La Partenza

La Partenza – Watercolor – 10 x 15 inches.

I remember: she met her on a bright afternoon in April. It was obvious to all of us that within minutes they had become enchanted with each other, and so they began an enchanted summer together. In April, the trees along the western side of the lake were in bloom and I had given up trying to paint the white blossoms rising and falling on the surface of the water. I gave up trying to paint the two of them as well, except for this little watercolor, in which only one appears.

I was her friend, their friend. We spent many hours together hiking and riding bicycles and talking about nothing I can remember now. Except for a song we loved, very popular during that summer. Sometimes it sounded faintly silly, like a lot of pop tunes, but the lyrics turned out to be prophetic: “I won’t be afraid of winter when I remember the summer when you used to love me.”

One evening, the heat of July inspired us to haul their bed out of the house into the orchard, to fall asleep listening to the songs of owls and crickets. One morning weeks later, we woke up, the two of them tangled in each other’s hair, our blue sheets covered with a blanket of yellow leaves.

It’s September in the painting. The days are still warm as summer lingers, but the hours of sunlight grow shorter. Soon the green mountains on the other side of the lake will be covered in white. She had cut her hair, and other things. She did not look back. I painted her as I remember her, hesitating slightly, but not looking back. Even when she stepped onto the boat and out of our lives forever, she didn’t look back.

Cine Nuevo

Cine Nuevo – Watercolor – 14 x 19 in.

The train ride from Madrid had been tiring. It was only my second visit to Spain and my first to Barcelona. It was nearly night when I checked into the hotel, so I paid little attention to the neighborhood, just collapsed into bed. But in the morning when I opened the curtains and saw these ruins across the street, it felt like the opening of a new day into what a future might become.

Creating images involves a lot of paying attention. You have to draw proportions of cars and people in relation to buildings, and also angles of light and shadow. Everything changes quickly. The man in the bottom left corner consulting the Metro schedule will either descend the steps into the subway or walk out of the picture. Someone will get into one of the cars and drive away; someone else will park another car. Meanwhile the sun rises higher, a family of five on their way home from Mass will appear. Then a bus or two, and a taxi on its way to the airport.

So the next mornings you open the curtains and continue to work. Gradually the thought occurs that you’re not simply painting light and colors, but layers of Time: The tattered posters advertise a concert that happens next week, or maybe it happened a week ago? The day you are painting, today, will in a few hours become another day, tomorrow. The Cine Nuevo is only a husk of what it had been. Behind it, the Teatro Nuevo, built in 1901 and rebuilt in 1922, is a relic skeleton of even earlier eras. (Only later you peel yet another layer: Both theaters burned to the ground in 1988.)

Over many years, through paintings like this, I created a future life on the other side of the world. In a week I’ll return to that home again. So until November, the next posts will come to you from Spain, adding, I hope, even more layers.


Diamondwater – Watercolor & gouache – 10 x 14 inches.

“For as long as I can remember, I have been puzzled by the fact that I can feel like a Christian only when I am indoors. As soon as I get into the open air, I feel entirely out of relation with everything that goes on in a church – including both the worship and the theology.”
— Alan Watts

When you walk along the eastern edge of the Maestrazgo above the Mediterranean, there’s little to tell you about the bones of dinosaurs sleeping beneath your feet, or the footprints of Knights Templars, Moors and Romans who walked here long before you were born, or cave paintings from the Pleistocene Era, or the Maquis guerillas who hid in these mountains and fought the Fascists in both France and Spain long after the Civil War ended in 1939. There’s only the bright ocean that makes you imagine that if the sun were not so radiant you would be able to see the North coast of Africa.

It’s a drowsy Sunday afternoon in early Autumn. Your Spanish friends, who have graciously included you in their hike, are curled up with their packs under the shade of black pines. You hear the chirp of insects and the cries of hawks high above in the bright blue air, and faintly at your feet, the murmur of a stream that frets and pools around stones on its long journey to the sea.

You listen, and draw, draw quickly, remember the colors for later tonight, draw quickly, because your friends will stir out of their siestas soon, and it will be time to lace up your boots and walk home with them.

For a while with your pencil you held the stones and light and the trickle of water on the paper of your book. It was only later that the stream came back to you in memory: Like a friend, it had been holding you as well.