Wednesday, May 7, 2008


The Saga of Fray Paco
Book 4: The Formidable Dona Esperanza
Chapter 2: Genova

“We are in Genoa. Less than an hour’s drive to the Riviera,” announced an elated Don Daniele.
The Nemesis was there to unload tobacco, textiles, Manila rope, coconut oil; rice (although Italians preferred their Arborio rice from the swamplands of the Padania to make their risotto) In these perilous times there was no one to tend the risaie – rice paddies. The government was forced to import whatever rice they could get their impoverished hands on. Don Cesar had obtained an excellent price because the American government was paying and then selling the goods at a subsidized price in Europe. The average Italian needed all those goods desperately. “That’s wonderful news! We’ll eat genuine pesto Genovese. I hope our Chef Chu Li takes all the ingredients necessary so that we can have it every day even after we have departed the port of Genoa,” said an elated Dona Esperanza, smiling at her husband. Chita and Jing stood outside the door of their suite. “Good Morning Dona Esperanza and Don Daniele. We have compiled a list of the baby’s needs.” “Thank you chicas. Genoa was known for its shopping district before the War. We’ll make the most of it. I’m sure we’ll be fortunate and find most of what Matti requires. The most important item are “Las tetas” the teats. We are going to need dozens of them,” opined a serious Dona Esperanza as she adorned herself with a series of never ending pearl necklaces. Don Daniele chuckled loudly. He had never heard his wife use these terms for one’s intimate parts uttered with such simplicity and candor. “You remind me of the beautiful Czarina Alexandra of Russia who also could not bear to be parted with her pearls,” he told her. “Are you referring to the Czarina who met with a tragic end?” “Indeed, Lenin ordered the slaughter of the Czarina, the Czar and the entire family, including as many members of the Royal and aristocratic families as his commissars could round up,” he said. The ‘Nemesis’ was stopped about a mile before entering the harbor. A stiff Italian naval officer who only spoke Italian and German told Captain Rocha and First Officer Kolleck that the Italian naval authorities were still in the process of clearing and removing the mines from the Genoese harbor. “One of the owners of the shipping lines is on board. Please inform them yourself,” Captain Rocha said very politely. The ‘Nemesis’ had goods to unload and even more goods to load. He did not want that responsibility on his shoulders alone. Of course, he would rush a telegram to Don Cesar, but … as long as one of the shareholders was present, no better opportunity etc. etc. etc. There was a look of surprise on Officer Del Turco’s face when he saw a mere slip of a girl, albeit very beautiful, receive him in the small salon of the ship owner’s suite. Captain Rocha and First Officer Kolleck flanked Officer Del Turco. “Parliamo Italiano (We speak Italian),” declared Don Daniele de Montebello. He rose to welcome them. Dona Esperanza remained seated. She had been brought up with the gramophone recordings of the Great Caruso, the magnificent Verdi operas, the lyrical Puccini, the marvelous Rossini, the bel canto of Donizetti and Bellini. She expected charm and passion from Italians. Her husband was the best example. Officer Del Turco was dour and sour. She could not follow his cadenzas at first; he was not speaking High Italian. He had a heavily accented Southern Italian patois. He looked devoid of imagination. Dona Esperanza knew enough about business to understand that the ultimate ones who would suffer if the ‘Nemesis’ could not load or unload its cargo would be the Filipino people on one end of the world and the Italian people on this end. Lloyds of London insured the De La Rama Shipping Lines. The Great War had ended. The Armistice had been signed in September 1918. “Che problema c’e (What is the problem)?” Dona Esperanza inquired tersely. Officer Del Turco did not mince words. “During the war, the port of Genoa was heavily mined by the Austrians and the Germans. Ships were blown up. Thousands of people died.” “Officer Del Turco,” Don Daniele stated rapidly, “part of the conditions of the Armistice were that the Austrians and the Germans consign the maps of the mines. Making allowances for currents, it shouldn’t be so difficult.” “We’ve just come from Hamburg. Considering they lost the war, everything was off and running,” added Captain Rocha. “Italy fought on the side of the Allies, is that correct?” asked Don Daniele. “So if the maps of the sea and land mines have been handed over to the relevant Italian authorities, what is the problem? I repeat my wife’s question.” Officer Del Turco looked even more ill at ease and sour. “Bene (Good). Ah… the point is we… that is… Italy also filled the port and the surrounding area of mines. In fact, most of the mines are ours.” “Surely, that should be relatively easy for your people then,” proffered Captain Rocha. Officer Del Turco swallowed. “That is the problem… ahm… sirs ah… and Dona Esperanza. We can’t find our maps!” Dona Esperanza felt like laughing, but she forced herself to remain composed. “How could that happen?” she asked herself. Her husband, Captain Rocha and First Officer Kolleck would not believe what they had just heard. “Did you just say, Officer Del Turco, that you can’t find your own maps?” Captain Rocha ventured to ask. The Italian naval officer was the color of an eggplant. “I don’t know how to say it. Dona Esperanza and Gentlemen, the answer is yes!” At this point Dona Esperanza could not resist it. She broke into peals of laughter. “What a way to fight a war. That is just as bad as killing people,” she opined. “Perhaps worse. In battle, they only die once; in a mess such as this, people will die slowly. They can’t export and they can’t import.” Don Daniele looked at his young wife in amazement. Sometimes Esperanza could be eloquent and opinionated (in a good sense, of course). Captain Rocha persisted. “Did all the authorities in charge of the maps die? I mean, were they all killed?” “How could maps of such importance be lost?” demanded First Officer Kolleck. “Does anyone have any idea? Perhaps they have simply been misplaced?” stated Don Daniele. “Look here, we can’t be cruising all over the Mediterranean hoping the maps will turn up. What do you suggest?” “Boh!” replied the Italian officer. “I don’t know.” Captain Rocha, a Filipino-Portuguese, requested the First Officer of the ‘Nemesis’ Kolleck to escort Officer Del Turco to the deck while they conferred. “Can this be true?” queried Dona Esperanza. “How could they lose all their maps? Who’s not governing the country?” “I’m afraid it’s true, querida. Captain Rocha will agree. These are very confusing and chaotic times for most of the world.” “Dona Esperanza, this may be way off the mark, but I don’t think the maps have been unwittingly lost. Several political factions are competing and quarrelling among themselves. You mustn’t think that maps or documents are misplaced as in an operetta or an opera buffa, with everyone running around on the stage not knowing whether they’re coming or going. This is probably a deliberate act of sabotage by one of the factions to destabilize the government or what passes for a government. I am sending a telegram immediately to Manila to Don Cesar, informing him of this farcical situation, if it wasn’t so tragic,” Captain Rocha remarked. “Doesn’t the U.S. flag on the ‘Nemesis’ carry any weight?” asked Don Daniele. “I’d demand a written document from whoever’s running this circus declaring their own maps can’t be found and I’d inform the U.S. Department of Commerce, the State Department, and the President of the United States Woodrow Wilson of this trade crime perpetrated against an American vessel,” spoke Dona Esperanza. Don Daniele and Captain Rocha were dumbfounded. Dona Esperanza sounded like a young female version of the Tycoon Don Cesar. It was uncanny! “By God! Dona Esperanza, that’s exactly how I think Don Cesar, is going to handle it. I am going to telegraph him right now. In the meantime, I shall categorically inform Officer Del Turco of our intentions to involve our American powers and our American officials. That should sober up those behind him pulling the strings,” Captain Rocha avowed strongly. “Don Cesar sued the Roman Catholic Church in 1903. He challenged certain factions within the Vatican Curia. This Italian tragicomic stalemate should be a piece of cake,” Don Daniele gave voice to his convictions. “When one speaks clearly, there is always a risk that one will be understood,” Dona Esperanza gave utterance to Niccolo Machiavelli. After the Tycoon had won the lawsuit against the Dominican friars of Santo Tomas in Manila, Don Cesar Ortigas Nieto had 300 copies of “The Prince,” “The Discourses,” and “The Art of War” written by the incomparable Niccolo Machiavelli printed in Spanish and in Italian. Anyone who received the books from the Tycoon with a hand written dedication, considered himself or herself very honored and privileged. Don Daniele turned to his wife and proposed, “I would like to talk to the Italian Officer alone before Captain Rocha meets with him. Excuse me, my darling, whatever you say will fall on deaf ears or he will dig in his heels. This is a Latin country par excellence. You represent what he hates, authority and oppression from the North. As far as he’s concerned the Philippines is some exotic country near Borneo just as Sicily is a far off place close to Northern Africa. ” He bent and kissed his wife tenderly on the mouth. On deck, First Officer Kolleck was smoking a cigarette in silence next to Officer Del Turco who felt the icy atmosphere in the air which his statement had caused about the misplaced or so called lost maps of the mines placed in the harbor of Genoa. Don Daniele ran his eyes over the placid Mediterranean Sea and the crystalline blue sky over Genoa. What a pity it was going to be spoiled by the unpleasant things he was going to tell Officer Del Turco. “Please leave us, Officer Kolleck. I have something to say to Officer Del Turco.” “My superiors are expecting me back,” the Officer replied nervously. “This won’t take long at all, Officer.” Don Daniele went right to the heart of the matter. “The De La Rama Steamship Lines will never, I repeat, never pay money under the table to your party or to your cohorts or to anyone else to smooth the waters and oil the wheels of bureaucracy. The steamship company is already overpaying all the port charges.” Officer Del Turco became indignant. “You are insulting an officer of the state!” “Shut up, you pompous little jackal. You people overlooked several important details. One, this is an American vessel. Two, the De La Rama Steamship Lines will inform the President of the United States. Three, the Department of Commerce will lodge a complaint against your Ministry of Industry. Four, the American Legation in Rome will formally present a protest against this ridiculous situation since you are not going to be allowed to leave this ship until you put in writing what you have so far only blathered to me about. This protest will be done in person to His Majesty King Victor Emmanuel II. Five, our telegraph on board the ‘Nemesis’ is in perfect working order. We shall send telegrams to the New York Times, the Corriere Della Sera (Italy’s most prestigious newspaper), Le Monde, the London Times and other newspapers too numerous to mention. Listen carefully now. With the civil unrest in all Italian cities, horrendous riots in Genoa are occurring everyday; people are breaking into warehouses just to steal flour. How long do you think you can bury in the sand the story of TraLaLa officials unable to locate vital maps? That’s a complete fabrication. I am calling you an Infame (a betrayer, a low life) and a Bugiardo (a liar). The officer’s facial muscles trembled. Don Daniele continued his righteous tirade. “I know you’re Sicilian. I can tell by your cadenza. What do you think the Padrino (Godfather) of your village will say or do when he finds out your own people Sicilians all, are jobless, begging for scraps of anything, walking like the undead in the docks and waterfronts of Genoa? Sicilians who could be working and getting paid fairly and squarely unloading the goods at the Genoese docks for the ‘Nemesis?’ Last but not least, with the misery that is ever present, if the head of the De La Rama Shipping Lines Don Cesar Ortigas authorizes Captain Rocha, he could well hire the tugboat to pull the ‘Nemesis’ into the harbor. And don’t even think of threatening to fire on our ships. What are you going to use? Olive pits? Assuming there are any left? Officer Del Turco’s face was white. He steadied himself against the railing. He was shocked to hear this blueblood use the sacred language of the Mafia. Infame and Padrino – where did he hear these words? His sour expression had turned to pure vinegar. “I’m only following orders. It wasn’t my idea, Don Daniele. I Padri Eterni or those who consider themselves Padri Eterni (eternal fathers, i.e. the masters) decided on this line of action. The ‘Nemesis’ was the first ship in a long line of ships for 60 days (or so they hoped).” The Italian kept looking over his shoulder. “I’m afraid they’ll have to invent another money grabbing scheme. International shipping is anathema. The war ended less then 60 days ago. It cries out for justice. The head of the De La Rama Shipping Lines will not stand for it – and neither will the Filipino and the Italian people. I’ll remind you again this is an American vessel.” Captain Rocha joined them together with Officer Kolleck. He was almost jovial. “I’ve just sent the telegram to Don Cesar Ortigas in the Philippine Archipelago informing him of the circus here. Del Turco, please be kind enough to leave your written declaration before you disembark from the ‘Nemesis.” Don Daniele saved the moment. “Officer Del Turco was just saying that if he takes the launch now, he might be able to convince the authorities to allow the ‘Nemesis’ to unload this afternoon. Don Cesar will authorize the ‘Nemesis’ to enter the harbor clearing the port authorities of any responsibility in the remote possibility the ‘Nemesis’ hits a mine. Isn’t that so, Del Turco?” “Yes, that’s correct. Captain Rocha and I can prepare a communiqué to present to the port authorities once I’ve received the beneplacet (authorization) from my superiors, pursuant of course to Don Cesar’s agreement.” “Well, then, I’ll leave you seafaring men. I have a new wife to attend to,” declared Don Daniele, taking their leave. He singled out the Italian officer Del Turco as if nothing had happened. Del Turco was a small cog in a skewed wheel. He had thick skin. His superiors had tried to pull a despicable fast one – it hadn’t worked. Time to move on. “For a man such as the Tycoon Don Cesar Ortigas, tangling with a group of demented and callous political clowns in Italy would have been a piece of cake compared to the monumental lawsuit he had mounted against the Dominican priests of Santo Tomas, the murderous De La Rama clan, the subsequent take-over of the colossus De La Rama Shipping Lines,” Don Daniele mentioned soberly to his wife as she sat quietly on his lap on the salon of the ship owner’s suite. “Now all we do is wait for Don Cesar’s reply which should not take long.” By late afternoon the ‘Nemesis’ was astride the dock at the port of Genoa. Dona Esperanza could hear the crowds assembled with shouts of “Viva! Viva (Hooray)!” As the ‘Nemesis’ glided closer, she could see well dressed men on crutches, scruffy looking women holding onto even more raggedy children chanting “Vogliamo lavoro (We want work)!” over and over. There were suitcases made of cardboard piled 10 feet high against what looked to be a warehouse. Wooden planks were laid out on the pavement. Thankfully Genoa was blessed with sunny and mild winters. “Amore, are those people living on the streets?” a pained and disbelieving Dona Esperanza queried. “It looks that way Tesoro. Officer Kolleck tells me there are thousands of people in these circumstances living in the docks. They are waiting for the passenger ships, which will take them to New York City. These poor people have paid for their passage one way or another.” “I don’t know what you mean?” asked a perplexed Dona Esperanza as she twisted and untwisted the pearls as large as cherries around her neck. “Some of the poor folk have had their trips paid by their relatives who are already living and working in America. The Italian government under the aegis of the Ministry of the Interior is assuming all the travel costs for those who are deemed undesirable and lawless.” “They look angry and unhappy. So would I if I found myself in that same position.” Dona Esperanza’s twisting and tugging caused her to pop her necklace, scattering the pearls from Bahrain all over the cabin floor. Don Daniele and Dona Esperanza were on their hands and knees scrambling to pick up the pearl beauties. “Oh, amore, those poor Italians out there have upset me. I didn’t realize how hard I was pulling on my necklace.” “Don’t be too upset, darling,” her husband comforted her. “Most of the people leaving do not consider themselves Italians. They are Sicilians, Neapolitans, Barese and Calabrese. Italy as a nation is very new; it was unified in the 1860’s. Prince Metternich said Italy was more of a geographic expression rather than a sovereign country.” Don Daniele had one hand full of pearls, which he emptied into his silk handkerchief. Dona Esperanza was still searching, her mind partly on the desperate people on the dock. “There is a great divide in Italy between the industrial North and the rural South. The Royal House of Savoy in Piedmont Northern Italy, rules Italy from Rome, and the former Bourbon Kingdom of Naples and Sicily now forms part of a united Italy. The people of the South fought Garibaldi and his French, English and Genoese army. Unification was never their dream, independence was. Southern Italy is a hotbed of secret societies, of men of honor called Mafiosi, of blood feuds, smuggling and contraband, and thievery and banditry. The government can’t cope with them; it’s easier to force them to emigrate to America by threatening them with prison.” “Vogliamo lavoro,” the cries continued. Captain Rocha knocked on the door and announced himself. “Do you hear them?” he asked. “Those are people who have passed their limit long ago. But we can’t hire them. The dockworkers called Camalli are strong men and sailors. They are the ones who by tradition control everything that moves in or out of the docks of Genoa. They should be here any minute. There are bound to be fights. We can’t unload until the dock is cleared of all those people.” “I wouldn’t put it past the port authorities to have stirred up the would-be immigrants,” pondered Don Daniele. “Let’s stay away from the porthole,” he urged his wife, pulling her gently out of harm’s way. “I can’t believe this,” declared an outraged Captain Rocha. “Germany lost the war yet the port of Hamburg was functioning efficiently. Italy fought alongside the English, the French and the Americans. Just look at their most important port- Genoa!” “As history teaches us, victories can be pyrrhic,” stated Don Daniele. Let’s be a little more patient. The Italian penchant for chaos and confusion is only surpassed by their ability to improvise last minute successes.” “I hear them!” exclaimed Officer Kolleck. “The dock workers/Camalli are marching in.” “Calma. We’ll let them negotiate this among themselves; they won’t come to blows (I hope not). We won’t interfere. It isn’t our business. As an American vessel, we don’t want the authorities or the politicos to claim we were throwing our rich weight around,” Captain Rocha reminded them. We have already thrown our rich weight around that is the reason why we are able to unload and load our cargo. I hope this ruckus does not wake up the baby, thought Esperanza. Both the dockworkers and the common people started screaming and yelling at once. This lasted for 15 minutes. Dona Esperanza embraced her husband and covered her face. Then there was silence. “Do you think those poor people might be dead?” Dona Esperanza asked in a voice full of worry. “No Cara Mia,” Don Daniele replied, soothing her, “More likely they are wheeling and dealing.” Captain Rocha volunteered to look out since he was the Captain of the ‘Nemesis.’ Um … hmmm … hmm … the people are carting away their cardboard suitcases. They’re lugging away the wooden planks closest to the ‘Nemesis.’ It’s good. They’re leaving.” “The head dock man probably promised them a cut of their pay. Works every time,” expressed Officer Kolleck. “You mean the poor people were bribed?” an indignant Esperanza demanded to know. “Uncle Cesar says bribing is the worst thing which can happen to a business.” “Absolutely right, Dona Esperanza,” thundered the Captain of the ‘Nemesis.’ “Now watch as the workers in turn attempt to raise the hourly rates we’re paying them. We’ll comply of course – within reason.” “Don Cesar had foreseen this. The De La Rama Shipping Lines will still make a huge profit,” Don Daniele ventured to say. There goes the Pesto Genovese I was so looking forward to tasting and enjoying, Dona Esperanza told herself. Dragons vomiting fire could not drag her out of the ‘Nemesis.’ It was almost dark out. There were few electric poles and even fewer oil lanterns. The ‘Nemesis’ had come prepared. They had torches lit with oil and pitch. They expected these emergencies. There was supposed to be peace in Europe but the aftermath of World War l brought many aftershocks. Don Daniele offered to assist the Captain and the First Officer. “It might be several hours,” he informed his wife. “Go on, querido. Chita and Jing will keep me company. I’ll go over and see them. They must be terrified. I expect Matti to wake up as hungry as a wolf,” replied Dona Esperanza. She found her two maids huddled together while the baby Matthias; Matti for short was still sleeping serenely in his makeshift cot an open Louis Vuitton suitcase. “Oh, Dona Esperanza, we were so afraid. In the Philippines the only noises occur during our barrio fiestas with all of us singing and dancing or when a swain serenades a dalaga (maiden). “I know! I know!” Dona Esperanza quickly comforted them. “See? Nothing happened. Sometimes people yell and scream at each other but they work things out in the end without acts of violence. Come to my suite. We’ll smoke the Tabacalera cigarillos, drink some Rosa Solis mixed with Manila water and gossip. Let’s keep it light. What a fearsome day this has been.” Then she thought of the baby. “I have a better proposal. Let’s stay here. Soon it will be time to feed the baby. I don’t think we should smoke the cigarillos but the Rosa Solis should do very nicely.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Isabel Van Fechtmann

Create Your Badge