Macedonio, the grandfather

Bertha de la Torre de la Piedra

I have been given a job: search for a Peruvian painter and introduce him on a sheet of paper. I feel my heart race and my eyes need not search afar. Across the table, sitting before an indescribable soup, is my grandfather Macedonio.

The soup is indescribable because I crave a lean wizard above a myriad of breadcrumbs, plum sweets and scrambled egg. There he sits with his long at nervous hands; these hands belong to a magician or a poorly behaved child. Macedonio smiles like a fox and his visionary eyes are hidden behind strange glasses that he acquired God knows where. There are breadcrumbs on his jacket and his hands are the transmitters of far-off messages. These hands were efficient transmitters even before the era of “via satellite.”

Yes. Grandfather’s hands transmit something that has fallen into disuse today in this age of the go-go and youthful rebellion. Grandfather is very old only he is still vain about his age. However, it seems like it has been thousands of years since his hands transmitted messages from a far-off star, a star that always winked faithfully, a star that I contemplate more clearly during summer nights on the lonely beach where we live.

Grandfather’s hands transmit messages of beauty but also pain when said pain is deep. I don´t think they transmit ugly pain. Grandfather lives with us but he is off in another world sometimes.

He has a gift of capturing a ray of light on a fabric; he can trap a butterfly and close it in with colors but the butterfly doesn’t feel like a prisoner. Grandfather can collect slices of music and the screams of factory workers.

But he is a child: we, his grandchildren, are sometimes more mature than he. When my little brother explains to grandfather how the motor of his “chachi-kart” works, grandfather can only think of the car’s bright red color.

His pockets are the devil’s bag: dried flowers twisted into bird shapes, colored rocks, roots that suddenly have a voice.

Yes, his long and bony hands transmit messages. There is nothing like these messages to make us feel the nocturnal palpitations of jungles, the silent moaning of ancient ruins, the salty loneliness of coastlines....We can feel hot sand from our desolate ports running through our fingers!

These are his landscapes. But sometimes he picks up pieces of dead bones and chunks of mud and makes beings that groan and speak strange tongues. His sailboats navigate on inert waves during sidereal nights; they are illuminated by light from a far-off star that cannot be seen by astronomers and which only appears when we feel like good children under the sky of my silent beach.

Yes. My grandfather is frail. One time they compared him with a subject from an El Greco. He always walks hurriedly and the strange thing is that he never has a specific route. He can stop before a flowering branch or a horrible old fruit vendor and find beauty in her wrinkles that will eventually be transmitted to his canvasses. When he has no canvasses, he paints on cardboard, paper, planting pots or on music but he paints and paints because this is his reason for being, this and nothing but this.

Sometimes I drown in his paintings, in his hot sands, in his jungles drunk with heat, along his lighted paths. I can see myself in the faces that he paints and it seems to me that these eyes of oil shed tears and these lips wear smiles.

Sometimes I slowly enter his ice cathedrals amongst his crimson palaces, amongst his pale dancers, and sometimes I am a bit frightened of his world and I run away from his sad saints, his disillusioned poets, his Indians and their long hair adorned with flowers.

Yes, my grandfather has his world, his mysterious stars, his hands that deliver messages. And there are moments that he is very far away from us despite the fact that we are slices of his being and of his love.

But fear subsides when he enters the house with the bag of hot bread that he always brings to our table; we all eat this bread, even the baby that can’t speak yet and looks wide-eyed at grandfather.

A custom as old as the world: grandfather and all of us at the table eating hot bread.

Lima, 1967