Postcard from Cadiz, Spain: Favorite aunt hanging by strings for generations

Tia Norica

“Corre, corre, Tia Norica.” Tia (Aunt) Norica first pranced across a stage for audiences in Cadiz in the early 1800s.

With a cast of carved wooden figures, artist Pedro Montenegro began staging plays to entertain audiences in 1815. Early shows included the story of the Nativity, Isabel II and Libertad. Tia Norica soon managed to work her way into every play, becoming the audience favorite. The star marionette even merited her own comic sketch, El Sainete de Tia Norica.

The puppet company continued through the years under various directors. Electric lights and retablos for backdrops were added for productions by the early 1900s. And new plays and puppets continued to expand the repertoire.

Some of the charming rod and string puppets made their way to the permanent collection of the Museo de Cadiz in 1978.

“Descendants” of these puppets still are used for festival performances, so Tia Norica retains legions of fans.

No puppeteer is even needed for these older puppets to enchant. My imagination has assigned Tia Norica a voice similar to Robin Williams portraying Mrs. Doubtfire – with a Spanish accent.

The figure of Sancho Panza astride his donkey makes one wonder if the Cadiz puppeteer’s version of Miguel de Cervantes’ classic skipped over Part II, Chapter XXVI, when Master Pedro stages a puppet show for Don Quixote. In the book, Don Quixote was carried away during an attack by Moors in Master Pedro’s play:

Don Quixote, however, seeing such a swarm of Moors and hearing such a din, thought it would be right to aid the fugitives, and standing up he exclaimed in a loud voice, “Never, while I live, will I permit foul play to be practiced in my presence on such a famous knight and fearless lover as Don Gaiferos. Halt! ill-born rabble, follow him not nor pursue him, or ye will have to reckon with me in battle!” and suiting the action to the word, he drew his sword, and with one bound placed himself close to the show, and with unexampled rapidity and fury began to shower down blows on the puppet troop of Moors, knocking over some, decapitating others, maiming this one and demolishing that; and among many more he delivered one down stroke which, if Master Pedro had not ducked, made himself small, and got out of the way, would have sliced off his head as easily as if it had been made of almond-paste….

Don Quixote did not leave off discharging a continuous rain of cuts, slashes, downstrokes, and backstrokes, and at length, in less than the space of two credos, he brought the whole show to the ground, with all its fittings and figures shivered and knocked to pieces, King Marsilio badly wounded, and the Emperor Charlemagne with his crown and head split in two.

A miniature practice round for the windmills that lay in the knight’s path down the road. So happy Tia Norica was spared such an encounter.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: This makes no sense

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.

Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

The most recent post having left you well fed, it is time to work those calories off with a long rambling walk through the streets of Seville.

These remaining orphan photos that failed to find a home in earlier posts make no sense as a group.

Except… this randomness is part of the joy of slow travel. Taking time to stroll and explore areas you might otherwise overlook always leaves one “curiouser and curiouser.”

Seemingly unrelated snapshots can convey the diversified textures that are woven together to create a sense of place.

That makes sense, right?

 

Postcard from the Coker Settlement: Following long gestation, book finally due to arrive

haunting the graveyard

cover designed by Andréa Caillouet; cover photo courtesy of Virginia Heimer Ohlenbusch

Birthing a book can be a long process, but to say the gestation period for Haunting the Graveyard: Unearthing the Story of the Coker Settlement has proved elephantine is no exaggeration. A female elephant’s pregnancy only lasts two years. This birth has taken much longer.

But labor has been induced, and the hefty 400-page baby will be delivered at 5 p.m. for a signing/reading celebration at The Twig Book Shop at the Pearl on Wednesday, September 10.

A lady’s handbag was my first introduction to the Coker Settlement more than a decade ago. As I sat on the carpet of a conference room on the 30th floor of a downtown office building surrounded by stacks of ephemera-filled boxes, the purse was the first thing to catch my eye. So I opened it. The pocketbook belonged to Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker (1904-2000).

last farm standing on buttermilk hillMy nosiness was at the invitation of attorney Banks Smith, a trustee of the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund. I continued digging through those boxes for some time, uncovering the couple’s relationships with the dairy farmers clustered around them. That led to the 2010 birth of Haunting the Graveyard’s older sibling – Last Farm Standing on Buttermilk Hill: Voelcker Roots Run Deep in Hardberger Park.

Many of those who lived around the Coker Settlement, including Minnie and Max, remained neighbors after their deaths. They were buried in intimate groupings under the spreading live oaks of the Coker Cemetery. The trustees of the Coker Cemetery Association approached me to write a prequel/sequel of sorts to Last Farm to chronicle the lives of more of these early residents.

I revisited the cemetery. Inconspicuously tucked away north of Loop 410 and in the shadow of Wurzbach Parkway, it appeared so peaceful. The Coker Cemetery contains the graves of more than 600 people, but I assumed I already was well acquainted with them from my work on the first book. So my answer was yes.

I failed to heed the obvious warning signs – several Texas Ranger and Texas Historical markers indicating this turf is fertile with tales. At first their “voices” were mere whispered tidbits here and there. As I poked through mountains of information and interviewed their descendants, more and more of the occupants of those graves seemed to be shouting at me to include them. I heeded the call of as many as possible while trying to remain sane.

So in the near future, expect an invitation to make their acquaintance.* You will encounter some heart-breaking tragedies, a bit of mayhem and even an unsolved murder as their lives unfold in Haunting the Graveyard. Whether focused on the good or skeletons that popped out of the closet, the stories are shared with love for the entire community of farmers I have come to know over the past decade.

haunting the graveyard photos
lila banks cockrell, phil hardberger, scott j. baird*In addition to availability at The Twig Book Shop at the signing, pre-publication orders are being accepted now at Material Media Press.

August 4, 2019, Update: An interactive companion index of people inhabiting the pages of this book helps readers understand how they relate to the family patriarch, Joseph Coker (1799-1881). The list can be accessed now for those who want to know if any information about their particular relatives can be found inside. To check the list, click here: http://cokercemetery.com/pdfs/coker_settlement_index.pdf.

Here is a shorter glimpse of surnames mentioned: