Thursday, July 14, 2005


Maria Hernandez was just six years old when her grandfather, Eduardo Vicente López, started his painting. She remembers the day clearly: so hot she'd have been thirsty if it were not for the humid, heady, air, so thick, she'd drink instead of breath it. That morning, baby Maria saw grandpa López down by the beach painting on an old piece of wood resting on his knees, as his back rested against a tree. She approached, shuffling her feet in the dust so as not to startle him with her quiet, and asked what he was doing. "Perrito," he said, calling her by the name he used for her back then, "I have come to the realisation that I will never amount to anything, that I will never do anything important in my lifetime, that I will not leave a lasting impression upon this earth." Maria could only stare, wide-eyed, at her grandfather as he continued applying paint to the board with a ratty old brush. "So, Perrito, I have decided to be an artist." He worked on that painting for the rest of his life, little by little, until the day he died.

Grandpa López died when Maria was twenty-nine years old, on a day marked by severe heat and a cloud of hungry locusts. Within days, the waters off of their beach turned an angry red, and the bodies of rotting fish turned up by the thousands. Maria was sure that this was the physical manifestation of God's terrible sadness over the unfortunate, but necessary, calling home of one Eduardo Vicente López. Sometimes a man just becomes to old, too great, to continue his life on earth. He left behind many things in his little house by the water, but none of them seemed to have any life left. His gnarled wooden cane had become what it always was: a hardened old tree branch. With his parting, his old hat had become nothing more than a frayed thing of cloth and stitching. Even his shoes would do no more walking, and Maria felt not at all bad about depositing them in the garbage where they belonged. Maria craved sentiment, but was beginning to feel that when her grandfather died, everything he owned died with him. Then her eye fell on the painting.

A thing of beauty? Not really. Not in the conventional sense, anyway. But even though Eduardo Vicente López lacked the skill to turn paint and canvas into a realistic rendering of life, he still managed to capture life itself. Having found a piece of her grandfather at long last, Maria took the painting home and hung it on her wall above her dining room table where she would be able to admire it every day. One day, a few weeks later, while Maria was sitting at the table enjoying a coffee, her eye fell on the painting and a question suddenly popped into her head: What was the true potential of grandpa López? Even after years of work, the painting had never been finished, this is true, so Maria wondered if one was even capable of fully appreciating a piece before work on it was complete. Like Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon, which was left unfinished by the author's untimely death, perhaps it is not fair, or even possible, to say that an unfinished work is good or bad, pleasing to the eye or ugly, art or not. Perhaps grandpa López knew this. Perhaps this was his lasting contribution. He was not an artist, but a philosopher - though not the kind of philosopher who would be satisfied to spend his whole life talking, asking questions. No, perhaps grandpa López sought to create a physical representation of his one question, his one idea. Perhaps this is what grandpa López left behind after his death: a question of the potential of (a) man.

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