My Friend Paco

Paco – Watercolor – 14 x 17 in.
Quartell is a coastal village north of Valencia. I was there visiting my friend Carmen. She thought Paco and I
could be friends. We found him with two lovely women in a crowded outdoor café. Rosa and Gema were
gracious and curious. Not Paco. He smoked a cigar, his green shirt, the color of lettuce, matched his green
shoes, and he was not interested in me. To a passerby, it appeared that five friends were amiably sipping wine. Not so: Paco and I circled each other like a couple of wary dogs.Carmen had told me that villages too small for a doctor would employ an Ayudante Técnico Sanitario, who helped with childbirths, administered vaccines, inoculations, set broken bones, etc. Paco was the local ATS, as well-known as the mayor. Villagers stopped at our table to chat.

“What brought you to this non-touristy place?” the women asked. I told them in my rudimentary Spanish about several previous visits to Spain. Paco was unimpressed. I began to wonder why I wanted friendship with someone who didn’t. Then he leaned across the table with a challenge: “So if you have already been to all those places, why do you keep returning to Spain?”

I was on the spot, but suddenly remembered a pun invented by my brother, Tim. “Porque soy un Espinaco,” I blurted: “Because I’m a Spainiac.”

A chorus of laughter from the women and the crowd at the adjoining tables because “Espinaco” doesn’t exist in Spanish. I silently thanked Tim.

The ghost of a smile appeared, then another challenge: “So, eh, what do you do in California?” By this time, I was fed up with thrust and parry and, sadly, had given up on being his friend.

“I paint pictures of naked women,” I growled, and then demanded in return, “So, eh, what do you do here in Spain?”

“I stick needles in people’s asses.”

More laughter, more wine. That was more than 30 years ago. We’re still laughing.

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More stories and images at: johnmichaelkeating.com

Eva’s Gift

Portrait of JMK by Eva Dejesus

When we talk about the art of photography, we normally use the word “take,” as in: I’m going to “take” a photograph of . . . . However, is it possible to “give” a photograph rather than to “take“ one?

For example, this photograph doesn’t tell us that the photographer and her subject are meeting in an empty loft that for more than three decades had been his painting studio. There had been drawing tables here, and easels, music, students, food, wine, filing cabinets, incense, fluorescent lights, models, shelves of books, watercolors of flowers and portraits of vintners from the Napa Valley. All these are now only ghosts in what had been the life of this place.

Nor does the photograph reveal that when he began all those years ago to construct this space, she had just been born. a baby less than a year old. The photograph also can’t reveal cobwebs and sawdust and give us the faint smell of turpentine, all that remains of what had been his creative and spiritual home for as long as she has been alive.

But here in the photograph, she is the artist, not he.  It is she, not he, who notices that the colors of the building next door mirror the colors of his clothing. It is she, adept at probing below surfaces, who sees the shadows around him, and in him. She reveals what he would prefer to conceal: his own sadness and exhaustion in having so carefully destroyed what he had so carefully created.

He expects to get an image of him as he sees himself. She gives him an image of him as she sees him. He remembers hearing long ago that some so-called “primitive” people would not allow themselves to be photographed because they were afraid that the camera would take away a part of their souls. Her photograph does not take away a part of his soul. Instead, she gives it to him, her gift.

You can visit Eva’s website at evadejesus.com. Follow her at @neva.dacity and @grassv.alley on Instagram.

My own site for more images and musings is johnmichaelkeating.com.

Snow Light: A Vision

Snowlight  Oil on Canvas  24 x 36 inches

On the day after the storm the air is cold and bright. A man enters a forest and wades through drifts along a stream. He stays alert to the murmur of the wind and the sound of clumps of snow falling from branches. He smells the fragrance of the cedars and listens to the cries of a hawk, but he is thinking of William Blake, trudging over sooty cobblestones under the sulfurous skies of London, imagining a vision of the “World in a Grain of Sand.”
The dogs, two dark silhouettes against the snow, frolic in the drifts. They pause to look back at him. He pauses too, leans against a pine and takes a mechanical pencil and a small book out of his parka. He draws quickly: shapes of snow, the curves of the far bank, ripples of light, like coins floating on the current, the large stone in the stream, like an altar under its white mantle,. His fingers grow stiff and the lead keeps breaking. He scribbles, “cerulean and pink shadows” and ”ochre water” and draws arrows to show the direction of light.
Suddenly the light fades and it’s too dark to see the book or the trees or the river. Where are the dogs? The wind burns his face. Then the trees and snow come back into focus. He hears a sound he can’t define, a choir? Wind, shadows, stone, water, snow, trees all fuse together — a chorus of light. Here is here! Here is there? Is everywhere? Is now?
The dogs nudge his legs, pulling him back into himself. He fumbles in the snow for the pencil he has dropped. His legs tremble.  He feels scared and indescribably happy. He follows the dogs on their way to nowhere in particular, shivered by the cold and by his glimpse of a Grain.

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More images on my website: johnmichaelkeating.com