Bernardo and Berenca



Progress. We have curtains. Well, not curtains as such but nets that billow beautifully in the breeze. If we need privacy we let down the shutters. But the house is pleased. There is lightness, a sort of lived-in lightness. And talking of bookshelves, as we were, I had no objection to placing an order for Bernardo's shelves as well as ours.

The aseraderro stood very close to the sea front, one had almost to squeeze past it to remain on the prom without falling on to the beach. Sawdust lay everywhere. NO FUMAR stood in large red letters on the door, and the delightful screech of a busy circular saw drowned out the alleged music from the nearby bars. I rather relish working materials, the making of things, the ribs and keel of small boats being planked up, the belt-driven drills, the howling planer; the leather apron, sparks, glowing iron, the fire and anvil, and the way those fencing needles work, making garments from balls of wool. Such creative things draw my admiration.

"I must explain" Berenca told us urgently. "To Lizzie I shall tell him."

Bernardo's sudden disappearance was causing quiet consternation. I caught Lizzie's eye. "OK, no problem. I'll go now. Give me your medidas Beri. What about brackets?"

Thankfully her requirement was the same as ours. A visit to the ferreteria for screws, wall plugs and brackets. Dead simple. But I would take time to linger at the sawmill just to watch. John Ruskin had something to say about boats - "A ship is the most honourable thing a man has ever produced." Yes, Ií'll go along with that. My own boats were mere sailing dinghies - but the feeling, that indescribable feeling of the boat and the wind working for you...

"Oh, and call in at Mas e Menos. I need some potatoes. I want those nice small new red ones not those others."

This is task tailing. A small job gets other jobs hung onto it.

"Oh, and cooking oil. Sunflower will do."

Now is the time to be firm. "Nada mas!" Sometimes my sweet Lizzie forgets we do not have a car in the Canary Islands... well, not yet. Truly I tend to forget our early declaration of no car, no telephone, no other intrusive elements in our simple life. But, slowly and surely, our life is creeping back to forgotten stress levels. Parking meters will be next. I imagine parking meters along the Avenida De Suecia which, on balance might be better than the blithe double parking that infuriates the British and causes only momentary concern among the locals.

Eight nicely planed shelves was too much for me. So I carried four, left the others to be collected.

Sometimes, when you arrive home, you get this feeling that something has been said, an impulsion towards grave matters fills the air. Beri rose, made to depart, changed her mind and sat down. "I come for this, please."

Comparatively unnoticed the couple next door at D4/2 moved in. No children. Their comings and goings seem somehow unrelated to domestic life. They don't shop locally but drive up to Arona. Maybe they have family there. They are Alfonso and Marie-Carmen. He is a bank guard. What Marie-Carmen does we do not know. It was the police. A mistaken call, but it upset Bernardo. They called at D4/3 to register Alfonso's pistol.

Bernardo and Berenca

We must expect this sort of thing from Bernardo. He retreats, closes all the doors and reads Lorca and other poets. It is because of his uncle and aunt who kept him when his parents went into hiding. They never appeared again, even when the war had finished and Franco was in power. They never wrote, never sent messages. Beri thinks they were discovered and, as well known supporters of the Republican movement, they were shot and buried as so many others were buried in unmarked graves. A woman visits his uncle and offers to make contact with Bernardo's parents who are still in hiding. The woman wants a hundred pesetas. She is sent away. Then a man appears. At this time there are many people bearing false messages, mostly about lost family. While young Bernardo stands in the doorway hoping for news Uncle Vincent takes his visitor into the workshop, casually picks up a mallet and kills the man with a single blow. Even now poor Bernardo remembers that sound, the sound of a shell cracking open. The bloodstained sawdust is swept up, his aunt collecting it in buckets and taking it to the furnace. Then there was the sawing. Bernardo loved the sawmill. He wrote a poem about the Singing Sawmill but he never finishes it, horrified for the work the saw has to do. Not like sawing wood, flesh bears a softer sound until it finds bone.

Berenca is sheltered by the Sisters of Aramathia. She has no knowledge of her parents' whereabouts. Said to be a bright child, precocious and curious she is considered a danger to the true faith and questioned and beaten by religious inspectors. She is told to love the hand that beats her. Better to be beaten now than by the hand of God. Her parents return for her in secret and sail away to Cuba hidden below decks until their ship leaves Spanish territorial waters. Eventually in Cuba she is sent on a programme of "social reinsertion" and finds the Catholic Church far more liberal than in Spain. There are many Spanish families in Cuba waiting for the war to end. Some return too early and are swept up by the Guardia Civil and imprisoned. But her father, a medical scientist, finds suitable work and remains in Cuba until the end of the Hitler war in 1945.

Many wealthy people who fled to South America took their money with them and left behind a country desperately poor. In Spain there is none of the freedom of Cuba and an appallingly wide gulf of ignorance between the sexes. The child who wanted science like her father spurns the offerings of 'soft' professions that allows a limited exposure to the outside world. Prostitution - permitted as a 'soft' profession - is held up to ridicule. Only the hidden freedoms of poetry as poetas de ranchas or 'part time poets', or the 'Stepping Voices' who were dangerously political was all that was possible in that cruelly repressive and hateful period. It is estimated that 250,000 political prisoners died between 1936 and 1944 leaving yawning gaps in family fabrics, emptiness where there should be fulfilment.

Thankfully Franco went in 1975. He has been dead for ten years, yet the wind of his passing can still be felt. Is he with God, or with the Devil? We have not given up on the search for God, yet we are in fear of ridicule if this God does not exist. Every time ETA people enter his bank demanding money Bernardo sees these urban bandits as seeking vengeance for the murder by his uncle of another urban bandit who wanted a mere 300 pesetas. Because of the trauma of his early days Bernardo was allowed to retire early. It explains, without further query, his alarm when the police stood at his door.

What did it do to his aunt and uncle?

Nothing was said about them. Seemingly they lived with it.


The history of these sweet people came out not as written in one fell swoop but in dribs and drabs. Much tea and recipes for cakes filled the intervals.



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