No Roads to Here

No Roads to Here – Watercolor and pencil on paper – 7 x 8 inches.

A few days ago I posted an image of a village street in Spain in the middle of the night. Frantic men were running and climbing walls to escape a bull with fiery horns. This is not an invention of my imagination. I was one of those fools. The bull spared me – barely — but meeting him has haunted me for years.

I painted the street scene objectively, I mean, as realistically as I could. You could say that I painted The Outside of the meeting, the confusion, the fear. What would an image of the Inside of the experience look like?

Here she stands: No shield, no mask, no sword, no cage, no clothes, no weapons, no defense, not even a smile. Her arms open like a peony. Fear yes, confusion no. Her arms open like the Buddha’s, embracing the World.

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The Bull With Fiery Horns

El Toro Embolado – Oil/canvas – 26 x 32 inches

“Here are three dangers to your life, Miguel: horns, hooves and fire.” Paco was telling me a story I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear.

“A year ago, I was on duty at the clinic when they brought in the first victim. He was a young guy wearing a football jersey. The flames had melted the shirt to his back. I had to listen to his screams as I cut away strips of shirt and skin with my forceps and scissors.”

“Would you like to meet a bull with fiery horns?” Paco had asked. Yes, but I thought I would meet it from the safety of a balcony.

“The guy was lucky to lose only skin. The year before, a Belgian tourist got too close. He got gored and trampled and died in the hospital. Local or foreigner, the bull doesn’t care.”

No balcony for us. We stood side-by-side in a crowd of men in the plaza when they clamped metal baskets of some flammable stuff to the horns. “Miguel, stay next to me and never, never get near the bull.” Two men lit the fires and set the bull free. We all scattered like rabbits.

Runners chased the bull through the streets and in turn it chased us. Paco and I got separated. I stopped, lost and panting, and suddenly the horns and fires were right in front of me.

I could smell the bull’s breath and I knew it could smell my fear. Paco yelled from a distance, “Miguel!” then in desperation, “Mike!” The bull turned away from me to chase other runners.

Paco and I trudged out of the village in silence. He refused to even look at me. I didn’t blame him. Later he forgave me and my hubris for ignoring his warnings and putting my life in danger; had I been hurt or killed he would have felt the fault was his.

Years later I painted this portrait of the bull. Now it hangs in the home of the mayor of the village. But the bull who spared me is still in me.

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Fiesta in Muros de San Pedro

Fiesta in Muros de San Pedro – Oil on canvas – 30 x 44 inches.

When the Romans reached the Atlantic Ocean, the western edge of their expansion into Spain, they called the peninsula, “finis terrae,” the end of the earth. Muros is a beautiful harbor town only a few miles to the south, and like many fishing ports, its patron saint is Peter the Apostle. Every year at the end of June, the inhabitants celebrate the saint’s feast day with concerts, masses, a parade, fireworks and dances.

If I had painted the fiesta “realistically,” this couple would be surrounded by dozens of other dancers. But I subtracted everyone else to emphasize the beautiful feeling that when we dance with someone we love deeply, we often feel that we are the only two people that exist in this world. These lovers could be holding each other anywhere, but at the moment, they know they are alone and dancing at the end of the earth.

The only other couple is the little girl, who is fascinated by the musicians, and the boy who ignores her to play his air guitar. Perhaps they are younger versions of the lovers. Perhaps they too will one day dance together and feel that they are in love, deeply, here in a fiesta at the end of the earth.

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