©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 1997, Ponferrada hosted its annual “Feria del Libro” (Book Fair). Roger attended the fair. He benefited a great deal and made some new friends. A secondary school in Fuentesnuevas invited him to speak to the students assembled in the gymnasium. In the audience there was a teenage girl who went to the fair next day, approached Roger and addressed herself to him thus:
“I was at your conference yesterday. You know “mi abuelita” (my grandmother)”.
“Who is your grandmother?”, Roger asked her.
“Her name is Marcelina…”
After coming to realize whom the girl was referring to, he answered:
“Yes, I know her. How is she?”
“She is very well”, she replied. “But I want to present her with a very special gift”.
The girl then showed Roger a Spanish copy of Odyssey to Opportunity and went on to say:
“Can you autograph it for her?”
“With great pleasure. Give her my best regards”, continued Roger.
“I will do so”, she concluded.
It was approximately 12 noon when that short exchange took place. At about 9:30 that evening, when Roger returned to his sister’s house following the afternoon session, he was given the message that a lady wanted to talk to him. His brother-in-law Marcelino accompanied him to the lady’s house. She was María del Carmen Santos, the mother of the girl who had bought the book for her grandmother. In less than nine hours she had read Odyssey to Opportunity and had greatly enjoyed reading it. “I love to read and I read many books”, she said somewhat excited. “This is the book that I have most enjoyed”, she concluded rather nervously. Apparently when her daughter, Sheila, arrived home with the book for her grandmother, the mother took hold of it and did not lay it down until she finished reading it in its entirety.With readers of such caliber and disposition, what author does not get inspired with hope? DEEP-ROOTED NOSTALGIA
As the reader must have noticed, the publicity of his autobiography occupied part of Roger’s life, but he had to dedicate his time, mainly, to other aspects of his new reality. Even though his future must be seen through the prism of the past, he is not going to stumble, however, into cultural shocks as brusque as previously nor into tales as picaresque as before. Nowadays, daring, dangerous and risky adventures, as well as the audacious, perilous and intrepid challenges, if they exist, are few. The world is very small. Various cultures, no matter how different and contradictory they may seem, no longer have borders and are much more accessible to global curiosity. Furthermore, in this modern society of television, jets and Internet, mental as well as corporal displacement are almost common norms in countries where freedom and economic means inspire people’s behavior and activity.
As a consequence, the narration in this new book will not be as humorous or as festive, since it no longer incites the young and impulsive years of the central character. Neither will it assume an intimate and private tone. It will continue, however, its personal vein. Autobiographical tales grow with vitality in this modern society, where they act as a cathartic, a purging for the author as well as for readers, who seem to show greater appetite for stories that help them to comprehend better the difficulties in their own lives.
Thus, this sequel to Odyssey to Opportunity will focus on perspectives of a more judicious and reflexive reality. It will continue to string together a series of inspiring experiences at a more mature, informative and ample level in the new human relations that have recently sprung in his life. It will cast, nevertheless, a nostalgic glance towards the past, “tumultuous must from rich grape”, and a hope in his new future horizons, “generous wine of his maturity”. In reality, then, Odyssey Resumed amounts to a summary or epitome of experiences and personal life episodes, writing-pad or a journal of travels and a history of a cultural pilgrimage without the religious emphasis that such concept implies.Several readers of Odyssey to Opportunity have asked Roger about the present situation of his children. Here is a brief update of each one of them in order of chronological birth: Gregory, the oldest, is the owner of a very successful business. He and his wife, April, have two good soccer-player boys and an always-smiling daughter, Kailey. Roger Kent has not appeared yet. Nobody seems to know anything about his life or about his whereabouts. This is a sorrow that the author will have to endure silently while praying that he soon will return to his paternal house. Robert Rey, Kent’s twin, has almost fully recovered from his condition. After much effort, determination and sacrifice he has very successfully finished his studies. He now works full time for an international company of great prestige. María Suni is now teaching at an elementary school in San Diego, California. She and her lawyer-husband Chris have two beautiful and very happy daughters: Morgan and Brooke.
Carlos obtained his Master’s from the University of New York in Madrid, Spain. He is now pursuing his doctorate at UCLA where he is a Teaching Assistant. He also teaches two courses of Spanish at Los Angeles City College where his father has taught since 1965.Manuel is continuing his studies towards his Bachelor’s degree and works as a teaching assistant at an elementary school in Los Angeles where he also coaches football, soccer and basketball.
Chad is a very busy skate board professional athlete. Sponsored by the company World Industries he travels around the world and is enjoying his youth. He has some skateboards with his name on. Moreover, he is a designer of sport shoes that sell very well. He is financially successful and, more important, he has learned how to save. He intends to return to his studies as soon as his schedule permits.New worries
So, the last five years of Roger’s earthly journey have not been years of a quiet and tranquil life, with children and grandchildren to visit and many duties of serious responsibility to fulfill. As the reader of Odyssey to Opportunity may remember, in March 1987 he had been elected Chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Humanities of Los Angeles City College, almost one month after his marriage to Lucille Paradela. That election was carried out to complete the final year of his predecessor’s term, Dr. Carmelita Thomas, who had been appointed to a higher position in the Los Angeles Community College District. He was reelected thrice for three-year terms.
Lucille’s administrative experience and help contributed to Roger’s successful adjustment to his new responsibilities as Chair. Under his leadership, positive changes took place that produced considerable accelerated growth in the department. Not only did he want to demonstrate his own capacity to lead, but he also found in his spouse constant and encouraging inspiration and valuable and unsurpassable advice.
However, not everything was roses and glory. The flowers had their robust and penetrating thorns with the source of their sap in the very faculty of the department. An unmanageable professor created obstacles, which were almost insurmountable to a continuous and effective teaching process. He complicated the situation by publicly and aggressively claiming for himself absolute academic freedom. He insisted on using for his first-year Spanish class a textbook different from the one adopted by the department, contrary to the “one only text” policy for the first and second semesters of any language, which the department had been carrying out since its approval several years earlier. Finally, collective academic freedom prevailed over the individual, but bad publicity and a long process of arbitration caused Roger many headaches. Only Lucille’s unwavering support, the close and unconditional cooperation of the faculty and his own inner strength prevented him from resigning an office he had sought and obtained with determination and dedication. In the end, though, the central administration transferred the professor in question to another college of the district where other problems emerged around him, but of another nature.
Much more insufferable for Roger was, at a personal level, however, the false accusation of sexual harassment registered against him by a female professor, apparently for political reasons, a few days before the new elections that the department was to hold in April 1994. This being the third election for his position, Roger had to obtain two-thirds of the vote to be reelected Chair. Probably to deny him the votes of the other female professors and secure them, perhaps, for her own candidacy, this professor recorded a sexual harassment complaint against him. All the other professors of the department expressed their annoyance and anger towards her and openly affirmed their unconditional support for Roger who was reelected in spite of this malicious smear. The college administration immediately launched an investigation as required by law. Needless to say, Roger’s reputation soon came out shining, and the accusing professor retired from teaching two or three days before the vote. Without any doubt, what hurt Roger most was the attempt against his moral integrity. The accusation produced laughter of incredulity when the college community found about it, but, unfortunately by law it is recorded in the annals of Sacramento, capital of the state of California. Without any doubt, the absolute and unconditional support of the faculty, as well as Lucille’s, greatly lightened the heavy weight of that inconceivable and shameful recklessness.
Notwithstanding those two unforeseen trials, which made his life as the leader of the department somewhat bitter, Roger enjoyed a good reputation among students, faculty and administration. The periods of glee were more numerous and intense than the hardships. Besides, he loved the “little fights” he constantly felt compelled to engage in with the college administration concerning academic positions and the budget. In general, they got along very well and showed respect for each other, for the administration knew that whatever Roger requested was for the good of the students, the department and the College itself, not for his personal benefit. As the reader of Odyssey to Opportunity may well remember, under his leadership, the department doubled in number of languages taught, as well as in number of students and faculty. It now required a budget of one million dollars to operate.Nostalgic trip to El Bierzo
Roger has always dreamed to return to Spain to live peacefully and with dignity in his “patria chica” (small fatherland), El Bierzo. The arrival of his grand children and of ones yet to come…that dream vanished and turned into a source of perennial nostalgia toward his favorite corner on this earth.
In that sense, 1994 was a very indelible year for him. Not only did he finish writing his autobiography in English and Spanish, but he was also able to satisfy many of the fancy whims that the homesickness of his childhood would create for him. In fact, a wave of melancholia overwhelmed him the whole year.
In April, he had the unforgettable opportunity to spend Holy Week in El Bierzo, and to relive in site, particularly Salas de los Barrios, the recollection of memories that have accompanied him in his odyssey throughout the world. The event that moved him most, to the point of bringing tears to his eyes, was the procession and the encounter in the main plaza of the “Virgen Dolorosa” (Virgin of Sorrows) and her son carrying a huge and heavy cross. That, together with the famous sermon of the encounter, always attracts visitors from other villages of the region. There, Roger saw some of his friends from Fuentesnuevas and the daughters of Judge Manuel Valcarce. Having seen him from the balcony they invited him, after the procession, to their elegant patrician home.
This was the first time that Roger had entered that house, which he admired so much as a young child. This was also the first time, in exactly half a century, that he had been present at that indelible procession and entered San Martin’s church where he had been baptized and received his first holy communion.
Naturally, in Salas de los Barrios, he participated in the very old tradition still known, with no hatred involved, as “to go out and kill Jews”. It consists of going out from house to house and partaking in the tasting of homemade drinks and products of the land. Because of the unfortunate name, this tradition caused Ángel Arienza of “Bierzo 7” to express relief, in 1997, to know that El Bierzo is not California where “it would have been abolished as politically incorrect”.
All in all, this was a visit to his birthplace where Roger prayed with the required devotion of the moment, cried with irresistible emotion on remembering fond moments of the past and reflected on his comfortable present. Thus reads his interior monologue:
In California, one can certainly live very well in spite of the earthquakes that frequently challenge and defy our environmental comfort. Even so, the monotony of a relatively convenient existence is a constant source of continuous innovation. That is why California always heads, almost without exception, any change in living fashion.On the other hand, perhaps in El Bierzo one cannot live as well, in general. But in that really privileged region the power of customs and the pleasure of living compliment one another to perpetuate a good, healthy and simple life.
To know how to live is an art, and in El Bierzo they know how to live. For that reason, at the moment of truth, if I could choose, I would keep the idyllic rural Bierzo of deeply rooted, merry customs, and would leave for others that innovator, the California of big urban centers which, because of their complexity, constantly complicate communal peace…” Sister’s visit to California
In June of that same year Roger and Lucille were treated with delight by a visit that reminded them also very vividly of the past. One of Roger’s sisters, Estherita, and her husband, Marcelino, traveled to California to spend three weeks with them. It was the year of the World Cup in the United States. Some of the games were played in Pasadena, near Glendale, in the outskirts of Los Angeles. Even though Marcelino has always been a soccer fan, they did not go to any soccer games but they watched all the games on television. Nonetheless, they carried out many other activities that satisfy the curiosity of the visitors, for Los Angeles enjoys, more than any other city in the United States, many sites of tourist delight.
Naturally, Lucille and Roger accompanied them to Universal Studios where many pictures that are being seen around the world are made. They toured Bel Air and Beverly Hills, Los Angeles places where many actors and actresses live. They enjoyed, of course, the great recreational park Knott’s Berry Farm. Unquestionably, they left time for a day in Disneyland for last. That day, however, coincided with the pursuing of O.J. Simpson through the various freeways of Southern California. He was a suspect in the killing of his wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman, and was fleeing from the police. Roger, Lucille and their guests had to take a different route to reach Disneyland, for on some of the freeways the traffic seemed not to advance at all. Everywhere there appeared to be traffic congestion of the worse kind. They were unaware of the reason for such a stand still in the several expressways until they returned home after the dazzling parade of lights, at ten o’clock at night, in the world famous recreational park.
Roger and Lucille took Estherita and Marce to Las Vegas where Marce was the only one who won money playing the machines. They crossed the desert by car. Since it takes about four hours from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, they made some stops, one of them in Barstow, a popular place of rest for travelers to the gambling city.
There, Estherita and her husband received the first lesson in cultural diversity. It was quite hot, a suffocating heat. The four of them went to a fast-food restaurant. Estherita and Marce ordered “café con leche” (coffee with milk). What they received was coffee with milk, American style: a large Styrofoam cup of coffee (three or four times the amount served in Spain) and very little milk. After a great deal of laughter they decided to keep the cup as a souvenir.
For the visitors, the trip to Las Vegas was both jovial and instructive. They could not get over their amazement of that city. They seemed to have been impressed by the noise and the people, but were fascinated above all by the glaring excitement of electrical displays in that showy metropolis in the middle of the desert.
Roger would have liked for his sister and brother-in-law to have experienced the sensation of an earthquake, mild of course, so that they could go back home, to El Bierzo, and be able to tell exactly what it means to live in Southern California. In truth, there was an earthquake, quite strong for sure, in the Los Angeles area, but they were in San Diego that day with their niece María Suni. They found out about the event during the news hour. Unfortunately, however, neither did they feel it nor did they live it.
While in San Diego they visited the famous Zoo and other centers of attraction. Two days afterwards, Roger and Lucille picked them up and continued their way towards Ensenada, Mexico. They crossed the border at Tijuana, some twenty miles south of San Diego. They settled in a truly charming house, overlooking the Pacific and a very clean beach below, which belonged to Luis Carlos, a professor, who taught in the department of which Roger was the Chair, and a very good friend.
They spent two days and one night in that earthly paradise, not far from God’s smile. They contemplated with reverence the great natural beauty that surrounded them, admiring the big ships in their approach to Ensenada, or letting themselves dragged by the waves, or soothed at night by the harmonious sounds of the calming waves of an ocean that would smooth with ethereal delights pleasant sleep.
Of course, not everything was excursions and fun and games. Roger had to take care of the yard in front and in the back of the house. One morning, he decided to dedicate some of his time just to do that kind of work, though for him, it is almost always like forced labor. Marce offered to help “in order to finish faster”, he said. Evelyn, the next-door neighbor, came out to see the flowers of her garden. Roger introduced his brother-in-law to her. Marce stopped working to listen intensely to their short conversation. Addressing herself to him, she told him with a smile: “Thank you for coming to make your brotherin-law work.” Believing that after a few days in the freeways of Southern California he had already learned enough English, without waiting for a translation, he took a few steps forward smiling enthusiastically, extended his hand to her and answered: “Good morning to you too”. When Roger told him what she had tried to convey to him, he replied in Spanish: “What she said sounded so short in English that I thought it was only a greeting…”
Time goes by inexorably fast, however, and never stops. The three weeks went by rapidly, more so because everything that is good seems to end faster. The visitors were going to spend one week in Miami with the oldest brother Antonio and his charming wife, Nínive. While leaving the house to go to the airport, Estherita tried to hide her tears to no avail. Their stay in California had been a real delight to her. Their departure produced a great void in the house of their Spanish-American brother and their Filipina-Berciana, American sister-in-law. But such is life… That visit of his sister and brother-in-law was for Roger the best gift that year, a present that he still remembers with affection and frequently relives with nostalgia. Three days later, Lucille and Roger traveled to Miami to join Esther and Marce during their last days in the United States with Roger’s brother Antonio and sister Lydia. This was the first time in twenty-five years that the two brothers and two sisters were together.
Estherita and Marce brought from Spain a huge “paellera” (frying-pan) in which to cook “paella”. On their last full day in the United States, Estherita and Lydia made delicious paella to the delight of the twenty-or-so people who gathered for the farewell party. Naturally, there was no wanting of songs from El Bierzo, of Spanish wine, and of Cuban or Spanish wit or gracefulness. There were also plenty of tears: farewell tears and tears of memories. Very early the next morning, Lucille and Roger returned to Los Angeles, while Estherita and Marce started back for Spain in the afternoon.Los Angeles educators visit Oviedo, Spain
That was the end of June. In October, Roger visited them in Tarrasa, Spain, after he had concluded a tour of duty that the Community College District had assigned to him. He had to accompany a delegation of educators led by Dr. Kenneth Washington, President of the Board of Trustees of the Los Angeles Community College District. Their mission was to initiate procedures to open an exchange program in Oviedo, Spain. Accompanied by his son Carlos, who at the time was studying in Madrid, Roger took them to Toledo, to see that Spanish tourist jewel, then to Salamanca to visit the students of the District who were taking Spanish courses at the Colegio Hispánico Miguel de Unamuno.
After two days in Salamanca, the group proceeded towards the Asturian capital, Oviedo, taking some time to make a short visit to the imposing, beautiful Gothic Cathedral of León. All marveled at its magnificent construction, especially Dr. Washington, a painter in his own right (he passed away in 1997), besides being a fan of the arts. Roger smiled with great personal satisfaction and pride at the flattering commentaries that they made about the precious stained glass windows that are the attraction of all those who visit the Cathedral.
They finally arrived to the very ancient and illustrious city of Oviedo, locality of Clarín’s Regenta, a large town, the spirit of which “is the spirit of freedom”, wrote the “ovetense” (a person from Oviedo) Pérez Ayala. Undoubtedly, the group used part of their time to appreciate the artistic and testimonial value of that noble city where everything seems to breathe history.
Naturally they were all impressed by the compound of houses with porticos, which seemed to ennoble the Cathedral Square. Similarly, they all admired “the ineffable elegance” of the delicate tracery of the tower to which Clarín endowed the very adept lyrical picture of “a romantic poem of stone”. Furthermore, the tower is, without question, “the clock of local life”, a function somewhat similar to the one enjoyed by the Plaza Mayor of Salamanca, Spain, and by the “Ponte Vecchio” or “Il Duomo” of Florence, Italy, places where people traditionally rendezvous.
The delegation dedicated a great part of its time to business at hand in Oviedo. Simply, their mission was to initiate pedagogical and cultural relations with the institution of Dr. Ángel Fernández (no relation to the author), and to make student exchanges between that center of learning and one of the colleges of the Los Angeles Community College District.
A public meeting was held at the Press Club Asturiano. At that meeting Roger also spoke. He congratulated Dr. Ángel Fernández and the city of Oviedo for sharing the solid conviction that the diversity of cultures is not an obstacle to progress, but rather a vigorous impetus to success. He praised their open-mindedness and their capability to recognize that “education at an international level is the wave of the future when world reciprocity and intercultural cooperation are destined to be the norm and not the exception”, as Roger indicated previously.
Before leaving the very welcoming city of Oviedo, the group visited the students and the installations of the British Institute, also under the direction of Dr. Ángel Fernández. When a teacher presented the President of the delegation, Dr. Washington, to her students who were then on a break, a small boy asked the surprising and innocent question with his eyes looking up to him in ecstasy: “The very same Washington?”
At one of the receptions, Roger came to meet the “Asturian” vanguard painter Juan Méjica, who, some years later in 1997 carried out an exposition of his work at Harbor College, one of the colleges of the Los Angeles Community College District where Roger has exercised his professorship. In fact, when the artist addressed the public, it was he who served as interpreter. That Los Ángeles audience, interested in modern art, received Méjica very warmly. They acclaimed with great enthusiasm his complex and interesting manifestations of the contemporary “Asturian” plastic art.
For Roger it was, without question, a great privilege to present Juan Méjica to the artistic society from Los Ángeles. He also enjoyed the opportunity to converse a little about his beloved Spain with the artist’s wife and daughter who had accompanied him on that educational trip through California.
To return from Oviedo to Madrid, Roger accompanied the delegation first to Gijón, and then to Burgos. After a week of work and relaxation through Spain, the other members of the delegation returned to Los Ángeles, but Roger went to Tarrasa to visit his sisters Dorita and Estherita and their husbands Antonio and Marcelino before he returned to California. NEW HORIZONS…NEW ASPIRATIONS…
The year 1995 brought important changes in Roger’s life. As the reader already knows, on April of that year, both the English as well as the Spanish versions of his autobiography, Odyssey to Opportunity, were published in Salamanca, Spain. A month later, welcoming a generous incentive offered by the Los Angeles Community College District to take early retirement, he resigned as a full time professor, but decided to continue teaching on a part time basis. This way, it was possible for him to devote time to his life’s vocation and also maintain his professional relations with the College and its faculty. At the same time, he could hold onto the much-coveted chance to continue directing the Semester Program in Spain and accompany students to study in Salamanca.
When the 1995 Fall Semester classes started, Roger taught two courses until the end of the semester right before Christmas. He then decided to go on vacation during the Spring Semester to resume teaching in the 1996 Fall Semester. So, in January of 1996, he and his wife Lucille were free to travel to the Philippines with their daughter Marguerite and her family: her husband, Robert Lincoln, and children, six-year old Bobby and Danielle, ten months. That beautiful, pleasant three-week travel vacation, will be the central theme of the next chapter.
On February 3, two days after returning from the Philippines, Roger went on his customary trip to Spain to take students for a semester in Salamanca. Once they were all settled in with their adoptive families, he continued his journey to Ponferrada to present his book in Fuentesnuevas. This he did on February 9 before a big audience of friends and neighbors in an atmosphere of friendship and joy. Radio “Onda Bierzo” broadcast several segments of his presentation at various times during the weekend.“Festival del Botillo”
Other than his great love for his place of birth and the presentation of the book, Roger extended his trip to El Bierzo because he wanted to participate in the “Festival del Botillo de Bembibre”. In 1985, he had already attended that renowned festival, known in all of Spain. He had been very impressed by the celebration and still retained very pleasant memories of the occasion. This time, however, he presented himself alone to taste the “botillo” (a small bag from the inner lining of the intestines of a pig, filled with meat and bones). He went to the delicious dinner without a ticket, hoping to be able to buy it at the entrance door. What a disappointment! Of the one thousand seats, there was not a single one available. Finally, apparently someone failed to report to the Festival Dinner and the gentleman in charge of the tickets could sell him one. Thus he was given a seat at one of the last tables. No sooner had he sat on the assigned chair when, without any explanation, he was moved to another table, where Héctor Blanco Terán, a poet from Bembibre, was seated with his family and friends, including the gentleman who had sold him the ticket.
Roger has always described his encounter with Héctor as “providential”, not only because of the circumstances surrounding its occurrence, but also because from it sprung forth a very close friendship. This amity would grow through continuous correspondence and would, later on, bring forth some poetic inspiration in the only stranger at the table. That night of the “Festival del Botillo” became for him an unexpectedly enjoyable and improbable moment, a very special occasion, for he met affable and enchanting fellow countrymen. At a professional level, Roger was impressed, however, by two sonnets that Héctor had written about the “botillo” as well as his vast knowledge of the world in its totality.
In fact, Roger discovered in that local poet an accessible friend, well educated and of polite and pleasant manners. He admires in him the richness of his vast vocabulary, the extent of his inspiration and the depth of his thoughts, which are characteristics of a person who reads much and seems to remember ever more. Truly, in that great Festival, Roger met a notable “berciano” of remarkable talent. He frequently uses his pen to give public recognition to the dignity and great worth of other “bercianos” who honor and ennoble that privileged corner of Spain that is El Bierzo.
Undoubtedly, Roger enjoyed a marvelous dinner that night, accompanied by that human touch that Héctor, and his spouse Charo, his oldest daughter Noemí and her fiancé and their friends brought to the occasion, thus making of that Festival a moment doubly exquisite and delightful. Certainly, in that delectable occasion, the smiles, the joy and the comfort wove magic. Héctor himself must have thought so as well, for one month later he forwarded a picture of the event to Roger and wrote him the following:
“As promised, I send you the photograph of the XXIV Festival del Botillo. It was a marvelous dinner. Our “botillo” celebration is always so, but on this special occasion it has enjoyed that human touch of warmth, affection and homesickness that has made it doubly beautiful.
…Roger, at times in life, at the most unexpected moment, an angel, a great soul that fills you with light and a sense of wellbeing crosses your path. That is the way I felt that night, for we surveyed the world. We traveled with enthusiasm, relishing the whirlwind of America, the warmth of our “little country”, the luminosity of Italy, the hearth of the Caribbean, the mysterious charm of the Philippines. In each landscape, in each event we deposited all the warmth, leaving a little bit of our heart in each place. Frankly, it was wonderful. It was a pity that your “tagala spouse” was not among us. Had she been present, I believe it would have been the perfect night.”
Héctor continued his letter relating the satisfaction of the group and expressing its disappointment about Lucille’s absence, though none of them knew her personally. In his letter he made plain his enthusiasm for a continuation of a sincere friendship between Roger’s family and his. He ended his letter explaining his state of mind the following way, certainly natural for a true poet:
You know that we poets are in the habit of always leaving evidence of the moments that impress us. In these three “décimas” or “espinelas (Spanish octosyllabic ten-line stanza), I want to leave recorded a frankly felicitous moment (free English translation):
To Roger and Lucille
To share with a compatriot
A meal and a “botillo”,
To inhale that warm vapor
Surprising and supreme,
Is like extending the hand
To time and homesickness,
Savoring the hope
Of those past moments
That remained secret
There, very close to the soul...
It was a stimulating experience
To share that social evening,
Serene and enthusiastic
With an overflowing feeling,
With that elegant touch
Of thousands of colors and glitters,
Beautiful flame of kitchen oil-lamp,
Resplendence of beautiful dames,
Sublime were the hours
The only one missing was “Lucil”.
Roger, I have allowed myself
For it was an essential norm
To write just as read,
Giving thus a pleasing sound
To the name of your “tagala”
With a sound that equals
A whole beautiful song;
She is … its heart,
The poem, …only, …speaks.
Author’s new bearing
If the author allows himself to acclaim so highly the “XXIV Festival del Botillo de Bembibre”, and to reproduce such an extensive evoking of the interchanges that originated with Héctor, it is because that was a very influential moment in Roger’s life. That memorable celebration of the “botillo” functioned as a lever, which has elevated him and put him in motion toward a new path in his wandering into an unforeseen future, as well as a source of inspiration in his modest literary endeavor, which is already active today. It constituted the external fulcrum that he needed to catapult him into that appealing exercise of cultivating poetry.
Roger’s belated poetic inclination sees the dawn of day in a Bembibre of bell ringing and rejoicing. His inspired friendship with Héctor brought admiration for that local poet’s vast field of knowledge, of inexhaustible acumen and fertile imagination. Roger was in awe of his incredible ability to extract, with ease and with tact, a poetic angle to whatever theme comes before him. Thus, it will be easy in Roger’s future writings to discern allusions to his most recent friend. In respect of the new literary horizon that started opening before him, his great friendship with Héctor and their mutual correspondence began to assume capital relevance.
Roger had intended to dedicate his time to write articles on the “berciano” folklore, and perhaps in the future he will do so. Nonetheless, in light of his own “metonoia”, that energetic calling to testing new literary pastures, he feels at the present imbued with muse. He is more interested in putting on paper the rest of his odyssey and initiating himself into the fine art of writing verse. He will carry out that task even though he does not consider himself bearer of that poetic soul that stands out and can be touched in the poetry of poets throughout Spain and El Bierzo. Furthermore, it is possible that he may not follow the canons of modern poetry of intimacy. He may even take too much shelter in the rigor of traditional rhythm and rhyme. Besides, having lived many moments of intense joy and pain, some illumination and even vision, Roger does not pretend to follow the footprints of “visionary and prophetic poets” like Ramiro Maeztu, Federico García Lorca, Rubén Darío and Walt Whitman, a truly impossible task. The idea occurs to him from time to time, however, to ask the question that Miguel de Unamuno would ask of himself:
“… To read, read… read… Shall I be, myself
Reading material, tomorrow, as well?
Will I be my creator, my creature?
Will I be that which happened?
Roger had already composed some poems of his own previously, two of them during his life as a student. While studying in Grugliasco, he wrote one poem to his brother Joaquín when he was was recovering at the Sanatorium of Zamora. Later on, as a Marist Brother in Poughkeepsie, New York, he wrote a sonnet in French to the Virgin Mary. Unfortunately, everything that he wrote in the genre of poetry has been lost.
After the XXIV Festival del Botillo, Roger felt anew the desire of entertaining himself a little with the laudable art of writing verse. He does bear in mind, however, what the Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote about poets at the beginning of the twentieth century: “one line will take us one hour, perhaps”. The fact is, Roger admits, that every line he will write will have to be sculptured, polished, in an almost monumental effort to make it appear easy and natural, or, in Yeats’ own words: “make it appear the thought of the moment”.
In this new objective Roger hits upon an abundance of needs, aspirations and exigencies. Certainly, he harbors fears and wavers at times, for such a state of dependency supposes continuous apprehension in the presence of possible public rejection. Nevertheless, he can now draw vigor from accumulation of assistance, support and encouragement.
Until that fortuitous stumble in Bembibre, Roger did not know Héctor Blanco Terán. For his part, Héctor had not been able to get a hold of Roger’s Odyssey to Opportunity. Nonetheless, after he obtained it and read it at leisure, he sent Roger a written view of his autobiography. He found the reading “easy, pleasant, light and tremendously realistic”. He then makes a frank personal evaluation of the book. It is very expressive, open, plain, bountiful and encouraging. It may be interesting to the reader and for that reason it is included here. Transcribed in part, it goes thus:
Roger, … you have embodied in your book your experiences. We are all odyssey travelers of our own lives. Perhaps you are that modern Ulysses who, with your thoughts on your “berciana” Ithaca have programmed your circumnavigation towards a projection that is more ample and generous, more open and luminous, which is in essence your firm vocation, “the world of culture”.
…Your life has impressed me. Your daring prompts me to admire you. Your sense of duty is laudable. Your trust in God is marvelous, and in spite of your harsh and terrible experience in life, you have an inviolable faith in human kind…Your book is a beautiful lesson in humanity.
…To expose the interior with that coolness of mind, that can only be the gift of a feeling of generosity. To face facts with such decisiveness is a condition of freedom. To undergo that kind of suffering and recover the joy once had is only the patrimony of a soul that trusts in God.
For that reason, your life, initiated in the “Tinsmiths” of the Marists has forged a firm and decided will. The center of your odyssey is a graceful experience laden with tenderness, enjoyment and static beauty. It is also a sad and crude reality, which only a tempered and generous soul has been able to overcome. Its end is a chapter of a sensitive soul that confides in God and in love.
… The last chapter of your Odyssey is the best poem of love written in prose that I have known. It has reminded me the words of Saint Teresa of Avila: “When God closes a door on you, he always opens a window”. I think that in your new life, one can find deeply engraved in your soul, that influence that is at once wonder and mystery, exclusive domain of the oriental woman, with the force of the empire of the senses. Her comely look sees beyond present realities. Her auditory accurateness can hear beyond the soul. Her keen scent is capable to discover the fragrance of sensation. Her taste is the delight that infuses enjoyment with the charm of living. That, a soul like yours will know, not only how to appreciate it, but also how to exalt it…”
Those were, without any doubt, cheering and stimulating words that can encourage any author, no matter how undervalued and unsuccessful he may feel. That genuine, warm and welcoming evaluation of his autobiography was not the only motive for the forging of such a great friendship between those two compatriots of El Bierzo, who were mutually interested in culture and in the field of literature. There exists still another reason why Héctor has positively and effectively impacted Roger’s life. That poet is a conscientious “berciano” of deeply rooted faith whose purpose is to sow or disseminate good. In a way, it has been previously alluded to already. He “does Bierzo” his own way, very quietly and with no afterthought by publishing articles or poems about people from the region, who have excelled for their exemplary conduct or their total dedication to their profession. Examples of Héctor’s altruism are, among many others, two compositions, one to mark respect for Doña Trini Crespo and the other in memory of D. Virgilio Riesco Feito. In the first, he praised Mrs. Crespo as an educator and in the second he celebrated D. Virgilio as “el último pionero del carbón” (the last pioneer of coal). Both of those writings were published in the weekly “Bierzo 7”.
At a more personal level, and in his intention to encourage and to promulgate good example in a time of history when light is in short supply and dangers abound, he contributed positively and elegantly to the publicity of Roger’s work. He wrote in “Bierzo 7” a highly endearing composition, “Un español hasta la médula” (A Spaniard to the marrow) in which he included a poem he had dedicated to his new friend from Salas de los Barrios. In free translation it reads like this:
A SONG TO THE JOY OF LIVING (To Roger R. Fernández)
What to say about the expression Of the excited jubilation
Of an enthusiastic “berciano”
Who idolizes our region?
His roving life through the world, His cultural acumen
Is a magisterial lesson,
Of a fertile mastery…
Many years he has lived
In the United States,
He saw his dreams fulfilled
Being moved by gratefulness. Towards the American people He harbors profound affection, And he glowingly defends
Their simple and healthy living. He publicly proclaims with passion To be firmly “berciano”
And eternally his Spain
He will carry in his heart.
Roger Fernández by name,
By vocation: professor.
A proverbial defender
Of man’s culture in men.
Give to the Bierzo, oh Lord,
Like this one, “many men”...
I find it difficult to believe all those commendations towards my person. If, however, those extraordinary qualities do exist in me, I truly have a great many people to be grateful to, and …specially to God. Without all that help, including now yours, I would have never been able to be what you so generously celebrate in me. A thousand thanks one more time.
Without fear of exaggerating, therefore, it can be confirmed that the close friendship between those two “bercianos” has changed the course, direction and purpose of interest in the literary endeavor to which Roger is determined to dedicate some time with much pause and still more caution. Very candidly, the “floodgates burst open” for a poetic life. Hence, the decisive and determinate influence of the XXIV Festival del Botillo of the city of Bembibre in Roger’s present and future life. In fact, from that moment on, it is easy to detect in him a constant personal effort to feel encouraged. Since then, the idea of pain, of love, of the environment and of the eternal, which is capable of inspiring and of creating, appears tremendously and formidably powerful… And, isn’t that precisely the essence of poetry?A professor’s melancholia…
From that pleasant and ingenious festival sprang forth in him, further, the ardent desire to live closer to his Bierzo, its people, its culture, its tourism and, in the end, to savoring the warmth of “el terruño” (native piece of ground). Thus, with the cordial assistance of Hector and his affable wife, Charo, Roger has participated, during his short visits to Ponferrada, in a musical representation at the Bergidúm Theater and savored “berciana” gastronomy in famous places that until then had been unknown to him.
These acts of kindness and many others afforded to Roger were possible because since 1983 he has returned annually to El Bierzo, some years five times. Some of the visits were personal in nature, but others were the result of his professional commitment to take students of the Los Angeles Community College District to study in Salamanca.
Roger has always considered young people as the stars of the present and the heroes of the future. It was for that reason that he dedicated himself, as much as he could, to education in its international coordinates. Even three years after his early retirement he continued carrying out that pleasant responsibility of accompanying students to Spain, taking advantage, at the same time, to visit his beloved “small country” that El Bierzo is to him.
Unfortunately, while bringing about a much needed and laudable process of decentralization in 1998, the Los Angeles Community College District closed, foolishly in Roger’s judgment, the central office of its Study Abroad Program. From then on, each of the nine colleges that compose the Los Angeles Community College District was free to carry out, individually, the international program it preferred. That was the stab that mortally wounded the international program of the District, including the one Roger was directing in his native Spain.
Not being able to perform now in his capacity of director of that program, which he had led since 1985, Roger allows himself to be overtaken, every now and then, by a whim of nostalgic reverie. He keeps alive in his thoughts some very unique and unlike moments that come to professors with the special profession, and much more so to language professors who take students to study their language in a foreign land.
Roger will never forget, for example, the rare occurrence that marked the stay in Spain of a very attractive and congenial Filipino girl. While waiting in the Los Angeles airport to board the plane for the flight to Madrid, her father approached him and entered upon the following conversation in impeccable Spanish:“Dr. Fernández, I am a Filipino and want my daughter to learn perfect Spanish. That is why I send her to Spain with you. I do not want her to learn the Spanish of the streets, which is frequently spoken around here.” “Do not worry”, answered Roger with great confidence. “Your daughter is going to Salamanca, cradle of Castilian Spanish.”
The Filipino gentleman was visibly satisfied. Nonetheless, two months after studying in Salamanca and very proud of whatever Spanish she had learned, the girl wrote in Spanish a letter to her father. According to the letter, she was very pleased and happy in that Spanish university-city. She was thrilled with the way of living of the Spaniards and the good treatment and manners of the “salmantino” people. Then, she continued innocently giving the meaning of “legs” to “arms” and the meaning of “arms” to “legs” (confusion of terminology is not infrequent among foreign language students…). She finished the letter writing: “I feel so happy here in Salamanca, and everybody is so good and treats me so well that I receive them all with open legs”. The reader may very well imagine her father’s reaction upon reading such letter… Roger is going to miss, as well, the ingenuity, dexterity and skill of some of the students in the study abroad programs. After the Olympic games in Atlanta in 1996, a student who had accompanied him to Salamanca one year earlier sent him a postcard in which she expressed her excitement about the great time she had at the Olympics. According to the postcard, to catch the attention of the Spanish athletes, she painted a map of Spain on her face. Very soon many Spanish athletes, intrigued by the Spanish flag on a feminine American face, came out to meet with her. According to her, she had very pleasant moments with the Spanish athletes “yendo con ellos de ronda en ronda” (going out with them from bar to bar) as it is done in Spain.
What Roger will not miss, though today it is a token of humorous and festive remembrance, are some worrying details when passing some international customs. Such was the case, which occurred while going through customs in New York. One of his friends in Salamanca, Alfredo Miguel de Pablo, editor of Odyssey to Opportunity, gave him pork sausages stuffed in Salamanca, as a present to take to California. Roger objected saying that he was not allowed to take such products to the United States. However, Alfredo kept on insisting that “nothing was going to happen”.
A little bit reluctant and against his natural inclination, Roger yielded. They cut the sausages into small pieces and with some Spanish bread they made “bocadillos” (sandwiches), which Roger put inside the pockets of the jacket and weatherproof coat he was wearing. While waiting for his suitcase at the luggage carousel to go through customs in New York, a police agent was going around with a small dog that sniffed the passengers and their baggage. When they reached Roger, the little dog started jumping and howling raving mad. Nevertheless, that must not have been the behavior of the animal when it smells drugs, for the policeman pulled the dog away, so as to continue its work. In spite of the fact that Roger got a good scare, he still wonders, even today, how high the dog’s jump and how loud its howling would have been had it smelled sausages stuffed in Molinaseca (near Ponferrada) or a “botillo” from Bembibre…
Nevertheless, and perhaps lamentably, Roger has to abandon the world of nostalgia and descend to the sphere of his present reality, even though that can also cause him some professional satisfaction. That is not too much to envision, for from time to time he is still involved in incredible and impossible coincidences.
In the 1998 Spring semester, a student from South Africa enrolled in one of Roger’s classes. Soon after, he bought Odyssey to Opportunity and after having read it he told his professor: “I love the way you describe your sojourn in Durban where I was born the same year you arrived to teach at the Marist school, St. Henry’s College.” He felt so grateful that he brought, to the next class meeting, a huge box filled with brand new dictionaries “English-Spanish, Spanish-English” and gave one to each of the forty-five students enrolled in the class. A few extra copies were left, which Roger raffled for students who enrolled in the class the semester after.
That was not, however, the only surprise in that class. Taking that course was another student who was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, where Roger had spent four years carrying out his studies as a scholastic Marist Brother. That student also talked to the class about his reaction to the professor’s book. Certainly, Roger did not have to talk too much about his autobiography that semester…
Concretely, then, in spite of all those chain rings that still link him to the past, it is clear that Roger’s life has met with a great deal of change these last few years. Lamentably, he can no longer travel as frequently to his beloved Spain and his much pined for “patria chica”, El Bierzo. It is evident that new doors and new horizons have opened for him and that he harbors new hopes as well.
Due to various previously explained influences he has determined to dedicate some time to writing a poem here and there, and this book of course, with the desired expectation that the reader will feel like being on vacation while reading it. But he will also be able to fulfill one of his most cherished ambitions, which is to travel to new lands, as readers will realize when they continue reading. Roger does not like to be an armchair traveler who examines exotic brochures… He has to open new doors, to contemplate new faces, to touch new hearts, which means he has to discover new corners in this ample and immense world in which we live.
Finally, besides all that roving throughout new lands, he intends to keep in constant contact with his Bierzo. He will continue visiting his favorite earthly region at least once a year and directly navigating daily the Internet and by his imagination. Every day he reads the daily “Diario de León”, the only newspaper from the province of León that, for the present, he has been able to locate in the Internet, since “La Crónica – El Mundo”, another newspaper from that province, is presently renewing its own web-site.
Naturally, Roger almost devours the weekly from Ponferrada, “Bierzo 7”, which he receives at his residence, and which offers him the opportunity of obtaining a much deeper knowledge of his beloved land. As he often likes to say, that weekly is to him “something like a stream of crystalline water in a small “berciano” garden in a sunny corner of the delightful Californian South”.
The Spanish philosopher, writer and educator Miguel de Unamuno left written the great truth that man has the tendency, in his old age, to return to his mother’s caring lap… Similarly, as Roger advances in age, he acquires greater love and devotion for his native land. He becomes charmed and ravished returning daily, and each time with greater attraction and nostalgia, to his beloved Bierzo that saw him being born.
ISLES OF ENCHANTMENT
As stated in the previous chapter, one semester after his retirement, Roger realized one of his most ardent dreams, to visit the Philippines. It is a country intimately linked to the colonial history of his beloved Spain, as well as the birthplace of his endearing wife, Lucille. Thus, powerful sentimental conjugal ties and strong nostalgic feelings for historic Spanish splendors attracted him like a magnet to that “patria adorada” (adored fatherland), as the Filipino poet José Rizal denominated it in his famed and popular poem “Mi último adiós” (My Last Farewell).
So, on the second week of January 1996, he, Lucille and daughter Marguerite with her husband Robert Lincoln and their children, five-year old Bobby and ten-month old Danielle, undertook that very long but delightful and unforgettable plane ride to that Oriental pearl that is Metro Manila, capital of the Philippines.
They all settled very comfortably at the dwelling of Jaime and Ofelia Romero-Salas. She was Lucille’s graceful and elegant cousin and he a friendly gentleman of lineage from Spain and endowed with a great sense of humor. They were living in their mansion with sons Luis, Jaime, daughter Ángela, and Jaime’s mother, Doña Magdalena from Madrid, Spain. The meals were all definitely unforgettable not only for their delicious taste, but also for the lively conversations enlivened by so many participants. Many visits and excursions to several points of interest in Metro Manila and its surroundings added to the excitement at dinner time.
Naturally, Roger was very pleased by the great number of streets, stores and supermarkets and so many Filipinos with Spanish names and surnames. He was quite surprised, in addition, when he opened the door of one of the big supermarkets in Manila and the first thing he heard were the words and the delightful music of “La Macarena”. Undoubtedly, he felt very proud of his Spanish inheritance since in those days everyone presumed to know how to dance “La Macarena”, including Al Gore, Vice President of the United States, when he acted in public to obtain votes for the presidential elections of that year, 1996.
The Filipino race is basically of Malaysian stock with sprinklings of Chinese, Spanish, American and Arabic blood. For that reason, it is difficult to distinguish exactly the lineage of the great majority of the more than sixty million Filipinos who today compose the population of the Philippines. In fact, their national character is an epitome or compendium of all those cultures combined. Their spirit of friendship comes to its citizens from Malaysia. They derive their intimate family relations from China, while they owe their democratic vigor to the Americans, and inherited from Spain their great religious devotion and festive spirit. In fact, their festivals consist of a mixture of religious commemoration and folklore elements, which are celebrated with great pomp and rejoicing. Such is indeed the case with “la Fiesta del Santo Niño” in Cebu during the month of January in which Roger, Lucille, the Lincoln and Romero-Salas families participated. That is the way the Filipinos themselves seem to understand their relation to Spaniards and Americans, for they maintain that the Spanish domination and the American colonization have given them “300 years in a convent and 40 years of Hollywood”.
Roger considers the Filipinos to be hard-workers, diligent, courteous and most generous. Nevertheless, smiling with a little bit of naughtiness, he adds, “when they are at the wheel driving, they seem to leave those last two virtues behind, resting in their house”. To drive in Manila, one must have the patience of Job, the daring of David against Goliath, strong nerves of steel, excellent reflexes and very good brakes. Roger has driven in many cities around the world, including Istanbul. He would never dare to do so in Manila. For her part, Lucille who as a young nurse ventured by car through the streets of the capital of the Philippines, would not do so today either, even if they paid her. It seems that in Metro Manila many drive more by instinct than by the signs of the road. For example, if there are three lanes for traffic, three or four cars travel through them at speeds that can frighten the most intrepid. For that reason, Ofelia’s chauffeur took Roger and his visiting companions wherever they had to go. However, what most confounds the bewildered traveler is that there are not too many accidents, considering, or if there are, they are rare… even though it may seem impossible.
What’s more, to compete with that disorderly convergence of cars and commuting buses from the outskirts of the capital, the “jeepneys” and the tricycles squirm daringly and fearlessly in the midst of that arterial chaos that constitutes the traffic in Metro Manila. The tricycle is very popular for runs that are rather short between several towns and particularly in the center of Manila. On the other hand, the jeepneys, small buses open on the sides and at the rear, complete a much more extensive service and are always overstocked with passengers of meager economic means. The jeepneys adopted their name from the word “jeep”, a light and small military truck that the Americans left behind in the Philippines after the Second World War. They are heavily decorated with brilliant colors and assume very romantic American names, such as “Dream Lover” or “Lover Boy”. Their dashboard is frequently ornamented with religious relics, images of saints, small statues of Jesus, but also, at times, with photographs of well known porno stars. Surprisingly, its ability to function today in Metro Manila’s traffic exhibits a truly remarkable and colorful spectacle.Tagaytay
With its 7,104 islands, the Philippines is, above all, an archipelago endowed with a great richness of natural resources, a highly esteemed history, an exceptionally unique culture and, definitely a topography ideal for relaxing on a summer vacation. Its attractions are many and diverse. Each island offers the visitor something different, something unique, something very special: white sand beaches, luxuriant vegetation, tall peeks of majestic mountains, some of them volcanic, rustic fields of idyllic illusion… Beauty and more beauty… everywhere natural beauty!
One of those sites, fabulous for a gazing tour and astonishing for its natural splendor is dazzling Tagaytay. That enchanting tourist spot, south of Manila, is of easy access and not too far from the capital. Picturesque carts filled with arts and crafts as well as products of the land spur the visitors’ curiosity. Though stationed along the road, those carts are pulled there by the “carabao”, the local oxen.
From that much frequented tourist belvedere, one can contemplate the placid Lake Taal, as well as the volcano with the same name, and some other green mountains with latent volcanoes, painting a view of impressive pastoral endearment. It is a charming landscape that invites the visitor to go down to the lake, take a swim in the serene and tranquil water and then climb the mountains as if they were places of enchantment, of ecstasy, of hallucination…
When Jaime took his guests to Tagaytay, it was a clear day of clean, serene and pure air and of blue sky: the proper and indispensable ingredients to absorb the full beauty of that stunning panoramic view. Everything seemed to urge people to throw themselves to that immense solitude and invite them to participate in its solemn quiet and sublime tranquillity, thus surrendering to that awesome sense of peace that otherwise would be just its own.Villa Escudero
A visit by car to Villa Escudero, a huge coconut plantation and a perfect spot for enjoyment and relaxation in the city of San Pablo, one hour and a half south of Manila, offers the visitor the opportunity to abandon worldly preoccupation and noise. It represents a pleasant return to the old times when the pleasures of living seemed more simple, accessible and satisfactory than in our present days of modern tumult, hustle and bustle and rush.
The visitor is greeted in a reception room with a warm welcome and delicious fruit refreshments. From there one can savor the first impressions of endless rows of coconut trees, majestic mountains that surround the plantation and the humble activities of a small village fully carrying out the demands of pastoral living.
After a short rest, a visit to the museum offers an enriching view of oriental ceramic and garments, Filipino antiques and articles of great interest from different corners of the world. What most impressed Roger, however, was the exhibit of religious art, which goes back to the Spanish colonial times: silver-plated altars, ivory-crowned statues of saints, goldvarnished state coaches and imponderable massive altar decorations. In short, Spanish churches in miniature.
A slow and delightful walk separates the museum from the actual place of summer vacation itself. To reach it one must ride a cart pulled by a “carabao”. In a way, that is similar to the screeching-oxen driven carts (described in Odyssey to Opportunity), which in the olden days would travel from Compludo, Espinoso and other Spanish villages from the mountains in order to go to the fair in Ponferrada. Those in Villa Escudero, however, do not make noise, are somewhat decorated, and a guitarist entertains the passengers with Filipino folklore songs. The “carabao” is a very peculiar animal. Similar to the oxen in Western countries, it rests, however, in mud. It lies down to sleep in muddy waters and there it spends hours and hours… in the mud. God only knows what kind of dreams it entertains in its head, which is almost totally mired in mud…!
In the recreational complex, the visitor can take advantage of various means of entertainment, as some readers may recall when the “Miss Universe Pageant” was held in Manila some years ago. The contestants spent one full day at Villa Escudero as it was shown on television. One of the most fascinating activities is dinner at the surprising artificial waterfalls Labasin, which appear to descend abruptly to the delight of the tourist. Several rows of tables with benches are found a few feet away from the falling waters and within the big basin. There, sitting at table of one’s choice, one can savor, buffet style, the typical, delicious local food with the waterfall as the glaring background, and the crystalline water that runs softly through one’s feet as a stream of pure water. That is, indeed, a most unique and unforgettable experience.
The visitors who wish to stay, can spend the night in modern bamboo cabins built next to each other around the lake. They are all equipped with modern facilities and can provide the interested tourist an exceptionally pleasant relaxation. Roger, Lucille and the Lincoln family returned to Manila, however, very satisfied with their short visit, so they did not use the cabins. On their return to the capital, they crossed Laguna, a town that is near Mount Makiling, which is a historic national peak frequently described in Filipino literary writings.Pinatubo and the “lahar”
One of the most desolate excursions of the scenic Filipino country was, without a doubt, the one that the group undertook to the region devastated by the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo, covered by the volcanic ash known today as the “lahar”. Before its 1991 eruption, the crater measured some two thousand feet in depth and more than one mile in width. The present panoramic view of the region may arouse disbelief in the reader, no matter how accurately descriptive its desolation may be. Those who have not seen with their own eyes that massive ruin will not be able to believe the incalculable quantity of “lahar” that the volcano, latent for many centuries, shed in the proximity of Poras, Ángeles and other small villages of Pampanga. These towns and villages have all disappeared under the ravaging current of “Mr. Pinatubo” in its surprising eruption. The only things that can be seen of those inhabited localities are some church steeples and, in a few places, some house roofs, jutting above the “lahar”.
People from around Angeles affirm that the American authorities from Clark Air Base had warned about the volcano’s eruption some days earlier. However, the mayor of the town derided the Americans, who, in his words, “did not know that Pinatubo had been latent for over six hundred years and did not know what they were saying”. The day before the eruption, the Americans evacuated the base. The mayor, on the other hand, after having advised the citizens not to believe the Americans, left town in a hurry. The townspeople, however, stayed in their houses. He saved himself, but the entire village perished, buried under that growing river of mud, which became “Mr. Pinatubo” in eruption.
Roger was more impressed by that desolation than by the Vesuvius ruins, which he saw in Pompeii and those of Ostia Antica, recently discovered near Rome and which he briefly describes in his autobiography. According to him, within half a century or perhaps some more years, the Philippines will have, after adequate excavations, its modern Pompeii and Ostia Antica in its disappeared villages of Poras, Ángeles and nearby towns. How sad it is seeing that in such a naturally beautiful country…!
The young and beautiful Rosalinda, a niece of Lucille’s brother-in-law Danny, with her husband Alejandro at the wheel, took them to the “lahar”. At one point, the group stopped and got out of the car in order to capture fully the desolation before them. To continue their tour, they got back into the van, but it started to skid on the volcanic residue. In spite of all the passengers that tried to push, it continued to sink deeper and deeper and would not get out of the hole. As the reader can well imagine, nobody in the group was happy contemplating the possibility of having to spend hours and hours in the middle of that desert of volcanic composition. Fortunately, a Good Samaritan appeared and, with his truck, pulled the van out of the hole onto firm ground.Subic Bay
Rosalinda and Alejandro took the Fernández and Lincoln families to the already mentioned Villa Escudero, and, on another day, to the “lahar” in the morning, and in the afternoon to Subic Bay, formerly the biggest American Naval instalation outside of the United States. Fascinating for its dimension and beauty, this Bay captivated Roger’s imagination and interest, for the Spanish presence had been felt there much earlier than the American.
For the purpose of providing the reader with some information of cultural interest, it would be appropriate now to make a short synopsis of the history of that exceptional Filipino enclave. In 1572, Juan de Salcedo, a nephew of Miguel López de Legaspi, arrives at that bay and mentions its deep waters, its sheltered anchoring-grounds and its strategic importance. In 1868, the Spanish government conducted a military expedition and reached the conclusion that Subic Bay was an ideal location for a naval base. So, in 1884, King Alfonso XII issued a law-decree that established the bay as a naval port.
On April 27, 1898, Spanish Admiral Don Patricio Montojo y Pasaron moved his armada to Subic Bay. After an inspection of the Big Island, the Admiral decides to abandon Subic and sails towards Manila. The first of May of that same year, the American forces destroyed Montejo’s armada at Manila Bay and the Spaniards abandon Subic Bay Naval Base, while the Americans settle in it in 1903.
Overlooking at this time the development of the base at the service of the American forces in the Pacific, it would be fitting here to speak briefly about the events that have brought about the present situation at the enclave. On September 13, 1991, the Filipino Senate rejected the Friendship, Peace and Cooperation Treaty presented by the American authorities for a period of ten years. On March 13 of next year 1992, Corazón Aquino, President of the Republic at the time, approves the Conservation and Development of the Bases Act. At the same time, she names Richard J. Gordon, President of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. Son of an American father and of a Filipino mother, Mr. Gordon was then the mayor of Olongapo, a city adjacent to Subic Bay. Seven months later, on October 1992, the last American ship, USS Belleau Wood, abandons the base. Thus ends 94 years of the American military presence in the Philippines.
When Roger and Lucille and their companions visited Subic Bay, the base could hardly be recognized, according to local sources. Under Mr. Gordon’s progressive and enlightened leadership, the enclave had already been converted, almost in its totality, into a free commercial port and into a vacation resort with a casino.
First, they visited the forest or jungle that surrounds the bay. The guide who accompanied them was an “aeta”, which is the name given to the aboriginal inhabitant of that thick forest. They penetrated the clustered thickness of the jungle and were able to contemplate its pristine, savage-like state and admire luxuriant arches of several centuries old trees, which projected a cool shade on their path. They saw, moreover, where the “aetas” live and how they spend their time, including taking baths in crystalline waters that run through their numerous streams…the perfect place to sit and, with delight, imbue oneself with natural splendor. As they went further into the thick jungle, Roger kept alive interior monologues as this one: “How happy the old days were, but how uncomfortable, however, for our modern era, which madly aspires to material comfort without limit…!
Roger listened with great interest, particularly, to the “aeta” guide’s explanation of the religious beliefs of the primitive inhabitants of that island. They still preserve the beliefs that they received from the Spaniards, since according to the “aeta” guide, they still practice Catholicism, even though they have practically lost the Spanish language.
In that immense complex which Subic Bay is, there is a school, still functioning, where they teach people how to survive in the jungle, the same tricks taught to the Americans to fight the guerrillas in Vietnam. They teach how to set traps, to leave footprints or trace tracks. They also show visitors how to create utensils and tools from the products of the forest, how to create sparks by rubbing a bamboo cane against another or how to produce clean, drinkable water from the same. Finally, it is a lesson of self-preservation and sufficiency in which the visitor can participate and to which the Fernández and Lincoln families were fortunate to attend. It was, for them, a very pleasant and instructive pastime.
Going through another section of the old Naval Base, it is rather curious and interesting to stop and observe an incalculable number of sleeping bats clustered hanging from the branches of very tall and thick trees. Equally intriguing are the activities of small, long-tailed monkeys, unique to the Philippines.
Naturally, Roger found “something” in that precious Filipino corner that would remind him of his beloved Bierzo. In fact, while returning from the tour, at a specific spot along the right-bank of the bay, looking to the left side of the bay, two mountains can be seen on the horizon. The locals call them “Susu nang dalaga” (the breasts of a young girl), and, of course, those two hills reminded Roger of the two mountains near Columbrianos known as “las tetas del Bierzo” (the teats of El Bierzo). He bets, with a smile naturally, that if the Spanish King had sent a “berciano” admiral to defend Subic Bay, such admiral would not have sailed towards Manila as Admiral Montojo did. He would have anchored at Subic to fight for those “Susu nang dalaga” and would have defended them as if they were the ones from El Bierzo, and perhaps… history would have changed. God only knows if there would now be a “colonia berciana” at Subic…Cebu: cradle of Christianity in Asia
That beautiful city, one-hour flight south of Manila, is the second largest and most important city of the Philippine Islands. It is, besides, the most ancient city of the country, and for that reason it has been given the title “Queen City of the South”. It is a clean city, a city of a very delightful, pleasant colonial look.
There are several reasons why Roger wanted to visit Cebu. It was there that Magellan landed in 1521 and planted a huge cross to indicate the place where the Filipinos were first baptized. It was there, also, that the Basílica Menor del Santo Niño was built. It is there, in that basilica, that one can find the statue of El Santo Niño dressed in red and yellow cloaks brought from Spain, and the most ancient Spanish relic of the Philippines.
Moreover, Cebu is the birthplace of Lucille, Roger’s wife. Who would have told him, when he studied in Fuentesnuevas the history of Spain and her colonies, that some day he would marry a woman born in the same place where Magellan landed in 1521? It was there also that the famous navigator presented Queen Juana, spouse of King Rajah Humabon, with the venerable statue of El Santo Niño on the occasion of her baptism that same year.
Cebu is not only the name of the metropolis itself, it is also the most important province of the islands of the Visayas. It constitutes a unique mixture of tropical paradise and business anchoring-place. This Queen City of the South takes great advantage of its reputation as the most important stop for tourism and business in the Philippines. That fortunate and privileged land enjoys a clement tropical climate all year round. That is why people there can have the benefit of its pristine beaches, bathed in sun and shining white sand, such as the Hodson Beach where the Fernández, the Lincoln and the RomeroSalas Families picnicked with “Cebuano” relatives. They took to the beach abundant supply of delicious Filipino food, including their legendary “lechón” (roasted pig) and the always crackling but delectable “chicharrón” (pork rinds).
Cebu’s present name derives from its original denomination “Sugbo”. Conquered in 1565 by the Spaniard Miguel López de Legaspi, this distinguished colonial city has always profited, and still does so today, from a very rich and instructive cultural inheritance, which is very worthy to visit. Fort San Pedro is one of those places of great historical significance. Constructed by the Spaniards in 1738 to repel the Muslim invaders from the South, that fortress is the most ancient and smallest bastion of the country. Throughout its history, it has served as shelter and fort for the Filipino revolutionaries, barracks for the American army and prison during the Japanese occupation. Nowadays, it has become a very often visited and much admired historic park.
The Spaniards have left in Cebu and its surroundings an imposing legacy of churches, some of which have resisted weather and war-havoc. They still preserve the splendor of their original structure, with its altar at times baroque, adorned with golden leaves and illuminated with dazzling chandeliers transported from Spain centuries ago. All those historic churches continue to nourish the faith and spiritual life of the “cebuano” population, which is genetically very religious.
Naturally, in Cebu one can visit the very famous and venerated Magellan’s cross. Even though it only contains remnants of the original, it is, however, a replica and it is covered with metal so that the visitors do not take pieces as relics or souvenirs. The mural paintings represent scenes of the first Mass celebrated in the Philippines. This may be, perhaps, the second most frequented place in Cebu, after the statue of El Santo Niño lodged in the Basilica Menor, near the cross where hundreds of candles lay lit by the faithful who visit.
The Basilica Menor enclosure is, without any doubt, the most visited zone in all of Cebu. Located in the center of the city, it is the heart of the “cebuana” metropolis. The line to go up to the site of the statue and pay homage to the old and venerated relic therein lodged is very long indeed. The process to kneel before the statue of El Santo Niño so as to venerate it resembles the one observed to honor and revere the Virgin of Montserrat, near Barcelona, Spain, and other places of worship around the world. People have to form a line to go up the stairs and move very slowly. It took the Fernández and Lincoln families two hours that day to reach the statue, for the beginning of the line went back several yards outside the basilica. Though the “cebuano people” are very religious and devoted, Roger thinks that this situation developed because, during those days of the Festival del Santo Niño, Filipinos from all over gather in Cebu for the celebration of that famous festival, well known throughout the Philippine Islands.
To participate in those festivities and to be present for the big “sinulog” was precisely the purpose of Lucille’s family trip to Cebu at that particular time. The “sinulog” is an old dance that the “Cebuano” people performed for their god, Bathala, similar to the dance of serene waves.At the center of the Christian “sinulog” today is El Santo Niño. Every Friday, when the buyer makes his intentions known the saleslady habitually makes waves with the candle, recites a prayer and performs her serene-waves dance.
Nowadays, the great Sinulog Festival begins nine days before the third Sunday of January and culminates with a very lively and dazzling celebration parading through the streets of Cebu. Thousands of dancers from all corners of the city, dressed in carefully fashioned garments of many and varied colors, keep their rendezvous at the Basilica Menor and its surroundings. Then, with giants and state coaches, in ways that remind Roger of the Fallas in Valencia, Spain, they parade dancing throughout the city, in rhythmic modulation, the serene-waves dances to the delight of thousands of spectators who acclaim them with enthusiasm.
Roger and his companions observed this impressive parade from a department store, for it was impossible to do that in the streets, which were thronged with admirers bursting with joy and enthusiasm. He was overtaken with emotion by the beginning of the parade, led by the Filipino and the Spanish flags next to each other. Along the parade of that city of more than one million inhabitants one could hear the Spanish words “¡Viva el Santo Niño!” or “¡Viva el Señor!That impressive parade of five hours of exuberance and solemnity is in reality a celebration of life and of homage to the divinity, rich in tradition and culture, and keeper of religious devotion and civic unity. Something worth witnessing…
Nevertheless, Catholicism is not the only religion practiced in Cebu. As evidence of the large Chinese population in the province of Cebu, in one of the mountains known as “Beverly Hills”, tourists can admire the immense, fascinating structure of the Taoist temple. Ninety-nine stair steps take the visitor to the pompous, extravagant and attractive temple. From its top, Taoist faithful and visitors to the temple can contemplate the awe-inspiring panoramic view of the city and Mactán Island, seat of the international airport of Cebu.
The visit to Mactán Island, adjacent to Cebu City, produced particular interest in Roger’s cultural curiosity. There, a monument stands in honor of Lapu Lapu, the first Filipino leader who fought for the freedom of his people and who killed Magellan during the battle. Behind the statue also stands an obelisk, built of stone and of smaller size, where the Spanish achievements are exalted.With the readers’ indulgence, and with very sincere apologies to them, the author is going to relate here a light conversation between Roger and Jaime Romero-Salas:
“Do you know where the name Lapu Lapu comes from?” asks Jaime.
“Well, Lapu Lapu is the name of the gentleman who killed Magellan”, answered Roger.
“Yes, but what is its etymological origin?” insists Jaime.
“Well, I can assure you that I do not know it”, affirms Roger.
“The answer is very simple”, continues Jaime. “When Lapu Lapu threw the lance that killed Magellan, the latter, in an act of desperation before dying and making signs of revenge towards his rival, loudly said: “la pu… la pu…la puta que te parió”. (The expression “la puta que te parió” is frequently used in Spanish by someone when somebody else does something unpleasant or hurtful and it literally means “the whore that gave you birth”). Hearing those words, the natives thought that Magellan’s last wishes were that his rival should get the name Lapu Lapu”.
Needless to say, only a Spaniard with a great sense of humor could arrive to such a conclusion, and sense of humor is one of Jaime’s greatest qualities. The only historic truth in Jaime’s tale is the fact that that Filipino leader was, without doubt, the one who mortally pierced Magellan with the lance.
Saturated with history, culture and tradition, the tourist in Cebu is ready for something more mundane, such as entertainment and the delicious local gastronomy. The group that accompanied Roger to the “Queen City of the South” was prepared for such activities. Jaime put at their disposal, from his business, a big passenger-van with a driver available twenty-four hours a day. Thus, they could drive anywhere in the island at whatever hour they so chose. So, Roger and Lucille went by themselves to a ship anchored in the port of Cebu to experience a “Brazilian Fantasy”. It was a spectacular extravaganza of food, dance and show presented by “Timbalada” group of Río de Janeiro, land of the Samba, and accompanied by the “Four Seasons” orchestra of the port of Cebu. A better farewell to that precious city could have never been dreamt…
Naturally, all that is good always ends soon. Time goes by faster when people are having the best of times. The four days that they spent in Cebu seemed to have flown. Roger likes to contemplate rare geological formations, and for that reason he would have liked to visit the delightfully beautiful little island of “Bohol”, near Cebu. For lack of time he could not fulfill that wish and he had to be satisfied with the view of that natural splendor from the little window of the plane while approaching Cebu and landing at its airport when arriving from Manila. The Bohol Island is famous for its “Chocolate Mountains”, a breadth-taking formation of about one thousand oval mounds of limestone spread throughout that island. From the plane it was an awe-inspiring view… something out of this world.Manila
Back in Manila, Lucille wanted to give a Filipino welcome to her husband Roger and her son-in-law, Robert Lincoln, and to introduce them to her family members, her friends and countrymen. The reception, with a big banquet, was held at the “Casino Español”, the same location where the Casino authorities had previously received King Juan Carlos and the then president of Spain, Felipe González when Jaime was the director of the Casino Español. The event was definitely a great honor for Roger and the best homage he had ever received in his life. The almost uncontrollable emotions that at times overcame Lucille’s words when presenting her Spanish husband to her closest Filipino compatriots reached deeply into his heart. Undoubtedly, moments like these remain forever part of one’s most delightful memories.
For the tourists who do not have much time at their disposal in Manila and wish to participate in some adventurous outings, there are plenty of activities, excursions and museums that can very pleasantly entertain them with great satisfaction and excitement. The Fernández and the Lincoln families took advantage of some of those opportunities before going to Cebu.
Inside the Manila metropolis itself, the medieval walled-city “Intramuros”, bastion in Asia of Imperial Spain, unfolds into exceptional value for those who love history. “Intramuros” is a tranquil oasis of cobblestone streets, baroque churches and university buildings, and something a little bit surreal in the middle of that historic milieu: a golf course.
Of great interest in “Intramuros” is the church of San Agustín. That sacred structure entirely rock-built, constitutes one of the most ancient works of its kind in the Philippines. Fourteen lateral chapels form part of that magnificent colonial structure. A small museum adjacent to the church also attracts the attention of the visitor. It exhibits pictures of Filipino and religious art and ancient religious vestments. Two blocks away from San Agustín church is Manila’s cathedral, a spacious Roman structure with precious stained-glass windows that vividly describe the history of Christianity in the Philippines.
Several blocks from the cathedral, the history of Manila can be relived by visiting Fort Santiago. There, one can stumble unto the mournful, gloomy and cold underground dungeons where the Japanese used to keep Filipino prisoners during Second World War until liberated by the American forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. In that fortress one can also appreciate several mementos of physician and writer José Rizal, including the original of his famous poem “Mi último adiós” (My last Farewell), which he wrote in his cell before his death.
Not far from Fort Santiago towards Manila Bay lies Rizal Park. It is a big, imposing and attractive rectangular esplanade with gardens of flowers and, in the middle, an elegant national monument to that world-renowned Filipino writer and patriot hero, under guard twenty-four hours a day.
On the other side of Rizal Park, crossing Roxas Boulevard, historic Manila Bay appears magnificent, scenic, regal and majestic. That highly colored, awe-inspiring wall of sea seems to embrace the most soothing, picturesque horizon on earth… That is, indeed, a natural and ideal spot to take a walk, to seat down and admire the sun setting on the Bay, which evolves into a divinely artistic and most divinely fair geological formation of great beauty, a divine invite to dreaming and resting…
With more than ten million inhabitants, Metro Manila is, without any doubt, a delightful, showy and relaxing metropolis. The Pasig River, unfortunately soiled and contaminated at present, divides it into North and South within the boundaries of the five cities that make it up: Makati, Pasay, Caloocán, Quezón (seat of the national government) and Manila where Palacio Malacañang is located. This Palace is presently the residence of the President of the country, as it was in the past the residence of the Spanish Governors General and of the American High Commissioners after them.
Any authentic visit to Manila must include, needless to say, the hustling and tumultuous Makati Center, the most important commercial district in the country. Makati throbs with life: clamorous and busy side-walks, stirring commercial centers, elegant stores, ostentatious galleries and some of the residences and hotels of the greatest value and luxury in the country. In addition, it is a center of wide boulevards, luxury apartments and exquisite restaurants. Money can be touched there with its great power in all its modern convincing majesty.
Not very far from all that opulence, all that luxury and richness, another modern reality stands out as well: the devastating poverty and destitution of squatters with their cardboard-huts along the railroad tracks or the underpass of the several highways. This is indeed a depressing and shameful view for many Filipinos, proud of their beautiful country.
At the time of Roger’s visit to the Philippines, some of Metro Manila mayors were showing signs of uneasiness, not only for the precarious conditions of the squatters themselves, but also for the appearance of neglect and abandonment that those corridors of indigence represented for their respective city. Consequently, they were starting to take measures, more or less adequate in some cases, to improve the condition of those squatters and to clean the unhealthy environment in which they were living. Some of those conscientious leaders, according to more recent information, have succeeded quite well in the endeavor.
Nevertheless, Manila, the principal city of the Philippines, constitutes a delightful mixture of the old and the new. Undoubtedly, it represents an epitome of ancient traditions and modern attractions, as evidenced by old constructions of Spanish architecture and modern American-style skyscrapers. Numerous curious small posts of street businesses and huge modern commercial centers, as well as magnificent up-to-date museums and old churches of several years of existence, exotic night-life and impetuous workday hustling…all add to Manila’s attractive mixed look. Even so, and notwithstanding the fact that Manila is known as “the pearl of the Orient”, Roger prefers Cebu, not only for its history, but also for its people and its cleanliness. However, that did not take away his delight for Manila as well.
Farewell, adored Fatherland,
Beloved region of the sun,
Pearl of the Orient Sea,
Our lost Eden…
Thus, during those three weeks throughout the Philippines, Roger learned much about that marvelous country as well as about the Spanish influence that still is felt everywhere. After a pleasurable run through historic places of instructive curiosity, he has been able to obtain a more balanced appreciation of the Spanish and American ascendant of those lands of great natural splendor. He feels very sincere pride in his ancestors. In spite of adventuring through roads paved with dangers, risks and vicissitudes of all sorts, they left behind an ample and rich Spanish cultural legacy in a different part of the world, previously foreign to their Iberian manners, beliefs and customs. Furthermore, he takes pride in continuing to impart to today’s youth through his teaching, the linguistic wealth of his adored Spain and the admirable fertility of its unfading and delectable culture.CHINA
At the end of May 1998, Roger and his spouse Lucille with a group of professors and students from Los Angeles City College, carried out a welcome opportunity to visit the vast, enigmatic and mysterious country of China. Somewhat third world, poor and oppressed in its outlook, China captivates the imagination of the peoples of the West for its resplendent imperial culture of thousands of years ago, the magnitude of its geography and, above all, for the inscrutability of its Oriental soul.
It is well known that China discovered gunpowder, the compass, paper and calligraphy. Similarly, silk as well as the silkworm and silk tree have been traced to that stunning and fascinating nation. With more than one billion two-hundred million inhabitants, it is trying almost desperately to open its commercial doors to the exterior, while at the same time it is equally determined to maintain closed the windows of thought and ideology.
Reflecting on the big monuments and old gardens, the visitor is perplexed by the unlimited sumptuousness of the shockingly luxurious and abusive life of pristine emperors of the past and the humble and evidently miserable existence of their subjects. In innumerable towns and villages, people still greet each other, at any time of day, with the expression “have you eaten”? Of course, that form of showing concern and respect for neighbors is vanishing in large metropolis where economic progress presently seems to be taking gigantic steps forward.
Since the beginning of the seventies when the president of the United States, Richard Nixon, visited China, the atmosphere has been one of openness and progress. That is obvious in almost all the big populated centers that the group had the privilege to see. There are already huge modern supermarkets, warehouses and stores where the large majority of clients are young people. Similarly, there is evidence everywhere of all kinds of up-to date technology and industries and numerous skyscrapers recently built or still in construction. All that is a favorable omen, Roger thinks, of an intense, and perhaps irrevocable, eagerness for progress and eventual freedom.
In order to appreciate better that surprising country, Roger maintains that the visitor must bear in mind at all times certain precautions of self-protection. For example, copious abundance of water can be evident everywhere. That precious liquid can prove to be dangerous for the foreign tourist who drinks it at great risk. It is wise to carry in the suitcase the necessary amount of bottled water for personal consumption during one’s stay in the country. Using tap water from the faucet even to clean one’s teeth is risky. Since the hotels supply each room with decanters filled with boiling water for tea, it is wise to let some of that water to cool so as to use it for that hygienic purpose. However, nowadays, one can buy mineral water at every tourist place. It does not cost much, but commands a higher price than beer.
Similarly, it is dangerous to eat from food stands in the streets. Restaurants and hotels serve good food, but the scarcity in variety gets very tiresome. In spite of having frequently consumed Chinese food in Los Angeles, California, it became very monotonous for Roger to eat the same dishes day in and day out in China. He was anxiously looking forward to the end of the tour in order to eat with gusto once more. Fortunately, the hotel industry now serves Western-style food. Unfortunate for the group was the fact that the terms of their contract included only Chinese cuisine. It was worth to splurge in the hotel from time to time and enjoy a buffet breakfast European or American style, where there is everything and tourists can choose whatever they like.
Though in certain large urban centers many cars now circulate through crowded streets, the principal means of transportation remains the bicycle. Beijing, the capital (formerly Peking) is still known as “the city of the bicycle”. In some localities, cars, bicycles and street walkers journey carelessly, ostensibly following the law of the most daring, the most agile and the fastest. In other urban centers of greater economic importance, the cars travel through the middle of the street while bicycles and pedestrians circulate on the sidewalks in four or five rows.
Nevertheless, even in colossal centers of several million inhabitants like Beijing, Xian, Nanjing and Shanghai where traffic is at times quite dense, the group rarely observed accidents. Likewise, compared to other industrial countries in the West, the parking problem is minimal or nonexistent. On the other hand, people maintain themselves slim. Even retirees do physical exercise or “taichi” (a mixture of physical exercise and meditation) or simply dance in the parks early in the morning. Simply stated, obesity in China, if it exists, is not seen on the streets.
In 1979, the regime ruling China, which is mainly an agricultural country, eliminated its old communal system. Currently, every farmer or agriculturist possesses his own lot of land. Nonetheless, in places where tourism flourishes, the Chinese have learned all the capitalist tricks of the West. At the exit of every tourist attraction there are always those who insist in getting rid of local souvenirs for a price. Haggling, there, is a necessity and even an obligation that rises to the category of an art. One must always start offering much less than half the price and end paying between 30 to 40 percent of the original amount asked by the seller, but generally not higher than the latter figure shown here.
Convinced that he already mastered the art of haggling, at the “Forbidden City” in Beijing, Roger offered a saleswoman 8 “yuan”(one dollar) for two packages of postcards when she was asking him 10 “yuan” for one. She acceded to the price and gave two packages to Roger who smiled with satisfaction for having overcome the art of haggling in China. Moments later, he realized, though too late, however, that one of those packages contained postcards of Russian sculpture of very little artistic value which was worthless to him.
After a good laugh, Roger decided never to fall again in the trap. When a seller approached him to sell him anything, he would point to Lucille and would say in English: “There is my bank”. With those few words, he always managed to be left alone…
The average monthly salary in China is 500 (five hundred) “yuan”, that is to say about sixty-two dollars, which is approximately the price of a bicycle. Tour guides advise the tourists to be firm in conducting their haggling in the abovementioned fashion. On the other hand, the big modern department stores sell only at fixed prices.
Families in China suffer from many restrictions. They are allowed to have only one child. If the first-born child is not a male, they are allowed a second child and no more, whether male or female. To decide to depart from that set of rules is a decision to risk and be forced to undergo abortion or mandatory sterilization. This practice has created enormous social problems. There are more than twenty million men without any possible Chinese consort. So, they have to import Korean women to resolve this problem.
Moreover, Chinese families are forbidden to accept foreign visitors in their house, not even as dinner guests. Only if the foreigner is a close relative can Chinese families treat any foreigner to hospitality in their home. For that reason, students from other lands cannot live with a family while studying in China, as is the common custom in European countries.
The sightseer can still observe primitive methods of work in construction and cereal harvesting which was starting at the time of Roger’s visit. Every so often, human chains can still be seen passing on bricks or cement blocks to build walls or low buildings. Cranes and bamboo scaffolds, however, are in greater evidence everywhere. Similarly, Chinese farmers still cut down and thresh their wheat and rye the way it was done half a century ago when Roger was a child in his native Bierzo. Besides, they also use the “milpa” system of “cutting and burning” as it was done in Central American maize-fields.
On the other hand, the Chinese are experts in mounting museums. They can be teachers in that art. The Historical Museum of Xian and the Shanghai Museum of Shanghai, both built not so long ago, figure among the best the group has seen in content, ornament and accommodation of the exhibit. In Roger’s view, they surpass the Getty Museum of Los Angeles, which is always overcrowded and has a three to four month wait for obtaining parking. Unfortunately, the museums of Xian and Shanghai appear almost empty, partly because its hugeness and partly because of the small number of visitors. Even so, Roger reasons that, museum directors around the world, ought to examine in detail the plans of those two Chinese museums, or better still, see them personally and take copious notes.
Travel through China is not expensive. It presents, however, complications, risks and dangers. To avoid or minimize entanglements, embarrassment or awkwardness, it is important to be part of a group where some kind of support and protection can be found. A foreign visitor to China must present to the Chinese authorities, beforehand, a detailed itinerary and purpose of the visit. After that, the registered tourist is totally at their mercy.
The first few days in Beijing, a gentleman who pretended not to understand any English got in the bus with Roger’s party of twenty-one travelers. He accompanied them everywhere they went and observed all their movements. As the group journeyed south, the number of passengers increased, so that at the end of the tour in Shanghai twenty-six persons traveled in the bus, including the driver and the local guide. Though the answer is a mystery, it is conceivable to ask oneself “why is it so?”Beijing
In Beijing, an interesting and intriguing city of six million inhabitants, the group strode through the periphery of the huge and incomparable Tiananmen Square, well known for the 1989 “killings”, which the Chinese authorities call “incidents”. They were not allowed to walk through the Square, for on that day, Chinese authorities were entertaining the then Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. So huge is the Square that he could only be seen as a very small figure that could hardly be recognized.
At the outer edge of the Square at one of the entrances, a colossal electronic screen stood with the message “Macao, Chinese on December 20th, 1999”. Below, it displayed the minutes that remained for that historic event to occur, which, at the time of the visit showed to be more than six million. Naturally, that huge announcement caused neither joy nor satisfaction to a Portuguese professor, born in Lisbon, who accompanied the group in the tour.
Adjacent to the Square stretches out the old Imperial Palace, over a mile long in a two million one hundred and twenty thousand square foot area. Better known as the “Forbidden City”, it contains more than nine hundred buildings with red walls, yellow roofs and white marble banisters and steps. Corridors and wooden structures exhibit pictorial art and decorations of dazzling colors. The pavement consists of eight layers of crossed stones to inhibit assassination by tunnel. Each building or structure had its own function. In one of them, the candidates to a government position spent three days and three nights taking exams.
Awesome in its magnitude and resplendent in its beauty, the interminable Forbidden City leaves the sightseer marveling at its art, captivated by its glorious monotony, confounded by its majestic immensity and, it is worth saying, physically exhausted when leaving that fascinating compound through a cooling royal garden.
The gardens and summer residence of Empress Cixi, who ruined the poor Chinese country at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries sharpen the curiosity and enliven the interest of the visitor. Within the vast confines of her own place of residence stand, in contrast, the very limited quarters where she kept the young Emperor locked. The most outstanding feature of those gardens is, without a doubt, the long corridor. With resplendent artistic designs in its ceiling and its two thousand five hundred feet in length, it is the longest corridor in China and possibly in the world.
Similarly worthy of a visit is the Temple of Heaven. Imposing in its vastness, its peculiar acoustic sound, similar to the one experienced at a specific point in the Mezquita of Córdoba in southern Spain, attracts the attention of visitors. The amplification of the sound at the Temple of Heaven is produced, however, not within the temple itself but in the open air, speaking in a soft voice against the surrounding wall.
On the way to the Great Wall, sightseers can stop at the Pantheon Palace of the Ming Tombs to visit the rest places of the emperors. It shows the same rectangular formation as the Forbidden City. These imposing structures impress tourists, not for their art, which truly hardly exists, but for the unbelievable depth of the graves and the enormity of the doors that close the tombs. Furthermore, the visitor comes out of the Pantheon Palace horrified at the realization that the servants of the deceased emperor were locked alive behind those huge doors with their master so that they could continue serving him in death…
North of Beijing stands majestic a stretch of the Great Wall known as Badaling. This structure commands fascination for its vastness and wonderment at the difficulty of its construction. With lookout houses at certain intervals, most of this wall was built thousands of years ago, and hundreds of years ago in sections like the Badaling one, at a time when there was no adequate technology to carry out the work, all of which had to be done by hand.
To climb to the highest peak constitutes a very arduous deed, which not everyone can, nor tries to achieve. Happily, Roger was in very good physical condition and succeeded. He climbed to the roof of the last lookout house, intoned the “Olé… olé, olé, olé” of the soccer games in Europe and started taking the first steps of the “Macarena”. Two Hispanic students accompanied him in the singing. This caused smiles and applause in the Chinese people present nearby. Among those sightseers was a young Buddhist monk, who congratulated Roger by saying: “You are a brave man”.
The one-hour climb was hard and the half-hour descent more painful. The steps are very irregular and require great concentration of sight and an almost violent leg-exercise. When he reached the bottom of the Wall, his knees were shaking so much that he was feeling extensive muscular deficiency and was almost falling. For three days his muscles were hurting, but he would not change this experience for “all the tea in China”, he assures with a smile.Anyang
From Beijing, the group rode south using the new, but still unfinished, freeway that is to reach Hong Kong. They stopped at Anyang, a very old city that dates back to the 21st century before Christ and has assumed several names during its very long history. First capital of a united China for three thousand years, it is nowadays a metropolis with two and a half million inhabitants and very limited contacts with the exterior. Being a typical Chinese city, the Communist Party seems to control everything, but its humble and receptive people inspire admiration for its simplicity and compassion for its modest way of living. The street in front of the hotel reserved for the group was a center of street commerce where people swarm like they used to, as readers of Odyssey to Opportunity may well remember, in the main street of Rijeka, Yugoslavia, more than forty years ago. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the farmers of Anyang must be “good people”, for they produce the liquor Wu Liang Mellow, white in color and with a taste similar to “orujo”, which Roger describes in the first book of his autobiography.
The Anyang Teachers College authorities, all of them men in high positions in the Party, received the visitors very courteously. Then, a group of female students danced and sang for them. They were allowed to exchange ideas on teaching with certain professors of that institution. For half an hour, Roger spoke with two female professors of English, the only foreign language taught in the College. In their teaching of a foreign language, they use the “intensive reading” method, which in Roger’s professional judgment leaves a lot to be desired in a modern world where oral and written communication is the norm. Their language laboratory, however, is equipped with up-to-date technology.
Before leaving the campus of Anyang Teachers College, Roger approached the group of students who had danced and sang for them. He shook each one’s hand, gathered them in a circle and intoned softly for them the Spanish song “Adiós con el corazón…” (Farewell from the heart…). They smiled and showed great joy when a professor translated for them in Chinese Roger’s English version that said “… you will be the colored bird that joyfully sings for me in the morning…” There, in Anyang Roger could touch the feelings of the true Chinese common people.
Also in Anyang, the touring group was able to visit the Yin ruins, the old Imperial Capital of the Shang Dynasty and political, economic and cultural center of China for three thousand years. Even there, the splendor of Imperial China shines impressive. At one side of the main garden, a statue to Fu Hao, first Chinese woman Army General, stands erect with dignity and pride.
Similarly, a historic museum in Anyang attracts the attention of tourists. Unhappily, it is housed in a very old, dilapidated and extremely poorly lighted building. It exhibits very old artifacts of great historic interest. The young director who, through an interpreter, explained the museum to the visitors openly expressed the hope that, finally, the authorities will give him a new and modern building.Luo Yang
On their way to Luo Yang, they crossed the Yellow River, the river most symbolic of Chinese history. Its name faithfully reflects the color of its waters. Luo Yang can boast of a rich four thousand year-old history and a prosperous population of one million five hundred thousand inhabitants. It stands as a city of great historic and tourist interest as well as of great strategic importance.
The local guide made constant and frequent contrasts between previous indigence and present progress and wealth, complaining bitterly, however, about the poverty of the educational system. He also made allusion to the fact that the local people did not allow the revolutionary forces of Mao Tse Tung, in 1949, to destroy the first Chinese Buddhist temple, the Baina (White Horse). Perhaps it was because of these comments that they changed him as the guide after the tour through that charming historic temple. A different guide took the group to the site Longmen Caves where tourists can contemplate and appreciate one hundred thousand figurines of Buddha, in sizes ranging from small to gigantic. All carved throughout the hill, ten thousand of them can be seen, however, in the most impressive cave of that imposing configuration of caverns in that fascinating rocky mountain.
In Luo Yang the group took the train towards Xian, Chinese glittering cultural jewel of more than six million inhabitants. Quite puzzling to Roger was the fact that animals, particularly chickens, and human travel together. Similar to other runs by bus, this one by train crosses interminable fields of cereals and numerous small villages. The houses appeared made of unburnt brick dried in the sun, and clustered together in an oasis of trees. Through the windows of the train passengers could see dirt roads of towns or villages where little or no movement could be observed whether on foot or on bicycle. This long trajectory reminded Roger of his native Bierzo, not only for its fertile fields, but also for the sight of coal, which in a specific locality transferred Roger’s mind to the Ponferrada he knew in the fifties.
Xian is the door to the silk world trade, but is, above all, the guardian of a vast richness of cultural relics and of several memorable historic sites. Of great interest to the tourists is the Museum of the Bampo people of six thousand years ago. Much more impressive still is the Museum of the eternal terracotta soldiers and horses, a powerful army of one thousand and two hundred years past, of Emperor Quin Shi Huang, who swept the whole Chinese territory. He built those terracotta soldiers to protect him after his death. The palace he built was so huge that the fire, which the first Emperor of the following Han Dynasty started in order to destroy it, lasted three full months.
They call the Museum of the terracotta soldiers and horses “The Eighth Wonder of the World”. Roger failed to fathom the reason for that title. In his travels he has seen many other constructions of much greater marvel. Later on he read that it was the French Prime Minister, Chirac, who denominated it so, perhaps in a moment of diplomatic euphoria, suggests Roger… In his view, it is indeed impressive and awe-inspiring, but it does not rise to the level of “eighth wonder”. Some farmers discovered it in 1972 while digging a well. Chinese workers have not had enough time yet to complete the reconstruction. Furthermore, the three pits do not form part of the same edifice. As far as Roger is concerned, it is even inferior to the Historic Museum of Xian. Nevertheless, one cannot go to China and not visit those two precious jewels.Nanjing
After a panoramic visit of the beautiful city of Xian, the group flew to Nanjing. Something laughably incredible happened at the airport before boarding. The aircraft was not at the boarding gate and the passengers had to go down the stairs and then proceed towards the plane stationed more than a quarter of a mile away. That does not surprise anybody: it is done frequently in many airports around the world. The curious thing in Xian is that the airport authorities made the passengers go down the stairs and then “walk” on foot to the aircraft. A man was seen crossing the airport riding a bicycle between planes. The passengers themselves had to stop and yield way to a plane that had just landed. Then it was their turn to resume their walk towards the aircraft more than a quarter of a mile away… only in China…
Nanjing airport is big, very modern and up to date, as will be the airport of Xian that was then under construction. The city projects a modern and majestic look with its tall buildings of old stone and its wide streets of contemporary appearance. This historic city of more than five million inhabitants can offer the visitors several tourist attractions of great interest.
Worthy of a visit is its Historic Museum where acupuncture and jade apparel jut out. Similarly, the Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum attracts sightseers in great numbers. To reach that magnificent pantheon it is necessary to walk uphill about half a mile and then climb 392 stone steps, which become progressively steeper. Of course, such physical challenges provoke in Roger boldness and determination. He walked all the way up to the Mausoleum, visited and admired it and then rested in the surrounding garden.
Equally important is to cross the Yangtse River Bridge as part of a tourist excursion. This bridge can boast of a very peculiar and unique construction because of its location of sculptures of great artistic, though not necessarily ideological value. The guide kept repeating without stop that the Chinese built the structure all by themselves without any foreign help, and it is certainly great work.
Like in any other Chinese big urban centers, visitors can observe women driving taxis and buses. On the other hand, traffic in this city displays something unique that up to now Roger had never seen. Traffic lights are accompanied by a small electronic screen that shows the number of seconds left for it to change from red to green. What causes most uneasiness in Nanjing is, however, the temperature. Known as the “furnace city”, it frequently rises above 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer.Wuxi
They arrived at Wuxi, modernized metropolis of more than three thousand years history and four and a half million inhabitants with abundant economic movement. Progress is evident everywhere. While in Wuxi the group could finally obtain news in English from the international chain CNN. Similarly, and surprisingly, as they traveled south, the farmers appeared more and more well-to-do. In Wuxi, however, they truly exhibit wealth and live in luxury houses at the outskirts of the city.
Wuxi is the capital of Chinese pottery. It is also well known for its caves and bamboo forests. Moreover, it is famous for fresh water pearls, which vary their color from white to pink to purple, depending on the intensity of the sun upon the mussels that beget them. Each mussel produces up to thirty pearls for a period of three to five years, while oysters create only one, generally larger. Hence its great value…
After so much running and traveling, the group needed some rest and relaxation. Wuxi provided them, precisely, with the ideal spot to satisfy that need. They took an excursion to the huge and natural lake Tai where they could enjoy themselves in an idyllic charm, crossing it by boat to reach the beautiful Park of the same name. In the lake there rested anchored a luxury ship to which all the high functionaries of the Party of the entire country resort to enjoy some moments of relaxation in their meetings.
In Tai Park itself, a nature walk awakens the visitors’ curiosity and overcomes them with delight. Tourists are advised to cross a rudimentary bridge made of stone because, according to the legend, whoever crosses it becomes twenty years younger…Naturally, all visitors to the park cross that bridge. From that park one can observe the fascinating geological phenomenon of three islands that exhibit the shape of a green turtle in the water. Surrounded by all that beauty, Roger fantasized that if he had to live in a Chinese city… he would certainly chose Wuxi.Suzhou
On their way to Shanghai, they stopped at Suzhou, a one-hour bus ride from Wuxi. This small city of some eight hundred thousand inhabitants is considered the silk capital. The group visited a silk factory where they were shown the very curious and intriguing, but tedious, monotonous and boring process to reproduce any article of silk from the silkworm.
As the sightseers were approaching what the Chinese locals call the “Great Canal”, coal appeared again in abundance. It brings wealth to that part of China as it did several years ago to Ponferrada in Spain, with the only difference that in Suzhou they have always transported it by boat. Similar to some canals in Venice, this Great Canal does not resemble in any way the one of that beautiful Italian city. What’s more, it appears quite neglected and, above all, polluted.
Tourists cannot bid farewell to Suzhou without visiting first its scenic and historic Wang Shi Garden where there is a bridge similar to the one in Tai Park in Wuxi. Curiously, it has a similar legend as well. A unique aspect of this Suzhou Chinese classic garden is a central structure of white glass mixed with blue glass. When the visitors look through the blue glass, they receive the pleasantly rare and refreshingly admirable effect of seeing snow on the leaves of the trees of the garden. Finally, there are those who do not want to leave Suzhou because, according to another surprising legend, “he who marries a girl from Suzhou will live a long a happy life”. An attractive idea, reasons Roger, if after that one lives in Wuxi…Shanghai
Finally, they reached Shanghai, an animated and daring city of thirteen million inhabitants. Western influence is undeniable. Economic, financial and commercial heart of China, it is also a great historic and cultural center. There, tourists can receive news from foreign lands, in English, on the CNBC network and in the daily “South China Post”. Until then, they could read the news only in “China Daily”, a very controlled newspaper with rather limited foreign news.
In that city of Western temperament, to take a walk through the “Bund” becomes indispensable, for it is the symbol of Shanghai and the epitome of its long modern history. On the one side of the boulevard rise several blocks of tall and magnificent buildings of different architectural styles. On the other side, a wide embankment stretches out where large crowds of sightseers concentrate to enjoy a delightful walk or the beautiful view of the other side of Huangpu River. At night, miles of light of diverse colors illuminate the whole “Bund” and transform it, as if by magic, into a cosmic scene of the country of the thousand wanders.
On their way to the temple of the jade Buddha, the guide put on Buddhist music. It awoke great interest and curiosity in Roger who had never heard it before. That music contains, besides, elements of sacred rhythm and ascetic tonality. Without pretending to be an expert in music, Roger believes, however, that it does not reach the level of spirituality of the Gregorian Chant with its delicate mystical religious solemnity.
The predominant religion in China is Buddhism, which Chinese received from India centuries ago. The present regime that rules the country, the guide in Beijing informed the group, “protects the temples, but does not respect them” (out of lucrative interest… commented Roger). For his part, the guide in Shanghai voluntarily offered the opinion that in China there has always been freedom to practice other religions besides Buddhism. That very morning, Roger had read in the “South China Post” that the Chinese government had detained and jailed Julias Jia Zhiguo, Catholic Bishop of Zhengding, in the province of Hebei where the largest concentration of Catholics in China is found. The Chinese authorities took this action ostensibly in preparation for the visit of the President of the United States who at the time was William Jefferson Clinton.
Roger also remembered having read on April 15, in a release by the Cardinal Kung Foundation, that Catholic priests Shi Wende and Lu Genyoum, both from Hebei but different dioceses, had been arrested on March 14 and April 5, respectively. Roger knew too, for instance, that the Marist Brothers had been expelled from China and their schools confiscated, included the ones they had in Shanghai. One of those Marists had taught him English in Grugliasco, Italy. Besides, he had found out that Chinese authorities had arrested other Catholic priests in Hebei during his ongoing visit to China.
For all those reasons, Roger decided to express, giddily, his disagreement with the tourist guide. Overtaken by that unexpected reaction, the guide uttered the platitude that “those who do not believe, is because they do not know it”. Nevertheless, Roger did not want to insist and kept quiet, visibly showing his incredulity, for the reality is that in China Catholics who do not belong to the Patriotic Catholic Church with no ties to the Pope, are exposed to persecution. Roger’s exchange with the guide lasted less than one minute.
Shanghai had just opened the Shanghai Museum located in front of City Hall. To visit it costs about one dollar for students and about four for adults. Lucille and Roger did not enter. They preferred to visit the city instead. Because of lack of time, the group divided: some entered to see the museum and the others, among them Roger and Lucille, ventured a three hour walk through the streets. For them, it was a unique personal experience that they will never forget. Those who visited the museum described it as “fantastic”, “better still that the one in Xian”. That says it all and confirms for Roger what he already suspected, that it really is one of the great museums of the world.
Lucille and Roger, along with four other professors and two students continued their visit to China extending it to Hong Kong, which had become Chinese almost one year earlier. They had to cross the border and go through Customs even though they had come directly from Shanghai. Apparently, Chinese authorities do not want to eliminate that border because all Chinese citizens would like to go to Hong Kong where people live much better.
In Roger’s view, Hong Kong is a one-day city, maximum two if one wants to spend time and money shopping. As the planes land, travelers get the sensation that it is going to crash into one of the most marvelous views of an incalculable number of tall and elegant buildings. Nevertheless, at that time it was already known that in less than one month, on July 6 precisely, Hong Kong was going to inaugurate the new and spacious airport that had already been in construction for five years. Starting on July 6, 1998 the planes were going to land at Chek Lap Kok. The new and stylish, one and a half mile long Tsing Ma Bridge links the new airport to Honk Kong.
At night, for about eighty-six dollars per person, they toured the lit port by boat for two hours. The night landscape is awe inspiring in its beauty. Then, as part of the tour, they had dinner at the top of a building that rotates on its own axis. It takes exactly sixty-six minutes to go around allowing the visitors to appreciate that ravishing and picturesque scene.
It is said that Manila is the pearl of the Orient. Roger thinks so too, for Manila can proudly boast of many more wanders than just a dazzling, almost cosmic landscape. For tourists who see Hong Kong and do not know Manila, Hong Kong is, without doubt, the pearl of the Orient.An instructive but disquieting journey
Today’s China is, in Roger’s view, a gigantic and unforgettable country of bewildering vastness, dazzling antiquity and bursting prosperity. It is a totalitarian Leninist State, laden with a mixture of modern realities that require a fully open society. The present Communist Regime insists, however, in limiting that opening to a mere commercial fissure or crack. It is like an irresistible force for complete opening that collides against the immovable object of conceptual control, which requires and exacts, and can only be obtained, with merciless oppression.
With that trip, Roger realized another of his great dreams: to appreciate personally and in site the mysterious and fascinating Chinese culture. Of that huge and vast country of more than one billion two hundred million souls, the group only visited nine urban centers with a total of forty million inhabitants. Naturally, they could not visit all the big cities, much less the thousands upon thousands of villages where poverty is said to abound and repression reigns inexorably.
Unquestionably, the tour through China was educational, enjoyable and memorable. Nonetheless, the last three days, before going to Hong Kong, were very troublesome and even alarming for Roger, in such a way that fear, inexorably overcame him. An incident, totally mysterious and too suspicious, caused him to relive, with fright, a painful moment of his stay in Cuba in 1960. As the reader of Odyssey to Opportunity may remember, on the way to his work at Prensa Latina, two young men took away from him his bus ticket. When the inspector came and asked Roger for the ticket, Roger turned to the young men who motioned that they did not have it. Seeing himself entrapped, he got off the bus in a hurry. When he arrived at his work place, he was accused of being a member of the CIA and summarily dismissed from his job.
Now in China, Roger saw unfolding before him a disturbing pattern, undeniable characteristic of repressive totalitarian regimes, and, naturally he shuddered at the prospects of its implication. On the way from Wuxi to Suzhou, a Chinese lady who was in the bus accompanying the group addressed the travelers. She asked the air ticket from the passengers who were going to continue their tour onto Hong Kong, adding that those traveling as husband and wife needed to give her only one. With caution in mind, Lucille offered hers, thus making it unnecessary for Roger to give his away. After examining all the tickets, the lady returned them all to their owners, except Lucille’s. She then got off the bus, never to be seen again.
Somewhat perturbed, Lucille inquired from Professor Richard Liau, leader of the group, about the whereabouts of her ticket. He asked the travelers whose tickets had been returned to examine theirs carefully to see whether someone had received Lucille’s mistakenly. For three days everybody was looking for Lucille’s ticket… to no avail. Finally, just when they were preparing to leave the hotel in Shanghai to go to the airport, the missing ticket appeared under the door of the room assigned to the married couple Fernández. They could not see the person who, so secretively, returned them the ticket.
Perhaps the reader does not feel compelled to attach great importance to this incident. Roger suspects, however, that when the lady saw the name Fernández in the ticket, she did not pay attention that it was Lucille's and took it believing it was Roger’s. He surmises so because during his stay in China he made some errors that are not accepted in Communist countries. In Beijing, he gave a copy of his autobiography to the guide, a lady who looked young and open minded, promising her, with the best of intentions, that he would write an article about his visit to China. In Anyang, he shook the hand of each of the girls who sang and danced for the group, he had Lucille take a picture of them with Roger in the middle, and he softly sang for them a Spanish song that pleased them. Chinese authorities abhor such personal familiarity with their young. Furthermore, believing that the news would please their hosts, and without suspecting that it could be a double cutting edge weapon, he repeated in Anyang the same promise he had made in Beijing of writing an article on his tour through China. Moreover, sincere in his eagerness to learn as much as possible about Chinese culture, definite purpose of his trip, Roger asked several questions from the guides for his own information.
Already in Hong Kong, waiting at the airport for the arrival of the guide who would take them to the hotel and who was excessively late, Lucille went to a window of the Exterior Bank of China to change some money. When she tried to collect the money, the passport and the camera, she realized that her camera, which contained a film of pictures taken starting in Wuxi, had disappeared.
Those and other incidents that will not be mentioned here were the reason that made Roger think that some Chinese authorities were looking for ways to complicate his stay in China. Hence, he figured, from Anyang on, so many new faces got on the bus with the group. Certainly, there is no absolute proof of the intention or the why of such an inexplicable movement, but it does leave room for suspicion. The reality is that Roger did not feel “safe and sane” until the plane that carried them from Hong Kong to Japan landed at Tokyo Narita International Airport.Notwithstanding the fact that he learned a great deal in the trip and that he had a great time as well, China is not a country that Roger desires to visit again, not even his favorite city, Wuxi, while the present regime governs the country.
ALASKAN AND CANADIAN COAST:
(crucible of natural sublimity)
The name Alaska derives from the word “Alyeska”, which in the language of the Indians from the Aleutian Islands means “great land”, and its greatness emanates from the treasures of its wild life. However, when speaking about Alaska it would be well to remember that its true personality comes out in all its strength in winter with its vicious and, for some, odious climate. In general, tourists go there, to a place that can be both beautiful and detestable, looking for spectacular landscapes, wild life and indigenous culture, which is almost impossible to appreciate, since geographic and meteorological realities conspire rapidly against such a laudable and worthy purpose.
Roger and Lucille undertook a trip in July 1999 to that magnificent and splendid, generally cold and forsaken bleak land of the Lord. It was not possible for them to value either the wild life of the interior or the indigenous culture, which even today not too many people know with depth. It becomes very difficult to measure the immensity of distances where, to succeed in the effort, one must move around from place to place either by plane, or by boat or simply on foot, for roads and highways are rather scarce. Besides, only one hundred and sixty thousand of the almost three hundred million acres show signs of human life. The State of Alaska boasts, with justifiable pride, of having three thousand rivers of which, twenty-six are officially under the protection of the Department of Natural Resources of the United States.
It is said that the mountains, the forests and the bottom of the Glacier Bay Sea rise one and a half inches per year as the land rebounds from the weight of the glaciers that melt. One hundred years ago, those glaciers were more than sixty miles longer and more than half a mile thicker, but that is no reason to deprive the tourists from enjoying their magic charm.
Certainly, Roger and Lucille could not contemplate Alaska’s interior beauty with its rivers and wild shrubbery. They signed up for a trip on the liner Rhapsody of the Seas of Royal Caribbean, designed to allow the passengers to contemplate at will, with more than two hundred acres of glass, the stunning natural beauty that is found in the Alaskan coast. The scenery delights sightseers with its rugged shores, its shining blue waters, its misty and foamy estuaries, its magnificent resplendent glaciers, its mountains topped with snow, its astonishing bursts of colors, and fascinating and dazzling sunsets. It exhibits the most portentous palettes on the face of the earth that elicit from tourists the deeply felt sigh “I wish I were a painter”. That is, partly, the incredibly spell-binding landscape of Alaska… a feast for the senses, a true natural aesthetic orgy when it can best be appreciated, particularly so from the middle of May to the beginning of September. Thus, locked in cold and in darkness for almost eight months of the year, the Alaskan coast can raise its head with pride and offer a welcoming smile to the great number of people who enjoy it during the summer months.
Roger and Lucille took advantage of the NORGEN USA biennial convention, which in 1999 took place aboard Rhapsody of the Seas, and made the enjoyable cruise to Alaska at the beginning of July, accompanied by the Lincoln family. NORGEN USA, of which Lucille is the president, is an association of nurse graduates and other medical personnel from North General Hospital of Manila.
July is perhaps the best time to appreciate better the geological wonder that is Alaska. They traveled by plane from Los Angeles to Seattle where a bus awaited to take them to Vancouver, Canada. Then, late in the afternoon, they began the fascinating cruise trip towards the city of Juneau where, it is said, “black bears wander frequently without worry, the salmon clashes against the Eskimo canoes and humpback whales tip over twenty-foot small boats”. Along the journey, the sightseer feels magnetized, if not hypnotized, by the extraordinarily picturesque scenery that displays itself before their eyes: a panorama stunningly rich in lively and dazzling colors.
At first sight, the natural setting of the coastal localities that Roger and Lucille visited, look tranquil enough. Their rocky shores and craggy gorges, their mountain paths and green mountains of pastoral scenes (where goats and elks can, at times, be observed grazing), depict amazing scenes of alpine beauty. Not only is the coast spectacular, but it ought to be illustrated in encyclopedias next to the phrase “dramatic and dazzling Alaskan shore”.
Nevertheless, no matter how resplendent and splendid that littoral may appear, it can present some inconveniences to the tourists who want to sense and experience everything and find themselves with insurmountable obstacles of physical nature. The water is so cold that one cannot risk jumping in it in spite of the desire one feels to taste it with a nice swim. Moreover, with the sudden changes in the atmospheric condition and the freezing winds that frequently resound furiously throughout the zone, visitors have no other choice than to confine themselves to their quarters and feel protection from the cold.
It becomes equally obvious that, for many years, the authorities of that almost uninhabited and desolate region have drawn, very wisely Roger thinks, the line in the white and shining sand of its tranquil shores and surroundings, to protect and preserve the surprising, extraordinary and magnificent landscape.
Alaska is, however, much more than an agglomeration of rivers, valleys, mountains and resplendent panoramas. It is a crucible of natural sublimity. The water that overflows its coastal borders in spectacular water falls, levels off moments later in a state of reverberated smoothness. That serenity can reach such depth that sightseers can feel being rocked into fantasy by the sound of the water that flows through their setting, only to be gently awakened by the pleasant and soft chirping of birds in an atmosphere of an earthly summer paradise.
While surveying the Alaskan coast, travelers must bear in mind, or have jotted in paper easily accessible, their exploration plans. In each locality that they visit, they will have available for their choice a great variety of activities to which they can dedicate their time, such as kayaking and salmon fishing. Almost all of those active interests require excursions with a guide to achieve greater enjoyment and learning. Some of such excursions, particularly in Juneau, could cost up to three hundred dollars per person, especially by helicopter.
Roger and Lucille chose excursions that afforded them the opportunity to contemplate the landscape and to take the maximum advantage possible of the local offerings through generally panoramic and instructive tours. Usually, they avoided local outings by water or air. Though fear was not the main reason why they followed that norm, helicopter accidents in that region have occurred more frequently than what would make them comfortable. One of those happened on June 10, 1999, hardly a month before their own trip. In that instance, the seven people on board lost their lives.
Readers are now going to accompany Roger and Lucille to the four Alaskan and two Canadian coastal localities they visited during that summer journey. The information will be based on what Roger observed when he left the boat and undertook the different excursions through the following cities of Juneau, Skagway, Haines and Ketchikan in Alaska, and Vancouver and Victoria in Canada. The author took the synopsis of the historical data of each location from brochures made available to travelers and commentaries from the guides of the different excursions in which both he and Lucille personally participated.
They started their cruise in Vancouver at five o’clock in the afternoon of July 3, 1999 toward Juneau. Rhapsody of the Seas is a huge ship of about one thousand two hundred feet long. In her eleven decks, she can accommodate, with comfort and even opulence, her two thousand two hundred passengers and the more than seven hundred crew members. Betting in a casino, passengers can feel like being in Las Vegas. In her shows and dance halls, they can imagine themselves in Hollywood. With her swimming pools, recreational halls for children, her gymnasiums, stores and restaurants, they get the impression that they live in a floating city.
As some readers may remember, Roger was very much impressed by the spectacular dawn he was able to observe from Maui’s Haleakala Peak in Hawaii. Many tourists wake up very early to admire that spectacle. In the case of Alaska, many travelers make an effort to witness sunsets. On the way to Juneau, Roger observed two such spectacular and indescribable events.
The most fascinating one was the first. It was 10:30 p.m. and the sun was still shining. As the sun descended it reflected on the horizon like a series of estuaries of a very deep blue, which Roger had only seen, in much smaller size, in the isle of Capri, Italy. The scenery became more alluring with the white foam that, at intervals, interrupted the ensemble, which ended in a shore bathed in a placid and peaceful emerald green.
Spectacular was also the fourth of July sunset. It was 11:45 p.m. From the clouds came out a huge red ball that seemed to sink into the sea before the ship. It irradiated red rays of pleasant warmth, after a few hours of frigid wind. Thus, well in the open, that majestic and dramatic giant ball disappeared leaving spectators at the mercy of the pitiless wind that minutes later whipped their surroundings.
At about ninety miles before reaching Juneau, the effect of the sun rising on the slopes of the mountains reminded Roger, in their beauty, of the awe- inspiring setting of Villafranca del Bierzo in Spain, approaching that fine city from Cacabelos. The only difference is that in the case of Alaska the mountains are always capped with snow and not one human being lives in such attractive sites. They arrived in Juneau the fifth of July at eleven o’clock in the morning.
Founded during the Gold Rush of the 1880’s, this city of thirty thousand inhabitants can boast of a short history of vertiginous ascendancy. The Indian leader Kowee of the Tlingit (pronounced klink-it) tribe took the explorer Joe Juneau to the rich gold reserves where gold deposits could be washed in the stream that now runs through the middle of town. It resulted into a stampede towards Juneau, which became an encampment first, then a village, then, later on a city and finally, from 1906, the capital of Alaska.
Nowadays, that city, previously a gold mining town, can count among its great richness some of the most spectacular views in Alaska. Nestled at the foot of the Juneau Mountain, Juneau faces the water on the side of the firm land of Gastineau Canal. Several magnificent estuaries are located along the Canal coast, very close to the enormous Mendenhall Glacier, the spoiled glacier of the tourists, more than one and a half miles long, a few thousand feet thick and nourished by a one thousand five hundred square miles field of ice. This “labyrinth river” of compacted blue ice figures as the largest and most rugged glacier accessible by road, as well as the only glacier that keeps on increasing, for though it recedes at one end, it enlarges more at another end.
During the panoramic visit of the city, sightseers can call at the most significant sites of the Alaskan capital. They can contemplate its magnificent surroundings, including the catching of the salmon. They will be able to admire the various glaciers, the delightful gardens, the natural beauty of the port, the stunning views of Mendenhall Valley and stroll through the Museum of the State of Alaska, which contains fascinating art exhibits.
In that capital city, it is also possible to approach the Taku Glacier Lodge located in Juneau’s most remote seclusion. With more mountain paths than roads, it awakens one’s interest to explore the environment through glacier valleys, vigorous waterfalls and alpine prairies… a place to enjoy a good walk. Similarly, tourists can delight themselves with the sight of very diverse species of birds. Through that system of mountain paths visitors may observe up to 280 bird species…
In Juneau’s protected and tranquil waters, it is easy to examine the whole landscape, imbue oneself of its splendor and greatly humble oneself before the seductive enchantment that unfolds before one’s bewildered eyes. Thus, in those placid waters, the Eskimo canoe becomes the ideal, most adequate milieu to explore the scenic splendor of its setting.
Frequently, however, tourists rent a helicopter to see the spectacular glaciers, forests and estuaries and to extend their 12-mile panoramic view to the Mendenhall Glacier, flying over deep water-colored crevices, towering and haughty ice spires, knifeedged summits, hanging glaciers and one thousand foot ice falls.
Nowadays, much of Juneau’s splendor can be admired boarding the Mount Roberts Tramway and a guided walk once the top is reached. Nonetheless, Roger and Lucille chose a three-hour panoramic tour that took them to the Gastineau Salmon Hatchery, the famous factory where over one hundred and sixty-two million salmon eggs are incubated. There, tourists can observe the process of catching the salmon. Incubation starts during the month of May and beginning of June. From next June to the beginning of September, the fry then swim from the incubator environment into the sea until they return, after five years, to their spawning grounds, where they are finally caught and taken to the international markets. Now, one can easily understand the reason why good salmon is so expensive.
This panoramic view also took them to Mendenhall Glacier, previously described here, and to the little log church Chapel by the Lake. Built of logs especially sanded, caulked and varnished to create a rustic and welcoming environment, this chapel opens up to nature behind the altar. It offers a spectacular and inspiring view of Auke Lake, Mendenhall Glacier, mountains topped with snow and surrounding trees… a truly idyllic and mystic picture painted in heaven.
Roger had the opportunity to talk with two of Juneau’s native young ladies about the life in the Alaskan capital, particularly in winter. “We lead a normal family life. Besides, we ski and study”, prompted Mary Eley. Her friend, Miss Alix Pierce added with a smile: “We also play with snow rackets, but have neither igloo houses nor dog sleighs…” Thus ended a beautiful visit to Juneau.Skagway
As previously alluded to, the 1880’s historic Gold Rush resulted from the discovery of gold in the Klondike region of Yukon Territory. When the thousands of adventurers going after gold looked for the best starting point for their arduous sojourn, they realized that the best penetration by boat lay in the north end of Lynn Canal. That is the way Skagway came to be. It is a small town that borders on Canadian territory and became, with its narrow railroad, the supply line for the Yukon gold fields, about twenty miles from Canada.
This border town of two thousand inhabitants during the months of tourism and about eight hundred during the rest of the year, derives its name from the word “skagua”, which in the language of the Tlingit Indians means “home of the North wind”. It consists of twenty-three blocks in length and four blocks in width. During the months of May to the beginning of September, five ships visit its port daily, which means to say that about nine thousand tourists visit that interesting locality on a daily basis during those same months.
To visit Skagway nowadays is like visiting a small town at the end of the nineteenth century. Almost nothing has changed. Street pavements are not asphalted, except for the main road, buses that take tourists to the different excursions date to the nineteen thirties and were imported from various cities of the United States. Roger found rather amusing the fact that the bus they took for their tour arrived at Skagway from Hollywood. Moreover, it was older than he is, for Roger was born in 1934 and the bus was built in 1931… This was indeed a unique experience. To get off the bus, riders had to wait for the lady driver to get off first and then proceed to open the door to each row of seats… as in the Hollywood movies of those years.
More than one hundred thousand explorers in search of gold trekked through Skagway, leaving behind a lawless village of beer bars without restrictions, after stormy nights of celebrating. The famous “House of Negotiable Affection” still stands intact. Today, however, Skagway serves as a place of departure for scenic adventures and to keep custody of the excitement and flurry of those colorful days of gold fever.
In fact, in that unique locality of enjoyment and remembrance, it is fascinating to observe unfolding before one’s own eyes the spectacular wilderness taking “The Scenic Railway of the World”. Tourists can also follow the Klondike “Trail of ‘98” made famous by the thousands and thousands of explorers in search of gold and fortune, many of whom did not satisfy their ambition and fell victims to the elements and the temptations of a border town without laws.
To verify this, incredulous sightseers have only to visit the Gold Rush Cemetery and see the tombstones of those buried there, all of them young, all of them deceased at the end of the nineteenth century or beginning of the twentieth. Worthy of notice are indeed the tombs of the legendary criminal Soapy Smith and his assassin Frank Reid, considered for that fact the hero of Skagway. Years later, it was discovered that Frank Reid himself had been a first rank criminal.
The driver of Roger and Lucille’s Hollywood bus was a native of Minneapolis. She had moved to Skagway nine years earlier and had married a local man. According to her, after September, there is not much movement in Skagway. It does not snow a lot, she maintains, but there is much cold wind that blows furiously. Contrary to summer when they enjoy eighteen hours of sunlight, in winter it dawns very late and the sun sets very early. On the 2lst of December, they only have twenty-three minutes of sunlight. All the stores close in winter except two or three and the schools as well. She loves that kind of living and would not like to leave the place. She ended the tour recommending that the passengers explore the Chilkoot Trail on bicycle or on horse to experiment Alaska the way the first visitors did while fleeing in stampede.
Before returning to the ship, Roger and Lucille went to the “Arctic Brotherhood Hall” where they attended a semi musical, semi comical show, which was rather instructive. When they were leaving, they were made members of the Brotherhood of Arctic Art and received a small card that so indicated. Then, they boarded the ship and continued their cruise toward the nearby city of Haines.Haines
It is said that this small coastal town, of three thousand inhabitants during the months of tourism and two thousand and four hundred during the rest of the year, is located in Alaska’s most idyllic brood of nests and that enjoys abundant wild life. It originated as a departure point for the Chilkat Trail, a route that the Indians used to arrive at the canoes to fish for salmon. This route soon became the easiest mountain road for the miners who trekked to the Klondike gold mines. Today, Haines is also another point of departure for another more modern route, the one hundred and fifty mile Haines Highway, which ends when it connects with the Alaskan Highway.
In Haines, it becomes dark very late in summer due to the “midnight sun”, and there are many activities to which visitors can dedicate their time. They can stroll through the picturesque and curious galleries of art at the center of the town. Moreover, they can take advantage of the opportunity of joining in a show of sleighs pulled by dogs. It represents a good lesson to learn about that means of transportation in earlier explorations of Alaska. Besides, the Sheldon Jackson Museum and Cultural Center, and the Center of Indian Art of Alaska can awaken curiosity and cultural interest in tourists. In both centers they can observe the florescent inheritance of the tribe of Tlingit Indians.
It is also possible in this locality to do nature walking or mountain biking to enter the estuary of the Chilkat River, to contemplate inspiring views of high mountains, observe wild flowers, aquatic birds and migratory oceanic mammals. Seeing the Bald Eagle and many other wild animals on the slopes of the mountain with binoculars, which in Alaska are indispensable, sparks interest and awakens curiosity in visitors.From Skagway to Haines there is twelve miles by boat, but, in June, more than one thousand cyclists go from one town to the other on bicycle, taking the one hundred and fifty mile scenic route known as the Golden Circle Route.
To protect the bald eagle, the State of Alaska created, in 1992, the awe-inspiring, forty-eight thousand acres Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. It is amazing to observe the agility with which the bald eagle catches the salmon without interrupting its flight. Naturally, to witness such feat sightseers must make the excursion to the proper site and at the most appropriate time, which is normally in the fall and in winter when bald eagles concentrate in that area.
Roger and Lucille participated in an excursion to Chilkat Lake, which forms part of the Chilkat Preserve. The bus that took the tourists to the Lake was quite old, and the owner very congenial and amusing. There was not a single soul in sight on the road. He volunteered to tell the passengers that it would take them “from twenty to twenty-five minutes to the place of destination, depending on the traffic”. Ten minutes later, the first vehicle was spotted, and he concluded his observation by adding: “This is what I am talking about when I refer to traffic…”
They toured the lake on a motor boat. They had the opportunity to relax and admire the beauty of the surrounding top-snowed mountains, source of many cooling waterfalls with green slopes where mountain goats and elks could be observed grazing. They were also able to recognize bald eagle nests, one of them only seven feet above a nest of squirrels that abandoned it when the bald eagles built theirs. Other animals that formed part of that scene were the wolf, the moose and the brown bear.
In Haines, the visitor can also appreciate the art of story telling through dancing as the Chilkat Dancers do. Dressed in brightcolored tribal masks and robes, they share with visitors their Indian legends through dances and rhythmic songs. Many young people of the tribe participate in those dances, for the tradition of the tribe dictates that the elders start teaching their children at a very early age.
Naturally, the tourist should not leave that charming town without having tasted the famous Alaskan salmon. There, one can enjoy the pleasure of feasting on salmon freshly caught from the cold and sometimes frozen waters of Lynn Canal and barbecued over an open alder wood fire. It is a delicacy that melts in one’s mouth.
With its golden beaches, its dramatic views, its pristine surroundings and its delightful isolation, Haines returns the soul to its visitors. Above all, what a precious experience for the tourist who is able to lean back on the past with the modern comfort of the present feasting on the delicious salmon from Lynn Canal at the historic Fort William H. Seward of Haines…!
But, how do people spend the winter in Haines, quite far north of Juneau? Christie Hall, a university student who works as a guide at Chilkat Lake during the tourist season answered the question with a big smile and great self possession and tact: “removing snow and drinking hot chocolate”.
The citizens of that charming locality must be simple, healthy, conscientious of their unique position and interested in making their visitors stay pleasant. A group of young boys and girls, eighteen to twenty years of age, arrived at the pier to bid farewell to the visitors and, spontaneously, started dancing and singing. They entered into conversation with the passengers who were looking at them with admiration from the imposing liner Rhapsody of the Seas.
In Haines, tourists are offered the opportunity to rent a helicopter and fly past the spectacular, awe-inspiring Northern Inside Passage landscapes and onto the Glaciers farther north. They observe calving glaciers shedding big chunks of blue ice in spectacular, thunderous slides that tumble into the ocean producing huge splashes of water and join the submarine current from the ice fields where they are born. It presents the tourist an incredibly marvelous sight that Roger and Lucille were able to behold when Rhapsody of the Seas arrived at Hubbard Bay, far to the north of Haines. The liner anchored for two hours about two hundred yards from the vast Hubbard Glacier, a stunning monument of ice, which was putting on quite a glaring show in the throes of its geologic reconfiguration described above.
On many of the floating chunks of ice that the glacier shed onto the sea, numerous seals were sunbathing while resting. From time to time, light strokes of ice could be heard against the ship. Before continuing to plow through the Arctic waves, the captain sent out a group on a small boat to explore the best route out, a consoling detail that did not escape unnoticed by those who had seen the picture “Titanic”. Then, they proceeded to Ketchikan, the last stop before returning to Vancouver.Ketchikan
One of the reasons this town stirs Roger’s curiosity is that it embraces the southeastern part of Revillagigedo Island. The Spaniards gave the name to this island after the name of one of the Viceroys from Mexico. Thus, they secured for history the remembrance of the Spanish presence in the XVIII century in that dazzling section of the American continent, after the Russians, but before the English, the French and the Scandinavians. Many Spanish historians overlook this detail and those who refer to it, do it in the most general terms, as does Pedro Voltes in page 327 of his Nueva historia de España, 1989 edition.
With its fifteen thousand inhabitants, Ketchikan is the fourth largest city in Alaska, after Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. The name Ketchikan derives from the Indian words “Kach Khanna”, which means: “spread wings of a prostrate eagle”. This phrase alludes to the appearance of an eagle’s wing in the water that flows over an unusual rock formation. As a sign of its great importance, it is also called the “Salmon Capital of the World”, or the “Raining Capital of the State” due to the more than one hundred and fifty inches yearly precipitation. Naturally, for reasons that readers will soon understand, it is also known as the “Totem Capital”.
Ketchikan originated as an Indian fish saltery. It grew steadily when it became a supply base and port of entry for miners during the gold rush to the Klondike in 1898. Soon, it evolved into the largest salmon-canning center in the world. A great deal of the colorful past of the town still remains almost intact, particularly in the surroundings where sightseers can still observe the colorfully carved totem poles and behold, with interest and curiosity, their fascinating legends.
In Ketchikan, the visitors can go on excursions through forests and mountains and explore some fascinating cragged, steep glens. Several designated areas of wilderness are braided with native Indian trails that have become roads to nature excursions, mountain biking or equestrian exploration. Thus, besides enlivening the visitors’ spirits, Ketchikan can also make them withdraw into their own past.
This singular, picturesque and quaint old settlement offers visitors the proper and adequate place where to learn how to steer the Eskimo canoe and then practice in its well-preserved port. Moreover, in its serene waters visitors can fish its delicious salmon. Bobby Lincoln did just that and caught a king salmon the length of which was almost the same as his height. Also very surprisingly, strolling along Creek Road, salmons can be seen jumping in the stream before one’s own eyes. In this charming locality, sightseers can experience hikes through trails of still intact and unspoiled natural beauty in the coastal forest, or do mountain biking through the famous Inside Passage and see the biggest collection of original totems of the nineteenth century.
Roger and Lucille preferred to join a guided excursion to the native village, Saxman, two and a half miles outside of Ketchikan to see the biggest collection of totems in the world. They visited the House of the Tribe where they witnessed with delight traditional dancing of the Tlingit Indians, similar to the ones in Haines. Leaving the House of the Tribe, they proceeded to view the collection of totems, one of which bears the likeness of Lincoln. They observed an artist carving and painting a tall totem he was about to finish while explaining the legend to the visitors. Outside of the factory, Tlingit women were making some kind of tribal doughnuts. Roger bought half a dozen and found them delicious.
Back in the center of town, Lucille and daughter, Marguerite Lincoln, went shopping, while Roger decided to stroll through the streets to recapture the spirit of the past. He returned to his childhood when, from Salas de los Barrios in Spain, he would accompany his dad to the mill of nearby Campo. Yes, that happened. At the beginning of Creek Road, through those big stones surrounded by moss-covered rocks and wooden beams that supported the houses, ran a stream of crystalline water that further on settled serenely into a small placid pond. Roger thought he was in an enchanted world.
During his walk through downtown Ketchikan, Roger had the opportunity to talk to some young people. Casey McDonald, son of a teacher who is the owner of a motor-ski company and of Dolley’s Museum, does not hesitate to assert in very strong terms that he likes Ketchikan in winter because he can ski and … study. On the other hand, Carrie Billsborrow, who likes to travel, maintains that the way she sees it, Ketchikan is a good place where to grow, a magnificent place for kids, but rather boring, without much entertainment for adults.
Here, then, in this corner of the earth where one can encounter, in summer, naturally, the perfect mixture of glorious warm days and admirable cool nights, the tour to the Alaskan coast ends. The next stop was Vancouver where final disembarkation took place. Roger and Lucille rented a car and visited that beautiful Canadian city as well as Victoria. Thus, ended their visit to the State of Alaska where the citizens earn a lot, spend relatively little and pay no federal taxes… but where, due to its geographical location, life is harder.Vancouver, Canada Of easy access by air, land and sea, Vancouver stands tall as a financial, commercial and tourist city port. It is a romantic, typically coastal city where visitors can experience scenic delight and marvel at the extraordinary beauty of the environment.
In this jewel of Western Canada where the harmony of its astonishing natural beauty and the expected sophistication of a modern city complement each other, tourists can satisfy their needs of the city and, at the same time, surrender to the ardent desire of enjoying nature. Thus, a large amount of cultural variety and convenience for entertainment await the visitor.
Seated at the outer edge of the Pacific Ocean and comfortably nestled in the slopes of Mountains Coast topped with snow, Vancouver shines as one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities in North America. Moreover, when it does not rain and people crowd the streets, it becomes a radiant city, richly silvered with an impressive and incomparable oriental ethnic configuration.
With half a million inhabitants, 45% of the population identify themselves as the “visible minority”. About 28% are Chinese who arrived to construct the Canadian Pacific Railroad and stayed there. Others came from Hong Kong to invest, for the amount of two hundred thousand American dollars granted them an immediate visa to live in Canada, when, several years ago, negotiations started to integrate Hong Kong with China. There are many Filipino and Japanese as well. Nonetheless, the majority of taxi drivers and drivers of public vehicles are native Indians.
With its unlimited possibility of exquisite gardens that blossom everywhere, Vancouver overwhelms visitors with the irresistible urge to abandon themselves to fantasy and dream. The VanDussen Botanical Garden is true delight all year round. Visitors can relish a relaxing stroll through that outstanding collection of plants artistically displayed amidst placid lakes and picturesque views. Similarly, sightseers can imbue themselves with enchantment in the one thousand acres Stanley Park. There, besides an attractive display of plants and flowers visitors can appreciate exhibited, in detail and with thousands of animals, marine life in its huge Aquarium.
Tourists who wish to meditate on the Taoist philosophy of the “yin” and the “yang” can join a guided tour of the small Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, the most authentic Chinese garden outside of China. It is modeled after the Wang Shi Garden of Suzhou previously described in the chapter dealing with China. In fact, a fifty-two-member team of experts from that Chinese city spent one year in Vancouver occupying their time in the construction of the garden. With its plants, flowers and water, “yin” (woman) is represented and with its stones and rugged constructions “yang” (man) is represented. Roger was somewhat disappointed, in part because of its small size and in part because of the long philosophical explanation of the guide. Since they were short of time, Roger asked Lucille to leave the guided tour to see the garden on their own.
It is altogether proper and fitting to indicate here that tourists who have no car can tour the city by trolley, making stops at places they like most. Nevertheless, a stroll through Robson Street, exclusive domain of young adults forgetful of debts, can be of great interests to travelers. They will find clothes and music stores, modern restaurants, coffee shops, clubs… and all under shining lights, chrome and crystal… Moreover, it would constitute an unforgivable culinary heresy, of course, to be in Vancouver and not taste the salmon…
Vancouver has a great deal of places to see, and to see most of them, visitors must have a lot of time at their disposal. When that is not the case, they must make choices, but they should not leave the city without visiting Gastown where Vancouver had its origin. Nowadays, Gastown constitutes a pleasant mixture of the old and the new, with cobbled streets, Victorian architecture, restaurants and boutiques, and a landmark clock, unique in its kind, that functions with vapor, which it emits into the air and greets the people with music every fifteen minutes.Victoria, Canada
Naturally, once in Vancouver, it was logical for Roger and Lucille to board a boat and make the scenic and enjoyable one hour and a half trip to cross the bay and go to Victoria. During that delightful crossing, travelers may very well observe some fur bearing seals, some bald eagles and, with luck, some whales. But, at the other end, what visitors can always anticipate are the charming old days of that marvelous city where the environment encourages them to recline into the past and live history. Its attractive Interior Port speaks of the old British float that brought in its people and its culture dozens of years ago. However, if its streets constitute a past echo of London and its port a reminder of English glories of centuries ago, its restaurants are modern and of today’s reality. Hundreds of them prepare and serve ethnic cuisine from almost all over the world.
With its moderate and gentle Mediterranean climate, Victoria is a real jewel in the midst of a spectacular beauty all year round. It is a city of gardens that overflow with narcissus, lilacs and tulips of all colors of any imaginable shade. What better to do, then, than to stop at the world famous Butchart Gardens? That floral fantasy exhibits a splendid delight in summer when its buds and its florescence are at their peak. Roger was enchanted by the Sunken Garden and marveled at the dancing waters of the Ross Fountain. On the way to Victoria, a stop at the Butchart Gardens is a must for all flower admirers.
Once in the center of the city itself, which is to say in the surroundings of the port, sightseers can admire with delight the architectonic and floral beauty displayed before their eyes. Of course, of the many places to visit, a guided tour of the Parliament Building becomes a necessity for history lovers. What caught Roger’s attention in particular were the references to the History of his native Spain. There is, in the first floor of the building, a painting that shows Captain George Vancouver and Admiral Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra Mollinedo celebrating the agreement of the division of English and Spanish territories. Territories north of the 43rd parallel were to be English and those south of the 43rd parallel would be Spanish. That agreement, known by the name of the Nootka Convention was signed in Madrid in 1795. Similarly, interested visitors can notice on the second floor a plaque that commemorates Canadian participation in the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939.Before leaving Victoria, Roger and Lucille visited some nearby museums and had dinner at the elegant and historic Empress Hotel, one of the most attractive and photographed buildings in Victoria. Here again, the salmon melts in one’s mouth.
But it was getting late and they had to go back to the boat and return to Vancouver. It was Sunday, and they had failed to secure reservations for their return. It turned out to be a very aggravating error, which they had to pay waiting in the car for more than one hour and a half, for the traffic back to the boat was so heavy for those who had no prior reservation. Roger and Lucille reached their hotel exhausted at eleven o’clock at night.The next day, they had to bid farewell to Canada, to return the rented car in Seattle, the United States, and to take the plane back to Los Angeles, thus ending a very pleasant and informative trip. Author’s observations
There are some readers who ask Roger if in his traveling he has seen landscapes, panoramas and views more beautiful than the ones of El Bierzo. He answers them with an emphatic “no”, and they are surprised. Of course, he has seen places of greater beauty than that of his native land, that beauty that one can behold and admire because it amounts to a superficial beauty that represents one more experience in one’s life without becoming a part of it. Similarly, one can behold and admire El Bierzo’s beauty, but it is neither plastic nor superficial, rather, it penetrates the heart, takes hold of the subconscious and becomes part of one’s life.
When Roger contemplates those views and landscapes of such natural splendor, as in the case of Alaska for example, he sees a fascinating immensity, but nevertheless empty, resplendent but deserted, attractive to the eye, but repelling to the desire of living. On the other hand, wherever he goes, El Bierzo accompanies him and becomes part of his life, and when he returns to it, he rejuvenates in his happiness… That part of El Bierzo’s beauty, not perceived by the senses, he has not been able to find in any other part of the world he has visited or in which he has lived.
Roger is sure, however, that many of his readers feel as strongly, and justifiably so, about their own place of birth. That is not only human, but it is also worthy of admiration. What is unnatural, and therefore reprehensible, is to be ashamed of one’s place of birth, no matter how humble, for that would amount to be ashamed of part of one’s person.
Delight in the language of the soul, poetry, has been a constant fascination in Roger’s life. This is his secret story. As a youngster in Fuentesnuevas, Spain, he used to read poems to prepare for the examination he was about to take at the railroad station in Ponferrada to go to Túy to study with the Marist Brothers. As a student in Grugliasco, Torino, Italy, he found pleasure reading poetry of French authors such as Racine and Corneille, and wrote a poem in Spanish to his brother Joaquín who was interned in the Zamora Sanatorium. Similarly, as a student in Poughkeepsie, New York, he enjoyed reading English poetry, though not as much as French poetry, and he wrote in French a sonnet to the Virgin Mary, which appeared in the monthly magazine published in Marian College, now Marist College, in Poughkeepsie. Some years later, he still wrote a few poems in English, which have little or no personal meaning, and already lost. As for Spanish poetry, he really began to appreciate it when he started his studies towards his Master and Doctorate’s degrees.
Now that Roger is retired, he has decided to dedicate some of his time, every now and then, to write poems about topics that penetrate his heart, for poetry possesses that special capacity to communicate passion and sadness, beauty and love, joy and nostalgia… Perhaps these poems, all originally written in Spanish, do not deserve prizes in modern poetic contests, but they reflect in the author an eagerness to mix the old cannons of rhyme and rhythm with the metric flexibility of the modern free verse. Above all, those poems express some of Roger’s most intense personal feelings.
Encouraged by the inspiration that Héctor Blanco Terán supplied for him to compose poetry, as the reader may remember from the third chapter, Roger is guided by some principles in this new purpose in his life. As the Spanish saying goes “de poeta y de loco todos tenemos un poco” (of poets and fools, we all have a little). If it is so, why not try to write a poem now and then? Moreover, he is intrigued by what Spanish poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer expresses in one of his famous Rimas (Rhymes): “Podrá no haber poetas, pero siempre habrá poesía…” (There may not be any poets, but there will always be poetry). Therefore, if there are topics for poetry, why not look for them and practice it? On the other hand, according to the French poet Boileau, “Ce qui se conçoit bien, s’énonce clairement / et les mots pour le dire arrivent aisément” (What is well conceived, it is stated clearly / and the words to express it come easily). If Boileau is right, why not proclaim in poetry what the heart feels in reality? Finally, as the “burro flautista” (flute playing donkey) from Tomás de Iriarte’s literary fable, it appears that Roger “tocó la flauta por casualidad” ( played the flute by chance) when he wrote “To Fuentesnuevas”, his first poem after his retirement.“TO FUENTESNUEVAS” (Glendale, June 1997)
In fact, what prompted the writing of those verses was a mere coincidence, just pure chance… Roque Escudero, at that time mayor of Fuentesnuevas, was having a drink with Marcelino Sánchez at one of the bars of that locality. He told Marcelino in, more or less, the following words: “whenever you can, ask Roger to write an allegory or something along that line to print in the magazine for the festivities of the Assumption and San Roque, and the festival of the sardine in August”. When Marcelino had the opportunity, he referred that conversation to Antonio, his other brother-in-law in Miami. Antonio conveyed the message to Roger who, in turn, composed the following poem and sent it to Roque Escudero:
(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 Uphill of the Church 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.
This poem was published the middle of August 1997 in the magazine of the Fuentesnuevas Festival, and some months later in the Ponferrada weekly “Bierzo 7” (2/19/98). Perhaps some English readers may think differently because of the free translation of the poem, but it seems that with this poem Roger “played the flute by chance”. It moved the people of the village as well as other readers, among them, naturally, his poet friend Héctor who sent Roger the following encouraging words:
Roger, while reading your poem I felt as a medieval troubadour, who slowly following its sonorous rhyme, measuring its rhythm, feels invited to recite singing “that pleasure of living”. That is so perhaps because of the most precious sentiment in man’s recollection, which is the place that saw him being born, growing and living…Simply, your poem is beautiful and will definitely contribute to something very special: it builds Bierzo.“TO EL BIERZO” (Glendale, July 1997)
Upon reading those comforting and stimulating words, Roger thought about something that Ángel Arienza had written in “Bierzo 7” with reference to the author of Odyssey to Opportunity: “How many poets would want for themselves his vital experience…!” Roger took that writing as a challenge. Why shouldn’t he be one such poet who could make some poetic use of his own wanderings? For that reason and, after a great deal of pondering and work, he began his pledge to compose this poem, which he considers one of his best compositions:
TO EL BIERZO
(Magic wandering companion)
What magic do you harbor, my Bierzo, whence aromatic breezes stem?
Your very tender passion fills my mind with charm.
With tenacity you manifest yourself a happy party to my imagination
In my traveling for fortune, which, from my youth, I eagerly desired.
Dovecote of meek winds of gentle motion
A sweet fume of nourishment captures my landscape.
In a leisurely repose, the illusive mosaic of your sketch it spreads
When it softly opens my window and in my abode deposits time.
Armorless, I stand defender of my new enchanted castle.
Through valleys and hills, in my universal space,
Exhausted I surrender to the tellurian force of my ancestral sigh,
And in an unclear flight, as an aimless bird, I follow without worry.
Like Shakespeare I do evoke that you and I are for eternity made.
Finally I stretch my hands towards your very furtive groves,
But persistently I am followed by my most festive memories, Which always relieve my heart, wounded by a tyrannical solitude. Not even Heredia, in his bitter and deeply felt exile
From his glorious pearl, his adored Cuba,
Enlivens his fatherland as I, of my fondled Ponferrada,
Of so many relished memories, which he claims as his rescue. Prickly slopes and much thick vegetation
Equal in splendor, declare you, to the brightest natural beauty. Your mythic river basins embellish you with freshness.
Your trees touch heaven and attest to your devotion before God. With placid meadows and flowery carpets of orchards fully blooming Many aches you dissipate, as deep sorrows equally you soothe. To some you alleviate distress and ease their conscience in the Ancares Leaving, in that crystallized isolation, many souls redeemed of sadness. In your Valley of Silence you furnish the mind
With exquisiteness, repose, peace and tranquillity.
Diligently your valor with melodious irrigating you nourish And let your soul through your mystic rivers with sublimity flow. Your fruit bearing hills to the entire world you laud
With your old aged chestnut trees, your vineyards and oak trees. Perennial epic and truly noble efforts
From your heroic and laborious people with lucidity you exact. Luxuriant, idyllic and dream-laden landscapes
Exhibit with your God great harmony and devotion,
And their gentleness stimulate nostalgia and melancholy
In your wandering sons and daughters whose hearts to you belong. Your colorful surroundings do not a human designer need To overwhelm with greater charm your many curious visitors. Your natural harmonious unity, at every turn, delights
Whoever admires forests and moor settings from any look out point.
Illustrious times already past of art and history filled
In los Barrios de Salas where my dawn to life was well decreed, Fondly and intensively besiege, and their light I long to see, For it arouses curiosity in my spirit of culture fond.
All of this and more do I behold with softness and content From El Mesón de Lombillo, of very rich and tasty food, For today I have already crossed the sea of remoteness,
Which winds of national discord a river of overflowing sorrow made. 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. Through Siena streets and more so through Spoleto and its surroundings My native origin, Villafranca in its beauty does evoke,
And I surrender to a sweet dream that summons me to Carucedo Lake When Páscuaro’s idyllic settings, in Michoacán, my soul seduce. Of Subic Bay the splendor stuns me in far away Tagalo land Of Spanish domain in not so very distant past,
And in its two on the horizon hills from another nearby province I fondly recall, oh Bierzo, the breasts that your landscape for us supplies. Before the Holy Child in Cebu, my prayer your “Morenica” inspires. Bells toll aching for that our past landed prize.
Your folklore tunes overwhelm me as a prize with charm
When through the world, arias of famous operas move me. To stillness and oblivion I yield in Durban,
Dazzling city, which between hills to the sea opens in part. Of the majestic horizon of your valleys and oak green mountains, In the Rock of Congosto you compose its tune and I intone its song. In Havana, I visit of Soroa the whole pastoral setting,
And my mind returns to you, in awe totally raptured
Before the green oasis of your farms, which, like a fairy,
I happily glimpse in that earthly Cuban painting.
In vast New York orchards
Many apples in bushels I have in my past picked.
I covet the vintages, which in your vineyards I’ve partaken, But the “reineta” apple of your hills and vales, my Bierzo, I miss. In its glorious and imperial splendor
Of your Médulas the impressive portrait
Suggests a colorful Grand Canyon to Yankee visitors in awe Who, pensive and deep in thought leave your sight with sorrow. My flight stops right here and I am back in my quiet living, But you still invade my house… little “berciano” garden,
In a sunny corner of the pleasant California south
With your vistas, customs and people well rewarded.
Still more, my wandering Bierzo, low tide of my recalling! Your lover’s knots entanglement my heart does not as yet relieve: My Philippine spouse of your towns a Paradela name proudly bears And her ancestry she willingly lets, in you so molded stand.
So, then, in my long terrestrial journey towards prosperity Your beauty and your affection my sovereigns have always been. And you continue to convert into dreams of tomorrow
Of my today and my yesterday’s eternal reality.
And now that I come to you, impression of my love, more frequently,
Do not consent that a certain foreign and vain comfort
Spoils that insisting and suggestive modern thrust
Ready your vigor to injure and your still candid innocence to stain.
In the fire of my love for you, your flame will always live.
You will, in my existence, forever a pleasant constant be.
Your pure gaze reflects shining in my throbs grieving in your absence.
And in the mutual sky of our path, not even a gray cloud you’ll ever see.
Roger devoted himself wholly to the composition of that poem. He felt very satisfied when he finished it in its final form. He wanted to make evident the natural beauty of the exquisite garden where he saw the light of day, and make his “berciano” compatriots know that that privileged corner of the earth is his favorite and that it accompanies him wherever he goes. He sent the poem to “Bierzo 7”, which published it in its January 15, 1998 edition.
After its publication, some of Roger’s acquaintances and friends have praised its structure and its content, as well as its rhythm and rhyme in Spanish (its English version is, as are most of the poems here included, in free verse translation). Others have discovered some elements that are found in the verses of Rubén Darío, such as love, warmth, joy and color. A very special friend wrote to him about that poem:“…its content has that special cast that only great artists give their work: design, mystery and something more, that unique elf, which only a “berciano” can create when he speaks about his land and everything that he loves most.”
Needless to say, Roger does not consider himself a Rubén Darío, but he feels very gratified and grateful to so many of his friends and acquaintances who appreciated his efforts in composing this poem, dedicated to El Bierzo and its noble and heroic people.“A SONG TO FUENTESNUEVAS" (Glendale, June 1998)
On the other hand, Roque Escudero wanted still more from Roger and was looking to obtain from him another composition for the August 1998 festivities in Fuentesnuevas. Consequently, he initiated the same process he had previously followed to have his wish. It was thus that Roger sent him a second poem on Fuentesnuevas, which was published in the 1998 Festival Magazine, as well as in “Bierzo 7” on August 14th that same year. Thus goes the poem:
A SONG TO FUENTESNUEVAS
The Assumption and San Roque’s festivals are fast approaching.
Many will attend to celebrate with much buzzing and devotion.
Bread and wine with sardines complement their tasty food.
Of this village the good fortunes warmly now I want to sing.
Already raised on high of your bonanza the thick curtain,
The people, oh Fuentesnuevas, exalt you with their praises.
Your brave and gallant gait provokes just admiration,
And your candid innocence eternally enlarges your good heart.
Your new breath draws profiles for towns that wish to flourish.
Your ancestral houses exhibit aura of illustrious birth,
But you know fatigue and sacrifice, joy and ample love,
And with pride your people share of their skill the great worth.
Your forward-looking growth, a new legacy bequeaths. At the break of day your farmers, devoted to their work and labor, To the beat of able leaders follow a very gentle rhythm
When rays of the rising sun from the Levant your bright outline adorn.
Your people make you illustrious and ennoble you with candor.
The rigors of time you conquer as a town that aches but never dies.
Delights of youth your boundaries enrich, always ready to recapture
The serene and worthy features of your past family life.
You swirl and hum along your streets and modestly pray at the altar.
Your natural modern stands to your children filter many uplifting dreams.
Your new cultural rise, bravely appease anxiety in your people.
Your health is still of iron, but unity can now its only guardian be.
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.
“FUENTESNUEVAS!” (… I feel you … I miss you…) (Glendale, 1999)
After the trip to China, Roger and Lucille traveled to Barcelona to attend the wedding of Raquel Martínez Fernández, daughter of his sister Dorita. The ceremony took place on August 2, 1998. However, they could not carry out the plans they had to travel through Europe after the wedding, including to share a meal with their dear friends Kenneth and Shirley Griffin, an American couple who at the time were vacationing in Nice, France. Unfortunately, Lucille fell sick. They decided to go to Fuentesnuevas where they had easier access to better facilities to take care of Lucille’s health. In fact, the hospital prescription cured her rapidly, in spite of its bad taste to the palate.
During that week in El Bierzo, Roger and Roque Escudero met, by chance. The mayor thanked Roger for the two poems he had written and encouraged him to continue writing… This originated, this time, the third poem of Roger’s trilogy to Fuentesnuevas for the festivities of San Roque and the Assumption of 1999, and the last Sardine Festival of the twentieth century in that locality. When Roger finished the present book, this poem had not yet been published.
(…I feel you… I miss you)
Sprightly Village! From this small “berciano” garden
In a sunny corner of the pleasant California south,
Life I feel vibrate, thinking of you with great passion.
I open an interior window, and a story of honor thread.
Tahoces’ teaching and Bardó’s prayers
My childhood enlightened, and for them with promises grew.
Thus molded and joy filled, my airy youth plods my secret lore
And realizes dreams, in far horizons, as a swift firm-feathered bird.
That volatile and youthful yore of bliss and light is long past gone.
Indeed time failed to tarry, but those memories still last.
Your much lauded festivals, how much I miss to celebrate!
Far from you, grieving do I envy your merry people feasting.
Your pleasant evocation overpowers all my being without repose.
Oblivion of you will not prevail, for without waning over me you reign.
Your meek and pleasing name, my heart does overwhelm
For you are fountain of my feelings, my imagination’s spoiled whim.
The shining rays of the sun adorn you with clothing rich and fair. From my heart’s lot you are a flower whose neglect forever I’ll elude. With voiced harmony, your meek waters to the land you fondly bind And fill of life a trance, which, but for you, in pain would long last. Dream of my springtime! A return to you, fondly do I desire. Idyllic fantasy-like town! Anxiously, for you I always ache. Oh sacred land! I fancy you so in mind that I touch you in real truth. With my hands I wish to sow your orchards and my loyalty display.
Ignited lights you left in me, forever impossible to dim. With hearty returns, my present to your past I here resolve to chain. Your humblest of rocks turns into a serene spring of such love That my life enriches and my being inflames with its radiant glow.“MONA LISA OF SUFFERING” (Glendale, December 1998)
In his “Los heraldos negros” (The black heralds), Peruvian poet César Vallejo wrote: “Hay golpes en la vida tan fuertes… yo no sé…” (There are blows so powerful in life… I do not know!). One of such powerful strokes in Roger’s life was, indeed, his beloved mother’s death. In his autobiography, he has already expressed the intense pain and the harsh depression its news caused him. Nevertheless, Professor Luis Carlos whom the reader knows from chapter two, after reading Odyssey to Opportunity complained to Roger saying:“I love your book, but in truth, something very important is missing…I was very surprised that, when your mother died, you did not dedicate more space to talk about that being you loved so much, as evidenced throughout the book…”
Roger promised Professor Luis Carlos that some day he was going to correct such deficiency by writing something special about his mother, without knowing at the time what form the fulfillment of that promise would assume. Consequently, he does not know either if he has concretized that “something special”, but on December 22, 1998 he faxed “Bierzo 7” the following composition which the Ponferrada weekly published in its edition of the 31st of the same month:To the Editor of “Bierzo 7”:
From time to time I read in that weekly, which you so ably direct, homage to people who have distinguished themselves by their conduct and professional example. There is a group, however, from a not too distant past, which, in my opinion, has not been properly recognized. I refer to the “madres bercianas” (mothers from El Bierzo) from the ‘30s, ‘40ss and ‘50s who have not only honored that region, but have truly ennobled it by their sacrificed life of painful self-denial.Those heroic women denied themselves even the essentials to soften their children’s suffering and secure a better future for them. They were extraordinary women who have bequeathed us “the luminous bronze torso of pain”. To them I dedicate this poem that I am writing about my own mother, in whom many readers may be able to contemplate an approximate copy of theirs.
MONA LISA OF SUFFERING
(to Rosario Rodríguez Pérez Morán)
You sprang forth, saintly mother, from a tender rosebud glowing,
Fair and true as a blossom whose fragrance the air with sweetness fills.
Your beauty a fountain became of joy in our frail, afflicted home.
Your love caressing nurtured our peace and its endearing eased our pain.
Something mystic in my beginning, there, at my life’s dawn…
Secretly closes my eyes… and drops of memories my face bathe.
Somber hours I thread, which in your arms you soothed with warmth,
And monoliths I build of moments, which you suffered alone by self.
Berciana by ancestry and Argentine by birth
You evidenced signs of Salamanca erudition.
Immolating self in Los Barrios first and Fuentesnuevas next
On off springs and spouse you softened needs’ blows.
With a mind renowned, as a jailed bird, in small towns you lived
When illustrious could have been in large cities dwelling.
In your soul’s interior oasis, another Mona Lisa, suffering engraved,
A splendid impression of true ache with a smile verily portrayed.
Captive in the sweet prison of love maternal,
You gave life to eight children whom your kindled love cheered.
All our happiness unmixed turned around your big heart.
Your face radiated a rainbow that splendor emitted as a fireside glow.
Learned teacher of our lives, affable you fondly decreed to be.
With your days replete, many a void in ours you lovingly filled.
In you, time found lodging, which warm with affection you kept
When our souls’ contours with delicate care you gently molded.
Like a dove without shelter in the essence of love,
As a linnet that like a tenor happily sings,
You gladdened our dwelling and our existence made bright.
Your pure gaze my eyes lit up… and with hope I saw harsh years flow.
With myriad of indelible hours our lives you so flattered,
That my undying feelings I now do return to this candid script.
From merciless winds your masterly hands wrested much pain.
Your heart of gold a sweet fume kindled of a very warm flame.
As a fragrant summer breeze, you exhaled a calm and gentle mist,
Which fed my wandering mind through humanity’s restless byways.
Your smile contagious and voice serene, worldwide in verse I now reveal
To behold and recapture forever the passion that your soul so possessed.
It is sad not to be with you, but glorious it is always of you to think.
I hear you whisper in my ear… and your murmur brings me calm.
From high lookouts I sight today scenes, biographical already,
Of Berciana mothers, who like you, hardship with resolve did crush.
Hail, Berciana mothers queens of those years of suffering intense!
Your illustrious deeds with love we remember and celebrate with pride.
May the Lord reward you all, I pray to Him with fervor!
And you, graceful mother, guide us forever with your celestial glow!
Roger has received many commentaries about this poem, especially from professors who are his friends or acquaintances. Dr.Alfonso Morales who teaches literature commented positively on the universal theme of motherhood and congratulated him “ for the use of imagery and for such vividly expressed feelings”. On the other hand, Dr. Oreste Perdomo, a Cuban poet who has several poems published and some rewarded, explained Roger’s poem’s popularity, among other reasons, because “…it is true poetry”. Doctor Carmen Estrada-Schaye, Mexican and Academic Dean at Los Angeles City College, wrote him a note saying: “… I congratulate you for your poem. In it I have seen Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz reborn”. Professor Luis Carlos, whose complaint initiated Roger’s thinking on writing about his mother, expressed his satisfaction showering the poem with praises. Finally, on this side of the Atlantic, Benjamín Gómez, professor of Spanish asked Roger after highly praising his poem “Why did you wait so long to write it?”
From the other side of the ocean, a refined and graceful letter cheered Roger even more. His friend Héctor had not only read Roger’s poem, but had also recited it to a group of people who were very moved at his reading. Héctor added about the poem:
“…it is frankly marvelous…and what better commentary of it than to do it with another poem! …I composed this poem as an acknowledgment of one son of those mothers from El Bierzo towards someone who has been able to laud their effort, their self-denial and their spirit of sacrifice and was even able to do it also beyond the borders of his own space.”
In another letter granting Roger permission to include that poem here and showing his grasp of the “berciano theme” in the poem “Mona Lisa of suffering”, Héctor explained the reasons for his enthusiasm about Roger’s poem. Perhaps some readers may harbor the same feelings. For that reason, and because it means so much to Roger, that explanation is included here in its totality as an introduction to Héctor’s own poem as a reply to Roger’s.
“Your poem “Mona Lisa of suffering” has impressed me. In it you relate that sweet, profound, endearing and indelible love towards your mother. To her you dedicate the best song of praise that a son can dedicate to the one who gave him life. I have seeing in Doña Rosario Rodríguez Pérez, your mother, another mother, María Rosario Terán Pardo, mine. I have also seen, and why not, all those “berciana” mothers of the decades previous and posterior to a painful and sad period of our history when many wounds were opened and will take a long time to heal.
For that reason, my friend, I want to laud that holy prayer which your poetry is, for holy is all that tenderly hearted is offered to a mother. That is why I want to reply to your prayer the best way I know how: with another poem. Let this be, then, a form of acknowledgment to all “berciana” mothers who, in the hardest of situations, knew how to overcome scarcity of goods, and misery, with love, fortitude and untamable spirit. Thanks to those virtues, they knew how to secure the future of us, their offsprings, preparing us for that great adventure which is the “Odyssey to opportunity”, which you have so well described in such a natural, simple and beautifully real sort of way.
In the name of those mothers, with their thanks and my own, include then in your book my reply to your “Mona Lisa del sufrir”. Thanks to her and the other mothers, our land, our customs, our people, you and me, feel, live, enjoy the most beautiful memories in one of the most appealing corners of the planet, our Bierzo.”
That is just a mother…
I am going to put into verse
The temperament of a gaze,
The one of a mother observing
Serenely being portrayed.
I thought of the eyes of a son
Contemplating her with calm,
And that when he painted her,
He indeed molded her soul.
Silence, in her, was shining.
In her, fondness he showed:
A mother’s candid affection,
Fire of love that burns.
He put color in the picture,
He painted it with passion,
As love is painted
Showing the perfect side.
He did not amend in her presence
Hiding her defects.
He painted them with elegance
And perfect colors.
He kept declaiming his mother
Stanza to stanza in a poem,
With that force that opens
The most preferred fondness.
Modeled after love,
A thousand silent looks,
A child’s thousand caresses.
One hundred million hurts,
A thousand myriad of smiles,
In walking without haste.
She is a solid pillar
Refuge of thousand hurts
And her kind affection
Can never be forgotten.
And there is no one in this world
Who remembering his mother,
Does not miss the profound love
Of her affection filled lap.
But if someone does not feel her
It will never be an oversight,
The fact will be evident,
It is… that he has not known her.
That is why he painted her well
And wrote her a glowing poem,
Asking from God,
Her supreme happiness as well.
She has caused in truth,
In silence and without boast
Your felicity work
As only … a mother does.
“… AND HE WAS JUST A FARMER…” (Glendale, April 1999)
There isn’t the slightest doubt that Roger’s mother exercised great influence in his life and that he appreciated her a great deal and loved her still more. His poem to her well expresses that reality. There is another human being, however, who played a very important role in his life as well and who is equally very dear to him, his father. Don Antonio Fernández Alba was born in Villar de los Barrios, near Salas. He had a heart of gold, enjoyed a very generous disposition and was a charming person in his simplicity. Roger decided to dedicate to him the following poem, which reflects very well who his father was:
“… AND HE WAS JUST A FARMER…”
(To Don Antonio Fernández Alba)
I want to sing today, of a simple farmer the story,
Skilled master of plow and pickax, hammer and shovel.
From learned men he never received the worthy gift of culture: His vast rural knowledge, only nature conferred to him in full. He sprang forth from a humble family of lien holdings landlord. Worthy nuptials he procured from a lady with dowry abundant. Spouse and offsprings he did love, who became his fount of joy. At days’ break sprightly with bliss he set out for his fields. Tilling the land, he sang like cantors in the Pampas.
A Frank Sinatra he wasn’t, but thus his passion he acclaimed. His songs cheered his cattle, which made furrows with sweat. His audience listened content…and rendered him good work. His whole being he devoted to reap the best goods of the land. Orchards and fields he watered with virtuous tact that never fails. But very painful postwar times whipped him with no pity, And to another town he moved where calmer winds were blowing. With his learned and fair spouse dangers and labor he shared, But likewise of a civil conflict, the inconsolable sorrow.
Courage and counsel from her he received in that gale of dark, Which was indeed a pitiless gust of puzzling blight.
Proclaiming to do good, his poor rivals did him evil,
Life well absolved him, for he lived it in its fullness.
And, how many wish, as did he, the trip eternal make
With so much merit to herald and so little ill to mend!
He suffered much for conviction… and even blood he shed. In a moment of stubborn aversion, death bordered him with stare. How faithful to him, in that instance, his good behavior was! His noble heart of gold, time knew well how to avenge.
The legend remembers him as “el Señor of the rickety donkey”, Which so I had to spur to have the water reach the land to irrigate. Slyly he laughed when reminded of such original details.
In his simplicity he felt those were short seconds quite pleasant. At the entrance of Los Barrios, in a straw-loft dark
He took care of his cattle’s deep sleeping rest.
And in the grain plot in Fuentesnuevas, summer nights he spent, Sleeping without sleep: … his precious grain he guarded.
A learned teacher he wasn’t, and his belt to teach at times he used. And now I recall those strokes of love… just for nostalgia. In fairs and in dealings, with malice they deceived him,
But then he would show them the impotent face of his kindness. His love for life, or victim of ignorance, caused him errors to make. Who in his stead mistakes wouldn’t make with harm and without grace? More learned men there are still who in identical plight
Pretend to keep quiet, but blindly submit to their most vile passions.
Thinking of him, I receive sun and smiles in my festive living.
He played cards to entertain the end of his hard existence.
With priest and friends pleasant moments playing in the bar he spent,
And lamented his losing on “the priest’s sleepers” putting the blame.
The Lord has already taken into Him that soul of crowned virtue
And has justly rewarded that spirit of loquacious youth.
But granting him thus of his earthly journey the deserving worth,
Honesty in Lord’s Glory arranges now tunes of my father the singer.
At this writing, these verses had not yet been published, but relatives and friends to whom Roger had sent a copy were either overcome by emotion or could not express their feelings without tears. They praised it effusively as “deeply affectionate”, “impact laden” for “that unending list of details that take hold of the soul by fire, loving outrage that is never forgotten”, as one of his friends let him know.
Those who knew Don Antonio well, “arrea el burro” or “el beabá”, the two nicknames most frequently used to identify him, are well aware that he avoided using blaspheming words. He used, instead, expressions like “el beabá” or “the priest’s sleepers” with the same end in mind to show disappointment, disillusionment or mishap without offending the divinity. He considered blasphemy, not only horrible, but also very ugly.“FILIPINA-BERCIANA PEARL” (Glendale, March 1999)
Another human being who filled Roger’s existence with many pleasant moments of grateful satisfaction is, without a doubt, his spouse Lucille. Her whole personality appealed to him while he courted her as sweethearts, and does so at present. She was, and still is with more maturity, level headed, intelligent and organized. Her leadership qualities attract his imagination, her skills in money matters reassure him and her sound religious principles uplift him spiritually. As a very personal gift for her last birthday of the century, Roger composed the following poem, which he gave to her on March 27, 1999:
(To Lucille Paradela Fernández)
In some unsavory and painful moments of my life
My future love sprung forth from a furtive glance.
I continued gazing at you as my pearl and as my wife
Though still missing was your “yes” to our romance.
But whirling storms that often whip a human being,
The kindliness and comfort of a generous soul can cure
When the heart hears sounds that agitate such grieving,
Which, if unmoved, with pain forever will endure.
Your warm affection found me aching from past suffering,
But you became the fond, soft and sweetheart nurse
Who cured and cleaned my wounds without ever abhorring
My soul’s delicate state for having afore incurred a malign curse.
You entered into my life and delicately its own contours you drew.
With the blaze of your elegance, grace and devotion without equal,
The cold castle of my love, with warmth, you lit anew,
And gracefully you closed the spring of that ever-biting gall.
You are the high-flying condor of my most intrepid thought.
Your bright smile weaves passionate magic in my existence.
In your light song, your mighty heartthrobs I joyfully caught…
You smooth it all with meekness, grace and great consistence.
Lily of my springtime, what flower can I offer to better your wish fill?
Shining sun of my abode, what light can capture your indelible feeling?
Poetry that softly moves my being, what muse can soften me more still?
Sacred Altar of my love, grateful for you before the Lord I am kneeling.
And so centered, our love will blossom and grow forever.
You are the chalice of my overflowing bliss,
The queen whose splendor lightens and moves me as ever,
Soothing my life with sounds that once were all amiss.
At our wedding, some voices evoked the word “Royalty”.
The day dawned serene, graced with smiles and great brilliance.
It was thus that your radiant face glowed with that regal nobility
That in its kingdom always reigns, but in modesty conveys obedience.
I rejoice in our wedding, for it wiped away my inconsolable tears.
Joyously I intone in verse and in soft notes I sing these years
Of our happy love, the rich and intense story:
In loving you Lucille, I truly found my glory.
Written as already stated for Lucille’s birthday, Roger translated this poem into English, mainly for the immediate benefit of the relatives and friends, just as all the other poems are been translated now that Odyssey Resumed is going to be published in English. This particular composition was well received and commented on both sides of the Atlantic. The Ponferrada weekly “Bierzo 7” published it in its edition of April 8, 1999, as some readers may well remember.“ON THE 44TH ANNIVERSARY… OF MY 21ST BIRTHDAY…”
On the 26th that same month of April, Roger celebrated the 44th anniversary of his 21st birthday… In some parts of the world, families prepare special parties for their beloved when they reach the age of “65”. Needless to say, Lucille did not want to be different and threw an unforgettable party for Roger. It took place at a restaurant that specializes in Mediterranean food. More than fifty relatives and friends participated in a moving homage. Between emotions and memories, Roger composed in Spanish the following sonnet, which is no more than a composition of disheveled reflections of a young sexagenarian to celebrate the occasion:
ON THE 44TH ANNIVERSARY…
OF MY 21ST BIRTHDAY…
Why gather here today to celebrate
Years which reflect age, both agile and mature,
And publicly proclaim with signs, visible yet demure,
That an earthly party is closer still to culminate?
Would it not be more fitting to promulgate
With equal but reverse exactness pure
Accumulated years of youth’s growing allure
That gets invigorated seeing time so dissipate?
Warmly do I nourish man’s ever fancy vision
Of happily imagining self, born in age advanced,
And relish with delight that intriguing life’s inversion
Upon fondly coddling such appealing disposition
To enter the Lord’s Glory in a child-like state enhanced
And let his mother’s loving care protect his worldly mission.
These are just reflections, fancy and wild,
Of a young sexagenarian, tamed and mild.
On this particular occasion many were the gifts that had a significant meaning for Roger. Here, he wants to reveal to the reader only two very special gifts. Each of his children contributed to give him a new, last-minute computer with Windows 98. With it, Roger is capable of navigating the Internet with ease and reading the world newspapers that he most likes.
The other, was not a gift in and of its own. It was a personal card from Bobby Lincoln who calls Roger by the name of “abuelo” (grandfather). Before explaining the card, the reader must understand that Roger has always respected and honored the President of the United States, no matter what party he belongs, for once elected he represents the whole nation. For several reasons, Roger had lost all respect for the gentleman who at that time was occupying the White House as President. Knowing that, Bobby made and gave Roger a card, which in the front page congratulated him for his “65” birthday. In the interior of the card, Clinton appears surrounded by TV cameras, at a press conference with many in attendance and sending Roger very warm congratulations…and all that from a 9 year old boy…
Since then, this sonnet can be found on the Internet through the International Library of Poetry. It has appeared in various publications of that association, such as Journey to Infinity, Ballads in Our Lives and America at the Millennium: (The Best Poems and Poets of the 20th Century).“A HYMN TO FREEDOM” (Glendale, June 1999)
Those readers who read Odyssey to Opportunity will be able to have a better understanding of the reason that brought about this poem in Roger’s life. After leaving Cuba and waiting in Key West to continue his trip to New York, Roger left the airport surroundings and took a stroll through the coast for a while. He felt light, as if a big load had been taken off his shoulders. He was feeling as free as a bird and cried of joy and happiness. Now, nobody could strip him of his dignity. He was alone, but free. He was poor, but he could think for himself and use his mind to look for opportunity and to create. He was initiating a new life, but now he was in the land of freedom. After his nightmare in Cuba, that lonely and isolated walk along the Florida shore has become the source of inspiration to compose the following poem, pondering with humility what that profoundly rooted feeling of freedom has meant for his long and spacious life:
HYMN TO FREEDOM
What magic does your concept so fragile shelter
That those who live under yoke, for you eagerly long,
And through those who enjoy you, a fume of scorn softly roams
When they still can lightly hear your music and your song?
How many with hope and fervor filled, today for you yet pine
And how few with painful effort your soothing bounty obtain!
In your absence earnestly for you with deep passion they search
But in times of plenty, affectedly careless have you treated.
Age old prey of violent winds, so frequently hurt afflicted
That human beings moan in the howling gust of your ejection
And shout with euphoria while flavoring your lulling stay,
What angel of light or dark ascends to you in submission?
Your smile unawares frequently overtakes me
Having been for me a traitor of a brief yet distant past.
I now bear witness that I hold onto you in any instance,
Though ephemeral may it be, as to a swiftly fleeting breeze.
What your scarcity in my past, a river replete with grief became,
A serene and healthy shore is now in my sea, so far away.
You fill me with unharmed and abundant joy
When spoiled I am wrapped in your mantle of endearment.
Depressed in Key West I touched your very ethereal wings
Having felt you in Cuba a very elusive gift.
In my comfortable present, my past no longer I revive,
For now you gloriously reign in my age-old birthplace Salas.
When you are scarce, the rivers of time do painfully flow.
Tyrannical and merciless gales swiftly cross the space.
Wounded many die or suffer for you or live depressed
Warding you with the price of life, which often you demand.
Without you, only anxiety and uneasiness can mankind harvest
In the sullen tunnel of time… that hard and cruel claimant.
Aromatic balsam that detains the slash of despotic oppressors
Crystalline spring are you whence man’s comfort zestfully sprouts.
It would be most appropriate to conclude here this chapter, as indeed the whole work, with a sonnet on the present book expressing the author’s wishes for the readers. They consist in entertainment and relaxation in the reading and a broadening of the knowledge of that world, which Roger had the opportunity to visit and to live.
I conceived you in the euphoria of applause and rejoicing
When I was object of praises without severe criticism.
You grew in a world of nostalgia and pilgrimage
Without emphasis to worship, in its earliest understanding.
You follow me through roads of memories and hopes
But the ignorance of customs pursues me no longer.
Above else you offer me rewards and commendation,
And my existence consoles the constant gift of travel.
Your readers anxiously aspire to enjoy with satisfaction,
Since reading you ought to illuminate and entertain their learning
If you pretend to delight with boasting of repose and instruction
Without fearing that the cloak of your seductive description
Covers with disdain, of your readers the desire to be pleased,
For, don’t they wish merry education and educational merriment?
Roger hopes, dear readers, that Odyssey Resumed fulfills its mission of fulfilling your wishes.