|La mujer que acompaņo a Vicente de Ametzaga Aresti|
decided, although with great difficulty, to try the opportunity that presented
itself in Caracas, Venezuela. I did not want to leave Montevideo or leave half
my life once again.
I wanted to finish a college degree and live in that environment where
not only I but the whole family was so happy.
Ama was calm and explained that she understood how I felt, and she felt
the same, and that the reasons for leaving the country were only economic. Aita
also wanted to calm me down and one night before leaving he took me to see the
play "Trojan Horse" or "Troiako Zaldi" as he called it.
It was in the School of Architecture, very close to our home. The family
was going through tough economic times where our father earned our living with a
combination of different jobs, but he was now 54 years old and was anxious about
long-term possibilities for him and for us. Two of amas sisters (Lola and
Mari) and a niece, Ma Luisa, daughter of Mari, who lived in Venezuela, urged him
to go to Caracas because the city was booming economically and he certainly
could get a better paying job.
plan was for aita to go to Aita alone. Ama and we would join him if he found in
Caracas the solution to the problem. Our friends who ama and I kept writing were
telling us that the country's economic crisis began to unravel in 1955.
They added that they didnt know if the cause was the fall of prices of
exports from the one-product Uruguayan economy or our departure from the
country. How could we not love a country whose citizens gave us so much help and
for whom we felt so much?, Ama said. When we left she gave us all a memento of
her child hood. She gave me two books: The Imitation of Christ, written
by the German mystic, Thomas a Kempis, and The Psalter, which are the
Psalms of David.
Both were very appropriate for me at that time. With sadness our father
left Montevideo on July 17, 1955. He wrote to us often telling us about his
impressions of the city and his new job. A month after arriving in Caracas, aita
met with old friends at the Basque Center, which was the sanctuary for Basque
refugees since 1942. His old friend Jose Maria Lasarte, the godfather of Bingen,
offered him the job of Secretary General of the Basque Center, and he agreed.
Even though it paid a good salary, it was less than the other job
previously offered, but was working for and with the Basques, and that was
after this, the lehendakari José Antonio Aguirre while passing through Caracas
had a conversation with our father about his major concern: the fate of Basque
culture in the post-war world. Franco was fiercely persecuting and suppressing
the Basque language. Aguirre explained that he had the idea of forming a
permanent seminar that would produce papers and studies, which would provide for
the future of coming generations.
It would consist of four to six people. There would not be much of a
salary, but the site would be a village in the French Basque country.
In a couple of months he would confirm the offer since he had to propose
in Paris such a suggestion; and if feasible aita would be in charge. Our father
was very excited; it was his idea of a dream job and he was certainly able to
carry it out. And
more importantly, it would be close to home.
hope and joy of Aita were intense.
He immediately wrote to ama to prepare a trip to Euskadi. Ama was more
realistic; she was not very convinced that it was something so perfect for him.
But with great hope she began to prepare for the trip. It would be an
opportunity to meet her second daughter Begoņa, now 16 years old.
had a huge job to do alone, because we children were busy in our own worlds. She
had to put most of our household goods up for sale in an auction. She had to
save our fathers books, and she had to make a careful scrutiny of all our
father's books, page by page to ensure that there was no compromising paper in
them. Some books are impossible to carry with her because of the subject so she
had to send them by mail. Ama was also in charge of selling insurance in the
company where aita had worked in Montevideo, and while she was taking on this
job there was a fire in an insured property that ama had to deal with. With so
much to do, la Tata became ill and had to be rest for three months. Ama dealt
with everything and everyone with courage and energy. Our good friend Pedro
Arteche, whom ama called him "the savior" because he got her out of
many problems, seriously proclaimed that ama "deserved a statue" and
how right she was.
great sorrow we said goodbye to Uruguay, leaving what we loved so much. The
friends, country, everything was so familiar to us and nice, and I realized that
my dreams of a college education were broken, though I do not think it was
feasible to expect that my parents could have paid for me to get a degree in
medicine, but at that time I did not realize it.
are never good. Those days were full of emotion and a lot of fussing about
everything for ama. All our friends showed their love. The last two weeks before
the trip we had almost daily farewell parties from friends and neighbors with
dinners accompanied with songs. We heard the famous tango over and over again
"Adios Muchachos," made popular by Carlos Gardel, a famous tango
singer and film actor in Uruguay and Argentina. My friends gave me a goodbye
party in a tearoom. The friends of my brothers invited them to a barbecue. Ama
had a grand farewell by the members of Euskal Erria with some moving words. Ama
stated later that "There was no good way to say goodbye to so generous and
this trip our family took a different turn. The plan was for us to wait in San
Sebastian for aita get to San Juan de Luz, in France, and meet there with him.
In this way all living close to home might be near Begoņa, whose absence from
the family had become a big problem. This gave ama the courage to make the trip.
the early hours of the morning of April 7, 1956 we boarded the French ship Provence,
and our friends in the port took leave of us. With tears in our eyes we said
goodbye one last time while the ship sailed slowly away out of the Rio de la
Plata and entered the Atlantic Ocean. It was not for ama or for me the first
time we had this feeling of leaving something good that we loved to go aimlessly
into the unknown. When we could not see our friends because of the tears and the
distance, we went to the beautiful dining room where our table was the only one
empty, because they were already serving lunch.
itinerary of the trip was stops in Santos, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Dakar and
Barcelona, our destination. We got off at Santos and we reveled in the rich
aroma of coffee that covered the city.
They told us that 50 years earlier it had been the port of entry for the
bubonic plague in Brazil. The entrance to Rio is spectacular; mountain chains
surrounded us until we got to the wonderful and exotic city and port of Rio de
Janeiro. We visited the Christ the Redeemer statue atop the Corcovado, and from
there we could see the fantastic view of Copacabana beach, from the Sugar Loaf.
We walked in the Copacabana neighborhood famous for its tiled streets imitating
the movements of the waves. We bought the aromatic coffee like no other.
Brazilians are right to say "God is the artist and Rio is his
was Bahia. In
this city we visited the church of San Francisco covered with gold. This city is
called the Black Rome for its large number of churches and population of blacks.
Dakar ama went with Xabier and Bingen to visit the city, and Arantza and I
decided to go with our friends. When we returned, we didnt realize that ama
and our brothers were not on the ship. An hour later we heard the ship's whistle
announcing its departure and they had not yet returned. I went to tell the
captain to wait a bit because our mother had not yet arrived.
I dont know how he would have responded to my panic, but luckily at
that moment we saw ama and our brothers running down the dock.
the next morning, they announced that we were leaving the Atlantic and entering
the Mediterranean, and then we could see from afar the Rock of Gibraltar, which
is a rock that has no rivers and has to store its water in cisterns, we were
told. It's the closest point in Europe to Africa.
in the midst of our sorrow of leaving our beloved Uruguay, the crossing was
happy for us kids. We made friends with a group of young people, and from the
beginning we all were friends.
A young French boy and I spent a lot of time throughout the trip.
At the end of the trip, Arantza gave me a poem titled "My First
Love." Everything was good for us children but not so much for ama, who
anxiously awaited meeting her second daughter and an uncertain future. We
celebrated the crossing of the equator, interrupting the routine on board, and
it was declared a holiday. An authority, in this case, the captain of the ship,
disguised him and played the role of the god Neptune. From the bridge by means
of loudspeakers announced the arrival on a makeshift throne of Neptune, who came
in a procession followed by his entourage. Near the pool on his throne, he
baptized neophytes, demanding taxes and granting favors. They gave me the name
"Star Fish". After this ritual and without hesitation we threw the
captain into the swimming pool. The moment when we crossed the line was marked
with a peal of bells. But all young people were busy because that afternoon we
were all dressed in disguises. A lady was in charge of the costumes and she
chose for Arantza a costume representing a seller of baskets of Bahia, and
granted me the mysterious costume odalisque. That night I attended the dance,
but ama came for me to go to bed much earlier than I had hoped.
was a great trip until the eve of the landing.
Our brother Xabier, the youngest of the group was always running after
us, and someone in front of him without knowing who was behind him, the closed
one of the heavy doors of the ship and his hand was trapped.
He needed medical help in the infirmary of the ship and then again in
Barcelona. His screams and cries aroused the sympathy of all passengers.
in those days, in the 1950s, between our parents or us and Begoņa was based on
letters that took one to two weeks to reach its destination. Still we had no
idea of supersonic flight, instantaneous communication in writing and speaking.
Not as it is today, when the Internet or cell phones provide us easy
We never received many pictures of her because our aunt was not very fond
of photography, and she also had busy and hectic life to write letters.
Begoņa herself had never been inclined to write much. They tried several
times to call our parents by phone, but it was quite an ordeal because it was so
expensive, and often the conversations were brief and marked by
miscommunication. When friends of our parents traveled to Euskadi, our parents
urged them to visit Begoņa. But none of these visits was positive because she
was quiet all the time for fear that they would take her with them to America.
This kept us from having a close relationship with our sister, which would have
better prepared us for the meeting that was about to unfold.
Provence anchored in Barcelona on
Sunday April 22, 1956, shortly after lunch. We went to the bridge and our group
of friends tried to find Begoņa, and we soon recognized her on the dock and we
all in chorus shouted her name. Begoņa, exhilarated by her sudden popularity,
looked at us amazed and happy. At last she came on board with Aunt Mari, her
granddaughter Ana Mari, and friends of the family, Julita and Juan. Of all the
family members she knew only me. When ama and our sister embraced, it was very
exciting for them and for us to see them. Ama lost consciousness for a few
seconds. That day was the first time that all five siblings were together in one
place and fifty years more would pass before we would repeat this feat. And in
that moment of joy we all believed that our sister Begoņa would stay with us,
but unfortunately it did not happen like that. Many years had passed with us
apart to repair the damage of such absence. We prepared to leave the boat and
they asked for our passports and when ama showed hers they took it away and said
she had to get another safeconduct pass in a month because her passport was
worthless. It was her purge. The books and other passed through customs without
the boxes being opened, thanks to our good friend Araquistain. We stayed at the
Hotel Astoria and the son of Mary Pallin, who was in this city, took us the
three sisters to visit the city during the time we were in this beautiful
Catalan capital. We visited the Monastery of Montserrat, the Park Tibidabo,
Montjuic, a center for arts, entertainment and culture and the Church of the
Sacred Heart. After a few days we took a twin-engine plane to Bilbao.
Sondica airport waiting for us were Aunt Elvira, Uncle Ino and Aunt Carmen. The
joy and surprise of meeting again was great, since for ama it had been almost
twenty years since she left her town and their families. We went to our uncle's
house and after dinner came the Algorta family to visit. Many memories rushed
through my mind and heart.
Now with different eyes I looked around me at what had been familiar to
me as a child. I
told this to ama, and she replied that it all seemed smaller, as if taken from a
picture. But her emotions were now focused on her second daughter Begoņa.
was 16 and I almost 18 years, the age when we thought life was fantastic and the
world belonged to us. We got along as well as when we played together many years
ago. Because of the experiences of the past years in different countries,
speaking with a different accent and because there wasnt much physical
resemblance, her friends did not believe we were members of the same family and
the sad thing is and was, we belonged to two different worlds.
So there were and are differences between the two, but the sad experience
of our childhood always united us and will continue to join us. But the only
dissimilarity we felt at that time was that she was a fan of the Royal Society
of San Sebastian and I was a fan of Athletic Bilbao (the two leading Basque
soccer teams). Begoņa made a great effort to form with me the inseparable duo
from our childhood, to the dismay of our mother, because with it Begoņa
relegated her to third place in her life. Our two brothers have always grown up
together in the family and country and continue without the disparity Begoņa,
Arantza and I have lived since the three of us have grown up in different
places, in different circumstances and therefore with different experiences.
the same time we arrived at Barcelona aita received word from Aguirre that their
project had been postponed indefinitely due to lack of funds. Aita, despite his
sadness, was confident in the tenacity of his friend José Antonio, and
continued to hope that would be done in the future.
Ama was not so optimistic. It was a great disappointment, more than she
needed, but at this time to ama the most painful was the confirmation of what he
had lost her second daughter and it seemed too late to win her back. It has been
a long time and she could not recover in a few weeks the work of many years. The
war continued claiming its victims.
midsummer the beautiful town of San Sebastian on the shores of the Cantabrian
Sea offers spectacular views. The city is surrounded by three beaches Ondarreta,
La Concha and Zurriola, and three mountains. Monte Urgull, a mountain of 135
meters, is situated between the Old Town of San Sebastian and the Paseo Nuevo,
near the sea. At the top is the statue of the Sacred Heart that dominates the
Igueldo, 184 meters high, has an amusement park and a lookout tower that served
long ago. Monte Ulia (231 meters) enjoys a privileged setting, wooded with
abundant ruins hidden in the bush and coastal cliffs and a view afforded by the
coast facing the Cantabrian Sea Guipuzcoa. The dictatorship kept for San
Sebastian the role of summer capital city. From 1940 to 1975, Francisco Franco
spent the month of August at the Palace Ayete.
I lived in the house of Aunt Juli, ama, Bingen and Xabier slept in a rented room
nearby. Begoņa and I we soon joined a group of young people with whom we went
out regularly. We would meet on the Ondarreta Beach in the morning and at dusk
on the Avenue. One night we arrived home a little late and the night
watchman of the neighborhood, who had the keys to every house and watched over
the peaceful streets, opened the large outside door of the house for us.
It reminded me of what aita told us about the night watchmen in his time
in Algorta. They were like talking clocks and weather forecasters, singing time
and weather every hour during the night. Our brothers, 9 and 11 years old, while
in Donosti raced their toy sailboats in a large fountain close to home.
They were a real Olympic games.
They went hiking, climbing Mount Urgull and Mount Ulia; and they walked
nine kilometers to the neighboring town of Hernani.
They rented bicycles and rode seven kilometers to reach Renteria.
Its inhabitants were known as cookie sellers because they made the
delicious cookies Olibet were made there.
We speculated that they went there for the cookies, but they never told
us for sure because their excursions were always alone, and by doing so
"hidden" they knew better.
They continued with these adventures until the day before school started.
We only saw them at mealtimes. Arantza, 13 years old, liked to be in Las Arenas.
When she visited San Sebastian things didnt go very well because we did not
include her in our plans, and she was alone. I had just turned 18, and found
myself celebrated and flattered and I was absorbed in this new adventure with
Begoņa next to me in wonderful San Sebastian. I did not realize Arantza needed
me. Resentfull, she returned to ama in Las Arenas where she had a group of
friends with whom she went to the beach or on hikes. In one of these outings she
went with friends to Mount Serantes, a small mountain whose peak is located in
Santurce on the banks of the Bilbao estuary, visible from all parts of the
region it serves as a landmark.
Arantza fell in a ravine and broke her ankle.
She also had a lot of bruises and even lost consciousness. Ama was taking
care of some paperwork in France but dropped everything and rushed to her side.
Although Aunt Carmen took good care of her, it was problematic for ama to have
so many things to fix and children separated and far away from her without her
care and supervision.
But we were many and we had to live in different houses, which our aunts
and uncle generously offered.
day Aunt Juli asked me to be a model for a small fashion show because Carmen,
the official model of the shop, was sick. Nervously I agreed and later my aunt
let me use the clothes from the show to wear to parties. On weekends we went to
the San Sebastian tennis club where Begoņa was a member. The time that I lived
in Las Arenas I also had an active social life. I was invited to bowling, and
paries and dances in friends homes.
We also went to dances at the Royal Club Josaleta in Neguri, which
I attended with my friends, the Madariagas from Bilbao. Ama was not very happy
that I had this kind of social life when aita was working so hard to support the
family, but Aunt Juli intervened in my favor, and she let me keep going.
father was depressed by the rejection of the plan in France and his grief and
disappointment were made worse by living alone in a boarding house in Caracas.
He asked ama to hurry up to come to Caracas to be with him, not
understanding everything that ama was living through at that time. She wanted
and needed to rebuild their home, that is, look for a house, buy furniture and
bring us to live with them. Ama, at the insistence of our father and leaving
unfinished a number of commitments and obligations that were still pending, and
with much sadness left her children to be at his side. Once she was reunited
with aita in a small apartment, Arantza went to Caracas to live with them and
after testing immediately began school. Two years passed before my brothers and
I rejoined them. For now Bingen, Xabier and I lived in San Sebastian. I had to
prepare for the trip to Caracas faster than expected because aita did not
approve of my dating a Spanish engineer, which I had just started. My departure
was delayed several months which was a torment for our father, ama told me
was delayed by the crisis of the Venezuelan government at the time that ended
with the fall of the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez.
a cold April morning in 1958 we left San Sebastian. Begoņa accompanied me,
along with Aunt Julie, Esperanza (a cousin), and her driver Ramon.
We left for Madrid, about 500 kilometers away. We stopped in Logroņo, La
Rioja, for lunch at a restaurant and although I do not remember the name or the
menu, if I recall our astonishment because they had the heating in the floor.
We were just about to cross the Ebro River, and were now officially in
Spain, I thought as I remembered the words of aita. We continued traveling to
Burgos, where we stopped to visit the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Burgos, a
stately Gothic church of the thirteenth century. We continued our trip and
although we did not stop, road signs told us we were near El Escorial, the
historic residence of the King of Spain. Just before reaching Madrid, we stopped
to see the Valley of the Fallen in the Sierra de Guadarrama, designed by Franco
to honor those killed in the Spanish Civil War. Half an hour later we arrived at
the hotel in Madrid. We had dinner and went to rest.
The next morning everyone went to visit the Prado Museum, but I stayed at
the hotel. I
was not looking forward to the trip, perhaps thinking of what to expect in the
new Caribbean country.
the hour of departure arrived and after saying goodbye to everyone I boarded the
this was still the era of propeller aircraft, the trip from Madrid to Caracas
lasted 11 hours.
Bingen and Xabier, classes ended several months later and
they arrived in Caracas, and the family was together again. I personally would
have loved for Begoņa to join the family as we all would, but for now it was
too much to expect of her.
I) Vida de Mercedes Iribarren de Ametzaga -Gure Ama - Tributo a nuestra Ama, por Mirentxu Ametzaga
II) La mujer que acompaņo a Vicente de Ametzaga Aresti - por Xabier I. Ametzaga
III) Mis manos quieren hablar - mi poema a mi Ama - por Xabier I. Ametzaga
IV) Publicaciones en Internet relacionadas
|Vicente Ametzaga Aresti - His Biography and his works Published on Wikipedia
Mercedes Iribarren Gorostegui - La mujer que acompaņo a Vicente de Ametzaga - published on Wikipedia
Xabier Iņaki Ametzaga Iribarren - Information published on Wikipedia