DIEGO RIVERA -- MY ART, MY LIFE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (WITH GLADYS MARCH)
I CAN HARDLY REMEMBER ANYTHING of my voyage from Spain to Mexico. All I have retained is a marvelous vision of the Azores emerging from the sea. In the distance, they look like a series of mountain tops, then an idyllic landscape with majestic waterfalls spilling down the mountains.
As soon as I disembarked in Mexico, I was struck as by a gigantic shock. My whole being tingled. I seemed on the verge of a magnificent discovery that would reveal the meaning of my life and the life around me. But all too soon the feeling passed, and I returned to my normal state of mind.
On the way home, I was busily making observations, particularly of color. The faces of Europeans had been clear against more or less dark backgrounds. In Mexico, the backgrounds were luminous and the faces, hands, and bodies dark against them. This discovery suggested new things I could do in my paintings. I was deeply moved by the panorama of landscape on my journey across the tropical and semitropical expanses of my homeland. When I finally reached the heights surrounding Mexico City, I could almost feel the landscape permeating me.
Other emotions awaited me at home. My family was then living in a three-story house on Carcuz Maria Street, near the Merced market. It was not unlike a house we had lived in during my childhood, and when I saw it for the first time, the resemblance precipitated a flood of memories. Climbing up the stairway, I saw my mother halfway up. She turned, a look of astonishment on her face. Planning a surprise, I had sent no message that I was coming.
When I was almost beside her, I saw her eyes widening with a strange look. She was staring over my shoulder at something that seemed to affect her like an apparition. Instinctively, I turned my head in the direction of her gaze. Outlined against the entranceway was the silhouette of a thin, tall Indian woman who, when she saw my eyes, stretched her arms out to me.
I bolted down the stairway, my blood racing. As the woman took me in her arms, the light seemed to dim. I could only gasp, "Antonia!" It was my old Indian nurse. She kissed me all over my face, and I returned her kisses. My arms held her body tremblingly.
She cried, "My child, I have arrived in time. Eight days ago I dreamed about you in my house in the Sierras where you lived as a child. When I awoke, I began walking here, feeling that every step was bringing me nearer to you. I was not deceived. I reached here in time to take you in my arms before your own mother did."
At that moment, I recalled the strange feeling I had had on leaving the ship.
My mother was weeping and looking at Antonia strangely. In a tone of sadness mixed with defiance, she said, "Yes, I am certain that you dreamed this news about him. I know you possess him, because I never have. That is why I have been so sick and unhappy. But if only because I gave birth to him from my own body, you shall never be able to claim him truly as yours."
My Indian foster mother, twice as tall and twice as beautiful as my real mother, looked angrily at her.
"Yes, it is true," she replied. "You gave birth to him. But if it were not for me, he would not be alive. You were not able to keep his life going. I was. That is why he is more mine than yours. Were you able to see him when he was far away and to count your steps so that you could meet him the moment he arrived? Could you? If you could not ..."
At that, her voice broke. My mother took her in her arms.
Holding one another, the two began to cry, desperately, hopelessly, the sorrow of all womankind in their voices. Watching them, I could feel myself growing small, thin, insignificant, empty. What could I offer to compare with this stupendous expression of love?
Then I started to laugh and laugh. I took both of them in my arms and kissed them with drunken madness. After we had all calmed down a bit, it occurred to me that my great-aunt Vicenta was not in the house. With new sorrow, my mother told me that she had only recently died. She took me to the deathbed in which my greataunt had lain just four days before. Her absence added to my feeling of emptiness.
As I stood looking down at the counterpane, something live crawled painfully out of a nearby dresser drawer and across the floor toward me. It was my childhood pet, my dog Blackie, now blind and so feeble with age he could hardly wag his tail. When he reached my feet, he lay down and began making strange sounds. I bent down and took his head in my hands. He touched my cheek with his tongue, then became limp, and with just a slight convulsion, died.
My return home, the clairvoyant arrival of Antonia, her crying scene with my mother, the news about my great-aunt Vicenta, the death of Blackie, who it seemed had only waited for me to come back to die -- all occurring together, threw me into a state of terrific confusion. I remember little else about that day, except that my father appeared, summoned from his office by my sister, and that as he greeted me with warm explosions of affection, I suddenly lost consciousness.