PRINT Summer 1989


The function of art

THE CHILD HAD NEVER before seen the sea. One day, his father took him to her. They traveled for many, many days until they found her, beyond the tall dunes, waiting, announcing herself in the powerful and fragrant winds, and in the hoarse voices of waves breaking on the shore.

When the child and his father finally reached the crest of the dune, the sea exploded before their eyes. The immensity and brilliance of the sea was so great that the child fell silent, awed by her beauty. When he finally found words, he begged his father in a trembling stutter, “Help me to see!”

celebration of the right to fly

AT THE ENTRANCE TO THE town of Ollantaytambo, near Cuzco, I was able to break away from a group of tourists, when a local child, sickly and dressed in rags, asked me to give him a ballpoint pen. I had only one, and had been using it to jot down boring notes on archaeology, but I offered to draw a little pig on the back of his hand. Word got around in no time, and suddenly I found myself surrounded by a swarm of children who demanded, at the top of their lungs, that I draw animals on their little hands, furrowed by dirt and cold, skins of burnt leather.

One wanted a goat and another a cobra, some preferred birds high-soaring or sweet of song, chattering parrots, scary owls, and of course some asked for dragons and ghosts.

Then, in the midst of this uproar, a tiny waiflike child, just a bit over three feet tall, showed me the watch drawn with black ink on his wrist.

“My uncle, who lives in Lima, sent it to me,” he said.
“Oh, and does it keep good time?” I asked.
“It’s a bit slow,” he responded.

a celebration of friendship

JUAN GELMAN TOLD ME of an old woman who, on a street in Paris, fought against a brigade of municipal workers with her umbrella. The workers were catching pigeons when, emerging from a Model T Ford and brandishing her umbrella, she rushed into the attack. Swinging the umbrella with both hands, she cleared the way and untied the nets where the pigeons had been trapped. As they flew away, she turned on the workers, who tried to protect themselves however they could with their hands.

The workers stammered apologies that the woman refused to hear: Don’t take it so hard. . . . These are good orders from above . . . the pigeons are ruining the city . . . they’re a terrible plague. When the furious woman’s arms grew tired, she leaned against a wall to catch her breath, and the workers asked her for some sort of explanation, and she said: “My son died, and became a pigeon.” They then proposed, “Lady, why don’t you just take your son and let us work in peace?” They said that they had a lot of work to do, trapping the millions of pigeons that were loose all over Paris.

“Oh no!” she exclaimed. “That I would never do!” Looking through them as though they were made of glass, gazing into space, and far away from them, far away from everything, she said:
“I don’t know which pigeon is my son. And, even if I did, I still wouldn’t take him with me. What right do I have to separate him from his friends?”

a library is not a cemetery

IT WAS AT THE DOÑATE’S house, not far from Barcelona. Pilar and Antonio were watching television. On the screen a Latin American novelist spoke, a repentant leftist fervently dedicated to the confusion of free enterprise with the freedom of the spirit.

The novelist was in the midst of his praise of money and disenchantment, in the midst of his attack on those of us who believe that capitalism is not an inevitable curse, when a tremendous racket came from just above the television set: the three volumes of Memory of Fire had fallen, as if out of sheer will, creating a terrible noise as they tumbled from the bookshelf.

Several days later, and in a very casual way, Pilar told me what had happened. After all, since books are filled with human words, there’s nothing strange about them expressing their indignation.

Eduardo Galeano is a writer who lives in Montevideo. His latest work Is the trilogy Memory of Fire: Genesis, Faces and Masks, and Century of the Wind, published by Pantheon Books, New York. Translated from the Spanish by Tracey Hill.