|Chavez Morado mural in the Alhondiga Museum in Guanajuato|
As much as I enjoy telling stories, I’ve never been good at telling jokes. Invariably, I forget to include some critical piece of information until it’s too late for its inclusion to have any dramatic effect. I have also been known – believe it or not -- to be a little slow in understanding jokes. E.B. White said that explaining a joke is a lot like dissecting a frog – edifying, but generally fatal for the frog. By that rationale, I suppose it’s best to let jokes – and stories – exist simply for what they are, without connecting all the dots, dissecting or explaining.
|portrait of a married couple by brilliant and self-taught Heremenegildo Bustos|
|from Chavez Morado mural|
I heard a story the other day about a wealthy Spaniard in Mexico whose first wife, an English woman of noble birth, was an art collector. The wife was ill for a long time, and the Spaniard started to have an affair with another woman. Of course the wife knew something was going on, and said to her husband, ‘Please, just be with her – be happy. I’m dying, anyway. Life and love are precious.’ So the wife died, and the Spaniard married his mistress, who was a Mexican woman. While he loved his new wife, the Spaniard insisted that she keep the house exactly as his wife had it -- the art continued to catch the sunlight at the same times of day, the furniture occupied the same places in the same rooms, and not a drop of paint was applied to the walls. The new wife respected the sanctity of the late wife’s home, not wanting to offend the dead or to cause trouble with her husband.
Over time, the friends of the couple noticed that the mistress gradually started to take on the dress, hairstyle and general appearance of the deceased wife. She cut and dyed her long black hair and traded her colorful dresses for conservative, neutral clothing. Finally, one of the Spaniard’s friends approached him and said, ‘Why don’t you turn your house into a museum in honor of the memory of your late wife – and build a home for your new wife so you can start a new life together?’ The Spaniard saw the logic in this suggestion, and he did just that. The Mexican woman and the Spaniard moved into their house and began their life together. Slowly but surely, though, the house began to take on the characteristics of the museum they had left behind – the furniture, the colors, the way they had the rooms arranged. . . and the Mexican woman and her Spanish husband found themselves living in the shadow of the past, ever-reaching for but never being able to rest in the light of the present.
Despite E.B. White’s wisdom about jokes and frogs, my impulse is to analyze and to find meaning in the story. Maybe the past is bound to become the present. Maybe the shadows and the light are all part of the same day. Maybe sometimes we choose to wait rather than to act – or maybe waiting is an act in itself. We could talk to Hamlet about that. Maybe all we can do is recreate and repeat the past because it’s what we know, it’s who we are, it’s in our bones. I guess the job of the storyteller is to draw the dots, not necessarily to connect them. Connecting the dots is the job of the hanged man in his state of waiting; it is the job of living and of the dying. We are all of those things at different times of day.
|Cosmic retablo by Bustos. . . the sun!|