The size of the flag, by Miguel de Loyola.

bandera%20chilenaBy the middle of September, people began to feel the breath of spring and started to see who would be the first to fly the flag outside his house as a sign of patriotism, that good old love of country that history teachers encouraged in public schools . Urcisino was usually the first in the town, flying his flag from a six metre high  flagpole, nailed to a cement monolith that he had built himself. His flag could be seen over his roof and fence, flaming in the wind as high as the flag in the police station.  Some neighbours imitated him, building monoliths like his, but most of them still  kept to the tradition flying the flag from a  diagonal pole over the upper threshold of their door.

In those years, the size of the flags varied from one house to another. But Urcisiano’s was considered to be the largest, while Domínguez’s was the smallest.  José Antonio Domínguez would defend himself, saying, “ That is not the point, man,” “That’s not the point”, he would insist in a tone of slight annoyance, blowing a thick plume of cigar smoke from his mouth,  But, the fact was that his flag did contrast with the rest, and when seen from a distance, it looked like a postage stamp stuck to the wall, when compared with the vigorous waving of the other flags in the afternoon breeze.

Some said that Domínguez felt Spanish, and for this reason  didn’t have a larger Chilean flag,  Others said that they had seen an enormous Spanish flag in his wardrobe drawers. He was the son of Galician immigrants who arrived on the Winnipeg, and after a prolongued stay in the capital, where he had learnt his trade as a baker when he was a mere boy, one day he appeared in the village with the intention of opening a bakery, when people still did their own baking at home, and only the laziest bought their bread from a bakery. He started off working in  tiny room in the modest house he rented on Huamachuco Street; he later had three or four bakers working for him in his bakery on Alejandro Cruz Street, opposite the main square. Some considered him to be rich, but he definitely did not look like a rich man. He was simple in his manner, friendly and trusting. And so hard-working: he got up a four in the morning to fight for freedom, as he would carefully explain to anyone who asked him for the reason for such early hours. He had two children Lucía and Rodrigo, both of whom went to the Talca secondary school; he left them at the bus stop every morning, His dream was that they should attend university. “It’s the only chance for a poor man,” he would explain repeatedly when questioned about his obsession with sending his children to the city to study. “Man is a slave if he lacks an education,” he would add,  while he finished weighing bread, going on and on on his favourite subject when somebody mentioned education. After saying goodbye to his children at the bus stop, he would return to his bakery and stand behind the counter and stay there for the rest of the morning.  He closed the shop steel shutter for a while to have lunch with his wife, but he was open again before four in the afternoon, when he placed freshly baked bread in the baskets. He didn’t stop work until sundown, and on holidays he never closed the shop, and this year he had started making meat patties on the 17th, although on this date, most people made their own patties and baked them in their ovens at home.

Independence Day festivities began with the usual parade on the main square.  A grandstand was built on one side of the square  and filled with chairs from the school for authorities and their guests. Some public servants gave speeches, but the only thing that really attracted people was the parade, because the whole village ended up by joining in. The village considered that this parade, which was solemn, and to a certain degree funny, was a mirror image of themselves, It was led by the students of the Elementary School, followed by their teachers, headmaster, and their corresponding standard; then came the representatives of different civil organisations, the Huaso or Chilean Cowboy Club, the Cycling club, Soccer Club, and Red Cross. The first part of the parade was closed by the Fire Brigade in full regalia – white trousers and red jacket. They were also definitely the noisiest group in the parade, as they rang their fire-truck siren as they marched.

The second part always finished with a  battalion of the Talca Cuirassiers Regiment, which marched into the village at dawn, waking them up with the sounds of their brass band led by the  clash of the drum major. The children, as well as the adults were fascinated by the weapons, the uniforms and synchronised step of the soldiers. There were years that the Boy Scouts also joined the parade, with uniforms and backpacks that were to some extent imitations of those of the troops, but whose whistles and drums sounded very different from those of the soldiers.

In the afternoon, the crowd went on to the “ramada” (arbour) installed on one side of the Media Luna (rodeo ground), where wine, chicha (cider) and cueca (the national Chilean dance) ruled.  Folk groups from other localities were also present and played all day long. The victuals included empanadas (patties), blood sausages,  chancho en piedra, which is a kind of guacamole, home baked bread, roasted meat, pork sausages, spareribs varnished in hot chili sauce. Then came the dancing, where lots of people, and especially the children, learned how to dance, imitating the most expressive movements of the professionals. That year, there was a folk group whose leader danced the “Lame man’s cueca”, which was his own creation; people imitated him, and the children were the first to learn it, and then danced it on their way on to their homes in the afternoon.

There was a rodeo at the Media Luna at noon, with half a dozen  couples competing.  The town was filled with huasos on their horses that day; they appeared like ants, trotting down in single file along the streets. There were huasos from nearby localities and others from  more distant places, from lost hamlets hidden among  the stones and gulleys of the Andes Mountains. Some relatives from the capital also descended on their country cousins for the event. The Nuñez house was invaded by most of their relatives. They brought provisions from Santiago, and didn’t buy a kilo of shortening in the village. More than thirty people convened here and spent the day drinking under the grape arbour, as we were told by doña Celinda, the grocer, after we interviewed her..

That 1968, the sudden demise of the Galician José Antonio Domínguez would darken the celebrations.  Domínguez was working in his bakery, behind his showcase, when the story says that three strangers entered and insulted him because of his flag. The baker got angry and told them to go to hell, as is so typical of Galicians, but one of the strangers drew out a knife and slit his throat, right under his chin; the man bled to death quite quickly, falling on his sacks of white flour. The three strangers were drunk and nobody can still say how Domínguez was unable to dodge the knife thrust. Now they say that it was his own rage that killed him, because he shot out like a lunatic, with a stick in his hand, without even thinking of the consequences, instead of keeping calm and doing nothing, and laughing at the flag as he had done before.

Everybody says that he might have avoided being killed if he hadn’t moved, but he  charged on, sure that he could hit at least one of those ruffians.  He was bored with the old story of the flag, which was, according to him, embedded in the national conscience of a people he considered ignorant. For him, the only important flag was  the flag of individual independence, they could keep the rest.  He had shouted this on uncountable occasions while arguing with the Navas family from the hardware store, as all Spanish descendants tend to speak, without worrying about others hearing what they have to say.

The village came to a standstill that afternoon, nobody could believe what had happened. People thought of the devil, as who else could be responsible for such an unfortunate event?  The ramada was closed, and there was no dancing that night. There was no rodeo the next day, and no nineteenth of September parade. Everything turned into a huge funeral, with eulogies that described the exemplary life of the Galician. Mention was even made of the quality of his bread, and of how precise José Antonio Domínguez had been  when weighing his wares. This is also the tradition in San Clemente and in other villages, one should always praise the dead, as if once they are buried in the icy sadness of their graves, they might be able to hear such praise, as we were told by doña Celinda when we said goodbye to her from her front door.

***Del libro Cuentos Interprovinciales, Miguel de Loyola, Amerian Proa Editores, 2012,. Buenos Aires.

 

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