Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

Fernando and Ignacio continued walking eastward along 7th Ave. 

"Zapato, parece que esta avenida es la calle principal del barrio, verdad?"

Gaitero had asked if they were on the primary street of the neighborhood.

"Sí, y nosotros llamamos a esta propia zona entera "La Séptima", no solo a la calle misma. Es el centro comercial de Ybor."

Iganacio responded in the affirmative and told him that locals referred to the whole area as "The Seventh", and it is the commercial center of Ybor City. Fernando was impressed by the dense nature of the neighborhood. While infinitely smaller than Havana, it was similar in that there was a distinct urban atmosphere. Shops and businesses of all kinds lined the street. Fish mongers, dry goods stores, and meat markets sat alongside small cigar factories, pharmacies, blacksmiths, and a few houses. Electric streetcars provided public transportation. Spanish was clearly the dominant language. Sicilian, which Fernando had quickly learned to recognize, could also be heard. The atmosphere belied the small size of Tampa...it had the feel of a much larger city, except for the streets made of dirt.

"Una pregunta, Zapato. Me gusta lo que veo, pero por qué las calles son de arena?"

Fernando told Ignacio that he likes what he sees but wonders why the streets are made of sand.

"Recuérdate que, hace solo quince años, donde estamos parados era una ciénaga. En esa época Tampa tenía menos de mil habitantes...un pueblo de pesca. Ha crecida muy rápida en pocos años, y va cambiando y mejorándose."

Ignacio reminded Fernando that only fifteen years ago, there was a swamp where they were now standing. At that time, Tampa had fewer than a thousand inhabitants...a fishing village. Tampa had grown very quickly and was changing and improving. As if to emphasize his point, Zapato pointed out workmen who were stacking bricks alongside the street, preparing to pave 7th Ave.

When they reached 19th St, Ignacio gestured to the left. As they continued walking north, Fernando noticed that the commercial district had given way to a predominantly residential concentration of shotgun houses and that the dominant language had changed to Sicilian. He shared his observations with his friend and was informed that this was an area known as "La Pachata", populated by many Sicilians and named after a Cuban landlord who owned many houses in the neighborhood. Gaitero remained fascinated by this new world.

In front of them was a wooden building with the name "La Joven Francesa" ("The Young Frenchwoman") written across the top of the door. The wonderful smells drifting onto the street left no doubt as to the fact that this was a bakery. Ignacio opened the door and signaled Fernando to enter.

There were many people in the bakery. Behind the counter a man yelled over the throng of waiting customers.

"Hola Zapato! Como estás hoy?"

In good but less than perfect Spanish, he had warmly greeted Ignacio.

"Hola Francesco. Muy bien, gracias, y tu?" 

Ignacio had returned the greeting. Turning to Fernando he explained that the man was Francesco Ferlita, the owner of the bakery, and a Sicilian from the small town of Santo Stefano Quisquina in the province of Agrigento. This was the area from which the vast majority of Tampa's Sicilians had emigrated.  Fernando expressed surprise at how well Mr. Ferlita spoke Spanish. Ignacio told him this was not unusual. Most of the Sicilians he knew were quickly adopting Spanish as their second language, and he pointed out that even the name of the bakery was in Spanish.

Francesco smiled and pointed at Ignacio. He was next to order.

"Quieres lo de siempre, amigo?"

The Sicilian had asked Ignacio if he wanted "the usual".

Fernando suddenly felt very much at home.

--

This is a work of fiction. With the exception of references to known and publicly documented historical entities, the following apply:

Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. ©Tony Carreño 2020