THE SEARCH CONTINUES
Mickey has long been buried. I return to Paraguay on my own for a few months and paint the people and the landscape. I sit on the terrace at night under the dazzling canopy of stars and sing to them in Spanish. My paradise is still wonderful but no longer feels like home. Something is gone - my childhood. I am happily painting and very lonely.
I go back to America and later, am a student of mural painting at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. On my second day there I am wandering around the town market and notice an interesting foreigner in a yellow shirt and straw hat. We smile at each other and walk on. A couple of nights later there's a party for new students and staff. As I enter the room I hear a hoarse, strong voice singing flamenco, which I love. It's the man from the market, accompanying himself on guitar as he runs through his Spanish repertoire, then Mexican, American and English folksongs. He is an English-Canadian potter, teaching ceramics at the Instituto. He is twenty years older than I am.
We fall in love and spend all our spare time together, rattling around the country in his ramshackle van. I paint his portrait, using the brilliant industrial paints favoured by Mexican muralists and supplied to us students. I am learning mural techniques, fresco and bas-relief. There are frequent parties, I make new friends. Life is beautiful.
"Reg in San Miguel" NdA. Duco on board.. ."People at the crucifixion" Fresco study.NdA
The Ceramics Professor and the Art Student at Instituto Allende, Mexico.
SIDE-EFFECTS OF HAPPINESS
In San Miguel, everything conspired to make me happy and therefore unfocused. I came to Mexico to find my own voice as an artist, feeling that I had been dissipating my talent in too many directions. I thought that specialising as a mural painter would give me the discipline and direction I lacked.
Instead, along came happiness, which always blurs everything else.
"La Despedida" plaster bas-relief mural study. NdA. 3.25 x 2.5 meters. Instituto Allende, Mexico.
In the throes of an exciting love affair, in a beautiful and congenial place, part of a vibrant community, could I really focus on art? In San Miguel, art was something I did because I could. Showing off, confidently manipulating glossy paint in expressionist brushstrokes or boldly carving plaster. Easy. Forget serious single-minded dedication, I was living la vida and it was summertime and la vida was easy and unbelievably cheap. At that time in Mexico, an impecunious foreigner could eat and drink and live like royalty and still have change left over to buy gorgeous purple shirts in the market. And we weren't in an expatriate enclave, as so many now are.
"El Jefe" NdA. Duco on board.
We spoke Spanish and mingled with the locals and loved them and they loved us. I had a large room in a wonderfully basic Pension run by the happiest couple ever, Don Ramon and Doña Maria (that's them on the right) but I spent quite a lot of time being smuggled (against the rules) into the Potter's more upmarket apartment at the Instituto. When we went on weekend jaunts to otherplaces in the province, people would ask, "Es su hija?" (Is she your daughter?)
The school term came to an end and students and staff started dispersing. The Potter had to return to his home in Vancouver but we knew that we would meet again. We spent a last night together at his place and at dawn I walked in the fresh blue air through the silent streets of San Miguel, stopping at a church where mass was in progress and they were singing.
It was one of those cosmic moments. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with wonder at the beauty of the world and a crystal clear knowledge that my road was a solitary one. Elated by a sudden surge of freedom, I almost danced my way back to my room.
There was another end-of-term party with dancing and drinking and flirting and then it was time for me to leave. At the station, some of my fellow artists and Doña Maria and a posse of local children came to see me off and help me lug my baggage onto the train. That was the last time I saw San Miguel de Allende.