Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Excerpt: Of Colombian bloodlines

[The Gatins clan allied itself with a colorful Colombian bloodline when my father Francis married Sylvia de German-Ribon in 1943.]

The German-Ribon family was no less colorful than that of the Villelume-Sombreuil-Madec-Gatins clan. It had originally settled in Colombia in the early 1700s, sent over by the Spanish crown from its home base in Seville to help govern parts of the new world. The family settled in the Mompox area of Colombia, which was then the cultural, educational and riverine transportation center of the country along the Magdalena River (and now a World Heritage Site, largely because of its rich, colonial/Indian architecture). With other Spanish families, they subsequently took up arms against Spain and fought for the independence of Nuevo Granada (in the early1800’s) with the help of Simon Bolivar. But guerrilla incursions and hopes for a better life prompted the entire German-Ribon family to leave Colombia, first decamping to New York City and eventually moving to London, where they sought out a more European cultural environment. My German-Ribon grandfather Martin and his siblings grew up in London, where he obtained an engineering degree and secured a position with the international public works engineering firm S. Pearson & Son (a predecessor firm to the global Pearson PLC), and where Sylvia eventually was born.

His wife Elvira's family, the Valenzuelas, also of Spanish origin, first came to Nueva Granada, as Colombia was then known, in the mid-1700s, when Don Eloy Valenzuela, a learned botanist, was commissioned by Spain to identify and record the new world’s plant life. His relatives settled in and never left Colombia and built their own enormous wealth through the acquisition of land and other businesses, eventually settling in Bogotá, the capital. Elvira, née Valenzuela, was born in Colombia, descendant of an arch-Catholic family that encouraged her, as a young teenager, to flagellate her back with stinging nettles. She was attracted by Martin de German-Ribon, who first spied her on a visit to Bogotá in 1913. He was immediately struck by her beauty and obvious international savoir-faire, given that she was reading the French periodical, La Revue des Deux Mondes. He proposed almost on the spot but her father would have none of it until substantial proof of Martin’s reputation and financial standing could be ascertained. As this turn-of-the-century credit check had to come from bankers in far-off London, it took months for this to be completed. But eventually all was approved, and a lavish wedding was organized.


Anonymous said...
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leesh said...

How old was she when she met Martin?

And I'm already hooked, Joe, as I knew I would be, so can't wait for the whole thing! You have always been a superb writer.