Fina Casalderrey

Xosefa Casalderrey Fraga (Fina Casalderrey) was born in Pilarteiros, parish of Santo André de Xeve (Pontevedra, Spain) on August of 1951. On the 14th of September, when she was only one years old, she bore witness to an important event that she only remembers through stories told by her parents – a mechanic and a seamstress who were themselves then still very young. Fina was privileged to enjoy and assist in their wedding day and to witness directly their beautiful love story. The family went to live in Castelo, under the wing of San Benitiño in Lérez (in Galicia, Spain), which is very close to where in medieval times they built the Cedofeita fortress. The rural environment of her primary years and the stories told by her father both moulded Fina’s imagination. She now lives in Lérez, in Cruceiro (Pontevedra, Galicia).

Galego, the language of Galicia, was Fina’s mother tongue, and that of her parents. It is the language in which she could always dream, even when – firstly in Porta do Sol primary school and later in secondary school in Pontevedra – she had to pretend to abandon it for social rela-tions, because of the oppressive politics of that period.

In the summer of 1960, aged 9, she went to dressmaking class. Her mother wanted her not to become a seamstress but instead to be a fashion designer. The course teacher, Mrs Amelia, was a skilled dress-maker and asked that Fina’s parents buy Fina a manikin for the course. When the manikin arrived it was twice as high as Fina and her mother decided that her place lay still in school. Much later, advised by her teacher, Fina started secondary school at the only High School around in Pontevedra which was at that time the only mixed school for boys and girls (although they studied in separate class rooms). Fina’s education continued and she eventually finished secondary school in a Woman’s High School. When she herself decided to train to become a teacher she found herself back on the banks of the river Lérez.

Her first teaching job was in Pontecesures (Galicia) as a substitute teacher. It was there that she met Avelino Pousa Antelo, a militant Gali-cian, and began to question the coexistence of two languages in Galicia, one with political prestige, the other social and the atmosphere in which they both thrived. It was then that she decided to adapt popular local stories for theatre which were later performed by her own pupils as she continued with simple pieces of her own creation. Something which she never stopped doing throughout the forty years of her teaching career.

Fina believes that those first notions of “dressmaking” helped her to comprehend and master the importance of structure within a narrative and the art of telling a story with the poetry, suspense and joy that lit-erature can provide. In the same way that pockets or decorations on a garment need to go in an appropriate place for it to be stylish and useful, so the parts of a story need to fit, and not trip you up or get in the way.

In her early years of being a teacher there was plenty of choice over where one could work and as soon as she had the chance she moved to Grupo Escolar Santa Lucia in Moraña, a small town close to her home in the district of Pontevedra. She stayed there for 25 years. Later, in the last 10 years before retiring, she taught secondary school (Instituto de Enseñanza Secundaria) in Illa de Tambo in Marín, a larger town but still in Pontevedra. She says that every boy, every girl and every school left a mark in her memory. “Hopefully a little bit of goodness from me was left in all of them” she sometimes says. She is convinced that it was in the voluntary after class activities that she invested in with her students, year after year, that she learnt the true science and art of teaching.

Her teaching speciality was Mathematics and Natural Science. But with the onset of democratic unrest in Galicia she decided to get closer to her roots and study Galician Language and Literature in the Official Lan-guage School. She did this by home studying because the language school wasn’t available in Pontevedra. She took her exams and proudly graduated. In order to change the school and raise her students aware-ness of what was happening at that time, she asked them to write dif-ferent essays. These essays were ethnographic investigations of their immediate surroundings (Galician granaries and farming tackle, local climate and astrology, local festivals and medicines, traditional games, folkloric ballads, refrains, local legends…). Many of these essays won prizes at the time from the Pontevedra Museum, or the Xunta de Galicia (Galician Regional Government) or by the National Headquarters of Traf-fic. All the essays were written in Galician. In part, those essays were the beginning of a collection, whose publication was coordinated by Mariano García (called Terras de Moraña: Unha realidade na historia, na lenda, na lembranza… 2002), published by the Moraña Town Hall many years after it was written.

Together with Mariano García, Fina published two gastronomical essays: O libro da empanada (1993) a wonderful book about Empanadas (a typical Galician pie), Festas gastronómicas de Galicia (1994) a book about the Galician Gastronomy Festival and Repostería en Galicia (1997) about Galician confectionary (which came third in the Álvaro Cunqueiro Prize for Gastronomical Journalism).

In relation to the world of teaching Fina published; Recursos teatrais para a expresión dramática na escola in 1996 (7 theatrical pieces to be represented by the students).

Other educational publications were: Lecturas 2 (1º Ciclo EP). Edebé, 1997; Tren dos contos 1º EP. Lecturas. SM, 2006; Un dous tres hora de ler. SM Xerme, 2008; Tic tac tic hora de llegir! SM, 2008; Medrando Sans. Xunta de Galicia, 2008.

Fina also took part in the opening of several different Book Fairs and of gastronomic events on multiple occasions. She gave colloquium talks, round tables and conferences all to do with children’s and young adults’ Literature or on Gastronomy. These took place in or out of Galicia, in Educational Centres, Cultural Associations, Museums, Galician Centres, Universities… (In Spain in Pontevedra, Santiago de Compostela, Vigo, Ourense, A Coruña, Lugo, as well as different cities in Asturias, Cantabria, Navarra, Aragón, Castilla-León, Comunidad Valenciana, Madrid, Extremadura, Murcia, Andalucía, and the Canary Islands in Spain. And abroad in Brittany (France), Geneva (Switzerland), Hamburg (Germany), Cork (Ireland), Rabat and Casa Blanca (Morocco), La Habana (Cuba), Caracas (Venezuela), Panamá, Guadalajara (Mexico), Bolonia (Italy).

She was involved in the 1997 UNESCO report entitled Education Holds a Treasure.

She was also a member of the board of Gálix from September 2001 until January of 2004. She has been a member of the PEN Club since the 12th of January 2008 and the AELG since the 1st of July 2009.

In 1991 she published her first novel, Mutacións xenéticas (Genetic Mutations), aimed at young adults. Since then she has published more than sixty titles, directed towards children and young adult readers, as well as twenty more stories published with other authors in collective volumes. Her books, always written to begin with in Galician, are routinely translated into other Spanish languages (Catalan, Basque and Spanish). Some of them are also translated into Breton, Korean, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Serbian and Chinese.

Since November 2013 she is a member of RAG Real Academia de Galega (Galician Royal Academy). Her inaugural speech was entitled: Viaxe á semente. Dende os refachos do corazón ata onde habita o imaxinario (A journey to the roots. Bursts from the heart to where it in-habits the imaginary).

Fina also collaborates with the press, writing articles and other pieces which are published in magazines and newspapers. (Diario de PontevedraProgreso de LugoNós de Sabadell, Fadamorgana, Golfiño, CLIJ, Cedofeita, Tempo Exterior, Grial, Maremagnum, DE NÓS (Sermos Galiza), Encrucillada…).

She has won two awards Puro Cora (2001) and Fernández del Riego (2003), for the publication of two articles in the Diario de Pontevedra, a local newspaper from the city of Pontevedra.

In 1996 she was granted the National Children’s and Young Adult Literature Prize for her book O misterio dos fillos de Lúa (The mystery of Lúa’s kittens).

Fina Casalderrey
Autobiographical notes (2000)

An autobiographical text! It’s a shame that it has to me who’s writing it. If I had given my parents the opportunity (as my grandparents are no longer here and usually in Galicia it is the grandparents who would boast about your successes) they would have laid bare my extraordinary qualities and the incredible merits of my work. Myself on the other hand…what can I say? I’m not a catwalk model, I wasn’t born in a castle and as a little girl we didn’t even have a library in our neighbourhood (imagine! Neither at school nor at home!). I didn’t starve for lack of food or love or stories, I might add. My dad and the radio were where I heard my first classical stories. Yes, I was starved of books, although the ones I secretly pinched tasted of sweets. It’s because in the environment that I grew up in it was considered “sinful” to read things that didn’t contain a mathematical or geographical title.

That shortage of literature is, in my opinion, irretrievable and I feel it like an illness inside of me which I want to contain as the years go by so that it doesn’t make any more progress. Maybe that’s why whenever I walk into a large bookshop I feel a mixture of pleasure and pain: “How many books!” “How marvellous” “How I would LOVE to read every last one of them!” “Maybe half” “Impossible!” Time, time…just in case, I buy as many as I can even if I don’t get a chance to read them all. They are like a blanket that I keep for a rainy day, with which I feel protected.

I was born in a little town called Xeve in Pontevedra, Galicia. My childhood took place between Xeve and Lérez (were I currently live) in a rural atmosphere that is gradually becoming semi-urban and urban… (now) we hardly talk amongst ourselves in our neighbourhood and in the mornings birdsong is mingled between car horns and engines revving. But the box of my childhood is full of experiences which I love dearly.

When I learnt to speak, I asked for a sister. I insisted a lot to my parents that they go buy her in the market before the best ones were tak-en. They took almost 8 years to listen to me, but at last they brought me one and I was the happiest girl in the world. The day she was born there was a town festival in Lérez and a lot of people were out and about and walking past my front door; so I sat on the stone porch which is still attached to the front of my parents house, my house, and I gave the good news to every passerby.

“I’ve got a sister!”

Some passers by would look at me strangely, but I continued to spread the important news happily.

I remember the merry afternoon snacks in the fields. It was at mid afternoon that we would punctually turn up to join the labourers and form part of the group as we all ate, because the bread, cheese, quince, bat-tered cod…they all tasted deliciously different there.

Another memory that springs to mind is being upset at not being able to keep a cat which I’d found in the street…

One of my biggest dreams as a girl was to have wellingtons so I could go into the ponds. I hated wearing clogs (a typical Galician wooden shoe), they made so much noise that it would feel as though I was wearing a transmitter which advertised my location regularly.

“Sit down Finita (little Fina)” my teacher would say, without need-ing to look up.

The chilblains I had on my hands from scrubbing a soapy tea towel in the local outdoor laundry weren’t much fun. But the politically incorrect gossip from the washer women made being there worth it. They would stretch out an item of clothing and say things like “Look! These are knickers of my lady!” and everybody would laugh. Sometimes the soap would slip out of my hands into the basin which we called river, washing river. I’d roll my sleeve up to my shoulder and I’d reach into the sludge. Sometimes instead of finding my little bar of soap I’d pull out an even bigger one! This made me very happy, as if I’d just stumbled upon treasure!

From my school, the most beautiful thing I remember was a box of little coloured ink bottles. The bottles were from injections. We would wash them out, buy a type of magical powder which we mixed with water inside the bottles and hey presto! We would attain beautiful ink of many colours. We would then put each bottle upright in a little box with a lid which we cut a hole in. Then we would cover the box in pretty paper as if it were a gift. Each bottle had it’s own specially designed bib. With those luxuries, all of us (girls) couldn’t wait to go to middle school which was where we would become alchemists with our colours.

When I finished high school, my parents, who were of modest means, let me decide my future “Do you want to become a seamstress or a teacher?” I opted for the latter and I am still doing it (Now in I.E.S Instituto de Esneñanza Secundaria the equivalent of high school). The day I arrived at my first school as a teacher aged nineteen I cried and the day I had to say goodbye to it I cried even more.

I’d like to know more than I already know, but sometimes I enjoy lying on the grass and looking up at the sky. I would have like to do the things I’ve not been able to do, travel more for example…I wish I could keep my loved ones joined to me by an elastic tail.

The first time I left my country I had the sensation that the world was shrinking with every stride I took and today I don’t understand how the world can be so small and yet we are so far from one another.

In my childhood, one of our duties was to carry buckets of water back home from the three pipe fountain which fed the outdoor laundry at the end of the town. When I left this task until nightfall I would see evil witches in the brambles along the path to the Gramal fountain. I’ve also heard (and still hear) how the Elves run over the roof of my house … I was very upset when my neighbours cat was run over.

I thought I had to choose between getting married or becoming a nun, and so decided to become a nun which didn’t gladden me. Today I am married and have a son and a daughter which due to their small age gap are almost friends.

I love reciting poems even though I didn’t write them myself. I love to read and discover that writing allows me to have and do quite a lot of things; like play the piano even though I don’t know how to. I also like children, alive not to eat, dancing, eating, talking with my friends, laughing…to love and to feel loved is still very important to me even if it takes time.

Sometimes I feel like mixing my own experiences with my dreams, along with imagination and fantasy….and create stories in my mind that only after churning them over and over do they go down on paper.

I’ve also had a taste for research, learning cultural things about my country, my people which I later try to share. This is how several books were born to do with gastronomy, always written in collaboration with Mariano García (my life long partner). This is also how pieces on granaries, local climate and astrology, games and local medicine were written from which, thanks to the collaboration of my students, have received awards.

Another of my interests is theatre. I love being able to portray different characters…for school I have written, directed and also performed some parts. I enjoy doing that enormously.

I’ve been trying to learn for more than two years now (and thanks to two Galician daily newspapers) how to write newspaper articles every Saturday. And occasionally for some other source. As you can see I could use some of that varnish which only a grandmother can apply in order to boast about my insignificant achievements so as to add a bit of shine and colour to my biography.

It is true what they say that our circumstances affect us, that we are made up of what we remember, I feel that all these little bits of my past memories influence my writing.

* Translated by Minia Vázquez Alonso ([email protected])

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