The past is never dead. It’s not even past: William Faulkner
It is impossible to wander the streets of Valencia without being shadowed by memories, all of them beautiful, like the city itself. Each memory carries feelings of peace and comfort, because during the months when I first lived here, an unexpected new world revealed itself. It was not only the Spanish language — a new way of thinking — but also new friends and a Spain that was beyond the horizon of my American imagination.
Living in Valencia would not have been possible without the kindness and generosity of Toti and Manolo Blasco, who allowed me to stay in one of their homes and to create a painting studio in a vacant flat in their building on the Gran Vía. It had no water or electricity but as the days grew shorter from summer into autumn, I simply moved my easel closer to the windows to take advantage of the dwindling daylight.
During those months, I painted in the afternoons. In the mornings, there were classes in Spanish at the Centro Internacional de la Lengua y Cultura Española in the oldest part of the city. Walking through the narrow streets, preparing for classes by conjugating out loud the imperfect subjunctive of irregular verbs—fuera, fueras, fuera, fuéramos, fuerais, fueran made me feel self-conscious, at first. But everyone — pedestrians on their way to work, street sweepers, dog-walkers — ignored me, except on one morning when an old woman mopping the sidewalk in front of a shoe store gave me the gift of a wave and a smile.
I don’t remember what attracted me to painting night scenes, but the image above shows one of two versions of the same street corner. I wondered what the scene looked like now, but did not expect to see such a radical change, as you can observe in the photograph.
I miss the embracing lovers and hope they are still alive and still in love. I also hope I’m not alone in preferring the painting to the photo, but it doesn’t matter one way or another. Everything changes, whether we like it or not. The Valencia of today is another world from the world of years ago. The city of tomorrow will be different from that of today. Now if I could only figure out how to paint both worlds at the same time. Stay tuned.
2 thoughts to “Alive in Two Worlds”
I left your representation of the Valencian street
feeling that there is at least one certainty that I can take away.
The lovers wherever they are, and however far separated in time and place,
still embrace that exquisite moment.
It’s delightful that you revisit these spaces and love them as much today as thirty years ago. I agree that the painting is preferable over the present photo, but a successor may paint that street corner some day and revisit it thirty years hence only to see the romance of the past having been superseded by a colder present. No, actually, I prefer the painting and will prefer it when it is 30 more years on from now.
As for painting the two worlds at the same time, well, if any one can do that, you can. I think of your metamorphic images where you render the sea, land and sky quickly in seamless succession on the same canvas.