Sunday, October 18, 2015

XLI. Las Dos Galerías, Parte 2: La Peña de Santos Rico

The Two Galleries, Part 2: The Sorrows of Rich Saints...No, that translation's not right--although I like the contradiction inherent in a "rich saint" and the sorrow one might feel from the futility of trying to reconcile those two opposites. "Sorrow" is the definition of "pena", without the tilde over the "n", mistakenly also given by Google Translate for the word "peña", with the tilde. The latter word has several meanings: a rocky pinnacle and also a group of people with a common interest. "Santos Rico", according to The Artist, is the proper name of a picaresque character in a book he wrote, also pictured in the sign on the picture below right, riding on the back of some chump...

The end of a two-month plus saga--opening night for our
Backing up a bit in the gallery chronicle: the end of August, not long before we embarked on our scenic trip to much maligned Michoacan, we became aware of a new group coming and going, in and out of Axixic’s rusting turquoise double doors. We callously dubbed them The Neck Brace Family for the complicated apparatus worn by the tall, thin, shaven-headed father. The two young children were usually spatting, and the usual—unfortunate—expressive mode of the cute, three-year-old girl was to scream. Mom always seemed to have a lot on her mind. Like many visitors to the gallery they drove a sun-blistered car, which quality was offset by the brio of its Darth Vader gas cap.

NBF’s first visits were notable because they seemed designed to deliver the children to The Artist’s care. He would gamely try to corral the two away from the edge of the rooftop outside his studio as they gamboled among its detritus. Considering the familiar manner with which he handled them, we speculated that the children might be his own, delivered for safekeeping by a former inamorata. But—several weeks later—after an up close and friendly encounter with The Artist when I clocked his wrinkles, we realized there was at least a thirty year plus age gap between him and the children’s mother. Our initial hypothesis of the relationship was revised to assign him the probable role of grandfather…meaning Mom could well be The Artist’s daughter.

Quick progress by Augie and Jefe after a long anticipated
beginning--September 8
On September 6, the day after my birthday, we rolled up to our casa from a week-long sojourn in picturesque Patzcuaro.  Before moving on to what we found out (or didn’t) about Galería Axixic’s possible renewal upon return home, I should introduce Augie. He uses this nickname, he laughingly told me, because his proper first name sounds very much like slang for “diminutive penis”. Augie is a friendly fellow who has the weekend car washing concession on this block of Calle Constitución. Our first interaction was several months ago when he noticed me carrying a leaking pot of posole stew home from the dispensa up on the corner of Ocampo and Morelos. He offered a plastic bag to contain it.

Now—returning to what we saw that Sunday afternoon at Galería Axixic: Nada. No change. Exactly the same sight to which we had said, “Hasta luego” six days before. Same peeling paint, hanging wires, et cetera, et cetera. Needless to say we were disappointed. But we had other troubles—a horrible case of Montezuma’s Revenge that would keep us trotting for most of the week.

Next day, September 7, 2015. Monday morning—beginning of the work week. We dragged our depleted and complaining bodies out of bed late. Staggered groaning to coffee and balcony, when what should our wondering eyes behold?!: Nuevo amigo Augie at work scraping the peeling paint from Galería Axixic’s front wall. He would continue to mine the veins of rotten stucco with a vigor that brightened our leaden mood. And it wasn’t going to be just a surface job; it was going to be deep.

Hallelujah!! Or however you would say that en español.

As the days passed, prep work continued. Extensive gouges were made all over the surface of the wall. Augie arrived early (for this street)—about 8:30—each morning, rang the timbre patiently until one of the gallery denizens roused to let him in. Harrowing ladder work ensued— standing on steps forbidden in more safety-conscious states. Frightening stretches with sharp tools. Less than a week after this dramatic (at least for us) beginning, Augie was joined by another hired hand who appeared to be his jefe
For nearly three weeks, this clean visage is all we saw, but
work continued on the inside.

The fill job followed, mortar mixed as usual directly on the sidewalk, slathered into place in the stucco arroyos, and smoothed. By now, El Otro Guapo and La Novia had become involved in the project while still maintaining their daily jewelry table at the plaza. She would pick at the wall’s overlooked scabs; he would help haul heavy loads—bags of cement and buckets of dirt to be sifted through screens to the consistency of sand. 

All these materials would have to be delivered, of course, which meant saving a parking space in front of the gallery. The usual way of accomplishing this is by placing some large object (chair, box, tree trunk) in the street as a placeholder. One day we noticed our new favorite (and very attractive) couple trying to decide what this object would be; nothing was at hand. La Novia shrugged and flung herself down on the dusty cobblestones spreading arms and legs wide like a snow angel in the street. We found this incredibly endearing.

Preparation complete, we impatiently waited through a fallow spell before painting began. And then there was another period of seeming inactivity after the white base coat was applied. Augie departed back to his regular, irregular job of cleaning a church in Chapala. Meeting Otro Guapo on the narrow sidewalk on my way back home with some huevos from the Little Girl dispensa, I congratulated him on the accomplishments and asked what plans they had for completing the painting, and especially if all this work portended a rebirth of the gallery.

Experimenting with straw application, left to right--Otro
Guapo, La Novia, Trabajador, The Artist, (original) Guapo.
OG was effusive and friendly—his natural state, as we were discovering—and excitedly described something that, because of the dratted language barrier, was mostly incomprehensible to me. His enthusiasm was catching, though, and I conveyed same to my always curious-as-a-cat wife. There was something about a mural, I thought he had said, of many colors, perhaps, and Galería Axixic  would definitely be opening anew!

By late September, mysterious work was also going on deep in the gallery interior, even in the courtyard garden whence large loads of plant material were removed and hauled off to wherever that stuff goes. Regular deliveries of building supplies—buckets of paint, paving stones, reinforcing fence and copious amounts of cement. More sidewalk mortar mixing. More workmen. 

Through all this, NBF continued to provide vehicular support and receive childcare; the tiny hellion continued to scream fitfully. The Artist kept up his weekend sojourns wherever, leaving and returning with pack on his back. El Guapo became more and more scarce. Worried Man was a distant, slightly unpleasant memory, whom we later heard had gotten a job delivering decorative plants to institutions. The Crabbies continued to live up to their name; one of them developed a from-out-of-town boyfriend, but really, who cares? And the young couple, El Otro Guapo y La Novia, continued to ingratiate themselves with such acts as the latter painting hearts on the bare leg of the former as he balanced tip-toe on the top rung (natch), slapping whitewash as high as he could reach.

We still did not know what vibrant color(s) would fill the canvas of the gallery’s blank white face. On the morning of September 29th, a bale of hay (!) was delivered to our new friends and La Novia set to work, cutting the dried stalks into three inch-long pieces (?). A couple of hours later, my animated wife called me to the balcony to see the scene for which we had been waiting. The neutral white was finally being covered…with a muddy, adobe-clay tan color, only a tad less bland. But wait. As the first section was being brushed on under The Artist’s direction, he flung handfuls of straw that stuck to the still-wet paint (???).

The gallery, now cultural center, on the afternoon of its opening--all
painting complete and the sign just installed.
This unusual process gradually came to feel like a stroke of genius. The bits of straw gave a rustic look and inviting texture to the forty foot-long wall. Passers-by were irresistibly drawn to run their fingers lightly over the rough surface. As I was predicting that this attraction would result in the pieces of hay being pulled off, a second coat of the tan paint was mixed and applied to cover and stick the straw more securely. And just as I was grousing that the color was OK, but totally unexceptional, The Artist oversaw application of a coral trim that both warmed and brightened the look as well as perfectly complementing the turquoise windows and doors.

Ah, those windows and doors! For the next week or so, they would be the object of our attention—but seemingly ignored by everyone else. La Novia was the only one who appeared to care at all, scratching and sanding at the rust and crusty paint on occasional evenings. It was about this time that NBF—the father (who later introduced himself as Edgar), happily now relieved of the neck brace that gave the family its name—came to the gallery one afternoon with a printing of invitations to the opening—October 17th it would be. Our interest by now was completely unabashed, and we were honored to receive the very first invite. 

Just inside the gallery--uh, cultural center--the jewelry showroom
is to the right, paintings are hung all around the covered areas
of the courtyard.
Only a few days later, during my Spanish lesson at the biblioteca, my friendly wife accepted an invitation to tour the still incomplete interior and spilled this information into my envious but tell-me-more ears. She also earned a major coup by learning the names of the couple to whom we had been shouting daily encouragement—Alejandra and (yes, true!) Alejandro, or Alex.

The doors and window frames slowly changed in an unexpected way that spoke volumes for the vision behind their transformation. Where the paint had been removed, the oxidized metal became the finished product. Where the turquoise still stubbornly clung to the surface, it was partially covered with a combination of colors that perfectly mimicked the rusty, distressed metal surface. The finished work spoke to the process of industrial decay offset by the timelessness of the rough adobe-appearing wall. 

I volunteered one afternoon a few days before the opening and dabbled a bit in this part of the job (unfortunately also spilling some rusty paint on a thankfully less visible part of the coral). I spoke to the welcoming Artist and learned his name is Dionicio. I complimented him on his work and we exchanged information about our past. His weekly overnight trips are to camp in the mountains above the village. About once a month he also organizes a day trip to a sweat lodge, or temazcal in the previously mentioned ceremonial grounds. I was honored to receive an invitation to join him on these ventures.

We are proud of the fine work of our vecinos--neighbors
During the last days before The Opening, the only piece not in place was a sign. A mere few hours before the appointed time it was installed—a large unfinished iron slab with the gallery’s new name, La Peña de Santos Rico, and the outline of the two figures (see accompanying photo) etched through the metal plate. Backlit, the light shines through. It couldn’t have been better conceived or executed, we decided. With tears in our eyes, Dionicio, Alejandra and Alex, and Edgar received our appreciative applause. The opening party last night was a love fest and smashing success. 

FLASH: We have confirmed that Alejandra, AKA La Novia, is also the daughter of Dionicio, AKA The Artist. This is in addition to her sister, the still unnamed mom of the group formerly known as NBF. It's a family affair!

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