the Heaven, in its immensity,
Wraps us humans with its silence.
Translated from the Spanish by the author
August, 1999. Two weeks after the return from the pleasant trip through Alaskan and Canadian coasts, Roger undertakes with joy and enthusiasm his usual annual date with “El Bierzo”, his favorite corner on earth. He longs to relish once more in Fuentesnuevas, in mid August, the deep-rooted festivities of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Roque, and the most recent Festival of the Sardine. He was gratefully surprised by the completion of the new freeway from Benavente to Ponferrada. It made the drive from Barajas, Madrid International airport, shorter, faster and more enjoyable. He drove his car with calm and even with pleasure…and by noon, he was in Ponferrada.
After a warm welcome from his sister Esterita, she asked him:
“Roger, did Mayor Mary Crespo talk to you?”
“No. Why?” – he answered.
Roger went to the offices of Bierzo 7, a weekly from Ponferrada. There he met Soroya Guerra. She is the daughter of one of his friends, and was working at the paper for that summer. She asked him: “how do you feel being Guest Speaker of the Festival?”
“So, is it true that I was nominated Guest Speaker?” - he asked.
“Well, yes. Didn’t you know it?” - continued Soroya.
“No”, he answered. “My sister mentioned something to me when I arrived, but nothing official.” DELIVERYING A MESSAGE
That afternoon in Fuentesnuevas, Roger profited by the opportunity of talking with Mary Crespo Marqués, who in fact confirmed for him what he had heard from his sister and from Soraya. The Mayor had tried to contact him in the United States, but failed in the effort: his area code number had been changed. He expressed to her how honored he felt to have been chosen by Fuentesnuevas as the Guest Speaker of the last Festival of the 20th century as well as the 2nd Millennium. So, on the 14th of August, at 1:00 o’clock in the morning, before a well awake and lively audience, Roger delivered his speech, which will be reproduced in its entirety in later pages for the benefit of the reader.
While preparing his speech, many other thoughts rushed to his mind. Roger then realized that his long journey around the world was about to be fulfilled, completed, finalized. Now he considered his duty to give back in return that which he had so generously received… and returned it willingly. He began to relive a real gift, a visit to the past. He was pleased and surprised with curiosity to remember that Antonio Marqués, Mayor of Fuentesnuevas when he started his “odyssey” was an uncle of Mary Crespo, the village Mayor now that he is completing his journey. Mayor Antonio then joined the priest and the teacher in signing documentation verifying Roger’s parents’ permission to start his odyssey going to study at Grugliasco, Italy. Mayor Mary, now, invites him to honor the town with the fruit of that narrated journey which is about to end.
In as much as he would have to crown the queen of the festival at the end of the speech, Roger suspected that there would be many young people present for the occasion. For that reason, youth took possession of his thoughts when he wrote his message script. Its translation from Spanish reads:Dear Friends:
On this notable occasion of bell ringing and rejoicing, I would like to extend my deeply felt gratitude to recently elected Mayor Mary Crespo for inviting me to talk to you. It is a great honor to be selected Guest Speaker of this joyful festival. I hope to interest you and to be brief, for, according to Gracián, “that which is good, if brief, twice as good.”
Miguel de Unamuno left written the great truth that, in his old age, man tends to return to his mother’s lap. Similarly, as I mature in years, I acquire a greater spell for my native land. I delight in returning daily by imagination and the Internet, and each time with greater attraction and nostalgia, to this most affectionate Bierzo where I was born and grew up. In my daily odyssey, reigns, above all, the eloquence of memory, and tears of remembrance invigorate my living.
I know for certain that we all gather here annually, not only to have fun during these deep-rooted festivities of the Assumption, Saint Roque and the most recent Festival of the Sardine. We also reassemble to celebrate our past praying together, dancing together, tasting together the fruits of our land, sharing our adventures and perhaps our hopes and aspirations. We join together, furthermore, to charge our batteries to be able to face, with peace and tranquillity, the great difficulties and injustices along the twisted highways that at times we have to travel. Throughout all my existence, this “berciano” soil has become the very rich and extraordinary burrow from where, like a torrent, have sprung forth religious and human forces that have helped me to overcome obstacles, realize dreams and concretize aspirations.
We gather here, furthermore, to appreciate our artistic patrimony in the church of Our Lady of the Assumption, as well as the monuments to our way of living. In my trips, I have seen many cities and all of them have their monuments. Even the Indian Eskimo tribes of Alaska, from where my wife and I have just returned, have their “totems”. These monoliths made of trunks of trees, carved and painted, represent aspects of their lives and existence. Here, these festivities manifest, by themselves, a monument to our past with our processions, “rondas” (rounds of drink with friends, through the town) and our other kinds of entertainment which place us near our present and unite us, at the same time, with our loved ones in the past.
We remember, besides, the hermitage, symbol of our religious unity, since it was part of our traditions, our processions during the Feast of Corpus Cristi and our warm welcome of pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. On a personal level, and due to its closeness to Doña Viruca’s farm, to think of the hermitage, reminds me of my father’s funny way to irrigate the land by yelling at me from far away “Arrea el Burro”(Spur the donkey on). This has become the only name by which many of you in the audience know me.
Evidently, we come together to this celebration to gather courage to reconstruct that great monument to the life of this village: “La Fuente de los Perales” (The Pear Trees Fountain). It is a monument to our mothers and sisters who in its environs washed our clothes; a monument to those who used to return from working the fields and the vineyards and would stop to cool themselves or to quench their thirst; a monument to those of us who used to visit it after school to drink or to play. And I hope that this guest speaker’s evocation will become a reality in a not too distant future; that this fountain will be a place for community gatherings as it used to be and the hermitage will form part of our processions as in times past.
There is another reason why we meet here to relax and to enjoy, and it is the beauty that charms our existence in this region. Certainly my wife and I have seen beauty of natural sublimity as those of the shores of Alaska, which you will see described in my new, soon to be published book Odyssey Resumed. I enjoyed a beauty which can be contemplated and admired, but which represents only one more experience in my life, without forming part of it. The beauty of these surroundings, the beauty of El Bierzo, is also contemplated and admired, but it is neither plastic nor superficial, but rather it penetrates the heart, takes possession of the subconscious and becomes part of one’s living.
When I behold that splendid scenery, those landscapes of such natural pulchritude as in the case of Alaska, I see a fascinating but empty immensity, resplendent but deserted, appealing to the eye but repellent to the desire of living. However, wherever I go, El Bierzo accompanies me, Fuentesnuevas is my way of feeling, my imagination’s spoiled whim and part of my life, even in my absence, and when I return, I rejuvenate in my happiness. I have not found this beauty of El Bierzo, undetected by the senses, anywhere else in the world that I visited or in which I have lived.Allow me to conclude by reciting to you the first poem of my poetic trilogy to Fuentesnuevas, which you will be able to find in Odyssey Resumed, the second book of my autobiography.
(Hymn to the pleasure of living)
Sprightly village! From this small “berciano” garden
In a sunny corner of the pleasant California south
Life I feel vibrate, thinking of your great fortune.
I open my memory’s door and sing your many praises.
Idyllic dream-like town, flaming, rustic and joyful
Destined you glow to plow new merry, pleasant vigor.
Perennial spring of new life and many hopes
In your bosom and your dwellings their comfort you renew.
No great ancestral lordship can in your annals be found.
Noble houses your borders fortify and enlighten you without equal.
Preserved vestiges from your past, your present ennoble verily.
Nests of learning and of caring for your people, your future guarantee.
With your enchanted landscape you always shine so graceful,
And the moorings in your meadows a precious picture sketch.
La Cogolla and El Coquín, the Los Perales Fountain and El Cachapón
Beget from earlier times tender nostalgia that caresses today’s hearts.
In the Church Mount and its environs, your dreams you crystallize.
You decorate them with apple trees and good vine of much succulent food.
With rounds of drinks in streets you celebrate good friendship.
Playing cards in bars, a close community you affirm.
To your lauded festivities of Corpus, San Roque and the Assumption,
Your children welcome people to celebrate with rhythm and with devotion.
With your prayers towards heaven and to the palate good taste
You perpetuate your greatness and with true savory roast delight.
For this, oh Fuentesnuevas, and for many other lauds
Forever, to live you will continue and will conquer any oblivion.
You will evoke forever to the world, gallantry with immortality,
For in your name you embody, eternal spring and luxuriant youth.
Roger felt quite content with the reading of his speech. The Mayor thanked him and congratulated him publicly, and privately, she promised him an engraved plaque, which turned out to be very lovely and attractive. It recorded the fact that he was indeed the guest speaker for the festivities of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Roque in the year 1999.
Though it could be noticed in his voice that his throat was constrained at times by emotion, the audience seemed to have liked it, for the applause was warm and enthusiastic. Since soon after he had to travel back to Madrid, he left the festivities in a big hurry and could not witness personally the villagers’ reaction to his speech. Nevertheless, his friend Héctor Blanco Terán wrote Roger a letter in which he expressed his own impression, since he had been among the listeners. Here is part of what he wrote:
Well, you must not worry about your performance as guest speaker of the Festival: it was magnificent. In this instance, the Guest Speaker and the Mayor were above the expectations of the moment. As you well know, this does not occur everywhere…
Indeed, I want to tell you something very important. Your speech was much more suggestive than you can imagine. There were many young people who did not know either the needs or the traditions of Fuentesnuevas. You well know, better than anyone else, that youth does not normally take notice of such things. But see. You succeeded in catching their intense interest, and when, upon remembering your loved ones, the emotion constrained somewhat your throat, we all felt that same sensation, and in more than one face shone that indiscreet tear, which showed how deeply touched we were by the words you were pronouncing.
Roger was truly amazed by the number of young people present for the speech. He could not believe that they would be much interested in what a mature, not to mention old, professor had to say at one o’clock in the morning. Even though he was surprised, in reality he expected many of them. He understood that the crowning of the Festival Queen at the end of the speech had more magic than his long professorial experience…
Undoubtedly, his honorary function at the Festival presented Roger with a very pleasant duty: he had the opportunity to greet and congratulate, in the name of the town, Delia López García, Patricia Prieto Mauriz and Noemí Villar Vargas, second and first runners-up and queen of the Festival, respectively.THE PEAR TREES FOUNTAIN
At the conclusion of the speech, Mayor Mary Crespo took the microphone and promised the audience that the evocation of the Pear Trees Fountain would in fact become a reality and that in a not too distant future it would be inaugurated totally restored. Then, she turned to the guest speaker and suggested “I hope you can be present”. Roger nodded affirmatively and expressed audibly that he would do whatever possible to participate in the inauguration.
Each of the previous three years, Roger had composed a poem for the annual August Festival in Fuentesnuevas. With his poetic trilogy to that idyllic pastoral village, which the reader can find in Odyssey Resumed, Roger thought to have exhausted his poetic inspiration of that special corner of the world that he always carries in his heart. It was not to be so, however. The idea of the inauguration of the Pear Trees Fountain kindled in him warm childhood memories of a pleasant past.
Thus, he abandoned himself to a whim of nostalgic reverie. He relived the happy moments when he used to visit his mom and his sisters while they were washing clothes near the fountain. He would also remember the joyous moments when he played with friends in its surroundings, especially with Orencio who used to challenge him to run with the iron wheel to get faster and taste its water. He rekindled more intimate moments such as when he returned from the Marists for a short two-week vacation and used to go to the fountain environs to pray the rosary and meditate in the morning… At the same time he would observe the rays of the sun timidly piercing the branches of the poplar trees so as to warm the grounds… In sum, Roger started to recall his youth. It was thus that on the 10th of April of 2000 he sent the Mayor the following little poem, asking her to do with it whatever she thought most appropriate for the benefit of the village:
THE PEAR TREES FOUNTAIN
Fountain of the Pear Trees,
Spring of memories that last,
In your environs is heard the song
Of a noble town the throbbing heart.
How soft and docile your water crystalline
Reflects the joy and unity from times of old.
Your solitude intones a very refined melody:
To Fuentesnuevas friendship returns to last.
Mothers and sisters near you have their laundry done.
To freshen up gleeful plowmen always came to you.
Boys and girls to you have happily rushed to drink.
Running on your grounds they also had great fun.
Sanctuary of eternal silence in isolation,
Your tidy flow entices dry lips to sprinkle there.
Your moist stones, vigor and majesty do infer,
Reward those who come to quench an anxious spell.
How fortunate, oh thirsty travelers
Who by this mythical fountain are yet to pass,
If dry your lips descend its opulent gush to flavor,
A worthy recall of dignity, you certainly will taste.
One of the reasons that brought Roger to El Bierzo that month of August was the promotion of his new book Odisea reanudada (Odyssey Resumed). His festival speech presented him with the opportunity to discreetly mention his new work. In addition, he made the necessary arrangements to carry out one of his cherished dreams: to publish his book in El Bierzo. He succeeded in the year 2000 with the cooperation of the “Instituto de Estudios Bercianos”.PROMISING MILLENNIUM
In the 19th century, the English writer William Hazlitt, quite accurately observed “The soul of a journey is liberty, perfect liberty, to think, feel, do just as one pleases.” After having read Odyssey to Opportunity, Héctor Blanco Terán wrote to Roger “We are all odyssey travelers in our own lives.” This is an idea that Roger highly appreciates and gleefully shares. He is convinced, besides, that he must enjoy a trip and not worry about its place of destination. Similarly, he believes that moving from one place to another brings with it more satisfaction and joy when done with his loved ones, since it amounts to placing one’s home in motion.
Though Roger and Lucille could not fulfill their dream of spending the last hours of the 2nd millennium and the first of the 3rd one in Vienna, the year 2000 was for them a year of intense traveling indeed. In July they took a cruise to Ensenada, Mexico. In August, few days after their return from the cruise, they undertook a trip of more than three weeks to England and Spain. At the beginning of December, they took another cruise through the Caribbean, the Panama Canal and the western coasts of Costa Rica and Mexico. In addition, Roger had the opportunity in September of spending more than two weeks in El Bierzo and enjoying the festivities of Our Lady of the Evergreen Oak.ENSENADA, MEXICO
In times of old, to take a cruise seemed a luxury only for the rich. Today, however, it is within reach of any one who looks for a time of leisure. A modern ship is like a floating city: it provides its passengers with all kinds of comfort and activities. Furthermore, cruises are rapidly acquiring greater popularity as the place where people in love tie the knot in matrimonial relationships. So many weddings take place in summer that many cruise ships seem to “convert” into Las Vegas “chapels”. Such nuptial vows, maintains Cruise Lines International Association, have shown a phenomenal increase since 1995. More and more cruises now combine the wedding ceremony and the honeymoon.
It was precisely to attend to such marriage that on the 21st of July Roger, Lucille and the rest of the family took a three day cruise to Ensenada to celebrate the nuptial vow between Rick Roberts and Stella Ang, Lucille’s niece. The religious ceremony took place in the ship Viking Serenade of Royal Caribbean, moments before sailing. It proved to be a very pleasant, joyful and spiritually special ritual, for the celebrant to perform and celebrate such a union was Bishop Bruno of the Anglican Church of Los Angeles. According to him, this was the first wedding he officiated in, after his ordination as a bishop, but he “could not say no to such a devout family as the Ang Family”. In fact, it was very edifying to see two young people consecrate their life in holy matrimony before a bishop of their religious persuasion and of their worship. The Viking Serenade sailed at 6:00 in the evening from San Pedro, Los Angeles Port, and anchored at Ensenada the next day at dawn.
Ensenada has a population of more than three hundred thousand inhabitants in an extensive area, some sixty-five miles from San Ysidro, a United States town that borders with Mexico, and some eighty-three miles from San Diego. It is the third largest city in Mexico. There, passengers could participate in various excursions, such as a tour of the Candiotera Cetto for wine tasting, or on horseback to the “Sendero de bandidos” (Bandits Path).
The wedding group decided, however, to go together to “La Bufadora” (The Puffing or Blowing), a natural phenomenon, which according to the guide can only be observed in two other places in the world: Hawaii and New Zealand. She must have forgotten, of course, that it can also be contemplated at Peníscola, Castellón, Spain, which curiously enough, is known by the name “Bufador”. The activated water from the sea is channeled into gigantic natural rocks structured in the form of a tunnel. The compression of the tide makes the water jump several yards high and exits furiously as white foam at the other side of the rocky tunnel. It exhibits a truly curious and impressive scene, particularly when the tide is high.
Roger had already witnessed that show of the force of nature some twenty years earlier. He was more impressed back then when there was not so much commercialization and that natural phenomenon could be better viewed and with greater calm. Then, the only trading post was one of “churros” (kind of doughnuts), very delicious, indeed. Though that same doughnuts post is still there with four others that bring competition, now all kinds of shops and stores are lined along a very long stretched street separating the parking lots from the “Bufadora” itself.
They spent the 23rd of July at high sea. They observed several whales as well as many dolphins, which were swimming and jumping not very far from their boat. In fact, they watched more whales near Ensenada than in all their traveling, one-year earlier, through the Canadian and Alaskan coasts.
For many of the participants in this cruise, the excursion was noteworthy because of the wedding, but also memorable because they carried out by sea a journey that they had executed several times by land. In addition, the close friendship and the climate of joy, once more proved valid English biographer Isaak Walton who in the 17th century accurately noted that “Good company in a journey makes the way seem the shorter.”
American writer John Steinbeck noted long time ago “A journey is a person in itself: no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policies and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip: a trip takes us.”
This is the way Roger felt after a trip to England, a country he ardently wanted to experience. He had been in the London airport several times when he used to take students to study in Salamanca, but he had never visited the city itself. Though he was somewhat aware of its rainy and overcast climate, he failed to make adequate preparations for such possibilities. He took the necessary precautions for the tour to Spain that would follow his visit to England. The English climate was not at all benevolent to Roger: in full summer, he developed a prolonged cold, from which he only felt relieved a few days after his arrival in Spain. That inconvenience aside, his tour of England ended up both pleasant and instructive.
What brought Roger and Lucille to London was their grandson Bobby Lincoln’s selection with some other four hundred boys and girls from the United States to compete in different sports as “Sports Ambassadors of Good Will”, under the auspices of the People to People Organization. Bobby’s sport was soccer. Roger and Lucille accompanied him to London where he stayed two days with the athletes, while his grandparents proceeded to a hotel in Gillingham where they got settled waiting for the arrival, there, of two hundred of the American athletes to start the tournament.
The athletes arrived two days later at Gillingham, in historic Kent County, not very far from Sittingbourne where the games were to be played. Bobby got there sick and could not participate for the first two days in his team’s practice. Furthermore, rain affects him negatively and he never plays well when it rains. It did not rain the first few days at Gillingham, but it poured during all the games his team had to play. Needless to say, under those conditions, his team did not distinguish itself competing against very uneven teams. His parents Robert Lincoln and Marguerite and his sister Danielle arrived in time to see the games and to visit some of the points of interest in world famous Kent County.CANTERBURY
Tourists visit Canterbury for various reasons. Some walk through town to admire its magnificent architecture and live its historic past: even the stones of its streets, like the ones in Salamanca, Spain and in Florence, Italy, breathe history and art. Others visit that city because it is one of England’s jewels, for the splendor of its past well reflects its present history.
Whoever aspires to a medieval adventure needs nothing else to do but enter the Canterbury Tales building. It is like moving through the interior of 14th century England and experiencing an encounter with folklore scenes of the world of the best author of the time, Geoffrey Chaucer. It represents one of the most popular and enduring England’s attractions where tourists can get entertained listening to tales of love, chivalry, vanity, greed and even the horrors of the English court.The Knight’s Tale relates a story of love, chivalry, envy and contention in which, two gentlemen fall in love with the same lady, at once young and beautiful. On the other hand, The Miller’s Tale tells a story of a different kind of love, which causes laughter, a laughter that at times becomes feigned as a result of its animated scenes.
Also be found there, is The Wife of Bath’s Tale uttered by a woman who has had five husbands and who, at the time of King Arthur when the romantic tale takes place, asks the question “What is it that every woman desires?The Nun’s Priest’s Tale represents a very animated farmland story of a rooster, a hen and a very skilled old fox. Finally, the visitor comes to The Pardoner’s Tale, a story of death, trickery and deceit, which has a surprising and unexpected end and sets the hair on end with fear.
It would not be an exaggeration, then, to state that, in Canterbury, Roger entered into a kind of literary reverie of enchantment, remembering the outstanding European authors of the period when Chaucer wrote his Canterbury Tales. Needless to say, he thought about Boccaccio’s Cameron of Italy, the Arcipreste de Hita’s Book of Good Love of Spain and Rabelais’ Gargantua of France.
Several more sites of artistic as well as historic interest to tourists can catch the attention of visitors. Two museums in special attract their cultural curiosity: The Canterbury Heritage Museum where Rupert Bear can be seen in its own gallery, and the underground Roman Museum to explore the entangled archeological settings of the buried Roman city of Durovernum Cantiacorum.
Canterbury’s cathedral is one of the exquisite jewels of that famous English tourist center. It was there that St. Augustin, envoy of Pope Gregory the Great in the year 597, established his “Cathedra”, thereby becoming the first Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1170, St. Thomas Becket was assassinated in the cathedral. His remains were located, fifty years later, in the new sanctuary of the Trinity Chapel. King Henry VIII destroyed Becket’s sanctuary in 1538. Two years later, a royal decree dissolved the monastery, and in 1541, the Dean and Chapter Foundation was established. Nowadays, Canterbury is not only the Mother Church of England, but also the Mother Church for Anglicans throughout the world. That cathedral is at once, for them, “a living place” and “the testimonial of a living God”. There, Roger could notice the door through which Archbishop Becket was forced to pass, to be shut closed after he had crossed it, before he was martyred.
That same day, Roger, Lucille, Bobby, Patrick Farmer and his father Gary from Glendale and some other athletes and parents from other California towns took the train from Gillingham to Rainham. There, at the best restaurant of that locality, Beefeater Inn, they tasted the best and most delicious food since their arrival in England. Would they have done it today when people are terrified with the “mad cows” problem? That is something that Roger seriously doubts.
The second day of the tournament, the organizers invited the parents or guardians of the athletes to a bus ride through the surroundings of Sittingbourne. Lucille, Roger and Marguerite accepted the invitation. What beautiful vegetation… awe-inspiring landscapes everywhere! And above all, what a tasty and delicious dinner they were served at George’s Pub, hidden in that pastoral, scenic landscape! Nothing but positive commentaries of wonderment was heard.LEEDS CASTLE
During their stay at Gillingham, they visited the famous Leeds Castle, a castle of world renown, which Lord Conway described as “The loveliest Castle in the World”. It stands in the middle of a lake and is surrounded by gardens of very beautiful landscapes. It came to be known as Lady’s Castle because many queens lived there.
From its beginning in the Middle Ages, the park that surrounds the Castle was designed to heighten the architecture and structure of the castle itself. All kinds of wild animals are found roaming there: swans, geese, kingfishers, peafowl, sparrow hawks… Besides, gardens like Wood Gardens, Culpeper Gardens and Lady Baillie Gardens beautify those grounds, with flowers of various colors, from spring to autumn.
It is true that the grounds around Leeds Castle are indeed pleasant and attractive and, one could add, with awe-inspiring views. It is also certain that it represents one of the most visited sites in England, renowned throughout the world as well known place for conferences and international banquets. Nevertheless, Roger and Lucille who have seen many castles in their travels, left the building structure itself somewhat disillusioned. They were disappointed by the shape and very reduced number of rectangular small rooms, which look like hallways rather than dwelling quarters. The library does arouse some interest indeed, but the rest of the interior construction of the castle did not capture their attention compared to the more impressive castles they have seen in Spain, Italy, France and Portugal.CALAIS, FRANCE
A family in the group rented a car and went to Calais, France. They crossed the English Channel in the “Hovercraft” and spent the whole day touring that historic city. When they returned to the games, they related that adventure to others. Naturally, that awakened Roger and Lucille’s curiosity. Upon finishing the tournament and before moving from Gillingham to London, they went to Calais. Very early, one morning, they took the train to Dover where they boarded the Hovercraft to cross the Channel towards that French port.
The name Calais appears for the first time in 1181. From that moment on, it has become the passage point for English travelers. Even the illustrious King Richard the Lion Hearted disembarked in that French port in 1189. Calais has been a prosperous city thanks to fishing and maritime trade. That prosperity has not always been continuous but has often been disrupted by hostile activities against it.
One such activity, perhaps the best one known world wide, occurred on September 4th of 1346, when the English king Edward III arrived in Calais. He wanted to blockade the port for “being a nest of pirates who have done so much damage to him and his people”, especially the famous Pédregone, “terror of the English”. That event sparked the legend, admired throughout the world, which Auguste Rodin portrayed in his sculpture “Les Six Bourgeois” (The Six Bourgeois).
As the story goes, after a heroic eleven month resistance, reduced to hunger and abandoned by the French king, governor Jean de Viennes relays the message to Henry III that he is ready to surrender on condition that he spares the lives of all the people of Calais. The English king accepts on condition that “… the six most notable bourgeois of the city take to him the keys of the city and the castle in shirt, without shoes and a rope around their necks.”
Upon hearing such a request, Eustache de Saint-Pierre, one of the richest merchants in the city, comes forward and declares that “trusting God’s mercy” he is ready to surrender to the English and die for the common good. Five other “Lords” among the most influential in the city of Calais join his example. When the six bourgeois give themselves up in such humiliating conditions, the English queen, Phillippine, who was expecting a son from her husband king Edward III, knelt before him and implored him “to have mercy on them in the name of the son of Our Lady” (the Virgin Mary).
Edward III accedes to the pregnant queen’s petition, and the population of Calais was saved thanks to the sacrifice of the “Six Bourgeois”. This heroic episode, known throughout the entire world as a symbol of sublime self-denial, is the one that Auguste Rodin immortalizes in his sculpture “Les Six Bourgeois” at the foot of “Hôtel de Ville”.
Calais became a Spanish possession at the end of the 16th century when in 1596 it surrendered to the Spanish forces. The Spaniards controlled the city for two years until the treaty of Vervins returned it to France in 1598.
So, in Calais Roger was given the opportunity to discover new horizons and increase his knowledge, for that tourist city, nicknamed “Clé de France” (Key of France), offers an interesting but painful history and enjoys a strategic position in centuries of French, English and even Spanish discords. In concrete terms, Calais has attracted numerous bombings, particularly during Second World War, which have destroyed a great number of landmarks of the old Calais.
That has been the incalculable price which that celebrated city has had to pay during its long history, due to its strategic location. Nevertheless, some structures of the old city still endure, among them “La Tour du Guet” (The Watching Tower), built towards 1229. Another of those structures is the church Notre-Dame, which combines the elements of perpendicular English style, corresponding to the resplendent, continental European style. In that famous church, on April 6, 1921, Charles de Gaulle married Mademoiselle Yvonne Vendroux.
The Hôtel de Ville, on the other hand, dates back to much earlier history. It contains splendid stained glass windows of the history of the city. At its foot, the sightseers can admire, as mentioned earlier, the excellent sculpture of “Les Six Bourgeois”, inaugurated in 1895 in the presence of its famous sculptor, Auguste Rodin.
The open-air market attracted Roger’s attention. It takes place near the Hôtel de Ville on Sundays, the day that the group toured the city. It looks a lot, though on a much smaller scale, like the “Rastro de Madrid” (Madrid Flea Market). They walked the streets of the market and became quite familiar with French craftsmanship.LONDON
Back in England the Lincoln and Fernández families settled in London to spend a few days exploring that renowned metropolis. Naturally, time proved to be too short to visit a capital with such an interesting history, but of detestable weather for Roger’s taste. Nevertheless, whatever individual interests and amusements tourists may expect, there will always be excursions, outings and walking tours to please them. There, visitors can find a range of quality museums, galleries and scenes of enviable art to fully satisfy their fancy. For Roger, the important thing has always been to satisfy his favorable disposition towards traveling and accumulating knowledge, which means to enjoy new experiences and gather information by means of a great variety of references. In London, he fulfilled those two objectives quite satisfactorily.
The English capital can offer an endless litany of attractions. It is important for sightseers, then, to plan ahead of time what they wish to visit and how to carry out their endeavors. Certainly, a panoramic view of the city is indispensable. In London, that can be achieved high up on the air or simply on the ground.
Like many other cities around the world, such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Empire State Building in New York, London can boast of many tall structures to enjoy a panoramic view of the metropolis. One can ascend, for instance, the Westminster Cathedral’s Bell Tower with its more than 280 feet height. It is the bell tower of the Catholic cathedral of London, located near Westminster Abbey, the Anglican cathedral. Visitors must take an elevator and, consequently, must check in advance the schedule of its availability. This bell tower offers magnificent views of the most widely known buildings in the English capital.
Of great interest to tourists is, without doubt, the new whole range of view that “British Airways London Eye” provides of the city. Each one of the 32 gondolas with a 1450 feet circumference can carry more than 25 passengers. From the very top of that huge wheel on a half-hour trajectory one can see up to 25 miles and, of course, all the important landmarks of London, from Buckingham Palace to the Dome of the Millennium.
To obtain the best feeling of the pulse beat of the English capital, a cruise through the River Thames is indispensable. A ferryman from Thames relates fascinating stories of the famous river and explains the London landmarks that show up in the tour: St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Tower of London, The Houses of Parliament, The Bridge of the Tower, the impressive Dome of the Millennium…and many more.
London also boasts of a fabulous system of buses, which offers travelers the incredibly inexpensive and convenient opportunity to examine the city more closely and at greater leisure. A rather inexpensive ticket can be bought daily and used for 24 hours. Any bus from either the blue or the red line takes travelers through the city with the option to stop whenever they wish to visit whatever place they wish. Naturally, Roger and Lucille made extensive use of these bus lines.
During one of those tours, Roger heard Spanish girls who wanted to get off at the stop closest to the Piccadilly Circus. They were so excited that they almost missed the stop. Roger felt compelled to let them know that they had arrived at their destination. They had to run down the bus stairs while thanking him. Roger wondered why they were so anxious to get off the bus at that particular stop. Later on, after seeing the “Eros” statue and heard the guide’s explanation, it occurred to him that they longed to see more closely the glorious Eros, also known as “Angel of Christian charity”. It is the first London statue made of aluminum, and dates back to 1893. It is famous for its illumination, and legend has it that “if you promise to love, under the statue, at midnight, your love will last forever.” Could that possibly be the reason why those girls showed so much enthusiasm…?
Also historically famous, and worldly known, are “The London Walks”. They embody the best investment of time and body at the disposal of tourists to get better familiarized with the city and acquainted with things that the great majority of its citizens ignore. The only imposition on visitors to participate in any such walking tours is for them to report on time to the place of departure. Every such walk lasts more or less two hours, and they are always carried out whether it rains or whether the sun shines.
The last day of their stay in London, Roger and Lucille joined one of those walking tours, which ended at Buckingham Palace after witnessing the famous changing of the guards. The point of departure was Trafalgar Square where, invariably, guides remind visitors that that center, with its statue of Admiral Nelson, commemorates the battle of Trafalgar in which the English Admiral defeated the Spaniards in 1805. Roger had to drop the hint to one of those guides, when he found it prudent, that the French were allies of the Spaniards and that it was they, he added smiling, that lost the battle…
Upon Roger and Lucille’s arrival to the big square, she asked a guard:
“Excuse me sir. Where do we take the bus for the walking tour?”
“Madam”, answered the policeman, “do you realize what you have just asked me, to take a bus to walk?”
They joined the walking tour. The group was so big that it had to be divided into two. They arrived at St. James Park and Palace. The park is one of the most attractive in London, and the palace was the royal residence from 1698 to 1837 when it was moved to Buckingham Palace.
The process of the changing of the guards starts at St. James Palace in front of which the new guards perform some maneuvering. Then they march through park boulevards towards Buckingham Palace. Roger and Lucille accompanied them with the group to their destination where more than fiteen thousand spectators were waiting at the time. It was impossible for the group to enter the enclosure where the ceremony of the changing of the guards takes place, but from the spot where they stood they could see quite clearly the truly impressive performance.
Buckingham Palace itself was built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham. It has 600 rooms and is today the main residence of Queen Elizabeth II. The changing of the guards, dressed in a uniform of distinctive and striking red color and black coif, is definitely the most popular event in London. Inside the palace, a guide provides visitors with information about the paintings and antiques of that splendid royal structure.
Roger believes that to know London well, tourists must join many of those walking tours. Obviously, if they do not have enough time, they must take advantage of the panoramic views already mentioned and choose sites that they personally want to visit. Besides Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Madame Tussaud’s, The National Gallery, Shakespeare’s Globe and other places of individual interest, Roger wants to single out and recommend some architectural wonders that can help visitors imbue themselves of the historic spirit of London.
Without a doubt, Houses of Parliament can be selected as one of those buildings worth the attention of tourists. That imposing structure is a magnificent instructor of history. It stands as the first parliament and it hosted its first meeting in 1275. It boasts of 1100 rooms, 100 staircases, 11 patios and about 2.5 miles of corridors and halls.
Naturally, a visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral is imperative. That baroque masterpiece is one of the architectural landmarks and one of the best creations of Sir Christopher Wren who raised it from the ashes of the 1666 fire. The mural and the carved stalls of the interior of the choir deserve special and detailed study. Of course, visitors should try to go up to Whispering Gallery and experience the unstable walk on worn-out and slippery marble. From up there, only 259 stair-steps high, they will be able to contemplate at leisure the splendor of the cathedral and appreciate its excellent acoustics. The history of that impressive structure lists state functions of historic import. Among some of the most recent are the wedding of Prince Charles to Diana and Winton Churchill’s funeral.
Another renowned building worth sightseers’ conscientious attention is, of course, the Tower of London. That well-known palace, an old Norman Fortress of 900 years of royal history is located on Thames River in the center of London. At present, it functions at once as palace, prison, treasure house and museum. In its new House of Jewels one can admire the crown jewels.
Westminster Abbey is truly a masterpiece that really represents a unique pageantry in English history. From the year 1066, it has been site to all the coronations of the English kings. It has also been home to a great number of royal ceremonies and concentration of tombs of poets, scientists and monarchs. Though Henry VII Chapel is worthy of special attention, many visitors study in detail the whole ensemble and spend hours reviewing its history and analyzing its art. Such was the case with Robert Lincoln who visited that jewel all by himself to better concentrate in a more thorough study.
In the midst of all that glorious English history, tourists can also participate in a great variety of cultural activities with other perspectives, which purvey more specific curiosities and interests. When Roger and Lucille visited London, several artists of international fame presented theatrical plays, recited poetry or interpreted classical music as well as classical dancing in St. Paul’s Cathedral and in the Tower of London.
Although the visit to London was culturally beneficial, unfortunately, the heavy rains that from time to time whipped the city during their stay erased its luster somewhat. On the whole, the balance was positive and it all came down to an enjoyable vacation.
Time came to go to the airport and take the plane to Madrid, Spain. During his long life, Roger has experienced many unlikely coincidences. One of them occurred that last day in London. The taxi man who took Roger and Lucille to the airport was a Moroccan from colonial Spanish Morocco. This fact was revealed during the conversation that ensued between him and Lucille. Upon hearing that Roger was born in Spain, the taxi man added that he had lived in Spain and had a Spanish girlfriend. Roger became interested in that aspect of the conversation and asked him:
“In what part of Spain did you live?”
“In León”, answered the Moroccan.
“I was born in León, very near Ponferrada, capital of a region called El Bierzo”, replied Roger.
Roger was almost mum. From so many taxi drivers in London, it had to be their luck to be serviced by one of Moroccan birth, who had, in addition, a “berciana” girlfriend from San Román de Bembibre… According to the tone of his conversation, he let it be known that he loved her a lot and that it was a mistake for him not to have married her.
So ended the Lincoln and Fernández families’ vacation in England in the year two thousand. Robert Lincoln returned to his work in the United States, while Marguerite and kids Bobby and Danielle accompanied Roger and Lucille to Spain.CUENCA, SPAIN
The conversation with the taxi driver in London revived in Roger his innate enthusiasm to travel to El Bierzo, his “Little Fatherland”. Nevertheless, they first had a date with Cuenca, for, while a young girl, almost three decades ago, Marguerite studied one year in that provincial capital. She wanted to return and visit that place of her childhood. Both Roger and Lucille had already been in Cuenca, she when she took Marguerite to study there, and he while touring Spain in 1975.
At Barajas airport in Madrid, they rented a van and proceeded on their way to Cuenca that very afternoon. Roger was driving and Marguerite was indicating the route. That day, his Guardian Angel must have protected them in a very special way.
Not many miles from Cuenca, he noted a red light warning him of something unusual in the hand brake mechanism. Instead of stopping the car and examining the light that worried him, he made the inconceivable, inexcusable and unforgivable mistake of applying fully the emergency brake… But who, in his right mind, would have thought of testing the hand brake while the van was going at a speed of more than sixty-five miles an hour? The van nearly turned over while crossing the highway on its two wheels on the driver side and winding up on the opposite embankment, facing the opposite way. Thank God nothing happened. Nonetheless, Roger still wonders at times “What would have occurred had there been more traffic in the opposite direction, or had the van overturned or had the ditch on which it stopped been deeper? The only thing Roger did well on that occasion was to turn the wheel in the direction it was taking as the van was slowing down. Good Samaritans were quick to appear on the scene. Two cars that were on the road at the time stopped. The occupants of the two vehicles rushed with worry in their faces and offered immediate help. Roger managed somehow to get the van out of the embankment and they continued their way towards Cuenca where they arrived sane and safe sometime later.
In his many years of driving throughout many different parts of the world, Roger had never committed such a blunder, and it goes without saying, he will never do that again… Only a professor, absent minded like him at times, can fall prey to such stupidity. Nowadays, one of his daily supplications is, without exception, the well-known Spanish prayer “Ángel de la Guarda, dulce compañía, no me desampares ni de noche ni de día” (Guardian Angel, pleasant company, do not abandon me, neither at night nor during the day).
Miraculously, then, they reached Cuenca, ten minutes later, all unharmed and the van in perfect condition. How changed did Roger find that beautiful provincial city! Modern living necessities have snatched away its precious leisure and tranquillity. The lack of available parking, already common in many parts of the world, made impossible the visit to some of its landmarks, like the cathedral. For the adults, this did not mean much, since they had seen it on previous occasions. However, Danielle and Bobby would have liked to walk the inside of that beautiful cathedral, which their mother used to visit in her earlier youth.
Incredibly, after a twenty-nine year absence, Marguerite recognized all the streets, shops and pastries, which as a young girl she used to frequent and which still continue to serve the community. She could not see the nuns, nor enter the school where she studied for one year. The school was closed because of summer vacation and the nuns were all absent for the same reason. She was able to get in contact, however, with her teacher of Spanish. Their rather emotional encounter took place at a small café that she remembered for its reputation as serving good chocolate. And, indeed, delicious it was, particularly when taken with “churros” (doughnuts).
The itinerary took them next to Toledo and then to Ponferrada to celebrate in Fuentesnuevas, the deeply rooted festivities of Our Lady of the Assumption and of St. Roque on the 15th and 16th of August respectively, and the more recent Festival of the Sardine. Roger wanted Marguerite and the children to participate, for the first time, in some festivals in El Bierzo. Indeed, those public celebrations impressed them. The children still remember with warmth that trip to El Bierzo, which they liked more than the one to England. They were delighted by the freedom they enjoyed during the four day Festival… the idea of being able to play at will without fear and the constant presence of adults… That is something they will never forget. The only thing that Danielle did not appreciate was that in Spain “They only speak Spanish.” For his part, Bobby wants to return. He made good friends in Fuentesnuevas and he still remembers them. Some mornings, their mom serves the breakfast that every day they were served at “Pastelería Pili” (Pili’s Pastry) in Ponferrada.
During their stay in Roger’s “Little Fatherland” they went to see the famous cathedral of León with its beautiful rose glass windows. Naturally, they went shopping, one of the activities that most interest them, as they had done previously in Cuenca and in Toledo, and later on in Segovia and El Escorial, before leaving for Los Angeles, California.CULTURAL REVIVAL
Italian dramatist Carlo Goldini observed about the middle of the 18th century that “A wise traveler never despises his own country”. For his part, Roger has not only never felt spite, nor will ever hold contempt for his country of birth, Spain, and in particular his “Little Fatherland” El Bierzo, but rather he reverts to them to look for solace, strength and… rejuvenation. Such was the case during the second half of the year two thousand when a dramatic and impacting change occurred in his life. Two weeks into the Fall semester classes, he felt compelled to write a letter to Los Angeles City College president requesting “sick leave of absence” for the remaining of the semester.
As the reader of Odyssey Resumed may well remember, at the end of the 1995 school year, taking advantage of a generous retirement incentive, Roger retired from teaching as full time professor. He continued to exercise his profession on a part-time basis, however, so that he could conduct on Mondays and Wednesdays a class of Spanish civilization and culture and teach a course on Spanish language. With his retirement, he ceased to be Chair of the department, but he helped the new Chair whenever she asked him to do so. Naturally, as her experience in the new position increased, the need for his seasoned help decreased, until it was no longer necessary.
It did not take long for Roger to realize that to give orders, mainly unwise ones, the new chair naturally stood out. He could not help but notice changes that he considered unnecessary or harmful to the department, and that caused him pain and suffering. Nevertheless, knowing that “a drop of honey is worth more than a barrel of gall”, he continued to support her and to offer her help. Soon, it pained him to understand, however, that the time had come to recognize the great truth of the saying that “where the captain gives orders, no mariner can rule”. So he decided to stay away from teaching for awhile, particularly so after he reached the conclusion that the Chair was now determined to discard any advice, friendship and experience he had to offer her for being relatively new to the department.
Unquestionably, time has accumulated dedication in Roger’s teaching career. The situation in the department became a brutal blow for him, and brutal blows create upheaval, though not always hurt. At times, they even broaden the spirit. It became as clear as water to him that if to flee is a sign of cowardice, to disabuse oneself is a sign of wisdom. Consequently, at the end of the semester, in January of two thousand and one, he resolved to quit teaching forever. Thus, he ended thirty-six years of dedicated instruction at Los Angeles City College and started at the same time a new period in his life.
Roger made that drastic decision because, in his opinion, the department no longer functioned well. Blind arbitrariness in new faculty selection severely compromised its educational efficacy, negatively affecting the quality of instruction. Furthermore, total incompetence in the preparation of the schedule of classes in that seventeen-discipline department broke loose a chain reaction leading to a considerable loss of classes, programs and professors. On the other hand, professorial and administrative fears of correcting such an untenable situation convinced Roger that, were he to follow his instinct to act as redeemer, he would end up crucified. So, he decided to resign in protest rather than to accede in silence.
Of course there will be readers who think that we are all “toys of fate” and that Roger had no other choice but to accept his new reality according to that way of thinking. He believes otherwise, however. For him, we are all part of a providential plan and come to this world with a specific individual mission in that overall scheme. Therefore, he should assume new responsibilities.ODYSSEY RESUMED PRESENTED
The first thing Roger did upon requesting a “sick leave of absence” was to distance himself from the college he loved so much and was at the time causing him much pain. Consequently, he traveled to El Bierzo. That return to his “Little Fatherland” restored his fantasies. It was an appropriate time to celebrate, as any good “berciano” does, the Festival of Our Lady of La Encina (Evergreen Oak), and to present with enthusiasm his new book Odisea reanudada (Odyssey Resumed) in Ponferrada, Salas de los Barrios and Fuentesnuevas. The presentation that Roger fulfilled in the capital of El Bierzo is included here in its entirety, with the hope, of course, that the reader will benefit from it:
As the reader of Odyssey to Opportunity may perhaps remember, the author and main character of that work dedicated his entire life to studying and teaching. To that end, he had to feel and show himself, at times, a dreamer and a Quixote. In addition, he has given himself body and soul to the search of truth, which requires certain amount of personal growth, which in turn can only be achieved through a constant change of scene.
In times past it was said: “truth is the oxygen of love”. That verity is easily forgotten in this modern era when truth is hidden with frequency and love frequently shows no evidence. In Odyssey Resumed, second echelon in the life of the author, it constitutes, however, the motor and the heart of its frame and structure. It is something like a breath of air in a cold winter morn: it spirals and moves circularly through its pages. Sentimental life aside, the author’s great love for travel emanates precisely from his great curiosity to know the world in all its reality.
As protagonist, Roger is a student of culture, history and geography. As a student in love with his environment, he has lived a life of many disappointments, but also with flavor and delight, converting it into a great adventure, a constant "going on the road”, a continuous “risking of danger” and an incessant “discovering”. It validates, thus, the proposition established by Albert M. Josephy Jr. in his A Walk Towards Oregon “that the supreme quality of mind and of character of the development of a student is the joy of living”.
Roger’s career has always shown boldness in candor and dissent. Though some of the revelations of the first book Odyssey to Opportunity may have somewhat confounded the reader, seen in retrospect they lay bare certain norms and links between political, religious and cultural tendencies, which if stripped of that candor and dissidence, could appear absurd or unreal.
If in Odyssey to Opportunity the author’s personal agony is a source of painful interest to the reader, in Odyssey Resumed the tale tries to be, almost in its entirety, a fountain of pleasure and enjoyment for both. Similarly, if the first book is a riveting, a clinching of memories, which vividly takes a past, at times sad and violent, towards a more pleasant and rewarding present, Odyssey Resumed takes a pleasant and rewarding present to a turbulent past that was decisive in producing that remunerated present.
Odyssey Resumed sets out to reveal new aspects of the present and yet-to-come life of the author. Though such life must be seen through the prism of the past, it does not trip, however, with cultural shocks as rough or tales as picaresque as in the previous one, since nowadays daring, dangerous and adventurous adventures and hazarding, risking and intrepid challenges are progressively more rare. The world is very small, cultural differences, however varied and contradictory may appear, no longer have borders and are readily accessible to global curiosity. Even more, in this modern society of television, jets and Internet, corporal as well as mental displacement is already, almost, a common norm in countries where freedom and economic means inspire movement.
Similarly, the narrative in this new book does not intend to be as humorous and festive. It no longer evokes the young and impulsive years of the central character. Neither is its tone as intimately confessional, though it continues being personal in an aura of curiosity and mystery. This is so because personal tales grow in vigor in this modern society in which they act as a cathartic for the author as well as for readers who seem to show great eagerness for stories that will help them better understand the difficulties in their own lives.
Thus, then, this sequel to Odyssey to Opportunity pays attention to perspectives of a more judicious and reflective reality. It continues to string together a series of impacting experiences in the author’s existence at a more mature, informative and extensive level as far as the new human relations that have recently emerged in his life is concerned. It links together a nostalgic look towards the past, “tumultuous must of rich grape”, and a renewed hope in his new horizons of the future, “generous wine of his maturity”. It establishes, then, in a somewhat lyrical language at times, an epitome of experiences and personal accounts, writing pad or diary of cultural pilgrimage, without the religious emphasis that such concept normally assumes.
His long-life interest in culture has taken him to extensive traveling and has impacted his style of writing. His life could be compared to an exile embellished, carpeted with tapestry in the United States. That could have the salutary effect of tying him to the challenging of what he considers the unfettered impertinence and irreverence in too many aspects of modern art.
The author of Odyssey Resumed does not consider himself a James Michener; no, not even in a small scale. Indubitably, his book exhibits a rather selective distillation of historic and geographic details, not the minutely and exhaustive documentary of the American writer who includes in his books detailed information about places as diverse as Iberia and Hawaii, Alaska and the Caribbean. Furthermore, what dominates in Roger’s writing is a mixture of biography and assessment, which operates under the reasonable supposition that the writer’s life and work must unite harmoniously to guarantee complete authenticity.
Odyssey Resumed does not constitute literature of escape or evasion. With his traveling, the author tries to seize time, and fulfilling his aspirations, he assumes some control over what repressed his earlier life, relieving him from a painful past, separating him from suffering. It is true that he has not grown up to be what other people close to him would have liked him to be, but he continues to be what his parents made him to be.
The central character never completely conforms to the “status quo”. He looks to the future, tries to foresee the events in his life and endeavors that his plans and dreams become reality. He out-lives at times dangerous experiences and takes risks in relating them. His tale is then like his own description as protagonist and author whose calculated risk lays in balance in a pleasant and, for some people at times, unimaginable frame. It is fitting to point out that, besides being the most constant lei-motive in the book, the “berciano” soil constitutes the very rich and extraordinary burrow from where have sprung forth religious and human forces that have helped the central character to overcome obstacles, realize dreams and concretize aspirations.
It is said: “A bent tree does not a branch set right”. Well then, this book exposes precisely the antithesis of such saying, for it symbolizes the abundant fruit of a quite strong, unbent and solid tree, which has straightened several branches that many storms have tried to bend. It tries to manifest a meditation upon the moral economy of remembering, that is to say upon the price of denying what one is, feels and has done. It reminds us that, in love as in history, those who have no memory and do not remember may very well be condemned to a tired life of repetition, worn-out and perhaps hypocritical.
In my professorial capacity, allow me to offer here a concise evaluation of this work. Odyssey Resumed is a book that, like a hurricane, seems to pick up strength as it moves in search of the coveted truth. The author never loses sight of his basic frenzy for traveling that from childhood captivated him and now in this narrative has become, not only some kind of historical and geographical tourism, but also a stable and persevering tourism of literature that includes some of his own poetry. This book includes emotional returns to El Bierzo and descriptions of trips to the Philippines, China and Alaska. It also reminds the reader of authors of other various and diverse cultures, some very far away, in order to initiate a simple conversation with literature. This way, the author tries to fulfill his double purpose to inform entertaining and to entertain informing.
Odyssey Resumed ought to be read not only for the measured movements of its prose and its lyricism, but also for its respect of the immense diversity of every phenomenon, including the most elusive of all: human happiness. Furthermore, its reading could awaken the interest of readers who love tourist accounts. What is indeed evident, with certainty, is that the author tries to show equilibrium and clarity as someone who teaches openness and aspires to provoke “a disposition to snatch a lesson from life”.“EL BOTILLO”
It has fallen to Roger’s share to live his existence with nostalgia and with hope. Perhaps it has also been his destiny to distance himself from El Bierzo, his errant companion, always to dream and never to forget. If in his roving life he has some day forsaken El Bierzo and the “botillo” (inner-lining-pig bag, filled with meat and bones), its unique, aboriginal and popular dish, it was as the foam that moves along disappearing. To remember is to live again, and in his daily odyssey reigns above all, the eloquence of recalling.Roger would like to share with the reader four deeply rooted customs that, generally, accompany those who live in foreign lands, and in particular him who never forgets his origin:
They always complain of an instantaneous ache in their original language. Working one day on the front lawn of his house, Roger’s foot got hurt. The English interjection in such situations is “ouch!” His automatic reaction was a loud “¡Ay!” which sounds like “I” in English, but means “ouch!” A little old lady who was going by took it for a “Hi!” She returned the supposed greeting with a smiling “Hi to you, too!”
They count their money in their native tongue. Naturally, if they live in the United States and they count many of those green bills, they perhaps get inspired and even recite enthusiastically García Lorca’s verse “Verde que te quiero verde…) (Green that I love you green…)When they pray in private, they pray in their native language. Didn’t their mothers teach them their first prayers? They always carry that beloved being in their minds and in their hearts. This alludes to gastronomic customs and tastes. They always seek to savor the culinary delights of their childhood and youth, and even travel long distances to obtain them.
The various festivities that celebrate the “botillo” in the Bierzo region exalt the delicious properties of one of those tasty delights. Every “berciano” knows well all the Epicurean characteristics of the prince dish of the “berciana” table, which make it better and richer than the Sodupe bread that for long enriched with luxury the tables of Bilbao. That same luxury should enrich all “berciana” tables, at a higher level even, the delectable “botillo” whose other sociological and artistic aspects the author wants to praise here.
Don Valentín García Yebra from the Spanish Royal Academy affixed to the “botillo” the very adept epithet of “democratic king… because it is on all tables without regard to social condition” (Bierzo 7, 3-2-2000, p.22). It bears reminding here that, besides evoking customs and traditions, that dish of unexhausted fountain of delighting flavor, possesses the unusual faculty of favoring jovial coexistence and of bringing together in a relaxed, festive and informal atmosphere, people of all sides of the national political spectrum. It goes even further. In this modern society in which we nowadays live, a great number of communities find unity only in tragedy, among tears and condolences. To “berciana” communities such as Bembibre, the “botillo”, artist commander, smoky entertainer, provides unity among smiles and congratulations, good fellowship and rejoicing.
Roger’s experience with the “botillo” has been somewhat different from the majority of the rest of the “berciano” people. While a child, he savored as anyone else in El Bierzo, the delicious “botillo” that the mother of the family used to stuff, cure and prepare in the house, and when he used to accompany his dad to winter livestock fairs. Then, he spent many years in foreign lands flavoring it only in his imagination. Conscientious that it was the mothers who prepared it and served it weeks later on the table, he sometimes surprised himself humming, to the sound and rhythm of “Guantanamera”, the refrain and the first stanza of “La botillera y el botillo”, which he has composed with pleasure and satisfaction. It is transcribed here in English free verse without regard to rhyme, rhythm or tune:
Little berciana botillera
How much I’d want you,
To forever my cook be.
A sincere man am I,
And I confess that I now want,
In Bembibre or in Lombillo
Savor a good botillo.
And if for that I should,
There each year rush I would.
Well invigorates the botillo
What is a simple prickling sauce.
With potatoes and greens
Nature it well delights.
Oh! appetizing delicacy,
The Bierzo revere with taste.
The botillo pleases me,
Its filling satisfies me.
I dream with it in its dwelling
And its distance slays me.
But if one day I could,
Make its stay mine I would.
It rejuvenates the old,
But does not age the young.
It opens the appetite of the rich,
And always ennobles the poor.
And if the world really knew it,
Much botillo would itself eat.
Roger knows well that he is not Amancio Prada (Berciano song writer and singer), nor Frank Sinatra, nor much less Cristóbal Halfftner (Spanish composer), but the reader can now understand where his heart was trying to get some taste out of the traditionally famous American sandwich.
His dream to return to El Bierzo each year has become reality since 1983. He has persistently tasted the “botillo”, not only in winter, but even in summer, as can be attested with an occurrence that involved him, Héctor Blanco Terán and wife Charo in a well known regional restaurant. Charo and Roger ordered “botillo” (Roger thinks that she did it only to please him), and poor Héctor was overcome with profuse perspiration, just seeing them both sweating…
Carrying out his assignment as director of Los Angeles City College Spanish programs in Salamanca, he was able to show the “botillo” to American students in various occasions. For that, he would take them to “Prada a Tope” café-bar where El Bierzo always lives. Several frames decorate the walls, among them one of the “botillo”. Inevitably, students would point to the latter frame and would ask with grin of repugnance on their faces: “What’s that?” But, after a cautious trial taste, with smile and gesture they approved… They did not know that “los bercianos” do not prostrate themselves before the altar of ephemeral beauty, but indeed sit down at the exquisite table of good taste.
In one of his tours through Spain in 1985, Roger participated in the “Festival del Botillo de Bembibre”. He was delighted and fascinated by it. The weather froze him, for a fall of snow worthy of the north of Alaska coldly visited the celebrations. But he had such pleasant memory of the Festival that, when the opportunity presented itself eleven years later, he joined the festivities once more, as some readers may remember from Odyssey Resumed. It was in that relaxed atmosphere of joy and rejoicing that he initiated his interest in a new literary orientation, which takes some of his time writing poetry.
For Roger, the “botillo” constitutes, without doubt, “The Delicacy King of the Muse”. He asks himself: “What other corner of the earth celebrates in various localities its regional dish, receiving it with brassdrums and with cymbals, glorifying it with songs and poetry as it is done with the “botillo”? Yes, there are indeed programs that praise some nutritious products to the tunes of popular songs, but those represent lucrative parodies for sale, not artistic inspiration of exaltation.
On the other hand, the “botillo”, strong and delicious “berciano” dish, palpitates in the world of the arts, for it has inspired and continues to inspire the artist. Roger does not wish to abuse the readers’ patience using his professorial vocation to inundate them with names and dates to prove this point. His guarantee is the great number of documents already in existence. Only a few facts of regional import will be included here.
In Oencia, the “canción de aguinaldo” (song of the Magi Kings’ gift), where the “botillo” is invoked, is sung the day before Magi Kings’ Day that is celebrated on the sixth of January. Many readers may know the tune and lyrics of poet Victoriano Crémer “Ni morcilla ni morcillo / ante el botillo me humillo” (Neither black pudding nor muscular (part of the) arm / before the “botillo” I humble myself). There is also the popular “botillo” song composed by none other than Luis Alano Arias, the current director of the singing group “Polifónica Bembibrense”.
In the purely poetic field, it is fitting to select and evoke here, among many, Ricardo Alonso Montiel, a priest from Bembibre nicknamed Vatmar, who in his “Dios, patria y hogar” (God, Fatherland and Home), praises the process of the stuffing of the ‘Botillo”. A certain fellow, only known as Garbao, wrote a long poem in which he praised that culinary delicacy. The recently deceased poet Felisa Rodríguez wrote in one of her poems “Bembibre dresses the botillo”. Naturally, those who have read Odyssey Resumed know Héctor Blanco Terán, a poet from Bembibre who wrote and published two sonnets on the “botillo”. His ability as a poet and the rejoicing of the “XXIV Festival de Exaltación del Botillo de Bembibre” inspired Roger to write poetry. Here follows transcribed the 26th Stanza of his poem “Al Bierzo: mágico compañero errante”, which he wrote last century… in 1997:
In flight, Bembibre I do encircle, of very luxuriant shore,
And I quench in Cornatel my thirst in love for culture.
Gil y Carrasco I do invoke in my very ably novelized homeland
And return to the Botillo Festival where good taste always reigns.
TO THE “COGOLLA” (January, 2001)
When Roger decided to withdraw from teaching, he met with great physical as well as mental pain, which negatively affected his concentration for writing. For quite a few months he could not redact anything, much less compose poetry. After his decisive resolve not to teach again, he began to write once again. He continued his work of the Spanish version of Odyssey Fulfilled and also dared to write a poem here and there.
In the last few years, he had composed some verses on Fuentesnuevas for the mid August festivities. So, then, at the beginning of the year two thousand and one, he wrote a poem on one hill that has much fascinated the local citizens: the “Cogolla”.
In that new composition, Roger pauses to recall the walks that many locals used to take along its surroundings and the games that, when a child, they played in its environs, especially when Don José Tahoces, their teacher, used to take them for excursion to that mythical high land. Similarly, he evokes the efforts and the hard work that peasants had to perform to produce that tasty wine that nowadays the whole village annually flavors the first night of the celebrations of Our Lady of the Assumption and of San Roque. It reads thus in free English verse:
TO THE COGOLLA
(seductive mountain of illusion)
Cogolla of Fuentesnuevas,
Fiery and popular high land,
In good wine you renew faith,
And gratify its people’s taste.
You use well your proximity to the sun
And invite to leisure as a fountain to desire.
Embracing your vineyards loudly proclaim joy,
The dreamer you seduce to stroll to your environs.
Lucid mountain of joyous existing,
Fruitfully you govern your creative rhythm.
Wisely you guide of your people the pleasure of living
Exacting you reward the tenacious laborer.
Shining psalm without neighboring boundaries
Your flock climbs to you in solitude exalted.
You smile and accept their most sincere designs,
Their hearts you fill with enchanted suavity.
Oh hill caressed by the rumors of the wind!
Your vines dance to the sound of symphony sweet
Whose iris trumpet in aromatic breeze
The wanderer charms in your harmony entranced.
You are with my God my assiduous sanctuary.
Isolated highroads and bramble paths
With fervor inspire in you active recess by self,
Evoke diversion of youth of yesteryear enjoyed.
Copious tears of my excitable young years
On your fruitful slopes gently to fall I felt.
In total plenitude I want to recover them now,
Invoking before you, fancied recalls of yesterday.
Roger sent that poem to Mary Crespo Márquez, mayor of Fuentesnuevas, instructing her to do with it “whatever pleases you most”, as he had done in all previous occasions. Similarly, his poems have always been published in the festival magazine. That one on the “seductive mountain” appeared in that same magazine in August, 2001 and in the August 9th edition of that same year of Bierzo 7.TO THE VIRGIN OF THE EVERGREEN OAK (February, 2001)
Somewhat worried about Roger’s state of poetic sterility in the second half of the year two thousand, his friend Héctor tried several times to lift up his spirits asking him whether he was still writing poetry. Roger sent his friend his most recent poem “To the Cogolla”. Héctor must have liked it, for he answered comparing its style to the one Gonzalo Berceo used in his poems on the Virgin Mary. He suggested to Roger to write a poem to the Virgin of the Evergreen Oak of Ponferrada, locally known by the endearing term “La Morenica” (The Little Brown One). Following the advice received, he put the shoulders to the grindstone and composed the following poem A la Virgen de la Encina (To the Virgin of the Evergreen Oak), the Patron Virgin of El Bierzo. The weekly Bierzo 7 published it on April 19th when Roger was in Ponferrada participating in the Book Fair, which that year took place immediately after Holy Week. Thus reads the poem in free verse in English, though not as written in Spanish:
TO THE VIRGIN OF THE EVERGREEN OAK
(Ponferrada’s glorious queen)
Glorious “Morenica”, Virgin of the “Encina”,
Who humbly lives in dwelling divine,
Who in the shadow of the Lord dwells to live,
From Him became the best instant to conceive.
Only such an august pause of God creator
Could of your precious beauty the cause be.
Inexhaustible treasure in the virtue of loving,
Secretly you move us towards your Son to seek.
Source of radiant light in dignified sanctuary
Your flock comes to you in union and by self.
Your glaze emanates such cheerful joy
That it turns into seconds the hours of day.
Oh fountain of vigor that the aching consoles,
Tidy spring that aplenty does care
To soften with grace the accented pain
Of faithful who ask to be lit by your flame.
You are like a hidden wave of the rough sea,
As an arbor that the life of a shipwrecked saves,
Like a ductile thread that can never be seen,
But reaches to God restoring man’s hope.
Precious reliquary on a coral necklace mounted,
In procession united and fertile floral offering,
With sacred fervor moved on your festive day,
People shine their full dress regalia in your honor.
Garnished by a small glittering gold braid
Your tranquil image by the Bierzo today honored Evokes from yesteryear your miraculous power That induced “bercianos” their duty to fulfill. Your semblance serene sobriety inspires.
Your gaze reveals piety and tender love.
Your feature radiates such calm and such glow That it moves the Bierzo to follow you with valor. The notable splendor of your illustrious past
Reflects before God your proverbial persuading. For your loyal flock, your love pulsates in constant beat. Your heart throbs at the rhythm of its needs.
To your Son caressed in your so tender arms, You approach the faithful with very soft bonds. They are cradled to charm by your divine harmony, Making well worth the while your closeness to God. In strong angelic wings, lift us!
In the renewing breath of the Paraclete, protect us! Let the palm of your hand our sustenance be, So your Son accepts our soul from you at last.
The “Coquín” was, and still is, a mass of meadows within the confines of Fuentesnuevas, contiguous to other pasture grounds from the municipality of Camponaraya. A row of quince trees separated that vast plain from the rich fields of the first mentioned village. Shepherds from both towns used to take their cattle to those prairies to pasture. While oxen and cows grazed, boys and girls played and climbed quince trees. At the end of summer, though, they would approach the vineyards and pick bunches of grapes which they would hide in the river-bed, under the water of the stream that run by, so as to avoid being caught and fined by the village guard. Roger has happy and pleasant memories of that pastoral haven. For that reason he composed the following poem:
TO THE “COQUÍN”
To relive and to enlighten
Form the purpose for writing
Such sweet memories of living
That makes recalling a pleasure.
Of Fuentesnuevas a green prairie,
Oh “Coquín”, delightful pastoral calm
Of a luxuriant and rich valley of fruits,
You grow to excite a dreamer’s gaze.
Delectable communal folklore
Evoking you awakes true fantasies,
For time accumulates rejoicing
Fitting such comely rural idyll.
In your serene stream in summer,
Shepherds laid hidden few grapes,
But could only taste their flavor
Failing a guard to uncover them from sand.
Luxuriant quince trees in file all embraced
Enclosed rich orchards from your green pasture.
Delighted perched children picked their fruit
While contented cattle fed on your good grass.
0h embalmed and cheerful quince trees
From whence the quince abundantly grew,
Which faithfully change its short tender hair
Enlivening betterment seeing time going by!
Wherever your winds ever rove
As soft chorus that mellows the heart,
Nature will mind you, oh “Coquín”!
While shepherds’ noble presence fondles you.
TO THE “CACHAPÓN”
Another very special place in Fuentesnuevas is the “Cachapón”, which in itself is nothing more than a reduced portion of its stream. With the passing of time, the locals have enlarged it and used for swimming so as to “beat the summer heat”. That is precisely what Roger and his friends did one year when their teacher, Don José Tahoces, decided to hold classes mornings and afternoons one summer. The students would go first to the “Cachapón” for an afternoon swim and then would report to school as slowly as possible. They always arrived late, and the teacher would be waiting for them at the bottom of the stairs with a belt in hand to administer his punishment, as readers of Odyssey to Opportunity may remember. Thus reads the poem:
TO THE CACHAPÓN
The exquisite moment of feeling good
Can indeed very rapidly slip by,
But the cheering instant of recalling
Neither years nor distance can mind elude.
In my fiery interior I hear
Of your name the soothing melody
As in times of old could be heard
Of your serene water the splashing sound.
Unforgettable endearing Cachapón,
Of Fuentesnuevas natural pond,
To your still pool rush local dwellers
In your presence they feed fancied illusions.
Oh dam to modernity immolated,
Rivers and pools your oblivion plotted.
Your memory will live in me forever:
Youthful recalling will deny you solitude.
Oh memorial of flavor distinct
I long the pleasing tune of your cheer.
I evoke your enchanted tapestry,
I hold shining of your ardor the glow.
With passion I yet your water wish to touch,
To reach of an angel the ethereal wings,
To haul the wind and without pause,
With speed at your site calmly land.
Your scattered notes are sounds of existence.
Continue, seductive Cachapón, your natural symphony
Recreate in swimmers with sharp harmony
Ornate summer tunes that comely alleviate living.
THE CHURCH MOUNT
The “Cuesta de la Iglesia” (Church Mount) stands as one of the places in Fuentesnuevas that has most impacted Roger’s life and inspired his imagination. In addition, he believes that its surroundings, decorated with apple trees and good vines of much succulent food, symbolize the dreams of the farmers of the village. He naturally recalls the crystalline medicinal water that sprung from its fountain and relieved the sight of those who used it only for that purpose. Some local folks still remember it as “Fuente la Lagaña” (Fountain of the Blearedness). As a consequence of the construction of a new highway, the fountain no longer gushes out any kind of water… Nevertheless, what that local mount reminds Roger most vividly is a race to which he challenged the parish priest, Don Leovegildo, while he was still a Marist student. They had to run to the top of the hill and back to the bottom. While running back to the bottom, the priest tripped and fell. He was not too hurt, but hours later, during the recitation of the rosary at the parish church, he fainted. Thank God, the fall did not cause further complications. Not long ago, Don Leovegildo passed away. Roger dedicates this poem to him:
THE CHURCH MOUNT
Mount of our existence,
Infallible north of our living!
Everything at leisure you coddled
And with color softly touched.
Of Fuentesnuevas original setting,
Spirited you raise as a lofty pedestal.
Your obscure chronology captures attention
And livens in dreamers contrived intuition.
Your fountain’s docile water crystalline No longer quenches thirst climbing the hill: It ceased to gush referring its vitality To the imperial rhythm to change.
At your feet the mead in shining
Exhibits magic to seduce.
Your winds breeze serene calm,
Your slopes harvest ample comfort.
With passion I can fathom you.
With sorrow I feel the time pass.
In your refined garb of beauty eternal
My distant ache, its refuge finds.
In the marginal cold tomb of oblivion
You will never rest as betrayed neglect.
The sweet melody of your smiling face
Dandles sweetly as a faultless trilled dream. Oh obscure pastoral image of praise worthy You will always be invoked as a reason for hope. Source of light, oh radiant summit of honor You rouse in me the impulse to love my native land.
As a general rule, Roger does not like to meddle in the local politics of El Bierzo because he appreciates his own rule of respecting all the views of the politicians of the region. In a democracy, leaders govern better when responsibility is asked of them from a vigilant, reasonable, fair and equitable opposition. Besides, he aspires that his writings appeal to readers of all tendencies and persuasion, and that no one feels offended.
Nevertheless, in the controversy known as “el caso Nevenka” (Nevenka’s case), he violated his own norm because he had been victim himself of a similar charge of sexual harassment, as readers of Odyssey Resumed may well remember.
After having read on the Internet on March 27, 2001, that councilwoman Nevenka Fernández had accused Mayor Ismael Álvarez of sexual harassment, and that there were voices that asked for the Mayor’s immediate resignation, Roger decided to reveal his own experience. He made such determination so that his “berciano” compatriots would calmly examine the evidence before making a mistake for which they could be sorry in the future. To force the immediate resignation of the Mayor could establish a dangerous precedent, and incite subsequent accusations for the purpose of obtaining ends that a vote does not grant. For that reason he resolved to send the following electronic mail to Bierzo 7, which published it in its next day’s edition:Dear Editor:
At this moment, I feel much sorrow for the tragedy that is affecting Mayor Ismael and the people of Ponferrada whom I dearly love.
As a matter of principle, I sympathize with Ismael, for he is suffering now what I suffered some eight years ago. At the College where I was teaching in California, the elections of the department under my leadership were getting close. To win my third term, I had to obtain 66% of the vote, which was impossible to achieve without the support of the women professors of the department. Aware of these specifics, one of them accused me of sexual harassment.
In spite of my innocence, I felt the most despicable man on earth. Had it not been for the faculty support, above all women faculty, as well as that of my wife, I would have resigned without finishing my second term.
The required investigation proved my innocence. The accusing professor quit teaching a few days before the elections, which I easily won. However, by law, my name as accused of sexual harassment remains in the archives of Sacramento, the California state capital.
I know another professor who was accused of sexual harassment by a female student. That professor lost his house and his job. His wife abandoned him. At the trial, the student confessed the untruth of her accusations, but it was too late for the professor to get back his good name, his job, his house and his wife…
I mention these two cases because I read on the Internet that there are those who are of the opinion that Ismael Álvarez cannot govern under that cloud of suspicion, and that he has to resign…though they profess belief in his innocence until found guilty. With the support that Councilmen and women have expressed for the Mayor and the understanding of the people he can continue ruling the city until the truth is cleared. How will those who ask for his resignation feel if he really does so and then is proven innocent? And how, then, will the Mayor get his good name back? He has already said it himself: if the councilwoman who accused him wanted to do him harm, she already did…Naturally, in cases such as this, there are always different opinions. However, those of us who have gone through such an experience know very well that it is better to let justice take its course.
The Mayor stayed on. The case followed the road designed through justice. “El caso Nevenka” has temporarily been resolved. Two of the three judges who heard the case found the Mayor guilty. Ismael Álvarez resigned immediately without prodding, while professing his innocence and vowing to pursue the case to the Spanish Supreme Court. Roger followed the case through the Internet and the Ponferrada weekly Bierzo 7. Though he was not present at the trial and may be wrong in his assumptions, he finds it difficult to understand that two judges believed the reported contradictions in the accuser’s and her mother’s declarations and not the dozens of witnesses whose declarations supported the Mayor’s innocence. Roger still remembers vividly Nevenka’s own words when he was visiting El Bierzo: “Aunque no me den la razón, ya logré lo que me propuse” (Though I may not prevail, I already obtained what I determined to attain). In the end, however, justice will prevail, and that is what really counts.LA FERIA DEL LIBRO
The year two thousand and one was very special in Roger’s life. Towards the middle of April he traveled to Ponferrada to participate in the Book Fair. Not only did he use the time to sign copies of his new book Odyssey Resumed, but he also had an extensive conversation with the guest speaker of the fair, journalist Tico Medina who subsequently delivered one of the best speeches he had ever heard. In their encounter they spoke, naturally, a little about the mild earthquake they had both experienced when, as a correspondent, the guest speaker accompanied the king of Spain to Los Angeles…
During that short visit to El Bierzo, Roger felt very gratified. He made personal acquaintances with several distinguished personalities who patronize the arts of the region or are themselves artisans of its culture. Furthermore, he was greatly surprised and much pleased to meet Carmen Puente Voces, Ponferrada’s “Reina de los belenes” (Queen of the mangers), known throughout that zone for her collection of nativity scenes from all over the world, which hopefully will some day become a museum. Woman of great faith and devotion, Carmen was also very involved in the campaign against hunger in the world. She invited him to a dinner to raise funds for such purpose in the Catholic Diocese of Astorga.
Fortunately, Roger did not have any other obligation and attended the gathering, which took place at “Restaurante Azul” of Montearenas in the outskirts of Ponferrada. Among the more than six hundred people who participated in the fund raising, he recognized one who had played a very important role in his childhood. It was Romualdo Arias Blanco, one of the principal financial contributors of the event. Romualdo and Roger were very good friends in their youth. They even exchanged days in their houses of Villanueva de Valdueza and Fuentesnuevas respectively. That was indeed a very pleasantly surprising and unexpected coincidence, which will be alluded to in greater detail later in the “Epilogue”. Roger also met Romualdo’s wife, María Luisa García Trabado, quite involved in this and other charitable activities.
While in the region, Roger joined with nostalgia in the celebrations of Easter, particularly in Salas de los Barrios. He preserves very good memories of those sacred celebrations in that place of his birth. He relived them again on that occasion in all its plenitude and reality, participating in several activities, especially in the procession that proceeded down from the parish church of San Martín to the main square where he heard the renowned “Sermon of the Encounter” of Jesus and his mother. Those represented for him very moving moments…SALAS DE LOS BARRIOS
Roger had hardly returned from that rewarding trip to El Bierzo when the weekly “Bierzo 7” published, one after the other, two articles that made reference to Salas de los Barrios, Roger’s native town, though at the time of his birth it was called Los Barrios de Salas. A little bit surprised and very interested in the content of both writings, he decided to send to the newspaper some personal clarification of facts in each article:Dear Editor:
Allow me to compliment Bierzo 7 for the biweekly series “Popular Architecture in Ponferrada”, announced May 17th and initiated on the 31st of that same month. The interview with José Enrique Royo, the author of the series, filled me with enthusiasm. It augured professional seriousness and communication of carefully studied and analyzed knowledge. What I have read until today seems to guarantee that the young author will not defraud us. As we read him more, we increase our appreciation and degree of awareness of our own regional “cultural identity” and the causes that produced it.
At a personal level, I was fascinated and moved by the photo of the two houses with the porticos in the plaza of Salas de los Barrios. They seem to ennoble the square, something similar to the ones in the Cathedral Plaza of the ancient city of Oviedo. In the house on the left, with one portico and broken windows, resided, more than half a century ago, Mayor Aurelio who so dramatically affected my family’s life as readers of Odyssey to Opportunity may well remember. The one on the right side, with two porticos and well maintained, was the house of my maternal grandparents, Joaquín Rodríguez López and Antonia Pérez Morán. It was passed on as inheritance to one of their daughters, Aurora, and son-in-law Ramiro who sold it when they moved to Ponferrada in the early 1940’s.
Besides valuing and estimating that new, interesting and informative series, I would like to congratulate you, dear editor, for having reintroduced for the reader of your weekly newspaper the section “Seven Days”. It constitutes a day-by-day glance at the events in the Autonomy of Castille and León, the city of León and El Bierzo. Even though I find them on the Internet, I experience greater satisfaction reading a greater number of condensed and concise news as presented in that attractive section of Bierzo 7.
On the other hand, I was much grieved by the painful but faithful content of Ángel G. Ossorio’s article of May 10th, 2001, “Ayuntamientos que fueron cabezas de ratón… y hoy son colas de león” (City Halls that once were heads of mice… and today are tails of lions). One of those towns mentioned as having once a City Hall and lost its autonomy as a municipality is Salas de los Barrios. The City Hall building was indeed huge and contained not only medical offices, but also the school for boys and girls. They used the first floor, next to the secretariat, and we boys the floor above. The worst thing is not that “the building is now ruptured, in ruins, without doors and full of graffiti”, which is truly a desolate and deplorable scene. The worst thing is, rather, that Salas lost its emancipation, its fullness…and cut off its link of honor to a historic and noble past. How sad it is to go from a state of genuine independence to a secondary position of impotence…!
It is fitting to run the risk here to dream and wonder “would it be possible to reconsider and return the autonomy to those towns that lost it and now want to regain it? The answer is perhaps found in the title of Peruvian writer José Santos Chocano’s poem “Quien sabe, Señor (Who Knows, Lord). I hope that some day in the future, Salas de los Barrios will be able to recover its historic identity in its totality. The weekly Bierzo 7 published Roger’s personal observations of the 2nd of August of two thousand and one under the title “Arquitectura popular en Ponferrada: nuestra mejor identidad” (Popular Architecture in Ponferrada: our best identity”.INDELLIBE CRUISE
Unquestionably, many more people travel today than in times past. To jet across from city to city, from country to country or from continent to continent has become somewhat a routine. At the same time, adventurous journeying through less renowned or remote sites now come in tour packages. Even thus, the classical concept of traveling, which places travelers in localities radically different from their port of embarking, has all but disappeared. The most successful in that regard are the ones done by cruisers, for at times the traveler does indeed visit out-of-the-beaten-path ports and go on excursions to places that are far away from civilization. Though that was not usually the norm, Roger and Lucille took a two-week cruise at the beginning of December of two thousand, which offered the tourists some of those coveted particularities.FORT LAUDERDALE
Roger and Lucille journeyed by plane from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. After registering for a trip with more than two thousand passengers at the hotel where they spent the night, several buses took them to the Vision of the Seas, anchored along eight other cruisers at the port of that beautiful Florida City.
That pleasant metropolis has been called the “Venice of America”. It is one of the most frequented vacation resorts in the United States and can boast of a Venetian style system of channels that serve as public thoroughfares for the yachts that dock at the mansions along its waterways.
Fort Lauderdale shines as an idyllic and charming city with its bright sun, its golden beaches, its lush parks and swaying palm trees. Its green landscape displays a beauty worth seeing and beholding. Roger felt great delight observing from the upper deck of the huge ship not only the impressive harmony of the city’s profile, but also the intense activity of small individual boats that promenade the waters near the cruise liner. He was fascinated to watch young men proudly showing off their girl friends, or mature men glorying of their beautiful families. He felt immensely pleased to admire so many men idly wandering with their beloved ones through their coastal waters. That was a panorama worthy of admiration.
Undoubtedly, Fort Lauderdale must accrue, in Roger’s calculations, a huge economic benefit from the cruisers that daily sail from its busy port. He counted eight of them, anchored in wait, ready to navigate and depart, that Saturday afternoon, for their various cruising tours.ARANJESTAD, ARUBA
To arrive at its first port of destination, Aruba, Vision of the Seas had to cross the waters along most of the coast of Cuba. While they were navigating near the Cuban littoral, Roger thought much about his short stay in that island that in better times was called “Pearl of the Antilles”. Finally the ship reached the first port of call and anchored at Aranjestad, Aruba’s capital.
The view of that city appeared exquisite from the ship. Never had Roger seen such a plain city, not just because its scarcity of hills, but more so because of its lack of tall buildings. With the exception of a few hotels near the beach, both buildings and individual houses were all of them low, with only one floor, and surrounded by short trees, including the palm trees. This is so due to the shortage of rain for the latter, and in response to the abundance of furious winds that frequently whip the region, even though it is outside the hurricane belt, for the former.
Nowadays, Aruba constitutes some sort of autonomy belonging to the kingdom of Holland, but was discovered in 1499 by Spaniard Alonso de Ojeda. The Spaniards did not do much to cultivate the island. From the beginning, Aruba has changed “ownership” several times. In 1636, the Dutch laid siege to the island. Six years later, the Spaniards decided to cede it to them. Today, it is self-governed and has a constitutional government, but Holland still maintains responsibility for foreign affairs and the defense of the country. Furthermore, the queen of Holland still appoints the governor of the island every six years.
The Spaniards found an island inhabited by “caiquetio” Arawak Indians. The aboriginal Indians appeared so tall in their eyes that the Spaniards wrote in the annals that they had reached “una isla de gigantes” (an island of giants). It is also said that, having found no gold, they wrote “oro hubo” (gold there was), possibly making this the origin of its name. Continuing their search for it and not finding any, they wrote “inútil” (useless). Nevertheless, gold was found in the island in 1824 and became the main source of wealth for Aruba’s economy until 19l6 when it ceased to bring any profit.
Eight years later, another kind of gold was discovered. The petroleum industry reached the island. It fomented great economic progress until the 1950’s when one of the two refineries ceased to function. With the arrival of several cruise liners to the island, Aruba blossomed again with the tourism that ensued, which today makes up its principal industry. About 60% of the labor force of the 100,000 inhabitants that populate the island work in companies engaged in the tourism industry.
While the Indian language still is “papiamento” (“papia” means to speak), the official language is Dutch. The use of English is also wide spread, but 60% of the population speak Spanish and 80% profess the Catholic faith. These factual details jut out as totally impressive, since the island has been under Dutch influence for many centuries.
Aruba is an island 19.6 miles long and 9 miles at the widest point of the country, which is constituted in its entirety by its capital Oranjestad. That delightful small island satisfies well the human desire to elude the problems of civilization in search of a simpler way of living. It runs the risk of becoming, however, a compromised geological place, endangered by hard-hearted tourism and the merciless waves of the sea whose salty waters are at times blown to the interior by furious winds, as can already be observed in the northern part of the island.
Situated fifteen miles off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba receives daily all its fruits and vegetables from that South American country. It has a technical institute named after a president of the United States, J.F. Kennedy. Nevertheless, to complete their university studies, its citizens need to go to Holland, or the United States or other European countries. For those studies, they receive financial aid from the government through scholarships, but must return to Aruba to serve the country.
Aruba’s topography exhibits desert characteristics with its cactus and trees known as “watapana”, or “dividivi”, which assume a position sculptured towards the same side by the fury of the winds. The best two places where visitors can see these trees so unique are Cashero and Boca Maho. The northern section of Aruba represents the largest desert, totally uninhabited, for the winds lift and blow the water from the sea which in turn deposits its salt on the land: nothing can grow there, not even the cactus.
In the panoramic tour of the city and of the island, guide Ricardo took the group not only to Cashero and Boca Maho, but also to Roca Casibiri to appreciate its mysterious formations. From there, they proceeded to Natural Bridge, which is the place most visited by tourists. Simply stated, the bridge manifests mighty forces of Nature, for the winds and the waters of the seas interlace as the only architects to sculpture that famous bridge. On their return to the ship, they stopped at Noord borough to visit Santa Ana’s church, famous for its altar of evergreen oak carved in Holland.
During the whole tour, guide Ricardo showed quite a lot of humor. To explain the interesting fact that houses have each their own fence, also low, he advanced jokingly the theory that it is built that way so as “to keep the goats outside, and the wife inside”. He was endowed with a charming gracefulness of enriching the interpretation of history and the previously mentioned details. As an instance, he related to the tourists in a normal, matter-of-fact way, without any other explanation, that nurses receive a salary of one thousand five hundred dollars a month. When he referred to the bus drivers’ salary, however, he did not give an exact figure but acted very dramatically, bringing his voice to a lower pitch each time he qualified it as “very, very, very, very, very, very low indeed”. He did not ask for a tip, but every passenger was very generous in raising, not his voice, but his salary…Many tourists go to Aruba and remain several days in the island enjoying its magnificent beaches, simple living and its exciting night entertainment of enchantment and illusion. THE PANAMA CANAL
Impressive was, indeed, the crossing of the Panama Canal… Unfortunately, the day of the crossing it rained very heavily, just as Vision of the Seas began its voyage through the canal. Roger went down to his cabin to get an umbrella to be able to observe the whole transit process, though he was soaking wet. The construction of the locks chambers of the Gatun Locks on the Atlantic side and those of Pedro Miguel and Miraflores on the Pacific side clearly shows an exceptional feat of engineering. The crossing lasted about nine hours. It was the best part of the trip and left the passengers with a feeling of indescribable awe.Physical characteristics of the Canal
The channel, vital link in world trade, runs from northwest to southeast in an extension of about 48 miles from the Atlantic to the Pacific. During the crossing, passengers can witness a true modern wonder in action. The ships are raised some 85 feet along the three Gatun Locks at the start of the crossing and descend the same distance through one chamber of Pedro Miguel Lock and the two chambers of the Miraflores Locks to end the crossing.
The main characteristics of the channel consist of three twin locks, Gatun on the Atlantic side, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores on the side of the Pacific. Two main terminal ports, San Cristóbal on the Atlantic and Balboa on the Pacific, initiate and end the trajectory. Between the two ports there are two short sea level stretches, one at each extreme side of the channel, Gatun Lake and the Gaillard Cut.
It is overwhelming to see the panorama delineated by the number of ships waiting to start the crossing. Vision of the Seas was number 18 in line, but having paid the transit dues in advance, it began its crossing on the specific day and the specified hour to do so.
The ship journeyed through the waterway from the Atlantic towards the Pacific, penetrating the trench from Bay Limón after having navigated through Cristóbal’s breakwater, which constitutes a stretch, six miles long and one hundred and sixty-two yards wide.
Gatun Lake, through which ships sail some twenty-five miles, is one of the biggest artificial lakes in the world. It was formed by a dam constructed across the riverbed of Chagres River, at one side of the Gatun Locks.
The Gaillard Cut, big conduit for boats, sharpens the interest of the passengers who travel that channel, due principally to its history and geology. Originaly known as Corte Culebra (Snake Cut), it now takes the name of Colonel David DuBose Gaillard, the engineer who was in charge of the excavation of about seven and a half miles long through the Cordillera Continental (Continental Divide), during the construction of the Canal.
In this section, the excavation was carried out mostly on solid rock. That was the main excavation and the one that caused devastating slides during the building of the channel and soon after the opening of that important waterway. In 1970, Gaillard Cut was amplified from one hundred and seven to one hundred and sixty-two yards, at the cost of ninety-five million dollars.History of the Canal
The history of the Panama Canal is not universally well known. Few people are aware, for instance, that in 1534, King Charles V of Spain had ordered the first topographical studies for the possible construction of a channel across the Isthmus of Panama. Years and centuries went by and nothing was done. However, in 1821 Panama joined Colombia, which had already declared its independence from Spain. For eighty-two years it uselessly tried to secede from Colombia.
In 1881, a private French company, under the direction of Ferdinand De Lesseps who had built the Suez Canal, bought a concession from Colombia to build a channel in Panama. The company declared insolvency due to illnesses and financial problems. Another French company tried to continue the feat, but also failed in the attempt. An interesting footnote: a worker in the canal was French painter Paul Gauguin.
The year 1903 was decisive in the cooperation between Panama and the United States whose Congress approved the Hay-Herran Treaty, which offered Colombia the sum of ten million dollars. The Congress from Colombia sought a much higher sum and rejected the arrangement. Panama declared its independence from Colombia on November 3, 1903.
Three days later, the president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, formally recognized the Republic of Panama. He sent some war ships to protect United States property and to prevent Colombian troops from attacking Panama. In return, the newly formed republic ceded the Canal Zone to the United States on November 18, 1903.
On February 26, 1904, the United States Senate ratified the treaty under which it undertook the construction of an intercontinental channel through the Isthmus of Panama. The United States was committed to pay ten million dollars, plus two hundred and fifty thousand dollars annually starting in 19l3 and guaranteed Panama’s independence. In return, it received, in perpetuity, sovereignty of the Canal Zone “to the total exclusion on the part of the Republic of Panama of the exercise of such sovereign rights, dominion and authority”.
After having completed the construction that cost three hundred and eighty-seven million dollars, the canal opened officially to traffic on August 15th, 1914. Then, in 1922, Colombia accepted from the United States twenty-five million dollars in addition to some special transportation privileges by land, as compensation for the loss of Panama. On the other hand, the United States withdrew its guarantee of Panama’s independence and increased its annuity to four hundred and thirty thousand dollars and to one million, nine hundred and thirty thousand dollars on January 25, 1955. Also on that date, it gave to Panama real estate and buildings that the Administration of the Canal Zone did not need. Its value amounted to twenty-eight million dollars.
On March 3, 1973, repudiating “outside pressure”, the United States used its veto in the United Nations against the resolution to negotiate a new treaty that would guarantee “total respect to Panama’s effective sovereignty over all its territory”. Nevertheless, in 1978 the United States and Panama signed a treaty under which the Administration of the Canal would be transferred to a Panamanian in December of 1989. Within ten years, the canal, with all its properties would be handed over to Panama. In fact, on December 31st, 1999, the United States withdrew from the Canal Zone and Panama became its only owner.
It bears pointing out here that the United States invested more than six billion dollars during the history of the Canal. It carried out several improvements of that waterway with the purpose of maintaining its condition of an excellent alternative to benefit a large segment of the commercial world. Undoubtedly, the United States needs the Canal, for seventy percent of the traffic originates or ends in its own ports, but it has also benefited world trade and Panama’s economy. An annual average of fourteen thousand, six hundred and fifty ships cross the channel with more than one hundred twenty-one million tons of cargo. From 1915, the United States did not increase crossing fees. An average of twenty thousand Panamanians worked in the Canal Zone, two thousand of them with preferential salaries.Fascinating operation of the Canal
Fascinating and astonishing are, indeed, the design and construction of the Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks, the structure of the huge lock gates and the obvious solution of environmental problems of enormous proportions. The entire trajectory exhibits a feat of insuperable engineering.
The maneuvering to position the ship in each of the chambers of the Locks is most impressive, for ships of the size of Vision of the Seas leave very little room for movement. In the case of that particular boat, less than two feet separated each side from the walls of the chambers. Only special Canal pilots guide each vessel as it crosses each Lock. Eight locomotives, four on each side of the boat with two cables each, move the liner through the locks.
Once the ship is placed in the chamber, the lock gates close and it gets filled with water lifting the vessel to the next elevation. The lock gates then open and the boat enters the second chamber to be raised to the next level. That process continues until the ship reaches the height of the waters of Gatun Lake, approximately 85 feet above sea level.
The process of descent is the same, but in reverse. Instead of filling the chamber with water, the latter is emptied to lower the vessel to new level. The lowering of the ship to the level of the waters of the Pacific starts in the Pedro Miguel Locks, which has one single chamber. Not long afterwards, the vessel enters the two-chamber Miraflores Locks where boats proceed to be lowered to the level of the Pacific waters.
Passengers cannot but marvel at the technology that operates before their eyes, in particular by observing the maneuvering of the liner ahead of theirs and the surroundings of the Canal, which exhibit natural delight, including the silhouette of Panama City, the capital of the Republic of Panama.
PUNTARENAS, COSTA RICA
After crossing the Canal, Vision of the Seas, cast anchor for a while on the serene waters of the Pacific. Its tanks were refilled with oil and, after four hours it sailed, well into Thursday night, in the direction of Puntarenas, Costa Rica, where it arrived Saturday at seven o’clock in the morning.
That port reminded Roger of the lower estuaries of Galicia, northern Spain, particularly the one of Cangas, which he had visited while he was a student in Túy. Puntarenas, however, is a small city of three thousand people, spread out along the beach, and scattered between the volcanic beaches of the Gulf of Nicoya and some of the highest peaks of the country. In addition, it is a province with about one hundred thousand inhabitants.
Costa Rica relies on a good net-work of roads to facilitate tourist excursions, for the railroad that linked Puntarenas with the capital, San José, was destroyed by a hurricane several years ago. Like Switzerland in Europe, Costa Rica in America stands out as a mountainous country of varied topography. Its highest peak is Cerro Chirripó, 12, 230 feet high.
Confined to the East by the Caribbean and by the Pacific to the West, Costa Rica borders with Nicaragua to the North and Panama to the South. Its very small territorial dimension of thirty thousand seven hundred and sixty-seven square miles is inhabited by about three and a half million Spanish speaking people, though in school they learn English and French. Eighty-five per cent of the population professes the Catholic faith. A large number of Quakers arrived in Costa Rica from Alabama, the United States and continue practicing their faith.
The excursion that Roger and Lucille chose took them to Sarchí, home of the renowned arts and crafts of the country. Located in the scenic Central Valley, forty-two miles from the port, Sarchí is a picturesque and beautiful small city. More than a century ago, it started to paint and decorate its oxcarts. Those played an important part in the country’s development transporting coffee and other products to market and to the coastal ports on the Caribbean and the Pacific. That traditional form of transportation is still painted by hand since 1903 at the Joaquín Chaverrí’s Factory in that fascinating locality.
It is said in Sarchí that, in olden times, peasants could identify each cart by the sound it produced while in motion by the pull of the oxen. Its resonance was as precise and distinctive as the voice of the owner. Naturally, that idyllic scene reminded Roger of his childhood when he lived in his village of birth, Los Barrios de Salas. Not only did he see painted, but also “live” oxcarts similar to the ones that used to roll down from Compludo and Espinoso to the Ponferrada fair, also with their distinctive noise as the reader of Odyssey to Opportunity may well recall.
In their excursion, they passed copious mountains and fertile farms. They went through the town called “Pura Vida”. Covered with papaya, cocoa, corn, sugar cane and coffee beans and palms, the scenic village cheerfully offers tourists the cultural essence of the country. They crossed, in addition, several “dormitory cities” such as Palmares and San Román of twenty-two thousand and seventy-four thousand inhabitants respectively. Also known as “bed cities”, they are so denominated because they become empty during the day when people go to work to the capital, San José, and are full again at night when people return to sleep. Though San José only has four hundred thousand inhabitants, during the day its population increases to more than one million.
On the way to Sarchí, the guide explained to the passengers the various aspects of Costa Rican life. It is a country rich in coffee, for its fertile volcanic soil is ideal for the cultivation of such product. Nevertheless, the natives of the country, known as “Ticos”, are educated, or pretend to be, and do not want to lower themselves to the level of “coffee picker”. For that reason, they import people to harvest the coffee beans from the plantations. The workers come from Nicaragua, Panama, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and even from Cuba. Since they pick the coffee beans by hand when they are already red, the coffee from Costa Rica is more expensive than the one from other countries such as Brazil and Columbia. Some years ago, Costa Rica ranked third as coffee producer in the world, but today it ranks only eleventh. Roger thinks, however, that Brit coffee and Rey de Costa Rica coffee are superior in taste to many other types of coffee that enjoy great reputation in world markets.
In Costa Rica, considered “superpower of tropical biodiversity”, pristine wild life is beautiful and abundant. It seems that species of striking colors tend to cluster together while those with colors similar to their habitat prefer to live separated. There are one hundred and fifty-four different types of snakes and serpents, some of them poisonous. There, one can find also all kinds of birds that migrate from colder climates in the North, including the humming bird. “Cara blanca” (white face) monkeys can be seen as well as “Compassionate colored” monkeys and dazzling butterflies, of which a very special type fills the air with peculiar sounds to defend their territory or to attract the female companion.
Incredibly, in that tropical environment finds its dwelling the “simbranco eel”, a fish that lives on land. Other animals inhabit that unheard-off tropical habitat such as the Olive Ridley Turtle that lives by the side of the beach, the Owl in the Belfry that patrols the cemeteries at night. Worthy of notice are the quetzals, the unknown raccoons that are found near rivers, swamps and humid and rainy forests, jaguars and their preys the tapirs, osprey eagles, herons, sea swallows… Ecotourists can certainly find their happiness in Costa Rica.
On the other hand, Costa Rica has eight volcanoes, most of them inactive. However, Volcán Poás, located in the “Cordillera Volcánica Central” (Volcanic Central Divide) shows a crater called “Botos”, or “Laguna Botos”, quite active, which has gone through several eruptions, some as recently as 1994 and 1998.
On the way back to the ship, they stopped in Grecia, another “dormitory city”, to visit the church Our Lady of Mercy famous for being built of metal and for its magnificent altar made of Carrara marble. It was brought from Belgium in the 19th century. Roger felt somewhat awkward entering a church made of metal… but the altar fascinated him.
According to the guide, the average monthly salary of the “tico” is approximately seven hundred and fifty dollars. Taxes are low and do not exist for those who earn less than that amount. The government provides means for the “squatters” to build their own houses. That well-meaning solution has created some problems. Squatters build a house, sell it, move to another location and start the same routine again.
The government pays much more attention to education. There are many teachers, but there are no soldiers to defend the country. How do they defend themselves if attacked? The guide answered simply that the United Nations would defend them. “How convenient”, surmises Roger. They use their resources to better their well being, which is very laudable, but expect that the rest of the world use theirs to defend them, the “ticos”…
The people from Costa Rica express their joy of living saying “pura vida” (everything A OK). And truly, they live very well. In the group of Roger’s excursion there was a Quaker who led them to believe that life was still better when he lived some years back in such a delightful place.ACAPULCO, MEXICO
At the end of the day, late into the evening, they sailed again. They were at sea three nights and two days on their way to Mexico. The immensity of the ocean makes one feel fully free while tightly confined. Nevertheless, the ship is the city through which passengers walk as if they were on land. Within it, life is precious and capable of fulfilling any human need. Good company, of course, makes the journey shorter and more pleasant.
Soon they reached the “divine city” of Acapulco, precisely on the 12th of December. The entire city was celebrating: it was the day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Bay is simply fascinating. A section of western Acapulco reminded Roger of Monaco, another of San Francisco, United States, and the whole bay view, of Durban, South Africa where he spent almost one year… Simply stated, most beautiful!
From the beginning of its settlement in 1550, Acapulco has always been one of the most important ports of call in Mexico. It was in 1920, however, that its clear waters, its shining white sand beaches and its fascinating sunsets started to attract thousands of tourists. From the 1950’s on, it has become the destination gate for “the rich and famous”, such as Rita Hayworth, Cary Grant and Plácido Domingo, as well as for less distinguished and common people.
That city of three million two hundred thousand inhabitants, retirement place for first rank personalities, such as presidents of Mexico and artists from around the world, is divided in three main sections. In the section known as the old city, which in reality is not so old, Frank Sinatra built a house for rest and relaxation. The modern part where famous people from the arts spend their vacation time was the choice for Julio Iglesias, Plácido Domingo and Sylvester Stallone to spend their leisure time. Their houses are near each other. The third sector of the city, the Diamond Section or section of the future, stands already mostly built and well functioning. The Hotel las Brisas, also known as “the honeymooners’ hotel”, is already fully operational. One of its most attractive features is that each room has its own swimming pool. It is humorously said that two people check into that hotel and sometimes three or four check out… In that same subdivision of the celebrated metropolis, another famous hotel, Hotel Princesa, has also been operational for quite some time. Its pyramid style construction is indeed impressive. There, the renowned multimillionaire Howard Hughes is said to have spent the last days of his life, renting the three top floors for twenty-two thousand dollars a day.
Acapulco sits on a seven-mile area around its bay. It embraces the bay, and is located between the Pacific on the one side and Sierra Madre Mountains on the other. As in the rest of Mexico, the main language is Spanish, though many speak English as well because of tourism. Ninety-five per cent are of the Catholic faith and the other five per cent, commented the guide, are priests or nuns. In addition, ninety-five per cent of the labor force in Acapulco deals directly or indirectly with tourism.Mexicans start their military service at the age of eighteen. On the outskirts of Acapulco, there is a ship where the Mexican government trains its cadets.
Acapulco possesses the biggest Yacht Court of all of Mexico. This should not surprise anybody, for it also enjoys a very peculiar and attractive climatic feature: during the rainy season, it only rains at night. During the day, however, the weather is good, the sun shines brightly, and visitors take advantage to entertain themselves in numerous various ways.
The international renown of that almost “divine” city is due not only to great number of important personalities who choose it as their retirement niche, but also to its warm climate, its precious serene beaches of temperate blue waters, its landscapes of exceptional beauty and its mountains of astonishing views.
The panoramic tour of the city that Roger and Lucille selected took them first to “La Quebrada”, a natural scenery of steep cliffs. Going up the curving hill towards the Perla Restaurent that panorama of high plunging cliffs, rugged shoreline and crystalline waters somehow reminded Roger of a tour that he made with Lucille along the spell bound Amalfitan Coast, south of Sorrento in Italy. From the Perla Restaurant, they could see the cliff divers in “La Quebrada” dive from vertiginous plunging rock crests one hundred and forty-five feet high, to enter with elegance the water below that stayed placid between rocks. It was indeed spectacular to see the cliff divers risk their lives with grace, gentility and elegance, and spare it with dexterity, determination and charm. It is a spectacle worth seeing and admiring.
As the story goes, the cliff divers were just mere fishermen who, after their fishing, dove from the rocks into the sea. It is said that an American millionaire, after observing them, talked to them and convinced them to become cliff divers, for which they would be very well paid. Today they have formed a union, which now has some two hundred members, ranging in ages from the youngest fourteen to the oldest fiftysix years old.
“La Quebrada” is but a few steps from the center of the city. Continuing with the excursion, they passed by the San Diego Fort, four blocks away from the Zócalo, the main street. It was built between the years 1615 and 1617. Nowadays it serves as a museum that contains numerous exhibits related to Acapulco’s beginning and subsequent development.
A visit to the Zócalo commands attention indeed, for, just as the cathedral, it is located in a very colorful sector of the city. The cathedral itself attracts the curiosity of tourists for its Byzantine style, a very peculiar and rare characteristic in Catholic churches of the Hispanic world.
They continued the visit of that famous big city along the Malecón (boulevard along the shore), similar to the one in Havana, Cuba, and the one in Santo Domingo. It is now named Avenida Miguel Alemán Valdés, after the president of Mexico from 1946 to 1952. They journeyed along the renowned Playa Caleta and Playa Caletilla, the beaches of ancestry of traditional Acapulco, as well as the many other beaches that form part of the long but pleasant run. Along the way, they also observed, naturally, the “Acapulco of nostalgia” where every now and then Americans visit Burger King, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut… All the beaches are public and tourists do not have to pay for availing themselves of the facilities, except for the sunshades and blue parasols. It is an awe-inspiring promenade of clean beaches and modern hotels. In that safe city, the only thing that seems to be unpleasant is the congested traffic. They proceeded to the “Diamond Acapulco”, or the Acapulco of the future. That is the section of the city where nowadays people of world fame and enormous financial resources take refuge. It is in that residential sector of luxury that visitors can fall upon the already mentioned hotels “Las Brisas” and “La Princesa”. It is also in that part of the city that many stars of international renown, some of them previously alluded to, have a recreational home. Located there, as well, is the house of former Mexican president Miguel Alemán Valdés where Jacqueline and President Kennedy spent their honeymoon and where Elizabeth Taylor spent hers with five different husbands. According to the guide, during her last honeymoon, Elizabeth apparently released her big joke “I shall return”.
On the other hand, La Princesa Hotel, located in the diamond zone of Acapulco, represents an exquisite work of architecture. Pyramid-style built as a replica of Chichén-Itzá, its construction started in 1969 and was completed in 1971. In a way, it is more imposing than the Mirage Hotel of Las Vegas. Illustrious people from all over the world have lodged in La Princesa Hotel. Besides the multimillionaire Howard Hughes, Margaret Thatcher and Henry Kissinger figure among some of its first rank visitors.
Among the many special characteristics of its structure, that hotel can boast of a very distinctive feature that, though already included nowadays in many modern hotels, does not take away its uniqueness from La Princesa Hotel. In a little side section of the vestibule, a bar can be spotted in a sort of natural swimming pool. The clients can sit on small tables in the water as tourists do in Villa Escudero, the Philippines, at the foot of the Lebasin waterfall as the reader of Odyssey Resumed may well remember.
Well, good things always come much too soon to an end. After fourteen very busy hours for the passengers, the liner sailed from Acapulco at eleven o’clock at night. As Vision of the Seas steamed away, there remained behind a very beautiful, hallucinating tapestry of glittering pearls… That was the illuminated “divine” Acapulco beautifully shining at night.CABO SAN LUCAS, MEXICO
The ship finally reached Cabo San Lucas where Baja California peninsula juts out in a dramatic formation of rocks, a natural phenomenon that indicates, in a spectacular way, the end of the land. That magnet of world fame attracts tourists because of its contrast of sea and desert, as well as its warm temperature. That is why it is frequently chosen for golf tournaments and fishing contests in the deep waters bathing the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez, named after Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés.
Certainly, in Baja California’s extreme end, tourists can find a true coloring of enchantment: the convergence of the Gulf of California and the Pacific, which exhibits a resplendent display of sand and sea universally known as “Los Cabos”. Its spectacular coastal line and rugged unusual rock formations contrast with its surrounding décor of arid desert, swaying palm trees, white sand coves and magic blue water.
Embraced by abrupt cliffs, the area lays bare dramatic natural drawings of wild rocky landscapes and pristine beaches, which form a delightful and entertaining oasis for seekers of sun, good fishing, golf and, of course, beach and water sports.
Roger thought that after Acapulco he was not going to find anything comparable. In a way, he was somewhat mistaken. Cabo San Lucas has only forty thousand inhabitants, but it is a clean and virgin city. There, people can invest to become millionaires. In fact, at one time it was nicknamed “Arenillo de millonarios” (millionaires powder keg). Today, though, it is better known as the “world capital of the marlin” and attracts amateur fishermen of all walks of life.
Cabo San Lucas is, in addition, the beneficiary of a unique yearly event. At the beginning of every fall season, a curious, pleasant and delightful reminder of the seasonal climatic change in the aquatic world appears in its beautiful coasts. It is the migration of numerous whales from the frigid waters of the Arctic to the warmer and more tranquil waters of Baja California. They approach the Los Cabos littoral close enough for visitors to watch them from beaches and lookout points. Besides those viewing spots, there are excursions to obtain a closer look of those enormous mammals from the middle of December to the end of March when they decide to return once more to the Arctic.
Roger is of the opinion that such a tropical paradise is destined to be the Acapulco of the 21st century. There, Anthony Quinn, uncle of one Roger’s professor friends who accompanied him to his native land El Bierzo several years ago, built the best hotel in that enviable part of the world: the Anthony Quinn Hotel. He also built his house. He had sold the hotel, but kept his house prior to his death. Anthony Quinn visited El Bierzo a few years ago and publicly expressed his wonderment about its landscape and its people.
However humble its origin may have been, Cabo San Lucas embodies a long and intense history of several centuries. It is part of Los Cabos, together with San José del Cabo. In 1538, soon after Hernán Cortés headed the first expedition to La Paz, a city more to the north as well as the capital of the Peninsula, it was called California. From that expedition resulted the naming of the Sea of Cortez.
Several other explorations crossed those deserts during the 16th and 17th centuries. Then, during the 17th and 18th centuries, the Jesuits colonized the peninsula and constructed seventeen missions near its oasis. One of them was San José del Cabo Mission, founded in 1730 around a colonial plaza.
When the Jesuits built missions in the 18th century, sugar cane became the main crop and primary source of the wealth of the zone until 1950 when water became scarce. Nowadays, sugar processing is limited to the few ranches that still remain in the area.
Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo are connected by a peninsular scenic road, nineteen miles long and with a delightful view of sixteen idyllic tropical beaches. What impresses most in the latter town is a body of water surrounded by rich and incomparable fauna that has been maintained in fresh water for many years. The tranquil channels of that estuary make for an idyllic place where to use the canoe and observe a limitless number of exotic birds and a deliciously picturesque sky.
Certainly, many and lovely are the beaches which decorate that unforgettable corner of the earth. It bears reminding, however, that behind the unusual formations of rock that make up part of the Bay of El Cabo, visitors can appreciate the shining beauty of the enchanting and romantic “Playa de los enamorados” (The Sweethearts Beach). That is one of the very few beaches in the world that shares two seas, the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific.
Walking through the streets of Cabo San Lucas, tourists cannot help but notice men carrying “iguanas” on their shoulders. Those scenes served to remind Roger of green-yellow lizards in Kano, Africa, which he describes in his Odyssey to Opportunity when he narrates his trip to South Africa.
Its off-the-path location and its unusual unharmed scenery transform Cabo San Lucas into a beach paradise and a shining pearl of summer resort. The confluence of the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez creates a special blue in their waters where, at times, harmless whales can be observed.
That attractive resort also boasts of the presence of the Spanish chain of hotels Meliá. Roger suspects that Cabo San Lucas represents great future for those capable of investing with an eye on substantial financial earnings.CRUISING THE CARIBBEAN French writer Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) wrote that someone said to Socrates that a certain man had grown no better by his travels. “I should think not”, he said. “He took himself along with him.”
The cruise the Fernández family took through the Caribbean was different from previous ones in that it exalted a family celebration and enhanced a flight to fantasy. It validated once more English writer Leigh Hunt’s 19th century observation that “traveling in the company of those we love is home in motion”. On that occasion, all the activities included the Lincoln and Fernández families. Lucille had invited them all as her guests in a special celebration of her birthday. Consequently, neither she nor Roger participated in any guided panoramic tour of the islands visited. They limited their care and efforts to sight see ports, cities and beaches privately with Marguerite and Robert Lincoln and their children Bobby and Danielle. Personally, more than in any other cruise, Roger felt more intellectually curious and adventurous.MIAMI
The group left Los Angeles bound for Miami very early in the morning of August seventeenth two thousand and one. No one knows the true explanation of why they had to remain in the plane more than two hours before taking off. Thinking in retrospect of what was to happen on September 11 of that same year in New York, the Pentagon and fields in Pennsylvania, they now thank the Lord, though on that occasion they felt uncomfortable and annoyed.
The transfer from the airport to the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Miami was easy, quiet and gentle, as was the move next day, Saturday, from the hotel to the port where Explorer of the Seas, one of world’s largest liner, was berthed.
Generally, cruises reserve for the return the tour of the city of departure. Nevertheless, from the hotel as well as from the ship the view of “magic city” Miami appeared truly overpowering, particularly its magnificent magnitude. That exciting and moving city of international fame undoubtedly stands as one of the most popular summer resorts in the world and center of origin of most Hispanic entertainment programs in the United States. With its splendid hotels, it provides, besides, exceptional services and amenities that introduce visitors to a sensational style and rhythm of life.
Next day, they were transported by bus to the port of Miami where the liner, which was to take them to navigate eastern Caribbean waters was anchored. With its more than three thousand passengers and impressive crew of more than one thousand, Explorer of the Seas sailed that Saturday at five thirty in the afternoon to cruise the warm waters of the Caribbean sea.NASSAU, BAHAMAS
The welcome show aboard ship, an extravagant “Bon Voyage” parade through the promenade deck, attracted passengers as a vacation little course, showing with its “Adventures of the Ocean” historic figures such as Magellan, Da Gama, Columbus and, of course, those of the television program “Gilligan’s Island”.
They docked in Nassau, capital of New Providence Island in the Bahamas, August 19th at seven o’clock in the morning. Of the two hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants of the Bahamas, one hundred and forty thousand live in Nassau. Unfortunately it was Sunday, and that is the worst day of the week to visit that city, for many stores and sites of interest close for twenty-four hours. That would not have been the first port of call of the liner were it not for the captain’s decision to change the itinerary to elude a storm that was following them during the whole trip but never caught up with them.
Located about 52 miles off the coast of the United States, the Bahamas archipelago, a chain of seven hundred islands and known at times as “islands of the perfect June”, stands as one of the most stable democracies in the western hemisphere. With quite a tumultuous past, Nassau is now celebrated for its mild sun and renowned beaches as well as for its smooth and perfumed breezes. If its history relates an initial English colonization, it also narrates conflicts between English, French and Spaniards. Shelter and refuge of famous pirates of the past, it is today destination and chance for relaxation and adventure seekers. It really offers visitors a unique blend of special contemporary comfort and enchantment of the old world, for in those islands there is much more than the sun, the sand and the sea with its clear and temperate waters.
Besides enjoying warm and universally recognized beaches, there is a lot more to do and to explore in Nassau. Tourists may dedicate their time to carrying out an extensive study of the island or contemplating its panoramic views. They can explore the port and Paradise Island in small boats, visit monuments or sites of interest, engage in land and sea sports, spend time and money in the Straw Market or even experiment a close encounter with dolphins… Well, Nassau can satisfy the appetite of many whims, especially the one to go shopping. For cruise passengers, that is a relaxing and trouble free pastime, for all the stores are walking distance from the wharf.
On the other hand, to truly examine the history of the islands, it would be fitting to make a thorough visit to the National Archive Museum where newspapers, photographs and original documents are kept. Historiographers can satisfy their taste for history even more, overseeing the Bahamas Historical Society Museum where an interesting collection of chronicles and anthropological artifacts exhibits an excellent depository of history, particularly that of the Lucayans, the first inhabitants of the archipelago.
To fully quench their thirst for historical information, tourists may direct their attention to the Pompey Museum, also known as the “Vendue House”, from the French word “vendre” which means to sell, a not so subtle reference to the selling of slaves. There, visitors can learn something about the market and experience of the African slaves of the Bahamas. That museum does not limit itself to the documentation of the market of slaves, it constitutes, in addition, an attractive arts gallery.
Chroniclers who wish to possess a deeper knowledge of the local version of the wild and turbulent confines of the archipelago need to submerge into the world of the pirates of Nassau. Becoming absorbed in thought in the museum Pirates of Nassau, they will observe exciting exhibits and attractive representations of lawless Nassau of 1716. It is well known that at the end of the 17th century and beginning of the 18th, Nassau was the center of piracy where famous pirates like Blackbeard and as well as female pirates like Anne Bonny and Mary Read took lodging.
Seekers and investigators of entertainment and adventures ought to visit the three historic forts of the island. The most ancient, Fort Montagu, constructed in 1741 to protect eastern Nassau is about two miles away at the eastern end of the island and embraces Montagu Bay. Fort Fincastle on Bennet’s Hill, the highest point in Nassau, was built in 1793 and served as lighthouse until 1817 when it was converted into a signaling tower.
It is not easy to reach those two forts just by walking even briskly, but strolling was what the Fernández and Lincoln families wanted to do in that cruise for the purpose of stringing together the colorful story of Nassau’s past. They limited themselves to visiting Fort Charlotte, built by Lord Dunmore in 1789, in the midst of the Napoleonic era, to defend the western entrance to the Port of Nassau against pillage. It was named in honor of the wife of English king George III, and it represents the most relevant fortification in the Bahamas. It bears reminding, however, that none of its forty-two cannons discharged a single shot in battle. Better known for its labyrinth of corridors that connect to numerous dungeons, its water tower can serve, nevertheless, as a spectacular lookout spot for Nassau and its port. At the same time, sightseers can see “queen’s stairs”, about sixty-five steps molded of coral rock during Queen Victoria’s reign in England. The complex also includes a waterless moat, a drawbridge and ramparts. From there, sightseers can also observe a cricket field known as Haynes Oval, which brought Roger’s thoughts to Durban, South Africa, when he was teaching at St. Henry’s College.
While walking the streets, visitors cannot help but be struck by the British Colonial Hilton Hotel. It is a graceless yellow structure at the western part of the city. It can boast, however, of a history quite varied. Built by the English in 1697 to defend Port Nassau, it was known originally as Fort Nassau. Attacked and destroyed six years later by a Franco-Spanish invasion, it was reconstructed in 1774 and subsequently leveled in 1837 to be converted into military barracks. Rebuilt as a hotel in 1900, it was reconstructed one more time in 1922, after a fire incinerated it one year earlier. It was recently renovated with a look back and particular attention to the details of the original building.ST. THOMAS, U. S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
Roger’s first impressions upon contemplating the Bay of Charlotte Amalie, capital of St. Thomas, evoked pleasant memories and mellowed nostalgia. If, as pointed out previously, Nassau Bay resembled estuaries from Galicia, Spain, and Puntarenas of Costa Rica, the Bay of Charlotte Amalie wears, rather, the look of the one of Acapulco.
Located about fifty miles east of Puerto Rico, St. Thomas is contiguous to the Atlantic Ocean to the north, while its beaches to the south breathe the air of the Caribbean Sea. It forms part of the “American Caribbean” or “Paradise of America”, the Virgin Islands, which are integrated by the islands of St. John and St. Croix. With a twelve-mile length and three miles in its widest section, St. Thomas consists of a sixty-one-square-mile area and a population of fifty-six thousand inhabitants. Happily nestled in the Caribbean, it is acclaimed for its outstanding attractions and great variety of entertainment.
With its tropical climate, the island enjoys immaculate beaches all year round. There are some days, however, that are somewhat hazy, misty. That is due to an effusion of dust from the Sahara during the warm and dry months in Africa. The dust crosses the Atlantic driven by trade winds. That phenomenon and the possibility of storms or tempests could somewhat complicate some tourists’ visit, negatively affecting their health, though such cases are rare. Nevertheless, it did affect Roger’s oldest son’s wife, April, when they spent some time in St. Croix. Greg had to quit his job and abandon the island to return to Los Angeles so that his spouse could recover. Readers should not get alarmed reading this. Such illness is rare. If it raises fear in them, they could ask a very pertinent question: “where in the world can one find perfect climate?”
Though today’s St. Thomas proves to be an idyllic resort, the island relates a history of a fascinating, quite turbulent and somewhat legendary beginning. One of St. Thomas’ legendary landmarks is the Bluebeard Castle, which the Fernández and Lincoln families visited. In reality, a pirate of that name who “killed his spouses and buried them in the terrace”, never existed. The Danish built the Tower in 1666, and their troops used it as a lookout.
Another story, perhaps partly legendary, is the tale that surrounds the famous pirate Blackbeard. A native of Bristol, England, his true name was Edward Teach. Legend has it that “he holed up in a watchtower to get an unobstructed view of the sea. While he watched, he sipped on rum spiked with gunpowder. Going into battle, he braided his beard and tied it around his ears, put candles in his hair and did his dirty work armed to the teeth. An infamous womanizer, he killed his 14 brides.” Robert Louis Stevenson immortalized that renowned pirate in his celebrated book Treasure Island. Much more centric and of greater literary interest, Blackbeard Castle attracts and satisfies much more than the somewhat disappointing Bluebeard Castle.
Nevertheless, the history of St. Thomas is not all legend. According to some recent studies by the Archeological Society of the Virgin Islands, its first known inhabitants belonged to the “Ciboney” tribes. Then, from the year fifty before the birth of Christ until six hundred and sixty-five A.D., the “Igneri” populated the islands, followed by the “Tino” or “Arawak” until 1425, and then, finally, the “Caribs” until the 16th century. Christopher Columbus discovered the island and named it St. Thomas in 1493 during his second trip to the New World.
From then on, several countries have shown some colonial interest and have occupied that island for short periods of colonization. The flags of Spain, France, England, Holland, Denmark and the United States have flown over its public buildings at various times in its history. The first victorious effort toward colonization occurred, anyway, in 1666 when the Danish took possession of St. Thomas.
In the 18th century, Charlotte Amalie, so named in honor of the wife of Danish King Christian V who ruled Denmark and Norway from 1670 to 1699, was a renowned center of piracy where Blackbeard and Drake traded stolen merchandise. On the other hand, the cultivation of sugar cane reached its peak by 1725, after having imported slaves from Africa in the beginning. When Danish Governor General Pedro von Sholten abrogated slavery in 1848, a great number of cultivators initiated the flight from plantations and haciendas.
Years later, fearing the German threat during First World War, the United States bought the three islands on March 31st, 1917. The total cost amounted to twenty-five million dollars in gold. However, it was only in 1970 that its inhabitants were allowed to vote for the Governor and a representative to the Congress of the United States. As of now, they still do not vote for the president of the nation.
Nowadays, tourists may, nevertheless, satisfy all their wishes for a delightful summer vacation of unlimited choices to enhance and enrich their stay. Naturally, many choose to relax and rest lying down on its magnificent beaches of turquoise waters that overflow in bright and exciting subterranean life, and refold on the white sand of the shore under the intense reflected light of the warm Caribbean sun.
Some travelers commit themselves to knowing the island making rounds of lookouts of impressive views of tidy landscapes. Drake’s Seat, for instance, overlooks more than one hundred islands that scatter in a blue sea where the Caribbean and the Atlantic converge. According to legend, that was the site from where Sir Francis Drake used to spot vessels that passed through what is now known as Drake’s Passage. On the other hand, St. Peter Greathouse, nested in the high sappy volcanic peaks at nearly one thousand feet above sea level and previous refuge and hiding place of the rich and famous, offers an awe-inspiring view of twenty very small islands. For its part, Mountain Top, the highest point at about one thousand six hundred feet above sea level, allures sightseers with spellbound and sublime vistas of sea and sand of pristine beaches.
Other visitors choose the sea to do all types of aquatic sports and to enjoy wild natural beauty and untouched crystalline waters that such a pleasant environment exhibits. Some others explore those beaches of natural harmony to benefit from an incomparable day slipping secretly away in a canoe toward the magic Wildlife Sanctuary and tour an exceptional ecological system where eighty to ninety per cent of fish in the three islands initiate life… Well, lots of entertainment.
Most tourists really wish to capture the local culture. They taste its products in its restaurants, dance to the melodious calypso rhythm and visit numerous art galleries where the indigenous mastery flourishes. In those galleries cultural scenes are inspired after the life of the Virgin Islands with all its tropical instinct. In Blue Turtle Gallery, visitors can appreciate the best artists of the islands, among them painter and bronze sculptor John Carpy, as well as Lucinda Schutt, internationally known for her famous water color paintings that delightfully depict the islands’ life. For its part, Jonna White Gallery specializes in intaglio or edgings. Inspired by the stunning beauty and Caribbean attractive colors, Jonna has developed a very unique and personal style of astonishing multicolored and dimensional effects.
Furthermore, St. Thomas stands as a place for multiple shopping. Travelers can wander at leisure the curious and picturesque narrow streets of the capital. Its original and attractive buildings of architecture of enchantment with fanciful and elegant ornate balconies and Romanesque-style arches vividly relate centuries of history. They have turned now into a shopping Mecca for clients in search of jewels, unusual artifacts and duty free souvenirs.
Sitting at the base of three hills overlooking the Caribbean Sea, Charlotte Amalie can boast of a great number of sites of interest in the same proximity. In addition to a stroll through the commercial center of the capital, sightseers must take advantage of the opportunity to visit several of those places, experience walking the city and enrich themselves of its history and culture, an important objective in all of Roger’s trips. For that reason, he made sure to complete that itinerary, which for him amounts to a command.
To that end, the group preferred to seek and visit a plethora of vistas and historic buildings that offer a colorful glance of the past. The Post Office stands as a building of distinction and character. There, visitors’ attention turns to some fascinating murals of celebrated artist, Stephen Donahos, whose designs appeared frequently in the Saturday Evening Post magazine. Located on Main Street, that attractive building stands across from Grand Hotel.
In Charlotte Amalie, tourists must visit Grand Galleria, a structure built in 1841, at the other side of Emancipation Park. It occupies a full block and stands as a magnificent example of regional architecture of the 19th century. It served as Grand Hotel until 1975, the year in which it regained its original name. Today, it houses offices, stores and restaurants.
From there to Fort Christian is just a short walk. That rectangular citadel, painted a striking brick red, was a fortification constructed by the Danish between 1672 and 1680. It represents the oldest building in use in St. Thomas. An entrance with a Victorian-style clock tower was built in 1874 on the north façade. Initially, it was used as seat and center of government, as well as a church. It has been used, in addition, as a police station, a courthouse and a prison. Designated as Historic National Patrimony in 1977 and dislodged six years later, it now serves as a landmark for the visiting ships and a museum for tourists. Under partial restoration at the present time, it intends to shelter, in the future, art exhibitions, cultural workshops, displays of history and natural history, art classes, conferences and gift shops.
Emancipation Park, across the Grand Galleria, celebrates the 1848 proclamation of the end of slavery in the Virgin Islands. The Liberty Bell stands proud at a corner of the park. It is supposed to possess the same dimensions and produce the same sound as the Liberty Bell that rang in 1776 in Philadelphia. It is one of the forty-three such bells cast in France and donated to the United States in 1950. Shade trees and benches make of that park a frequented place by both locals and tourists.
Adjacent to Emancipation Park swarms lively an open-air market, a Madrid flea market style in miniature. Among its most popular activities is that of braiding hair. Many young girls sit on a half-hour-agreed engagement, which usually lasts longer than one hour, for the modest price of about thirty dollars, which in turn goes up in price if one is not careful. Danielle had her hair braided on the front of her head. The ordeal lasted one hour and the price escalated from the original one agreed upon. Marguerite stood firm and paid only the amount agreed to.
Charlotte Amalie shows pride in its very attractive, almost Havanese breakwater-shore. Its bright Caribbean resplendence reminded Roger of the one in Havana, but also of “Baie des Anges” (Bay of Angels) near Nice, France, for its promenade boulevard along the water’s edge. Contemplating its embankment, its bay and its capital city, St. Thomas represents for him the idyllic tropical island of poetry in motion.
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO
In his civilization and culture classes, Roger used to show his students films and videos that would reinforce, in visually concrete terms, the content of his lectures. At times, he found it impossible to supplement his words with more descriptive photographic images on the screen. Similarly, from time to time, some students who had access to such visual aids offered them to him so that he could use them during the course. Such was the case of one of his Puerto Rican students who dreamed that her fellow learners would leave the class with a vivid image of the beauty of the charming island of her beloved Puerto Rico. For that reason, it can faithfully be stated that when the cruise ship reached San Juan port in Puerto Rico, Roger carried registered in his mind an educated image of that privileged Caribbean island.
Roger’s first impression of San Juan from the Explorer of the Seas was that of an imposing city that opened to the sea with a port of seductive admiration. Its agglomerated and stacked buildings resemble an impressive semicircle surrounded by a sensational ring of walls, churches and castles. It reminded him of the almost cosmic panoramic view of Ávila, Spain, from the four posts on the road from that city to Salamanca.
While going on shore to tour the city, it started to rain. That rain was the result of a tropical storm that had pursued them without success during the entire trip. It was a rain such as a Caribbean type that Roger had previously experienced in Santo Domingo: from light to heavy and quickly sunny sky.
More than many other tourist sites, San Juan and its surroundings allure visitors as an unspeakable summer paradise. There is no doubt that it has become one of the cities with the most intense flavor and charm in the western hemisphere, from its fascinating history and culture to its enrapturing salsa rhythm and exquisite culinary whims. It embodies a blend of enjoyable colonial charm and a cosmopolitan touch of old buildings that relate the history of the city as well as of the island.
Tourists that wish to engage in sports will find a limitless number of land and sea activities to which they can dedicate their precious time. They can enjoy clean and shining beaches of romantic inspiration or take a boat ride to behold the beauty of several idyllic little islands. Many spend time fishing the big marlin or adventuring deep or shallow snorkeling to observe closely hundreds of fish of various colors, coral forms and other fascinating marine formations. Similarly, travelers have within reach many other possibilities: golf, tennis in the seventeen public courts in the capital’s “Parque Central”, or join an excursion into the scenic foot-paths of the Yunque Rain Forest.
However, sightseers interested in history and attracted by historic cities of great culture, will be delighted with a pleasurable walk through the Old San Juan, for, in spite of a century of independence from Spain, still exhibits with relish its unspoiled original colonial inheritance. That was, naturally, the option that the Fernández and Lincoln families chose to fully imbue themselves of the Caribbean, Spanish and American spirit at one and the same time.
A walking tour through the narrow and at times steep streets of the heart of Old San Juan creates the impression that one is living in an old era of enchantment. What really moved Roger was a much concentrated display of paving-stones, gas street-lamps, numerous houses of blue and yellow colors with interior patios and hanging cast iron balconies. He felt overwhelmed by the number of small squares, chapels, historic buildings, all types of stores and restaurants of international and local cuisine, such as the delicious “mofongo”, which is a compote of plantain, pieces of shrimp or pork and meat and garlic. He soon realized that San Juan is a lively and busy city where inhabitants of all walks of life mix with tourists and join them in their endeavor to show the flavor of good living. That was, without any doubt, a tour that filled him with enthusiasm and pride for his cultural roots. It evoked for him, as a powerful reason for his traveling, the Genoese saying: “It is better to wear out one’s shoes than one’s sheets”. That visit, he believes, affirms once more the wisdom of that saying.
To better understand and enjoy the city more, it would be fitting to know its historical background before starting the chronological narrative of the visit. The information gathered for such a purpose was collected from local brochures and personal notes from the class on culture and civilization that Roger taught for many years at Los Angeles City College.
San Juan constitutes such a strategic location that King Philip II of Spain recognized it as “the key to the Indies”. For that reason it became a point of call for the Spanish fleets in their trips to the New World. Two centuries later, Carlos III “the Enlightened” carried out some reforms that made the city “a first order defense”. Today, it is the capital of Puerto Rico, an island of intense tropical delight with an ineffable flavor of enchantment. It was there that Christopher Columbus landed in 1493 and baptized the place as San Juan Bautista. Some fifteen years later, Juan Ponce de León founded the first Spanish settlement. From then on, the region assumed the name of Puerto Rico. Now, San Juan is the oldest city in the territories of the United States of America.
Shaped in a rectangular form, the island of Puerto Rico covers an area of approximately five thousand three hundred square miles and measures about one hundred and ten miles from east to west and thirty miles from north to south. Its coast, sown with festive beaches of precious cobalt and gold sand, spreads along a span of two hundred sixty-five miles. Located at the eastern tip of Greater Antilles, one thousand miles southeast of Miami, Puerto Rico is the smallest island that composes an island set, which includes Cuba, Hispaniola and Jamaica. About four million people inhabit the island and one and a half million of them live in San Juan. Spanish is their primary language and the majority practices the Catholic religion.
When Christopher Columbus discovered the island, he found some sixty thousand Arawak Indians. Some years later, Ponce de León made Puerto Rico the military post of greatest importance for Spain in the Caribbean. Favored by trade winds, Spanish vessels visited the island on their way to the New World. Faced with constant attacks from the enemies of Spain at the time, in 1521 Ponce de León started to build an effective net of defense, which astounds visitors even today. So fortified for reasons of military security, artillery men from San Felipe del Morro Castle, under the leadership of Governor Pedro Suárez Coronel, forced Sir Francis Drake (“Wolf of the Sea”) to abandon San Juan Port in 1595 after several deaths in his pirate vessel.
Those fortifications were subject to a test once more in 1598 when Sir George Clifford disembarked in the Bay to assault the San Felipe del Morro Castle and capture Governor Antonio de Mosquera. That English occupation was rather brief. An epidemic of dysentery that caused death to some four hundred English soldiers forced Sir Clifford to abandon his ambition to make San Juan a permanent base for the English crown in the Antilles. A new Spanish Governor, Alonso de Mercado, was successful in reaching the island with reinforcements to construct new defenses.
San Juan suffered another disaster of larger magnitude, this time at the hands of the Dutch who sought to increase their power in the Caribbean. In 1625, Dutch General Boudewijn Henricksz forced his entry into the Bay and laid siege to the El Morro Castle. The Spanish forces, under the leadership of Governor Juan de Haro put up stiff resistance fighting with determination and resolution. The Dutch abandoned the city only after sacking and burning it.
That tragic and ruinous act and the acquisition of several islands in the Minor Antilles by the English, the French and the Dutch hastened the Spaniards to build new lines of defense in San Juan. Starting in 1630 they built, for a period of one hundred and fifty years, massive walls around the city as well as forts to fortify its protection at several levels. Begun in 1634, the construction of San Cristóbal Castle started to take its present day shape by 1678 to defend the city against land attacks.
By the end of the Seven-Year War (1756-1763), Spain renewed the work at San Cristóbal Castle to resist attacks by England, its most feared rival in the Americas. King Carlos III gave orders to make San Juan “a defense of the first order”. In fact, in 1765 the Spaniards began the construction that would transform San Juan into “one of the most powerful strongholds in the Americas”. The work was completed at the end of 1780 decade. It was thus that in 1797, Captain General Ramón de Castro was able to stop the advance of seven thousand English troops under the command of General Ralph Abercromby. Almost a century later, however, at the end of the Spanish American War, Spain officially surrendered San Juan’s defenses to the United States of America. As a result of that transfer, the United States has governed the island of Puerto Rico, and the San Juan castles, which have never completely relinquished their constant vigilant status, are today principally custodians of five centuries of an inheritance rich in history and in culture.
It was precisely that history and that culture that Roger wanted to explore. Right after landing, it started to rain and he and his companions had to take a taxi to go to San Cristóbal Castle to initiate a tour of the National Historical Site of San Juan, which also comprises San Felipe del Morro Castle and the walls. Those structures stand as an impressive defense complex by land and sea that served to shield the city from attack until 1949. Nevertheless, at the present time, that magnificent example of fortification with details of construction and renovation from the 16th to the 20th centuries, instructs visitors of the attractive and inspiring evolution of Spanish military engineering in the Caribbean. As such it exhibits an imposing legacy from the Spanish Empire to the New World. In that endeavor, Spain employed engineers of other nationalities, at times, such as Italian Bautista Antonelli and Irishman Thomas O’Daly, substituted at his death by Spaniard Juan Francisco Mestre.
Located on a natural high ground of the same name, San Cristóbal Castle is an authentic strategic masterpiece, approximately one hundred and fifty feet above sea level. Other than being the largest fortification in San Juan, it constitutes a splendid and marvelous example of axioms and precepts of defense by land. The structure is composed of two main compounds: the main castle and the outer defenses. Each of the structures possesses multiple self-sufficient lines of defense, so that if one of the units falls into the hands of the enemy, the other can carry on the combat independently and without great difficulty.
A short and pleasant walk takes excursionists to El Castillo del Morro whose real name is Castillo de San Felipe del Morro in honor of King Philip II of Spain. Declared a National Historic Monument, the castle was constructed by the Spaniards from 1539 to 1783, on a rocky high ground to protect San Juan Bay from attacks by sea. That magnificent military installation is one of the most impressive in the city. From a medieval style round tower of stone in the beginning, it was transformed, in the tides and currents of history, into a six-level citadel of defense, exceptionally fortified, endowed with six “garitas” (sentry boxes) at the outer angles of bastions along the city walls. With one sentry posted in each “garita”, it facilitated a good watch of the sea, the land and the base of the walls.
In a way, “la Puerta de San Juan” or San Juan Gate can stir deep emotions in tourists. Strong and heavy, made of red painted wood and dating back to the year 1520, it is the only entry to the historic city left of the six old original gates of the walled-in city. In centuries past, all gates closed late in the evening to prevent access to the population and protect it during the night.
A quite attractive building is La Fortaleza or the Fortress, constructed in 1540 as a defense against invaders. Pretty soon it lost its value as shelter, guard and resistance. Its location to achieve those ends was so poor that Spanish chronologist Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo proclaimed: “Only blind men could have chosen such a place to build a fort”. Very soon it became the executive mansion and remained for centuries the residence of the governors of the island. Its courtly elements and its courtier environment, however, only date back to the 19th century. It includes an august and imposing mahogany staircase, several big and majestic reception rooms and a chapel in mosaic, which at some time was a depot for gold preserved in rods.
Another important building that arouses visitors’ interest is the turreted Casa Blanca or White House, built originally by disposition of the Padres Jerónimos to give to Juan Ponce de León. That generosity resulted from the monks’ desire to compensate him for the castle in Camparra that his family had to abandon when the official transfer of the village to San Juan islet was approved. Unfortunately he died in Florida before he could return to occupy it. Nevertheless, it remained the Ponce de León family’s residence during two and a half centuries. Some time later, military commanders, Spanish first and Americans afterwards, used it as theirs. Today, visitors can appreciate, within its confines, gardens of natural delight and a museum that collects 16th and 17th centuries’ data from life at the time.
For its part, San Juan’s cathedral, which dates to 1540 and attracts many sightseers, did not enliven much Roger’s interest. He has admired many cathedrals in his journeys throughout the world, particularly in Europe. Of authentic medieval architecture, something anomalous and unique in the New World, it contains four arched ceilings. In that sacred structure lay, since 1913, the remains of Ponce de León in a marble tomb. There, too, was buried in 1862, St. Pius, martyr. What indeed stands out is a lovely chapel constructed in honor of Our Lady of Providence, Patroness of Puerto Rico.
Near the cathedral visitors can find the Pablo Casals Museum that exhibits and displays for Puerto Ricans the rich legacy of the Spanish maestro. It contains a great collection of manuscripts and photographs, and an impressive library of videos of concerts of the Casals Festival.
While Lucille, Marguerite and the children were buying souvenirs Robert and Roger visited the Capilla del Cristo or Little Chapel of Christ. According to legend, at the spot where that small religious open-air enclosure now stands, a miracle was performed that made it impossible for a young man and a horse to throw themselves to the precipice from the wall of the city.
Adjacent to that little chapel, tourists can find the “Parque de las Palomas” or Doves Park, from where they are able to enjoy a truly marvelous view of the port, the city and the mountains. The problem lies in the hundreds of doves that rendezvous in the place. Roger dared to cross the park to contemplate the magnificent sight just described and he almost could not leave the park, for tens of doves surrounded him and he could not move. If the panoramic scene fascinated him as wonderful, the exit from that certain kind of imprisonment was truly frightening.
Time flies, however, particularly when it is so tremendously enjoyed as did Roger in that tour through a charming city in constant motion. The return to the ship along the “Paseo de la Princesa” or Princess Promenade stirred up in him something like a song that vibrated with intensity in his chest, inspiring tears of joy and hurrahs of ancestral pride.
San Juan must have delighted the rest of the excursionists of the cruise as well, for to board the ship the lines were congested and long. Somewhat worried and nervous, Roger feared that Lucille, Marguerite and the kids would miss the boat. They had decided to extend their shopping time on their way to the liner and were nowhere in sight. He only calmed down when he saw them from the top deck joining the lines that slowly advanced toward the boarding platform. In reality, it became difficult to bid farewell to a city where they had found the rhythm of life “a tope” (to the fullest).
Upon reaching Puerto Rico, Roger did not want to fall prey to the fantasy that he had found the privileged island of the one thousand wonders. When the ship sailed into a new destination, he realized that the National Historic Site of San Juan is as much a reminder of the ironies and dilemmas as of the glories and tragedies of the Spanish colonial experience.LABADEE, HAITI
Six centuries before the era of Christ, Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu maintained that “keeping to the main road is easy”. He added, however, “but people love to be sidetracked”. That is what Labadee represents in reality: a pleasant detour from the normal route, a true encounter with Nature and a wonderful world of aquatic sports. On the other hand, it can be, in certain risky areas, a dangerous lurking place of undertow, of sea thistles and perilous coral formations.
It is believed that Christopher Columbus discovered Labadee in 1492, before his vessel fell victim to the reefs and shelves of rocks of the Caribbean. Almost five centuries later, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines discovered that natural enclave unharmed and intact, and after buying it, uses it exclusively for the rest and relaxation of its passengers.
As the ship approaches the bay, the panoramic beauty of the surroundings of that strait of the north coast of Haiti fascinates travelers who love nature. Labadee is a small village of about two thousand souls and of little tourist attraction. Practically hidden in the woods stands the legendary Nellie Post. As the legend goes, Nellie was an English woman of the time of the Buccaneers. She set up a trade post and a tavern for the benefit of boats and their crews. When a vessel approached, she rang the bell from an old tower to announce its arrival to the local landholders that would go to the port with their products.
Today’s Labadee, with its two hundred and sixty hectares of woods and beaches, remains a pleasant enclave where to relax in serene waters, do aquatic sport, swim, as did the Lincoln family and Roger or swing idly in a hammock between trees as did Lucille. Passengers can also enjoy good food and cocktails, which tenders bring from the liner, or make purchases of local arts and crafts. Roger was able to haggle in French, and all that in an environmental atmosphere almost identical to the one Columbus and crew experienced several centuries ago. A true fantasy!
As in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, tenders took passengers to the village and back to the ship. Explorer of the Seas sailed at six thirty in the afternoon and anchored in Miami early the morning after. Thus ended that unforgettable cruise…TERRORISM STRIKES THE UNITED STATES
Upon finishing the Caribbean cruise, Lucille and Roger remained a few days in Miami and stayed at the house of his brother Antonio and sister-in-law Nínive. They visited the farm of his nephew José Antonio and wife Aida and that of his sister Lydia. Nostalgic feelings of his youth in Los Barrios de Salas and Fuentesnuevas were reborn in Roger. Consequently those days in Miami resulted short and few, for soon they had to return to Los Angeles.
It was during that brief stay in the “magic city” that Roger decided to accompany his brother Antonio and sister-in-law Nínive in their forthcoming trip to El Bierzo. They wanted to be together once more in their native land. Both brothers are getting older and the opportunity to be together in that place is becoming more and more unlikely as the years go by. With that in mind Roger’s visit to his “Patria chica” (little fatherland) was planned. He was to arrive there on September 5th for the festivities of La Encina in which Julio Iglesias was to be the most prominent star.
For their part, Antonio and Nínive traveled directly to Barcelona to spend a few days with some relatives in Tarrasa. They agreed, then, to meet Roger in Segovia. To join that rendezvous went their sister Dorita and her husband also named Antonio and their niece Raquel and her husband Gabriel Perdigón. Thus, they all were able to visit that renowned city with its aqueduct, its cathedral and its castle, while at the same time they could share joyful and pleasant moments with Roger who had already toured Segovia several times.
They spent the night in nearby Ávila, and at dawn next day they all drove to the delightful city of Salamanca, which Roger took good care to show them with enthusiasm. They registered in the Emperatriz I Hotel where he always lodges when he stays in that historic and universally recognized University City.SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
Next day, September 11, they left Salamanca very early in the morning and, after a delicious breakfast near the historic city of Tordesillas, they bade farewell and went their respective ways. Dorita and Raquel with their husbands continued their journey back to Tarrasa, while Roger and his brother and sister-in-law continued theirs towards Ponferrada where they arrived just before noon.
Three hours had hardly past when the whole world was moved before the horribly vivid images of the brutal attack on the United States by a soulless group of terrorists. That inconceivably atrocious reality that tainted history with the blood of thousands of innocent people synthesizes the most malevolent perfidy that most deeply affected Roger’s feelings and, without doubt, the entire world in the earlier years of the 21st century. That ignominious September 11 of 2001 will be remembered as one of the most infamous days in human history.TO JUSTIFY AN INJUSTIFIABLE ABOMINABLE CRUELTY
An indescribable spirit of patriotism overcame Roger who had returned to El Bierzo when that irrational catastrophe occurred. Roger was asked to write an article on the event. The letter he wrote to the Bierzo 7 weekly when he arrived in the United States reads thus:Dear Editor:
September 11, 2001. Who is not going to remember their whereabouts on that “day of infamy”, of ignominious bestiality, of universal grief and mourning? I was in El Bierzo enjoying the deep-rooted celebrations of La Encina, El Cristo (Christ Crucified) and La Soledad (Virgin of Solitude). The whole world was stirred before the images of that brutal attack against the United States of America.
While I was in my “Patria chica” someone asked me: “How do you explain that, in such an advanced and powerful country, a calamity such as this has been allowed to happen, particularly twenty minutes after the initial attack?” To understand that, it is essential to bear in mind that, with countless number of daily domestic flights, a free and open society such as the United States cannot send chase fighters to shoot down any aircraft that strays from its normal rout. The risk of being mistaken would be more probable than to conjecture correctly. That could cause an unacceptable and inexplicable hecatomb. There are some reports that on this occasion, after the first plane crashed against one of the New York Twin Towers and the authorities ascertained that it had not been an accident, the president gave the order to shoot down the second. Perhaps some day it will be known if he had to rescind it to avoid a far more devastating catastrophe.
That terrorist and suicidal act of barbarism, consummated at the heart of the most powerful country in the world, executed against the land of opportunity and exemplary defender of liberty, constitutes an irrational aggression against all democracies. It is in addition, a terrifying act of savagery that has unmasked a new threat to humanity. The free world must close ranks to combat such a terrorist international plague that has unchained a confrontation between civilization and barbarism.
Though the condemnation of that atrocious act of barbarism has been universal, dissenting voices have not been scarce. Naturally welcome and even necessary in any free country in normal circumstances, such voices overlook the fact that these are not normal times. Some analysts and commentators spread a litany of anti Yankee “buts”, sharpened slashes against the assaulted country and consoling and even cheering handclapping for the executors of such atrocity. I heard them on radio and television and read them in newspapers and magazines in Spain and still hear them and read them in those same means of communication here in the United States. In my view those are watchwords of progressive contention, which seem to exalt erratic and bloody violence more than recognize and rebuke the scorn that terrorists show for life, liberty and rules of war. They say and write, for instance, “what happened to the Twin Towers and the Pentagon is horrible”. Then, they go on to exact a hard “mea culpa” (my fault) from the Americans before pontificating with a smile “they deserve a taste of their own medicine.” They even admit that the United States has to act in self-defense, but hurry to add “what is needed is to use weapons less and relieve hunger more… to fill the Afghanistan sky with planes empty of armaments and fully loaded with food.” With the same naturalness they profess their desire to illegitimate terrorism, but “it is necessary to negotiate, negotiate, negotiate…not to bombard”. And so they continue their own anti-Americanism to try to justify an unjustifiable abominable cruelty.
Terrorism, democracy’s worst stigma, has not broken the dreams of this resilient country, glorious liberty’s guardian and defender. Overtaken by this colossal and apocalyptic tragedy, the civilized world must confront this heinous terrorism without borders in a concerted effort where moral readjustment and justice reign in an atmosphere of cautious serenity and calculated, measured and precise punishment.
Perhaps a determined President Bush has found, in his appeal for a joint answer from states that love and respect freedom, the appropriate formula to dismantle that global terrorism which becomes fervid seeking death as a prize. At the same time, it will severely punish those who protect them, finance them and shelter them.
The terrorists made a huge mistake when they so cowardly attacked a country that in spite of its defects is the brightest beacon of hope, the best guarantor of peace and respect for human rights. With that act of savagery so fanatically ferocious they have awakened the Sleeping Giant that will crush them. This patient and generous nation will not roll over and continue its light and tranquil slumber. On the contrary, it will absorb that tragedy with all its horrors, and will, with patriotic pride and decisive resolve, recover its security and impart justice. For their part, the soulless protagonists of that evil act will soon understand that in the smoldering debris of the Twin Towers of New York, the Pentagon and the fields of Philadelphia their own epitaph is now engraved. They will understand that from those very same ashes will rise, like a phoenix, the first historic figure of the 21st century. That will be in the person of an audacious and resolved president of the United States, George Bush, who has sworn to eradicate that sore of humanity from the face of the earth.
That letter was published in Bierzo 7 on October 4, 2001, under the title “To Justify an Unjustifiable Abominable Cruelty”. Besides the thousands of deaths, which that base event caused, global economy worsened to the point of producing an-almost-paralyzing crises. Fear and even panic took possession of the public in countries friendly to liberty.
In more personal terms, Roger was affected at levels other than the emotional. To return to the United States, he had to go directly to Madrid International Airport on September 16 as planned. He tried to confirm his reservation by phone, but no airline would answer calls. After a four-hour wait in line, he was informed that he could go to Paris that day, but was not guaranteed a flight from there to the United States for at least one week. He decided to change his ticket to September 18 via New York. So he drove back to Fuentesnuevas.
The flight from Madrid to New York was very pleasant. Sitting next to him was a Mexican lady of much education and culture. She had made the journey along the “Camino Jacobeo” (St. James the Apostle Road), and had very good memories of Ponferrada and La Virgen de la Encina. She was on her way to Puerto Rico to meet her husband who was on a business trip to that Caribbean Island.
Roger had landed in New York dozens of times before, but on this occasion he found its airport almost empty, deserted… He tried to contact his wife Lucille by phone to inform her of his arrival as they had agreed while he was still in Fuentesnuevas waiting his departure. However, all telephones were out of order at the airport: the connections were attached to the World Trade Center, now demolished. When he arrived in Los Angeles he was surprised that not only was Lucille not waiting for him, but that private individual cars were not allowed in the airport zone. He had to use a private company’s passenger van to get home. That was another inconvenience, not a big deal of course, but one more sign of how much those soulless nihilists affected the lives of millions of people worldwide.
Roger took very much to heart an article that appeared on the 18 of October 2001 issue of Bierzo 7. Its author, Luis Lago Alba condemned from Salamanca the September 11 attack on the United States but challenged its elected leaders to a “sincere and friendly” dialogue and to understanding rather than to wage war. Sincerely grieved by the brutal slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians, whose only sin was to arrive on time to their daily work, Roger answered him in a letter to the weekly’s editor:Dear Editor:
One of the many, though minor, inconveniences that the brutal attack of last September 11 has caused in my life as a retiree is that now I no longer receive Bierzo 7 one week or less after its publication. Now I have to wait two weeks or more.
I mention this because today, Saturday, November 3, I have just received the weekly’s October 18 edition. I was able to read in the “Tribuna” section Luis Lago Alba’s article “G. W. Bush and the Long War”. I would not like to disagree with a compatriot, perhaps of my homeland, whom I may have seen from time to time at the Plaza Mayor or Prada a Tope in Salamanca. What is more, he has two family names that are also, in reverse order, my father’s second and third. Only God knows if we are somewhat related…
In general, Mr. Lago Alba’s writings that I read every now and then in Bierzo 7 show clear style, sane thoughts and sincere passion, though I do not always share his views. In the article in question, the author emphasizes also with apparent candor his “indignation” and “condemnation” of the infamous assault as “unlimited and unconditional”. He so baptizes also his “feeling and compassion” for the victims, and affirms that “nobody, nothing can justify so much cruelty from the assassins…”
Nevertheless, I must confess that I consider the rest of the article as a well-intentioned bugle of impractical moral virtue. He quotes Isaiah and St. Thomas who maintain that “peace is the work of justice” and that “justice is the condition for peace…” Though the author refers, I believe, to another kind of equity or right, justice was precisely what George Bush required of the Taliban. He gave them more than sufficient time to act in a way to facilitate justice. They chose to ignore the conditions presented to them. Therein lies the root of the bellicose conflict against Osama Bin Laden, Al Quaeda and the Taliban, but not against the noble and suffering Afghan people or against Islam.
Mr. Lago advances the theory, in this case illusive, that “Deeply rooted in the will to harmony and justice, peace is built by means of the word put at the service of truth and communication in the form of sincere and friendly dialogue…”. How does Mr. Lago aspire that the United States reach that level of conversation with terrorists that show utmost contempt and absolute scorn for the life of innocent people, with soulless protagonists of such acts of savagery, with assassins without conscience that have promised killing Americans? At a personal level, though I was born near Ponferrada, I am an American citizen. My seven children, my five grand children, the majority of my friends and neighbors, all of them were born in the United States. Those terrorists have sworn to kill us. What kind of dialogue are we to establish with such sores of humanity? For that matter, nobody should be surprised that, in the nearly fifty years that I lived in the United States, never have I seen the people as united as today. What sincere and friendly dialogue does Mr. Lago expect those assassins to hold with us and the fifteen thousand children of the six thousand Americans they ferociously killed on September 11? What sincere and friendly dialogue would he undertake with agents of ETA if they told him that they would kill him, after they had already annihilated members of his family or friends?
Mr. Lago also maintains that “If the crime of September 11 is an assault against humanity and all of humanity would see itself, as it already does, affected by it (war), the competent authority to declare it should not be the United States or NATO. It should be rather somebody who speaks for all of humanity: the UN? Though conceptually it was indeed a crime against all of humanity, in concrete terms, the atrocity was committed in the United States, a free, independent and constitutional country. The constitution of this great nation commissions the protection and security of its citizens to the federal government, not to any world entity, which were it to exist, might or might not be effective in providing them with both.
Nourishing the hope that religion may be the basis for the solution of the conflict, Mr. Lago continues: “… but it would not be impossible and would indeed be very desirable to see Mr. Bush surrounded not only by military and political advisers but also by spiritual counselors of various religions. Clinton would probably have done it…” I do not blame Mr. Lago for not being aware that Bush has indeed surrounded himself, at various times, with spiritual counselors from several religions at the White House and at ecumenical prayers that he mentions in his article. As far as Clinton is concerned, those of us who have followed his career closely believe that he would have indeed done so had such counselors been…interns.
The author of the article complains, furthermore, of the “little attention Bush paid to the Pope and other religious leaders when he signed numerous death penalties without clemency…”. Overlooking for a moment that individuals as well as states have the right to kill, for instance, in self-defense, the fact is that Bush was following the law of the state of Texas of which he was the Governor. There are many reasons against the death penalty and as many in favor of it. Personally, I will change my belief and I will oppose the death penalty when criminals change their behavior and cease killing.
Mr. Lago ends his exposition adding: “In any event, it is lamentable that in this hour of crisis of fundamental principles Sharon and Bush II rule over Israel and the United States.” Putting aside that this is not a crisis of cultures, but rather a question of justice that must be meted out against a group of terrorists without borders, the fact remains that all the polls in the United States approve of Bush’s actions in this matter with more than 90%. Comparing Bush and Clinton, 74% prefer Bush and only 20% would prefer Clinton.
Finally, it causes me much sorrow that Mr. Lago affirms, without quoting any study, that “the victims of a new war would be infinitely more numerous than the dead in the Twin Towers and more than 80% will be civilians.” Has he forgotten the dead at the Pentagon and the fields of Pennsylvania? Has he forgotten furthermore that it was Osama Bin Laden and his abettors that initiated the attack and chose, on purpose, centers where thousands of civilians were working? The deaths of common citizens, after four weeks of bombings, have been few and accidental, for, unlike the terrorists, the allied forces intentionally try to avoid attacks on civilians.
Frankly, I like traveling. I do not want to stay home, prisoner of terrorists. For the good and future of our children, I prefer that the villains die and we live rather than we die and they live. I believe that this represents the way the majority of people think.
This article was published in Bierzo 7’s edition of November 15, 2001. A friend of Roger’s family sent a copy to Barbara Bush, mother of the president of the United States. She included copies of Roger’s original writing “To Justify an Unjustifiable Abominable Cruelty” as well as Luis Lago Alba’s article. She sent it to the president’s mother because she was afraid that, because of the anthrax problem, perhaps it would not reach George Bush at the White House.“I SHARE THE UNITED STATES’ PRAGMATIC SENTIMENT”
For his part, Luis Lago answered Roger in a rather lengthy article entitled “On Peace, Against Terrorism and War”, initiating a friendly dialogue with him and inviting him to a rendezvous in Salamanca or in El Bierzo. Roger accepted the invitation and answered the article:Dear Luis:
I accept with pleasure and anticipation your invitation to a rendezvous “at the shores of the Tormes River or in the proximity of the Cúa…” I similarly admit as sincere your explanation of the possible cause that has led me to misinterpret your genuine intention and true meaning of your article that “appeared mutilated” in the 18th of October edition of our weekly. Had it been published as you express it in “On Peace, Against terrorism and War” (Bierzo 7, December 6, 2001), I would have read it with interest, but without reacting publicly so as not illegitimate a legitimate debate.
In truth, I must confess that I was indeed aware of the “disarrangement” in your first article. A certain internal incoherence bothered me, particularly when you presented your thoughts about the competent authority to declare war. It was not “lack of good faith” in your words that prompted me to write, but rather such disparity in total dissonance with your prior writings that I have praised with all sincerity.
I regret if I created the impression of “trivializing” your recourse to religious spirit as a possible avenue to influence pending decisions at high government levels. That was not my intention. On the contrary, I consider religion the best sedative, the best moderating and consoling force in life’s tragic moments. I agree with G. K. Chesterton that the church “is the only institution that protects us against the degrading servitude of becoming a product of our century”. Though I must confess that I indeed smiled with satisfaction upon evoking in my article Clinton’s troubles with interns, but I was not flaunting my delight at you. It was rather a manifestation of personal enjoyment for being able to express publicly my disdain for a president that, not only did soil and dishonor the Oval Office of the American people, but also laughed at and derided the judicial system, which as president he should defend and elevate.
It is true as you write that I share the pragmatic sentiment of the United States. Nevertheless, I also share the spiritual and moral values and the literary traditions of realism and illusion of my beloved country of birth, Spain. For that reason, such pragmatism neither limits me nor coerces me to accept as “truth that which is useful”. Similarly for that reason, I cannot conceive that, in the real world of an exalted global terrorism that seeks death as a prize and swears to kill whoever opposes its rule, “utopian spirit” can ever become the protective force of our liberty. The truth is evident: we either prevent now or we lament later; we either get rid of them or they will get rid of us. The choice, in my opinion, cannot be clearer. “Sincere and friendly” dialogue could very well resolve conflicts between rational people, but it would result in “a cynical ruse for the soulless fanatics that accept as virtue the dishonor of deceit”.
My opinion on the death penalty seems to disturb you a lot, Mr. Lago. You color as “a little bit impractical” my disposition to change my views and oppose it when the criminals change their behavior and cease to kill… Then you formulate the question “What or whom will you then oppose? The dog dead or murdered, there are no more rabies…” Isn’t that precisely what we all aspire to… a free and peaceful world without antagonism? Perhaps I share, after all, a bit of your “utopian spirit”, tempered by reality, for I do not exist to seek opposition, but dream of being able to live in peace and tranquillity. Needless to say, I reject before hand your admiration for Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, hero defender of the Indians for some and traitor to his country for others. That father of the “black legend” against Spain has become in recent years a not very exemplary subject of several writings on the “white legend” of Spain. Sincerely, I do not wish to share in the “utopian spirit” that you seem to praise and exalt in him.
You wonder about the victims of war. Let me disabuse you once and for all. I too would shed tears of joy if there were no victims in the war. I would also shed them if there were no victims of accidents in ordinary daily life. But there are some. Yet, that does not paralyze us nor confine us, nor deter us from buying new cars, using other means of transportation to get to our work, nor doing our daily chores. Of course I grieve for the accidental deaths of war, but the pain is more acute and the tears more profuse when thousands of innocents close to us are targets of international mortal attacks. It would cause me greater pain still if the authorities charged with our security and protection were to assume a utopian pacifist attitude that would encourage and provoke subsequent similar assaults. In addition, and unfortunately, hunger and displacement of refugees already existed in Afghanistan before the war. It is also certain that the United States was before and has continued to be during the bombings the country that has sent more help to alleviate such need. There is no doubt that it will lead the international effort to reconstruct a nation that the Taliban had already physically and morally destroyed. I hope that the Afghan war, short and without a great number of civilian victims, thank God, will help as example to other governments that protect, finance and shelter those terrorist bands. I nourish the hope that the present Afghan experience has been a lesson to the entire world and that bombs are no longer urgent to guarantee our security and preserve our peace and tranquillity.
As you can appreciate, Mr. Lago, we have much to talk about in our future rendezvous when I visit my “Patria chica” next time. Though I have recently entertained disquieting doubts of traveling to Spain for no other reason than the substitution of the peseta by the “euro”, I hope to do it, God willing, next summer, for, in reality, love for my land is infinitely stronger than my aversion to the “euro”.
Roger sent this letter to the Ponferrada weekly just before Christmas 2001. On February 26 of 2002, he sent the following electronic message to his friend Héctor Blanco Terán:
It is true that nothing has yet appeared about my answer to Luis Lago Alba’s article in which he invited me to a rendezvous for a friendly dialogue at the shores of the Tormes or Cúa rivers. Perhaps it will never be printed: too much time has already gone by. It would be a pity, for the readers of Bierzo 7 would realize that even though I have my opinions I also respect those of others. In addition, they would also find out what the thinking of the people of the United States is on that topic in general.
Towards the middle of April of 2002, Roger sent an electronic message to the administration of the Ponferrada weekly by which he asked to have his annual subscription renewed. He expressed in the message his disappointment that they were not able to publish his last answer to Luis Lago Alba, recognizing of course that other journalistic priorities of the time might not have permitted its publication. Next day, he received e-mail from the managerial staff of the weekly indicating that there was no record in their archives of his article. They urged him to resubmit it if he was still interested. Roger accepted the suggestion. The article appeared in the issue of April 25 of 2002, under the title “I Share the Pragmatic Sentiment of the United States”.
Though Roger’s exchange with Luis Lago Alba may create the impression that Spanish people are reluctant to support the United States in its war against terrorism, it bears reminding that Spain has been from the beginning one of the staunchest allies of the United States in the effort. The Spanish government was swift to rally with the United States and the people equally quick to unequivocally condemn the attack and sympathize with the American people, as many of them expressed their feelings to Roger. That solidarity with the United States became also obvious at Madrid international airport on September 18 when he left the Spanish soil to return home. In memory of the victims of that vicious assault, one week after that fatal day, there was nothing but American music, in particular the song “New York, New York”, the whole time he was at the airport. For the benefit of readers, following is an excerpt of a letter that Héctor Blanco Terán wrote to Roger. Héctor sent the message when he wrote the prologue to this book, but it reflects well the general sentiment of the Spanish people vis-à-vis this historic event. He first praised Roger for introducing in his book “… a courageous president, George Bush, who, uniting his people and its social governing entities, all standing together with him as a pine-cone, have demonstrated what the American people are and how they react to adversity.” Then he hastens to add:
“And so would many of us wish that all politicians in the entire world react in a similar way, forgetting particular and party interests, feeling greater concern for the pain of their people and the liberty of their nation, which they so proclaim. At the moment of truth, however, they do not hesitate to ally with terrorists to prosper or to grow. That attitude convicts them of complicity and collaboration with terrorists. May God have mercy on their twisted minds. We may morally forgive their errors, but we will never forget the harm done and will support with all means at our disposal the long and necessary arm of Justice’s exemplary punishment.”
The rendezvous between Roger and Luis Lago took place near the river Cúa in Cacabelos on August 23 while they were both vacationing in their native land. It was a very cordial and enjoyable two-hour meeting during which ideas and gifts were exchanged in a relaxed and informal atmosphere. They both ordered a “pulpo” (octopus) meal, a delicious delicacy of that locality. The house, aware of who they were, treated them to drinks. Roger came out of the rendezvous marveled at the level of Luis’ knowledge and convinced of his aversion to acts of terrorism, especially the one perpetrated against the United States on that fatal day, September 11, 2001. It was truly a “friendly and sincere dialogue”.
The September 11 attack has brought much change in the national environment of the United States as well as in Roger’s private and public life. People live now under constant threats, repeated federal government and local authority alerts because it is well known that Al Quaeda has several cells throughout the country. One of the terrorists involved in the September 11 assault lived some time in the neighborhood where Suni, Roger’s daughter, used to live.
Caution and precaution are two virtues common throughout the nation. For quite some time now, the citizenry seems to venture only to complete actions previously planned and well defined. In general, people risk little and do not expose themselves to anything that is not of absolute necessity. For their part, from the March 1st to the 17th of 2002, Roger and Lucille went to New Zealand and Australia on a previously planned cruise, scheduled before the September 11 catastrophe.
Three or four weeks after Roger’s first article on terrorism appeared in Bierzo 7, a very curious and inexplicable incident occurred. He received two phone calls in Arabic from Amsterdam, Holland. Lucille answered one of them and was forced to hang up the phone. The other was recorded on the answering machine. They kept it intact for a time to eventually give it, perhaps, to the police since it sounded threatening. After one month, they erased it.
Roger believes that this situation of apprehension and uneasiness will not change until global terrorism has disappeared, for such is the American society that is composed of so many diverse cultures. Neither does he think that the world at large will ever be able to totally understand the profound change that September 11 brought upon the United States. As for itself, this strong, powerful and optimistic country cannot comprehend how other countries can show reticence before a determined and laudable resolution to get rid of terrorism. Bombing is a possible recourse, the last one of course, but not the only one. President Bush’s support from the people on this matter stands incredibly solid and high.OCEANIA
After the events of September 11, 2001, Roger felt a little bit put-away. Nevertheless, the 1st of March of 2002 he went on a cruise to New Zealand and Australia with Lucille and her very close friend from college days, Amante Teano.
Besides living in a constant state of alert, airports in the United States were gradually taking stricter measures and more guarded precautions against terrorism. At Los Angeles airport endless lines were constantly being formed. To plan to arrive there only three hours before the plane’s departure amounted almost to risk missing the flight.
Security precautions were stiff and some of them, Roger thinks, somewhat daring, though necessary perhaps. In this instance, he was fully checked from head to toes. They even made him take off his shoes. Five or six agents, showing Good-Friday aching faces, examined him very carefully. The last one took him to a well-secluded place, far away from passengers. He ordered him to open his handbag again and, in a jiffy, he grabbed the umbrella, a very special umbrella that Lucille had given Roger some five years earlier. He had forgotten that it had a flashlight and consequently was equipped with batteries… Finally the official smiled and said: “We were wondering what were those batteries doing in an umbrella. Excusing himself, the official bid farewell to Roger who replied also with a smile: “Each day we learn something new…”AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
After crossing the International Date Line on a more than twelve-hour flight, they arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, the third day of March early in the morning. They had to remain seated in the plane until some small police dogs finished examining it, for some talc powder was found in a toilet. Officials wanted to make sure that it was not some kind of a variant of anthrax.
An omnibus from Royal Caribbean took them for a panoramic view of the metropolis. The bus quickly left the airport and in the twelve-mile run that separated them from the city, the driver-guide of “Maori” origin explained to the passengers the history of Auckland. Built in a volcanic region, its configuration appears complicated with some volcano cones, as can be observed in the trajectory from the airport to the city.
Its subtropical warm climate and its food rich-woods and coastal waters have contributed to make Auckland the most populated city in New Zealand with one and a half million people out of the four million that inhabit the country. Nevertheless, the climate can suffer drastic changes very rapidly. A resplendent sunny day can become gloomy and rainy in a matter of minutes. Naturally, the landscape is green and pleasant. What contributes to that pleasing scenic condition is the fact that, under a volcanic layer, rest numerous and abundant deposits of water.
What impressed Roger was the vastness of uninhabited land in a clear and lucid setting of panoramic scenery. Known as the “sail city” for its quantity of yachts, Auckland displays for visitors its shining and radiant face with its notable marine port that is, besides, the busiest and most active in the country. Statistics show that one out of five of its inhabitants owns or operates a boat. It is also the most important port in all of New Zealand.
Life is expensive in Auckland but salaries are high and ninety percent of the population owns their houses. Dwellings are built of brick and hard wood from a tree known locally by the name of “kaori”, which is New Zealand’s pine tree as well as the “king of the trees”. In this northern city, houses lack insulation for according to the locals, they have never suffered from extreme temperatures.
The group reached Mount Eden, one of the sixty latent volcanoes of the city and its surroundings. It offers a spectacular view of the metropolis and its port. Naturally, after September 11 of 2001, who could not notice the two Auckland towers standing alone next to each other and surrounded by low houses Aruba style? The image of the Twin Towers demolished in New York could not elude the mind of the observer, horrified, in a way, by the great similarity.
On the way up to Mount Eden sightseers could distinguish many trees called “Pouhutukawa”, also known as Christmas trees because they bloom during the month of December and are covered with flowers for two consecutive weeks. Legend has it that when those flowers show vigor in December, the atmospheric conditions coincide with favorable properties of water, nature and land to produce huge mussels and oysters and also good fishing.
Auckland represents an energetic metropolis, cosmopolitan in attitude, traditional in character, peaceful and tranquil in its distinctive quality. To minimize administrative problems, it is divided in four areas, a situation similar to the one in Metro Manila described in Odyssey Resumed:
Auckland City forms the heart of the metropolis. It stands out for its famous one thousand and fifty feethigh Sky Tower, taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Sydney Tower. It excels for its commercial center and a swarm of theatrical scenes of such names as Auckland Art Gallery, The Edge, IMAX Entertainment Center.Manukau City, to the South of Auckland City, enjoys a vibrant “maori” and Pacific Islander inheritance. What greatly attract tourists are a thematic park, Rainbow’s End, and Botanical Gardens.
Waitakere City incorporates an area especially landscape-painted with flourishing, prosperous and thriving vineyards and graceful brambly places with excellent walk paths in Waitakere Range and magnificent beaches.North Shore City, an area to the north of the port’s bridge, is renowned for its relaxed life-style, its panoramic view of the port and resplendent white-sand beaches.
Crossing that unpolluted city by bus, the driver-guide explained such cleanliness in sections where the majority of residents are of “Maori” descent. At home, the Maoris teach their children the language and customs of their ancestors until the age of eight. They impress upon their young respect for the elders and for the things that surround them. Children are taught to appreciate and take care of the environment, to pick up trash and garbage and to maintain their surroundings neat and clean.
They wove through the center of the “coffee culture” of the eastern borough of the city and through many other coastal suburbs of distinctive individuality, of great scenic charm and luxury homes. Of particular interest to the passengers was the Rumuera section near the port, where expensive and ostentatious homes make extensive use of glass to better enjoy the awesome views of the coast. On their way to the most popular beaches of Auckland, they stopped to admire Tarlton Island, very peculiar in its appearance. No matter from what point sightseers look at it, they always follow with their eyes the same configuration: one volcano cone on its top and two slopes that descend separating symmetrically from the center until they sink into the sea.
The morning tour ended at Auckland Domain, a delightful park located on high ground near the center of the city. There, at a local restaurant passengers could help themselves to coffee or tea and great selection of delicious provisions, particularly of cheese products for which New Zealand is well known.
After resting a while and satisfying their appetites, visitors strolled through Wintergardens where they could direct their gaze with calm and with delight at collections of conditioned tropical plants, brightly colored flowers and fishponds of water lilies and white lilies.
From Wintergardens most travelers walked to the Auckland Museum, renowned for its Maori arts and crafts. It exhibits an exquisite collection of artifacts from the South Pacific islands as well as displays of New Zealand’s wild life. It also includes an eighty-two-foot long canoe that catches the attention of all tourists.
At the end of that pleasant and informative tour of the complex Auckland Domain, dozens of buses transferred the passengers to the liner Legend of the Seas of Royal Caribbean. The embarkation, though more complicated than usual, did not take too much time, since Roger, Lucille and Amante had gone on several cruises with them and were directed to go through a much faster special line. They settled quickly in their respective cabins and then went up to a restaurant on the ninth deck. After a good lunch, Roger went up to his favorite deck ten to contemplate the beauty of the city and the port, in particular Princess Wharf where the ship was berthed and where eighty percent of New Zealand’s imports and exports are performed.
At daybreak the next day it was bright and sunny, but soon it turned dismal and rainy. Lucille and Roger had planned to spend some time walking through the city, but were discouraged by the roughness of the weather. Since they had already benefited from an extensive tour the day before, they settled to imbuing themselves of the attractive panoramic view from the boat.
Before starting navigating new seas towards Tauranga in the south, it would be fitting to somewhat explore Auckland’s fascinating history. Centuries before the English colonial chronicle, New Zealand had been cradle to inhabitants known as “Moriori”, first immigrants from Polynesia around the year 800 after Christ. Towards the 14th century, the “Maori” and the “Pakeas” reached Auckland from that same area of the Asian continent.
As history goes, Maori explorer, Kupe, landed in the region of Auckland and considered the place “sunny, beautiful and of incredible potential”. Everywhere he found sandy beaches and small drowsy settlements under the sun. On the Eastern coast he discovered, however, a whole of deep ports, and on the Western coast, an entanglement of estuaries and shoals overshadowed by Hokianda port.
By the first half of the 19th century, Europeans, mainly English, began to arrive and established their colonies. At their arrival, they found an almost desolate territory due to hostilities between tribes and epidemics that had plagued the region. In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the English and the Maori leaders gathered from throughout the country. With that treaty the Maori people ceded their sovereignty to the English Crown. Soon difficulties and strong opposition to the treaty emerged from the Maori who felt victims of deceit. Today, deep feelings of opposition and resentment still prevail in the minority community of seven hundred thousand Maori who live in New Zealand.
In his readings, Roger found it somewhat curious that the building, where that treaty was signed in the city of Russell, dates back to 1833 and that it was precisely the residence of James Busby who helped the negotiations that concluded with the agreement. Presently, that structure contains carvings and sculptures of all the tribes of New Zealand. It was at Russell that the first capital of the country was established. Barely one year later, in 1841, Governor Hobson transferred the capital to Auckland, so named in honor of one of his previous commanders, Lord Auckland, English hero who, at the time, was Viceroy of India.
Auckland went through many difficulties, vicissitudes, false steps and failures during its first years as capital. In 1865 it lost its title and New Zealand moved its seat of government to Wellington, which functions as the capital of the country to this day. The subsequent Gold Rush in the nearby region of Thames and the increasing significance of agricultural products gave back to Auckland such a distinct economic importance that it presently constitutes the industrial and commercial heart of the country. Thus, while Wellington may be the center of political power in New Zealand, Auckland is, without doubt, its economic center.TAURANGA
This Maori word means a “place of rest for the canoes”. With its forty-one thousand inhabitants, Tauranga is the city with the fastest development in New Zealand today, as well as the biggest and most active port. Blessed with a constant temperate climate, it is the region “par excellence” for the cultivation of the kiwi fruit in all of New Zealand. Located in the Bay of Plenty, that pleasant city fulfills well the name of its location.
As the liner approached very early in the morning, the port named Maunganui gleamed beautifully with its lights. From Legend of the Seas Roger contemplated in awe the scenic landscape of that charming, peaceful and tranquil corner, decorated by a wave-break spotted with special pine trees, locally known as Norfolk Pines. They rise in majestic symmetry as a woman’s blown skirt to end up in a pointed shape of an arrow or cross.
Something else that impressed Roger was the Tui Busline Company whose buses were awaiting the passengers at the embarking area. The coincidence of the colors of the Spanish flag in a sort of band stretching along each side of the buses, as well as the name “Tui” wakened his curiosity and made him think about the Spanish city of Túy where he studied one year with the Marists. Quickly, his imagination began to work. In his mind, a Spaniard from Túy must have settled in Tauranga and developed that line of tourist activity… A lady by the name of Naoni who was traveling from Auckland to Sydney brought him down from his utopian dream to naked reality. Answering his question, she commented that “Tui” is a night bird that produces a “very beautiful and special” sound. Later on, Roger could ascertain that it is in fact a night bird from the woods. It adapts itself well to live in the outskirts and suburbs of the city. It feeds on fruits, insects and spiders, but especially on the nectar produced from the flax and fuchsia plants. It has an area of white hair in its throat. Its rich singing is a mixture of trills, whistling, dry knocks and cough.
As related in history books, Tauranga was the enclave where the first Maori worked their way into New Zealand towards the 14th century. Captain Cook entered the Bay of Plenty in October 1769 in his boat the “Endeavour”. He coined the name to the bay because he found in it very friendly and prosperous Maori settlements.
Tauranga also represents the entry door to Rotorua, an area renowned for thermal activity with its geysers and hot water springs, its lakes and abundant supply of trout… Besides, at “Maori Village” named “Te Tawa Ngahere Pa”, in Rotorua, visitors can live the ancient Maori culture, hear songs, decipher stories with its dances and experience moving tales and legends “of the hearts of the old and the lives of the young”.
At the end of the 14th century, a Maori, Ihenga, explored the region. He was the one who discovered the lakes and gave the location the name Rotorua. During the following centuries, several sub-tribes settled in the area and, as they increased in number, they divided into more sub-tribes and fought for the land. In 1831, Thomas Chapman visited the area, and in 1838 returned to settle permanently in Rotorua.
Lucille, Roger and Amante chose an excursion to Kiwi Fruit Company. They enjoyed a unique horticultural experience. Traveling through a rim of temperate agricultural terrain they crossed a resort area named Papamoa Beach. It is a self-sufficient community of luxury houses and costly living. They also had to pass Te Puke, a village with five hundred living souls, whose topography reminded Roger of Lamartina from El Bierzo. In its bucolic setting of pastoral fields they noticed a great number of cows and sheep grazing. In addition, that village can boast of an exhibit of old vehicles, Vintage Auto Barn, where visitors can admire more than ninety classical cars.
After one hour, more or less, they reached the field of the Kiwi fruit. In that valley, which until a few years ago was a region eminently gifted for dairy products and essential fruits, today on the other hand, it stuns visitors with numerous fields of different varieties of kiwi. Originating from the Yang-Tsé Valley in China, the kiwi is planted now in New Zealand in rows sixteen feet apart. The vines are entangled in wire and lose their leaves with winter frosts. They bloom again three months later in spring. In general, the orchards of that “dioecious” plant, which means that it needs a male and female plant to propagate. In the case of the kiwi, it requires only one male plant for seven female plants. Only female plants, the leaves of which are bigger and thicker, produce the fruit.
The Maori word “kiwi” refers to a small bird that cannot fly. It is of the size of a chicken, more or less. It lives in New Zealand’s woods. It takes good care not to be seen. It hides during the day and comes out to eat at night. It feeds on worms, insects and berries. Nonetheless, in New Zealand’s present economic reality, the word “kiwi” alludes, as a general rule, to a fruit endowed with unique properties. Kiwi is rich in vitamin C, double the amount of an orange, enjoys high levels of vitamin E, double those of an avocado. It contains, in addition, potassium and other minerals as well as a high level of fiber. Of distinctive color and flavor, it can be eaten whole, or be used as decoration in salads and various dishes or extract from it excellent juice and even good wine. It can be kept in refrigeration at 32° F for more than nine months.
There are few zones in the world, including New Zealand that can meet the atmospheric conditions required to produce kiwi of the quality that is produced in the Bay of Plenty. That area is blessed with abundance of sun, copious rain and an ideal blend of warmth and cold that secure the right climate necessary for the cultivation of the best kiwi.
After two hours of touring that exquisite place, the excursionists returned to Tauranga and visited The Elms Mission. It is an Anglican mission founded in 1838 by Reverend Alfred Nesbit Brown to convert the Maori population to Christianity. The property contains many robust and sturdy elm trees and structures built of kauri wood. Accustomed to California’s Catholic missions, Amante, Lucille and Roger left the place quite disappointed as far as its artistic value goes, without judging, naturally, the religious value which that historic enclosure represents for that city and that entire region. The comparison is unavoidable: the English built that mission to convert Maori people to Christianity as the Spaniards constructed theirs to convert Indians. The structures in that Tauranga mission are more plain and simple and made of wood. The structures in the Spanish missions look more elaborate, majestic and imposing.CHRISTCHURCH
On the high sea, sailing from Tauranga towards Christchurch, Roger became seasick, something he had never experienced in the past. During the night, the storm had intensified and the ship swayed and rocked with almost violent force. Early before dawn, he went to the ninth deck for his usual cup of coffee and either a croissant or a muffin. It may be that he ate a muffin that did not suit him, but he spent an incredibly indisposed day. He had never seen the sea as rough. It was Captain’s reception day and he could not attend. He thanks God that it only lasted one day, so that he could sleep well during the night. When they anchored next day at Port Lyttleton, port of entry to Christchurch, he was ready to continue his excursions.
Surrounded by hills and mountains, Lyttleton stands out as a well-guarded port. On one side stood out two chains of mountains, one inhabited and covered with trees, the other on the background with stark high rocks like those in Monserrat, Spain, though not as imposing and majestic. In front on the other side, stood out highlands covered with houses and trees with a background of bald, arid and barren elevations.
Upon entering the port, sightseers could appreciate a stone building with a red ball on top. It was once used to indicate the hour. When the ball reached the upper extremity it would be one o’clock. Naturally, today it is no longer used and stands there as an interesting relic of the past.
Lyttleton signifies, nevertheless, nothing more than another suburb of Christchurch. To reach the heart of the city, various buses take passengers that so wish through a tortuous road that squirms through dense and thick mountains of considerable elevation. From one of the peaks sightseers can contemplate a faithful panoramic, but not quite spectacular view of a flat and orderly metropolis of three hundred and twenty-five thousand inhabitants, the second most populated city in all of New Zealand. As in Aruba, the houses and buildings of that great urban center are mostly low. The few relatively tall structures could be counted on fingers of both hands. The Anglican Cathedral’s belfry, the tallest construction in the city, is only two hundred and thirty feet high. Since the country is rather young very few old buildings can be counted. Only the most important ones are built of stone and suddenly become prominent for their scarcity and usual Gothic style.
The visit to New Zealand took place in March, already near the end of the summer. The climate was customarily temperate to hot. In general at that time the sun shines an average of eight hours a day. It pours an average of .040 inches when it rains, which is about six days per month. One of the characteristics of the weather is, however, the morning wind that blows in from the sea, cool during hot days and cold during cooler ones.
Built on two extinct volcanoes, one that erupted one million years and the other two million years ago, that pleasant city of much color and animated ambiance is internationally famous for its exquisite gardens. It can indeed boast of many parks and gardens and even luxuriant vegetation, avenues decorated with rows of trees and a 19th century stone architecture surprising in its elegance and parsimony. Among the most beautiful and delightful gardens are, naturally, the Botanical Gardens. Nonetheless, the grass plats that most contribute to the tranquil ambiance of the city beautify the suburbs with their precious hanging geraniums and chrysanthemums and well-cared and kept lawns, as visitors can well observe in a panoramic tour of the city by bus.
Adjacent to the Botanical Gardens can be found the Canterbury Museum. There, visitors are particularly attracted to exhibits about the first colonists, an impressive representation of the “Discovery of Antarctica” and the Ancient People gallery, the main theme of which is, as its name indicates, ancient peoples.
Christchurch offers tourists not only heritage and culture, but also invites action and stimulus to the normal life of the community with its theaters, movie houses, art centers and places of entertainment. Thus, on the one hand it feeds and recreates the spirit, but on the other it also provides material well being for its citizens. It is a community rich in agricultural products and lumber. Surprisingly, in its land also flourishes a vigorous winery of French, not English, antecedence. The supply of its water proceeds from deep wells, but there are also numerous springs.
Incorporated as a city in March 1862 and considered perhaps as the most English City outside of England, Christchurch derives its name from Christ Church College of Oxford University where one of the colonists had studied. Many statues honor English historic personalities such as Robert Falcon Scott, Antarctic explorer, and Kate Sheppard who helped in making New Zealand the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote. Many streets have famous English names such as Oxford, Gloucester, Manchester, Disraeli, Worcester and more. Even the river that irrigates its land carries the name of Avon stream in Ayshire, Scotia. Additionally, a Neo-Gothic cathedral, whose needle-shaped belfry reminds tourists of English towns and villages, dominates its much-visited central plaza. Well, it is difficult to evoke or even suggest that this epitome of English character is in reality the capital of Te Wahipounamu, ancestral nest of the Ngai Tahu Maori tribe, which reached that locality by land and by canoe.
The short visit to the property that includes the historic Riccarton House was not at all astonishing, but Roger found it somewhat interesting and intriguing. Constructed entirely of wood, that patrician English house is located in Riccarton Bush’s forty-acre real estate. Christchurch’s Avon river runs through its pastures.
That spread-out metropolis, which includes several suburbs, among them Lyttleton, is quite a distance from the beach that is frequently rough and seldom pleasant. As in other cities in New Zealand, people are friendly and the streets are clean. Its port is commercially very active, much more so than many ports from other countries that Roger has visited.
They returned to the port through a tunnel, which reduced distance and time considerably. At the summit of Port Hills Mountain that the tunnel crosses, travelers could observe the Gondola halting-place one thousand six hundred and fifty feet above sea level. From there visitors can enjoy a spectacular panoramic three hundred and sixty-degree view.
Upon arriving at the port, sightseers could not fail to notice two white salt mountains, which reminded Roger of the carbon-mountain of Ponferrada. While the latter one may some day disappear, perhaps even before the publication of this book, the former frequently disappear and reappear to refine the salt that is exported throughout the world.DUNEDIN
Early Friday morning on March 8th the liner reached Chalmers, picturesque and protected entry port to the well-attended and pleasing university-city of Dunedin. Built in the environs of various lakes, that charming metropolis spreads through pleasant hills and scenic valleys. It is thus the biggest New Zealand City in area. It still maintains its distinctive Scottish ambiance. Resembling San Francisco in hills and the use of a tramway, Dunedin proudly shows tourists its Baldwin Street that the Guinness Book stamps as the steepest street in the world. Its cold winters and dry hot summers make the climate of the region the most extreme in New Zealand.
Smaller than Lyttelton port in appearance, Chalmers is the principal city of the Otago Peninsula and second largest in the province of the same name. It conducts a very intense commercial activity, which makes it the commercial center of the province. What catches visitors’ attention there, are a sawdust mountain destined for the manufacturing of paper and a huge lumberyard. The day Legend of the Seas berthed there, they were loading huge logs on Handy Emerald Manila, a boat that towards noon sailed for Manila.
Besides exporting lumber and paper, that region is identified with shipping, fishing and agriculture. The city of Dunedin, with one hundred and twenty thousand people, rightly boasts of its Otago University of twenty thousand students. It is the oldest and biggest university in New Zealand and has the best medical school and the only dental school in the country. It invests millions of dollars to attract the best faculty and, as consequence, students from all over the world.
The bus driver had a charismatic personality. He was born in Dunedin and his warm and amusing comments revealed an extraordinary love for his own “Small Fatherland”, something similar to Roger’s for his “Patria chica”. His sense of humor and enthusiastic dedication to his work caused an incredible charm that it was a delight to listen to him. Such was Hank: a very interesting guide in his explanations that came straight from the heart, from the love he felt for that beautiful corner of the world where he was born. Before such a show of love for what is his own, prejudice transforms itself into total surrender.
On the way from Chalmers Port to Dunedin City they passed by the Royal Albatross Colony, located at the end of the peninsula in which tourists can appreciate all kinds of birds. Right in the middle of that large convergence of birds stands a functioning fertilizer factory. The surrounding houses are built of kaori wood, but due to the environs are rather cheap.
Wild life in Otago Peninsula does not limit itself to birds. It also serves as refuge to the largest concentration of yellow-eyed penguins in the world. Without taking into consideration other places, in Penguin Beach alone some forty to sixty nested pairs of such penguins can be found. Not very far, one can also find the Oamaru Colony of Blue Penguins, the smallest of the seventeen penguin species that live an average of eight years. They have indigo blue feathers on their back and satiny white breast, black beak, clear-grey eyes and palm-like feet, connected by a membrane.
At Dunedin’s entrance visitors cannot help but notice Logan Park and a high school of the same name. That whole area was at one time a huge lake. It is no longer so. Now, it is firm land covered with greenery, an ideal place to relax not far from the Otago University campus that makes the city a busy center full of young life. Crossing that university complex aroused nostalgic feelings in Roger and he fell into a reverie of his days among youth… The university’s main building clearly manifests the solid confidence of the English Victorian era.
The downtown of that most beautiful city appears very animated and busy. In its surroundings, magnificent elegant and attractive structures of mainly Victorian architecture dominate the scene. Among the many buildings of note stands impressive and sensational the railroad station of distinctive flamenco style. Also awe-inspiring are the majestic and imposing St. Joseph Presbyterian Cathedral and the renowned and attractive Otago Secondary School whence many New Zealand political personalities have graduated. It also bears pointing out that the city main hospital is equipped with a landing pad for helicopters. That is a necessity because Dunedin is a metropolis very spacious in area and ambulances cannot provide the fast service that is required at times.
Very attractive in its arrangement, the Otago Museum inspires culture in its content. From its opening in 1868, it has accumulated a collection of more than one million seven hundred thousand artifacts of culture, nature and science. There, the visit starts with a video. Then follows an exhibit of a war canoe, a large exposition of local green stone known as “mere pounamu”, all types of delicate and refined wood carvings among writings such as “women: the thread to continuity”. Finally, in the Animal Attic gallery visitors are charmed by the marvelous world of wild life and stumble upon animal exhibits mounted after 19th and 20th centuries models.
On the other hand, Dunedin’s expanse provides for a great variety of climatic environs beneficial to all types of plants from the world over in public and private gardens to delight horticulturists. So much so that they have started an association whose main purpose is to maintain a successful plan for garden visitation and increase their availability to visitors the whole year round. Naturally, to tour local botanical gardens, both in New Zealand and in Australia, has nowadays reached a level as sacred as to visit cathedrals in Europe. Thus, Roger and his companions strolled slowly through Dunedin’s Botanical Gardens. They found in them, other than plants and flowers, a big aviary where birds natural to the local surroundings are bred.
The panoramic tour of the city took the passengers to the Olveston House built in Jacobean style at the beginning of the 20th century. With its thirty-five rooms filled with luxury items, the solid double-layer brick structure and stone and coarse sand façade represents the elegant life style that the rich and comfortable led in New Zealand at the dawn of the last century. In that grandiose mansion collections of Eastern Asian decorative art and the Olveston family’s history are fully displayed. Also shown there, in a glass garage, is a very old restored car, naturally now out of use.
Early Maori history of Dunedin was particularly bloody between three rival tribes that occupied the Otago Peninsula at the beginning of the 19th century. Later on, after the fishing of seals and whales started in their coasts, illness devastated and ruined the Maori population, so that the village Otakau Pa, considerably inhabited in earlier times, could only count about one hundred people by 1848.
It was in that same year 1848 that the first European colonists settled in and around Dunedin. A few years later, a shining and seductive metal, the “powerful knight” Mr. “gold”, was discovered in Otago. It soon transformed the region into the richest and most influential province in the colony. In 1879, Dunedin metamorphosed into the first city outside of the United States to put a tramway system into use. It continued to be active until 1957.
With its magnificent beaches and placid lakes and luxuriant vegetation in plains and mountains, with its driving and supported wild life and above all its animated, well-attended and renowned university, Dunedin could become for Roger a very pleasant and appealing city where to live.THE SOUNDS
Dunedin represented the last New Zealand’s city through which the cruise ship passed. Before entering international waters on her way to Hobart in Tasmania, Australia, Legend of the Seas had to cautiously navigate the Sounds, straits or shallow sea-arms supposedly isolated from sound. Such types of inlets that penetrate the coast as do the Spanish “rías gallegas” or Scandinavian fjords sketch a majestic beauty of plunging cliffs and stunning water falls.
This area of New Zealand bears the name of Sounds, a world treasure of geological wonders. It seems that in that corner of the earth the massive forces of the sea, combined with the vigorous activity of the Ice Era have succeeded to sculpture the most impressive and spell-bound fjords ever seen.
The liner sailed for the Sounds late Friday March 8 to navigate through an astonishing spectacular scene of natural landscapes. Of the fifteen Sounds they only could contemplate the Dusky, the Doubtful and the Milford Sounds. The latter carries the name of the agricultural region that surrounds it and exhibits one of the most naturally scenic unharmed decorative arrangements in the world.
The passage through Dusky Sound, so named by Scottish explorer Captain Cook who discovered it one very dark evening in 1770, took place from eight to ten o’clock in the morning. Legend of the Seas gently slipped away between islands and hills covered with trees and white clouds that seemed to fall back on her. Soft drizzle was falling amid the mist. One of the islands passed had the New York name of “Long Island” and another that of Resolution Island. It was hazy, windy and drizzling, typical of the region the Captain informed passengers who could watch some dolphins in those waters covered with mist.
Moments later, after leaving behind several islands on the horizon, they entered a strait that reminded Roger of the spectacular setting of Alaska’s Interior Passage with its deep fjords and waterfalls described in Odyssey Resumed. Blended into those fluttering shrouds mysterious sounds could be heard that somehow enliven the delightful ambiance. Roger went up to the last deck to behold the incredible beauty of those Sounds and imbue himself of the loveliness and intrinsic joy of Nature unhurt.
After two hours of admiring Nature and one hour of rest the liner entered, at about eleven o’clock in the morning, the second of the Sounds, the Doubtful Sound, quiet and in serene waters. Still part of that magnificent natural spout of fjords and still covered with mist, Doubtful Sound is less impressive than Dusky Sound for in two and a half-hours of its crossing, only fewer islands, lower hills and fewer and less impressive waterfalls could be found. Had there not been other Sounds to compare it with, Doubtful Sound, also named by Captain Cook in 1770, would have been by itself a wonder to behold.
Of the three Sounds, the most imposing, astonishing and spectacular is, without doubt, Milford Sound. Somewhat overpowered by Mitre Peak that rises steep from the deep waters of the fjord as a wall that contains the waters of a natural canal, magnificent waterfalls cascade down into the Sound. The most spellbound of all is Bowen cascade that creates the most portentous palettes on the face of the earth, including the ones in Alaska, which were described in Odyssey Resumed. 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 encircle human beings.
They entered Milford Sound at three thirty in the afternoon. It is said that it is the rainiest place in the world. Naturally, the day the cruiser navigated its waters it did rain copiously. Still somewhat darkened by swirling misty rain, spectacular scenic views took form on both sides of the Sound. They represented for Roger the most stunningly beautiful that he had contemplated in all the cruises he had taken until then.
In that spectacular geological formation along the coast of the fjords Roger found convincing validation of an anonymous author’s observation that “To look, really look out upon the world as it is framed in the window of a moving vehicle is to become a child again.” He was doubtless thinking about his dreaming youth in Los Barrios de Salas and Fuentesnuevas as well as the excursions to the “rías gallegas” when he was a student with the Marists in Túy some decades earlier… He was indeed in his glory.
Roger took the elevator to return to the more real world of his cabin. On each deck the elevator would empty a bit more, until only a Chinese passenger, an Italian and he remained. Surprisingly, the elevator suddenly stopped. After they were rescued, the Chinese fellow got out unbridled as if practicing for the 2008 Beijing Olympiads… For his part, the Italian passenger who spoke no English and had suffered the same experience on another occasion shot out running without bearings. It is doubtful that he will ever enter an elevator again… Roger found those goings on somewhat amusing for he was the one that made the phone call and heard the consoling voice of the mechanic who seemed to know what he had to do to rescue them.HOBART, AUSTRALIA
It took two days to cross the Tasmanian Sea and reach Hobart. En route, Australian civil authorities boarded the ship and all passengers had to present passport and visa required for them to be able to disembark in Australian territory. As it turned out it did not amount to a very demanding imposition for they were at high sea and had at their disposal the whole day to accommodate the above mentioned authorities.
Legend of the Seas finally cast anchor at Hobart, capital of Tasmania, that many consider the most photogenic city in the world, and at the same time Australia’s smallest island and state. As the liner approached the city early in the morning of Tuesday, March 12, a beautifully illuminated port, including a modern bridge built in 1965, greeted the passengers. Everything heralded an attractive and wonderful city, such as it turned out to be.
Nested in one of the world’s most showy natural inlet, Hobart is a modern city settled as a town in 1803 with a population of two hundred and sixty-two inhabitants of whom one hundred and seventy-eight were convicts. By 1882 it had already increased to more than forty-eight thousand souls. Today, more than one hundred and seventy thousand people live there and a seven thousand-student university educates its population at superior levels. Thus, Hobart combines the benefits of a modern city and a rich heritage of an interesting colonial past. Additionally, it projects a peaceful, serene, tranquil, relaxed and rich personality both in character and behavior. Known in New Zealand as “the jewel of the South” it spreads through delightful hills that shelter its port and can boast of incredible pristine wild life and white beaches of crystalline waters. To walk through the streets of that elegant and pleasant city is to feel “the power of the sea and the passing of time”.
The excursion that the Fernández couple and Amante chose took place very early in the morning and, in spite of the fact that summer had just ended, it was quite cold, due no doubt to its geographical position as the gate to the Antarctic. Several passengers were not wearing adequate clothing for the tour. Some, among them Roger, were wearing shorts, which brought some discomfort the first hours of the outing.
Immediately after disembarking, they journeyed by bus through a row of attention-catching sandy shops in Salamanca Place, a town center that represents examples of Australian colonial architecture that goes back to the years of whale fishing in the 1830’s decade. Then, Salamanca Place was Hobart’s commercial center. It also is today, but those stores have become savory galleries, restaurants, markets and stores of all kinds. It bears noticing that a spacious park, where the locals gather to celebrate, decorates and embellishes Salamanca Place. On Christmas Eve, for instance, the park gets crowded with citizens carrying lit candles to sing Christmas carols. Salamanca Place is the most popular center visited in Hobart. It has a plaza, very different from the “Plaza de Salamanca” in Spain, but it displays many bars, stores and hotels just like the one of the Spanish City with the same name.
The name Salamanca in a place so alien to the Spanish colonists awakened Roger’s curiosity. He asked the bus driver about the origin of that name. Like everyone else to whom he had asked that question the driver gave him an answer he already knew: that “it is the name of a city in Spain”. Nobody could offer him a logical explanation of the “why” of that name in a place so remote from Spanish influence. Someone suggested to him to go to the Tourism Office. He did just that in the afternoon. Nobody there knew the answer but they suggested that he should go to the Museum. Finally at the Museum, a gentleman said: “This is a question that comes up every four or five years. No one knows the exact origin. We know, however, that it is due to a treaty signed in Salamanca, Spain, by French, Spanish and English troops led by Duke Wellington”. Now Roger understood. It was a reference to the Arapiles battle of 1812 at the outskirts of Salamanca. Roger had meals at an Arapiles restaurant from where he could see the high land where the battle took place. On the other hand, Wellington was a very well known figure in that part of the world. In fact, Wellington is still today the capital of New Zealand. His Arapiles victory is one of his best known feats in history. But who knows the Arapiles name, even in Spain? Salamanca, however, is renowned throughout the entire world. Roger entered the Museum and after completing his visit, he handed a small paper with that information to the gentleman that had talked to him.
One of the destinations of the morning excursion was a mountain known precisely by the name Mount Wellington, thirteen miles from Salamanca Place and five thousand one hundred and fifty feet high. The contrast in temperature between the center of Hobart and the mountain is stunning: from ten to twelve degrees lower in the mountain than in the city. That day, the passengers who wore shorts really felt the difference…
The lower part of Mount Wellington slopes is covered with thirty-two varieties of eucalyptus trees and exhibits dense and sappy vegetation. When approaching the peak, the landscape was rocky, a rock that appears volcanic though it cannot be so for, according to the driver-guide, Tasmania has never registered any volcanic activity. Besides he asserted with authority that there was “a huge rock-slide in 1965 and that is what tourists observe today.”
At the top of the mountain proudly shoots up the Communication Tower. All the structures of the environs are built of local rock. It was almost unbearably cold and clouds came and disappeared rapidly, producing, at intervals, moments of clarity. From that elevated vantage position visitors could appreciate the exceptionally picturesque landscape of the city of Hobart and its surroundings: an irregular coast of bays, inlets and peninsulas. From there, the lands beyond the River Derwent estuary reminded Roger of precious pastoral corners of his beloved Bierzo. Driving down the mountain, when the sun was shining, the leaves of the trees glittered with drops of the drizzling water that had just fallen, thus creating a delightful rural picture.
During the ascent and descent, the driver spoke with enthusiasm about Tasmania and its capital Hobart. The entire island is estimated to measure one hundred and seventy-eight miles north to south and one hundred and eighty miles east to west. According to him, they had just had a relatively humid summer. Tourism is its main industry, but Tasmania has other important types of trade of fruits, especially apples, and lumbering. At some point, the apple industry was superior to any other, but it started losing importance when a few years ago the livestock industry was developed.
Life in Tasmania wraps visitors in a mystic aura, an ascetic and contemplative magnetism. That island of exotic white beaches and turquoise waters offers, besides, an extraordinary well-preserved pristine animal wild life. The Tasmanian devil, for instance, is a feared and dangerous carnivore that prefers clear and thin bushes and wood areas to live in. Another very interesting animal is the wombat that resembles the pig. It feeds almost exclusively on grass and leaves its burrow between two lights. On the other hand the fox has appeared on the scene the last few years and there are ten to fifteen of them in existence. The government wants to rid of those voracious animals that someone brought to the island not long ago and spends millions of dollars towards that end.
Unemployment is quite high in Hobart. They have a good university. However, upon graduation, the great majority leaves to work in the mainland, but they always return to Hobart… Transportation to the continent is expensive either by air or by sea. Nowadays, there exists a daily service to Melbourne that is trying to improve. Salaries amount to little more than half of those in the mainland: from 450 to 500 Australian dollars in Hobart and from 800 to 900 dollars in the continent.
On their return from Mount Wellington to the city, sightseers observed buildings and houses constructed of attractive red bricks that were manufactured by convicts. It represents a testimony to the prisoners brought from England to be jailed in Port Arthur, the famous prison that constitutes one of the most fascinating tourist attractions of the region. The structures of the center of town were built intentionally low to minimize noise in the streets. Of those, the state has classified sixty-five as “heritage”. While the houses found at the descent of Mount Wellington are priced at 69,000 to 90,000 Australian dollars, in other more exclusive sections of the city, the cost can go as high as 250,000 to 300,000 Australian dollars. Those are certainly low prices if one considers that the Australian dollar is half the value of the American dollar.
The Botanical Royal Gardens of Tasmania cover an extensive area. They are attractive and relaxing and appear very well kept. Established in 1818, they harbor more than six thousand exotic plants natural to the region. They constitute the most appropriate place for visitors to imbue themselves of the exquisite floral beauty and fascinating world of the plants. One of the most attractive structures of the gardens is the Conservatory, constructed in 1939 with the refined sandy remnants from the partial destruction of the Hobart City Hospital. It contains an amazing exhibit of annual plants, bulbs and ferns. It was a relaxing and pleasant visit.
The morning excursion was about to end. Excursionists were scheduled to still see some exclusive and scenic sections of the city. For that, they had to cross the famous modern bridge that they admired at dawn from the ship. That attention-catching bridge, built in 1965, experienced a tragedy ten years after its construction. As the story goes, a boat lies nowadays under the water after a terrible accident that occurred when the captain of a freighter tried to negotiate passage between two columns. In the process, he demolished a section of the bridge and sunk the boat. The locals tell the story that the captain had too much to drink and could not distinguish well the two columns. The bridge was rebuilt, but an irregularity of distance can be observed between the two newer columns, and the freighter still remains under water.
In the afternoon, Roger walked the streets of that unforgettable city. He noticed that drivers in Australia seem somewhat more aggressive than in New Zealand. During the walking tour through Hobart he went, as previously noted, to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery where he could appreciate, calmly and at ease, the fascinating cultural and natural world which the museum’s collections show visitors, something truly singular and curious. The sections that most intrigued him were those dedicated to the life of the aborigines, wild life and the convicts. He found those three sections extremely interesting and informative. The inhabitants of Tasmania built artifacts from wood, bone, stone, seaweed, bark from trees, grass and tendon. Women made baskets from rush reeds. They softened it, passing it through fire and then twisted to make strings and cords.
Walking through Hobart streets Roger thought of doing something he had not done in New Zealand. Remembering that his son Chad had been in Sydney hardly three weeks earlier, he entered a book and magazine store. He started browsing through skateboarding magazines and found two of them with photos of Chad Fernández doing his athletic things with the skateboard. The proud father bought two magazines and told employees “This is my son”. Surprised, they smiled and pointed to the resemblance. As for himself, Roger wondered secretly: “who would have said that some day I would find pictures of my son in Tasmania…!” If he felt some weak spot in his heart for the charming city, now he found another compelling reason to feel that way. So as not to repeat the story, it bears reminding here that he also bought magazines with Chad’s picture in Melbourne and Sydney where he spoke with youngsters who were practicing skateboarding through the streets and city parks. They all smiled confirming that they did indeed hear of Chad and marveled at the fact that they were seeing his father.MELBOURNE
The day they spent on the high sea going to Melbourne, cooks on the ship prepared kangaroo barbecued meat and crocodile stew for those who wanted to indulge in such food. With that detail in mind, Roger realized that with his cruise to New Zealand and Australia he had been in all the continents of the world. He thought of celebrating the event “consuming” kangaroo and crocodile meat… He could only have a “taste” of each, for he somehow found them quite loathsome. As he sampled a small piece of kangaroo meat he thought he savored elastic liver (perhaps that is why kangaroos jump so much… he thought to himself), and crocodile meat tasted like rabbit, chicken and fish all at once. Some of his friends told him they would have celebrated with candy or appropriate beverages, but certainly with something more usual… Naturally, his celebration did not last long and he is not going to shed any tears, not even crocodile ones, depriving himself from such meats in the future. Roger complained: “Oh, my delicious “botillo” that I cannot find you anywhere here…!”
They anchored in Melbourne, Australia’s “maritime” and “artistic” capital, early at six o’clock in the morning between glittering and radiant lights. That vibrant metropolis attracts people from all parts of the world. For Roger that represented the realization of one of his dreams ever since he taught at St. Henry’s College in Durban, South Africa, with a Marist Brother from Melbourne. It is a cosmopolitan city of one hundred and forty nationalities. Curiously, there are more Greeks in Melbourne than in any other city in the world outside of Athens.
Supposedly founded in 1830 by two gentlemen from Tasmania, John Batman and John Pascoe Faukner, Melbourne has been, from its beginning, a very active port due mainly to the Gold Rush in 1850, similar to the California Gold Rush of the same period. It was founded initially to profit from the natural abundance that enriched those environs: great supply of fresh water, a sheltered, secured and protected enclave in Port Philip Bay and an adequately steady climate for the cultivation of grain fields, fruits, vegetables and the raising of livestock.
At the middle of the 19th century, Melbourne excelled as a city completely settled and greatly enriched by mining. In 1865, England was already taking away seventy percent of the gold retrieved by the wealthy colony. For their part, the first colonists soon settled their roots in the growing big city and constructed public and private buildings thus mirroring the great prosperity that their efforts had accrued. Even today can tourists observe relatively preserved old structures, thanks to public interest, National Trust vigilance and unconditional government support. Stable, reserved and traditional city where supposedly “one cannot get lost nor be geographically ashamed”, Melbourne is one of the communities most inclined to preserve buildings and properties as “heritage”. Towards the years of 1890 there were about one hundred hotels, markets and businesses in the port surroundings. They still exist nowadays. Nevertheless, the majority of the buildings along the waterfront, initially used as stores, were transformed years later into apartments, valued more that seven hundred thousand Australian dollars at the present time.
The wealth of some colonists was so great that they decided to build huge mansions and haciendas to imitate the rich Englishmen of the period. That was done in New Zealand as well. The reader can well remember Riccarton House in Christchurch and Olveston House in Dunedin. In Melbourne there are several similar cases, among them Rippon Lea. That mansion, constructed in decorative, embellished, showy and somewhat ostentatious style, is surrounded by magnificent gardens and is today shown to the public as a museum.
As they rode away from the port they passed by the Casino, the biggest in Australia. A game in the Casino is considered, says the driver-guide, a “gentleman’s game”. There, losers get back half the amount of money they lose, so that they turn around to lose the returned money and then some…
The panoramic tour of the city evoked for Roger remembrances of San Francisco when he noticed the public service heavy tramways traffic. With their houses decorated with iron reeds, certain areas of the metropolis remind sightseers of the elegance of New Orleans. To compare even more the life of Melbourne past to that of the United States West, the driver-guide related the story that during the 1880’s, years of daring and temerity in that capital of the state of Victoria, they hung a famous man whom some people considered a hero. He used to rob banks but would first destroy the archives. As the legend goes, at the end of the trial when the judge asked him if he had something to say to minimize the negative impact on his admirers, he answered “Such is life”. The driver mentioned the name of renowned Ned Kelly whose “Death Mask” and “grotesque armor” can be seen today at the Old Melbourne Gaol that was the scene of one hundred and thirty-five hangings. Now, it only functions as a penal museum.
Most passengers love famous markets. Queen Victoria Market is a shoppers’ paradise. It has conducted business at the same place since 1870 and at the present it continues as busy as ever. It has one thousand bond sheds where everything is sold. On Sundays it transforms into a kind of flea market of “rastro” style in Madrid, Spain, or Florence in Italy.
Melbourne University instructs and educates over thirty thousand students from Australia and from all of Asia. It is located in front of Melbourne General Hospital and coordinates its activities with that health facility to develop new techniques in the field of medicine. As of today, the Heritage Foundation protects the main university building for its fascinating architectural style.
The Melbourne Museum opened in the year 2000 and is considered the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. It was set up to show the world the city of its name and the state of Victoria as well. Nested in Carlton Gardens, it contains priceless collections of sixteen million artifacts, among them the “powerful” racing horse Phar Lap. In that museum visitors can relax walking through a “living Forest Gallery”, explore state of Victoria history and better know local aboriginal communities.
Tourists cannot help but notice in wonderment some of the 19th century Melbourne buildings, among them St. Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral. Built in Gothic style, the elegant blue stone sacred structure erected in 1863 strikes at visitors as a refined and graceful stunning example of revived Gothic architecture. Simply admirable! Roger was surprised, even shocked to find that late Gothic example so far away from Europe. However, what amazed him most were the needle style main spire and other turrets. He had never seen a Catholic cathedral built with such an exterior style which he recalls, perhaps erroneously, having only observed in Anglican churches.
Another structure worthy of tourists’ attention is the Parliament House, perhaps the most impressive building in Melbourne. Built in 1865, it functioned as the national parliament from 1901 to 1927 when the capital was transferred from Melbourne to Canberra. Most meritorious of visitors’ pause and consideration is the Corinthian style Council Chamber.
Melbourne shines with numerous gardens with flowers that fully blossom till the month of March. In one of those gardens, sightseers can appreciate with wonderment a beautified floral clock. Besides the “glorious”, inspirational and instructive Botanical Gardens established in 1845, that flowery city can also boast of other majestic and stimulating parks and gardens, among them the renowned and frequently visited Fitzroy and Treasure Gardens, Domain Gardens and Flagstaff Gardens.
So many trees, so many flowers and so much greenery everywhere have convinced Roger that Melbourne can really be one city worthy of the perennial epithet, it recently received for four years, as the city “most deserving of life in the world”. He recalls having pronounced enthusiastically not a silent “Lord, let it be so”, but a sonorous “Lord, it is so”. That is a city beautiful in its appearance, relaxing in its movement and stimulating in its ensemble. For that reason, Roger bids his warmest farewell to Melbourne in this unusual, but in this case appropriate way:
Before I saw 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 spell for which I sometimes cry.
Vibrant, moving and exciting metropolis, Australia’s financial center and cultural heart, “Southern Hemisphere’s shiniest star”: that, dear reader, is the celebrated city of Sidney. It has further been said that to reach it sliding the waters of its spell bound port represents “one the world’s great maritime moments”. Roger definitely agrees for he considers its bay as the most scenic, pleasing and breath-taking he has ever contemplated. He even suggests that those who reach Sydney by other means than boat should strive and persist in getting to Circular Quay, get on one of the numerous excursion ferries that frequently sail to navigate its inlets. It is a sensual visual experience incredibly pleasant and sensational, which one cannot forgo without having to lament later.
After the Legend of the Seas’ mindfully slow entry into the port, the liner proceeded to slide softly through its serene blue waters in a majestic triumphal march to her berth under a sunny azure sky and a delightful, caressing ocean breeze. Her more than two thousand passengers kept beholding with awe and pains-taking photographing that exceptional panorama where human labor joins nature to show real spectacular beauty. They spotted unharmed islets of green and luxurious bushes, sandy sea arms, attractive suburban ports with their pleasant beaches, numerous boats of all types and sizes, the city’s distinct silhouette with its magnificent tower and world-famed historic structures such as the stunning landmark Opera House and the Bridge. All in all, a cluster of landscapes, sights and panoramas that leave passengers breathless whose remembrance will remain indelible forever.
It bears reminding here that it is indeed its benign and generous temperate climate that facilitates that mythical natural configuration. That lovely metropolis can boast of an annual average of three hundred and forty-two sunny days and forty-seven inches of precipitation, the rainiest months being April, May and June. Once in the city, tourists cannot help but being pleased with the placid and affable blue waters of the islets that surround it and the green parks and gardens that embellish it. On those cosmic environs juts out the modern city, Sydney, as a symphony of architectural designs and natural beauty, admired, caressed and exalted by more than four million souls of two hundred different nationalities that inhabit it and millions of tourists from all over the world that annually visit it.
Sydney proudly takes advantage of that wonderful landscape and justifiably boasts of its successful role as the host for the 2000 Olympic games. Nonetheless, a glance at its initial days as an English colony reveals perhaps a fanciful history in its development as a whole, but extraneous and outlandish on occasions. Having been inhabited by aborigines thousands of years earlier, it was only on January 26, 1788 when one thousand four hundred people arrived from England and settled in the colony. The majority of them were soldiers or convicts from the overcrowded English jails. From then on, English convicts continued to arrive there until 1842 when it was officially declared a city. It was so named after Thomas Townsend, first Viceroy Sydney who was Secretary of British Colonies.
During its short history from that important date onward, Sydney was transformed from an “austere penal colony” to a world-renowned modern city. The first colonists settled in a section known as The Rocks. In times of prosperity, dozens of elegant and attractive structures were built there, which at present nest among modern buildings that delight curious visitors. Through its historic streets tourists can walk and become acquainted with numerous stores, restaurants, museums and galleries. It is an ideal place for tourists to buy souvenirs and more souvenirs.
At one side of The Rocks, sightseers can find the Harbor Bridge under which navigate large and small boats, among them of course, Legend of the Seas. Distinctive landmark of Sydney and called The Coathanger for its shape, it was constructed in 1932 with a 1650 feet span. Visitors who venture to reach Pylon Lookout at its peak must climb two hundred steps. But what awaits sightseers that make their way to the top is a breath-taking view of the harbor and its numerous scenic environs.
Next to The Rocks is located the Circular Quay already mentioned. From there sail all kinds of ferryboats for any place in the harbor. It is a very lively, pleasant, popular and busy center. Ideal location to stroll and enjoy the relaxing ambiance of the city, Roger compares it, in fame, attraction and convivial living, to Plaza Mayor of Salamanca in Spain or Ponte Vecchio of Florence in Italy, both of them described in Odyssey to Opportunity. That is a promenade particularly pleasant and delightful in the morning before the sun gets hot.
Towards Circular Quay’s extreme end shines the internationally and really exquisite and impressive Opera House, one of the most renowned and active artistic centers in the world. In addition, with its “vaulted roof shells” that rise like “billowing sails against the harbor backdrop”, it is considered one of the architectural wonders of the modern world. Designed by a Danish architect, Joernl Utzo, its construction lasted twentyone years, from 1952 to 1973. According to the guide, who lacked the humor to entertain instructing and the words to instruct entertaining, that imposing structure is used eight months for opera and three months for ballet dancing. Its statistics sound stunning and incredible: more than 900 rooms of different sizes and functions, 5 theater and concert halls, one with 1500 seats and another with 2700, a 10,000-pipe organ and the roof covered with more than one million ceramic tiles from Sweden. There are no adequate words to describe that building, unique in its construction style and performance worthiness.
Unfortunately, Roger and his companions did not have enough time to visit more places of tourists’ interest, such as the Royal Botanical Gardens, various museums and the one thousand feet high Sydney Tower. Visitors can also engage in several sport and entertainment activities. All that requires time and time was precisely what they did not have. They had to return to the liner to spend the last night aboard Legend of the Seas to disembark next day and take the plane to Los Angeles.And so, dear reader, Roger bids farewell to the beautiful country of Australia by relaying to the Aussies in colorful Strine (Australian slang): in Australia, “She’s apples” (everything is all right). EPILOGUE I decided to embody this epilogue here for several reasons, whose raison d’être does not fit in the main text of Odyssey Fulfilled.
In the first place, I want to share with readers that my most recent cruise through the coastal cities of New Zealand and Australia ends my autobiographical trilogy. It does not signify the end of my career as a writer and much less my glowing red dynamism as world traveler. God willing, I intend to dedicate more time to both activities. Nevertheless, this epilogue signals the beginning of a new style: I will no longer use the third person, unless required by the context, to relate my experiences and manifest my feelings.
Furthermore, I would like to put the finishing touches to something that I intentionally left incomplete until now. In the third chapter of this book I introduced my friend Romualdo Arias Blanco. “Romualdo” had already appeared in the first book of my trilogy, albeit in a different role that in fact was not his, but that of another student whose name I could not remember at the time of the writing. Readers of Odyssey to Opportunity will recall now that “Romualdo”. That was in fact the name of the young man that channeled Roger to his studies in Grugliasco, Italy, though he was denied the opportunity to fulfill that same dream, which he also shared.
It is now possible and necessary to clarify that real detail in my life. The true name of the student in question was Ampudias. In reality, Romualdo Arias Blanco was one of the other three young men that accompanied me with Brother Urbano to study in Italy in 1948. Approximately one year later he went back to Spain and we lost total contact with each other. We only crossed paths in Fuentesnuevas in 1997, two years after Odyssey to Opportunity was published. As for myself, I wanted to include him and remember him in my autobiography but I was not able to find out whether or not he would be pleased to see this small detail of his life in print. Confronted with the impossibility of finding out his state of mind in that regard I decided to assign to him, with his first name only, the role that in reality another young man had played in mine.
Finally, I would like to finish my Odyssey as I commenced it. For that, I thought it necessary to return to my “Patria chica”, El Bierzo, for Salas de los Barrios is the cradle of my existence and the font of my baptism. It was there that I took life’s first steps and it was there, too, that I experienced the dawn of my spiritual life and my study drive.
In truth, another fine village of that privileged region, Fuentesnuevas, delicately and carefully sculptured the baptismal font of my dreaming and traveling spirit. There, too, saw the dawn of day the Odyssey that my autobiography narrates in its totality. For this reason I consider it appropriate to conclude my recorded life, reproducing here once more my poem THE PEAR TREES FOUNTAIN for that fountain, nowadays already restored, represents for me the symbol of friendship, tenacity and dignity. I trust, dear readers, that you will enjoy reading it one more time:
THE PEAR TREES FOUNTAIN
Fountain of the Pear Trees,
Spring of memories that last,
In your environs is heard the song
Of a noble town the throbbing heart. How soft and docile your water crystalline Reflects the joy and unity from times of old. Your solitude intones a very refined melody: To Fuentesnuevas friendship returns to last. Mothers and sisters near you have their laundry done. To freshen up gleeful plowmen always came to you. Boys and girls to you have happily rushed to drink. Running on your grounds they also had great fun. Sanctuary of eternal silence in isolation,
Your tidy flow entices dry lips to sprinkle there. Your moist stones, vigor and majesty do infer, Reward those who come to quench an anxious spell. How fortunate, oh thirsty travelers
Who by this mythical fountain are yet to pass, If dry your lips descend its opulent gush to flavor, A worthy recall of dignity, you certainly will taste. THE END