May 4, 2007

By Juvenal Sansó

Summer, this window open to light the warmth (but also to thirst and scorching effects and blistering of the skin to a blue-eyed little devil like myself) what one day is great pleasure, the next may turn later as when the astronomers tells us about solstices and equinoxes and precessions, (little did this matter to a kid like myself living deliciously quite close to the Pasig River in Manila) and the summer inclinations of our Lord, “The Sun”. What mattered then and now are the fragrances of the “dama de noche”, the champaca and the inebriating sampaguita; added to the changes in moods with the cool dawns and the sunsets; there was such kundiman touché of sweet melancholy as the sun had bidden goodbye in a blaze and the lingering blues and violets that came after in the twilight with cooling effects; when the perfume that the oils of the flowers released would make one’s senses rejoice. I have always felt the mood of affection and tenderness in this ambiance before the tropical night… as a child, I of course, did not at all know this would lead later to the adolescent urgencies and heightened sensual perceptions… the basic drives were defined as underlying the most fundamental conclusions to last a lifetime. The progressing maturing, when the sparks of internal combustion brought about the growing awareness of “the other” and love. It is the beginning of the end of innocence. The pessimist may add that it is also the beginning of progressive decay. Then again, decay is the essential nourishment of new life… with us between dust and dust. This bath of heat produced visions of color consoling my low points as my way to the delights of realization of one's ambitions. The inward concentration going hand in hand with ever-growing maturity in creative endeavors.

My summers have been so varied and difficult to summarize for they encompassed my quivering tangle of reflections as I so often peered down into the water when swimming in clear aquatic depths of tropical weeds and shells.

Water has been a constant companion through my life. Water combined with summer for me expressing nature in my works; lolling in the water, entranced by the mirages of the brilliance of the ripples leaping into life. The intricacies of landscape vegetations and flowers have dominated two-thirds of my mature life as I slowly began shedding the expressionist drama of my post-war lingering images. Some of my first bouquets show clearly a lingering dramatic vein.

The water elements in my mental, visual, formation may have started quite early in and around Spain in my very tender childhood as I have photos of myself with my sister sitting with friends on rocks in a river very similar to Montalban, Novaliches and Matabungkay. A truly heavenly place was Hermana Mayor that belonged to Benny Toda.

Then I had a long series of summers in Brittany (24 years o be exact) where erosion sculpted a most formidable series of rock formations so exceptional that it has now been declared a natural park by the French government.

Each of these places gave me the impetus to imbibe myself in the glory of nature when it behaves well, within the minute scale of the human.

Hermana Mayor was the top in Natural Beauty, pink beaches, dazzling azures in the sea, unspoiled forests and wisely integrated native-looking constructions, but the thoroughly modern comforts were offered by one of the most generous hosts I’ve ever encountered. The company was excellent! One particular private joy I discovered there was riding from the central house to the pink beach in the numerous open-air jeeps was that by closing my eyes and letting the sun strike directly on my eyelids as we went through the forest I would have most dazzling fireworks in my closed eyes as the leaves made a constant breaking up of shadows and patches of light... stunning!

Summer also meant lugging about a “ton-and-a-half” of sketch books, color tubes and all sorts of brushes on to the Brittany, the Northeastern tip of the Penninsula on to my beloved pink rocks and fabulous perspectives of light and massive forms of granite. It was so overwhelmingly new to me that I could only contemplate and salivate before this grandiose natural wonder…it took me two years of just looking and not daring to defile this offering. I started very timidly with what I thought were anemic sketches…seeing them much later, again, I found that they are more than adequate; a delightful gentle treatment close to the Japanese haiku.

Then, there, for some 23 years, my impeccable friends Mr. and Mrs. Le Dantec (he was a very busy person even during summer for he was the managing director of France’s most widely read newspaper ("Ouest-France” with over a 1,000,000 circulation); he created it from an obscure asthmatic Breton newspaper; (his wife was the daughter of the great master Georges Rouault); this couple treated me through the years, despite their work and having 3 children, truly with infinite kindness…I owe them totally my Breton adventure. In the morning le Dantec delivered me to the rocks with all my painting paraphernalia where I had no way of getting out of the rain… then he would pick me up for lunch; then he would re-deliver me to the landscape and pick me up again for dinner…more than GOOD ENOUGH! But he was also constantly watching the sky between the to and fro I mentioned previously to save me in case of rain…and save my works too which were fresh and most vulnerable. How can I ever thank them enough? Brittany has among the most capricious weathers in France…with instant storms brewing and smashing the coasts in sudden spasms. But the glorious sun was such a splendor when in a good mood! It’s quite impossible to describe the effects of these dramatic changes in color, intensity and tones…the tides are a wonder to behold for they are quite extreme…something like 12 meters in difference between high tide and low tide; thus if you had found a good spot you could go there after a day for the whole landscape changed with the tides.

If I am not wrong the tides advance with the time every some 45 minutes…thus what was a quiet bay with placid islets, with far away coves and beaches slowly changed into roaring waves crashing on the protective boulders at the end of the tidal cycle. A most awesome energy running against sheer naked rock. I had once started on “terra firma” but worked so intensely that I forgot the perils of the tides…and ended on a tiny island though I had not moved an inch. I had to gather all my stuff on my head and walk into the coldest water I can remember, sauntering on uneven rocks…and walk more than 2 kilometers where my very worried friends were waiting beyond the normal time…I, wet up to my neck and shivering like a storm beaten leaf. I wonder why I did not catch pneumonia; there are many accidents on this invigorating coast; many tourists are caught unaware in the natural turmoil, so wild that it may surge in a snap of your fingers. I was careful, I knew about the tides everyday as my friend warned me…but I was thoroughly enamored of my working there even beyond prudence.

My adventurous exploring of my surroundings near our residence by the Pasig River during the sunny months as a child, took me to a secret trysting nest between a high wall of a factory fronting Manila’s rivers; a quite grassy narrow passage protected from view by all kinds of wild vegetation in a giddy race to out-top one another. This was the illicit meeting place of lovers unknown by grownups like my parents, for example. Much later when I first came to know the works of Gauguin I immediately vividly thought of my chance encounters of the couples, maids and domestics of the neighboring houses, in what, in my young kids ignorance, I thought I was a “quarrel”…they were too furiously engaged to mind my shy presence at some distance…I was quickly reassured when all this ended up in such kind, tender stroking of the bodies and warm embraces that did not convey anger at all…enough for me to change my opinion to think it was all for the best…since I kept this a secret they continued their “huffing and puffing”, not minding my presence. It was so touching! Wishing them well and they wishing themselves more opportunities, they acted as if I was not there. I was careful not to tell other kids about this secret garden of the senses where the five essentials were satisfied there with the smell of the wild grass trampled and the flowers like “cadena de amor” (appropriately adorning the honey and the moon); also swarms of birds wheeling and crying and swooping, and the taste of the wild “ratilis” and all sort of wild berries there to complete my delight. The impact on my memory upon seeing the sensuality of Gauguin’s Tahitian realm brought back to mind a delicious secret of early childhood I had not shared till now with anyone…and to share it with Gauguin was a privilege quite exceptional.

A varying activity of that sensuous grassy path as a more dramatic activity that may convey another aspect of a life of the grown-ups…they performed out there quite a few circumcisions and the groaning and whimpering had nothing to do with amorous expressions…I was treated more like a grown-up boy and allowed to look on…I was very flattered with this honor…Gauguin must have been looking over my shoulder between the low branches and wild flowers and branches reaching down to the river…not very far from there I later learned how to swim in the Pasig River. Once I almost drowned there, and later, I saved from drowning two girls; two neighbors who were sisters.

Other summer milestones in my influences was Villanova (near Barcelona) where I have most kind and affectionate friends (ever since my good friend from Brittany had died I never was able to face the former Breton / haunts). Then by a good chance I had a most warm reception at Villanova (the husband is a noted businessman and she is a famous/international concert pianist). We met here in Manila when she was on an International tour. I did a lot of sketching in the old part of this seaside fishing and industrial port with very good beaches to boot…one day they offered me an empty house they owned just around the corner for me to mess up if necessary with my paints and colors. What a joy! I used it for several summers and other seasons of the following years where my “Villanova Flowers” came to fruition. It is still most probably my happiest cycle of happy colors and subjects; fortunately this happy state continues on today in this happy maturity! Villanova is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea and very striking, craggy hills set about with trees and over the ledges of rock plunging straight down into the blue sea. On the way the train to Barcelona sweeps along the coast and may afford you a fast peek of some nudist community sunning on the rocks…totally unconcerned by the passing on-lookers…most of them just don’t give a train’s hoot about the stark naked bodies in display unashamedly. Viva la libertad!...not once have I heard a critical remark from the train; actually they have become part of the landscape “au naturel”. The body stopped being sinful... at least there.

My Breton friends also meant other summer activities together…kids and all as on the beach and later in the season some mountain-climbing in the Alps for the grown ups…and later to finish the sunkissed weeks, a sojourn in Brittany with long happy hours of painting the rocky coast and scrabble at night where each one of us defended his ranking in the game as if it were matter of life and death. My disadvantage was enormous for I was quite a novice in French but I did not seek indulgence for it was a very good lesson in the mechanics of the language…he was, besides, a holder of law doctorate, in journalism and another of the national school of diplomats…another player had been a dean of many schools, alas, poor me! They had quite lot of fun teasing me…French is very difficult language; the infinite intricacies sometimes stumped them too…I learned quite fast to circumvent some difficulties by not trying to hit the highest scorings but by blocking their strategies and lowering their up-surges. They were furious…my revenge as to see I had changed their ways to my way…I came to 2nd Place sometimes. When I had first met the le Dantec couple they told me how “charming” was my (“carabao”) French…hell, NO! I said please do me a most coveted favor: don’t spare the rod; correct me every time I make a mistake for I’m dying to speak and write correctly. They agreed…and boy, one realizes how kind they were through the years with this. 24 years of faithfully watching out for my errors. My French came to about the level of my English.