On Sunday May 24, 1998, my daughter Irene and I drove out to San José in the Renault 4L more commonly known as the 'Cuatro Latas' or four tin cans. Once there we met my son Esteban who had driven directly from Níjar in his more luxurious Opel. We had some coffee and toast at the first bar we saw and then set out for the cemetery in the Renault, since Esteban doesn't much like taking his Opel along dusty tracks. The cemetery is halfway up a hill overlooking San José. A good view, but that was all. Well, the main entrance gate was locked as was the side door, and the place was surrounded by what seemed to be a high cement-coated wall. My mother's final resting place was not visible from any angle. Seeing there was a café bar just opposite, going by the name of 'El Albergue', the kids went there to ask how one could visit the cemetery. The answer was that it only opened for internments or for taking in flowers on the Day of the Dead. The key was kept at the 'Bar Emigrante', so named because the owner had emigrated to Germany for some years before making enough money to return home and start up his business. Back near my sister-in-law's gift store, where we had parked the Opel, Irene took over the wheel of the ancient Renault because Esteban was driving like a little fiend. At the 'Emigrante' we explained the situation and asked for the key. Oh, no. We did keep it here, but now you'll find it at the 'Bar El Arrecife' over there, and the guy waved his arm vaguely ahead and to the left. Irene drove round in circles for a while and eventually we stopped at the 'Bar los Arcos' to ask for directions . Well, yes, it was really quite close and I don't know how we missed it, except that there must be a hundred bars in San José. So in go the kids to ask for the key. They come out laughing, after all things are still pretty amusing at this stage although the sun is rising in the sky and it's getting hotter all the time. No, the key used to be there, but now the cura has it, and he lives next to the church. Luckily Irene remembered how to find that place - it's along another dusty, bumpy street in the older part of San José ;. It is midday now. The church doors are open and inside we can here the cura reciting the Sunday Eucharist. We go in and occupy the pew at the back, nearest the door. We stand up and sit down as instructed. The cura is the same one who officiated for my mother; a little Peruvian Indian with a wizened walnut face. There is no live music but he has a tape recorder with one cassette of 'Hail Mary' music, obviously bought at the open-air market where they sell unpopular cassettes. He stops and starts it whenever he feels the need for a bit of background noise. Music on, he fiddles around with a little silver-plated door above the altar and fishes out the hostia and chalice. The faithful, few and not so youthful, file up to take communion. Well, really the church was quite full, but it wouldn't hold more than fifty souls anyway. They return to their pews, simple, somewhat rickety wooden benches. I stare at the whitewashed walls of the church and the set of garish prints that adorn them on either side, depicting the life and death of Jesus and the Stations of the Cross. There are a couple of plaster statues near the altar, and one of those gory crucifixes, almost life-size, is embedded on to the front of the altar. The cassette stops playing abruptly and the cura takes out a sheet of paper and reads the banns for a future wedding. No one has any objection. The faithful all stand up and the cura starts off with a hymn. No music, he can't use the cassette with this one, but they don't sing too badly, seemed in tune to me. Ah! Finally the benediction! 'You may leave now,' he says and disappears through a side door. Irene and Esteban follow him while I go out through the main door in case he decides to make a break for it that way. However the kids catch him in the 'vestry' which is a tumble-down shed attached to the side of the church. No, he doesn't recall DĒ Olga's funeral, or much else for that matter. The key? Well, he used to have the key to the cemetery, but.... Now it's at 'Bar Pepe' just opposite the church. He scuttles off.

Bar Pepe is easy to find, it really is just opposite the church. I used to go there when San José was really tiny and unknown and there were only two bars, and a store, also run by Pepe. In fact Pepe ran most things in those days.

Pepe does not have the key to the cemetery.

Antonio Moreno, nicknamed 'El Berza' (the Cabbage), the one who works in the Ayuntamiento, he has the key now.

Where does he live?

Somewhere near the Calle de Ronda. Easy to find. After all, San José is still a very small place. Just go back to the 'Bar Emigrante' and ask them there.

You know what, we are getting pissed-off. And it is hot, and near lunchtime.

If we can't find 'El Berza' we'll go back to the cemetery and try to climb over the wall.

At the 'Emigrante' so named because the owner once emigrated to Germany where he made enough money to be able to return too San José and start up his own business, we are told that the Calle de Ronda is just opposite. We must look for a street with a very large truck parked right at the beginning and then drive down to the very last house.

We find the truck.

We go to the last house on the street. An attractive place with plenty of trailing

greenery and bougainvillea and hybiscus. A patio full of barking dogs. A middle-aged couple emerges. They are not locals; catalan maybe.

Antonio Moreno 'El Berza'? Well there is a whole tribe of 'Berzas' living over there. The lady waves her arm towards the other end of the street where the truck is parked. Which Berza do you want? Is it the one who acts as mayor of San José? YES! That must be the one. She grabs a couple of small kids who are passing by; curious kids who have seen this beat up Renault occupied by what seem to be foreign tourists except that Irene and Esteban obviously speak good Andaluz. The woman lets go of one of the kids. He's not from here, she explains. But this other one should know. He goes to school with the son of Carlos the Fontanero, and they live right next to Antonio El Berza.

I know Carlos the Plumber.

I sold my gas-kiln to Carlos the Plumber ten years ago.

But I can't remember what he looks like and never saw his house.

The boy explains the location of the street where the plumber and El Berza live.

The Catalana lets him go.

We all thank her for being so helpful. She really seems friendly. So I ask her what she would do if she had to visit the cemetery. She laughs: Oh, no. 'Cremamos' (not quemamos, so she is definitely from Valencia or Cataluña) we burn ours. So much better! Then we can have them with us here on the mantelpiece or wherever we want.

Yes, no wonder that new crematorium they have built near Campohermoso is so popular. I bet all the local potters have started throwing urns.

We said goodbye to the friendly couple and the now silent dogs and drove off once more in the Pisspot to the street where 'El Berza' most definitely resides. We see a couple pulling up in their car. We ask them. Yes, he really does live here, the Alcalde, Antonio Moreno, El Berza. This house right here!

The shutters are down.

There is no car parked outside.

We knock on his door.

We bang on his door.

No sign of life.

Well, where would El Berza go on a Sunday afternoon?

Of course, it's obvious isn't it?

He must be at one of those hundred bars.

And the key?

God only knows!

Background music by Gaspar Sanz, arranged for midi by  David Lovell

MIDI sequence(s) from the Classical MIDI Archives - by permission.

Return to main page>

Nedstat Counter