The Golden Age With Mosquitoes
In the morning I read while drinking black coffee and eating cookies. In the afternoon I went to visit the Jesuit's chapel, but it was closed. Someone sent me to the keeper's house next door. He had a strange garden of banana trees and piles of aluminum cans. I knocked at the door for a while but no one replied. I took some shots of the facade of the church and then sat down in the plaza across the street. I was bored and thirsty. I got up again and approached a kiosk, where the options were either fresh coconut milk or coca-cola. I took a photograph and walked away.
On a corner across from the plaza there was a souvenir shop. There I found some crafts made by a local tribe. I bought a green and red hand fan and a headdress made out of blue macaw feathers, probably taken from a relative of the parrot I saw on the Brooklyn-Queens expressway on that prophetic afternoon years ago in the chance encounter which would later drive me out in search of earthly paradise. I went back to the plaza, holding my newly acquired ex-parrot, now transformed into an ornament for an absent indigenous body, and a strawberry ice cream. While I was trying to put the headdress on over my head, I thought about the aura of intensity and mystical energy that would come over my father when he put on his costume. During my childhood in Buenos Aires, my father sang in a mambo orchestra and wore those colorful ruffled shirts which it irritated my mother so much to iron. When he put one on he merged with its plumage and became a bird-man. Once I had managed to attach the headdress on my head I felt the same radiant energy: I only needed a ruffled shirt and I would have been transformed into a bird of paradise.
On that sunny and boring afternoon I walked back to the hotel with my sticky ice-creamed fingers and the sense of having restored my paternal nobility by putting on my feathered headdress. Some of the locals, sitting on their porches, were amused at my appearance; some were annoyed: I could tell by their expressions. Like the good son-of-a-parrot that I am, I have always loved pure colors because their presence is so obvious.
Back in the hotel, the rays of afternoon sun were sliding over the shining pots and tropical plants of the front patio, illuminating and shading the peach wall like in a baroque composition. I sat down on the hammock hanging in the patio and tried to imagine the interior of the church I had failed to enter earlier. Remembered interiors of many colonial baroque churches that I had seen in different places throughout Latin America began appearing in my mind, each one reminding me of another, pulling me further and further into my memory.
As I began to fall asleep I found myself before Caravaggio's Christ. He was heavy, like a sacrificed animal, and his dirty feet announced that he had been walking in the market among the odors, the flies, and the yelling. Immersed in a world of shadows, I felt the weight of his body in my arms. Then I heard laughter: It was Velazquez's drunks. Their shining red noses glittered while they made their toasts, staring straight at the camera. I realized that these vine-leaf-crowned drunks had completely taken over everyday space, and that Bacchus, who once could only be found in those places reserved for the sacred, now visited them as just another friend from the bar. It was boiling hot as I entered the bucolic forest of a Flemish landscape. A group of bashful, robust women aired their fragile skin among the fruits and the buzzing chirp of harvest flies. Observing the scene was Ruben's red parrot. Eve grabbed the forbidden fruit. Tiepolo's sky enraptured me with an instantaneous outburst of luminous, changing clouds. The New World was born as plumed Indian women entered mounted on enormous crocodiles, and then I was overwhelmed by dizziness as I was shot from a giant cornucopia and found myself rolling among the fruits laid out on Carmen Miranda's headdress. I was lost in a world of representations that had sprung to life and overtaken the real world with a strange mixture of fantastic geography and supernatural history.
Falling asleep in the hammock, in my last waking moment I envisioned a golden age with mosquitos. It was a form desired by everyone, an ultimate moment that never came true but which expanded in new possibilities, every time getting closer to Paradise. It was a virtual return to the Paradisum Voluptatis, the site of voluptuous forms, where the body is one with the whole. The European baroque, even with all its vulgar naturalism, fell short in a number of ways. It lacked the concrete texture of perspiration--that intimate battle with humidity--the monumentality of spaces, the exuberance of vegetation with that smell of ripe fruits, the exotic flowers in the never-ending heat, those sunburned colors, and the buzzing of mosquitos, which, like fat angels of a tropical rococo, rule without mercy in the sky of Eden. I woke up two hours later, more thirsty than ever, with a collection of mosquito bites and the feather headdress somehow still clinging, however crookedly, to my head.