Sonnerie de Sainte Geneviève

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“Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.” Judith Thurman

He comes every morning, more or less at the same time and stands for a few hours in the middle of the small but overcrowded square. In the midst of lingering scents, in the midst of screams ringing out in the scorching heat, among the shadows of the running people – he stands awkwardly, with his legs apart, holding more than a dozen backpacks, the biggest of which every now and again slides off his shoulders and falls down to the ground. He puts him up and throws it on his back again and then he stands still for another few minutes.

Not only does he not say anything, but he doesn’t seem to be encouraging anybody to come closer to have a look at his stuff either. No one stops, no one slows down and nobody asks anything. Nobody needs those too big, too whimsical and impractical backpacks. Anyway, probably none of the passing people could afford them. But even if they could they would surely buy for the same price something absolutely different – a wheelbarrow full of beans or a plastic chair or simply a bag of rice, not to mention the whole mass of other useful little things, spread on sweaty arms, backs and shoulders of stubborn and desperate vendors.

Sometimes a little girl approaches the man. She comes barefoot and plays with the strips and strings which stick out of the backpacks. A swinging, stooping figure of the man bends, moves as he was dancing in the wind until a large backpack slides down to the ground and the man’s loud voice can be heard. The girl stands still, puts her hands behind her back and lifting her belly raises her head and looks up. She seems to be saying something, but her words die out in the bazaar hustle. After a while the child goes away and the man returns to his posture, enshrouded by vagueness and silence.

There is something irreversible in his persistence, inexorability of fate, a sort of necessity which eludes definition. In his figure there is nothing that would reveal impatience, fatigue, resignation, nothing. He sticks around silently in the middle of the screaming noise, like a clumsy puppet from which the strings were cut, a fragment from a long-running show, a silent cry of those who are not able to change anything but they try anyway.

Silence and noise, light and darkness, inertia and movement. There are no halftones in here. When it’s dirty – it is like being at the dump, when it’s clean – it is almost sterile, and even I have to put on a fresh t-shirt to be allowed to enter the mall. When it is poor, something squeezes you inside, when it is rich – everything glitters and flourish. 

And in that whole intensity of sensations, in those halftone-free impressions, in that changing colourful kaleidoscope of characters and landscapes – I often think I don’t move, I stand alone, I do not know what I try to sell or what I have to offer for those who probably do not need anything. I often feel that I myself stand still in the eye of silence or, as Noteboom once wrote – “in the eye of the cyclone”.

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And that everything I had experienced, even if it really happened – it has already gone, leaving no traces. And there is no redheaded female cat that I was going to see in a Salvadorian village. A month ago she was run over by the car. Just a month before my arrival. And there are neither kittens nor Oscar, who nearly three years ago helped me in Salvador. I arrived the day after his funeral. There were no warning signs, there was no transition, no halftones – it was a beautiful, sunny day, I had a smile on the face, a friendly, warm wind pushed me to the west, and then the evening came, quickly, unexpectedly, bringing sadness and sorrow.

The family recognized me. They even remembered Rafineria – my mascot. I put up the tent in the same place as three years ago. Someone caught a new kitten and brought him home. The cat climbed on my knees, we ate some rice together. I did not even notice when he fell asleep. I took him to the tent. In the morning the roosters were noisy as usual. I left early and that day I was talking only to the rain.

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The Holy Week in Guatemala Antigua. Everything is prepared with pump, tangibly, spectacularly, full of sophisticated gestures. The Holy Week is not so sad here, rather far from reflection, all-danced in a strange, feast-shaped performance.

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Holy songs resonate over the rugged streets. Vendors run among curochos – those who painstakingly carry huge, lavishly decorated floats. The biggest demand is for sunglasses and hats. With huge roses and wooden crosses everything wins – blown balloons, cotton candy, sticks for selfi, ice cream, even ordinary burgers.

It is no wonder – the weather is good, there is a holiday, and most people do not seem to come here to seek any spiritual rapture. The procession passes, the flowers are trodden down, and everything what is left on the road will be swept in a while. They passed. One can make another selfi, then go back to the table and open another beer. Laughing returns, although in fact it did not stop at all – it just got frozen for a while, enveloped with the clouds of incense which odour still rises above the cobbled streets.

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The bells are ringing, the night is coming, It gets cooler and the sounds become more intense. Streets are full of worshippers. The flames of the candles flicker, the whole world seems to be moving around. The parade seems to be floating above the ground in a dreamlike, phantasmagorical dance. Its movements swell out and crawl on the walls. The space is dancing in the flames. Everything moves when the light flickers. The figures shine, the halftones intensify, and the silence harmonizes with the sound. The trumpets blare, the drums beat, the bells toll and echo across the streets.

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