* * *
It was getting dark. I was walking with my new friends along the edge of a road, dizzy with all the excitement (and the jetlag). Without knowing how, we ended up at the entrance of Villa Mac (the most hidden-away residence in town). There was Pancho, my first Duino friend, with his Quito accent, his chukchas, his oval glasses and long, straight hair. Jaime, to whom I could not understand a word despite being one of the most eloquent people I’ve ever met. The “Basque potato” in his mouth made Spanish words sound like Arameic to my ears. And the rest of the troop, with their festival of accents: Paola and Augusto, Paysandú and Montevideo; Emiliano and Ceci, Mendoza and Buenos Aires. Montse and Laura, Barcelona and Alicante. Juan, with his Mérida accent, as picturesque as the rest.
This is my first memory of Carolina. Meter and a half of smiles and the most strenuous laughter of Northern Italy. My first impression of who would later be known as “La Bola” [The Ball] was that she was the kind of girl for whom everything is easy: studying, making friends, learning languages, playing sports, adapting, etc. There are a few theories as to when, how and why we became friends. Complicity in Ximena’s Spanish class (i.e., none of us understood what the heck Jaime was arguing about). Empathy in the face of the monster we had to deal with: English. Sharing the most amusing class ever: Italian B higher with Alfredo, the teacher, and Benoit, one of the best classmates I’ve ever had. At the moment, my only knowledge of Dante’s language was, in phonetic transcription: “Mama, bolio yelato”; and Carolina’s: “Mansha bene e caga forte”.
Actually, I have no idea what made us become friends, because beyond the same self-defence mechanism of making fun of our own ignorance, Carola and I had very little in common (or maybe we did, too may things, but I’m just too lazy to count them in this chronicle). The truth is that during our first year in Duino, although we were friends, each of us hung out with different groups. I used to hang out with “Ceci Sur”, another Argentinean girl I immediately had a connection with. My friendship with Ceci, worthy of another chronicle, was based on Borges, San Martín, Rayuela, Doña Bárbara, Cuba, Bolívar, Élida and Semiotics, Prague, mate y long silences. A different rhythm of a friendship.
* * *
As for Catu, the timeline is much clearer. So clear, in fact, that it seems preconceived by a writer of lousy airport novels:
Spring of 1996. Environmental Systems class. Our dear teacher Paul Tout said it was asparagus season and it was a local custom to go pick them in Carso. In my head, the idea of picking asparagus sounded so exotic that I immediately set out to pursue a new “European” adventure. In Catuxa’s head, picking asparagus implied taking some time to wander around, meditate and become one with her surroundings (maybe get a bit closer to her very missed home through the palate). Either way, when classes finished that day, we got together and talked, by chance, about our common interest and we decided to destroy the local flora that very afternoon.
To make the story short, suffice it to say we had a Hollywood-like afternoon. We talked ourselves out, and by six o’clock we had already decided to become roommates in the Fall. Ah, and about the asparagus, we only found one sad tiny stick, but when we returned to the village we went to the market, bought a pack and Catuxa made them in Casa Carsica. The best asparagus I’ve ever had, no doubt!
What did we have in common –a melancholic, quiet, meditative, fighting and dissident-to-the-bone Galician, and an immature Venezuelan who was barely beginning to open her eyes to everything? Well, to begin with, we had the asparagus, but we also had an almost morbid taste for history, never-ending curiosity to discover the XY mysteries, hours and hours of conversations about everything and nothing. And the asparagus.
* * *
And what then? Fall of 1996, a truly memorable season. Mysteries of fate, of saudade, of Alitalia, Iberia and Aerolíneas Argentinas, of the Bora... Carola, Catu and I ended up being inseparable. Room #18 became our headquarters. Ximena’s class was delicious: Jaime quarrelled, Cecilia quarrelled, Catuxa quarrelled, I quarrelled (Carola and Pancho Barillas slept, Pancho Porras kept thinking about pentagrams). Italian classes, now with Viviana Pace and without Benoit, were a source of surprise with every newly learnt word (strangely enough, I still remember the physical feeling of learning English and Italian back then). John Plommer’s classes were painful (thanks a million, Checha, for your endless help). On our room door, Catuxa and I had a sticky note that read: “History… is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake” (J. Joyce). Paul Tout and Environmental Systems were a breath of fresh air: lively, amusing classes, the dolina, bird-watching and litres of pink liquid on the overhead projector. Litres of sangria in our room (the room of the “good girls”). Tons of nutella as well. Weeping, kidnapped letters, anxiety and emotion for each of Valen’s emails. Rome, the Pantheon, the convent and furtive hair dying in public restrooms. Hundreds, thousands of flight reservations in Monfalcone’s ISIC (the Transiberian, Malaysia, Beijing, Moscow, semi-fulfilled dreams). Dottore Velucci and the cyst. Mario Carini and his home-made cakes. Athens and the explosive olives. Parties, costumes. Carnevale di Venezia.
The Iberia Peninsula in Christmas, the Narco-bear and Latte Carso. The intra-peninsular “chocolate”, the limitless hospitality of Montse, Laura, Ángel, Pedrito, the Paz Camaño family and Carlitos. Frozen Toledo. Cod fish till we could no more. Grado lagoon and Paul Tout. Tango in Trieste with Eric. Piazzolla, Mercedes Sosa, Madredeus and Silvio Rodríguez. Arezzo and forgotten birthdays. Eastern European loves. “En esta habitación se practica el celibato activo” [“In this room we practice active celibacy”]. Perfume-filled panties & the Italian gang. Pancho and his cello. Carlitos and his violin. Religious crises. Vocational crises. Heartbreaking farewells.
I must stop here. May 25, 1997. The sky is grey, with big clouds that bunch together and fight. Bora, the cypresses violently swing. We are in Fore courtyard and Catu is wearing a bright red shirt. Johannes, the German, is the designated van driver to take us to the airport, Caro and I heading to Turkey. The yard is in complete silence. I remember Limpho’s and Lizzy’s faces when they said goodbye to Gökçe. But the hug between Catu, Carola and myself I don’t remember. I still feel it. Everybody around us cries silently. Johannes very solemnly says “It’s time”.
* * *
May 25, 2007. I’m a teenager all over again. I don’t want to think, I don’t want to rationalise, I don’t want to dig into it too much, I don’t want to explore what that feeling in my stomach is. Some time ago, I could spend hours creating scenarios in my head about the moment of the meeting. From what to wear to what to say. But not today. I’m in the car, driving on the M-50, with my stomach and jaw muscles very tightened. Diego is in a good mood, despite the traffic. I keep making an effort to cloud my brain. I really don’t want to think, predict, speculate. But inevitably the phrase “It’s been ten years” bounces back and forth in the walls of my head.
In the airport, a recurring idea comes back to me: what a despicable place an airport is! Farewells, encounters, stress, lost baggage, sniffing dogs, “this is a security announcement: unattended baggage will be removed and may be destroyed”. Somebody touches my shoulder and when I turn back, ten years of possible scenarios exploit in midair. I was speechless. Finally, after so long, my imaginary friend (Freddy dixit) materialised in front of me. The same old Catu, the Catu behind the wicked letters, the Catu of my epistolary conversations.
* * *
And on May 26 Carola arrived too. Although we had planned an ambush to surprise her on all flanks, Catuxa walked in straight line towards a Carola who looked for my face in the busy Dublin airport. It took her a while to understand what was going on, and as if ten years were a blink, the three witches were back together.
* * *
Many things have happened in ten years. Returns, studies, couples, revelations, deaths, relocations, births… In all this time I’ve asked myself over and over what really happened that year in Duino that so radically touched our lives. Why some friends just vanish and some others remain, despite distance, cultural differences, the lack of daily life shared experiences. What friendship is. How three very different people could feel so close.
I still have no answers.
I’m not quite sure what the point of this chronicle is. I guess I’ve written it in order to leave some evidence of the almost-soup-opera-like event that was meeting in the tenth anniversary of our farewell. I suppose it was to say thanks –out loud- for ten years of blind, long distance faith. To prove to my parents and friends, victims of a decade of repeated stories, that Catu and Carola do actually exist and I didn’t just make them up. Perhaps it was just to say that ten years was too long a wait and that these meetings, although exhausting, are healthy and necessary, and should happen more often. Finally, maybe the real motive for this chronicle is to leave written evidence of the story of these three brats who randomly met, became friends by chance, kept in touch also by chance, and by chance got together again some time later, so that in ten or twenty years Diego reads this and understands a fundamental part of my history. I don’t suppose this is the most conventional friendship lesson, but I think it serves its purpose.
I want to end this chronicle with a word that everybody should include in his/her personal dictionary. A word that defines ten years of friendship, waiting, encounters and mis-encounters, as explained by Manolo Rivas:
Morriña means to miss something, to feel nostalgic, melancholic. It is associated with a history of pain, loss, migration. In a Swiss winter night, in some immigrants’ centre, I once heard a ballad about morriña that gave me the chills and stopped all clocks. Like saudade en Portuguese fados, or Cabo Verde’s morna.
(A spy in the kingdom of Galicia)
[Morriña significa echar de menos algo, sentir nostalgia, melancolía. Está asociada a una historia de dolor, de pérdida, de emigración. Yo escuché, en algún centro de emigrantes, en la noche invernal de Suiza, alguna balada de morriña que paró a las doce de la noche los relojes de cuco y que ponía los pelos de punta. Como la saudade en el fado portugués o la morna caboverdiana.
(Un espía en el reino de Galicia)]
Saying goodbye to my witches, saying goodbye to the readers of this chronicle, I send you all tons of morriña.