If I had to pinpoint a single author from the catalogue of beloved writers to whom I owe my love of reading, without hesitation, I would choose the wonderful Eleanor Hibbert (1906-1993), the prolific English author who penned Gothic Romance novels under the pseudonym of Victoria Holt and whose books I had the pleasure of devouring in Spanish translation when I was 12 years old.
A great deal of Holt’s novels take place in the treacherous yet stunning coasts of Cornwall in South West England, the perfect backdrop for the mysterious, sometimes, sinister circumstances which the female leads have to confront, as they fall in love with unfathomable but also chivalrous, handsome men. I find it fascinating that I spent so many days and nights, in the cosiness of my bedroom in tropical Caracas, trying to imagine what this place called Cornwall, with its gale storms, heavy mist and dangerous cliffs, looked and felt like. Little I expected that I would end up leaving my tropical paradise to live in London seventeen years later and visiting the remote Cornish peninsula with my Venezuelan husband and two England born sons, twenty nine years later.
As I have written so many times in this blog, despite the challenges we faced as a nation, before the plague of Chavismo fell upon us in 1998, Venezuela was a little paradise no one ever considered leaving. But leaving I did in 2007 and ever since then, I’ve grown a family in this big island called Great Britain, far north of the North Atlantic Ocean and far away from my closest relatives and dearest friends.
Back in December 2015, I wrote an article under the title of Home in this blog, where I reflected on the irremediable sense of longing that many of us who decided to leave Venezuela, have learned to carry in our hearts ever since our departure. A visit to a remote town in Cornwall in August 2019, is the reason that has prompted me to write a sequel to that first article, after a moving interaction I had with a local shop owner.
It was August 2019, the days we were happily covid-free and didn’t know it, when we visited Cornwall for the first time. We spent days touring the breathtakingly beautiful towns along the coast, walking along countless ports and piers that saw ships throughout the XVI, XVII and XVIII centuries, departing to explore uncharted territories or dropping anchor to unload treasures stolen by delinquent pirates. We were in a tiny old fishing town called Charlestown in the south coast of the peninsula, when I decided to check out the local shops, as my husband and two sons enjoyed an exhibition of old ships at the pier.
I entered a tiny shop, which sold crafts by local artists and as I was browsing, I overheard a conversation between a customer and the shop owner. The customer was a very old man, tall, skinny, with white hair and blue eyes, whilst behind the counter there was a woman, some years younger than me, short, blonde, with a kind smile and a peaceful demeanour that didn’t escape my attention. Next to her, sitting in a small table was a little girl of about five, dressed in her school uniform, who was drawing on some pieces of white paper.
“I don’t know if you remember me” the old man told the woman, “but I used to come here frequently years ago and always had a good chat with your father. Whatever happened to him?”
“He passed away over a year ago. I still miss him terribly” said the lady.
“I am so sorry to hear. What a lovely man, he was. I remember you sitting there, in that very same table where your little girl is now.” The old man said this as he grabbed his bag and started heading to the door. “Great man your father! Have a good evening.”
The shop was now empty of customers except for me and I noticed the woman had been left in a dreamy state after her chat with the old man. “Did he use to know Papa, mummy?” the little girl asked. “Yes, darling, he did” she replied.
When I reached the counter to pay for a small wooden sail ship and a hand painted rock also depicting a ship, I said hello to the little girl first and then to her mum. The girl proudly showed me the drawing she was working on: a starry sky over a mountain covered with trees. “Do you like it?” she asked. “It’s beautiful” I replied “maybe you could sell some of your artwork in this shop too.” She went back to her drawing clearly delighted with the idea.
“What a beautiful shop you have!” I told the woman.
“Thank you” she replied. “This was my father’s shop and I used to sit on that very table where my daughter is drawing, as dad looked after his customers. My daughter even goes to the same primary school I attended when I was little!”
I don’t know if I was in a nostalgic mood that day, quite frankly I cannot exactly pinpoint why the whole episode of the old man, the woman and the girl in the context of the shop in picturesque Charlestown, moved me so much. I may have mentioned it to the woman or maybe she just noticed how fascinated I was, but she carried on telling me about her life. “I am in fact waiting for my husband, who works at a local fishery, also like his father. Oh, there he is!” she said.
Youthful husband arrived, kissed his wife, kissed his daughter “How was school today?” he asked the little girl, who was already tidying up her things. “It’s past tea time! Are you hungry? I’ll take you home to have something to eat and we’ll leave mummy to close the shop.” As I walked away from the shop towards the pier, I reflected on the emotions that the whole episode had stirred in me.
I have always believed that we are all born with a set of gifts that we have the privilege of enjoying throughout our lives and a set of wants that we just have to accept and learn to live with. I believe the latter is what people call karma. My life is plentiful in gifts and sources of joy, I have no complains about it but, like everyone else, I also have my set of yearnings, which I may never be able to sooth.
If only I could remember what it feels like to belong to a place, to feel your roots, to have a history that you can look at and feel proud of, to speak a language from dawn till dusk that is your own, that is your home, your cosiness, your peace. Little I imagined when I snuggled in my bedroom in Caracas as a girl, to read Victoria Holt’s novels, that I would be missing home one day in the very place where her heroines faced challenges and fell in love.