The sea is the air of Vigo!
Walk along the streets of the Casco Vello.* Close your eyes, breath in and your nose will lead you to the Rias Baixas.
It was like that when Sir Francis Drake went up the hill of the Castro burning everything he came across. And also on the day Franco died when everyone followed their nose to join in the celebrations.
The sea is the air of Vigo!
It is from the Cíes Islands, a little archipelago that belongs to the National Park of the Atlantic Islands, that the city’s indescribable beauty is best admired. And so too, her scent.
From the famous Rodas beach, (the best beach in the world, according to an English newspaper), you can see her natural amphitheater. A place inspired by God. Or perhaps, even designed by Him.
But back to Vigo.
Walking opposite to the sea , and across the oldest part of the city, we enter Calle do Príncipe. And begin to walk along the new part of the city. Its bold avenues now determining how to enter, circulate and exit the urbe.
Centuries ago it was different. Then how the houses lay determined how the roads would go.
The vital arteries in most European cities, her streets and alleys, are there, carrying life, because they could not exist anywhere else.
Houses and their streets served people. Connecting them, guarding them. Having a street, belonging to a neighbourhood, was like having a second mother or father.
Today, roads determine where new houses will go.
First, one builds. And then humanizes!
Before we realize it, my street, or our neighborhood, is no longer there. Changing from our extended family into a mere traveling acquaintance. And leaving us as orphans.
These were the thoughts that kept Maria company. As she followed the ups and downs between the old and new part of the city. By the river, the city was chaotic and unique. In the upper part, there was an order and progress that someone, no one really knew who, had decided upon.
At present, one of the city’s main arteries is situated in the new part. Bustling with commerce and all forms of capitalism in their purest state. It is called Calle Venezuela.
It was one of those ironies that, after the election of Hugo Chavez in the country holding the same name, made Maria smile. And likely not only Maria.
Mornings, while still half asleep, she would be pushed out the door by her older brothers, making sure she reached her religious school on time. Always, she would have to cross the border between the well-planned broad, beautiful streets, and those streets that had grown only because it was impossible to have them going any other way.
Maria would never say which part of the city she preferred. She felt as good walking through the narrow streets of the brothels close to the river, as when she bought her first school manual at El Corte Inglés.
Fear and pleasure walked hand in hand with her. She’d fall asleep and awake with them. And they cared for each other, since they were inseparable.
When her father, Luís, had to take her to school, it meant not only that she was late, but that she had missed her first morning class.
Their journey would be a time for combining praise with the theology of liberation, and seasoning it with a lack-of-responsibility lecture.
After arriving at school, there would be a second round of lectures, all in all identical to the first, apart from the liberation theory. In the case of this particular school and congregation, it had gone no further than small reproaches to Indians and priests in remote locations of Latin America.
Maria was called Maria because of a long tradition; the length of which depended upon whom you asked. According to her mother, the family insisted on naming in that way for more than 200 years. According to her grandmother, it has been for more than 2000 years.
Life in Galicia was stable and predictable. It rained everyday, more or less at the same time. The morning haze would give way after the cathedral bell struck twelve. And even the constant attacks from boats — pirate or English — were possible to forecast.
To be more accurate, life in Galicia was predictable. An excellent state of affairs, for the men. Maybe not so excellent for the women of the city.
Whatever their origins or social class, the enduring truth was that women were born to be daughters, wives, mothers (preferably of many), grandmothers and, if life were very generous, maybe a great-grandmother.
Not a lot has changed in the lives of Galician women, apart from the hills surrounding the Bay, which, with the growing number of buildings and houses, have grown ugly.
Maria’s father was Luís Cortez. An enormous man who spoke several languages. Drank a bottle of red wine with his meal. And seemed to knew a little about almost everything. As he had lived in several countries and had studied at a seminary in Catalonia.
At every family gathering his thunderous voice delivered his stories. Every story, repeated until exhaustion, assured pleasure for everyone. And, of course, wine was repeated until exhaustion as well. Very much wine. And very good.
Luís Cortez was a finished product of a finished Spain — which didn’t like its recent past or what the future promised to bring. As history cannot be deleted, the only possibility remaining is to disown a land of contradictions.
While he was studying at the seminary somewhere in the south of Spain, in a heated argument with a colleague about the history of spirituality – Luís slapped the priest-to-be, currently a bishop, after he had told Luís, “all spirituality must be framed within unsurpassable limits”.
Luís was an enormous man and could not stand small-mindedness. Particularly when dressed up as authority. A particular attitude that made his exit from the Seminary inevitable. And quick.
Behind every great man, is always a great woman. So they say. And likely, that was how Maria’s mother, Maria Luísa, lived for the last 20 years.
Luís, being an enormous man, left little to see of Luísa outside the family. Inside the house, however, things were different. Everyone knew who assured the repeated daily miracles, which, invisibly, allowed everyone to get from the beginning to the end of the day without accidents. And to get through each year with the minimum of sacrifices. With the exception, of course, of Maria Luísa.
Maria Luísa’s eyes were the color of Vigo Bay on a summer’s day.
Maria had her mother’s eyes, and from her father, she inherited his passion for wine, good wine.
Among her parents’ immense record collection, Maria had a special interest in the records by Luís Eduardo Aute, or just Aute to his friends.
When Luís played “Pasaba por aqui”, she looked at her mother and felt like crying.
Te veo muy distinta
es nuevo ese carmín.
Estás mucho más guapa,
será que te embellece ser feliz.
Qué cosas se me ocurren todo esto es tan pueril,
si yo sólo pasaba,
pasaba por aquí,
pasaba por aquí.
Crying with happiness.
* Vigo, The old Town – the old part of Vigo, situated inside the wall and the immediate surroundings. Its origins go back to the 16th century, but invasion, lootings, fires and epidemics caused it to be destroyed and rebuilt many times over, changing the appearance of the streets. Splashed with squares and arcades, its backstreets went from being sailors’ gathering places to a youth meeting point. Some streets preserve all the antique atmosphere and it is worth walking them. It was declared heritage of cultural interest as a historical monument.