by Christine Williams
Viewing the extraordinary artistry of sanctioned graffiti on a recent trip to Valparaiso in Chile, I was struck again by one version of the concept of geomancy. I’m thinking of the idea that land formations and scapes hold different powers and forces, with different effects not only on those areas of the earth’s surface but also on the people and other natural life existing there.
Can it be so? Is the formation of hotspots of creativity in time and space random? What forces bring together artists of the Impressionist period in Paris or the abstract expressionists of NYC?
These days graffiti – or murals – can be found in towns and cities all over the world. But I would hazard the observation that none more evidently so than in Valparaiso, which is billed for tourists as a ‘bohemian, alternative’ city. In other words, well-heeled visitors be warned. Especially when it comes to uneven footpaths and high gutters.
The city fathers and mothers no doubt encourage the street art by subsidising talent and creative ideas and images. This encouragement has produced a plethora of artworks up street stairways, along otherwise constricted alleys, on footpaths, posts, walls and lookouts. And what exceptional looking out is possible – down to the port from the five hills protecting the city nestled along their slopes.
The versatility of subject, mood and political-artistic outspokenness is absolutely vibrant! And this sense of freedom extends even to the feline and canine worlds found within the built world of Valparaiso. Cats and dogs are generally all free-range – with just a few prissy owners holding their dogs on leashes for morning or evening exercise, the humans tending to their pets’ toilet needs, plastic bags to hand. Most members of the dog population, however, live free lives, wishing their owners a fine day at the office while they choose which sunny street they’ll stroll along and which tree they’ll find offers well-deserved shade for a noon nap. They’ll select their own spot on the footpath for a toilet stop, thank you very much.
And cats live the same liberated life, perched on fences, peeping from street corner crevices or stretching out at bus stops to sleep off the previous night’s exploits. Then waking to carry out their personal grooming on any pedestal or low wall that takes their fancy.
for them so far without success.
And everyone seems so happy about his/her interactions – humans, dogs and cats all providing a welcoming mood for visitors to indulge their own preferences in this care free wandering existence.
In fact the dogs are so obliging they’ll escort you – no need for formal introductions - when you set off along the elevated Av. Alemania (referring to the German part of town, not ‘mania’ as in obsession).
They’ve seen so many tourists traipse along that route to Pablo Neruda’s former house (now a museum) and heard the visitors’ sighs about the spectacular views and complaints about the distance to be covered (a couple of kilometres) that most dogs must have decided we do indeed need a ‘human’s best friend’ for support and direction. Having delivered you to the door of Pablo’s museum, the canines (our adoptee was a labrador-mix breed) amble off, handing over to the self-absorbed kitties who live lives of leisure in the museum grounds. Also enjoying the view which inspired the Nobel Prize-winning poet and diplomat to love and write.
Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs, / you look like
a world, lying in surrender. / My rough peasant’s body digs
in you / and makes the son leap from the depth of the earth.
‘Body of a Woman’ (3)
Leaning into the afternoons I fling my sad nets
/ to that sea that beats in your marine eyes.
The birds of night peck at the first stars / that
flash like my soul when I love you.
The night gallops on its shadowy mare / shed -
ding blue tassels over the land.
‘Leaning in the Afternoons’ (23)
I have gone marking the atlas of your
body / with crosses of fire.
... I who lived in a harbor from which I loved you. /
The solitude crossed with dream and with silence. /
Penned up between the sea and sadness. / Sound -
less, delirious, between two motionless gondoliers.
‘I Have Gone Marking’ (47)
My words rained over you, stroking you. / A long time
I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
/ I go so far as to think that you own the universe. / I
will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, blue -
bells, / dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.
I want to do with you / what spring
does with the cherry trees.
‘Every Day You Play’ (55)
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Desire (W S Merwin trnsl.)
Penguin NY 2004.
Then up the ladder of the earth I climbed
through the barbed jungle’s thickets
until I reached Macchu Picchu.
Tall city of stepped stone,
home at long last of whatever earth
had never hidden in her sleeping clothes.
In you two lineages that had run parallel
met where the cradle both of man and light
rocked in a wind of thorns.
Mother of stone and sperm of condors.
High reef of the human dawn.
Spade buried in primordial sand.
This was the habitation, this is the site:
here the fat grains of maize grew high
to fall again like red hail.
The fleece of the vicuna was carded here
to clothe men’s loves in gold, their tombs and mothers,
the king, the prayers, the warriors.
Strike the old flints
to kindle ancient lamps, light up the whips
glued to your wounds throughout the centuries
and light the axes gleaming with your blood.
And tell me everything, tell chain by chain,
and link by link, and step by step;
sharpen the knives you kept hidden away,
thrust them into my breast, into my hands,
like a torrent of sunbursts,
an Amazon of buried jaguars,
and leave me cry: hours, days and years,
blind ages, stellar centuries.
Speak through my speech, and through my blood.
The Heights of Macchu Picchu. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY, 1966. 27, 69-71.