|La mujer que acompaño a Vicente de Ametzaga Aresti|
Silently we went several kilometers
between mountains on a huge highway that rises to the city, crossing bridges and
tunnels through these hills. The hillsides are full of precarious shacks called
"ranchos". The city is in a mountain valley fifteen kilometers from
the Caribbean and 900 meters above sea level. It was noon and it was very hot.
When I left Madrid in the European early spring it was cold and I got to this
tropical country with a searing summer heat. Caracas
has a lot of American influence since oil changed the country from its early
days as a Spanish colony. It is a very beautiful
country with a tropical climate with alternating periods of rain, sometimes
torrential, hot weather, sun and drought.
and Venezuela have very different cultures. The European
culture embodies Uruguay while Venezuela represents a culture that is Caribbean,
Andean, and flatlands. We left the tangos of Gardel with his bandoneon to enter
the country accompanied by the harp, the joropo, and maracas. We left behind the
kapok tree with its beautiful red flowers to enter the country of delicate
orchids of many colors. We came from the open city of Montevideo with a belt
integrated into the urban beaches to the narrow valley enclosed by the majestic
Venezuelan Andes. The food, weather, friends, everything was very different from
what we had had in Montevideo. Here again we were the last Basque exiles to
arrive. Our friends had already
passed through the difficult early immigrant life, while we had to start all
over again. We were all older and
were on a more difficult road where there was a more challenging environment.
Shortly after I arrived I went to work to help the house with so many expenses
and to catch up on our new life. While it is true
that when we came to Venezuela the country was in an economic boom, and was it
easier to earn a good living than in any other country, so we made our way more
easily than in Montevideo. Ama and
I continued to think about, to miss, and to write to our friends in Montevideo.
For our parents this city was the
fifth time they had started from scratch to start a home with everything
attached to it. Abandoning
what would have been their first home in Sopelana, there followed homes in
Paris, Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Caracas now. Although they felt nostalgia
for things they left behind, sometimes very good things, our parents never
complained, and ama worked with effort and enthusiasm to put in each one of them
a very personal stamp making them warm and comfortable homes.
always insisted that the best treasure that he could leave us was a good
education, and in that he placed his strong emphasis. They sacrificed to send us
to the best schools. While teaching us to increase the quality of life to
achieve an economic level (not always the best), our father never stressed that
to make money was a goal. He gave us his example with his thirst for knowledge
by reading incessantly. A polyglot, he learned eight languages to read the
classic books in their original languages. He was a writer and poet with love
for classics and a great admirer of Greek culture, remarkable for its rich
literary tradition, for its art and architecture and its great link to the past.
But even with all he knew, I heard him say often, quoting the Greek philosopher
Socrates, that true wisdom is in recognizing one's own ignorance.
our parents we learned to admire people with the noble sentiments, people who
had spiritual qualities such as kindness, righteousness, justice and
forgiveness. He also admired the simplicity and elegance in people.
wealthy was not the goal of any of us. There are many parables in Scripture
related to issues of finance, and God warns that the desire, the love of money
is the beginning of all evil. Ama cited the author of the book of Ecclesiastes
that focuses on the purpose and value of human life: "Vanity of Vanities!
Vanity of Vanities! All is Vanity!" She
used to deplore the emptiness and nothingness of the things of this life.
our mother liked to try her luck with games, including betting on the horse race
known in Caracas as "5 & 6". After coming home from Mass this was a distraction and
hopefully she bet on her favorite horses. After the special Sunday meal she
prepared, she would turn on our first television to follow these races that are
carried out religiously every Sunday afternoon and were televised from the
Rinconada Racetrack. Horse racing
was still enjoyed as the the sport of kings. Another distraction for them at
night was watching the news on "El Observador Creole", Radio Rochela
(a comedy skit show) or their favorite show "The Fugitive".
Sometimes some of us joined them to see the renowned physician search for
the one-armed man, the real murderer of his wife. I liked a game show (I do not
remember the name) where contestants had to memorize things to win. I practiced
a lot and when I had started to master the game, I wrote to the Televisa
television studios. I received an invitation to participate, and as our mother
liked the show, she accompanied me happily. I did not get to be in front of the
cameras, and we were resigned to sit in the audience.
We had fun, and when we left in the lobby we saw the famous producer and
television host, Renny Ottolina, talking to the producers of the show and we
both consoled ourselves by telling everyone about that event.
also liked to play poker and another card game called julepe, and one Saturday a month she met with her two sisters, Lola
and Mari, to play. The latter lived
with her daughter, Maria Luisa, and her family in La Castellana (a residential
district of Caracas). Although our parents were the only ones who played, the
whole family went and came back late at night. Ama was quite lucky and won
almost all the time, which gave her the incentive to attend these family
gatherings. We had the opportunity to see our cousin, Maria Luisa (Goian Bego;
Rest in Peace) living with all kinds of luxuries. She had two houses, a
three-storied one in Altamira, which she rented, and a very luxurious,
two-storied home in La Castellana, with a beautiful green garden and
Olympic-sized pool at the foot of Mount Avila.
Both were in very good residential neighborhoods in the city, if not the
best. At the entrance was a large spiral staircase that separated the living
room from the dining room, a kitchen equipped to the last detail, several maids,
and a sitting room where we met to play. Her closets were full of clothes, her
home had beautiful spacious rooms, and she had a Mercedes Benz at the door, and
traveled to Europe every six months with her husband and daughter. Two years
earlier her second daughter, Mari Cris, only a year old, was very ill, was
diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She was taken to New York, and was
hospitalized at Mount Sinai Medical Center, but nothing could be done and she
died a month after being admitted. Many years passed without communications
between me and Maria Luisa, but when I heard she was sick I established
communication talking to her regularly over the last two years of her life. She
was very lonely. Her husband and two children had died at that time. In these
conditions naturally she was very depressed. I did not remember anything like
the vibrant and glamorous cousin whom I had known and dealt with in earlier
parents were avid swimmers, but in this city they had very few chances to go to
the beach. We were invited to our cousin's house to swim and cool off in the
tropical heat many times. One day
after lunch we were all we enjoying the pool water and aita stayed behind after
we got out. Then we saw with horror his desperate gestures; he seemed to be
sinking and we needed to act quickly. Without
thinking ama dove in to save him, but now the two were in danger.
Aunt Mari grabbed the pole used to clean the leaves from the pool, and
they could cling to it and get to safety. It was a moment of great panic for
in Montevideo the whole family participated in an active way in the Basque
Center in Caracas. The center
opened in 1942 with the arrival in Venezuela of the first exiles of war, which
began to form a colony. Overall it appears to be the greatest of all the Basque
centers worldwide. It has a fronton
(handball court) where famous athletes have played pelota.
Here it was different from Montevideo. Aita
was the main Secretary of Basque Center, and was working weekends in the dark
office all afternoon. For ama was not very attractive idea to meet with her
friends just to chat, and were long and boring these days of the weekend,
without our father. She had enjoyed going with our father to cultural events and
festivals, and the company of her friends organizing charity events, and had
experienced both fully in Montevideo. That had been her world that fit well with
her personality and now she missed both things.
I knew no one, I soon made a group of friends who belonged to Eusko
Gaztedi (Basque Youth).
addition, the streets of Caracas were not as safe as had been those of
Montevideo. One day ama was going shopping on the Boulevard de Sabana Grande,
the longest and most famous avenue of the city, crowded during the week and even
more over the weekend with all kinds of business imaginable. Ama carried a sum
of money for something specific that she was going to buy. Before she realized
it, a thief came and snatched the purse she had been clinging to. Our mother
fought, screamed and ran after the robber, who got scared and ran into a bar.
But ama did not give up and followed him into the establishment.
When the thief saw my mother so committed to getting the purse, he
dropped it to the ground and ama recovered her wallet and made her purchase.
ama shopping was her favorite pastime, looking at the attractive window
displays, and finding sale prices. In Montevideo she sometimes took my sister
and me with it. For us it was like going on safari through the jungle, an
adventure full of dangers and risks starting with the ups and downs to reach the
stores that were in the busy Avenida 18 de Julio. Then try to pay was another ordeal. When we got home we were exhausted, but not her.
working one year as secretary, I lost my job because I really was not worth
anything as secretary. It was not
challenging enough. It was boring
to spend all day in a small office with papers to write and things to order.
With the money I got when I left, I registered for an intensive one-year course
to become a medical records librarian. Classes
were from Monday to Saturday, from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm at the Central University
Hospital in Caracas. The course was based on a curriculum developed in Chicago.
After graduation I received the diploma with degree of Medical Records
Librarian. It was the first time the course was offered in Venezuela. The director was a graduate of the University of Chicago. The
subject was connected to the study of medicine, in which I was interested, and I
got into the course as a high school graduate from Uruguay. I started in
January, 1960, and ended in December of that year. Two weeks after graduating I
was offered a job with a salary more than double that of secretary. Now I was
working coding diseases, to process information for a diagnosis of illness or
operation and convert it to a code to be communicated to physicians for
evaluation or medical research. And that interested me and I worked with
hospital is on the grounds of what is now the Central University campus on land
that had been occupied by the famous Hacienda Ibarra. This was one of the most famous properties in the Spanish
colony, a producer of sugar and rum to make the best of their times. The
Ibarras, of Basque origin, were the owners of the farm and the house for more
than three centuries until it was acquired by the Venezuelan government in 1947.
This hacienda was also used the Liberator, Simon Bolivar, who devised the future
of Venezuela and its university on the land of the beautiful Hacienda Ibarra.
Alexander Humboldt, the great German naturalist stayed in the house for more
than two months, during his visit to Venezuela, where he was dazzled by Mount
Avil, the Rio Guaire, and the country’s rich colonial culture.
was fascinating for me to work in this environment while I was thinking about my
future. I tried to learn a lot about different kinds of diseases that medical
records described, I witnessed an operation from the windows of the operating
room, and once I was invited by one of the surgeons to observe the operation in
the operating room itself. Since Caracas was in a tropical country, with a high
level of moisture, organisms are easily spread.
It was important to be aware of it and I attended conferences on
different tropical diseases, including Chagas disease, dengue, brucellosis and a
few others I can not remember. This appealed to me, and I talked about it at
home. Ama put up with it, but aita
would not hear of hospital or diseases.
a hospital employee, I opened a medical record for each family member in case of
an emergency. Our parents were served free. The first to go was our father who
had a sore right shoulder. He was
diagnosed with shoulder bursitis, and the doctor injected a dose of cortisone,
which was painful. He did not tell
the doctor that he had spent all afternoon the day before throwing stones at
mangoes. The mango is an exotic fruit, sweet and refreshing, which seems to have
originated in northwest India 6,000 years ago and had spread to the tropics and
subtropics. You have to gather them when they are pale yellow, and aita made a
great effort to knock them from the trees, just thinking about the delicious
mango jam that ama would make. In Montevideo our mother prepared a mermelade of
tomatos and oranges, of the best quality. It meant for us endless hours of
peeling fruit, but the result was very good when we ate the sweet jam on toast
and we thought it was worth the effort to help out. Aita enlivened the process
with interesting stories while we worked.
working for several years in the University Hospital I knew and was in daily
contact with physicians. And one day I talked to one of the best surgeons and I
presented the case of ama, who had suffered from incontinence for a long time.
She had had three operations and they all failed. He promised me that he
would talk to an urologist and soon the two offered to do the operation that
almost certainly would give her good results. So far there had been no success,
and she had been subjected to many tests and three operations but none were
satisfactory. Ama was a little fearful to face the new challenge. The operation
lasted nearly three hours and she held up very well. That night I decided to
spend the night with her, and the following night I slept beside her in case she
needed something. The Medical Records Department where I worked was on the
first floor, and she was in surgery, I think on the third floor. We put some
cushions on the floor and I think it comforted her to know that I was next to
her, and our father was also more at ease. By day he could visit often for
several minutes. The operation was a success and ama was completely well after
the past frustrations in previous operations.
problem with working in this hospital is that it is located within the campus
and transportation was difficult. At that time there were no parking meters, but
there were buses, or the famous and popular carrito por puesto, in which five people share a car to cover a
definite route, but it was chaotic, uncomfortable, uncertain, and quite an
adventure; and none of them were allowed to enter university. And without access
to any public transport except taxis, the time came that it was necessary to buy
a car to get to my job. Driving in Caracas was not easy since it meant dealing
with traffic hell. I decided to take driving lessons. Ama liked the idea and she
wanted to learn as well. The two of us went to the driving school at seven in
the morning before going to work, and in two weeks we got our license, but for
ama it was the end of her career behind the wheel. I liked driving but never
knew where I was going, because my sense of direction is very bad. I bought a
car shortly after, an English Hillman, second-hand upholstered in red leather
inside, cream and red double doors. It
was slow when climbing, but it gave me good service.
I was the only one who drove, I took all the family from time to time to the
beach. It was a place liked by both
our parents, who grew up near the sea, and they could see the same sea whose
waters kissed Euskadi. I do not remember the names of all the beaches, but they
were beautiful, with white sand and crystal clear waters. In one of them aita lost his glasses when he came out of the
water, and he told us about it in a very distressed way.
But before he could finish his sentence without giving us time to think,
ama hurriedly went into the water and after diving a little she appeared
triumphantly with them in hand.
was my favorite mechanic, and if I had him as my co-pilot I could drive to
China. But on one unlucky day while I was going to work, Caracas had a
torrential tropical downpour. In
less than three hours the drainage system collapsed and the streets overflowed.
My car stalled in the middle of the highway, and with muddy water rising rapidly
around me I needed to do something, and I did not know what. Suddenly a Venezuelan army colonel in his jeep pulled up next
to me and suggested I get out of the car. I
opened the door and the mud flowed into my car.
It was a drama, but I moved to safety. When he left me on a nearby
street, my car, which was not amphibious, only showed its red roof.
I would have had to dive into the water get out of the mud and debris
surrounding my poor car. Later, a wrecker took it to the shop, but the mud had
made a mess and the cost of the repair was too expensive. Ama went with me to
the insurance company, part of the Ministry of Transport, and the two of us
ventilated our anger, but they were not covered for such a downpour and so for
the moment our adventure ended sadly.
home we did not have many pets, a chick, won in a school drawing by our
brothers, a cat and a canary, and for a few days a lovely dog called Zuribeltza
because of his white and black markings. We all enjoyed playing with them, but
ama was definitely the only one who took care of them. Aita preferred the cat to
any other pet; he always loved having a cat. He
said they are excellent pets and companions but also independent and easily
adaptable to any environment. His idea was to have him at his side while writing
at his desk. He repeated it so much
that he convinced our mother and one day she found his ideal companion.
It was a Persian cat with elegant gold fur and blue eyes. It was curious,
agile and active and it loved to climb to high places in the house.
Maybe that's why one day it jumped to the window of the kitchen too
quickly and fell from our eighth floor apartment and died.
We decided not to have another cat after losing this one so tragically.
But ama was alone at home every
morning when we left home in different directions, to work, school and
university. And I thought she
needed company and I decided to buy her a beautiful canary. It was lively and
cheerful and sang a lot. It sang and participated in the general excitement of
our family, jumping and chirping in his cage.
Ama hung his cage in the middle of the
plants and flowers that were abundant on the spacious terrace, which offered a
cozy place for the singing canary, which she tended with care.
futures continued to emerge. Begoña, who was
still living in San Sebastian, was a graduate of a business administration
program and was an excellent accountant in the business of Aunt Juli, and and
she also worked at the Red Cross as a nurse. She inherited the ama’s ability
for numbers and business. Arantza was about to graduate from Central University
as a librarian, and was already working in Electricidad de Caracas. Today she is
a successful novelist. Bingen was a medical student and graduated years later
from the School of Medicine. He would go on to become a heart surgeon and Head
of Cardiology of a large Caracas hospital. Two years later Xabier would enter
the School of Engineering. In his
second year he chose another field and now is engaged in the planning, design
and implementation of Web sites and Web pages in Spanish and English. I was in
my senior year of revalidating my high school diploma; as always, I had to
struggle twice to do the same thing again. But that did not discourage
me; on the contrary, it gave me more incentive to continue. I
passed the equivalency exams on my own but I still had to complete the last
year. In September 1964 I enrolled in a secondary school at night in Bello Campo
(a Caracas residential district), so between school and work I did not have much
free time. I was glad that in a few months I would meet my goal. I did not get
to complete the revalidation in Caracas, but years later I would achieve one of
my dreams by my earning my university degree in the United States.
Basque Center quite often offered lectures, many times given by our father or
guest speakers for some commemoration. Aita
almost always planned or gave ideas about any cultural event. His
lectures were full of wonderful emotion and patriotism as only he could do
and conquered the audience with their words. Arantza and Bingen
followed his suit. Although public speaking was not what I did best, aita
asked me to be part of a group of young people who presented a lecture on Jesus
de Galindez, and I presented the chapter about the "exile with its
nostalgias and loves."
with my full social life in the Basque Center, and with more enthusiasm, we
continued making monthly trips, going to different places by bus rented for such
purposes and happy on the road singing boleros by Lucho Gatica, a Chilean bolero
singer who was in fashion that time, some Venezuelan folk songs, and a few
Basque songs, which we sang always on our expeditions.
at the Center we saw movies rented by Euzko Gaztedi. I loved to participate in
the dance groups, although the practices were sometimes grueling.
I also participated in the choir of Gabon (Basque, for Christmas), which
sang the villancicos (carols) for Christmas. This we did with great enthusiasm.
We would divide into groups and visit different houses where we sang; and they
gave us sweets, drinks and money to send to the Basque government in Paris.
Masses and retreats were not lacking, and the whole group was very close and
fun. I had two special friends, one was a recent graduate of the University as
an engineer, Trini, and one in psychology, Beatriz, and we went everywhere
together, but we always ended up in the Basque Center.
The young people decided it was time for our independence. Under the stern gaze of the elders we could not socialize according to our tastes because the lords of the "old guard" were shocked to see that danced holding our partner (a custom frowned upon by traditional Basque culture). In the group we had professional construction engineers, so we decided to build a dance floor away from the supervision of the elders, just for us. I participated but I do not remember that part I had to do. But together we did a great job, turning a useless field into a concrete terrace for dancing with a low wall to sit on at twilight outside.
I) Vida de Mercedes Iribarren de Ametzaga -Gure Ama - Tributo a nuestra Ama, por Mirentxu Ametzaga
II) La mujer que acompaño 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
Ametzaga Aresti - His Biography and his works Published on Wikipedia
Mercedes Iribarren Gorostegui - La mujer que acompaño a Vicente de Ametzaga - published on Wikipedia
Xabier Iñaki Ametzaga Iribarren - Information published on Wikipedia