BY GENE GOLDFARB - NEW YORK, UNITED STATES
Gene Goldfarb lives in New York City and writes poetry and prose: His works have appeared in the very small press, specifically: Adelaide, Black Fox, CafeLit, Inwood Indiana and elsewhere.
My name is Guillermo Valdez El Francés. I was born in Cuba and came to the United States in the 1950’s before the revolution. So many people would ask me about my name and its strangeness that I stopped answering, having grown too weary of the story of how it came about, allowing people to think me unpardonably rude.
So Genio, that would be your nickname in Spanish, I will tell you and maybe this will be the last time I will have to repeat it. You are a true friend and so I will make an exception and a pledge. You I will tell the whole story, and no one else.
My family, that is my father’s side was not originally from Cuba, no they had lived for several generations in Spain, but Spain was only a stopover for my great-great-grandfather. I hope I got the number of greats correct. Anyway, he was a Frenchman, a student at a famous university in Paris. That was in 1848. That was the year of student riots in Paris, indeed all over the major capitals of Europe. His actual name was Henri Blaise DuPlessis, yes, a fancy name. He was a leader of one of the student groups rioting. The French police and gendarmes finally crushed the rebellion brutally and sought out the leaders. Henri fled to the south, to Carcassone. There was an old French fortress there, close to the Spanish border.
Henri learned he was not safe in Carcassone and that the border would be closely watched. He thus went west and was able to cross the Pyrenees through Andorra into Spain. In Spain he adopted the Spanish name Valdez and joined up with the pilgrims on their journey to Santiago de Compostela. There he met a young Spanish lady, and after a brief courtship they were married. She knew he was French, and he would never be able to live it down completely. So, she had him add El Francés to Valdez. Here he would still be safe from French authorities. After all, everyone in Spain knew El Greco, the great artist, was from Greece. They loved him despite that and didn’t want to hear his actual Greek name on Spanish ears or try to pronounce it with Spanish tongues.
The only additional commitment Maria Marquez de Cordoba, my great-great-grandmother, Henri’s wife, insisted on was he attend church and regularly go to confession. Henri liked women in addition to his wife, and a bit too much. So, there was always something to confess. Ah, we know life isn’t perfect, but we must take it as it comes.
Now, how do I know all this? What are fathers for, but to pass down the stories of the family name. And, because of their pride, to exaggerate a few things here and there in retelling these stories. Know this too, mothers are there to keep the stories true, and not allow too many inaccuracies to creep into this history.
You might wonder why do I tell you? We have kicked the pelota together during lunch time, you and me and Manny in the park across the street. We’ve come back late from lunch and snuck in through the back windows of the factory, pretending to have been in the bathroom. We have been through too much together to remain strangers now.
As for me, I have worked with you in several factories, for a time cutting rolls of display paper, then getting this job after I was laid off after many years. Now all I do is make paper bags, but the company allows us to put our last names or initials on the bottom of the bag. Valdez El Francés the bosses said was too long, more than half the alphabet. So, they allowed me to put just EL on the bag and of course the date I produced it. In my culture el is so important you might give up the whole name just to keep the el. It means I am a someone, and the bag that you just used was made by someone, with pride.