I was doing some house painting for an elderly couple, a retired doctor and his wife, in our neighborhood last year. The doctor has taken up the violin and painting in his retirement. It appears as though his wife is never going to get the chance to retire. She’s never worked outside the home, but that doesn’t mean shit. She raised four boys, cleaned the house, washed and ironed all the clothes, and bought and cooked all the meals for the past 50 years. She still keeps the household running smoothly every day while her husband dedicates himself to his hobbies. There is no justice in this world.
After a couple of days of keeping to himself, the doc mentioned proudly over a cup of café con leche that he, too, was a painter.
“Pero, no soy pintor de brocha gorda, como tú. ¡Yo soy pintor de brocha fina!”
(“But, I’m not a painter who uses a fat brush, like you. I’m a painter who uses a fine brush!”)
He motioned for me to follow him down the hall. We stepped into his studio and he showed me his violin. He very briefly plucked each string then quickly set it down again. I was relieved. I’d been listening to him practice in the mornings from the other end of the apartment as I worked. I admire his dedication, but he has a long way to go before he starts giving impromptu recitals. I was overjoyed that he, too, was aware of the fact.
He started showing me his artwork. There were landscapes, still lifes, portraits of friends and family members, and lots of drawings of a family dog that had passed away long ago. He held them up for me to inspect, one at a time, awaiting my response. I was stunned at how crude his sketches and watercolors were. The self-awareness he possessed regarding his lack of musicality did not extend to that of his artistic ability.
“¡Soy autodidacta!” he beamed. (“I’m self taught!”)
That was obvious, but again, I was overjoyed. The lack of any sort of formal training made his artwork pretty interesting. He motioned for me to follow him across the room to where an easel was set up by a large window. The apartment was on the third floor and there was a nice view of the interior patio of the local seminary across the street.
“Usted tiene una vista bonita desde aquí.” (“You have a nice view from here.”)
“Bueno, los niños del seminario son muy ruidosos.” (“Well, the boys from the seminary are very noisy.”)
Then he placed a hand on the easel and looked me straight in the eye as if to say, This is where the real work is performed. He started placing oil paintings on the easel for my inspection.
If I had been shocked by the crudeness of his sketches and watercolors, it was nothing compared to what I felt when I came face to face with his oil paintings. But this time the shock had to do with the subject matter. All of the doctor’s friends, family members, and deceased pets, had been immortalized in the more frivolous artistic mediums of watercolor, pencil and charcoal, while the truly important people in his life, Right-wing Spanish politicians, had been given the highest honor of being preserved in oil.
There were portraits of Mariano Rajoy, the current Prime Minister of Spain; José María Aznar, a former Prime Minister from the late 1990s/early 2000s; José Antonio Monago, a former President of Extremadura…
I nodded and mumbled “qué bonito” (“how nice”) at each painting. Then the doc placed another portrait on the easel. I squinted at it.
“¿No sabes quién es ese, verdad?” (“You don’t know who that is, correct?”)
I shook my head. “Ni idea.” (“I’ve no idea.”)
“Este señor es el estimado Manuel Fraga Iribarne, el fundador del Partido Popular.”
(“This man is the esteemed Manuel Fraga Iribarne, the founder of the People’s Party.”)
Now this was a bit of a problem. I knew damn well who Fraga was. He was a disgusting man responsible for countless horrendous acts. But the doc’s portrait, a poorly executed likeness of a pudgy, generic-looking, bland and balding man, looked nothing like Fraga. But, I couldn’t say that. I didn’t want to offend him. (At least, not until he paid me.) So I had to pretend that I’d never heard of Fraga.
The doc patted me on the shoulder. “Te perdono, te perdono. Eres extranjero.”
(“I forgive you, I forgive you. You’re a foreigner.”)
Then came the grand finale: a portrait of José Antonio Primo de Rivera and one of General Francisco Franco. As I looked into the poorly rendered (and slightly crossed) eyes of el Caudillo, the words of Chevy Chase – “This just in – Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!” – ran through my head.
Apparently the doc hadn’t heard the news.