None of the dozens of paintings I have created in Spain would have been possible without the friendship of Toti Romero and her husband, Manolo Blasco. We met on my first visit to Valencia 30 years ago, in August of 1988. The meeting was not an accident: Toti and Manolo were friends of my brother Tim, and so the gratitude I have for them also extends to him. (There are also many other generous Spaniards involved in the much larger story, especially Paco Julian, but I’ll relate those tales in future posts.)
During that first visit I stayed for several days with Toti and Manolo and their daughter Elena in an unusually beautiful old house in Paterna, a small town a few miles northeast of Valencia. The two-story house was surrounded by walls draped with bougainvillea and shaded by a variety of trees against the relentless Mediterranean sun. Toti had grown up in this house and, even though she, Manolo and Elena lived in a flat in Valencia, they used the house in Paterna as a summer home. Two years later, I had saved enough money to live in Spain for several months; Toti graciously offered her childhood home for me to live in.
The photograph shows the rear of her home, but only a fragment of a spacious yard, which also included fruit trees, a small swimming pool used mostly by Elena and her cousins and a chapel in which the local parish priest administered the sacraments to Toti’s grandparents and great-grandparents. It was under the canopy of wisteria that I painted a corner of the garden for Toti.
(One of the pleasures of painting outdoors is the direct experience of natural light. Unfortunately one of the difficulties is the light itself, especially if it falls on your canvas. So using a handful of clothespins, I draped a bedsheet under the wisteria to cut down on the glare.)
Toti was visibly moved and grateful when I presented the painting to her as a gift. I assumed that she would hang it in their home in Valencia, along with other paintings they had collected. But I never saw it again. Out of curiosity, I asked Manolo what had happened to it. He sighed and put his hand on my shoulder. “As you may know, Miguel, awhile ago we had to sell the house in Paterna. This was a great blow to Toti. I finally put the painting away in the attic. She said she couldn’t bear to look at it, as beautiful as it was, because it brought back too many memories of her home and the garden she had played in those days long ago when she was a little girl.”