“Love and the truth,” Gonzalo Salazar’s mother Hilda declared. “That’s the basis for marriage.”
She would know.
She and her husband Amador have been married for 68 years, and together for 70.
Hilda is 88 years old, but looks at least a decade younger, the product of a lifetime of tennis, healthy living and a love of dance that surfaced when she heard the strains of traditional Basque music.
We were sitting at the table set aside for the family for the final event of Basque Week at Santiago’s Estadio Español, the city’s social club for Santiago residents with Spanish ancestry.
Dunreith and I had visited the grounds our first week in the city with friends Miguel Huerta, Macarena Rodriguez and
their sons Martin and Domingo, but it was near sundown so I didn’t have a sense of all that the facility had to offer.
This time, I was there with Gonzalo, whose parents were among the club’s founders shortly after World War II by Spanish émigrés, and his wife Jacqui.
During a leisurely stroll along the idyllic settings and acres of grounds, Gonzalo explained to me the difference had been there when he was a boy more than six decades ago-he’s now 67-and what it has now.
The growth has been exponential.
There’s a garden for children and many more sports facilities that are used by people from at least three different generations
Prime red clay tennis courts.
An astroturf soccer field for men and a grass space for the youth.
A mini-golf course where dozen of players in full golf outfits were waiting their turn to play one of three holes that at most were 30 yards away.
Indoor basketball and an outdoor bocci ball courts.
Places for the Spanish version of racquetball.
A clear blue swimming pool surround by a walkway with arches and a view of the Andes.
As we approached the banquet hall, I asked Gonzalo about whether political divisions and exile politics within the community similar to those among Iranian émigrés. Chuckling, he explained those tensions have diminished, along with the attachment to Spain, have diminished with each successive generation.
But what has not decreased is the huge volume of social energy at the club.
Of the more than 4,000 families that belong to the club, close to half live in about a four-block radius near the club, many in a building that resembles a ship and that stands directly outside the grounds.
Gonzalo saw his high school chemistry teacher, a former priest named Luis Fernando who left the ministry, married and is now a grandfather. They hugged and caught up briefly with each other.
We walked by a man with long, dark hair in a ponytail and beard who was wearing a red beret and playing a Basque horn that looked liked their equivalent of a Shofar, a ram’s horn used in the Jewish tradition on Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement. Thin intertwined green, red and white string dangled from the instrument.
We entered a long, chilly banquet hall, checked in with a pair of elderly men and found our table, which had a white tablecloth with a bright red cloth strip laid across the middle. The chairs alternated by white cloth and white with a red sash tied midway around them. Each neatly set plate had a primer on basic Basque vocabulary translated from the Spanish.
Hello was Kaixo.
Wine was Ardo.
Lunch was Bazkari.
We were at Table 18 toward the back of the room.
Hilda got there first, looking dazzling in a black pants suit that matched her and a black and white scarf.
Clad in a dark jacket, tan sweater, and a red tie tied in a thick knot, his black beret tilted to the right, Amador came later, accompanied by Gonzalo’s brother Tito and his family. Another cousin and his wife from Peru joined us, too.
I told Hilda how I had heard about her, but had trouble believing that she was indeed 88 years old.
She affirmed that she was, and, shortly afterward, took out from her wallet a black and white picture of herself in a bathing suit as the teenaged woman her husband fell in love with 70 years ago.
I knew right away that he was the man of my life, she said.
Then came a photo of a serious-looking Gonzalo at age 7, getting ready to dance with his older sister, followed by an image of Gonzalo’s brother as a baby in a carriage next to a dark haired mother and father.
His right index finger pointed upward, a boy wearing a red beret and scarf and holding his smart phone in his left hand initiated with the ceremony with a burst of high-pitched Euskadi.
Cultural entertainment appeared in between the courses.
Four young women dressed in white hats, black vests and aprons, and red dresses with black stripes stood on the stage at the front of the room, their skirts whirling as they snapped, stepped and jumped the traditional dances to the accompaniment of recorded Basque music.
There was also a Basque version of the Conga line, dancing in which Gonzalo participated and a series of raffle prizes.
Tito instructed us to concentrate hard on the Number 18 when our table wasn’t winning, and, eventually the strategy worked.
Jacqui’s seat was called and she marched happily up to the front of the room to collect her prize.
The last of the gifts were announced and the crowd started to dwindle.
We made plans to get together again soon, possibly at a fish restaurant, and I headed back to our apartment to meet Dunreith.
As I walked to the El, thoughts about traditions altered, but not broken, over time and generations and about the communities within a community jumped around in my head.
But mostly I thought about the love between Gonzalo’s parents, that his mother knew instantly and in her core would be forever, and that has proven to be so, through up and downs, children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and now, even as they near the end of their lives, continues undimmed.