My own hometown of Villa Albisola Superiore is as unlike Tejas, or even Nuevo León, as the bottom of the sea is unlike the mountaintop. The first stones of the oldest building were laid down even before the Romans came. If there is an older place in Christendom I have never heard of it, although there are those in Cádiz who claim their city is the most ancient. It is a small town of weavers, fisherman, and traders, although it is most famous for the fine ceramics made there. The salt breeze wafts far inland and gives the olives that grow nearby a distinctive flavor. It is a beautiful place and I confess that I long for it more and more in these late days.”
Chapa continued on, lost in reminiscence. “I was the third Giovanni Battista, you know. My uncle was the first, the man I would later serve in Cádiz. The second was my older brother, who lived and died in the year before I was born. My parents, Bartolome and Battistina, chose to give me his name. I wonder sometimes if I am living his life as well as mine; if I strived so hard to achieve enough for two, so that he might not have died in vain.
“My father was a farmer, though we had little in the way of land. He also worked alongside my grandfather at his little store and at the modest inn that he ran. Our family had a vineyard they called “Cavo,” half a labor of farmland that he received as a dowry from my mother’s brothers, a little plot that sat on a cliff above the sea. On that plot he also planted wheat as well as some vegetables and fruit to keep our family fed in the months before the grape harvest. The land was poor and we struggled in dry years to produce any harvest at all. My father was a good farmer, and no one worked harder, but the powerful families had long ago claimed the best land. People like us struggled on land that the richer families would have considered almost worthless. P 100
“I long for a place to truly call home, having lived a turbulent and unsettled life since I was a child of thirteen. When I traveled from Albisola to Cádiz with my uncle Giovanni, I left the settled warmth of my home and joined the ranks of the Genovese diaspora, a tribe of restless traders whose intricate network of colonies and family relationships make them the envy of all Christendom.
Cádiz then was bustling with the trade of the Indies, and I loved the energy and excitement of the port. Although burnt to the ground in 1596 by the Earls of Essex and Nottingham, the city had come back to life even stronger, and by then was the home port for the flota, crowded with merchants and bankers from all over the world.
The Genovese merchants, though, are the smartest and most powerful traders in the city and have been in Cádiz for centuries. Most have become almost completely assimilated, marrying Spanish or Portuguese women and adopting Spanish customs and language. Even so, they maintain strong family connections back to Genoa and to the other trading colonies scattered in distant lands, allowing us to trade goods and arrange credit with an ease that no other people could match. P 106
"I waited out the night, surrounded by my fellow travelers, watching as the torches and lamps were extinguished one by one around the rim of the harbor, then turning my eyes starboard as the first glow of pale yellow light appeared on the eastern horizon. I had seen land earlier when the flota made stops in Guadalupe, Jamaica, Santo Domingo and Caiman, but this was different. This was no island, but New Spain herself. As dawn gained force, our boat again became a hive of activity. The first shore boats appeared before us. My wakefulness served me well, and I was among the first to disembark. My belongings were hoisted off the deck and down into the boat, and I clumsily descended the rope ladder and settled myself in the stern.
At this moment, I caught my first sight of an Indian—in the form of two brown oarsmen who sat silently on their bench—their faces blank masks in the morning heat. In Cádiz, I had often seen those called Indianos, but now I know they had been mere mestizos. Their features and coloring were nothing like the squat, walnut-colored creatures now sitting across from me in the little dory. To my eyes, they looked scarcely human. As the boat settled low in the water under the weight of the trunks and bodies piling off the barco, they muttered a few words to each other in a strange tongue, all clicking consonants and strange throaty sounds.” P. 135
Despite the early hour, the plaza was already crowded, full of colors, smells and sounds so completely foreign that my head was once again swimming. More than anything, it was the smell of the place that was so confounding, a mixture of the sour, salty water of the bay, the blossoms of the orange and lime trees ringing the plaza, and strange spices that burned my nose and caught in my throat. Underneath it all was a note that I could not recognize, both sweet and earthy, with a mineral edge that smelled of fresh plaster or whitewash. Looking around, I traced that scent to a group of old women in colorful embroidered blouses, sitting over small braziers, shaping and filling little cakes of various sizes out of wet yellow dough and cooking them on some kind of clay platter resting over the coals. My now-empty stomach lurched urgently back to life. P. 136
“Don Alonso has been promoting the match with the girl’s father, General Juan de Olivares for months, impressing on me the opportunity presented by the marriage, and praising my qualities as an administrator and confidante to the General. Don Alonso has come to rely on me greatly over the past three years; indeed our relationship has grown to be rather friendly of late; it seems that he looks at me almost as a son, especially since his own is now so far away.
Don Juan de Olivares is descended from one of the earliest settlers in this reino and has accumulated both great wealth and esteem here. He has nearly 2,000 head of cattle and almost 5,000 sheep and goats. His hacienda of San Antonio de Pesqueria Chica has its own flour mill, over 100 breeding mares, twelve fine warhorses, and eight Negro slaves. He has a house in Monterrey and one in Cadereyta, both of which he maintains at considerable expense. For a landless man to marry into such a wealthy and influential family is unusual. I can hardly believe my good fortune.
You must wonder, dear brother, why such a man would consider marrying his daughter to me, a landless foreigner without wealth or title of his own? I am an able administrator here in a land where they are scarce, but quite honestly Don Juan could hire me for a price far less dear than that of his daughter--not to mention the dowry he will include on our wedding day.
To answer that query, I must confess to you (and you alone, dear brother) that there are persistent rumors — baseless, I am sure—that the Treviños are one of several prominent families here in Nuevo León (along with the Garzas and the Benavides) who are whispered to be Judaizers. There are some, not many, who spread malicious stories, troublemakers who claim these families attend Mass only to divert attention from their secret Jewish rituals, that they chose to live in this remote frontier reino so as to be further away from the scrutiny of the Inquisition.” .p 165
“This work of many years is now in jeopardy. When I came to Nuevo León so many years ago, it was a distant island of free thought, a place almost irrelevant to the powers of this world, far from the intolerant minds enforcing discipline in the great cities. Governor Don Martín de Zavala read and discussed openly books and treatises that would have been burned in Ciudad de México. The saving grace of the dangers and discomforts of this rugged territory has been the space it afforded to truly think and to seek truth with an independent mind. However, I fear those times are now coming to a close.” P.205