Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

Ignacio explained that "La Gallega" is where he has lived for the past 3 years. Ybor City had many boarding houses that catered to single men, mostly Spaniards, but this one had earned the reputation of being the best. He had arranged for Fernando and him to share one of the larger rooms. Zapato gestured to Gaitero to pass through the small gate.

As the two men walked onto the porch Fernando could hear the loud din of many people speaking simultaneously, both in Spanish and Galician. Passing through the front door, they were greeted by an incredibly good aroma of food, accented with the sweetness of fine Cuban leaf cigars.

They entered a single large room running the full width of the building. To the right was a sitting area. On the left was a large dining area with several long tables. Every chair was occupied. As they became available, other diners would emerge from the sitting area and claim them. The vast majority of those eating were men. Ignacio explained that most were permanent boarders, while others were there just for lunch. Many of the men were wearing high-collared, long-sleeved white shirts, and ties. Several servers were dashing in and out of a kitchen located at the rear of the dining room, carrying steaming bowls and platters of copious amounts of food. Fernando realized that he was very hungry.

"Sígueme, Gaitero. Quiero presentarte a los dueños. Son una pareja encantadora. Muy buena gente".

Ignacio told Fernando to follow him, as he wanted to introduce him to the owners of La Gallega, of whom he was very fond. He assured his friend that they were a charming couple.

Zapato guided Fernando through the crowded room, exchanging greetings with those they passed. They entered the kitchen. There was a frenzy of activity....workers dashing about, quickly ladling food from large pots to waiting bowls and plates. A rather large but well-proportioned woman seemed to be in charge, monitoring all that was happening. She appeared to be in her forties. Ignacio approached her.

"Maruxa, te quiero presentar a Fernando Suárez Menéndez, mi mejor amigo. También es de Candamo. Gaitero, esta señora es Maruxa Varela, conocida como 'La Gallega'. Y Aniceto, donde está?"

He had introduced Maruxa to his best friend, explaining Gaitero was also from Candamo in Asturias. She was well-known as "La Gallega" (the Galician woman) and the boarding house bore her nickname. Zapato wondered where her husband and business partner, Aniceto, might be.

"Non outro asturiano! Eu quería outro galego. Pero está ben, deixarémosche quedar!

Bienvenido, home novo."

In her native Galician language, she had warmly welcomed Fernando to his new home. He was familiar enough with the language to understand her. Yielding to the traditional friendly "competition" between Galicians and their next-door neighbors, the Asturians, Maruxa had jokingly expressed disappointment that he was yet another Asturian and not Galician! She embraced both Spaniards with hugs and the usual kisses on each cheek. Zapato handed her the three loaves of bread he had purchased. She smiled broadly and gave him an extra hug. This was his usual Friday afternoon gift to Maruxa, for her personal enjoyment. She particularly relished the shorter, more familiar loaf......a "barra gallega", the Galician loaf typical of her homeland. 

"Ahora, a comer!"

Maruxa, switching to Spanish, had announced that now it was time to eat, nudging the young men toward the dining room as she took Gaitero's satchel and placed it in a corner of the kitchen.

Fernando and Ignacio took their seats. It was now just before two o'clock in the afternoon, and they looked forward to what is traditionally the largest meal of the day for Spaniards. As Fernando glanced around the room, he allowed his nose, ears, and eyes to fully process what surrounded him. Through a large window in front of him, he saw a very large tree. It appeared to be a type of oak whose enormous branches were beautifully draped with large clumps of a long, wispy, grey plant. He had never before seen such a thing. He found it strangely beautiful and fascinating. It was, at this moment, his only reminder that he was no longer in Spain.

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This is a work of fiction. With the exception of references to known and publicly documented historical entities, the following apply:

Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. ©Tony Carreño 2020