My first memory of Miguel, my father, takes me to the bathroom on the ground floor at carrer Sant Llorenç. Standing up he sang to me, a young child, while drying my hands, one finger at a time. As many things from my past, I have forgotten the song but it remains a joyful and bright recollection. Miguel loved children and even today there are adults who mention the gifts they received as kids.
Born in Alzira (la Ribera, València), Miguel was the second of six siblings, his father, Salvador, was a doctor and Margarita, the mother, had been an entrepreneur until their marriage. The great-grandparents Miguel Cardell Arbona and Antonia Garau Vicens, originally from Sóller (Illes Balears, Balearic Islands), were traders of agricultural products such as oranges and dried figs in Spain as well as other European countries, and came to own warehouses in Marseilles and Letor (France).
The family lived between Sóller and Alzira where Margarita and Salvador met. Toñita Camps Cardell told me that his uncle Jose Camps España was grandfather Miguel’s scribe and when Margarita fell ill with typhus he recommended his brother, a doctor. Surely, Salvador fell in love at the sight of her, for he forbade her to write because she would not be cured if she sat up. Years later he would confess to her that he really wanted to prevent her from writing to Guillermo, her boyfriend at Sóòller. Life could not have been easy with such a jealous man, Margarita, a beauty, was very intelligent, spoke and wrote French fluently, though I do not understand why she did not pass it on to her children. Apparently among my ancestors on the islands a blackmarketeer lost a lot of money when his boat loaded with fish was blocked in the commercial embargo of France. Great-grandfather José Camps Reynot had a pharmacy in the plaça Major de Alzira and of great-grandmother Rosa España Bría unfortunately I know nothing else.
Aunt Rosa Antonia Camps Cardell told me that when Miguel was little one day he returned from school without shoes and when asked by tata Mercedes ‑whose name I bear‑ he answered that he had given them to «un gitanet que no en tenia cap i allí hi havia un armari ple» (a young gypsy that did not have any and here we have a full closet). All his life he showed his generosity to others, like that employee who borrowed a large sum, agreed with a simple handshake, or the farmer of the neighboring town who did not stop borrowing machinery from his tractors.
Miguel studied Veterinary Medicine at Zaragoza, a city with which he had a special connection. Year after year he would visit the Agricultural Machinery Fair. More than once he took me along, in the long trip drive back in the Citroën ‑his favourite car brand‑ entertained with an assortment of sweets like those stone-hard «adoquines del Pilar».
I remember my father telling me that after getting through the open competition exams towards 1957, he made a mistake in selecting his preferences for the post of public veterinarian between Alacant, Castelló and València. Miguel ended up in Benilloba, where he would meet Esther and never again wanted to undo that step and move North. They married in the church Sant Agustí of València, he was 35 years old, and she, a beautiful young woman of 21 that all assure me was always in love with his Miguel. At her early death, her husband pushed himself forward with his four children, as best as he could and with the best intentions, no doubt about it.
Miguel held temporary posts in other towns like Navarrés before becoming official veterinarian of thirteen towns: Alcoleja, Balones, Benasau, Benifallim, Benilloba, Benimassot, Fageca, Famorca, Gorga, Millena, Penàguila, Quatretondeta and Tollos. It should not be simple to travel all year round the «roads» full of stones on a motorbike with heavy material on the back, his Roa is among the objects that decorate my house. I do not remember who told me that my grandparents drove from Alzira to discover the town of Esther Herrero Doménech, their daughter-in-law. After getting out of the car Salvador said to his new political family «si en perd, ací no em busqueu» (if I get lost, do not look for me here). The abrupt trait of Miguel, that myself I show sometimes, also had a paternal referent for him.
Except on Sundays, anyone could come to our home and ask for him to treat every domestic animal, from mules and horses to goats, sheep, pigs, cows, chickens, dogs, cats, etc. Today, my aunt Carmencín, my mother’s cousin, reminded me that when they came to the town from Madrid Maximino, her husband, had a great time accompanying Miguel, whom he considered to be the best veterinarian ever known, in his home calls. It just came to my mind the annual vaccination campaigns for dogs and sheep ‑and what bruises did they cause, the brute ones‑. Miguel even became the veterinarian of the famous Safari Aitana at Penáguila. Us children were very lucky, I am thinking of the adventures we had there with him and the Sevila family, the owners.
Cèlia Ibáñez Miró has generously shared some of her family memories. Among them, after his arrival to this village Miguel stayed at a room looking to the carrer Major at the Fonda del Rosari run by her aunt, Joaquina Ripoll Bonet. Its lounge opening out to the carrer Sant Jaume was Benilloba’s best place for get-togethers where all visitors were lodged from the hired electrician to the sales representatives in town. Afterwards he would live at carrer Sant Joan, 13, right next to the house of his friends, Marta and Ginés. The brothers Ginés and Pepito were companions of Miguel in the Franciscan school La Concepción at Ontinyent, also Jesús from Beniarrés, and they never lost this friendship. Along with other veterinarians he helped to found Uvesa, a company of animal feed and animal production that recently celebrated 50 years of existence. To his veterinary activity, he added entrepeneurial management as in the 1980s Miguel became General Director of El Moro, subsequently Sucesores de Joaquín Herrero or Benlux. The biggest textile industry Benilloba ever had was founded by the brothers Vicente and Joaquín Herrero García (my great-uncle and grandfather, respectively). Its large workforce, more than a hundred employees, strived to achieve a turnover beyond 2,000 million ptas. / year. It closed its doors in 2006 after wretched management and a forced business decapitalisation for the benefit of La Estambrera at Alcoy.
An internet search surprised me as in 1993 Miguel became member no. 285 of the Asociación de Amigos del Museo de la Huerta de Alcantarilla (Murcia), led by his friendship with Carlos Peidró Llácer, el Tomacó. I remember now that he talked about the interesting world of tillage implements and tools that he had found in Murcia. He loved everything about farming and knew no holidays because his free time was spent labouring in the farmhouses of the Herrero Doménech grandparents in Benilloba, Gorga and Muro de l’Alcoi. Us grandchildren were not free either and, like Miguel, we also got up in the early hours to pick up fruit in the middle of summer ‑hence my dislike of peaches that I have managed to overcome‑. Agricultural tasks fell more heavily on els hereus (male heirs) but on the other hand and like their sires I do not remember they contributed to the household’s daily management. Miguel’s name also appears in a list of the first hundred subscribers to a numbered edition of Azorín works from the daily ABC and also in a 1996 sentence by the Superior Court of Justice of the Valencian Community that rejected the appeal presented on the payment of the triennia earned as official veterinarian.
When I was reviewing the articles published in the Programa de Fiestas de Benilloba in order to share them on this website, I discovered that in 1979 Miguel had been part of a works management commission of the new Benilloba’s Pou d’aigua (water well), located in the Barranc of Penelles. Also he joined the citizen association created against the project led by the Generalitat Valenciana, the City council of Alcoy and the company Vaersa to construct a landfill, a plant of composting and another one of transference in the property el Regadiu, located in the municipal term of Alcoy although only 2 km away from of the town of Benifallim, consequently next to Benilloba and Penáguila.
The Managing Committe of the Associació Pro Defensa de la Vall del Serpis de Benilloba (Benilloba’s Association for the Defense of the Vall del Serpis) was led by Josep Julià Serra. Among its members: José A. Reig Monllor, José Luis Olcina Crespo, Luisa Font Silvestre, Enrique Climent Sirvent, Miguel Camps Cardell and Alejandro Barrachina Doménech. The present inhabitants of these hills and ranges owe a great deal to these fighters that, together with well-meaning neighbours and politicians,spent time and energy ‑for sure money too‑ to protect our landscape from the imposition of rubbish produced in larger towns. ‑A struggle that, as the formidable chroniclers of www.benilloba.net relate, had a previous bout by Mayor Ricardo Reig in the early 1970s. Ramón el Manco, Deputy Mayor during 1979-83, also shared with me the struggle against garbage at Mas d’Is near Benifallim and a tough meeting d’una reunió in Alacant accompanied by el Secretari, el tio Pep de Benifallim i el Retor d’Alcoleja‑.
I am proud to have followed in my father’s civic footsteps and since 2005 at the Coordinadora d’Estudis Eòlics del Comtat I have been actively helping to protect our environment from the the senseless project to install three wind power plants on the neighbouring ranges of Almudaina and Alfaro. Also, I have worked against the witless idea to build in 2014 a sewage water treatment plant in the municipality of Penàguila, just a few km from Benifallim and Benilloba, among other towns.
I have inherited other traits from Miguel, like his firm morality. With every passing day, I also have less patience with fools though I am still a long way from his degree of frankness, possibly aided by the fact he belonged to the fuerzas vivas (prime movers) of this village. Ours was not an easy relationship, a very strict old-fashioned father who could not stand his authority being challenged, facing a young rebel that found such environment hard to breath in. In my twenties I ended up leaving behind my family, studies and homeland and moving to Belgium where I lived, worked and had a whale of a time for over seven years.
In 1998 as I was considering my professional career I came to realise that undertaking another work challenge there would imply never returning to my country and I decided to start over here. Such decision brought havoc to my professional life, the circle of friends around me and the cultural activities I used to develop. I ultimately re-branded myself ‑still at it…‑ However, my move from Brussels to Benilloba gave Miguel and me the opportunity to build a new relationship, adult to adult, and I have no regrets whatsoever about that decision.
We lived in different streets on the same village, we had a few or many things in common: a chat after work, meals during the weekend and the two of us reading under his portrait with Esther, him, Las Provincias, myself, El País. We spoke a lot, never enough to make up for a life, he was a liberal from a good family that accepted, with a raised eyebrow, my left-wing ideas to change the world. He was a distant father that sometimes showed his high regard like the words said an afternoon, he was proud of me, I just had a radio interview, 28-years old. Later, we had a family meeting to discuss a possible land development of the farmhouse, myself totally opposed. I remember his words at the end: take care of the menuda (the youngest child), she is intelligent but not smart. He knew me well, my father.
An afternoon of April 2006 he insisted on showing some important documents. Hours later he would suffer a stroke that caused him to fell into a coma and later deprive him of movements, little by little and with great willpower he recovered but the attacks did not cease. One black day I realised that I would no longer have my father’s advice who, after a long independent life, had become an old man and was now the one in need of others: Esther Ferrándiz, who took such good care of him over seven years, and Madi, a young Rumanian woman who was willing to enter our home when nobody else replied to my adds. Miguel would read Antonio Machado’s poetry to her. Those short months ‑he never liked burdening others‑ created a special bond between the three of us. A few days before he passed away, the bass drum of el Castell moor squadron blared by his window and Miguel, undaunted, continued to sleep. I hope he was dreaming with his beloved Esther, his older brother Salvador, and his parents that for sure awaited him on the other side.
Benilloba, August 2017
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