..First Glyph

February 25
3:15 p.m.

My rash has spread. Like a medieval plague, it has. Flourishing. Like a plague, flourishing. The itching approaches torrential. I resist scratching my face. I've managed thus to keep the circular spots along my jaw and hairline more pink than red. They just look like pimples. Lucky me. When I scratch them they inflame, they inflame to bright. With bright red spots peppering my face I might disconcert people. They might think me a diseased foreigner. I don't touch my face. I just let it itch. I only scratch my body. My whole body. I do not know what to do.

In desperation I took my clothes to a lavanderia this morning. It's all I could think of. I took all the clothes that I washed out with that powdered detergent. I dropped them by the lavanderia on my way out to work.

I wear now a pair of blue jeans that were not washed out with that detergent. I wear now a pair of blue jeans that have not been washed out since I left southern Kansas. I should be safe in them, I think. Dirty is better than urticant. I hope the detergent is at fault. I rinsed out a pair of unwashed socks, too, last night, and underwear. I'm looking forward to getting my clothes back. Tomorrow I should get them.

Queretaro's central bus terminal sits a little south of the city and at a higher elevation than the city. I rode a city bus out to that terminal this morning and then strolled back down into town. The old Spanish aqueducts were the most arresting feature of the landscape. Then the six or so pair of church spires and domes. Queretaro slumbers in an undramatic but still sensuous relief. White-washed rooftops color one's first impression. The soccer stadium prominent. More rooftops of sandy-brown then, of sandy-pink. It was interesting to feel the general impressions of the city resolve into sharper observation as I neared it and then entered.

I idle again at the crest of that gently ascending pedestrian lane. From my small round table under the wicker awning of this cafe I look down the lane as the people of it come and go. Slowly they come. Slowly go. And with ease. Eight by eight inch stones cobble this lane they stride. The stones of charcoal gray, of pink, the mortar between them red. There is no sidewalk here. The lane is itself a walk. Eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings open directly onto the lane. Their plastered facades rise two and three stories. Pink, they rise. Red-orange. Cream. Ironworked balconies break up these facades; and awnings of varied shape and size. The nearest audible street hums some three blocks distant. A bus just roared. It's much easier to hear though the birds tootle. Birds tootle and flit in the bushy trees. Birds flit in the bougainvillea. The many architectures of this lane make one architecture so close and true they've been erected. And the afternoon light is thoroughly relaxed at the moment, softening the hard edges of the buildings, the wrought iron of the balconies. And then...the aroma of roasting coffee beans. Very sweet. Like simmering chocolate. And that Spanish balladeer crooning again from the cafe interior like yesterday. The proprietress brought to me my grail of coffee earlier. She disappeared then to leave me undisturbed. For hours I've been undisturbed. A beggar boy comes now. I refuse him. He enters the cafe. A beggar boy comes now, out of the cafe, a greasy sack of pastries in his grip. This lane is at this moment a young girl in a print dress. She holds before herself some dandelions.

A beautiful woman is a beautiful woman. No one of them is really more beautiful than another. Such a distinction, I think, is more a matter of taste than of truth. It is safe to say though that one place may boast more beautiful women than another place. This is safe to say. And I submit that Queretaro is one of these places. The average girl in the street here is more beautiful than the average girl in the street anywhere else I've toured this trip. This is not something I look for as much as something I notice. I see a woman carrying an attractive build; I see a striking head of hair; I see a confident elegant gait and I glance again to see if the rest of that woman is in concert, or in contradiction with these. From Matamoros through Mexico City more often than not my second glance has found contradiction. Here, and often enough to astonish me, my second glance has found concert. It is not a leering I engage in, you know. This is not what I do. It is an appreciation, I think. Yes, I appreciate. I appreciate these Queretaranas the way I might appreciate a Boticelli or a Rodin or a Degas. A woman's physical beauty is not, of course, the end of her beauty. There are gesture and expression. There are laughter and wit and speech. There are soul and personality. And mind. But these, these unfortunately, you cannot really appreciate removed. Only physical beauty can you really appreciate removed. Behold Ingres' Odalisque! Behold Delacroix's Venus! A moving woman compels me to look in much the same way these paintings compel me to look. Or maybe, to give woman due precedence, I should say those paintings compel me to look the way a moving breathing woman compels me to look. For it is the moving breathing women that comes first, that inspires, that becomes the model, the source of the work of art, and then...the work of art. First it is she, then it is she as a painting or as a sculpture. In both guises she compels. And why? And how? And what is it compelling me? This must be part of the mystery. For capture it, they do, the greats, this something compelling, in their works. Capture it. Possess it. Translate it. That shudder, it is, that shudder you see in a woman moving. That shimmer. That sparkle. That glitter, scintilla. Even the most subdued compositions will harness it. Vermeer, for example: She sits near a window. She concentrates on a quiet thing, on a still thing. But still somehow she sparkles--energy. If it has endured, it is there, compelling you, compelling you to gaze, to seize. Over and over again I return to this aspect. To this vibrancy. To this life. Yes, this life. This idea of life. Over and over again I've described it in different ways. As consciousness, I described it in relation to Siqueiros. As truth, or energy, or immediacy in relation to Rubens. Why do I not just say it then? Why do I resist calling it what it is then, this key to the masters' secret? Maybe it sounds too easy. Life. What kind of answer is that? Life. Maybe it's too pat. Life. But it is not too easy. It is not too pat. For what is it? What is life? And, more importantly, how did the greats create it?

I finished As You Like It yesterday sitting in a Queretaro plaza. I will read As You Like It again. I am still haunted by Henry IV, part 1. I need to scribble my thoughts down on Henry IV, part 1. If I do not scribble them down soon, I'm afraid I will not scribble them down at all.

Across this lane the light has weakened. Less flattering it falls, the scene sharper; more a study in contrast now than of finely sifted composition. Stones reflect the sunbeams haughtily, no longer bathing in them. Shadows slice clean black geometries, no longer stretching, disarmed. Corners are hard. And uncomfortable glints, too, pierce my irids. They arc from car glass flickering in the distance.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers