Saturday, November 30, 2019

Chimaltenango and the Calendar of Faith

The first trip my wife Karen and I took (before marriage) was to Guatemala in 1975. We were enjoying the known tourist spots, but got an idea to pick a random town on the map and go where tourists usually don’t. So we got on a bus and got off at Chimaltenango. We looked around for a few minutes and immediately re-boarded the bus. Nothing about the town looked the least bit appealing and we quickly figured out that there was a reason that Chimaltenango was not on the tourist list. It became a metaphor for future situations where we thought that things that didn’t pass some test of time and experience were as interesting as those that did. And then finding out they weren't. (I actually believe they might be if you look at them differently and know where and how to look, but that’s another discussion.)

So yesterday we took a welcome bike ride to the Legion of Honor Museum to see an exhibit by 19thcentury French painter James Tissot. I had never heard of him and by the end of the exhibit, I knew why. He actually was a very technically accomplished painter but the subject matter of French women’s fashion, followed by a late-life obsession with Biblical images, left me feeling like he was the Chimaltenango of French painters. There was a reason why his name is not sounded alongside Renoir, Degas, Manet, Monet, Seurat, Gauguin, Pissarro, Cezanne and others. But I did like an early painting of the Dance of Death, complete with bagpipes and a later one of two people holding a light at a séance that seemed like it was truly a light shining out of the canvas. 

From there, went to our beloved Green Apple Bookstore to get next year’s calendars. I’m not at the age yet when I wonder about buying an unripe banana, but well past the 50-yard line on the mortality football field, I did feel a twinge of buying calendars as an article of faith. A faith I’m happy to profess as I look at its blank pages, imagine how they will be filled in both familiar and unknown ways and hope that the fates will be kind and this time next year, I’ll be buying the next calendar. 

Meanwhile, on I go with my bucket list and I’m pretty sure that Chimaltenango is not on it.

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