THE ANTIPODES 2
SIETE PALMAS antipode of JISHAN.
I’ve driven 8 km from the paved road on a mixture of gravel and dust but I still haven’t reached Siete Palmas. Those kilometres seem even longer on a bumpy road. After endless minutes of dust and fields on both sides, I am beginning to think that this road isn’t leading me anywhere. Until, in that immense solitude, I see a man working on a field. I ask him if I am near the town and he answers: “Just keep going straight. You are almost there.” Several minutes later when everything remains the same I realize that we might have a different sense of distance. Or a different notion of time.
I arrive at a place that seems to be the one I was looking for. The main street is escorted by two lines of tall trees. The streets are also covered by gravel. There is no paved street in Siete Palmas. I can hear birds singing loudly. I don’t see them. They might be hiding behind the leaves of the many tree branches. The sky explodes blue. A ray of sun falls directly on the beautiful chapel called Virgen de la Roca. It’s so beautiful that I look at it, mesmerized. The bird singing is as loud as the local music coming out from the loudspeakers. It’s Tuesday. It could be a Sunday if it weren’t for the kids leaving school. They wear school uniforms. They look very neat. White shirts for boys and girls. Blue pants for the boys. Blue far too mini skirts for the girls. Very few boys wear ties. Those who look at me in amazement seem to wonder what I am doing in their town. They keep walking while chatting. Most of the locals ride motorcycles or bicycles. There are almost no cars, only a couple of trucks in this quiet town. There are mainly men on the streets. Where are the women of Siete Palmas?
I go into the police station and ask who could tell me a good story about the town.
“Turn left just before the church. Go to the second house with a green fence. There you ask for Cáceres”, the one who was sharing mates* with the policeman on duty told me as if knowing it all.
In front of the house, behind the green fence, Eusebio Cáceres comes out to meet me. I sense that he was already informed of my visit. I dare not ask him. Eusebio is a big man but looks very calm. He opens the gate to invite me in. He greets me as if we’ve known each other forever. He walks slowly to grab a couple of chairs and invites me to sit next to him at the verandah. We sit facing the street. He’s greeted by passers by and he always responds with a smile. His wife, his second one, is inside busy with housework. One of his sons, the only one who lives in Siete Palmas, greets me as he leaves to work. And finally, Eusebio begins to tell me his story.
Eusebio Cáceres is 72 years old. He tells me that he is a musician. He grew up in absolute poverty in the countryside where he, along with his parents and several brothers, harvested cotton. Every year during harvest many peasants came with the guitar on their shoulders and, whenever they had a break they began to play. “That moment of music helped us relax after long hours of hard work.” That was how he and his older brother learned to play the guitar and to sing local folk songs. When he was 17 his brother suggested that they became musicians. They were soon hired by a band in Paraguay. They were on tour with that music group for about six months but then they split up. When they were about to give up everything and return to Siete Palmas, a neighbour, also a musician, invited them to stay and to continue with another band in Asunción. They played with them until his brother had to join the military service that was compulsory then. Eusebio, at the age of 18, decided to move to Buenos Aires where another brother lived and started singing in bars at La Boca neighborhood. He only gave up singing the eight months he was at the military service.
Eusebio and his brother toured through Formosa and many other provinces in Argentina for about 56 years. A couple of years ago, the brothers decided to split up because “we didn’t have the same ideals or the same passion for music”. Eusebio continued alone but as enthusiastic as the previous years.
When Eusebio was about to retire, something unexpected happened to him. Something that Eusebio deserved, but that had not expected. Friends who live in Europe got together to organize a tour for Eusebio to perform in Germany, Switzerland, Spain and France. They got him the plane tickets, five-star hotels, translators and guides. He gave concerts in Berlin, Paris and Barcelona. It was the dream of his life. An unforgettable experience for someone who thought it was time to hang up the guitar. And the offers continue. He has a proposal to go to China and Japan, but he doesn’t want to go. Not only does he suffer from vertigo, but he also knows that he will not like the food.
His wife offers me a delicious and authentic tereré*. Eusebio, my new protector, doesn’t let me take more than two because “it might upset your stomach.” The last image I remember of him is identical as the first one, behind the green gate of his house. The difference is that this time we both have fuller hearts.
November 12, 2019
mate*: traditional Argentinian drink that consists of dried leaves.
tereré*: traditional Paraguayan drink, like mate but with cold water.
JINSHAN (金山區) and YEHLIU GEOPARK
Alpha and Beta meet me at the hotel at 10 in the morning. They offered to help me look at my map and to drive me to the places I needed to go. When we are ready to leave under the rain, that rain that hasn’t stopped since I landed in Taiwan, they tell me that Alpha’s parents are waiting for us in the car.
At first sight, Alpha’s 84-year-old father seems serious and distant to me, but later I will have to admit that it is out of shyness. His wife, 74 years old, has a completely opposite personality. She is in his antipodes. She is in constant high spirits. They both look cool and elegant in their warm winter jackets and sneakers. The rain falls as if it had never rained. Or as if it would never stop. That type of annoying, pestering rain. When we get to the first place, I am about to get out of the car with a poncho, a raincoat and an umbrella, I am surprised to see that they also get ready to leave behind me. When I tell them it is not necessary, they said they want to follow me. And there is no way to convince them to stay dry. At each of the many stops, I see a line behind me of all my escorts fighting with their umbrellas against the insane wind.
They take me to a fort and they insist on showing me a graveyard. It rains cats and dogs. A disgraceful type of rain. The wind blows hard. Our shoes get stuck in the mud. The graveyard is downstairs, it can be reached by a slippery-looking staircase. My fear of heights and my fear of slipping is the perfect combination for disaster. I tell them that they don’t need to come with me, that I’ll come back another time. They insist I can’t miss it. I’m as scared for myself as I am for them. They convince Alpha’s father to stay upstairs, but the high-spirited mother takes the initiative and goes down fast by the middle of the staircase. I follow her, much further back, holding on to the railing with both hands and looking at where I place each foot. After my fourth step down, I see in slow motion how the lady slips, how she slides several steps bouncing on her butt, falls on her back and hits the back of her head on one of the steps. I can’t believe what is happening in front of me and I sense tragedy. The succession of those images shocks me and I have a feeling of immense guilt. I feel responsible because I took them there. I don’t even have time to go down she is already up. She brushes the mud off her pants and keeps walking as if nothing had happened. She takes me to the place she wanted to show me and to every corner of the cemetery. I ask her if she is okay, she tells me that she has nothing. I am impressed by her strength, energy and the ability to endure pain. She doesn’t even limp!
When I travel to remote places I am always impressed by the generosity and hospitality of the locals. The more humble, the more generous. This time is no exception. They took me to eat duck at the best place in the area located by a temple behind a market. At the entrance there are giant pots, lots of food and many people queuing up for orders. Alpha’s family had already divided up the chores. The father had to find the table, clean it and find stools for everyone. Alpha and his mother placed the orders. Beta and I carried the trays. An exaggeration in quantity and variety of food which was amazing.
We returned to the car with bags full of what we could not eat but with much to remember.
November 20, 2017.
Heartfelt thanks to:
The policeman’s friend who guided me to Eusebio’s. To Eusebio who told me the story of his life. To Eusebio’s wife for sharing those delicious tererés. To Alpha, his parents and Beta, for showing me their town, for their faithful company under the rain and for the lovely food at the temple.
To Alfre, for reading my Spanish versions.
In memory of Alf, my best and irreplaceable fan.