©2000 Roger R. Fernández
Chapter 1.AN AUTHOR IS ENCOURAGED
Odyssey to Opportunity presented
A guerrilla leader controversy
Publicity of Odyssey to Opportunity
Chapter 2.DEEP-ROOTED NOSTALGIA
Nostalgic trip to El Bierzo
Sister’s visit to California
Los Angeles educators visit Oviedo, Spain
Chapter 3.NEW HORIZONS…NEW ASPIRATIONS
XXIVth “Festival del Botillo”
Author’s new bearing
A professor’s melancholia…
Chapter 4.ISLES OF ENCHANTMENT (the Philippines)
Pinatubo (the Philippines Vesuvius) and “Lahar”
Cebu (cradle of Christianity in Asia)
Author’s patriotic feelings
Chapter 5. CHINA
Overview of Chinese society
Beijing (today’s capital)
Anyang (1st capital of China for 3000 years)
Luo Yang; Xian
Chapter 6.ALASKAN AND CANADIAN COAST: crucible of natural sublimity Juneau
Chapter 7.LYRICAL IDYLL: author’s poems
“TO FUENTESNUEVAS”: a hymn to the flavor of living
“TO THE BIERZO”: magical roving companion
“A SONG TO FUENTESNUEVAS”
“¡FUENTESNUEVAS!”: …I feel you and …I’m homesick for you
“MONA LISA OF SUFFERING”
“…AND HE WAS NO MORE THAN A FARMER…”
“ON THE 44TH ANNIVERSARY…
OF MY 21ST BIRTHDAY…
“A HYMN TO FREEDOM”
“A CLOSING SONG”
This book is dedicated to my wife Lucille whose unconditional love and support has made this publication possible: I dedicate to you this book with passion and delight.
Joyously do I intone in verse, and in soft notes do I sing,
Of our happy love, the rich and intense story:
In loving you, Lucille, I truly found my glory.
It has fallen upon me to lay open the beginning of a writing that is nothing less than the second echelon, and pray to God it will not be the last, of the exciting story of its author’s fascinating life. In this effort, I want to be brief, and that… frankly, is always difficult when one knows the soul of the artisan of that impressive account.
Dear reader: no matter how down to earth you may consider yourself, when you read this book, Odyssey Resumed, you will feel, perhaps, like me: a stylized keel of a ship that cuts the waves of the sea of life. Upon it, lies the towering figure of an agile and swift brigantine mariner that slips away. Its bearing is the command of the steady, firm and self-willed hand of an intrepid, but opportune, traveler named Roger. Its sails will be blown by the courage of his brave heart, and its sailing, unshakable and secure, will follow the right course of a soul that firmly believes in God and trusts in men and their destiny. Its rudder will be ready to elude dangerous reefs, but will not hesitate, even for an instant, to change direction with a stroke of the helm, to show that in life as in the sea, “no one!”, and the echo of the ocean will repeat “no one!!”, can plot against man and his freedom.
Upon reading this book slowly, and knowing the author, I have felt like a ship boy who, stationed at the anchor beam, waits in anticipation, with anxiety and interest, to see what lies ahead when going beyond the horizon. Absorbed in thought with the captain’s tales, he longs to find in the mysterious destination a new adventure to experience… And this is what will take place in each of the chapters of this work.
Perhaps you will, dear reader, entertain the same feelings when reading this book, especially if you have read Odyssey to Opportunity, its predecessor. In its content you will find the appealing and simple message of a man who, separated from his beautiful homeland El Bierzo, Spain, assimilated to a great nation, the United States of America, has become fulfilled, excelling, suffering, rejoicing. In a word, growing as a man and thanking God for giving him the opportunity to know and live a life difficult to repeat, with many marvelous sensations and a unique experience.
When you analyze the account in Odyssey Resumed, you will observe that each step of his life is a constant encounter with man, God and culture, a continuous feeling as a human being who fights against adversity and the selfishness of the environment.
You will admire the fortitude of an indomitable spirit who had to defy very hard trials. The narration, however, sweetens them in such a way that, upon reading them, you fancy being in a classroom where a veteran professor narrates the facts, teaching you a beautiful and sublime lesson and imbuing you with a sense of supreme tranquillity.
In the book, he will describe the landscape, the people, the environment, the society and the economy of the places visited with impressive precision and realism. He will depict each panoramic view with harmony and beauty, adding to it a rhythm and a rhyme, becoming of an orchestra director and a poet in love.
But wait! He writes about the people, about their freedom, their standard of living, their social welfare and their human evolution. It is then, and only then, that he opens his missionary soul, his profound faith in God, his internal desire to improve the environment in order to make people happy, thus showing his vocation as an educator. Then you will see in Roger R. Fernández an exceptional “berciano” (a person from the Bierzo), human and charitable. He is in love with the world and mankind, fights for his future and tries hard to reach that equality that for some remains utopian, but which for him is the motor and the essence of life itself.
You will know a man in love, capable of composing the most sublime song dedicated to his mother, the most marvelous verses extolling his native land, the most affectionate poem in honor of his father, and that tremendously human ode exalting his village, its people and its surroundings.
At the end, you will be able to admire a delicate poem dedicated to his wife, his “Filipino Pearl”. It is precisely there where you will comprehend the profound feeling of a man whose stunning capacity to love has neither limit nor boundary. You will detect his strength, powerful and soft at once, that blows in a constant and sweet fashion, caressing as the warm wind of the West.
Allow me, dear reader, to conclude this foreword with some marine verses with which Alberto Vázquez Figueroa ends his book acclaiming León Bocanegra. He finishes with a love song that his lover dedicates to the protagonist. I believe that is sufficiently expressive, and it goes thus:
Time is to love
What the sail is to the wind.
If it blows softly it will make it go far.
If it blows abruptly it will end up breaking it.
Héctor Blanco Terán
Bembibre, Spain 1999
AN AUTHOR IS ENCOURAGED
February 6, 1997. On this day, the book Odyssey to Opportunity was introduced to El Bierzo, in the House of Culture of Ponferrada, capital of the region. Unfortunately, that same day, the two teams with the most heated rivalry in the Spanish Football League (Real Madrid and Barça of Barcelona) were contending for the King’s Cup. Naturally, that reduced considerably attendance at the presentation. The press left after a half-hour initial interview with the author, but amply published and broadcast the event, including pictures of the author addressing the audience in their report.
Roger had already made a presentation of his autobiography in an environment rather cordial and informal, to a great number of friends and acquaintances in Los Barrios and in Fuentesnuevas. Radio Onda Bierzo extensively broadcast the latter throughout the weekend. Roger takes this opportunity to express wholehearted thanks to “Margó” who organized, in one day, the friendly event in Los Barrios, and Mary Crespo and Emilia Martínez, president and member, respectively of the Cultural Association Charanga Queimada, who carried out the elaborate but similarly amicable get-together in Fuentesnuevas.
In spite of the success of these two occasions, it was only on February 6, in the House of Culture in Ponferrada that the author, encouraged by Councilman of Culture Manuel Rodríguez, decided to write a sequel to his book. This was not the first time, however, that Roger was asked to continue writing his autobiography. Several months earlier, Héctor Blanco Terán, a poet from Bembibre and author of this work’s foreword, had already urged him not to allow his “odyssey” to finish there and to share it with his readers. “Do not let your odyssey end there and do not let it be only yours”, he wrote to Roger on April 6, 1996.“Odyssey to Opportunity” presented
Héctor Blanco Terán was the Master of Ceremonies at the presentation of the book in the House of Culture of Ponferrada. He advised the audience that it became difficult to introduce the work in question “for one can fall into the temptation to comment on it and describe it without wishing it, for its theme, fresh and human, invites one to relate its content. In it, the author shows a firm will, developed during a long life, and guaranteed by a morally and intellectually profound knowledge and, of course, a firm and powerful desire to take honestly the best out of life”. And Héctor continued: “The charming simplicity of its sincere and human narrative makes of his work a second opportunity, so that the reader may assume life as something beautiful”. He concluded his personal participation with a short poem that he himself described as “simple”:
The book shows in its inside
Of the author the soul,
With will, with ardor,
With vocation, with calm…
There is a feeling and illusion
Which strong principles guarantee,
A sensitive heart
Clean mind without prejudices.
The problems of life,
Instead of an adversity,
For him become a joy
They are an opportunity.
=Read the book for yourselves,
Take joy in its intimacy.
In the presentation of the book, Roger explained to the audience the genesis of his autobiography. According to him, at the beginning of the 1940’s, his family did not look with pleasure to the new winds of change, but he had to live such transformation with memory and with hope. Thus, when his family moved from Los Barrios de Salas to Fuentesnuevas, he started his odyssey to opportunity, which concretized its continuity when he took the train in Ponferrada to study with the Marists, first in Túy, then in Grugliasco, Italy, and much later in Poughkeepsie, New York, United States.
In those days, that “berciano” left his beloved “small country” in search of a much wider world versed in other languages. He was thus eluding a possible, but real tragedy in his life: to have a dream and not being able to make it a reality. It seemed as if “neither chains, nor risks, nor distances could hinder the triumph of a child’s fantasy of personal achievement”. Nowadays, after a rather tortuous and at times dramatic trajectory, one of those cultural surroundings has rewarded his total dedication without reserve to the teaching of youth in its international coordinates. In this endeavor, and others of intercultural character, he has crossed many borders and gone through many customs.
Who would have told him those years of world conflict that he himself would some day promote projects of intercultural cooperation when world reciprocity would be destined to be the norm and not the exception? Who would have thought that in those beginnings of his odyssey to opportunity he would some day receive one of the gifts he most highly values: to contribute, somehow, to the attainment of world cooperation, comprehension and friendship? He believes he has done so while heading programs, which embody the study of diverse cultures with the simultaneous acquisition of linguistic fluency.
Similarly, who would have foretold those youthful days in El Bierzo and a rather enchanted friendship with two or three beauties from Fuentesnuevas that he would marry a woman from Cebu, Philippines, place where Magellan landed in 1521 and planted that huge cross, symbol of his religion, of his beliefs? He calls her “filipina berciana” for her surname is Paradela, name of several villages from El Bierzo region.
El Bierzo is most affectionate for Roger. It has something magic and charming that penetrates his heart and accompanies him everywhere. What’s more, to return to his native region seems to provide him with true youth. Many remark to him that he appears much younger than he really is. He replies that each time he returns to El Bierzo he rejuvenates ten years, and he adds with a smile: “If I follow this rhythm soon I will enter in heaven the same age as when I came to earth…”
In his autobiography, Roger has strung together the most forceful and stimulating memories of his life, a rather episodic one and, in some way, adventurous, picaresque. In all his life, his native soil has become the very rich and extraordinary burrow from where, like a torrent, have sprung forth those religious and human forces that have helped him to overcome the great difficulties and injustices along the twisted highways which at times he had to travel. In an anecdotal and pleasant narrative, he lays out observations and reminiscences that intend to entertain the reader and to create an atmosphere of global cultural learning. Each experience, each story brings with it, besides the humor, a lesson designed to teach and to drive dull care away and, in its more weighty and serious features, to edify and trace new ways. It is a reflection of the contemporary cultural climate of “confession”, not of fiction, which encourages to ventilate what previously had been cautiously reduced to silence.
As in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, in his Odyssey to Opportunity Roger has his windmill. It is certainly not like the windmills with long arms, from which Cervantes created dreadful and disorderly giants. Roger’s windmill is definitely not a dreadful giant, but rather “a radiant symbol, perhaps, a constant laborer” as the one described by the Cuban poet Oreste Perdomo in his expressive poem “Mi molino de viento” (“My windmill”). Truly, in his Odyssey to Opportunity, Roger is not Samson as the Israeli giant, but his windmill has witnessed, in his own person, a suffering but dreaming childhood, a cloistered but hopeful youth, an adulthood shaken by tragedy but rewarded by faith and constancy. Definitely, the giant in Roger’s autobiography is not the dreadful giant that Cervantes imagined centuries ago. It is that “tireless journeyman who, in days of storms, of tropical hurricanes, of destructive cyclones”, has humbly resisted the violent societies that have encircled his existence.
In his youth, Dante found himself in a dark forest where the correct route was lost. So too, many young people of today find themselves in that same forest. With natural native lights and a flood of human and divine assistance Roger has felt compelled to rectify it. His educational and cultural preparation embodies principles, which can yield very valid ideas for the solution of the problems that bear upon many of them who are at once fascinated and bored by comfort and enslaved by the lack of tenacity and constancy. These are, suggested Roger, the virtues they need to attain high cultural ideals rather than social, political or gratifying ends.
At the conclusion of the presentation, several questions arose. Some typographical errors in the 1995 edition of Odyssey to Opportunity, printed in Salamanca, came to light. Roger related for the public the events that led to the publication of the book. He records them here, now, for the reader. He had arrived in Salamanca, where the book was published, to revise the galleys, both in English and in Spanish. A very early morning, when the editor Alfredo Miguel de Pablo was taking him to the bus station, Roger handed him the corrected galleys. The editor took them to the printing house. It is not known if the office misplaced them or if it made the changes and inadvertently printed the original disc without the corrections. The fact is that the book was published without the author’s alterations. Fortunately, those printing failings do not take away, in general, the interest in the reading. There is, however, an error for which he is solely responsible and for which he assumes total responsibility. When writing about his stop in Breda, Holland, he alludes to the painter of “La Rendición de Breda” (the Surrender of Breda) of Velázquez and attributes it to Goya. This is a huge mistake, which the author has never understood how it occurred and for which he, sincerely and with humility, asks his readers for forgiveness.A guerrilla leader controversy
In the audience there was a young man from Los Barrios de Salas, Roger’s place of birth. He asked a series of very intelligent questions. One of those questions referred to Manuel Girón, a guerrilla fighter who commanded numerous skirmishers in the region after the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. He was killed in 1951 in the mountains near Ponferrada. Since then, he has become for some the object of admiration as a “guerrillero carismático” who merits recognition and praise, and for others an “aventurero criminal” who deserves nothing but scorn and condemnation.
For the English reader to understand the meaning and the importance of the question about Manuel Girón, a historical synopsis and perspective is necessary at this time. At the end of the Spanish Civil War in Spain, when General Francisco Franco became the leader of the country, three types of opponents to his regime appeared in the national scene. The great majority of them accepted their defeat and went on leading decent and productive lives of self-denial and sacrifice. A few others, refusing to accept the new regime governing Spain, went into hiding without engaging in fighting and without harming anybody. They were called “rojos” (red ones) because of their leftist views. One such “rojo” was José Losada already described in Odyssey to Opportunity. Still, a third left-leaning group opposed to Franco armed themselves and roamed through the hills continuing the fighting in the hope to attract world attention and material tactical support and eventually bringing the Franco regime to its knees. They were called “maquis” and caused some bloodshed and fear through the region. Such a “maqui”, leader of the guerrilla force in El Bierzo was Manuel Girón, born in Los Barrios de Salas, just like the individual who asked the question and Roger who wrote the book.
At the time of the presentation of Roger’s autobiography in Ponferrada there was a very hot controversy about Girón being debated in public through the press. Pointing out to the questioner that he is not a historian but rather a professor who recalls his childhood, Roger answered the question frankly and directly. He made, however, his more detailed reply public ten moths later in an article that the weekly regional newspaper “Bierzo 7” published in its section on culture at the end of October 1997. Such article is reproduced here because the historical events to which it refers have decisively impacted Roger’s entire life. In addition, several readers have expressed disappointment in the lack of Girón’s mention in Odyssey to Opportunity, particularly so since the author inserted in the book the tragic end of José Losada’s case. The letter Roger sent to the Ponferrada weekly reads like this:Dear Editor of Bierzo 7:
During the flight back to Los Angeles from my most recent visit to El Bierzo the previous month of September I read the book The Agony of the Lyon by Carlos G. Reigosa. From the moment that I finished reading it to the present I have spent long whiles debating the advantages and disadvantages of commenting upon that work of great thematic success and huge historic interest, in particular, locally. Its pleasant and entertaining reading has left me in a state of mixed emotions, as it may have been the case, I suppose, for other readers.
Certainly, the book can lay claim to a very engaging prose and to a style that is simple, light and pleasant, which shows great writing ability and dexterity on the part of the author. In my judgment, Reigosa has shown great effort as an investigator. I believe that his extensive interviews with sympathizers of Girón prove to be revealing, fascinating and, for me personally, very moving, particularly those he carried out with my friend Esteban Losada González with whom I used to play and at times served Mass when we were young. I also believe that the author would have been more successful in convincing the reader if he had interviewed in more detail some other people who knew Girón closely and do not project the heroic and generous figure that the book presents to the reader. Many in Los Barrios, for instance, had a very low opinion of him and opposed him, not for his political ideas but rather for what he was and what he used to do. With or without reason, we children were advised not to go to his house. There were several men in Los Barrios who were of the same political leanings as Girón, my father among them. Nonetheless, people from both political camps respected them because they were honorable and decent men and supported them against the mayor, who, in my view, had evil intentions, was ill advised and totally out of control. Similarly, Reigosa exhibits himself quite partial, in my opinion, when he intimates that the “maquis” caused havoc everywhere inspired by a noble cause, while the “guardias civiles” (civil guard) did it with a sense of political persecution, not out of the civic duty that their occupational responsibilities required of them.
Certainly, this book awakens in me emotions that are in a way contradictory. On the one hand, I feel proud to originate from the same village of a man who has shown courage and is presently recognized in the whole territory and beyond. On the other hand, I feel the burden of shame and confusion that, in my view, results from lack of common sense on the part of Manuel Girón and his fighting companions. They took to the hills to continue a useless civil conflict which carried with it superfluous shedding of blood and subjected to constant acts of coercive brute force a terrorized population that longed for peace and tranquillity which public security forces had to protect.
It is not my intention to judge either Girón’s psyche, nor that of the other “maquis”. They may have had their reasons. For sure, there would have been reprisals on the part of some rancorous politicians, for political vendetta has a very long history which is very difficult to conquer and, even more so, to eradicate… That was precisely the reason why my family had to move from Los Barrios to Fuentesnuevas in 1944. But those reprisals, no matter how harsh and abusive they would have turned out to be, would not have caused the level of suffering and the loss of properties and lives that the mere existence of those “maquis” brought to the Bierzo in those days.
Not all the people from the right unloaded their rancor and grudges against their enemies. Many of them were honorable men who would help people from the left to evade the wrath of some disoriented people from the right. In fact, some of them carried out heroic deeds, risking their lives to protect their friends in the other side.
It is also true that not all the defeated citizens from the left wanted to prolong the conflict. The great majority of them accepted with dignity the anguish of defeat and lived a productive life of self-denial without causing harm to anyone. From my point of view, they deserve more merit and are more worthy of admiration than Girón and the other “maquis” who decided to continue fighting for a lost cause, thus complicating the existence of many of their sympathizers. They are, I believe, the true heroes of the left.
Perhaps I am wrong (“Who knows, Lord?”). But I believe that my family, victim of the vengeful harassment from the mean leaders of Los Barrios of those days, would today still be in that village of a noble historic past, the industrious, relatively well-to-do and happy family, just as before the appearance of the “maquis”.
As you can see, dear Editor, I was delighted reading that book. It made me think about my personal experience. I hope that all of us “bercianos” will be able to live in harmonious brotherhood, forgiving past errors and resolved to avoid them forever in the future, following the appropriate slogan: “Borrón y cuenta nueva…” (Erase the past and start anew)Publicity of “Odyssey to Opportunity”
Since the publication of his autobiography, Roger has grown much more intimately close to his refined Bierzo and its hardworking and heroic people. They, in turn, are getting to know him better and seem to be more interested in his work, which at the present includes several poems. Local newspapers, radio and television stations have contributed very positively to build the rather good image, which this previously unknown author now enjoys in his native land. Without underappreciating in anyway the very effective contribution of the different radio broadcasting stations and the various local newspapers, Roger wants to express his gratitude especially to Onda Bierzo where Yolanda Ordás has interviewed him on several occasions. He extends his appreciation as well to “Bierzo 7”, which in its edition of the 30 of November 1995 published Sonia Bardón’s extensive interview of him in the section “¿Quién es?” (Who is it?). Similarly, that same weekly newspaper published, on April 25 1996 in “Última Plana” (Last Page), an article by Ángel Arienza titled “Two Books for a Book Fair”. He wrote:The book fair is one of the best things that happen in Ponferrada and it is a great pleasure to see how the offerings increase each year. Allow me to recommend to you to invest your time in two books, read without pretending to be a literary critic.
The first is Roger R. Fernández’ Odyssey to Opportunity. It is the autobiography of a common “berciano” who, like so many others migrated (perhaps due to misery and political tripping) more than thirty years ago. After having worked at everything and traveled half of the world, he has settled in the United States where he is a college professor. Roger gives us quite a lesson of point of honor in the third person and as a Phoenix he has been reborn out of each difficulty. His vital experience could be the envy of many poets. He has been in the South Africa of compromise and resistance, as well as in the two Cubas, until he arrived to his America of opportunities. The most important thing is that it is related from humility, without rancor and with sincerity, for he does not need laurels pursuant to the work he has completed disinterestedly. The easiest thing would have been to write a book of “adjusting of accounts” towards those who tripped his family in this stew pot of ours. Someone who relates even the hardest part of his life (how his wife abandoned him for another woman) does not leave anything in the inkwell. Besides, validating Gracián once again: that which is good, if brief, twice as good.
The reading of that article moved Roger emotionally. He did not wish to risk expressing publicly his joy, however, for fear that the readers would think the reporter and him were friends or at least acquaintances. They did in fact meet, though, but approximately one year later while Roger was in the offices of “Bierzo 7” waiting to renew his yearly subscription to that newspaper. After greeting each other, Roger finally thanked him for the article. Ángel revealed then that he had bought the book in Salamanca, where it was being sold in six bookstores.
It would be of interest to the reader to know that in that famous University City, cradle of the Spanish language, the press, radio and television also communicated to the public the publication of Odyssey to Opportunity. The three papers with the greatest circulation, “La Gaceta”. “El Adelanto” and “La Tribuna” printed extensive interviews with the author. Similarly, radio Onda Cero of Salamanca and Salamanca Television interviewed Roger extensively as well and broadcast the interviews live. Surely in Salamanca as well as in Ponferrada, Roger enjoyed great publicity in his endeavor to make his work known.
Such was not the case, up to the present, in the United States. Odyssey to Opportunity and its Spanish version Odisea hacia la oportunidad are being sold in eight colleges, but the author has not made the effort required to reach the level of publicity attained either in Ponferrada or in Salamanca. At Los Angeles City College where Roger has been teaching since 1965, his autobiography is selling, of course, rather well. Its newspaper “The Collegian” printed a rather positive review of the book from the point of view of minority students in the United States.
The great number of oral and written commentaries that Roger has received from many readers of that American country and others like the Philippines, France, Brazil, South Africa and Scotland have been, from very diverse perspectives, positive and encouraging.
However, the most eloquent testimonial in praise of the book reached Roger in a very pleasant and surprising way. At the end of April 19