LISTING SHIP by Anxo Angueira

Listing Ship, winner of the prestigious Xerais Prize for Novels, is a rare insight into the life of rural Galicia in the last days of the Second Spanish Republic, before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. We are introduced to the life of the local community centred around the village of Sernanselle (actual Manselle), southwest of Santiago de Compostela and close to the majestic Ulla river as it leaves Padrón and heads toward the Arousa estuary. There is María, who writes letters for her mother to Ramón, the son who has emigrated and whose help would be a boon around the house. Then there is Roiz Bustelo, an emigrant who has returned from Buenos Aires and is keen to invest his money in a dairy factory. Amaro, Roiz’s son, who catalogues prehistoric remains that are to be found in the municipality. Camoiras, who seems to have most of his attention placed on María’s pitch-black, defiant eyes. And the Master, Don Antonio, the local doctor who struggles to keep up with the latest advances in medicine. Other projects include buying a threshing machine for the entire village. But such advances will come up against the rise of fascism, the shadow of the Spanish Civil War, which threatens to spill over into violence. The novel stands as a monument to the possibilities humankind has to work together for the common good and as a lament for the self-inflicted tragedy of bigotry and antagonism. Whatever people’s aspirations may be, however they may be formulated, working together, mutual understanding, has to be preferred over sticks and stones.


Sernanselle, November 24, 1935.

My Dear Son Ramón:

I hope with all my heart that you are in good health. For the moment we are all doing well.

You probably know that Xacobe de Dominga over beside the hay barn by the Outeiriño lot put in four posts to make a grape arbor, cutting off the front side of our place, so that very day I got three men along with your uncle Rosende and I suggested that he should clear away our front side. So that’s what he did and we put in four posts of our own, and so the front side of our place stayed clear.

“María, is the oven hot enough yet?”

“It’s not hot yet, mother. Not yet. But it doesn’t need any more fire. The green toxo, the gorse that was brought from Valranco, is enough. Now let it burn down until the coals are ready.”

“We have a lot to bake.”

“That doesn’t matter. Listen to me and keep going, because I’m in even more of a hurry. I want to finish by the time Rosende’s order is ready and take the letter to Cancela da Maceira.”

The woman has placed the enormous portion of dough she’s kneaded for two empanadas and the bread on the wooden kneading board that rests atop the flour bin. Using a spoon made from boxwood, she spreads out a layer and fits it into the bottom of an empanada pan. While she’s dictating the letter to María, she takes the frying pan from the hearth and spreads the zaragallada – a mixture of fried garlic, onion, parsley and other ingredients that is now a beautiful golden color – on top of the bottom layer with the same spoon, made from boxwood. It’s a generous combination of onion and pepper with a precious pinch of saffron. She extends a generous amount of tranchos, sardines, on top of the mixture, sardines from the wide xeito nets, that Micaela de Rianxo had brought at dusk. On top of the sardines, another layer of dough. Then skilled hands seal it around the edges of the pan, although not with a fluted ridge, because the fluting is for the empanadas made from wheat flour.

Now I have to say that I’m very upset with you because it’s been more than three months since I’ve gotten a letter, and you must know that what really would make me the happiest person in the world would be to get a letter from you to cheer me up.

I will tell you that the wall on the side of the old stable where the wind hit it is in bad shape and I’m afraid it’ll collapse all of a sudden and destroy the orange tree and the cherry tree you planted and that are doing so well now. If you don’t tell me I should do anything different, I’m going to have part of the wall taken down, so it won’t hurt the trees.

Well, Ramón, in the picture you sent us in your last letter there are two people next to you, one on your right and the other on your left. You should tell me if they’re neighbors of ours or not. Some say they are and others say they’re not and we’d like to know for certain.

The oven was finally hot enough. The woman pulls the burning embers from the floor of the oven with the hoe-shaped utensil. Then she runs the short broom made from a laurel branch around the inside of the oven. The green leaves on the branch burst in loud sparks. She inserts the empanada with the paddle and places some embers inside the oven. The colorless smoke fills the whole house with a gentle warmth that seeps through the clay tiles of the roof.

Around here they’re saying, Ramón dear, that by February Antonio da Couta is leaving there, so maybe you’ll decide to come with him, maybe you’ll be here by Easter, it’s been a long time since we spent Easter together in Padrón.

Now the woman, while the first empanada is baking, quickly prepares the other on the board. She uses the same cornflour dough and the same fried mixture. And she goes on dictating the letter. But this time she fills the empanada pan with baby eels. María writes and looks at the headless snakelike bodies that old Rosende caught in the stream in Sernanselle and that still look like they’re squirming in the empanada pan. María imagines the starry call that lures them from the distant depths of the Atlantic like the spindle-shaped rivers to Albariña here below, and takes them back again during the dark gold night, in cosmic rhythm, to the original sargasso uterus where they spawn and die in dark shadows.

You probably know that this coming Sunday the banns for Ramón Viturro and Encarnación da Monisa will be completed, that it’s almost time for the first frost, that we went to the bee colony over by the old hay barn and this year we only have two hives with bees.

I hope you will answer soon. Best wishes from your Aunt Teresa and Uncle Rosende and the rest of the family who are all in good health.

All my best from the one who loves you so much.

Your mother and your sister María.

The woman takes the letter and holds it out so she can read it while the second empanada is baking. Finally she signs at the bottom of the letter. María puts it away and hurries with it, together with the empanada with the eel filling, across the small square, heading toward Rosende’s house, close by here in the lower village.

“Aren’t you taking a torch?”

María answers from outside.

“The moon is bright this evening.”



Old Rosende is dozing on a bench beside the simple hearth.

“Mr. Rosende! Oh, Mr. Rosende!”

“Who is it?”

“It’s me, María.”

Mr. Rosende smiles when he spots her on the other side of the door’s small window and opens it for her.

“Look here. I’ve brought you the empanada straight from the oven. It’s the one made with baby eels.”

“You’re not telling me anything I don’t know, girl. The things your mother bakes have a fragrance that travels ahead of their arrival. Many, many thanks to both of you. And tell her that as soon as I’m able, I’ll go to the reed bed at Codesidos to get some sticks for the Outeiriño vines. I promise to take care of the posts. She doesn’t need to call anybody to do the planting… I…”

“Please, don’t worry, sir. How is Miz Teresa?”

“Fair to middling.”

“Has she eaten anything?”

“Some porridge this morning. Let see if she’ll get up now to have some of this empanada.”

“I hope you enjoy it.”

“God willing.”

María leaves the shack where old Mr. Rosende and old Miz Teresa – crippled, disabled, bedridden – live. She heads along the path to the lower village, the one that leads to Cancela da Maceira. Night has fallen and María’s eyes hold the embers, the coals from the oven’s ledge, to protect her from the light frost. In the middle of the dark path a beam of light appears, illuminating the direction of Cancela da Maceira. The light is waiting for her.

“Good evening, Camoiras!”

“Good evening, María. Are you going to Roiz’s place too?”

“Yes, I am. You know, another of my mother’s letters.”

“Poor woman!”

“I don’t think she’s a poor woman. She just doesn’t want to see.”

Cancela da Maceira is the gateway to Sernanselle. It’s where the road that comes from Valonovo enters and continues further up to the square by Souto, the heart of the village, where the road ends. Cancela da Maceira is also where the road from the lower part of the village and the footpath to Agro da Veiga join.

The Roiz house, the only one past the road, outside the village, can be reached by the stone path edged with boxwood that covers dense metal fencing, vine-covered and shaped into an attractive bower. The house rises upward, or maybe just rests, beside the Cancela da Maceira.

“She just doesn’t want to see. And the bad part is that she gets the dates confused now. She mixes up things from the past.”

“What’s happening is… You smell like cornmeal empanada!”

“Well, we don’t make any from wheat flour.”

Camoiras, perched on a pine-tree branch, rests his hands on María’s shoulders.

“Have you got something against the people who use wheat?”

María moves away from the weight of Camoiras’ huge hands.

“No, I don’t, and you know that. Even less against you. My mother and I will always be faithful to the Union. But you, Camoiras, no matter how much wheat you have, no matter if it’s heaps and heaps, your mouth is always going to be watering for the empanadas made from cornmeal.”

“For yours.”

“I don’t bake. Yet.”

They knock on the door of the Roiz house and the outside light goes on immediately. Manoela, Roiz’s wife, opens the door.

“Come on in.”

“Manoela, I can’t stay. My mother’s waiting for me.”

Amaro suddenly comes up to the door and pulls María inside. Roiz is waiting for his friend and fellow member in the Union of Milk Producers of San Xián de Laíño. He says hello to María, who hands him the letter. Roiz heads into his office with the letter in his hand, followed by Camoiras. María and Amaro go toward the living room.

“Turn that music down, Amaro,” says his mother from the kitchen.

The music is Vivaldi’s “L’Autunno,” and Amaro plays it for María as if it were a precious gift, a joyful feeling he wants to share. The gramophone, a Grande Symphonie model, has a horn disguised in a simple cherrywood art-deco cabinet, where a radio has also been installed. Amaro knows what to do and sets the dial at seventy-two revolutions.

In Roiz’s office, crammed with books, newspapers and magazines, two cigars are lit with a silver benzine lighter that has the Three Great Lights discreetly engraved on one corner. Roiz had brought it as a souvenir from the Vallée in Paris, from his last trip through Europe.

“Have you decided yet?”

Roiz plays with María’s letter, making it jiggle between his fingers.

“I’ve decided, Camoiras, I’ve decided. It was time to break, to finally break with all of that. I thought a lot about it. We grew up there, Camoiras. We went to school there. Buenos Aires was everything. But now the plan was beginning to seem like a distant, twisting vine that was growing weaker year by year and its dying grip was releasing its hold on my heart. I made up my mind and sold it all, all of it, shares and property, before the vine could completely die on me and the business turned into a bad deal that belonged to somebody else. I didn’t want to serve as secretary to that.”

“You did the right thing. One of these years I’ll probably decide to sell, too.”

“Who knows? The money was secure and was worth something there, as I don’t need to tell you, but we’ve already been back in Galicia for more than fifteen years. My boy, even though he was born there, is already settled in here. And Manoela never had second thoughts. Things might not look certain, but I’m one of those who has complete faith in our country and in the Republic. This house, Sernanselle, our Union, our Triangle, Camoiras my brother, the Agrarian Society…”

“And what’re you going to do here with so many millions? Share them with all the folks who’re shouting long live Communism? Put them in the alms box? Or in the donation box by the Abelán Cross on the way to Teaio?”

“I’ll buy a horse at Easter time. Like yours or even better looking. No. You know our Union’s growing, people are satisfied… We have to keep looking ahead. We have to start to package milk, the way I saw them doing it in Flanders and the Netherlands. We’ve got so much to learn! And then there are the balls of homemade butter and cheese, which is good, but how many hours does Pouquiña have to beat and churn in the clay pot? And when Pouquiña dies, who’s going to do the churning in the Roxo house?”

Roiz pokes at the brasier. The smoke from the cigars fills the office with its high ceiling.

“The same goes for all the members. We have to make good-quality cheese and butter, but it has to be financially profitable. What do people get for a dozen balls of butter and cheese that we take to Santiago or Vilagarcía on Sundays?”

“Four bits.”

“That’s nothing if we compare that amount with the work and the time it takes to make them. A mere pittance. The same people, working in a factory, in the same amount of time, with a lot less effort, would produce ten times more. And they’d earn ten times more.”

“I understand. You’re going to organize a dairy factory in Padrón.”

“No, Camoiras. I’m not going to do anything outside the Union. Our little Union.”

Roiz Bustelo stops fiddling with the letter María had brought and puts it on top of others, similar to it, that he keeps under the bust of Manuel Murguía that was made in Céramica Celta of Cesures. It sits to the left of one of Rosalía de Castro and another of Curros Enríquez.

“I’m also not going to do anything outside of Sernanselle, Laíño, or Dodro Vello. I’m going to propose we build the factory at the next Union meeting. I’m going to put up the money to back it. What do you think?”

“Well, you sure were doing some thinking while I was doing nothing at the thermal baths! If you think it’s a good idea, I’ll go along with it.”

“And the others, the members, how will they react?”

“They’re happy, very happy, with the Union, Roiz. And they’ll go along with the idea, they’ll be very pleased, especially if the idea comes from our president.”

“Yes, I think they’re pleased, too. I think a lot of them are seeing a light they’ve never seen before. They’ve given up the sheep and fattening up the oxen – oh, our famous Laíño oxen! They didn’t feel bad about that. Now they want flat lands, they destroy hillsides to create pastures, the flatland is being cleared and everything is as clean as a whistle. What about the cows? Did you see how they’ve changed in the last five or seven years? Gallástegui is doing a lot for the country with his Mission. We should really be grateful to him! But here we have to be smart about it. Supposedly the best milk was from the Swiss cow, the Schwitz, as you know. Well, do you recall the native blond cow that Pepe da Bernalda brought from the fair on the twenty-ninth of the month at Estramunde? He was bragging while everybody else laughed at him that it was a special breed? Well, it’s producing more milk than any Swiss cow or any mixed breed in the whole village. Ismael da Pedra is absolutely green with envy. It’s incredible. Our own blond cow with horns, wandering about the hillside or pulling carts and plows, competing with the best milk producers…!”

Roiz wipes away some tears. He has chronic conjunctivitis, which he’s treated with drops of atropine sulfate for some years now. He’s following the advice of Don Antonio, the Señorito, the Master, who looked it up in the Manual for the Practical Doctor: Eye Ailments, translated from Paul Lefert, in an edition from 1897.

“Go ahead with the factory, Roiz. That would definitely be a great blow for Álvaro Trigais and the members of the priests’ Cooperative.”

“The Catholic-Cooperative people aren’t our enemies, Camoiras.”

“No, they’re comrades.”

“They’re controlled by a couple of caciques, local bosses, and they do have the blessing of His Most Revered Eminence, who was their guest of honor, highly regaled, when they inaugurated their headquarters. Those lapdogs! Those from here, from Sernanselle, who don’t belong to the Union, are backed by Don Antonio’s lack of initiative. They’ll fall when the Master falls.”

“The Master, the Master… The Republic is going to do away with the masters very soon.”

“Calm down. Don’t be stupid. Don Antonio belongs to the other kind of Señoritos. True, the political situation is getting more and more complicated. That’s the only thing that concerns me. But I still believe in Saint-Just and his people, in spite of their deviousness. You remember? Remember those nights in this very room, the room of Lost Steps, before we defeated the Pillars?”

Roiz goes to the window and looks out in the distance toward the river and the wetlands, under the bright moonlight. He looks at the harsh, heavy smoke from his cigar. His eyes water up again.

“The young fellows who’re running from the draft and going to Buenos Aires have opportunities and very different ideas. Few of them want anything besides money, and the more easily they can get it, the better. But we… This is my place. That’s why I sold the business in Buenos Aires. I was born on the lane by Suatorre. I built a new house at Cancela da Maceira. My place is here, and here, where I live, is where my money has to be, too.”

“Speaking of wine. Have you put the spigot in the barrel yet?”

“Oh, Camoiras. If my life were like yours… I’d be going here and there, all over. Today you arrived from Mondariz with a lady friend, tomorrow you’ll be heading to Carballiño or Caldas with another…”

“No, here Mr. Roiz’s trips are taken on a starvation diet to San André de Teixido, chanting the religious litanies with the local church ladies.”

“You have time and opportunities for everything, Camoiras. And you still haven’t sold the business in Buenos Aires. In the village here your only goal is to compete with the Master. Oh, and then there are the ladies! That’s how you’ve created a string of fatherless children in the parish. It’s amazing! Any day now you’ll sleep with Ventura the Falangist’s wife, or with Álvaro Trigais’ – if you haven’t already, you son of a bitch!”

“Look who’s talking, Mr. Priest of Carracedo.”

Roiz Bustelo gets up from his chair and goes down to the wine cellar, using a stairway inside the house. He comes back with a glass pitcher full of white wine.

“This albariño wine you make – I heard they wouldn’t even take it for free at the fair in San Martiño de Francos the other day.”

“Look who’s talking. Go on, drink it, and don’t complain. It’s not albariño. I made this white wine using the dark gold Catalonian grapes from beside my door, plus two baskets of white loureiro grapes.”

No, the wine isn’t albariño. Roiz’s orchard, Roiz Bustelo’s enormous, perfectly rectangular orchard, is lined along the wall by wood supports. It has been producing for just five years. He had the vines brought by a fellow from Isorna, a good friend of Unamuno’s, that’s Gallástegui Unamuno, who belonged to the Biological Mission of Gandarán in Pontevedra. It’s the loureiro variety, it’s albariño along the southern side. On the north and along the east there are caíño and espadeiro grapes. Catalonian varieties, true, that quickly grow thick and lush over the grape arbor adorning the house and growing perpendicular to it in a golden ratio. In the front part of Roiz’s orchard, which faces the path by Cancela da Maceira, where his stables and garage are also located, there are several types of apple trees – the ones that gave their name to the field, Maceira – and peach trees, plum trees, repinaldo apples grafted onto the stock of black plums… and a strong, straight walnut tree grows beside the path. The walnut tree was the first one Roiz Bustelo planted, even before he’d finished the house and purchased the fields where his enormous orchard is now. It’s as big as those of the Master and Camoiras. He planted it after reading “The Walnut Tree” years ago. It was one of the stories in the series of A carón do lar, Beside the Hearth, that brother Manuel Lugrís Freire, Servet, published under the pseudonym Asieumedre in A Nosa Terra. It’s the thing Roiz has always loved most of all that’s growing in his orchard. In the back part, along the eastern side of his house, most of which is occupied by a sun porch, the orchard continues with countless scattered fruit trees: oranges, mandarins, lemons, pears, pear apples, big, dark orraca pears, medlar fruit… an island of trees sitting on the pasture island. Only in a small area near the house do Roiz and Manoela have some small plots where they plant a few vegetables. And further on back beyond the mixture of the walled orchard, four ferrados, ninety square feet each, of corn. The corn is the native variety, however. Roiz Bustelo still plants the local corn.

“Who wants some bread?”

Manoela summons them all into the kitchen. Roiz and Camoiras go immediately, taking their wine. Amaro and María continue talking and listening to the music on the gramophone, enthralled. Bread is in the oven and the dough that is behind the oven door is shiny, hard, and has risen high. There’s a fire in the hearth, but the heat is coming from the oven and the iron stove. There’s a trivet over the fire in the hearth and on the trivet sits a frying pan. Manoela is holding a big plate in her left hand and with the right is moving the pan back and forth with the handle, to finish the cooking. She covers the pan with the plate and flips a slab of bread onto it. The fragrant delicacy is now on the table. Atop the fried dough mixture are torrados, fried bacon, as beautiful as slabs of stone cut skillfully into geometric slices. They’re all at the point of perfection, where the bacon is still oozing a bit of grease and the toasted skin on the side crunches on the palate.

“It’s a pity to ruin this work of art, Manoela. Let me go home and get my camera.”

“Go on. Eat, Camoiras, it’s just a little dough I took from the bread and put together with a few pieces of meat.”

“A cake, it looks like a cake. Apparently those years of schooling in Santiago didn’t make you forget how to cook.”

“They taught me a lot more. Shut up and eat. María! Amaro! Are you coming?”

“Roiz, the truth is, a man of your status ought to have a maid.”

“I’m the maid here. The Master has one. And your sister Ilduara is yours, although you don’t deserve her. It’s clear that Sernanselle has a lot of would-be Señoritos who are still old-fashioned in their behavior.”

“Miz Manoela, the modern day Señoritos, who have less learning than Don Antonio, try to show more consideration for other people and we’re anticlerical and anti-authorities.”

“You’re priests and bosses of a different sort. Young people! The young folks coming up are the only ones who’ll be able to do anything!”

“Appearances, it’s all appearances. Be careful. The revolution starts at home. Before they start with me or Don Antonio, they’ll divide up your orchard among the people living in the lower part of the village and they’ll build the community center right here.”

“Camoiras, if they did that, as long as they don’t decide to cut my grape vines, I suppose you’d attend the meetings,” Roiz joked.

“Who knows? Maybe I’d even join the revolution. Except I’d only pay the dues if they called on Manoela sometimes to cook for the banquets, I mean the festivals, the foliadas.”

The door to the living room opens and the music of “L’Autunno” comes from the gramophone. María doesn’t stop to have any bread. She’s in a hurry.

“I’m going with you,” says Amaro.

“No, it’s not necessary.”

“I’m going with you. I have to leave, too. It’s on my way because I’m going by the Master’s shed. And I’ve got a flashlight.”

Amaro is sad, silent, still, in the doorway as he watches Camoiras and María walking together, stepping on the dry leaves that are rustling to the music of Vivaldi beneath the grape arbor.


Translated from Galician by Kathleen March

Additional Info

  • purchase text:

    LISTING SHIP by Anxo Angueira, the nineteenth title in the series Small Stations Fiction devoted to the best of contemporary fiction in English, is available for purchase through your local or online bookshop

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    ISBN: 978-954-384-101-1

    Publication Date: 11 November 2019

    Language: English

    Paperback: 236 pages

    Dimensions: 203 x 133 mm