Guillermo Gómez Macías describes the story behind
The Old Man,… and the Sea?
One evening during a brief break in the winter of 1999, walking along a beach on Bahía Banderas* as the setting sun painted colored clouds, I found this canoe tied to the trunk of a palm tree. Even in its deteriorated and repaired condition, I could see that it was made from a single piece of wood from a parota or huanacaxtle tree. In fact, the sand and salt-eroded veins, the resin patches and the menacing cracks gave the impression that boarding it would add one more adventure to the story of this dramatic vessel.
The constant desire to observe shapes, textures, colors, etc. causes objects to acquire an individual character of their own. The presence of these objects in our space, our time and our lives, causes us to project our experiences on them and when we share them, we project ourselves on to the experience of others. This is why we have a need to acquire these objects, to carry them with us, because it makes us feel good, because it makes us feel human.
For the above-explained reason, the logical consequence of this discovery was to seek out the vessel's owner with hopes of reaching a commercial agreement so that I could bring the treasure back to my home.
After asking several locals, I found out that the owner of the canoe was "Don Jose", and that as his profession was that of a fisherman, I could undoubtedly find him during his early morning ritual of embarking on his little boat to go out to his panga*, anchored a few meters offshore, which he used to venture out to sea.
The next day, enthusiastic with my plans, I got up early and freshened up for my one-sided appointment to present my proposal. The morning was wrapped in a thick fog, blurring the rising sun into a pale yellow candle, and on the opposite side, the vast Pacific, sky and air, blended into a single canvas of gray-blue, deep, without any horizon. In that setting, minutes later, I saw Don Jose floating on a calm sea, followed at a distance by the faint, glimmering light of a crisp wake silently sketching his departure.
With that first failed attempt, but not discouraged, I inquired about his returning time, and following the responses they gave me, I stood on guard for his arrival.
That same day, just before sunset, I watched Don Jose as he approached in his panga towing the canoe. It was a performance to observe, anchoring the panga, pulling in the canoe, moving his tackle, changing boats and going ashore to finally disembark and deliver his modest catch of the day to his people. From a cautious distance, I could see that his work day ended when he and another dragged the canoe toward the palm tree to tie it up. That final act closed this daily ritual of his worthy occupation.
I confess that at the time, having observed this pulse of life, made me reconsider my eagerness to acquire what I now saw as a whole, together with its owner and its purpose. But I had already visualized this small boat in my house, and was now enriched by the story that I was witnessing.
Decided, I went to Don Jose, I presented myself, and in a manner of polite mistrust, he asked me how he could help. Without much preamble, I went straight to the subject of his boat and the possibility of him selling it to me. Smiling and satisfied, he let me know that it was not the first time that someone tried to buy it, he told me that the object was more than a piece of equipment, in addition to being part of his daily life, it somehow had a life of its own, it had its own name, The Gentile, and it had participated in official events in his community, as well as in private events, in a wedding, covered in flowers, and even in documentary films. Additionally, the name itself is quite a story, as he explained that Gentiles are fantastical beings from the region with human bodies and dolphin heads, feared because in novilunar nights, they emerge from the sea and steal girls. Wow! The energy projected by that boat, bolstered by such experiences, created quite a character!
My insistence that he sell it to me soon relaxed into a conversation and concluded in friendship and respect. Rather than ownership, we were talking about a peculiar relationship between a fisherman and his boat. It was a set of shared roles, and of free individualities of a man and an object.
With so much to think about from that fortunate encounter, I naturally spent a year working on the plastic interpretation of the experience and then translating it into a small sculpture titled Navigator.
However, as the dates approached when traditionally I spend a few days relaxing with my family on these beaches, my urge to acquire The Gentile resurfaced.
The day arrived, and enthusiastically I took it upon myself to look for Don José, which of course led me to the palm tree where the boat usually rested, waiting to perform the next day's work. The sun was slowly setting on the horizon and the canoe was not yet in place, which made me think that Don Jose was probably still out at sea, and that I had the opportunity to wait for him. And so it went, with the silhouette of the panga appearing in front of a glowing horizon, then stopping, changing boats, followed by the remaining, almost liturgical ritual. On closer examination, what from a distance appeared as a silhouette against the bright background of the sunset, then became clear in shapes and colors, and, surprise!, The Gentile was blue! Rather, it was not The Gentile, it was a small fiberglass boat commonly used by fishermen.
Don José evidently caught my look of surprise, since he bowed his head and gave me a somewhat mischievous smile. After greeting him I asked him what he obviously expected,
-and The Gentile?,
-they stole it from me, was his response.
-Yes, by someone whose desire overcame respect ...
To ease the tension, I conveyed my disappointment that he had not sold it to me earlier. Well yes, he replied, anyway I would not have sold it to you, I did not have the will to part with it, I only hope that whoever took it gives dignity to my old friend, but here I have El Bandido, he said, pointing to the new small boat, and laughing with joy. I helped him pull in and unload the boat while we happily joked and chatted about the loss of the famous canoe. I realized that, despite the loss of his "friend", Don Jose was still the same person, satisfied, generous and motivated with his work and life.
These circumstances, facts and protagonists, left me with an agreeable message: belongings are valuable as long as in essence they are useful to their owner, especially if that essence is made of human virtues of generosity, friendliness, willingness, hope ...
The entire story filled me with inspiration and led me to try to represent it in the piece The Old Man and the Sea ...?
(Translated into English from Guillermo Gómez Macías' original text.)
- Bahía Bandera is a bay located on the Pacific coast of Mexico, in the states of Jalisco and Nayarit.
- A panga is a specific type of boat used by fishermen worldwide.