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Entries in Spinoza (1)

Tuesday
May152012

Adios Amigo

Blue Adobe (18 x 12 Watercolours)"Let me die but let my fame endure," cried bullfighter Pedro Romero, protagonist in the short story Viva Mi Fama, by the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, who, according to The New York Times, has died at age 83 in Mexico City.

 

Señor Fuentes I have deeply admired, if only in translation. And I want to lament his loss to the world of letters. Though he is gone, his words will live.

 

Without being maudlin - The Times called him Mexico's elegant public intellectual and grand man of letters - let's just say we've been moved and inspired by Fuentes' wonderful storytelling eye, his fine literary craftsmanship and the broad sweep of his writerly imagination.

 

Apparently in his last novel Destiny and Desire according to Michael Wood in the NYT Book Review, Fuentes evokes the work of Spinoza and Machiavelli; includes ghosts, graves, murders, a voluble flying prophet and a talking severed head.

 

The severed head, said The Times, had fallen victim to Mexico’s drug-gang wars, which Fuentes believed posed an escalating threat to Mexican society.

 

This latent worry, indeed the very timing of his passing, becomes all the more notable then, given that the headless bodies of 49 people - 43 men and six women - were found Sunday dumped at the entrance to the town of San Juan, near Monterrey. That followed the discovery of 14 men left in a van in downtown Nuevo Laredo April 17 and 23 people found hanged or decapitated in the same border city May 4. All of them it appears were innocents, victims simply snatched at random off the street in a terror campaign orchestrated by the gangs. Drug violence has killed more than 47,500 people since President Felipe Calderon launched a stepped-up offensive on assuming office in December 2006, says Time.

 

So Señor Feuntes was on to something with the talking severed head: though disembodied it is a voice resonating from deep within the aching heart of a troubled nation.

 

But one of the great things about Fuentes, along with his erudition and keen eye for detail was his humour, often dark but always from a place of great passion. And the themes were always about the important things: love and death.

Woman of Madrid (15 x 11 W/C and India Ink)

 

In Constancia, his 1987 novella where a doctor, nearly 70, reflects on the death of his wife and companion of four decades, Fuentes was arguably at his finest. "If Constancia had died a little after each of our conjugal quarrels, it was also true that she always recovered quickly and that our love had grown each time," he wrote, describing the ambience as the old physician tenderly strokes her hand and she reclines on a bed from which she shall never again rise.

 

"Did you know, Constancia – I say, appealing to her marvelous sense of popular culture, magical and mythic – did you know that Franz Kafka's uncle was director of Spain's national railroad in 1910? He was a Mr. Levy, Franz's mother's brother, and he heard that his nephew was unhappy in the insurance company in Prague and invited him to come to Madrid to work for the Spanish railway. What do you think, Constancia, of a man who imagines himself awakening one morning transformed into an insect, working for the Spanish railways? Would it have been literature's loss or the railway's gain?

 

The trains would have arrived on time – mused Constancia – but without passengers.”

 

Good one. And so a final note of grateful tribute is offered here in the form of this memorable passage from the late Señor Fuentes:

 

"Constancia and I have been married for forty years and I have to confess right off that the secret of our survival, in a society where seven out of ten marriages end in divorce, is that we do not limit ourselves to a single fixed mental attitude in our daily matrimonial relations … she doesn't read because she knows, I read because I don't know, and we meet as a couple in a question that I pose from literature and she answers from wisdom: the trains would have arrived on time, but without passengers.

 

For example, when she returns at six o'clock to our house on Drayton Street, the first thing I notice – being a longtime reader of detective novels – is that the tips of Constancia's shoes are covered with dust. And the second thing I note, in the best Sherlockian tradition, is that the red dust – the finest film – covering her shoe tips is from a place I know quite well, I place I visit because my glorious ancestors are buried there, a place I explore because some day Constancia and I will rest there, in that earth colored by Atlantic silt, my land but facing hers, Georgia on a parallel with Andalusia …

 

And the third thing I notice is that Constancia notices I've noticed, which immediately makes me aware that, as she is aware of everything, she can leave nothing to chance. Which means, in other words, that she wanted me to notice what I noticed, and to know she knew."

 

(Top Image: Blue Adobe 14" x 20" watercolours/ Inserted Image: Woman of Madrid 16" x 12" w/c India Ink)