I am now typing from a Nigerian Internet Cafe near our hotel in Zaragoza. There is also a barber shop inside. Downstairs there is a Protestent church service going on, with much table pounding and impassioned praying, and shouts of “Amen!” There´s quite a crowd in there, and I´ve been told to keep my chair close to the desk, because the door leading to downstairs is directly next to where I´m sitting, so I´ll need to keep the path clear.
This is quite a contrast to Berdun, an image I was emotionally and mentally preparted to describe until we entered this place. This is probably for the best, because I think my memories would be a bit sappy. Well, my aunts Maria Jesus, Maria Asunsion and her husband Jose Luis took Miguel and me to Verdun yesterday. We had to wake up extra early, at 8 in the morning, to make the trip. It´s not too far from here, but it´s true, had Miguel and I tried this on our own, we would surely get lost.
To get to Berdun, you drive north to Huesca, and then turn left. From there, you leave the flat lands of the Zaragoza province into the foothills of the Pyrenees. The plains and farmlands quickly turn to mountains covered in trees, the road narrows and winds through many villages on hillsides made of stone and wood. Soon, we entered a valley, and Maria Asunsion was about to describe Verdun to us when Jose Luis said, “Don´t, you´ll spoil the movie for them.” We rounded a bend, and there, straight ahead, in the middle of the farms of the valley, stood a small city on a stone.
But first, we went to Martes. The way you get to Martes is you drive to Verdun, and then turn left. It is maybe six kilometers to the south. The only other vehicles on the road were a tour bus of bird watchers and tractors. There are more tractors in Martes than people. The reason why we went to Martes was to see the Casa de Visauta. Okay, here´s my beef. There´s this guy in modern times named Bienvenido Visauta Vinacua who´s written a book about how to use SPSS software in Castillan, and I only worked for SPSS for like ten years, describing how to use SPSS software. I tried writing to the man to say, “Hey, I write that crap, too!” and he never responded. I even wrote using my spss e-mail address. Nothing. But he´s the owner of this house. He lives in Barcelona. We met a fellow in Martes and Maria Jesus told him that I´m the great-granddaughter of Antonio Visauta and he said, “The Visautas of Barcelona, yes?” Well, no, but we just nodded because what else could we do. Apparently, this Bienvenido guy doesn´t keep in touch with anybody. Maria Jesus and Asun say it´s because he´s “special”.
There are maybe four people in Martes. We met a quarter of the population. But we did manage to take in a few laps of the town, and I´ve taken many photo graphs. My great-grandmother Josefa Salvador Sanchez owned some property here, and I´m wondering if it somehow landed into the hands of the wrong Visautas, and perhaps this is why they are so elusive? But this is pure speculation on my part.
The Visautas are actually from a town called Petilla de Aragon. Antonio, my great-grandfather, had at least two brothers, Salvador and Mariano. Mariano is Maria Jesus and Maria Asunsion´s grandfather. Antonio, a sheep herder, had moved to Verdun, which is where he met Josefa, a womam of means. She owned some property in Martes where this Visauta dwelling is. I´ve got some photos.
Verdun is very easy to find, once you´re in the valley. Just drive to that rock. Once you´re on this rock, you have a complete panoramic view of the valley. To the north, you see the snow capped Pyrenees of France, and to the south, a clump of stone houses, Martes. To the east and west, more mountains, but all around the town itself is farm land, sheep, and grapes.
We immediately parked the car, because there was nowhere else to drive. We came across some older gentlemen pressing grapes in front of their garage. “Ah, the Visautas,” he said. “From Barcelona?”
We walked 25 yards and entered the town. The infamous well was hard to miss. It was directly next to the bar. This is where the whole “incident” transpired. It´s very easy to recreate the crime, if that´s really what happened. But once I saw these two buildings, I realized that my Uncle Joe, who had also visited this town once, was not pulling my leg. There was an “altercation” in that bar, and later, a body was found in THAT well. Antonio had to leave. Immediately. So he went to through the mountains to the north, to France, and then later to San Francisco. Salvador Visauta, his brother, also moved to France. Was he a connection? Mariano, meanwhile, stayed in Petilla.
Verdun is not very big. It takes maybe four minutes to walk completely across, through narrow alley ways. When we went to Martes and met that first gentleman, it was perhaps maybe five minutes before the entire population of the town, all four of them, new that we were visiting. Verdun is only slightly larger. You wouldn´t need a telephone there; you could easily yell out your window. Of course, I don´t really know what happened, but when you hear words like, “body”, “vendetta”, and “quick departure” it´s rather easy to put the pieces together. Decisions had to be made very quickly before the town would be up in arms. My grandmother Asension was two.
Well, I want to type more about this, but the church service is about to end, I think, and I soon might be trampled. But I´ll end this with after we got back to Zaragoza, we said farewell to Juan Luis and Maria Asunsion, at least for now. There is so much that I want to tell you about them, but it was a warm farewell, and we will meet again. Maria Jesus took Miguel and me out for some hot chocolate and churros near the town square. The place was packed. I felt like a like maybe I was 8 again, when I´d visit my gramma in Oakland, and she´d take Maggy and me out for a chocolate treat near her house. It was a perfect ending for a perfect day, a dream I´ve had since I was in the 7th grade, when my gramma told me to never mention Verdun again. If she could only know that I´ve dreamt about this day ever since. I wish she could only see it.