Back to Spain.

At the end of 1959, having approved the 4° Grade of Primary School in Venezuela, my parents, with the little money they had been able to save, decided to send my brother and me to Spain, to leave us there with a sister of my father, my aunt Celsa who lived in Lada, Asturias.

When we arrived in Asturias we all went to my aunt’s Celsa house in the town of Lada (In reality my aunt and her family lived in an apartment, located in one of several blocks of Protected Housing of low rent, built by the Spanish Government of General Franco for the miners of the zone).

Viviendas Protegidas, Lada, Asturias, Spain. Photo: Fernando Rodriguez at www.lne.com

My aunt Celsa lived with her husband Boni (Diminutive suffix for Bonifacio), who had lost his left hand in a mine accident, and with her daughter, my cousin Tinina (Diminutive for Agustina), just a few years younger than my aunt Mari who was also staying there with us.

My family in Lada: Behind my little brother Joaquin and me, from left to right, my aunt Mari, my uncle Boni (R.I.P.), and my cousin Tinina, with her hands over my shoulders. 1960.

There we initiated our new life. I was registered to go to school in “El Frailín”, better known as Mercantile Academy of La Felguera, school supposed to be directed by an ex-priest, which enjoyed a very good reputation (The school, not the ex-priest, who was rather known to like the bottle a lot).

The school was located in a neighboring town to Lada, La Felguera, half an hour walking distance from Lada.

Academia Mercantil of La Felguera, better known as “el frailin”, (now disappeared).Photo: www.elcomercio.es. 2008.

So, walking I went day after day to that school.

In the cold mornings of winter, I was well wrapped up and my aunt gave me for breakfast a “punch” for the cold: in half a glass of wine, she diluted an egg with a spoon, added some sugar, stirred the mixture, and that was it.

After drinking that “punch”, there was no cold that could affect me!

I went to school almost always alone but always came back with somebody from the school, who lived in the same direction as I did.

Sometimes we came back by the train’s rails to collect pieces of iron (Or big iron screws from the train’s sleepers or rails), which we later exchanged for sweet treats in a kiosk located near the road’s short tunnel (It was a small tunnel for the road ahead, and a little bridge for the train above).

In Asturias, they placed me in Pre-Ingreso, which in the Spanish school system then being in use, was equivalent to the Venezuelan 5th grade of Primary schooling, but only for the remaining of the year (I’d started late, by the middle of the course).

It took some effort on my part to adapt to the new school, for the teachers hit the students and seemed to believe completely on the school’s maxim: “the letter with blood enter”, for the teachers did hit the students…a lot!

I remember a day when being already formed in line with my classmates (On each of our departures from the school, mornings and afternoons, we had to form lines by grade and we had to stay in formation and couldn’t break the line, until the ex-priest or his son, Don Ricardo, clapped their hands).
With Don Ricardo lurking and watching us from the window of the second floor of the classrooms’ building, where he had his “office”, a loose milk tooth I had, ended up falling.

With blood in my mouth and to rinse it off, I left the line going to the location of a horizontal metal tube with many holes of which water flew (It was the “water drinking fountain” of the schoolyard).

Almost instantly, I heard the coarse voice of Don Ricardo: “peque”, he said (little one, in Spanish), then he added: “At 2½ in my office”.

My explaining arguments against the measure were useless, for I wasn’t even permitted to talk, and the few words which came out of my mouth were completely ignored.

At 2½ P.M., (We had classes mornings and afternoons) I entered Don Ricardo’s classroom (His “office”, as Don Ricardo used to call it, and we all knew it), only to find myself at the end of a queue of about five students, all waiting for Don Ricardo.

While we waited, another five students enlarged the queue.

All the students were there for different reasons, but in general, the use of violence towards the students was very common in the majority of schools in Spain at that time.

Various generations of Spaniards are marked by such violent behavior against them, (The dictatorship of Franco, like many other authoritarian regimes, used violence — starting at school and continuing for the rest of anyone’s life — to dominate the Spanish population).

Corporal punishment to students was banned in Spain in 1985, “barely” ten years after the dictator’s Franco death.

Even at University, the students during Franco’s time were subjected, not only to despotic treatment by some professors, but also were frequently exposed to the malignant activities of informers, and to unexpected campus raids by the police (Los grises, or the grey ones in English, as Franco’s policemen, were called, in allusion to the color of their uniforms).

Franco’s police: “los grises”, in Spanish, as they were locally better known. Photo: TVE.es

But please, excuse my digression and allow me to continue with the account of that part of my childhood in that school in Asturias.

On arrival and without a word, Don Ricardo pulled a thick cane out of a drawer in his desk and compelled the students to get closer to him, beginning with the first one in the queue, who instantly stood in front of Don Ricardo with an extended arm and his hand’s palm up.

Don Ricardo hit him hard twice with the cane and applied a similar punishment to the second student on the queue, and so on until it was my turn.

Standing in front of him, I extended my right arm, exposed my right hand’s palm, and withstood the two customary hits without complaints.

I had decided that it wasn’t worth complaining, as he wouldn’t listen anyway.

Image of teacher inflicting punishment to students. Published in: www.folioweekly.com

We had classes from 8 to 12 A.M. during the morning and from 2½ to 5 P.M. in the afternoon.

The afternoons almost always were dedicated to studying, which for many of us meant nothing but memorizing, by singing them aloud, the pages that they ordered us to read, something that always generated some laughs and a bit of fuss among us.

More than one student teared up because of the teacher’s wooden stick on his palm during those afternoons of study!

I don’t remember much more about that Pre-ingreso course.

At the end of it, I was “passed” to the following Ingreso course, equivalent to the Venezuelan 6° Grade of Primary School.

By now, both my parents had come back from Venezuela — with the intention of staying in Spain for good — and had rented the park’s bar in Sama.

The bar had three bedrooms separated from the area of business, in which my aunt Mari, my parents, my brother and I slept.

As neither the bar, nor the sleeping quarters had any heating and in winter it was very, very cold, my mother used to heat our mattresses before we went to bed, with refractory bricks, previously heated by placing them on the stove, or with hot water bottles.

The bar had an Asturian bowling alley (Bolera, in Spanish), in which I learned how to play (nothing to do with the bowling alleys of, say, America) and sometimes (Especially on weekends in summer), some patrons also organized cockfights.

Asturian bowling. Photo: www.wikivisually.com

At that time (the early-60's) there was a lot less preoccupation — and much less zeal by the authorities — than there is today regarding the well-being, health, and integrity of the animals, so, while prohibited by law, cockfights still were organized, advertised, and took place openly.

Speaking of cockfighting, a cousin of my father, Carin (RIP), was a reputed breeder of those animals and frequently participated with his roosters in cockfights all over Asturias, and even all over Spain.

Cockfighting in Asturias was very popular. Photo: www.theguardian.com

I used to move around town riding a small bicycle (I don’t remember how I got that, possibly as a Christmas present)

I remember in one of my bicycle’s moves, I discovered the cattle’s market.

It was a place where sellers and buyers of live cattle met once a week on Wednesdays mornings.

Mainly cows, bulls, and oxen, were transacted there, although occasionally horses were also negotiated in that place.

It was a large open space surrounded on one side by roofed cubicles in which to park the animals, and with a big construction in the middle of the open space, a sort of elevated pool, approximately 18 feet long and 6 feet wide, with some 40 inches deep, always full of water to water the animals.

Site of the old cattle market in a snowy winter night in Sama, later, the cattle market was converted into a children’s park. Please, notice the old pool to water the animals, in the center. Photo:www.verpueblos.com

I remember that in the company of a friend, we were playing one afternoon in the then empty cattle market.

Although the Mayoralty responsible for that place, kept the cattle market closed at that time, we had found a way to enter it.

We were playing inside when we noticed a stray dog which also had found its way in.
Wanting to clean the dog, we threw it into the central pool, used for the cattle to water, but the dog kept coming out of the pool, again and again, in spite of our repeated attempts.

To prevent the dog from coming out of the pool, after throwing the dog into the water, we had the unhappy idea of immediately cover the pool with some large pieces of carton we found on the floor.

A while later, we retired the cartons only to find out that the poor dog almost drowned, it was vomiting water out of his mouth, and it laboriously came out of the pool and laid on the floor.

Scared, we just abandoned the place in a hurry, leaving the poor animal to its own luck.

I can only fervently hope, that the poor dog didn’t die as a result of our ignorance.

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