PLACES AND FACES
The experience of place is, for me, intimately linked to relationships, the human connections which affect the way a particular location is perceived. Without such relationships places are only dots on a tourist map, and postcards the only reminder that I was ever there. The Paraguay of my childhood, the MickeyMouse-burying place, was parental-shaped. The Eden I enjoyed there was wholly dependent on an ambiance created by my parents, especially my father. The grown-up Paraguay was husband-shaped. Our marital disagreements were often over my attempts to recreate the earlier Paraguay. I wanted Reg to be more...erm, well, allright, yes...like my father. More decisive. More Big Idea-motivated.
The family paid a few brief visits to us in San Antonio. Here we are, my mother and me, sitting on the terrace - the same terrace where long ago she fell from the roof and broke her arm and my six-year old self ran down those steps screaming towards the river. You can see time has passed by the stained and crumbled stucco. And there's my Mom, having waded across the arroyo parasol in hand, looking much the same as she did in those early years, my paradise childhood years. The same creek which, when it rained, became a raging, roaring, impassable torrent, keeping us marooned on our side.
In the absence of my father, I took on some of his characteristics (Ha! I can see this now). My own Big Idea was that we should turn the Quinta into some kind of Artists' Colony/New Society/Shangri-La/Garden of Eden, (all in capital letters) to which would flock Interesting Creative People from all over the world and I would build that non-denominational dream Chapel/Temple/House of Music or whatever, and we would all live happily ever after. But my idea went no further than words on paper and in hot air because I had no desire to actually implement such a project. Unlike my father, I was neither persistent, persuasive or focused. I didn't have a Big Idea. I had lots of good and bad ideas about lots of things. All I really wanted was to play while the adults got on with taking care of everything and didn't bother me with their troubles. That
wasis the Eden I wantedstill want: God and his wife and children and all their angels doing good deeds and having cocktail parties on the terrace while me and my Mickey Mouse run free in the garden.
Reg, who didn't think in capital letters, felt that a small guest house might be more practical. But since there was no road into the Quinta, no electricity, no telephone line, and no funds....wasn't sufficient unto the day the evil thereof? A regular income was needed and one thing we did have plenty of was sticky clay. With some local help, Reg began to build a small roof-tile factory near the entrance to the property.
Meanwhile, via my part-time teaching job at the American government aid headquarters in Asunción, I was asked to paint a screen depicting American and Paraguayan technicians cooperating in agriculture, health, education and construction. Of course I was happy to get this commission but not at all enchanted with the restrictions imposed by the theme. Too timid to come up with something revolutionary in style, I struggled painfully for several months and produced a work of stunning banality, dripping with cliché, which they were completely delighted with. My discomfort is visible in the photo below with the Director, and it's not just from the unaccustomed high heels.
Fortunately, other commissions from less conventional sources were appearing. We had met and made friends with a Yugoslav couple who became more or less our art patrons - a modest version of the Medicis. I painted their portraits and they also wanted a mural for their dining room, an impression of all the countries they'd lived in. Reg was asked to design a ceramic decoration for the outside walls of their house. He created a beautifully simple arrangement of glazed pots set into plaster. American and Paraguayan friends were also commissioning portraits of themselves and their children and we were exhibiting fairly regularly in Asunción while simultaneously trying to run the Quinta where problems were daily multiplying like rabbits.
"Bianca" NdA. Oil on canvas.
|"Estercita" NdA. Oil.|
"World Travels" Mural in private dining room, Asunción. NdA. Acrylic on plaster. (Not accurate colour reproduction).
Section of Reg's ceramic wall design for private house, Asunción.
"Sabado en Calle Palma" NdA. Acrylic.
Saturdays in Calle Palma, the main street of the capital, were a riot of colour, sounds, scents, life. It was a large painting and I left it with a gallery in Asunción. It disappeared and I sometimes wonder where, if anywhere, it is now hanging. I would love to find it.