..First Glyph

March 1
7 p.m.

I am going to miss Queretaro's contemporary art museum, I'm afraid. A real shame, this. I have visited the museum every time I have come to this city. My first visit was made in response to my guide book. Every other visit has been made in response to one specific piece of art there. It's in the museum's permanent collection. A seventeenth century sculpture in wood. Its subject: God. I really want to see the piece but I just laid out my money across my hotel room bed and subtracted from it what bus fare and hotel rent I still need to pay in order to arrive at this journey's end. I had hoped enough would remain for an extra day here. I had hoped to spend at least one work-free, one travel-free day here, recreating. Alas, I cannot. It behooves me to keep a forty dollar cushion between myself and oblivion, I think. With just forty dollars I can get to the border from anywhere left on my itinerary.

God is not so often represented in art. There are countless representations of Jesus and the apostles and the saints and Mary. Much fewer there are of God himself, the father God, that acme of the Christian trinity. This Queretaro example I remember distinctly. It's extraordinary in its simplicity, in its humility. And this, I think, may be what makes the piece so compelling for me, so singular. For God, the father God, the creator of the universe in humble monkish garb? Indeed. His throne is the earth itself in the sculpture. He raises a damaged handless arm. The other hand rests on a knee. God wears long flowing hair in this piece, but a bare face, a beardless face. And the face. It is the face that seizes you from across the gallery, its expression. I have never seen such an exquisite and powerful rendering of compassion. But it is a lordly compassion. Nothing weak or solicitous in this compassion. This is the compassion of a father disciplining his child, maybe. Or of a father watching his child struggle through some harsh lesson of life, through grief perhaps. The compassion is replete with affection and love. But it is chiseled with purpose and with meaning and with a sense of what nourishing fruit this struggle will bear. You see this expression carved in this wood and you yourself feel hope. You see it, and you yourself feel strengthened. What amazing courage that artist had! Or faith! Or foolishness! To tackle that most intimidating of subjects. And how he succeeds! Anonymous, he is. His name unknown. "Padre eterno," the piece is called. The secret of all genius glows from it like the lambence from a low burning fire. It's the kind of piece before which you want to kneel.

As if in consolation for my missing this great sculpture the cultural channel here just aired a French documentary on the painter Francis Bacon. I recognized one of his triptychs from a book I once studied. I was surprised at how well I followed the program's Spanish sub-titles. I guess it's because I was interested.

Queretaranas still I find startlingly and consistently exceptional. With daytrips to Celaya and San Juan del Rio and Irapuato behind me, I am only more convinced of their superlative, even peerless, beauty. Of very fine features, they are, and generally fair. This is as far as I can describe them really. Black black hair. A dense community of Europeans must have lived here during the colonial era. That would explain the fairness. The French emperor Maximillian was executed here, I know. But that's the only real hint I have to the city's ethnic background. I wonder how Guadalajara girls will seem to me now--now after Queretaro.

I returned from Irapuato too late today to enjoy a plato del día at some restaurant nearby. They stop serving them usually about five. I ordered instead a torta. A torta is a Mexican sandwich. It differs from its American counterpart primarily in its bread--A thick tough roll, halved. On mine today was heaped salchica, or, frankfurter. I also consumed sopa Azteca. This is a tortilla soup. Spicy, is tortilla soup, with avocado floating, with white cheese floating. But tortilla soup was not made to be eaten with a frankfurter torta. No it was not.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers