Mexican Dream Castle
No surprise here, we were not at all ready to leave Guadalajara early, as planned, on our supposed final day there. Instead of the scheduled 50 mile ride out of the city we made it about five miles, just across town, to meet up with a WarmShowers.org contact willing to take us in at the last minute. Generally prone to aggravation at the (ultimately inevitable) glacial pace of four different people gathering and re-packing their entire lives onto a bike day-in and day-out, and having an altogether down and terrible temperament for entirely unrelated reasons at that time, I had already shut down my mind for the day and was basically a walking corpse seeking rest for the night and a fresh restart in the morning as soon as possible. T’was not to be so.
(Hit play below for my recommended musical accompaniment to this post. Entirely necessary.)
The contact, Alejandro, took us to his mother’s place nearby where we would stay the night. In just stepping through the doorway of her home (and studio, I soon discovered) I experienced an instantaneous sliver of comfort run up my spine, or rather, an immediate slackening of the tight grip of my discomfort, due to the piquing of one of my most welcome sensations, the unsinkable and overpowering Curiosity.
The main room in which we found ourselves consisted of two sections, each featuring its own grand, imposing, terribly exciting apparatus of art. In the front: a sturdy old wooden table tall and wide enough for the eight or so stools gathered round it, the surface covered entirely by one single expansive sheet of white paper peppered and smattered and brimming over with scribbles and notes and sketches and coal smudges and paint drops and lead bits and eraser shavings, a kind of ever-evolving battleground of gleeful art materials; in the back: a looming, beautiful, surely ancient real-life printing press with a gigantic rolling metal cylinder that likely weighs a ton or so. The walls intrigued me as well. Many featured original works by our host or tasteful black & white photographs; one in particular was plastered over in myriad bold, dark charcoal sketches on white paper, each of which stood out and merited individual attention, but they worked collectively as well, evidence of their overarching style and the careful attention paid by the artist who arranged them.
The final touch, which perhaps was the most blatantly enjoyable aspect of the space to me, but which I noticed last, I think, because it was so incredibly apt and suitable for the mood of the room that it blended in to the point of being camouflaged, was the cool jazz playing on an old boombox in the corner. Too cool. All of this had already awakened me from my depressed, tired stupor, and I hadn’t even met our host yet.
Carmen Bordes, an artist of many mediums but predominantly charcoal sketches, had basically no notice at all that we were coming for the night, and yet she welcomed us graciously and naturally, as if we were old friends (a natural habit shared by all Latin Americans, but especially evident in the Mexican culture…their casa really is your casa). I immediately recognized the way she spoke to us, or with us, rather. With 100% respect and interest. You could tell she was giving you all of her mind and attention. It was a bit intimidating, but also empowering. She didn’t bother to slow down or dumb down her Spanish for me or the other guys new to the language, she just went on and never once lost faith in your ability to understand. Somehow it made you understand more.
After an impressively, appreciably brief amount of small-talk she right away asked us if we’d ever made an ‘etching’ before, or knew what etchings were. Without even waiting for a response she began handing out small pieces of copper and told us to sit and begin. Again, intimidating, but also empowering. Respectful. Confident in our innate ability. I felt she trusted in me and my potential exactly at a time when I had been a little down and possibly did not.
The prospect of attempting to render images in my already blue state worried me. I love to draw but am terrible terrible terrible at it. Generally I am unable to translate the ornate, surreal, imaginative ideas in my mind to the physical world via drawing or painting, and it just saddens me terribly. I feel like I lose or sour the interesting, unique image I originally dreamt up, and sometimes make myself doubt it ever even existed. But she was persistent, and the jazz was nice, so I grabbed the sharp etching needle she provided and began scratching away at my small piece of copper, using as a model the most convenient ornate object I had at my disposal, my left hand.
I drew it simply. I tried to very directly capture all of its tiny lines making their odd angles and turns in my rough scratches on the metal surface. Instead of worrying about my inability to sketch it perfectly I focused on preserving the one thing I definitely couldn’t mess up, all the nice blank space around my scratched and gnawed hand. She covered it in a vibrant red ink, placed it on some thick paper, ran it under the heavy, large roller of the antiquated press, and out popped my print. It was alright. I think anything pressed in the right ink on the right delicious paper will look decent from far enough away.
Next I created a different type of etching, one made by carving bits out of a bigger, bulky slab of rubber. It felt delightful, to carve, permanently, a smooth fresh line. The slow curve of it felt so natural, like any move you made was a good one. And I could come back over it again and again, sculpting it deeper or wider as I liked. The feel of the rubber softly giving way under the sharp blade of the tool was very satisfying physically, and the stimulating yet smooth and easy jazz filling the room was fantastic. I couldn’t have handled another of my senses being so fully captivated.
I made a simple silhouetted profile of a man’s face glancing downwards. He had large lips and other mildly exaggerated features. A basic, clean outline. And then I drew a thin, snaking line from between his lips up to the air above him, where it fanned out and shot across the rubber canvas like a beam of light, or a ray of music. Wasn’t supposed to mean anything in particular, I just liked the idea of a simple profile, and the little ascending line narrowly traversing across the open range of blank space also satisfied me. She pressed it in a deep black and the figure came out stark white against this blackness, and that contrast was a bit striking. I was pleased with it, and ultimately was just proud to have come up with something that didn’t make me want to vomit.
The other boys decided to go out for dinner with another friend from the city, but nothing they could have offered would have lifted me from that high seat in that beautiful room with that hot music and that goddess of a woman. I stayed in and she made enough dinner for just the two of us. We ate together in the kitchen, which was off the side of the pressing room, with the steady stream of jazz floating in from the studio. We talked about Paris (where she’d lived for a bit), artists we liked, photography, poets, and all sorts of things which I am entirely unqualified to converse about in Spanish, but somehow the conversation flowed along. She knew a little French, and dipping in and out of that, we made it work. Though immensely happier now, my exhaustion had only stepped aside for the activities of the night, and with a fervor now descended upon me full force.
She led me out into a plant-filled, luscious green back patio and three whole stories up a metal winding, circular staircase to my own spacious room to sleep in high in the tallest tower of this castle of creation. Already halfway asleep along the way, its dreamlike quality was not lost on me.
The room was mostly empty save for a stack of thin mattresses bundled in the corner, which pleased but did not surprise me at all. Living in Japan I came to appreciate empty floor space and its ability to be transformed daily (or nightly) into whatever you needed (a bed) by the simple addition of the right easily stored away objects, and it made perfect sense to me that Carmen understood this as well. I laid out a mattress, crawled into my sleeping bag, and quickly drifted to sleep high in my own personal little room (a rarity being broke on the road with three other broke dudes) which overlooked the quiet city lights.
To find a place in which the studio, the creative space, is not only large and important, but the actual center and base of the entire home was hugely influential for me. That branching from it were the modest kitchen, a green patio, and simple, sparsely furnished bedrooms, all merely complimenting its primary use and significance, was so indicative of and probably directly enhancing to the creatively focused mindset of its occupant.
The single aspect I admire most of traveling is the constant blind, headfirst rushing forth into intense experiences and emotions which you’d have to wait around years and years to (just possibly) one day encounter sitting around at home, and the same goes for meeting new people. Every new person whose world you hop into for a night provides a chance to see a new way to live, and to chisel away at, in your mind, your personal pastiche amalgam of how to lead a life, of how to be.