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.”
One thought to “A Home in Paterna – 1”
“All things must pass”
Just knowing the truth and inevitability of George Harrison’s song title doesn’t make acceptance of its reality any easier. Logical, conscious thinking is often overruled by emotions, and memories of the past can tug on our thoughts and draw us into the past. I’ve pondered this quite a bit in writing about the poetics of nostalgia. Nostalgia is an emotion that is often neglected, even disavowed as retrograde. In a culture that especially values youth, progress and thinking about the future, this may be understandable, but it is unfortunate. There is great value in staying in touch with the past, drawing upon its fountain of energy. But nostalgia is a “mixed emotion,” in that it includes sadness that the past is gone as well as joy in the recollection of the past, all of this by degrees: greater or less sadness or joy depending on the circumstances and the compelling energy of the past or present.
It is understandable, but nonetheless sad that Toti can no longer view the painting of the “Garden in Paterna,” drowning as she must in the sadness of happy times being gone and lost rather than being buoyed up by happiness retrieved, relived from the past. But the painting does that, and it is testimony to its power and reality that it can provoke such mixed emotions. It is impeccably rendered: the colors, the light, the “sol y sombra,” the geraniums and lilies, the “azulejos,” ultimately the serene beauty of another time and place.
Our family knows that house also, due to the generosity of that couple who provided you with a residency there. One year, during Fallas, Jayne and I stayed at the house in Paterna with our then young children. The peace and serenity of that place were often interrupted, no more abruptly than each morning of the nine days or so that preceded the Feast of San José, March 19, when a rag tag group of a couple dozen townspeople would awaken the neighborhood with a “despertá,” a traditional wake up call made up of large fire crackers being set off on the streets, and with especially high volume when the “petardos” were tossed into the culvert pipes at the intersection of the driveways with the streets. Explosive memories of an otherwise tranquil and quiet “barrio” near Valencia.
“All things must pass,” yet mixed emotions remain. Gratefully, so too does the painting of the “Garden in Paterna,” inviting us in to enjoy its serenity and happiness.