A Conversation in Twelve Days: Reliquary of Remembrances

March 24, 2023
Line Holland America, Eurodam Cruise Itinerary
Line Holland America, Eurodam Cruise Itinerary

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In Memoriam Papá

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The ‘I’ believes in pleasure, laughter, good food, sex.   The ‘I’ believes in itself, sometimes it is proud of itself but sometimes ashamed of itself.   Who does not carry the stain of shame, a faux pas, a lost opportunity that, just remembering them, cures us of the threatening hubris of believing ourselves, in Mexican terms, the mero mero, the cat’s meow, the king of the forest, the bee’s knees?

Carlos Fuentes, This I Believe: An A-Z of a Writer’s Life; The I. p. 315. Bloomsbury Publishing, London; Translated by Kristina Cordero, Copyright 2004.

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INTRODUCTION:

Writing for me is the result of reasoning through experience, sifting agenda whether mine or those of others.   In shaping my narratives, the process inevitably extends long beyond the scope of a story.   I cannot define my emotions unless I have spent time examining them.   Unlike a professional journalist, on purpose I avoid writing on commission or for any kind of financial gain.  For a few years now, owing to the Covid Pandemic, I have substituted writing for my brushes and painting studio.   Spontaneity defines these narratives just as it had my abstract paintings.   I struggle for disinterestedness:   a universality intrinsic to every work of art. 

Thus, a narrative’s introduction is ironically an epilogue.  Initially, the conversation taking place between David and me had not been set.  It is through the course of this cruise that evocations are gleaned from the past.  They are our way of understanding ourselves as spouses.

This exploration of the West Indies and the Caribbean held des énigmes.  For us, it was the exploration of an unknown continent. Among these southern lands resided that Little Venice [Venezuela], the source of my current distress:  Why did I have to leave there a half century ago for a frigid Western New York?  This story illustrates both my father’s culture and my own perspective.

In the mutability of time, confessions seek understanding.  Memory comes from/out of habit, opinion, desire, pleasure, pain, and fear.   Each manifests a change.  Like jetsam in times of distress each one of these resurfaces, though not preserved, but transformed into something new.  The succession of worn-out ideas is an act of replacement.  

A wanderer’s hope and prayers I add for those left behind.   In pondering these memories, I examine my own validity and ambiguities.  This reliquary of contradictions stands between intuition and fact.  I seek the readers’ empathy as a transition.

Each alliance of loyalty between fact and intuition can place us in a better universe.  It is our beliefs that the human spirit can rise above life’s vicissitudes.

Here, I wish to include special thanks to Professor Andrew Irving, Ph.D., head of the Department of Anthropology, University of Manchester, England, for his generous support and guidance.  I have known Andrew for the past 26 years, and once I had the opportunity to collaborate on a research project, entitled The Art of Life and Death: Radical Aesthetics and Ethnographic Practice (2017).  Since before the publication of my WordPress’s web page Observations on the Nature of Perception (Visual Art, Aesthetic Plasticity, and a Free Human Mind) – a repository for short stories published as of 2008 – I had already shared with him a number of testimonials on aesthetics, which became crystalized in my post Acts of Individual Talent (2009).    These had evolved over our conversations in the course of thirteen years, starting in 1997 since we met for the first time:

Ricardo realized that the true measure of a painter is the making of art despite the obstacles and challenges one has to endure.   Ricardo was particularly motivated by the fact that there have been innumerable artists whose accomplishments did not depend on engaging with the marketplace.   He was drawn to “all the great works by anonymous artists from Greek and Roman Antiquity, that were plundered, destroyed, and stigmatized during the Dark Ages,” as well as Cézanne, who endured forty years of obscure labor before landing a first one-man-show, and Van Gogh, whose sublimely “outsider” creations were only recognized after his death.   For Ricardo, the term “outsider art” often denotes a prejudice toward individuals perceived to be riddled by some sort of physical or psychological health impairment.   As such, both academia and the art establishment tend to divide art on the basis of its cultural import or through an underlying bias that Ricardo suggests evolves according to market demands.   Another term is folkloric art, deemed to refer to the art of the colonies or the cultural heritage of a nation, which is associated with ideas of shared roots and lived experiences.   “Are these terms in some way similar or different from the issues involved in art produced during the struggle over chronic or terminal disease?” Ricardo asked after reading this chapter, “and while the notion of mutuality is essential to understanding the shared human condition, can it also help to expand sensibilities about understanding human expression in an interdisciplinary scientific context, bound by the myriad circumstances that may engulf human pathos besides biology, be it in sociological survival to fit in or as an effort to therapeutically survive a chronic or terminal disease?”   Ricardo’s response and analysis continued:  “There is great intelligence in the creative efforts made by the human mind to survive any circumstance.   Besides, it is undeniable that bodily pain and mental pain are ubiquitous in life, be it one of privilege or alienation.   The logical concepts of cognitive science with averages, classifications, and algorithms will serve no other purpose than to provide a mere approximation to understanding the complexity of human expression, its diversity, heterogeneity, and inenarrable nature. Can we really come to understand the ways in which different modes of inner expression – such as people’s ongoing interior dialogues, un-articulated moods, imaginative life-worlds, and emotional reveries – if they remain hidden beneath the surface of public activities, hence hidden from research?   Ultimately, that which is mystical about the cycle of life and death may not be elucidated by a tactical approach, but through a profound introspection that is very difficult to articulate.”   In 2008, Ricardo was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, a cancer associated with AIDS that affects white blood cells and can emerge when the immune system is weakened for prolonged periods.   Throughout his illness, chemotherapy treatment, and convalescence, Ricardo spent many months sitting in silence in his chair. Beds and chairs are often dynamic sites of thought, expression, and memory for people living with an extended periods of illness, whose thinking ranges freely across the past, present, and future.   People remain thinking and speaking beings even when lying or seated in silence for long periods and may be negotiating critical issues, dilemmas, and decisions regarding treatment, work, or faith and be engaged in emergent streams of interior dialogue, thought, and emotion.   It was during this state, which Ricardo describes as one of “high inertia” that he came to recognize the simplicity, power, and aesthetics of silence, especially “when compared with all the noise and visual cacophony of the tangible world at large.”   Of course, a silence is never simply a silence.   Different days are mediated by different silences; an uncertain silence, a good silence, a heroic silence, a surreal silence, a painful silence.   A silence can contain the faces of the people closest to you, thoughts of suicide, images of the world outside, daydreams, and future-orientated life projects.   After months of dwelling in silence, Ricardo wrote a Manifesto of Silence to help him think through and articulate his thoughts. It begins as follows:   “The verbalization of an aesthetic reality implies its own death; no matter how precise, its very accuracy of words resists the magnitude of that reality.   It is found in the open space of silence, in the virtuous stillness of a meditative contemplation, in the freedom itself of the known, free to observe with a heightened attention, where questions are unnecessary and responses trivialize the very observation.”  After finishing the chemotherapy, Ricardo came down with severe tendonitis, which meant he no longer had the requisite strength to stretch canvases in order to paint.   Consequently, when he started painting again he did so on hanging scrolls.   Ricardo came to understand the scroll material and how it behaved in its simplest of terms and in relation to his own physical limitations.   Between 2009 and 2010, Ricardo started to work on a scroll series called Metaphors of Silence, in which “it was this incidental simplicity of the medium of scrolls and my empathy for the nature of silence that produced the subject matter.”

Andrew Irving, The Art of Life and Death: Radical Aesthetics and Ethnographic Practice (2017), Chapter 3, To Live That Life; Observations on the Nature of Perception, pp. 119-24

When I last revised my post Acts of Individual Talent in 2020, I concluded:   What use would creativity or intellect be to us without compassion?, would we not need to assess our system of valuation, perhaps even our own cultural rationality?

More recently, on February 3, 2023, Andrew and I also had a long discussion via Zoom, which was based on my WordPress post Meditations on Ortega y Gasset (2022).  At that time, he provided a critical analysis with extensive bibliography, which, he felt, would enhance my perspective about the Enlightenment and its limitations. 

Furthermore, I extend my gratitude to my friend and editor for the past 36 years, Billy Bussell Thompson, Ph.D., professor emeritus, Hofstra University, Department of Romance Languages.  It is thanks to Billy that I remain hopeful in developing my skills as a writer.

Fort Lauderdale, March 24, 2023

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Plato’s Symposium:  Diotima on the wisdom of love.

“So do not be amazed if everything honors by nature its offshoot; for it is for the sake of immortality that this zeal and eros attend everything.”   

“ . . . in as much as in the case of human beings, if you were willing to glance at their love of honor, you would be amazed at their irrationality, unless you understand what I have said and reflect how uncanny their disposition is made by their love of renown, ‘and their setting up immortal fame for eternity’; and for the sake of fame even more than for their children, they are ready to run all risks, to exhaust their money, to toil at every sort of toil, and to die.”   [Location p. 37, 207a-208]

Plato’s Symposium:   a translation by Seth Bernardete with commentaries by Allen Bloom and Seth Bernardete, Chicago:   University of Chicago Press, 2001.


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I

Clouds loomed, as if mountains, over the horizon.  From the balcony of our stateroom, we watched the wake’s effervescent whiteness.  Gulls pierced rolling waves and cawed their disputes.

 

II

Our travels across the Bahamas and along the coasts of Central America had begun five days ago on the Eurodam.  On January 4th we had left Fort Lauderdale.  Already we have passed by north of Cuba and and south of Hispaniola.  Now, we are approaching Aruba, a mere 76 miles from Venezuela.  A pilot boat will guide us to moorage.  But a fire alarm has gone off, and the stench of diesel permeates the air.  A few minutes later the captain announces: Everything has been brought back to normal.  The emergency has been aborted.

 

III

David and I are speaking; emergency lights are still flashing.

  • It’s been fifty years since I left.  I was 17.  

 

IV

We disembark in Oranjestad.

  • Eighty-five years today my parents were ostracized from Germany.   Five years later they married in the United States, where they lived happily until their deaths.
  • For my parents, leaving the country was never an option and their marriage was unhappy.
  • Did you ever come with them to Aruba?
  • Only as a child.

 

V

  • How was your relationship with them at that time?
  • My parents emphasized independence.     For me they were a bridge to the country, still.     They understood I had to go abroad.   There was no other choice.   From my love for them, ties to Venezuela have never wavered.     Our proximity now, however, elicits no nostalgia, only recollections.    I do care, though. 

 

VI

  • You must have some memorable moments from then?
  • Camping out with the Boy Scouts on the Andean plateau.  That honed my vision.
  • Anything else? 
  • I remember the ashrams of the Universal Fraternity.  There were monks, followers of Serge Raynaud de la Ferrière (in Valencia, Maracay, and Caracas).  I frequented all three of them, during the summers.  These ashrams schooled its attendees in a mixture of natural sciences and Buddhism:  For me this was more stimulating than listening to church sermons, with their evocations of sin and the shadows of shame.  That’s when I began yoga and meditation.
  • What impressed you the most?
  • I was drawn by the emphasis in self-denial.  But I disliked being dependent on other people.  I just wanted to expand beyond myself.  

 

VII

  • In those years, I was attached to nothing in particular.  Was I a dilettante? 
  • You were inquisitive; it was a time for discovery. 
  • I went to seminars on musicology; I took German lessons; it was a time for Hesse, Kafka, Gibran, Thoreau’s Walden, and Skinner’s Walden Two.

 

VIII

  • I read, but unsystematically.  I liked philosophy, history, painting, and writing, but I wasn’t yet dedicated.  Only slowly, did it all become part of me. 
  • These things awakened your spirit.
  • I was free from obligations and they expressed my relationship to the world.
  • You were learning to be original.  You sought your own voice.  You didn’t mimic other people.
  • The more I felt, the greater my involvement.  It was just a way to express myself.  I wasn’t looking for success, or distraction. 

 

IX

We disembarked and walked over to the shopping malls.  From Main Street we veered into the side ones.  On both sides, most storefronts were boarded up.  The façades showed signs of a better time, perhaps, from when Venezuelans were flamboyant.  Now only makeshift stands crowded the sidewalk, manned by folk with a distinctive Venezuelan lilt:  In friendly conversation, the word marico floated amongst them.

  • Papá once watched me sitting on the curb of a street next to an old watchman who worked for us on weekends and was known for having an unpredictable temper.  The watchman awaited my family’s departure to the city.  I had often befriended him, peppering him with questions.  Later, Papá said I was the only person who related to this man.
  • Your resilience was your best attribute. 

 

X

  • In the late sixties, our family hosted the daughter of Venezuela’s President Rómulo Betancourt, Virginia.  She and her husband stayed in one of our houses in Valencia.   At that time, Virginia Pérez was the head of the National Library in Caracas.   I was thirteen and Papá asked me to take my paintings from the rooms where the guests were staying.   According to him they were out of place.   One day, after having finished lunch, I brought a framed watercolor over to Virginia and began to speak.   My father objected, but she said, disavowing him:  “No, please, leave him alone.”   I continued:   “It shows the spirit of a young man in search of freedom.”    Sweetly she responded:   “I like your way of thinking; I want to hear more.”   Words now failed me. 
  • (David chuckling), you told me this once before.

 

XI

  • Can you tell if you fit into a pattern, or is your life just a series of episodes?
  • I don’t see the disconnections; I can’t say if there’s a pattern.   I was just bold then.   My speech, vocabulary, and the way I looked must have seemed provocative, perhaps, even epicene.   I threatened expectations.   I was different from my older brother, who was athletic and had lots of friends.   I was a loner.   For my lack of sport, maybe Papá found me not only vulnerable, but also naïve.   Was it dissatisfaction or was it nonconformity?   I only found solace in my private inventions.  Shortly afterwards, I erased, slashed, tore two years of paintings, only to regret this later.   Papá said I was rebelling against my own culture.  
  • Your father knew you couldn’t survive a world of machismo and its deeply rooted biases.
  • That’s the point.   I hadn’t understood that yet.    Papá saw my creativity as a target for victimization.   He told me I couldn’t be a lawyer.   I wouldn’t fit in.   When I argued I could go into international law, he was equally incredulous. 
  • Perhaps, for that same reason, he never got involved in politics; he knew human imperfections carried their own risks; he recognized the kind of dishonesty that pervaded Venezuela.   He wanted you to be safe.  That’s why you had to leave.

 

XII

  • I’ve come to understand that exceptionalism is a myth.   Disappointment is powerful.   I had to leave. 

 

XIII

  • Even if I am surrounded by falsehood, I must not be cynical.   What does that serve?   Human imperfections can’t be freed from themselves.   I feel uncomfortable, however, when people ask where I am from, as if they are diagnosing who I am.
  • Most people don’t mean anything by it.
  • It’s my own reaction.   I suppose it proves I am not comfortable with English.   It feels as if people are placing me in a niche.
  • Most people can identify with that, I do for one.   Few of us ever get the questions right.
  • Does anyone, really?   If they did, answers would be unnecessary. 

 

 

XIV

That night, it rained.   A full moon unveiled itself from behind the clouds.    We stepped again onto the balcony and admired the kaleidoscope of twinkling lights across the island.

  • In the first few years outside of Venezuela, I was enamoured of life in the United States.   Long before going there, my Aunt Lina’s place in Buffalo had filled my dreams.   She was able to flee the Holocaust.   Her rose garden was just what I had imagined.   Her graciousness was the same as when I had met her in Venezuela.   Her garden left a lasting impression on me. 

 

XV

That morning we anchored in Willemstad, Curaçao, surrounded by a rumpus of pelicans near the pier. 

  • On my first visit back to Venezuela, Papá asked me what I thought about the inflation in the United States.   I never knew why he posed that question.   Its irony was not lost on me 50 years later, when Venezuela has accrued one of the highest rates in the history of the world.

 

XVI

We went sightseeing in Willemstad.   The city’s old buildings, streets, and bridges were reminiscent of Amsterdam.   We took photographs and wandered around slowly.   Then thinking of our families, we shopped for table linens.

  • Do you think your father foresaw the disintegration of Venezuela? 
  • The world where I grew up was always on the brink.   Papá used to say he did not know how we were going to manage without him.   He feared for every aspect of our lives, and even for every Venezuelans’ families.   He even feared a total civil brutality in that landscape of pervasive dishonesty.   How could it be prevented?

 

XVII

Keeping to ourselves, we had a full day at sea.   We ate alone.   We had little in common with the other passengers:   all two thousand of them.

  • After twenty-four years later, I came back.   Without a gallery’s contract, again I have thought about destroying my paintings.   This time, I was tempted to burn them, but the flames might have engulfed me and my home.   This thwarted me.   I could only store them.
  • Couldn’t somebody have helped?
  • Papá did the best he could, even inciting jealousy among my brothers and sisters.  Perhaps, he felt sorrier for me …. When I was interviewed by a local newspaper concerning my work in the United States, a lot of our neighbors thought the interview self-serving.   Then Papá died and I became even more of an outsider.
  • What happened to him?
  • By the age of 70, he had become delusional, untethered from his own will.   His last five years coincided with Venezuela’s disintegration, and family members sought safety in Europe and elsewhere in America.   For me art became secondary.

 

XVIII

  • What about your brothers and sisters?
  • It’s sad to say.   Their sense of entitlement has complicated matters.   My older brother claimed the right of primogeniture, though he had no legal authority for such.  We denied it to him, but lacked the resources to challenge him.  He kept the rents mostly for himself.  With the passing of years, the properties have lost value and some have been taken over by squatters, and some even expropriated by the government.  Out of concern for his safety, I made an offer to help him.  He rebuffed me saying he counted on the first Lady of Venezuela.  He added that he could not leave Venezuela and lose his identity as a lawyer.
  • These explanations are puzzling.   And what about your two sisters and younger brother?   What has happened to them?
  • My youngest sister moved to Madrid with her husband and two young daughters.   My other sister and younger brother have stayed in Venezuela.   They protect each other as well as they can.    For the last ten years, I have been helping them and my paternal aunts.
  • I remember meeting your aunts.   That was when I traveled to Venezuela with you.   We celebrated your mother’s eightieth birthday and your older brother’s remarriage.   I also remember his son’s grief.   He seemed inconsolable.   Didn’t he move to Argentina with his partner?
  • Yes.   We also did our best to console him, such as when he met my former partner, Nelson.   He felt reinforced by our presence, and my relationship with Nelson triggered a validation that his father had always feared.    All along my nephew sought his father’s acceptance.   I told them there was no place for shame.

 

XIX

Not too far from where we are, in a small fishing village on the Caribbean coast of Venezuela stands a plinth.  It pays homage to guerrillas sent by Cuba to Venezuela in the 1960’s.  Their campaign collapsed.  Five decades later, Hugo Chávez helped achieve Cuba’s fantasy – this time without firing a shot.

  • I cannot judge Venezuela nor its history, for I no longer am part of it.  I have not suffered the lash of Venezuelan repressions.  For the past 50 years, I have been in the United States, where measures of rectification constantly challenge authoritarianism and kleptocracy.  
  • Recently, you spoke to my friend Cindy, who is an analyst at the US treasury.  She told you quite frankly that the American government’s sanctions on corrupt Venezuelan individuals are not simple issues.  The flight of fortunes from countries like Venezuela cannot be easily controlled where there is flagrant corruption. 
  • Indeed, that’s a reality no one can manage.

 

XX

  • In your opinion, is there any hope for Venezuelan stability? 
  • It’s complex.   It is inexplicable how, for instance, billions of dollars are acquired out of nowhere by the children of local politicians.   They care not at all for its constituency or for their country:   A nation of laws has ceased to exist.  

 

XXI

  • Have you ever interacted with Venezuelan officials? 
  • Only indirectly, through second and third cousins (who worked in the executive branch and the Ministry of Foreign Relations) as well as my own brother (who was a legal advisor to a State governor).   Aside from them, I have only engaged a would-be reformer, who now lives in Florida.   In 1999, he was one of the congressmen involved in writing  the last Venezuelan constitution.   Currently, among expatriates, he has a large following.   In one of his podcasts, he took issue with me over the lack of maturity in Venezuelan politics.   He replied furiously to my allegations of self-interest:   ¿Y quién coño eres tú?” [And, who tha fuck are you?].   Later, I sent him a text “in general most reformers fail to address what they intend to reform,” and he replied:   ¡Ay, por Dios, éste es un gran maricón! [Oh, my God, this man is just a faggot].   Then he blocked me. 

 

XXII

We arrived in Cartagena, Colombia, where we toured the old walled city and the Fortress of San Felipe.   Long undulating promenades (covered by trellises draped in bougainvillea) were delightfull and hugged the walls of the malecón.  The guide spoke of the father of Greater Colombia, Simón Bolívar, who had died at Santa Marta.  He pointed out a wine-colored fortress where Gabriel García Márquez had resided.  

  • Even though I did not take part in the protests, with my keyboard I favored dissenters and insurrectionists alike.  This was my cri du cœur.  Though we have all failed, for me the morality of this call has never gone silent.
  • It’s your voice.
  • Time itself is an instrument that balances the absence of truth, the swing of delusion, and the debris of extremism.  As time unfurls, it allows us to come to an understanding. 
  • It heals our madness.
  • Maybe, justice will prevail.   Maybe, harmony will be achieved in a new generation.  
  • Also, when we least expect it, despots may usurp our freedoms.

XXIII

We were now in the Panama Canal about to enter the Gatún Locks.  Pulled by trains on each side, the ship climbed up through three locks until reaching the waters of Lake Gatún.  The architectural feat of the Canal sparked my imagination (suddenly I thought about the Egyptian Pyramids).   We reached the shore of the lake on tenders and from there we made a tour by bus.  We zigzagged through hundreds of military buildings and army barracks until we arrived at the Locks of Miraflores on the Pacific.  From there we drove to the Old City, where we photographed its colonial buildings and plazas.  Clustering across the bay, we could see the skyline of present day Panama City.  Then we drove to Colón on the Atlantic.   Just before boarding back on the Eurodam, we walked through a small zoo leading to the pier.  Roaming around, among mammals and tropical birds, we saw a giant anteater and its long tongue, swallowing a thousand morsels.    David brings up politics: 

  • No country is exempt from the excesses of partisanship.
  • But we don’t know the reasons.
  • Do you think an apolitical consciousness is called for?
  • I only know that extremism is no remedy for human uncertainty.
  • The danger is always that polarization can turn into warfare.

 

 

 

XXIV

We arrived in Costa Rica, anchoring in Limón.   We disembarked to board a tourist bus.   Then we got off to navigate in small boats through the channels that ran along the edges of the jungle.  In heavy, intermittent rain, we saw monkeys, sloths, toucans, snakes, alligators, and crocodiles.   Once the ride was completed, we got back on the bus, which took us to higher altitudes.  When we arrived, we took a cable car into the heart of the rainforest until reaching a research lab, a butterfly garden, and a trail that led to waterfalls.  The wooden stairs of the path were slippery from rain.   Unable to proceed farther, we heard the thunderous sound of the cataracts.

  • I was born in a land of wealth, which is what attracted my ancestors.   They came to Venezuela as early as 1745, both from Europe and the Canary Islands.   Between 1799 and 1804, the German geographer, Alexander von Humboldt, in his writings, lauded the colony as a paradise for the advancement of science.   Today this paradise struggles for its own survival.  

 

XXV

  • On May 13, 2014, I received an answer to one of my queries from the White House’s website for foreign relations, on behalf of President Obama.   The email bore the letterhead of the White House, though obviously pro forma.   In closing, it read … With our international partners, the United States is continuing to look at what more we can do in support of that effort [i.e. ‘for an honest dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition’].   America has strong and historical ties with the Venezuelan people, and we remain committed to our relationship with them.   Their fundamental freedoms and universal human rights must be protected and respected.
  • To an impartial reader this email may seem either empathetic, or even propagandistic; but the reality is that Venezuela may need the United States, not the other way around, at least not at this time.

 

XXVI

The last two days at sea, we dined in private restaurants.   I took notes of our conversation.   David indulged my writing and editing until he complained that I wasn’t paying enough attention to eating.   Writing seemed to be the one habit I could not ignore.   It was my solace.   That last night, when passing along the southwest coast of Cuba, the rough waters of the sea made walking unstable.   Before midnight, we packed our bags and placed them in the hallway outside the cabin door.

  • Past, present, and future time collided:   Chávez’s death in 2013 led me to think about Papá’s in 1997.   The year before, I had taken him to urgent care at a private hospital.   A neurologist there said he had suffered a brain injury and there was little to be done.   He was 74.    He could no longer speak.   Suddenly, surprisingly, he sat up in anger; something obviously gnawed at him deeply.   He threatened.  
  • To the bitter end, your father was tormented.   You could neither appease nor redeem him.

 

XXVII

Next morning was our twelfth and last day, as we arrived in Fort Lauderdale.   We went to breakfast on deck two and, again, we ate alone.   Then, returning to deck eight, back in our stateroom, we waited to disembark.   We were the third group, color red, and, finally at 11 am, were summoned.   We went down to deck one and lined up with the other passengers.   After our ID’s were scanned, we walked down the ramp to the terminal, collected our luggage, and exited.   We called a Uber to take us home, where we arrived 12 minutes later.

  • Papá’s and Hugo Chávez’s death spared them both from the torment of national crisis.
  • For Venezuela’s new generation, social inequities are rooted in differences of ideology.
  • Is the new generation a throwback to the Cold War?
  • Can the new generation examine itself?
  • As long as the inquiry is not reactionary:   i.e. an inquiry into truth.
  • This dilemma is not unique to Venezuela.   Over this, the whole world struggles.

 

EPILOGUE

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Plato’s Symposium:  Agathon’s encomium on Eros.

“And don’t we know that . . .  he whom Eros does not touch remains obscure?”

“. . .   he is the one who makes

            ‘Peace among human beings, on the sea calm/

             And cloudlessness, the resting of winds and sleeping/

             Of care”.   [Location p. 25, 197 a, c]

Plato’s Symposium:   a translation by Seth Bernardete with commentaries by Allen Bloom and Seth Bernardete, Chicago:   University of Chicago Press, 2001.


*

Love’s grace suggests a continuation of learning.   As David raised the shades (allowing the sun’s rays to stream into our living room), he hummed:   “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”    In response I:   “How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.”   We continued:

  • Life is soaked in uncertainty.
  • The measure of our limitations is uncontrollable.
  • Hope is always an option.
  • Faith is bigger than ourselves.
  • Strife never conquers it.
  • Tranquility defines it.
  • Action fulfills it.
  • Least said. . . .

 

The End

Ricardo F Morin

Edited by Billy Bussell Thompson

 

 

Meditations on Ortega y Gasset

December 19, 2022

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Acknowledgment

I

First, I would like to share with my readers my utmost gratitude to Billy Bussell Thompson (b. November 23, 1942), Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at Hofstra University, for his generosity in being a mentor and editor.       His scholarly trajectory goes from 1963 to 1993.        Among his most salient publications in English, we have:       Relic and Literature . . .; Bilingualism in Moorish Spain; The Myth of the Magdalen . . .; etc. . . .

II

Since 1989, our friendship has extended over more than three decades.       We have worked in close proximity on at least a dozen articles and short stories (published in WordPress).        I have been fortunate to count on his frankness and support.       He has never minced words.       He has been blunt, when any of my drafts seemed without merit.        When that was the case, the articles went into a shredder, and I was satisfied by the integrity of his prose, as well as by my understanding of my own limitations as a writer.        Prof. Bussell Thompson (B.B.T.) usually compares the skill of prose writing with that of a narrowing cone of vision.         This selective cone of vision is akin to the aesthetic integrity of a visual work of art.       With the present endeavor, Prof. B.B.T. believed, from the very beginning, in the possibility of bringing forth this story as a team.       Even though we live in different regions – geographically far apart – of the USA, we have had no trouble communicating via phone and email.

III

This narrative seeks to explain the confusion found in society and politics, and even their seeming lack of purpose.     For this reason, I dedicate my narrative to the readers.

IV

Initially, I knew not where this would lead.           I submitted a five-paragraph draft to professor B.B.T.       As he began to read, he paused and asked if I was alluding to Plato’s allegory of the cave.     Surprised, I asked him to stop.       I replied that his reference to Plato placed me in a different perspective.       Gratefully, I added that his question was most welcome; at that point, I wanted to read more before continuing.

V

He encouraged me to reread Plato’s dialogues.       To this he added that I take into account any ambiguity associated with Plato’s conception of the ideal authority of the State (politeia) or Nation.       He referred to the Platonic ideas controversial in current discussions.        He also recommended reading José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955).        He included The Revolt of the Masses [1929] and The Dehumanization of Art [1925].         He suggested that I be aware of Ortega’s meritocratic liberal perspective (though we believed that Ortega had not been known for openly endorsing any political ideology) and to heed the relevance Ortega gives to the man who is aware of his limitations – opposed to the man who is unaware:     both the bourgeoisie and the mass man (who exemplify, for him la razón sinrazón [the reason for unreason]) – as explained in The Revolt of the Masses.       And finally, I focus on the distinction between “content” and “form,” to explain the break by the avant-garde from the bourgeoisie.

VI

Professor B.B.T. and I also had an exchange of ideas over the parallels between the Platonic and Orteguian thought.      He advised me then to read anew Meditations on Quixote [1914] both in Spanish and in English.      There, B.B.T. thought that I could find a significant or productive landscape of ideas on which to reflect and, thus, be able to develop my own interpretations about the nature of knowledge, its limits, and how to find the meaning of the ideal of truth.

VII

In writing my last short story, entitled In Darkness, Professor B.B.T. had already urged me to note the meaning for circunstancia1 (“circumstance”) as defined by Ortega in Meditations on Quixote.       It was clear to us that both Ortega’s phenomenological approach to “circumstance” and Plato’s thesis on the transformation of the individual (through knowledge) shared commonalities, which nurtured my own narrative.

VIII

But, the narrative journey proved to be just as challenging as Professor B.B.T. had pointed out.     His criticism, even then, never ceased being constructive and energetic.    His compassion was present as long as I was mindful of the necessity for clarity and precision.    Often, he would cite Ernest Hemingway’s authenticity and precision. 

IX

Time and time again, I experienced enormous pain in trying to comprehend what I wished to express.    Freeing my prose from superficiality was like taking a deep breath to exhale the vagueness of my anxieties.    Sometimes I was unable to get away from the obvious.    Other times, either I hid behind the complex, or I would cling to abstract and cryptic thinking:    the reductive jargon of the social sciences.    Professor B.B.T. repeatedly suggested succinctness:      I needed to respect the simplicity of language and find a way to its accessibility.    Bringing Plato and Ortega to the reader was my responsibility.    I was not to imitate them nor to think like them, but to represent them authentically.    My first obligation was to the reader.    For this I had to avoid euphemisms, randomness, and diversion.    The affirmation of effective communication is an objective worth the effort.      I would only understand myself, if I were to understand the reader.

X

B.B.T.’s exhortations and criticisms, I welcomed enthusiastically.    His challenge became mine.  He has been exorcising my limitations for two decades:    Every time we have worked together, I have discovered something new in myself.    I have become more attuned to both English and Spanish.    I have had to be my own translator.     In these instances, I have grown more respectful of the two languages.    I have had to capture their essence by comparing them:     the one informs the other.

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Prologue

In Plato’s dialogue Theaetetus [circa 369 B.C.E.], Socrates proposes that the extraordinary extraction of ideas is like bringing forth a new life and purging what is unnecessary.    Likewise, the aim here is to produce and discuss what enlightenment is, and the obstacles to its achievement.    Socrates has helped me in my definition of knowledge:     Is morality universal, or is objective morality even possible?    For these ideas I am indebted both to Plato and to Ortega y Gasset.

Ricardo F Morin, December 19, 2022

Editor Billy Bussell Thompson

 

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Plato, Roman marble bust copied from Greek original, 4th century B.C.E., Capitoline Museums, Rome.

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Socrates, Roman marble bust copied from Greek original, 2nd half of the 4th century B.C.E., Capitoline Museums, Rome.

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José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955), detail of photograph of his impersonation of Honoré de Balzac, circa 1900.

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One way to objectivity is to recognize one’s own subjectivity.    Metaphors for understanding reality are rare.    One sees the world primarily through one’s own experience.    It is difficult (though not impossible) to understand what one has not experienced.    Truth never rests:  It is not singular, but always plural.

Anonymous

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1

Index

  • 1. Awareness of the Transformation of One’s Self:

The highest principle of inquiry is consciousness of one’s self.    In inquiry lie the beginnings of change.

 

2

Index

  • 2. The Absence of Trust:

In our age of disbelief, the stories we tell each other about the past and the present seem to be in a state of collapse.    There is a lack of continuity in the social order, increasingly suffocated by misinformation and distrust.  We challenge each other over what is real and what is not.

3

Index

  • 3. The Unassailable Truth:

For most of us an ultimate truth remains unattainable and the stories we share from the past and the present no longer seem useful.    Along with the disappearance of our past stories, both the person who seeks truth and the act of giving a person his due are in crisis.     Our society finds itself defined by a decline in trust both in government and its institutions.    Despairingly, the challenge is that the creation of new stories has become an act of preservation.     Likewise, autocracy is on the ascendance.    A lack of faith has sown aimlessness.    What can change this course of despair?    What will bring enlightenment to us?

 

4

Index

  • 4. Consciousness:

Knowledge is constantly changing and the result of this destabilization carries us into greater disorder.     For this reason clarity is more necessary than ever to understand ourselves.     Even if clarity is not always possible, to know oneself is imperative.    Thus arises the tension between continuity and change.    Here lies the quest for survival.

 

5

Index

  • 5. Not Knowing:

Not knowing is the essential condition of existence, despite one’s apparent desire for knowledge or for authority.     To know is to inquire.     Reality, though fleeting, inspires reflection.     Change begins with the recognition that one is not in isolation.     Not even the one (who seeks self-sacrifice for his spiritual advancement) by absolute cloister could get rid of his entanglement with the world.    It is by relating to other people and his environment that this person comes to know who he is.     Not even he (who despises the symbols of fear) is capable of freeing himself from his anguish.   The fear of not knowing hangs over all of us.     It is possible that striving without measure (in the aspiration for rationality) only leads us to end up being irrational:     Here lies the origin of complexity given the absence of innocence.

 

6

Index

  • 6. The Energy of Life:

In his theory of cultural attributes (Meditaciones del Quijote, Meditación preliminar; Índice 8, La pantera o del sensualismo, pág. 21), José Ortega y Gasset gives us his concept of razón vital2, which means reason is expressed through life itself.    Ortega parses the European mind into two archetypes:     the Germanic and the Mediterranean.     The former is meditative and the latter sensuous.   Of the sensuous he says:     The predominance of the senses usually implies a deficiency in inner powers.    What is meditating as compared with seeing?     As soon as the retina is hit by the arrow from without, our inner personal energy hastens and stops the intrusion.     The impression is registered, subjected to civilized order; it is thought, and in this way it is integrated in the building up of our personality, and cooperates within it – Evelyn Rugg and Diego Martín’s translation – Notes and Introduction by Julián Marías – pp. 85-86.     The Orteguian admonition here is to find the balance between extremes:   between the excesses and deficiencies of these two archetypes.

 

7

Index

  • 7. Human Agency and Its History:

A second source for my understanding of the mind and the senses is found in Plato’s Republic (politeia) – Socrates’s dialogue of the allegory of the cave at the beginning of Book Seven.     There have been many interpretations.     Mine differs.     My purpose is to rid suffering from the mind of the freed slave.     Once freed from shackles, the mind of the freed slave (who ascends to the mouth of the cave) discovers its own vision of the world.     Despite the sun’s glare, the uneducated mind is transformed by the newly found ideal of truth.     But the awareness by the prisoner (who has remained behind) is inseparable from the condition of the freed man:      The slave (remaining in shadows of suffering) is not entirely separable from the memory of the freed man.     Because of suffering, the freed man’s mind is aware of its inability to know.      At the same time, the freed mind learns how its own transformation may be dependent on the new course of its history.     This mind’s actions allow participation in change, and change is possible through self examination.      The mind examines itself through meditating.     Meditation is not an obligation, but a necessity.     Meditation is the result of the mind’s freedom and it is the means to understanding its own choices in its approach to truth:     But this effort is only an approximation to the infinity of truth.     The freed mind (facing the visible world) is lacking here.    Thus, the freed mind recognizes that neither its actions nor the course of its history is predictable.     They (i.e. the mind’s actions and the course of its history) come from multiple possibilities about belief.  

The freed mind realizes that time is an illusion:     Time is fleeting, false, and deceitful.     The mind, habitually trapped in its past, remains mired in pain.     Anger (which comes from the past in search for justice) has for its sole purpose the manifestation of resentment.     But anger only manages to put its existence on hold, awaiting compensation.     Just as time is an illusion for the mind, the quest for emotional reparation is also an illusion.     For the mind, there is no vindication by being trapped in the labyrinth of illusion.     Only the rationality of active love can compensate for anger.     If the mind of the lover of truth can project itself lovingly in the direction that it resents, then a liberating sense of bravery arises towards itself.     Anger and sentimentality are one and the same.      As the force of love sheds sentimentality, one’s desires dissipate and with them anger as well.     Thereby, violence ceases to exist.     Socrates’s allegory of the mind (freed from suffering) carries all these implications and comparisons towards a goal of Ideal Truth.

 

8

Index

  • 8. Alertness:

In an effort to understand Ortega’s concept of circumstancia (“circumstance”), his Meditación preliminar, Indice 6, Cultura mediterránea, explains to us that when he goes through the landscape of ideas he has to meditate with alertness on the influence of his experiences.     Needless to say, this includes all his past and present relations, the geographies he has occupied, and everything he has done in life.     Ortega forewarns us of the risks in this act of meditation:   We are accompanied by a keen suspicion that, at the slightest hesitation on our part, the whole world could collapse, and we with it.    When we meditate, our mind has to be kept at full tension; it is a painful and integral effortIndex 6, Mediterranean Culture, translated by Evelyn Rugg and Diego Marín (Introduction and notes by Julián Marías [a favorite student of Ortega y Gasset]), p. 34.     In Plato’s dialogues, the same “effort” is found:     Through the act of meditation, Socrates’s freed man draws transformation and redemption from the narrow crevices among ideas.     Meditation helps the lover of truth get closer to his existential condition; it offers him the possibility of reacting differently, and sustains him with the very energy that life provides.

 

9

Index

  • 9. Faith:

For the one who fears meditation, having faith in one’s own actions and changes are not sufficient for inquiry.     History is not alive for him:     It is at a point of no return; it is dead.    This person is in a world of despair and surrounded by the proverbial dancing of shadows.     This person is bound in his own chains, is overwhelmed by a lack of confidence, and is, without trust, unable to make a leap of faith.     Neither the notion of individuality nor the concept of free will seems satisfactory any longer.      This person relinquishes personal power and is unaware of the forces influencing his mind and his senses.     His refusal to face reality becomes a conscious decision for the suppression of truth.     This refusal is antithetical to life itself.    For him, life becomes enslavement and stands in opposition to the freed man, who fearlessly ponders the reality of the visible world, and passionately delves into the exploration of the unknown.   The mind of the freed man represents Ortega’s concept of razón vital, desirous to be absorbed by it.

 

10

Index

  • 10. Deliverance:

Distractions can be multiple.     In Ortega’s playful analysis, he implies that if meditation is extraneous to the fears of the mind, it can succumb to obsession, and even fall despairingly into manias.      Ortega values the relevance of every influence.     He understands that a human being and his landscape are not separate.     The unity of the two means his salvation by circunstancia (“circumstance”):   Thus his appreciation of circunstancia:    Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia, si no la salvo a ella no me salvo yo – Al Lector, Índice, pág. 41 (which I translate as “I am myself [in a world of perceptions] and also the material world that surrounds me; if I don’t save them, I don’t save myself”).     Incidentally, here Ortega preempts his conclusion with what he has read in the Bible:   Benefac loco illi quo notus es3  (loosely translated into English as “do good in the place where you are known”).     With these remarks, Ortega reinforces the idea that he is unable to disassociate himself from his surroundings.    If he is to flourish and to find salvation, it will be necessary for him to understand and protect what he shares with his environment. 

Parallel to Ortega’s analysis is Plato’s Socratic allegory, which teaches us the effect that the visible world has on our mind.     From these two perspectives, the mind tends to be discouraged by what it does not understand.     Awareness of the visible world’s influence is for both thinkers an instinct for survival.     To be aware, therefore, means to be silent, away from the deafening sound of fear.      As long as there is fear, promoted by the progress of civilization, there will be no movement or separation from distractions.     Confronting fear means dispersing it, making it disappear.     Dispersal of fear is fundamental to the understanding of self.      Releasing oneself from fear is confronting one’s not-knowing.     Enslavement (at the depth of the cave) is equivalent to accepting the impositions of fear.     Both, for Ortega and Plato, the opposition to indifference is found through meditation; thereby one is able to be alert and know oneself.

 

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Index

  • 11. Perception and Storytelling:

​True confidence is living in uncertainty.     An overriding fact is that human beings organize themselves around the making of stories.      Every story we create is an act of piety that consoles the mind.      Yet new stories and old ones are provisional tools that fill the gap of our faith, filling in the void of our ignorance.      Whether the story be true or not, storytelling rescues us from ourselves.      Storytelling is our razón vital.    It seeks to expose us to the best possible meaning of ourselves:     Meaning in storytelling is found by investing oneself with the willpower to exceed adversity.    Meaning is found by creating something new within oneself.    Meaning is found in one’s vulnerability and in the constant pain to overcome it.      The process of finding meaning reveals that one cannot control Truth.     Happiness depends on how one accepts the absence of control, and how we can stop disliking our limitations.​

Storytelling persuades us to think that one’s actions will spread deeply into one’s consciousness.     One may not always be able to defeat the element of preconception, for bias is always with us.     As long as suffering, uncertainty, and the effort to overcome them exist, bias will persist.     Bias lurks behind our thoughts, quiet and insidious, yet it is there for a reason in spite of its harmful effects.    The irony is that if one banished preconceptions, there would be no further progress.    In any story, if the hero overcomes the villainy of bias4, it is because he is able to change:     If one does not overcome bias, one does not grow and there is no transformation.     Success is not as important as the struggle to overcome bias.    Every time adversity comes to us, it is an opportunity for the recognition of those preconceptions that still reside in ourselves.     Success does not provide happiness.     Happiness is only possible through self discovery.     As such, one becomes symbolically the whole of humanity.     This is its highest expression:     The creation of something new as we face adversity, and the worse the adversity, the greater the opportunity.

 

12

Index

  • 12. Reasoning (sentience vs sapience):

Awareness of fiction is the appreciation of the paradox between what is and what is not.     Knowledge expresses not only the awareness of one’s own intuitions and senses, but also the reasoning about those intuitions, senses, and impressions.    That is, every time we examine the perception of our memory, we are editing our understanding.    Thus, the way we organize and observe ourselves comes from our desires and senses at that moment, and this comes from our memories.    For instance, it is difficult for us to agree on a common origin or a common thread uniting us as a species, even if that may be true.     Whether we wish it or not, we define ourselves by the histories we create either in groups or in countries.     In doing so, we are actually imagining separate and fragmented believes that we belong to separate locales, cultures, and races.     Yet, there is an unavoidable thread that connects us as a species.     Such composition is found in our common and preponderant origin, though our perception may resist being part of it.     We endow ourselves with differences dictated by the conditioning of our perceptions.     In The Revolt of the Masses, Ortega refers to this condition as la razón de sinrazón (“reason without reason”), which explains our deeply rooted irrationality and fragmentation.        Knowledge implies greater content than what is gained through the form of our perceptions.     Our minds tend to abbreviate history, even believing that it does not exist. Yet the more expansive the “circumstance” or condition of apprehending truth, the greater the maturity our existence demands from us.

 

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Index

  • 13. Maturing Emotional Intelligence:

If a human being is the measure of all things, then also one comes to appreciate that knowledge is always inconclusive.     Thus, meditation strengthens our mind, our memory, our learning, our attention, and our self awareness.     Meditation on the past, the present, or the future depends on emotional intelligence.     Emotional intelligence is based on capturing the import of influences from all areas of a man’s life, from one’s behavior to one’s relationship with others and one’s environment.     Ultimate reality depends on the level of maturity of a person, and it is through meditation that one matures.     Hence, how a person chooses to act depends on meditation and his level of emotional intelligence.     For the fanatic (obsessed with fear) meditation seems impossible.     For the fanatic, doubt is not the issue.    The fanatic seeks to reiterate cycles.     The fanatic fails to understand that fear of change is irrational because it is inevitable that the world is constantly evolving.     The fanatic seeks to change what is beyond his control.     From the Orteguian point of view, this person, within a closed valuation system, does not find consolation because his mind fears what it does not understand.

 

14

Index

  • 14. Our Connection to the Universe:

From Ortega’s perspective of Cervantes’s Don Quixote [1605-15], we learn that the courage granted by Love – not hate – impels us towards understanding …the useless remains of a shipwreck that life, in its perpetual surge, throws at our feet. – To The Reader, p. 31.    Love is a divine architect who, according to Plato came down to the world – ὥστε τὀ πᾶν αὐτῶ ξυνδέδέσθα – so that every thing in the universe might be linked together:      Separation means extinction.     Hatred, which separates, isolates, and pulls apart, dismembers the world, and destroys individualityTo the Reader, p. 33.

Hence, Ortega explains that the imperative for the individual is to reflect on one’s circunstancia (in medias res), … to arouse the desire of understanding the universal in its particulars. – To the Reader, p. 31:     To ignore the fact that each thing has a character of its own, and not that we wish to demand of it, is, in my opinion, the true capital sin, which I call a sin of the heart because it derives its nature from lack of love.     There is nothing so illicit as to dwarf the world by means of our manias and blindness, to minimize reality, to suppress mentally fragments of what exists.     This happens when one demands that what is deep should appear in the same way as what is superficial.     No, there are things that present only that part of themselves which is strictly necessary to enable us to realize that they lie concealed behind it. – p. 62.

 

15

Index

  • 15. A Heroic Perspective:

Knowledge comes before fanaticism.     Fanaticism is, for Ortega, the rejection of the perspectives of others.     Ortega points to reasoning as an act of charity, which uncovers differences, and suggests that understanding is akin to the circling of an eagle in flight.      To be oneself, for Ortega, is the same as it is for Cervantes.      The act of being a hero takes place through a sensitive exploration of the nature of reality.      In Ortega’s view, as well as for Cervantes’s, the will of the hero belongs only to the persona of Don Quixote:   Because to be a hero means to be one out of many, to be oneself if we refuse to have our actions determined by heredity or environment, it is because we seek to base the origin of our actions on ourselves and only on ourselves.      The hero’s will is not that of his ancestors, nor of his society, but his own.     This will to be oneself is heroism. – First Meditation, 15, The Hero, p. 149.    
I do not think that there is a more profound originality than this practical, active originality of the hero.    His life is a perpetual resistance to the habitual and customary.    Each movement that he has to make has first had to overcome custom and invent a new kind of gesture.    Such a life is a perpetual suffering, a constant tearing oneself away from the part of oneself, which is given over to habit and is a prisoner of matter. – First Meditation, 15, The Hero – p. 149.

 

16

Index

  • 16. The Fear of fate:

A Socratic life is heroic, but if unexamined, of no value.     In the pain of living, one has to embrace the fact that the examination of fear is part of life.     Alongside this examination, fate is never artificial.     Fate does not deceive, even in our misfortunes.      Fate is not illusive, though our perception of time may be.      Instead, fate challenges us to change.      In change, fate protects us from stagnation.     What appears to be random is, in fact, an opportunity for learning.     Consequently, fate exists not for attacking, but for stimulating our transformation.     Fate does not move against us, but challenges us to change by confronting obstacles.     Fate attacks fear, because one’s fear takes away one’s ability to make choices.    Narratives of fear turn out to be self-fulfilling prophesies.      Fear deceives and defines us.     It hampers survival.     Fear prevents our evolving, it paralices us:     We resist giving up habits because of fear.     Thus one languishes and fails to overcome disbelief.

 

17

Index

  • 17. Boundlessness and Humility:

The shadow of shame represents one’s flaws.    The shadow is what one wishes not to be, though its shadow be part of oneself.     Only, when the shadow is accepted with humility, do its flaws dissolve in the act of loving oneself with compassion.     Ultimately, the fanatic will recognize his incompleteness and become aware of his own insignificance:     The incapacity for completeness looms over all of us.     Only through risk does one learn the extent of one’s bounds and how much further one may go.     We advance through humility and humility appreciates neither truth nor falsehood.     Humility is the acknowledgment of one’s inexorable estrangement from an infinite truth.    Only the humble voice recognizes the struggle for understanding and change.     Both depend on a flight from despair.     For Ortega and for Plato, the mark of the highest values is found in our vulnerability.     If we surrender absolutely, then we find redemption.

 

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Index

  • 18. Epilogue:

My perspective treats Plato and Ortega outside of any theistic justification.     I leave aside any application of Plato to theological thought.     Likewise,  I ignore any attempt to ascribe religious respects to Ortega’s theory of values.     For me their notions, when applied to theology, are not credible.     I understand Plato and Ortega in their search for the limits of human perception and rationality.     Efforts to apply their philosophies as religious foundations are outside of my purpose.

The depth of Plato and Ortega’s thought is not to be found in a method for objective morality.     Nor is it ethical relativism, nor even is it found in a claim of universality.      Ideologies on morality are derived from norms dictated by theologians, seemingly unwilling to relinquish authority.    The role of the lovers of truth is not to dictate virtue nor to define the godhead.    Their teachings are centered on rationalism.    Their humanism is based on a concept of justice that is antithetical to fixed norms.    The paradigm of true knowledge – according to Plato and Ortega – is derived from love based on the originality of heroism.     This love does not reside outside of the individual.     This love is not found in the promise of a transcendental world.     This love finds man’s salvation in the present.  This love calls for self examination.   And above all, this love is a liberation from the numbness of the mind.

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Endnotes:

1 For Ortega circunstancia, is a representation of the sum total of influences in the consciousness of a man, thus expressing the reason for his existence.

2 Razón vital stands as Ortega y Gasset’s philosophy which views that reason is, in of itself, an expression of life.

3 I failed to find this Biblical citation.

 

Bibliography:

  • Meditaciones del Quijote:  Meditación Preliminar y Meditación Primera, by Jose Ortega y Gasset.  First Edition, PUBLICACIONES DE LA RESIDENCIA DE ESTUDIANTES, SERIE II.—VOL. I, Universidad Central de Madrid, MADRID, 1914
  • Meditations on Quixote [1914] by José Ortega y Gassett, translated by Evelyn Rugg and Diego Martín, Introduction and Notes by Julián Marías, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1961-01-01. New York, NY.
  • The Revolt of the Masses by José Ortega y Gasset. Copyright 1932, W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., New York. Copyright 1960 translated by Teresa Carey.
  • La Rebelión de las Masas de José Ortega y Gasset, first published in 1927 as a series of articles in el diario El Sol, and on the same year as a book.
  • Plato’s dialogue Theaetetus circa 369 B.C.E. Translated by F. M. Jane Levett; Jackson Wylie and Company in 1928, University of Glasgow.
  • The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha – 4 Volumes in 8 Books, Limited Edition No. 71/320, translator John Ormsby (1829–1895), 1st  Edition, Published by Harvard Publishing Company, 1893, Harvard University, Massachusetts.
  • Ortega y Gasset’s biography: https://iep.utm.edu/jose-ortega-y-gasset/
  • Edward Sarmiento, Blackfriars Vol. 31, No. 365 (AUGUST 1950), pp. 356-363 (8 pages). Published By: Wiley.
  • A Bibliography of Works in English By and About José Ortega y Gasset
  • Fundación José Ortega y Gasset Spain (in Spanish)
  • Fundación José Ortega y Gasset Argentina (in Spanish)
  • Holmes, Oliver, “José Ortega y Gasset”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
  • Newspaper clippings about José Ortega y Gasset in the 20th Century Press Archives of the ZBW

    Vladimir Putin vs Democracy

    April 29, 2022

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    “Although. . .victory may coincide with the destruction of humanity,. . .without totalitarianism we would never have known the true radical nature of evil.”

    Hanna Arendt: Excerpt from The Origins of Totalitarianism (Harvest Book 244) First Edition 1951.

    __________________

    “If liberalism were to succeed as the core of a new world order, it would be based on a belief in the rule of law and a constitutional order:    one that limits executive power in favor of the ability of individuals to make decisions for themselves about the course of their lives; which is only guaranteed through a system of democratic rights and laws.”

    EXCERPT FROM “LIBERALISM AND ITS DISCONTENTS” BY FRANCIS FUKUYAMA, PUBLISHED IN MARCH 2022 [1].

    __________________

    I

    In her book “Difficult Decisions, about Vladimir Putin” (2014), Hillary Clinton tells us that, as Secretary of State, she attended a ceremony at the St. Petersburg Monument erected to the victims of the Nazi invasion of Leningrad, after which she dined with Putin.   Putin shared with Clinton that his father had served on the front lines of the war against Germany in Leningrad and that he had had the uncanny experience of having rescued his wife alive from a pile of corpses, just before they were being buried.   Putin added that his mother, having survived an almost certain death, gave birth to him after the war (Vladimir had two brothers who had died of natural causes before and during the war).   Understandably, she felt a kind of compassion that these events had left on his psyche.   In her book Clinton poses to the reader the question as to whether these events could explain Putin’s mythology about what it meant for him to be Russian.   For her, correct or not, however, it must be taken that this story gave an account of Putin’s perception of his own history and that of Russia.

    II

    From the US Secretaries of State, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Rex Tillerson, we have learned that Putin expected and demanded respect and recognition of Russian capabilities.   The key would not be to respect his values or actions, but rather to respect the importance of his role as a leader.   According to these Secretaries, the key to negotiations must correspond to the present, recognizing that Putin is ambitious in his purposes, and that, although he can adapt to circumstances as they arise, he remains unpredictable.   We would have to expect his opposition to Western ideas, in particular on the basis of his own notions of equality.   These are salient features of the Russian president, particularly with regard to his relations with the United States.   Nevertheless, in the past, Putin has maintained long-standing collaborations with the US, regarding the sanctions against Iran, the nuclear agreement with Iran, and the air corridor over Russia to resupply American troops in Afghanistan.

    III

    On November 8, 1991, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus signed at a state dacha the Belovezh Agreement (the Creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States) to dissolve the Soviet Union:   a move that Putin later proclaimed as “ the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” [2].

    IV

    Following the closing down of the East German KGB in 1991, Putin returned to Russia, where he then first rose to the post of first deputy mayor of St. Petersburg in 1994.   In 1996, he joined the presidential staff of Boris Yeltsin as a deputy to Pavel Borodin, the Kremlin’s chief administrator.   In July 1998, President Boris Yeltsin appointed him director of the Federal Security Service (FSB, the domestic successor to the KGB) and, shortly thereafter, he became secretary of the Russian Security Council.

    In the beginning, Yeltsin nominated Putin as prime minister in 1999.   Rising crime, institutional corruption, and economic difficulties marred Yeltsin’s regime.   Suddenly, on December 31, 1999, Yeltsin announced his resignation and named Putin interim president.   Vowing to rebuild an already weakened Russia, Putin was victorious in the March 2000 elections, winning 53 percent of the votes.   His campaign promised to eliminate corruption and create a strong market economy.   Afterwards, Boris Yeltsin came to lament his support of Putin.   In March 2004, Putin won a second term as president with more than 70 percent of the vote after oil prices fueled a consumer boom and raised living standards, a trend that continued for another four years.   In 2007, Putin advocated the principles of democratic equality in his speech at the 43rd Munich Security Conference, when he accused the US of imposing a unipolar world and attacked its EU participants for complicity [2].   Then with a controversial constitutional provision, Putin was forced to step down in 2008.   Putin chose Dmitry Medvedev as his successor and Medvedev, in turn, nominated Putin as the country’s prime minister within hours of taking office on May 7, 2008.

    V

    In 2008, as prime minister Putin directed the annexation of two parts of the Republic of Georgia by military force and, in 2009, suppressed the separatist movement in Chechnya.   Putin cultivated a nationalist fervor, being re-elected president for a third time in 2012, and nominating Medvedev as primer minister. Violent measures quelled the resulting popular uprising in the capital and the rest of the country.   According to information sources of journalists in exile [3], the mortality rate of the opposition rose significantly.   Putin’s measures were to repress the opposition through incarceration, as well as poisoning them and extorting them, inside and outside the country.   In line with his aspiration to reinforce a Soviet like Federation of Russia, Putin began to affirm that the prestige of the past had been lost and that he intended to restore it.   This is reflected in his 2013 New York Times op-ed [4]—“A Plea for Caution from Russia” — where he once again focused his distrust on the US.   On Feb. 27, 2014, Russian troops started annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region after Ukrainian protesters had ousted pro Russian president Viktor Yanukovich.   The following month, Russia incorporated Crimea after a Russian referendum. Subsequently, both the United States and the European Union imposed sanctions.

    On September 30, 2015, Russia launched air strikes in Syria in its biggest Middle East intervention in decades, turning the tide of the conflict in favor of President Bashar al-Assad.   In November 2016, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States after having promised to improve ties with Moscow.   American authorities have determined that Russia tried to interfere in the election in favor of him.   On March 19, 2018, Putin won his re-election in a landslide with a mandate that would keep him in office until 2024.   In 2021, he approved constitutional amendments that would allow him for re-election through 2036.

    VI

    In 2021, before Russia’s invading Ukraine, the Biden administration was already completing the withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan, a policy incidentally initiated by the former president Donald Trump.   It coincided with Putin’s article, “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians” [5] as preamble to the war against Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022.

    VII

    Now in its tenth week, the war in Ukraine appears to be evolving into a protracted conflict.   Although Ukraine has accomplished a somewhat successful first phase of the war, Russian belligerence has centered on eastern and southern territories of the country.   Without an increased support of NATO, Ukraine is faced with a more difficult situation than it has been in the past.

    Having not succeeded in overthrowing Ukrainian government, Putin has begun a second phase to the eastern Dombass region.   His new goal seems to be the separation of the Dombass from the rest of Ukraine and, thus, to control access to the Black Sea.

    VIII

    For Putin, one of his propaganda vehicles is his defense of the Russian language, which would be equivalent to the assumption of England annexing the United States of America as a reason to protect the English language.   On Russian television, Putin explains to a 12-year-old girl that the “tragedy” in the Donbass is that Ukraine was committing “genocide” against Russian-speakers [6].

    In the context of this narrative, Russian state television broadcasts that “the special military operation is one to establish peace.”

    IX

    Ukraine’s offers for peace continue to be rejected by Vladimir Putin [7].   Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has maintained that a compromise should be negotiated from where it all began:   in Crimea in 2014.   For Putin, however, the annexation of Crimea, just as the invasion of Ukraine, is historical revisionism.   Many observers say that the war is not so much an existential crisis for Russia, as it is a struggle for the survival of the regime itself.

    X

    Is it possible that Putin’s failure in this war will bring to a halt future attacks by a totalitarian regime against its neighbors?   We can ask ourselves if there could be a united front against these attacks.   If not, then the question remains.

    Edited by Billy Bussell Thompson

    Footnotes:

    [1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwuMMmUCw98

    [2] 2007 https://youtu.be/hQ58Yv6kP44

    [3] Zaborona Media https://zaborona.com/en/ and Ukrainska Pravda News https://www.pravda.com.ua/eng/

    [4] https://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/opinion/putin-plea-for-caution-from-russia-on-syria.html

    [5] http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66181— published in July 2021 by Putin’s presidential office, in which he explained Western support for Ukraine as a nefarious conspiracy against the unity of the Russian Federation. In it, Putin plays a questionable role as a historian to justify his determination to confront the powers that intervene in the sovereignty of his country.

    [6] https://youtu.be/UzS1c_lSpNM

    [7] https://www.ft.com/content/7b341e46-d375-4817-be67-802b7fa77ef1

    M + T

    January 20, 2022

    Acknowledgments

    I recognize the contributions provided over the course of eight years by my brothers and sisters, Alberto José, Andreína Teresa, Bonnie María Teresa, and José Galdino, to whom I am most grateful for their safeguarding these memories. I am also indebted to my cousin Eduardo Morín Brea, son of Calixto Eduardo Morín Infante for the biographical Morín family’s summaries. I also thank my Uncle Calixto Eduardo for his guidance at the beginning of my education in the United States. Likewise, I am grateful to my father José Galdino Morín Infante for the incentives he made possible there. I also express my gratitude and affection to our mother for her warmth and optimism. Also I acknowledge cousins and uncles from both the Morín and Tortolero familes for their genealogical research; I am especially indebted to my aunt Ala Gaidasz Salamaja de Tortolero, widow of our mother’s brother Federico Tortolero Rivero, and to her late sister Lina Angelina Gaidasz Salamaja de Pystrak. And finally, I pay my highest respects for the support of my most loyal friend and editor, professor emeritus, Billy Bussell Thompson, Ph.D.

    Ricardo Federico Morín Tortolero , Fort Lauderdale, January 20, 2022

    *

    Dedicated to my brothers and sisters

    *

    Chapter 1

    The Inexorable Passage of Time

    “How can one travel through time on the hands of ancestors? En quelque sorte, one plays the role of their guardian.”

    Ricardo F. Morín

    *

    Genetic diversity is innate to the human condition. The figuration that some animals are more diverse than others is both limited and subjective. A more appropriate way would be, as an Andalusian friend described it: “. . .looking for relatives from all over the world.” Certainly, I seek to frame the stories of my parents through their ancestors, so as to develop a biography, which goes beyond a mere listing of dates and places. I want to define links to customs and thinking. Where this narrative leads I know not.

    A few years ago, I took a DNA test through Ancestry and 23andme. The results showed 40% of the markers to be of Spanish and Portuguese origin. The remaining 60% were non-Iberian: from Europe, Africa, and the New World.

    *

    Chapter 2

    What Is Consciousness?

    *

    Knowing ourselves implies a need to understand the influences that affect our consciousness: who we are and where we come from. Although we are limited in the short term—in its understanding because we do not have absolute control of our faculties. It is important, more than ever in human history, to know our origins as far as we can. The notion of self-knowledge is an intrinsic and unavoidable need. How else can we reflect on our human spirit, both on our imperfections and our aspirations, if we do not distinguish between variability and changing nature?

    *

    Chapter 3

    Etymologies and Toponymies

    *

    Modern scientific etymological study is based on the methods and findings of historical and comparative linguistics, the basic principles of which were established by linguists during the 19th century.

    Encyclopedia Britannica, 2021.

    *

    Understanding the etymology of proper names and their geographical locations derives from comparative linguistics, as a way to sort people into groups–by occupation, place of origin, clan, parentage, adoption, and physical characteristics.

    The surname Morín derives from the Old French Moré, sobriquet of the ‘Moor’ or moret. In diminutive forms it means ‘black’ or ‘dark brown’, or a Bereber from Northwest Africa. The term was used by Christian Europeans to designate the Islamic inhabitants of the Maghreb, the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily, and Malta during the Middle Ages: The term moro was applied indiscriminately to Arabs, Berbers, and Arabized Iberians. The surname Morín was associated with the moors of Spain. In the 8th century Arabs entered the Iberian Peninsula and remained a political force in some fashion until 1492, with the fall of Granada. The surname Morín was found mainly in the province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands, and to a lesser extent in Madrid and Salamanca.

    The surname Tortolero comes from Lombardy. The term derives from the name given to pigeons of the genus Columbina, “dove” or “tortolita”, which comes from the Latin turtur, probably an onomatopoeia. Since its origins in ancient times, the name Tortolero was associated with divinatory mythology, because of its ability to send messages, among other qualities, and was designated for those who raised turtledoves by trade. A tortolero was also a mystic. In Spain the main locus of the surname is Andalusia; it originated from Écija. The Tortoleros spread throughout the New World, especially Mexico, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico.

    *

    Chapter 4

    Origins

    *

    Like many Creole families, both surnames, Morín and Tortolero, find documentation from the Inquisition onward. In 2015 the Spanish government offered to restore citizenship to families who had lost it through mandatory expulsion. [1]

    The Morín family, merchants from the Canaries, took up residence in Caracas in 1745. During the colonial period, their descendants worked as ranchers, and then after Independence (1821), they served in the Federalist army fighting various caudillos.

    In contrast, the Tortoleros, according to María Teresa Tortolero Rivero, go back to 19th-century Toledo. The Morín surname can be traced through documentation in the National Library of Venezuela and from ecclesiastical records in both the state of Guárico and the Capital District of Venezuela. Before their arrival in Venezuela, the occupation of the Tortolero family is unknown, but afterwards, they worked as cane growers and coffee farmers in Altos de Reyes.

    *

    Chapter 5

    The Morín Family

    *

    In 1813 the fourth paternal great-grandfather, bachiller José Calixto Morín Fuentes was the parish priest in Lezama de Orituco (founded in 1688), today known as Altagracia de Orituco [2]. His slave María de Los Santos was the fourth great-grandmother of our family. She gave José Calixto two children, whom, according to baptismal records, were emancipated by him. One of her children was our third great-grandfather, Críspulo Morín. From the union between Narcisa Landaeta and him was born Venancio Antonio (1843-1929), known as El Tuerto. Great-grandfather Venancio Morín Landaeta became a Federalist general in the Azul regime.

    Venancio Antonio Morín Landaeta married his first cousin Andrea Fuentes Ramírez in 1870. This union bore seven children: Luis Ramón, Críspulo, Jesús Antonio, Venancio, Sofía, Catalina, and José Calixto. Save our grandfather José Calixto Morín Fuentes, all of his brothers were lawyers. José Calixto studied music. served as the director of a band in Altagracia de Orituco, and was a composer of waltzes and other popular genres.

    Later, from the union of José Calixto Morín Fuentes (1892-1967) and Domitila Infante Hernández (1892-1985), nine children were born: Calixto Eduardo (pharmacologist and philologist), José Galdino (lawyer and Doctor of Political Science), Jesús María–nicknamed Chucho–(educator and government official), Sofía del Carmen (assistant to the director of the National Library of Venezuela), Venancio Enrique (merchant), María Josefina–nicknamed Pipina–(housewife), Luis Eduardo (lawyer), María de Lourdes–nicknamed Malula–(school secretary), and Isaura Inés (housewife).

    The Morín Infante family lived in Altagracia de Orituco until 1944. In that year, José Calixto Morín Fuentes was appointed to the staff of the Caracas Military Band. Two years earlier, the oldest son Calixto Eduardo (1917-2000) and José Galdino (1920-1997) were students at the Central University of Venezuela. Calixto Eduardo became responsible for his brother at the request of José Calixto, who worried about how difficult it was to discipline him. José Galdino and Calixto Eduardo stayed with their uncle Luis Ramón Morín Fuentes, the older brother of their father José Calixto. During this time José Galdino seduced the housekeeper, who gave birth to a child of his. Our cousin Luis Morín Loreto, son of Luis Ramón, adopted the boy and named him César Morín Padrón. José Galdino studied law graduating summa cum laude in the Central University of Venezuela, July 26, 1947. His doctoral thesis, entitled “Human Capital,” studied the basic principles of human rights first elucidated by Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850). Thereafter, José Galdino excelled as a trial lawyer in both civil and criminal cases. He never became involved in Venezuelan politics.

    *

    Chapter 6

    The Tortolero Family

    *

    The maternal great-grandparents were Elogio Tortolero Cabrera and Paula Ojeda. The second surname of the maternal great-grandmother is still unknown, as is the existence of her brothers and sisters. It is known that the great-grand-father Elogio had four brothers and sisters: José Antonio (who died in Ezequiel Zamora’s guerrillas), Tobías, Rosa Manuela, and María José. It is believed that they were farmers.

    The Tortolero Cabreras owned a plantation in the state of Carabobo, called “el fundo de Marta López,” in Altos de Reyes. From the union of Elogio Tortolero Cabrera and Paula Ojeda was born Rafael Eusebio Tortolero Ojeda (1893-1938). Rafael Eusebio married Marcolina Rivero (1898-1937). They inherited the ranch. They had five children: Lucía (housewife), Leopoldo (grocer), Rafael Eusebio (contractor), María Teresa (lawyer), and Federico (pharmaceutical representative). Grandfather Rafael Eusebio, however, led a double life supporting six illegitimate children, who were never involved with his legitimate ones.

    Grandmother Marcolina Rivero died at the age of 39 from eclampsia, and a year later our grandfather Rafael Eusebio Tortolero Ojeda died at the age of 49 from pneumonia.

    *

    Chapter 7

    María Teresa Tortolero Rivero

    *

    María Teresa (1927-2011) at the age of 11 years was orphaned. From 1938 to 1944 she attended the Colegio de Lourdes in Valencia. The priest Francisco Martínez made possible her admission, and she boarded there for six years. She then studied for 2 years at the Liceo Pedro Gual and, then, she began working as a hygienist in Valencia. Subsequently she qualified as a secretary in Los Teques, state of Miranda. Here she met and married a Russian emigrant Aleksander Sarayeff in 1949. A few days after their marriage, he disappeared.

    *

    Chapter 8

    María Teresa and José Galdino

    *

    In 1950, María Teresa Tortolero Rivero moved to Tacarigua where she met José Galdino Morín Infante, the head of employees at the Tacarigua Sugar Mill. On his advice, María Teresa filed for divorce. Sarayeff reappears with threats against her, and José Galdino, as her lawyer, has an injunction preventing his contacting her. Then, in 1951, owing to a lack of medical resources and neonatal incubators, José Galdino and María Teresa lose their first born child, two months prematurely (Carlos Alberto). The boy lived only a few days. A year later, in 1952, María Teresa, at the age of 25, marries José Galdino, 32.

    José Galdino bought a house on a 30-acre piece of land in the outskirts of Guacara. The land, framed between the road to Guacara and the highway to Caracas, had a house with an enclosed swimming pool. There three children were born: Alberto José (lawyer) in 1953, Ricardo Federico (author and visual artist) in 1954, and Andreína Teresa (lawyer) in 1955. The parents’ families often visited them. Then the Morín Tortoleros moved to the town of Naguanagua. In Naguanagua the fourth child was born: María Teresa, called Bonnie by the family (playwright, director, and teacher) in 1958. In 1959, the Morín Tortolero family moved, for the last time, to the urbanización Carabobo in Valencia. In Valencia the fifth child was born: José Galdino (import/export merchant) in 1960.

    After fifteen years of marriage, María Teresa, at the urgency of the reverend Dr. Simón Salvatierra [3], became a candidate for the State Assembly of Carabobo and subsequently was elected thereto. Her husband José Galdino forced her to resign the post because of the history of the party leader Marcos Pérez Jiménez’ persecution of the Morin family. Then she opened a boutique and, once again, her husband disapproves of her status as a shopkeeper.

    *

    Chapter 9

    The Allure of Superstition

    *

    María Teresa held herself to be clairvoyant. People referred by close friends often came to her for spiritual advice. Inspired by Theosophism and the Rosicrucian order, she delved into metaphysical studies. Seeking council for her own enlightenment she frequented séances. José Galdino questioned her sanity. He, on the other hand, practiced his own rituals of magic. His clients and friends gave him advice on how to keep enemies at bay, the roots of his own fate, and the principles of casting spells.

    *

    Chapter 10

    Separation and Divorce

    *

    Marriages remain intact out of mutual understanding. Such a union is possible as long as there are shared stories. But without trust relationships fall apart.

    José Galdino and María Teresa were unable to deal with their differences. After 16 years of marriage, José Galdino remained an inveterate womanizer, and María Teresa, feeling unreciprocated, grew tired of him and his affairs. In a sense, they knew not their own emotions and deficiencies.

    For José Galdino, divorce was out of the question: a threat to his status and finances. By Venezuelan law, divorce meant divided property, something which he was unwilling to do. When notified in 1975 of his wife’s petition for divorce, his fury became uncontrollable.

    Knowing how he maneuvered in divorce cases, María Teresa blocked any possible transfer of marital property. As a result he attempted to throw his wife’s lawyer (Padrino Príncipe) down the stairs of the courthouse.

    The divorce decree was issued in 1979, just a year before José Galdino remarried (Piedad Urán Cardona: a dentistry student, who was 25 years his junior). The division of assets between José Galdino and María Teresa did not conclude until 1985. Despite the court’s ruling in her favor, María Teresa fired her lawyer and took on representation by her son Alberto José! In so doing, she had to renounce large parts of her own rights. She now felt exhausted and lacking any sense of justice. From there on she concentrated only on her own future.

    Between 1975-85, María Teresa dedicated herself to becoming a lawyer (perhaps to revenge her feelings of having been treated unfairly by the legal system). In preparation for law school, she fell in love with her tutor of mathematics, José Espirilión Valecillos Carrillo (Piri). He was a high school teacher in Valencia and fifteen years her junior. As she prepared for admission at the law school of the University of Carabobo, he too decided to apply as well. Before finishing their legal studies, they married and took their degree in 1992: She was 64 and he was 49.

    .

    .

    *

    Chapter 11

    Irony of Ironies

    *

    Inexplicably, María Teresa and Piri worked in the same office as that of her ex-husband José Galdino and her son. María Teresa believed her previous sacrifices had given her the privilege of becoming part of that firm. Her practice focused on protecting the legal rights of minors. Her second marriage, however, was as disappointing to her as the first and was dissolved after only two years. Then in 1996, she announced that her divorce from Jose Galdino had been a mistake. She was now mentally and emotionally defeated and began to manifest a kind of cognitive disassociation (was this simply depression or the beginnings of Alzheimer’s?).

    At the same time José Galdino’s marriage to Piedad Urán was in turmoil. Since 1993, she had been asking for the abrogation of their prenuptial agreement–thus forcing her to relinquish any property rights accumulated during the marriage. José Galdino denied the request. Within three years, however, fortune handed Piedad freedom.

    Between 1994 and 1995, José Galdino developed symptoms of Pick’s Neurological Syndrome, leaving him unable to walk, talk, and reason. Although, I sought treatment for him, his wife’s interference was a major obstacle. On November 1996, following the suggestion of my father, I returned to the United States to treat my own health problems. A few months later, José Galdino was operated on a cerebral hemorrhage. José Galdino died from pneumonia August 4, 1997.

    By 1998, María Teresa could no longer continue practicing law. To fill her time her daughter Bonnie urged her to return to writing poetry. María Teresa alleged José Galdino had burned what she had written before. Between 2004-05 she reconstructed some 15 poems, which were later distributed to members of the family under the title Magia Azul.

    Chapter 12

    The Last Years of María Teresa

    In 1999 at the age of 72, María Terersa, fulfilling a life long dream, and I traveled to Europe. We visited Madrid, Paris, Venice, and Rome. On the trip, María Teresa remembered when five years before she had stumbled on her way to court: For her it was my consolation of her that amounted to the sharing of memories. At the airport days later, she watched our reflection in a mirror in the airline’s private club and said: “I hope to keep this moment forever in my memory.”

    In 2004, I invited her to celebrate her seventy-seventh birthday in New York City. On this last trip, she met David, my husband of nine years, and his mother, Eva, who was four years her senior. María Teresa admired Eva’s vitality. The following year, María Teresa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

    In 2009, she languished in the advanced stages of the disease, and we knew that her treatment had to be continued in a clinic. It was no longer possible for her daughter Andreina to assume sole responsibility for her care. Likewise her son José Galdino spared no effort in the care of his mother. His dedication and conduct were exemplary.

    At the age of 84 María Teresa died, June 18, 2011.

    *

    Epilogue

    *

    A Journey Through Time

    *

    In writing this story, I acknowledge my own limitations in trying to understand lives I thought I knew intimately. My family and I do not know who they were, any more than we can really know ourselves. This highlights an evanescence that seeks to define our relationships, which barely touch the edges of our existence. There’s so much we can’t say. Our own regrets, feelings of shame, or recklessness can only be censors to our understanding.

    The recognition that life is imperfect is the definition of dignity. It should be noted that a sentimental essay is not the goal dishonoring our existence; it is rather an incongruity covering up our imperfections. Our lives are celebrated for their differences. Whether we nurture each other or inflict pain on each other, it’s a matter of tolerance. What would be most remarkable would be forgiveness.

    .

    Edited by Billy Bussell Thompson

    Footnotes:

    *

    María Teresa Tortolero Rivero through her life. From left to right: 1. In 1945 with the Pedro Gual Liceo uniform. 2. In 1954, during her third pregnancy, accompanied by her husband José Galdino Morín Infante, and followed by her brother-in-law Chucho Morín Infante. 3. In 1992 becoming a lawyer, wearing cap and gown with diploma and medal. 4. In 2004 at the age of 77 in front of her son-in-law David Lowenberger and holding to his mother’s arm, my mother-in-law, Eva Lowenberger.

    *

    Poetry of María Teresa

    Blue Magic (Magia Azul)

    (Dedicated to my Children)

    i

    WHEN IT BLOOMS IN SPRING

    (June 15 1974)

    *

    When it blooms in spring
    beautiful flowers from my garden
    I offer you my whole life
    because suddenly …
    it is finally going away.
    I take care of your soil, I water your plants,
    and sweet fruits I would like to give to you
    from my fields of gold and silver
    when it blooms in spring.
    Beautiful flowers from my garden
    crossed the valleys, deep seas
    with their cherub wings.
    I leave your soil and beloved hearths.
    For the sap no longer gives nourishment
    nor does it till the fields of their songs.
    trailing their aroma until they fade away.
    
    In yon green valleys
    in which I dreamt
    and that is the goal of my stroll
    towards the plants I loved so much.

    ii

    WINGS BLOWN AWAY

    (June 15 1974)

    (Bonnie Morín Tortolero’s poem, added to our mother’s collection)

    *

    We were born free
    like red poppies with falling wings
    with an innate unease
    shedding petals up and down gullies and hills.
    and in the blinking of an eye
    they flew away …
    
    In what bitter nest
    will they shed their yearnings
    if a veil covered their sight
    over the glint of their hearts
    facing the world
    as if it were a promised land?

    *

    (Poem by Maria Teresa in response to her daughter’s)

    *

    ... Follow its swift flight
    as time passes by
    for wide and long is its course
    and if at its first chance it falls,
    badly wounded sparrow
    raise your eyes beyond the clouds,
    fear your lot no more
    lest cowardly the flight might be
    for love is divine.

    iii

    COME TO ME

    (June 30, 2004)

    *

    My beloved, come to me
    if you loved me
    for I’m waiting for you.
    Do not make me beg
    for I love you
    and I suffer not knowing of you.
    
    Starving of light
    of your gaze
    so that I may live.
    For you crossed
    my path
    to be loved
    for eternity.
    
    Life seems absurd
    in some instances!
    If a match cannot exist
    with room for hope.
    Letting things go
    to nothing more than the draw of luck.
    
    Leave everything in its place
    for oblivion is imposed
    and so be it.

    iv

    TO LIVE FOR THEM IS MY VIRTUE

    (April 9, 2004)

    *

    From the narrowness of form
    the principle of virtue arises,
    the virtue of my loves,
    the virtue of loving.
    
    Feeling how much I love them
    I exist for them.
    It’s all I have.
    It’s all I am.
    Without them I would be nothing,
    to live for them is my virtue.
    
    I love them, I love them …
    Thanks to my maker,
    Love is life.

    v

    I REFUSE ACCEPTANCE

    (April 14, 2004)

    *

    I don’t want to force barriers.
    I don’t want to have chimeras in my dreams.
    Nor to encourage the illusions of a false hope.
    
    As fragile as a straw in the wind.
    thus, I wish to erase
    all ungrateful memory of its existence
    
    So much that I wish
    with the very force of love,
    which I carry indelibly within,
    in opposition to chance,
    to that one toying with us
    as if we were ignorant.

    vi

    DO NOT FORSAKE ME

    (May 11, 2004)

    *

    Instill in me your creative force
    to praise you with rapture,
    all that my soul longs for.
    Eager for your compassion
    I implore your presence.
    Fill my soul with your divine love
    and do not forsake me.

    vii

    I DREAMT

    (May 11, 2004)

    *

    I dreamt that I was a diva
    of the Bel canto
    that with devotion
    I sang to my father
    while daydreaming,
    my companion since infancy
    with a sweet melody
    within myself,
    which I still sing not knowing why.

    viii

    WHEN A DREAM BECOMES REALITY

    (January 26, 2004)

    *

    What may have been audacious for me
    for others may have been presumptive.
    To judge deed rather than intentions,
    Man has no dominion.
    He may dream
    as a way to spend time
    by limiting himself to dream.
    No one may be hurt.
    He may be just with his dreams alone.
    But while dreaming as a way of life
    his dreams may also be fulfilled.

    ix

    MOST BEAUTIFUL OF ALL

    (September 11 2004)

    *

    She was beautiful, the most beautiful among the beautiful
    with an upturned and fine nose
    with thin and expressive lips
    with huge heavenly eyes
    with a smiling gaze.
    And with a sweet voice inviting to sing alone.
    I sang with her
    In the shadow of a picture window
    And as I sang
    Mocking birds joined in
    and they began to sing
    
    The song they heard.
    Morning birds
    that came to her window
    singing at dawn
    awakening the day
    
    Mama smiled
    and between songs she told me:
    “You are one another sparrow
    my good girl, my smart girl
    an insight I shall provide
    so that between flight and flight
    your dreams may be realized,
    so that between dream and dream
    you may also learn to fly.”

    x

    ABSENCE

    (June 13, 2005)

    *

    How much does absence contain
    distresses and troubles of the heart
    for whom awaits the absent one
    never to return, leaving doubts
    for whom awaits in suspension,
    for not hearing from her beloved one,
    whatever happened to him?
    One cannot be filled in quiescence,
    empty without his love,
    and to know best how to await
    until his return
    with the loving sameness of before.

    xi

    AN ANGEL FROM ABOVE

    (June 30, 2004)

    *

    An Angel descended from above
    teeming with light
    and his eyes like the splendor of two stars
    reflected upon my soul,
    conquering me.
    
    Yet to be left unrequited
    not knowing how to live without.
    Where has my beloved angel gone?
    Where did he go?
    Who may reflect upon him
    as much as I did?
    Waiting for you.
    One has to learn.
    For you will return to me
    to be made happy
    as I always did.

    xii

    AFTER LOVING HIM FIRST

    (March 1978)

    *

    Why did I meet him for love?
    Why did I love him
    having to live with his absence?
    What a cruel chance!
    to have poured my love
    not knowing if corresponded
    to end having to endure his distance
    beyond my comprehension.
    Whatever happened to that love?
    to his falling in love?
    The one I saw shinning in his eyes?

    xiii

    IF ONLY I COULD SEE

    (March 1978)

    *

    I transit like a wanderer among shadows
    and though stone blind I wish to see,
    looking and seeking among things
    where daylight does not enter;
    looking between all things
    until I find a kindred spirit.
    
    I ask My Lord in his infinite mercy
    to take compassion of my vexing pains
    if I suffer for deluding myself God like
    I also suffer from feeling desolate:
    The pain that steals my soul
    and all the grace of its  glory.

    xiv

    GREATNESS YOU BESTOWED UPON MY SPIRIT

    (July 1979)

    *

    Greatness you bestowed upon my spirit
    for the whole world rests upon my bosom
    though in sadness I stray
    in vain attempts to redeem my heart.
    
    As pariah in a desert
    in my migrant existence
    I feel the prick of painful thorns.
    and the corrosive doubt of uncertainty.
    
    My home’s encumbered by the punching of loneliness
    only absence occupies it.
    Why have you forsaken me?
    Why so much cruelty?
    If born to love
    when for love’s sake
    I wish to be faithful.

    xv

    BLUE MAGIC

    (July 9, 2004)

    *

    You shall see how
    the golden eagle in swift flight
    will reach to infinity.
    
    You shall see all we love
    turns Blue by magic.
    It will come to you.
    
    And you shall see how the magic of love
    transforms your heart,
    and empowers the joys of life,
    our dream so long awaited,
    to love and being loved!

    “Memories of Herta”

    January 6, 2022

    *

    Photo provided by Herta’s daughter Vivien Kane

    In the summer of 1975 I took a painting-studio workshop under Herta’s instruction at the University at Buffalo: from that time evolved the bonds of our friendship. Herta’s wisdom came from her own vibrancy; her curiosity seemed boundless. She would explore various new subjects, from computer art to Japanese calligraphy. All this enhanced her as an artist. As a teacher dealing with students, she had little patience, and many of them felt intimidated by her demands. Most memorably, she taught me that an artist had to evoke the meaning lurking behind every image. Art was not a progressive evolution; nothing was new: everything had already been done; the imperative was to make something of significance.

    Herta identified with the stories I shared about my family, and especially about my mother. She also told me stories about her own parents, particularly about how much she admired her father. Through the years, Herta’s loyalty was constant. She was as nurturing as a mother. Being 26 years older than I, she wondered why I wanted to spend so much time with her. I responded people of my age bored me.

    The last semester of my junior year, Herta invited me to lunch with her husband Ernest, a cardiologist at the Veteran Administration Hospital next to the university. That morning, some students had set a fire outside my door. I called the university police but I accused no one. Later I told Herta what had happened. She and her husband assured me every thing would be fine. That afternoon we listened to the music of Handel and Brahms, talked about the poetry of mathematics, and discussed the polemics of anthropology of art. That night I did not return to my dormitory room, but stayed with a Polish graduate student of architecture: Jurek Pystrak invited me to stay with him until things were sorted out. Little did I know how significant Herta and Jurek were to become.

    While studying for finals, someone I didn’t know introduced himself to me. It seemed he had been my bodyguard since the time of the fire in the dorm. I never found out why he was surveilling me. Later Herta commented: “… the university must have taken stock of how lax its security system was.”

    After I went off to Yale for graduate studies and Jurek had moved to Berlin, Herta and I stayed in touch. Sometimes we met in Manhattan and would go to museums and galleries. After having finished my studies at Yale, I worked as a stage designer in Manhattan. In 1988 I visited Herta in Buffalo. Her husband Ernest had died two years prior. Herta and I went to the opening performance of Abingdon Square by María Irene Fornés (1930-2018) at the Studio Arena Theater. That night Herta and I had the opportunity to speak with her (I had executed stage-designs for three of her plays, which had premiered in New York City). Again in 1989, I visited Herta in Buffalo; there we attended a retrospective by the painter Seymour Drumlevitch, who had been both of ours academic advisor, artistic mentor, and friend.

    In 1992, Herta came to my first one-man show of paintings in Manhattan. Though I did not see her then, we kept in touch by phone. Jurek’s partner Karl in Berlin told Herta that Jurek had died of AIDS in 1984. This came to both of us as a shock; it explained why we had not heard from Jurek for eight years. Herta was instrumental in connecting us to Jurek’s past. Karl then visited my painting studio in Tribeca. Afterwards, he invited Herta to a river cruise for a night on the Rhine to commemorate his impending death (he had dismissed my optimism about antiretroviral treatments as a missionary sentimentality). I had told Herta his outlook was totally fatalistic.

    When I firtst met Herta, I intuited that she was struggling with depression. I learned later much of her search for affection h
    ad been uncorresponded. Her husband was also battling depression, having attempted suicide had it not been for his wife. Herta then looked after him through a long period of illness. After his death her circle of friends shrank. She thought herself unwelcome by other couples. In those years Herta was alone and riddled with guilt. Bewildered, she would knock at my door late at night, long past midnight, asking for support. Now in the 1990’s our roles were reversed: she was coming to my aid. Herta fed my optimism and helped me recover from the suicide of my partner of three years.

    Then, in the spring of 2005, Herta met David, my partner of five years. As I walked to the avenue to help her catch a taxi, she told me that she only wished she had met some one like David for herself. Her statement did not surprise me, though we were touching each other’s past just on the edges. I understood that David reminded her of her desire to have met, during her lifetime, someone as sensitive as he.

    In May 2008 David and I attended Herta’s 80th birthday party in Philadelphia. We met the entire family, including her grandchildren. Prior to that, Herta had often confided to me her insecurities about being a grandmother. She doubted how her grandchildren and son-in-law perceived her; whether she was accepted by them. She was self-conscious of her German accent, though she would glorify it as an appealing distinction. Although, these were significant years for Herta, the burden of a new life weighted heavily on her mind.

    In 2011 my mother died from Alzheimer’s at age 84. During the preceding years I had mentioned to Herta that I used to call my mother in Venezuela to read to her “Don Quixote.” From time to time my mother would react with guttural sounds, which I took for affirmations of laughter. During these conversations, I began to become aware of Herta’s own difficulties in her perception of reality. She became easily agitated. She often felt misunderstood. She repeated past events, as if they were taking place now. I listened quietly, hoping she could regain her calm. I tried to interest her in other matters. Was this why she told me that it was important for us to be in contact? Thereafter I tried to call her until it was no longer feasible. After what seemed to be a long period of silence, her daughter Vivien called to let me know that Herta needed 24-hour a day care. David and I drove from Manhattan to visit her in Pennsylvania. In 2016 she was still able to talk. I thought she remembered me until our parting, when she said how nice it had been to meet me.

    During our visit, Herta appeared alert. After we had shown her pictures of our place in Fort Lauderdale, she had made several whimsical remarks. Brashly, she criticized cushions that looked like doughnuts, and were completely out of place. Her wit was as sharp as ever. She even recounted her recommendations for graduate school, in which—to my horror—she had called me of the caliber of Leonardo da Vinci. The point is she relished being controversial.

    The summer before her death, Herta was much more limited in movement and speech; she seemed listless, though she smiled often in what appeared to be simple resignation. In our banter with each other, she scowled and rolled her eyes mischievously glancing at everyone. We grinned at each other and she gasped with glee. Following this, Herta gestured, her hands around her mouth, as if asking why did I need a moustache. Then I showed her one of my geometric paintings. She looked at it, raised her brows, opening her eyes wide, and said “GOOD!" I was moved by her approval. She looked to be in command. As she continued savoring vanilla ice cream, she played aimlessly with her spoon, but she refused to let anyone help. When we said good-bye, we mentioned we would return in the spring, and she vouchsafed with the same facial expression, “GOOD!"

    Memories about the loss of a loved one are painful, precisely because we have loved them. Accepting their past with humility is the one and only choice for their loss. It is an absolute; we embrace our existence through their memories. Grief is the time to endure suffering with forbearance.
    1998

    Written by Ricardo Morin and edited by Billy Bussell Thompson

    Herta Lager Kane

    December 29, 2021

    Introduction

    ***

    Edited by Billy Bussell Thompson

    *

    *

    Herta Lager Kane (1928-2021) was born in Vienna.  With her family, she came to New York City in 1941–via Switzerland–fleeing Nazi persecution.

    Herta began her education at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, School of Art and Architecture, before obtaining a B.F.A. in Graphic Design and an M.F.A. in Painting from the University at Buffalo.  

    Photo provided by Herta’s daughter Vivien Kane

    Herta began her career as an adjunct professor of Painting in the University at Buffalo, and then spent most of her life as an associate professor of graphic design in the State University College at Buffalo. Herta’s paintings on the plasticity of geometric abstractions as well as her refined constructivist drawings have been exhibited at Buffalo’s Albright Knox Art Gallery, the Burchfield Penney Art Center, the Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, and various alternative local cooperatives dedicated to video research and development for theater and television.

    In her work Herta searched for a new direction in the depiction of pictorial space, resulting from the great legacy of our mentor Seymour Drumlevitch. In her own words, Herta aspired to arrive at the power “… of a mystical ambiguity and elusiveness.”

    ________________________________________

    ***

    An Elegy

    *

      Herta always had a generous warmth for and a profound insight into humanity.  Even when we were most fragile, in our moments of trouble, we did not have to say much to assure each other that everything would be fine; even in silence, we supported one another with a sense of wonderment, at times even with great humor.
    
    
    From the time when I first met Herta in 1975, as a painting instructor in the University at Buffalo, she shared her wealth of knowledge and always provided encouragement.  She looked after my well-being until she was no longer able.  Our friendship attested to the fact that no one has control over his destiny, though our love persisted beyond such boundaries.
    
    
    Herta’s confidence—in the labors of becoming a visual artist and surviving the myriad uncertainties of a professional career—enabled my finding answers to managing whatever fate provided.
    
    
    Her humanity, dignity, and intelligence were a fountain of inspiration for all of us, who had the good fortune of knowing her.  More than a mentor Herta became a loving and loyal friend.  No one else could fill her place in my heart.  
    
    
    Herta and I had strong bonds.  I owe her my standing, not only emotional maturity but also my intellectual development.  Without her, I would be different; to her I owe the inspiration of authenticity and thoughtfulness.

    R.F.M.

    *

    ___________________________________________

    *

    In Memoriam Herta Lager Kane

    ***

    Destiny

    *

           Fate and chance drew out of our tears a smile 
    and brought solace to our failures;
    then we looked up after we'd sunk
    with the confidence 
    of climbing back.
    
           In loneliness
    we found for ourselves company,
    and in helping others, we were helped.
    In our pursuit of the impossible good,
    we came to know our failures.
    
           In the brevity of each moment,
    nothing seemed to fit for being possessed;
    when we marveled at the great arc of time,
    this never died,
    even in the absence of hope.
     
           The ups and downs from the goddesses, the three Moirai and Tyche,
     in their dispensation of favors and troubles,
     couldn’t keep us from moving on,
     even if we met each other and were
     hopelessly aware of our imperfections.

    ***

    Ricardo F Morin, December 29, 2021, coauthored by Billy Bussell Thompson

    *

    __________________________________________

    ***

    Herta’s Art

    *

    Herta Kane, American artist born in Austria (1928-2021), Painting entitled “Untitled”, c. 1980, Acrylic on Canvas, diptych, 49 5/8 7/8″ x 50″, Gift of the artist to the Burchfield Penny Art Center Collection 2002 https://burchfieldpenney.org/art-and-artists/people/profile:herta-kane/

    *

    Herta Kane, American artist born in Austria (1928-2021), Painting entitled “Untitled”, c. 1980, Acrylic on Canvas, diptych, 57 7/8″ x 37 5/8″, Gift of the artist to the Burchfield Penny Art Center Collection, 2002. https://burchfieldpenney.org/art-and-artists/people/profile:herta-kane/

    *

    Herta Kane, American artist born in Austria (1928-2021), work on paper entitled “Untitled”, Acrylic and collage on paper, 10 1/2″ x 10 1/2″. Gift of the Arts Development Services, Inc., 1978 to the Burchfield Penny Arts Center Collection, 1978. https://burchfieldpenney.org/art-and-artists/people/profile:herta-kane/

    *

    Herta Lager-Kane (1928-2021) American artist born in Austria, work on paper, “Untitled”, 1978; acrylic and felt tip pen on drafting paper, 10″ x 21″, Gift of the Arts Development Services, Inc., 1978. https://burchfieldpenney.org/art-and-artists/artwork/object:1978-006-012-untitled/

    Wislawa Szymborska

    December 19, 2021

    Words are symbols not necessarily truthful. We endow them with meaning in order to appease our bewilderment before aspects of reality we cannot fully comprehend.
    That is perhaps what makes our human consciousness so very fragile.

    Anonymous
    Wisława Szymborska, (born July 2, 1923 in Bnin [now part of Kórnik], Poland; died February 1, 2012 in Krakow), Polish poet, whose intelligent and empathetic explorations of philosophical, moral, and ethical questions earned her the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996.
    
    https://press.princeton.edu/our-authors/szymborska-wislawa

    In memoriam Herta Lager Kane.

    A Few Words About The Soul 1

       We have a soul from time to time. 
    Nobody has her all the time,
    nor possesses her forever.

    Day after day,
    year after year,
    may go by without her.

    Sometimes she nests in us for a while,
    in the fears and raptures of childhood,
    and sometimes at our surprise of being old.

    Rarely does she lend us a hand
    with routine tasks,
    moving furniture,
    or baggage,
    or walking miles in shoes that don't fit.

    She runs away
    when meat is to be ground,
    and hopes are to be met.

    Out of every thousand talks
    she'll take part in one,
    if at that.
    She likes silence.
    When one’s entrails go from dull to intense pain
    she gives up.

    She is choosy:
    she doesn't like us in crowds.
    Our desires to get ahead and
    hustling for advantage make her sick.

    For her, joy and sorrow
    are not opposites.
    She is within us
    in the union of both.

    We count on her
    when we're sure of nothing
    and curious about everything.

    The things she likes are
    mirrored clocks with pendulums
    working all the while,
    even when no one looks at them.

    She doesn't say whence she comes
    nor when she'll leave again,
    even tough she is waiting for these questions.

    For some reason
    we need her,
    and she needs us just as well.

    Footnote:

    1: Poem written by Wislawa Szymborska: published July 1, 2000, original translation from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Claire Cavanagh in 2006, transposed into Spanish and English by Ricardo Morin and Billy Bussell Thompson, December 2021.

    Book of Changes

    June 22, 2021

    *

    *

    Ricardo Federico Morin Tortolero

    *

    Editor Billy Bussell Thompson

    *

    Platonic Series 2018 – CGI

    *

    __________________________________________________

    *

    In memoriam Eva Lowenberger

    *

    __________________________________________________

    The allure of one’s success,
    Organizes truth in haze,
    To lead one to make a mess.

    Ricardo F Morin – April 2021

    __________________________________________________

    *

    Acknowledgment

    Book of Changes is a new departure from my life as a visual artist into a recent collaboration with Billy Bussell Thompson, who is a Ph.D. in Linguistics, Professor Emeritus at Hofstra University.  Our relation is unlike that of an independent author and an editor.  As friends with a shared history of experiences and distinctly different influences, our relation defines us beyond simply one providing feedback and constructive advice to the other.  

    I see myself without any pretense of wanting to become a professional writer, or of emulating a particular literary style,  just as I have never considered myself a professional artist of any particular tendency.  Yet I am a life long inquirer of these two distinctly different disciplines.  As I have mentioned it to Billy, “I come to be who I am in writing because of him”:  in learning how to order my perceptions into concrete events, which is a difficult task for a visual artist without a full ownership of the English language. Billy’s specialty and his particular knowledge of Romance languages enable him to bridge the differences between their semantic fields.  Without presumption, I believe our relation defines us both in unique ways, not possible if we were fully independent of one another. I am as much a work in progress for him, as I am for myself.

    As with any given artistic expression, the process itself of Book of Changes arose from exorcizing a variety of memories in the act of writing.  The writing process informed the direction and nature of the story as an object of artistic pursuit.

     Real memories as well as random, and chance events were combined, including the daily changes of every emerging moment. The effort that Billy and I made was to find unity in all these events, despite their multiple possibilities.  All of it was brought to bear in a complex collage, stripped away of superficiality, and into its own realism.

    Inauthenticity was as easily dismissed, just as excessive information had to be eliminated, and in the process we discovered how the story had to be directed.   Yet, I am aware of the absence of what was cancelled, which left an indelible mark on the nature of the story.

    For me, it was the same as creating an abstract painting, except that in working together, Billy and I channeled each other to arrive at the piece itself.  The process felt different from the ways in which a painting takes place in the intimacy of one’s studio, constructing and deconstructing, building and rebuilding, what may have turned into a fluid geometric abstraction.  In our story, every word, as a brushstroke or a line in a painting, became essential to the harmony of the narrative: as the illusive depth of spatial relations in visual art, language and feeling, undifferentiated and congruent, came about like the regenerative portrayal of an abstract painting.  

     Book of Changes strives to formulate my memories and the changes in perception, which occur from time to time.  The nuances of this particular book of histories attempt to illustrate the character of personal truth, of what is imponderable and evanescent in one’s sense of humanity.  Though the story is based on real life experiences, the personal and particular, however, do not constitute the principal objective, rather it is the constantly evolving character of one’s truth.

    Ricardo F Morin

    __________________________________________________

    *

    Chapter 1

    Ignis Fatuus: the whole world could collapse; to live we need false hopes.

    Chapter 2

    Your paternal grandfather hardly ever spoke; lying next to him, you suffered his snores. One Sunday morning you sat quietly on the bench with him; he was playing the organ at the Church of Bella Vista in Caracas. One Sunday afternoon, he took you to feed pigeons at the “plaza mayor” in Puerto La Guaira. One early Monday, he sat at a carved desk and sipped hot coffee from a demitasse’s saucer. For a time, he twiddled his thumbs and whistled a tune. Suddenly he chased you from the house in belief that you had broken something of his. Fearfully you ran across the street and were almost hit by a car. You joined older eight-year-olds playing marbles.

    Chapter 3

    There is so much that we ignore that humility becomes a necessity, not a choice. Nothing can be conclusive at any time.

    Chapter 4

    Your maternal grandmother never engaged in small talk. To dissuade you from sucking your thumb, before bedtime, she applied hot sauce to your left hand. You simply switched to your right thumb.

    Chapter 5

    Man does not control who he is, nor how he thinks, or even how he perceives himself. You do not control who you are, how you think, or how you perceive yourself. Asking why one exists or observing how one changes from time to time, only appears to suggest lack of control.

    Chapter 6

    In his cell, Father Manuel, the math teacher, talked to himself. His murmurs were barely audible. Often he chastised us on the differences between a big man and the little man. The principal Father Lisandro replied there’s no explanation for evil in the world.

    Chapter 7

    One cannot debunk fears about the existence of God and the devil. It is a wild goose chase. Culture, similar to tradition and belief, comes from the imagination.

    Chapter 8

    As a friend, Rogelio was considerate and attentive. Your mother heeded not to grow too close to him: he was poor, black. Angrily you countered: poverty was not shameful and, besides, your father’s skin was only slightly lighter.

    Chapter 9

    Do you find meaning in imaginative worlds and daydreams?

    Chapter 10

    During lunch, Uncle Calixto sat across at the end of the table. Casually he announced the suicide of a couple he’d introduced you to, only a month before. Your consternation was obvious; Uncle Calixto insisted you were to inquire no further. Years later, with the same tone of anger he accused you of evil thoughts:  you have the devil in you, for being gay.

    Chapter 11

    You asked how moral can a person be:  someone who believes in the devil, hell, and eternal damnation! For you this morality was defective. For you, religion is no different from astrology.

    Chapter 12

    Fifteen years ago Francis died of cancer. His brother grieved as if a limb had been amputated. He set his home ablaze before drinking antifreeze. The family was not surprised. Neighbors blamed you for not having expunged his pain. The building’s manager called the next day alarmed that you had exposed 45 stories to conflagration.

    Chapter 13

    Suicide is no different from murder. Killing yourself is no less moral than killing another. Both are cowardly. Consciousness pertains just to the living. Killing oneself is to defile one’s nature. Accounting for madness cannot absolve agony. Memory of love is the only consolation.

    Chapter 14

    Just before first Communion, your father brought up death. You replied it was inevitable. Later you heard him telling your mother that your answer was quite unexpected. At Christmas time, you announced to your father you knew all about Santa. He answered “what do you plan to do about it?” You just shrugged your shoulders and asked for his blessings before going off to bed.

    Chapter 15

    Are you suffering for not being an innocent?

    Chapter 16

    The grocer said he knew your family, so you asked him for a ride home on the back of his pick-up. Arriving there you found your father in a state of panic. You had disappeared to him, and you thought he had forgotten you. Thereafter, you did not go to your art classes for ten years. Then, as a teenager, you wandered around your neighborhood. One day, in the early evening you found an older boy studying. He was memorizing something when you interrupted him. He asked why you were offering him candy, and you said: “why not? Aren’t we neighbors?” When you got home late, your parents were leaving to report you missing.

    Chapter 17

    Can anyone measure consciousness?

    Chapter 18

    Each time you came through the gate to your friend’s house, his German Shepard would lurch forward until he recognized your voice and scent. Your friend had stayed out of school that day, not feeling well. Without preamble, he volunteered he was being sent off to military school. Then he said he was terribly upset and had to get rid off his stress. You sat quietly at the foot of his bed. The two of you exchanged monosyllables, while he masturbated beneath the blanket. He told you he had to beat and to come. These words were meaningless to you. With a friendly glance you left, never to see him again.

    Chapter 19

    You did not ward off fears, so much as you needed to reckon with their fleeting existence, just like when waking up from a dream.

    Chapter 20

    Vacationing with a classmate, your attentions were on his older brother Francisco. Each time your bodies touched you trembled. You feared becoming overwhelmed. Long after his death, his appeal rushes after you.

    Chapter 21

    From early childhood innocence had already been lost to ache. You had long been fair game.

    Chapter 22

    At 18 years you met Ennio Lombana, after having crossed to the neighbors’ house. You became his sexual victim. Perhaps this explains going to university four thousand miles away.

    Chapter 23

    You tried never to think of fear, yet it became an obsession.

    Charter 24

    Your father and your art tutor both encouraged education in North America, yet fearing its implications. Their memories stand in silence.

    Chapter 25

    Ignorance is the essential condition of our existence, despite one’s arrogance to aspire knowledge or its authority. For you that is the real obstruction preventing a clear perception of anxiety, the pain of loneliness, fear, and lack of love. You cannot achieve rationality in your life with the rigidity of belief or the absurdity of dogma. In vain you may try to reject doubt, fearing uncertainty and thus denying the very depth of your ignorance.

    Chapter 26

    La Nena Pérez was a golden rebel for José Luis. Her beauty bewitched all who saw her. For his wife Antonieta, however, she was an interloper. Decades later, a letter of his arrived from Andalucía. In it Antonieta was praised as toda una señora. Self deprecatingly, he lauded your father. You had mentioned that La Nena did not recognize you at a chance encounter in Caracas. He was beside himself learning your voice was no longer familiar to her. Seemingly, she had forgotten canoeing across the Tucacas Bay.

    Chapter 27

    How can there be love, if one is empty? Ennui uncovers it. Self importance aspires to enlightenment just as yearning does to sanctity and humility. It is luck to find pure love.

    Chapter 28

    Before entering the university you enrolled in a course in English as a second language. The professor made learning exciting. His patience disarmed you. At mealtime, you spoke on and on, forgetting to eat, and he would smiled tenderly.

    Chapter 29

    Desperation cannot assuage sufferance.

    Chapter 30

    Three Marys flew from South America to Niagara Falls for a visit. They rode the Ferris Wheel at the amusement park on the shores of Lake Ontario. Their visit was a complete mystery, except they believed they were in contact with extraterrestrials. One of them realized she wasn’t the object of Ennio Lombana’s affections. Your mother’s resulting breakdown was immediate.

    Chapter 31

    In 1977, hungry and destitute, you came close to dying. You distracted yourself in discos. You met Donald Bossak and Paul Barret: the former insecure and the latter suicidal. You moved into the university dorms to face a group of rioters, who had been egged on by a room-mate. Away with the foreigner, they shouted, setting fire to your door. At graduation you found out the university had assigned you a bodyguard. By then you had come to know a student. This Polish dissident, Jurek Pystrak comforted your misery. The summer before graduation you studied together in Austria, and after graduation he went on to continue his studies at the University of Pennsylvania and you went on to Yale for the MFA. Jurek died in the mid 80’s in Berlin. Only later did you hear it was AIDS.

    Chapter 32

    Technology has extended our lives into preconceived worlds. Algorithmic archetypes impose an order over bias, by which it controls, sells, and manipulates you.

    Chapter 33

    Every weekend, you and Jurek traveled between New Haven and Philadelphia. Before taking his Fulbright, he suggested it was okay dating another during his absence. You took this to be a lack of loyalty. From Berlin he wrote he had met a film historian. After Jurek’s death, Karl visited your art studio. He found your geometrical canvases oddly formal. Was his conversation an echo of his own influence on Jurek and, of his own vision of the freedom of artistic expression? He later wrote from Berlin he was dying. In his letter he said your quests regarding treatments were futile missionary pretenses.

    Chapter 34

    But it was not a mission, it was compassion for him as it could have been for Jurek. Karl was filled with his own memories; you begged him to keep up hope.

    Chapter 35

    Never have you cried for someone as when you did when Benjamin Ivry left to work in Paris in 1984. After he left, your old friend Carol Magar helped you negotiate the pass to the American Citizenship. Eighteen years later, she died of cervical cancer, and five years earlier, Benjamin had returned from France. Was it his stance of irony that broke you apart as friends? You last spoke to him at a bookstore on Park Avenue and 57th Street. There, on the occasion of promoting his book “Maurice Ravel: His Life,” you introduced him to your husband David. Benjamin excused himself and left abruptly to meet his agent. Later that year, Benjamin moved to Thailand. He became a biographer and translator of well-known 20th-century figures in the arts. Only thanks to the World Wide Web can you see his image, and his prose continues to provide you with his particular métier. He remains your provocateur.

    Chapter 36

    In 1987 you were diagnosed with AIDS. Before the diagnosis you came to know an Episcopal clergyman and a TV-soap’s actor. Both fought for your attention. For years one disapproved of the other. The actor was ironic and the clergyman was a libertine. The clergyman died of a heart attack in 2008. The actor is in his late 80’s. His husband derided you.

    Chapter 37

    During the years of AIDS’s hysteria, your friends Philip Jung and Tom Bunny were not scared of death. You comforted them when they lay quietly on your lap.

    Chapter 38

    Nearly blind, Lyda saw herself as a patron of Latino culture in the United States. She enjoyed curating art shows in Midtown Manhattan. A provincial teacher, turned diplomat, enforced the idea in her they had the opportunity to open up the American art establishment. Then a pseudo progressive revolution strengthened them as potential populists.

    Chapter 39

    You listened to grand stories. Their aspirations, akin to religious fervor, never materialized. They seemed like grafters unable to give up their desires to dominate.

    Chapter 40

    Painting kept you sane, said a friend, who had come to your loft. Your paintings were developing an abstract vocabulary. You painted at night and worked as a commercial designer during the day. When your health failed you renounced everything and chose refuge with your family in South America.

    Chapter 41

    One learns to live with fear.

    Chapter 42

    You became a seesaw in your native land. You ran into repugnance both from the medical establishment as well as from family.

    Chapter 43

    In 1994 the Venezuelan medical institutions were collapsing. A few doctors and several thousand businesses asked you to write a mission statement for Fundación Metaguardia. It had been registered as a program for people with terminal diseases, The proposal went to the Venezuelan commissions of Health, Education and Culture, and to the United Nations. It failed. The Venezuelan Ministry of the Family tried to turn the program into activities for the feebleminded. Nothing happened.

    Chapter 44

    In November 1995, you flew from Caracas to Los Angeles. You had been nominated for an Emmy for your work on In Search of Dr. Seuss. The morning after you awoke to a fever of 108 degrees, from a hospital bed, you hallucinated making love to an angel descending upon you. To your nurse, you explained that death was an illusion. In your mind you spoke of Egyptian gods and goddesses, of Germans meandering inside your room, of Zapata fighting for Mexico’s freedom, and even of an intergalactic journey on a spaceship hovering over the hospital. A nurse asked you to open your eyes. Your body had begun to slow down; your eyesight had become magnified. Pulling the intravenous line out of your arm, you wanted to flee. You could not walk but somehow, you danced to music played by the nurses’ radio. You felt yourself in a different time. You saw your home in Venezuela as you crawled on its floor. The grouts were like rivers. Then you opened your eyes to an ocean. Your heart pulsated. You climbed to your home’s roof and stared at the cloudless sky. Fractals of light pulsated like thousands of rainbows. Now you were awake; your ankles were weak. You stood up. You turned to the doctor and said: “What does dignity mean to you? Are you a human being?”

    Chapter 45

    Nine months later, you were in your mother’s house. Your father came every week to visit. As you become stronger, he says you should return to the U.S.

    Chapter 46

    In November 1996, you fly from Caracas to New York. Your nine months stay in Venezuela violated your residence’s status. “I believe I was dying and unable to return” you answered. Sir, you may proceed“, the agent finally said.

    Chapter 47

    Some weeks later, your father falls at home and suffers a concoction. After surgery, he dies in the hospital. Your stepmother had locked him away as if he were a wild beast. In grief you paint again. With no more success than before, rejections from galleries continued to abound. With your mother you traveled to Europe. She talks incessantly and then nine years later she loses her voice to Alzheimer’s. Without parents, you had no bridge to your brothers and sisters. Throughout the years of Chavez and Maduro you have helped the family.

    Chapter 48

    In 2012, you stopped painting at your art-studio in Jersey City, only to return to art through digital technologies … By chance you have regained your confidence.

    Chapter 49

    In 1997 you met Nelson. Together you hiked the Amazonian Rainforest all the way to Angel Falls. You swam together in Los Roques. With you he showed himself vulnerable. Was his suicide the venting of his dejection over his brother’s death?

    Chapter 50

    In August of 1999, you confessed to a Nicaraguan priest in the Vatican. He tells you to measure your responsibilities. You sobbed inconsolably over Nelson’s death. The priest’s response, ” this is not the place.” From the Vatican you returned to the hotel, where you locked yourself up. Upon returning to the United states you seek therapy. There you discussed a relationship with a married English teacher with children, who tells you, “you have killed me as well.” Then you fell into a relationship with an alcoholic. It too was unsuccessful.

    Chapter 51

    Therapy became a crutch and strangled freedom. Leaving it, the therapist was disappointed. He had become accustomed to directing your thinking and actions. It was his empowerment and, much to his chagrin, you left him.

    Chapter 52

    When you and David meet, he fills a void in you and you in him. Respite in an imperfect world is found.

    Chapter 53

    He awoke to an itching jaw with stubble. You rubbed your cheeks carelessly against his face and musky scent. His eyes had the expression of a loving child.

    Chapter 54

    His glowing eyes evince a timid sense of wonder.

    Chapter 55

    Together you have traveled the world: the Atlantic, the Pacific, the South China Sea, the Mediterranean, and the North Sea.

    Chapter 56

    On December 27, 2000, police reported that a 39-year-old man apparently jumped to his death from a Manhattan apartment building on Sunday morning. The suspected suicide leap occurred in Hell’s Kitchen, a short distance away from your home. He was your primary doctor, who had plummeted from the sixth floor. The week before, you had explained to him that the medication he last prescribed had caused you to be sleep deprived for eight consecutive days.

    Chapter 57

    A few friends from my childhood remain in touch today. At 94, Herta is my oldest friend. I have known her for 46 years. She was my mentor and Platonic friend since college. She lost her memories to Alzheimer’s. From Yale graduate school, there is Angiolina Melchiori , who is now an Italian News Director at RAI TV in Rome; Ariel Fernández, who is an American-Argentinian physical chemist and pharmaceutical researcher; and Maider Dravasa, who is a French Basque with Ph.D. in Linguistics living in Paris. All three have been my friends for the past forty years. As with all of my friends, we have traversed life’s forests through thicket and thin. Then there is my good friend Billy Bussell Thompson, who has a Ph.D. in Linguistics, Professor Emeritus at Hofstra University. I believe Billy has suffered what Job did not. I have known Billy for 34 years since 1987. My true education began when I met him. Over the years, we have coauthored in many occasions, and nearly in every one of my WordPress blogs. When I wrote other short stories in Spanish, Italian, or French, Billy was there to guide me ordering my thoughts into the Romance languages.  Book of Changes evolved from a collage of reflections coming from memoirs, my interest and aversion to social sciences, my love of history, an interest in meter, its rise and fall in American poetry, suicide prevention, and self healing. Billy brings to my prose a desire to be precise and to unburden those nagging, vague, and scattered allusions of mine, and overcoming my limitations of fluency as a bilingual writer. Most importantly, there is my husband of over 20 years: David Lowenberger, who has exerted perhaps the most significant influence over who I am. His friends and relatives have also been major contributors. Much to my good fortune, his mother, my mother-in-law, Eva, gifted me 20 years of memorable friendship. Dignified in every respect, she was an inspiration as a mother and a friend. She recently died nearly five weeks before turning 98. I dedicate these short stories in her memory.

    In Tenebris

    December 11, 2020

    Coauthored by Billy Bussell Thompson

    —————————————————————

    In memoriam José Galdino: my father.

    _________________________________________________

    ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

    I share with the reader my utmost sincere gratitude to Billy Bussell Thompson, PhD in Linguistics, Professor Emeritus at Hofstra University, who has been a lifelong mentor, editor, and closest friend. I also express my deep appreciation for the nuance of sensitive and perceptive editing contributed by both, my perspicacious sister Bonnie Morín, playwright, producer and director of the Madrid Method Workshop in Spain (https://www.metodomadrid.es/), and by her daughter, the talented niece Natalia Velarde (@nix.conbotas), graphic artist and author. I also give thanks for a much awaited reunion with her other daughter, the unequaled niece Camila Velarde, Lic. in philosophy and choreography. Last, I thank my dear husband David Lowenberger, whom I consider to be the most influential in every aspect of my life. Their perception and wisdom served as inspiration and guide for the realization of this short story.

    Ricardo F. Morin T., 21 February 2021

    _________________________________________________

    PREFACE:

    Choking On One’s Own Saliva

    My father once said how dismal his life would be were his identity lost to the orthodoxy of religion. It was no coincidence that, in reaction to the pieties of five generations, my father was to become a criminologist. For most of his life, he thought that the traditional stories about complementary retribution, binary belief in reward and condemnation, were fantasies, harmless until they became radicalized as replacements for inquiry. As a young man he based his own doctoral dissertation on such principles. Unfortunately, those convictions he deemed delusional were ultimately his own at the end of his life.

    I think that, except for the instigation of violence through the search for meaning and its attachment to fiction, whether the violence arises from retribution or self-preservation, a person has no reason to become fearful or destructive. The only remedy to violence is knowing the difference between fantasy and reality.

    As I reflected on my own father’s contradictions, I remembered what he had told me when I was a child, that lying was a survival skill. It enabled a person to hide himself in secrecy, not necessarily out of moral incompetence. It arose either from charity or from the fear of being judged. For him lying was part of becoming a competent adult. It was a way to hide imperfections and vulnerabilities. However, if sincerity or honesty were to threaten my father’s survival, it would be because he wanted rather to invent a story instead of looking into his ignorance and diminished understanding of his own importance. Was it natural for him to hide behind lies, or was it his own hubris? Perhaps he was choking on his own saliva during his entire life. He suffered from the delusion that he could avoid truth, or that he could control not facing up to it. Was this a fear of loosing control? Was that a reason why he could not find self-understanding? The mystery was centered not in his self-questioning, but in his fictionalizing his own life, no differently from our forebears.

    __________________________

    Gangs of West Harlem

    1

    The Process

    For the third time I was serving on jury duty. As on previous occasions, I introduced myself as a visual artist during the voir dire. This time the defense lawyer inquired if I was a portraitist. I reasoned to myself the question was intended to probe the degrees of observation a painter aspired to. I replied that my interest as a visual artist was in the conceptual processes of abstract art, no different from that of a portraitist or any other representational painter, seeking to observe and interpret the essence of a subject. What I chose to represent through abstraction or conception was just as concrete as that of a sitter for a portraitist.

    2

    The Rules

    The trial concerned the murder of a fourteen-year-old boy, and I was selected juror number 12. Previously, I served on civil cases. In civil cases, the preponderance of the evidence is the determining principle. In a criminal trial, the ruling principle is the measure of reasonable doubt. The rules were cautionary and aimed to avoid bias on the part of the jury. In their deliberations jurors were to concentrate on the evidence presented and not on background. Also jurors were not to share information with other people outside of their own forum. I did not know how my participation in a murder trial would affect me. The day after the trial began, juror number 11 was replaced by an alternate.

    Testimony lasted 17 days. During that time our electronic devices, cell phones, laptops, and tablets were allowed. On the 18th day, when jury’s deliberations started, these devices were taken away from us. Before this, we had been permitted to speak on matters not related to the trial. We were a diverse group and had very little in common. During court hearings, we had been allowed to take notes while we sat in the jury box. After the days’ proceedings, our note pads were left on our respective seats. When deliberations began, we could take our pads back and forth between the jury box and the jury room. Only then, were we able to study our notes and refer to our observations. Only then, could we begin to talk about the case with each other.

    3

    The Jurors

    The foreman of the jury was an office manager, who felt comfortable in his role as moderator. His communication skills were excellent; even when he disagreed, his manner never expressed condescension. Some jurors were reticent and never voiced a judgment one way or the other. The youngest member of the jury did not find the witness of the crime unreliable. Other jurors were open minded. A teacher remained calm throughout; she listened to others before expressing her own views. Another juror was impatient about the length of the trial. She complained that she had a toddler to care for at home. Aside from myself, there were two other retirees, one of whom was a corporate lawyer, who reminded us of the distinction between civil and criminal cases. Reasonable doubt existed in varying degrees for every member of the jury, save for the youngest one.

    4

    The Defendant: In dubio pro reo

    The defense lawyer had her client plead the fifth amendment. The accused gazed solicitously, with a kind of clawing eagerness. He looked seven years younger in his freshly starched white shirt and tie. His hair was a cropped Afro, and he had across his upper lip a straight mustache. His dress was conceived obviously to attest to his wholesomeness. Since the time of the murder, he has been a detainee at Rikers Island. Sitting barely 30 feet away from the jury, the accused bore a grin across his face whenever he looked towards the jurors. Some members of the jury interpreted his countenance as gloating. Others saw his expression as self pity or abjection, even an attempt at winning us over. His grin, a kind of twisted grimace, was unflappable and even disturbing to us. By the end, however, we dismissed our apprehensions. It was impossible to know whether the accused was remorseful or just trying to beguile us. More important, was the question of consistency. If doubt was to play a part in the case, it had to arise from the evidence. Key was whether the accused was a lone assailant or whether there might have been others involved. Certainty had to come from the assessment of facts, and not be based on appearances.

    5

    The Prosecution

    The prosecution charged the defendant with “first degree” murder. This implied premeditation with malice aforethought. The prosecution added two other charges: murder in the “second degree,” suggesting lack of premeditation. The third charge was for felony murder: death caused during the commission of a felony using an illegal weapon and with extreme indifference to human life. Rendering judgment on these charges rested on intent. Each member of the jury would have to reach an approximation of the truth, and no other reasonable explanation could explain the evidence presented at the trial. The verdict, of course, would have to be unanimous. Proof of the direct involvement of the accused was paramount. The evidence had to show the accused had committed the crime. Was the victim’s death the result of self-defense or was it deliberate? The question before the jury was whether there were circumstances outside the control of the accused. How did his instincts and fears come into play with his own actions. Could the jurors differentiate all of these aspects?

    6

    Testimonies

    I

    July’s weather was overbearingly hot. The air conditioning in the jury room was old and as inefficient as it was in the court room; the jury room was even more stifling than the courtroom, particularly between the long intervals of each day’s proceedings. The room was barely large enough for the long table and its 12 uncomfortable chairs. In this tight space it was almost impossible for the jurors to walk around, to go to the water-fountain, or even to the single restroom available. Lunch breaks were much appreciated. On the few days when there was a breeze, we could open the windows, but had to put up with street noise. In the court room, no such liberties were permitted

    II

    By the third week of the proceedings, the judge began standing with his arms folded against his hips. With a baffled face, he would turn around and stand behind his chair, his black robe half unfurled, and his necktie loosened. At times, he assumed what seemed to be a meditative expression with both arms folded over the back of the chair. Other times, he supported himself with one of his elbows over the back of the chair. One of his hands was placed against his chin, giving him a certain look of abandon. For me, this informality broke up the monotony of the case, as if it were helping him stay awake, and mollified the stultifying heat.

    III

    The aspects of this case had been under investigation for seven years. We, the jurors, were astonished at the lack of cohesion to the accusations. The statements by the witnesses in no way corresponded to the arguments made by the prosecutor. In fact, the prosecution’s case was stale. One wondered if there was any justification for this trial. The only merit to the case seemingly was using the authority of a jury trial to render a verdict, either for exoneration or conviction.

    IV

    According to testimony given by the police, the crime resulted from two rival gangs. The gang members’ ages ranged from 12 to 40. The defendant’s lawyer provided their pictures to the jury. The pictures showed them in expensive clothing. Both groups seemed to be showing off, as if they were the source of the neighborhood’s pride. Each group had its own hand signs as mottoes. According to the police, on the night of the murder the two gangs fought over their territory for the peddling of drugs. The defendant became the prime suspect two years into the investigation. According to one of the detectives, the defendant sought to intimidate younger members of the opposing gang, as a means of establishing his own authority over them. The defendant’s motive was said to be an attempt to sooth his own anger for being “dissed.” The jury found these to be speculative. For us the only facts credible were those of the struggle between them.

    V

    The first eyewitness, aged 13 years at the time of the murder, was the centerpin of the prosecution’s defense. He had been a close friend of the victim, and his proximity to the deed made him valuable. During the course of several days of testimony, two officers escorted him in dressed in an orange jumpsuit, both hands and ankles shackled. They removed only his handcuffs when he sat down on the stand. From the defendant’s attorney, we learned that he had been in custody for two years on a different murder charge. The defendant’s attorney asked him: Are you here today in exchange for lenience for the indictment you face? He thrust his arms and shoulders forward. His answers seemed evasive while the prosecution objected. The question was withdrawn, but the jury would not forget it. His hand partly covered his face, especially his eyes and nose. His head shifted from side to side. He pointed to the defendant, rubbed his chin, and accused him of being the killer. Yet, his deportment was indiscernible and seemed manipulative. Obviously he had not seen from where the bullet had come. His allegations sounded implausible, as if they had been rehearsed. He had an air of entitlement, exuding hatred. During the prosecution’s examination, he revealed his conversion to Islam, and stated he had become a better person by the teachings of the Prophet. For the jury, however, his demeanor was that of an unrepentant malefactor. His lack of doubt hinted at a life of crime, without a sense of any morality.

    VI

    The prosecutor’s second witness spoke softly, yet his testimony seemed tentative. By his own account, he had been at the edges of the riotous horde. A circle had formed around the hooded individual and the victim. When questioned by the defense, he hesitated before admitting having seeing another armed buddy. But at the end, he relented. He recalled that other gang members had shot into the sky. He acknowledged that other guns had been used, thus accounting for multiple shells found by the police. The bullet, however, that pierced the victim’s heart was a mystery. The jury was at a loss as to what had gone on. Was it retaliation? Was it the shooter egging on accomplices? No answer was forthcoming, neither from this witness nor from the previous one.

    VII

    Even though, the defense attorney tried to unravel the credibility of the prosecutor’s two eyewitnesses, she tripped over her own words. Not unnoticed was her assertion that the gunman might have carried a gun inside the pocket of his hoodie. Since no one had yet claimed to having seen him draw a gun, her attention to this matter seemed out of place. Was she trying to negate the hooded man’s innocence, while at the same time admitting to her client’s involvement? Jurors never understood her purpose, since the identity of the person in the hood had never been made clear. For the defendant her digression was inconsequential. But not for the jury because it augmented our doubts. Nevertheless, the defense attorney rebutted the evidence gathered by the police.

    VIII

    On the night of the murder, a pedestrian called the neighborhood foot patrol’s attention to a commotion on the street. The patrol did nothing until the police arrived in their cars and found the body of some one killed. The crowd around the victim had already dispersed and none of the neighbors willingly spoke of what they had seen. The jury was dismayed that the arrest warrant was issued two years after the event. The defense lawyer emphasized that, in the course of those two years, any witnesses’ recollection surely must have faded. She argued: “… just to be pointing a finger at an alleged culprit, out of a desire to seek closure, should not be deemed evidentiary in and of itself.”

    7

    The Evidence

    We asked to see the video evidence before and after the shooting. Witnesses had stated that the defendant on the night of the murder had gone to a tenement looking for a gun, which was shared by all members of his gang. There were two cameras, both of which had restrictive angles of vision. The video was grainy: the product of low resolution security cameras. There was no sound and the imagery was choppy. The lobby camera showed someone descending the stairs to exit, wearing a baseball cap underneath a hoodie. Only his lips and chin were visible. The jury’s dilemma was how to identify the person. The woman with the child at home emphasized “…those features could have been any member of either gang.”

    The crime took placed at midnight. There was no traffic and the street was poorly lighted. For a second time, we examined the tape from the outside camera. We concentrated on the footage just before the shooting. It was murky and it showed the person in the hoodie stepping outside the building. The victim’s back was visible and his friend was behind him. There were several flashes of gun fire with one of them coming from next to the victim. A person in the hoodie faced the camera wielding a gun.

    Ballistic evidence showed that the trajectory of the bullet came from a short distance before it entered the body of the victim. Maybe the shot came from the position of the hooded man but this was only a guess. More importantly, no guns were ever recovered and we still did not know who the gunman was. In summary, the testimonies, the analysis, and the written accounts were all useless to us.

    8

    The Community

    Jurors were in agreement that the accounts given by the two gangs and the community were not to be trusted. The two gangs lived in two adjacent blocks. Drug infested, the community had become their victim. Solidarity showed itself as hostility. Assault not only on the street but at home was rife. Mothers, brothers and, sisters commonly were attacked. The death rate was high, which in and of itself was evidence that this community was sowing the seeds of its own destruction. Teenagers commonly stole and murdered. Only the rare adolescent was exempt. No social program could help. We, as jurors, were we only agents of retribution?

    9

    Blindness

    From the first days of deliberation, the jurors were uncertain if the accused had taken any part at all. On our fourth day, the young woman who had been most adamant about the guilt of the accused began to waver. Most jurors still thought him to be innocent, but four remained unconvinced. The more jurors accepted their own limitations, the more difficult it became to form an opinion. The phrase blind justice turned piercingly poignant.

    10

    Unanimity

    The majority argued with the four hold outs. Tensions rose with the thermometer. The heat of the midday, the humidity, and the noise from the street became increasingly unbearable. With the windows closed, we turned on the anemic air conditioner and became more fearful than ever of not measuring up to the task. Our disagreements put us on edge and were nerve racking. Slowly we moved towards common ground. One by one, concessions were made. By the time of the third vote, the foreman hesitantly voted against conviction. There were still three jurors holding strongly for conviction. We gave ourselves a minute of silence before voting again. The decision was unanimous innocent. Surprisingly, had we presented a wrongful conviction, or had we derailed the case?

    11

    Announcing the Verdict

    Jurors summoned the guard and handed him a yellow manila envelope with the verdict. After we had returned to the court room, the judge polled us individually. Indelibly imprinted on us was the murdered child’s mother’s face. From the start she had sat alone on the back left corner of the court room. Her sorrow contrasted sharply with the defendant’s family. I felt wary of these families’ reactions. I was deflated, even felt inadequate, indeed insignificant. Knowledge here was slippery.

    An uproar reigned in the courtroom. The cries of the murdered child’s mother collided with the joy of the defendant’s family. Repeatedly, the judge admonished the room to be silent. He closed by thanking the jurors for their service, who were in a state of shock. Were we right or were we wrong?, I asked myself.

    12

    The Randomness of Truth

    Chance dominated the jury’s participation. I recalled with fear my father’s imperative about hiding behind fiction as an instrument of self reliance.

    The jury broke up. The judge stared at us with a smile as we climbed down to the exit. We walked to where we had deliberated and collected our belongings. We moved to an elevator at the opposite end of the court house. Below, the family of the acquitted man awaited us and, as we approached, they shouted their deafening thanks. The corruption was now complete.

    ________________________________________________

    Epilogue

    Ended the theater of misalliance, jurors, the lawyers, and witnesses became actors in the absurd. Our verdict was uncertain: Lost of life and life was foremost. Society seems predetermined: Advantage and disadvantage are in confrontation. What a role do abandonment and darkness play in the human condition?, I pondered. It just seems as if indifference inflicts itself onto destiny.

    Ricardo F Morín T and Billy Bussell Thompson

    Metaphors of Silence

    November 24, 2010

    An artist’s Manifesto by Ricardo Morin: Viewing of his Jersey City art-studio where he engages with his paintings [2005-10]; some artworks are in progress and some are part of a recently finished hanging scroll series, entitled Metaphors of Silence. http://www.ricardomorin.com/

    “Acts of Individual Talent”

    October 2, 2009
    Triangulation Series 225

    Triangulation Scroll Series Nº 225, 49 x 68 inches; oil on canvas; 2008

    Origins of Modern Western Aesthetics

    The concept of Aesthetics comes to us out of a wide variety of different traditions: from those of the West, the Chinese, the Japanese, the African, the Polynesian, and so forth. The Western traditions, of course, have different qualities from the others with regards to origins, to evaluative criteria, either in opposing or defending approaches to the making of art.

    From its beginnings Western aesthetic theory has developed in parallel with art criticism. The concept, however, of Aesthetics, but not the word, was first talked about by Joseph Addison (1672–1719), in a series of essays in The Spectator in 1712, as a “pleasure that is derived from the imagination.” Thus, pleasure forms the basis that will serve as the foundation of modern aesthetics. Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714–62) most likely read Addison, and he sought to define Aesthetics as a science of that which is sensed or imagined in his master’s thesis Aesthetica, 2 Vol. (1750-58) at the Royal Prussian University in Halle. He coined the word for the German language; Aesthetics is derived from the New Latin aesthetica (the feminine adjective), and it is related to the Greek aesthetikos/aestheta (perceptible things) and related to the verb aesthetai (to perceive). Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), however, took issue with aesthetics as a science. Nonetheless, the term remained controversial, and it was not until much later in the 19th century when it was finally accepted in academic circles.

    Aesthetics is a specific valuation theory, or a distinct convention of what beauty is. It is an individualizing characteristic or a particular taste for, or an approach to, what is of interest to the intellect or pleasing to the senses: both visual or auditory (as in literature, the plastic arts, architecture, and music). By extension, the term Aesthetics may be applied to many varieties of human behavior–toilette, cosmetology, interior design, and so forth.

    For the avant-garde Aesthetics and Originality can be at odds with established social or political norms. Aesthetics, as valuation, is normative. Art criticism is the way in which the norms are established. Art criticism is transmitted both to collectors and to institutions (e.g., museums, in the case of the plastic arts and the market place, in the case of music and architecture).

    Although art criticism dates from antiquity, analyses of visual aesthetics or the plastic arts began as a journalistic effort. The art critic and the artist became mutually dependent, and what had once been new and refreshing by the closing of the 20th century, became academic, routine, and repetitive. Contemporarily, Harold Bloom (1930–2019) expressed that art criticism had become confused with questions of social justice and politics, and was no longer about the art product itself.

    Nothing, however, is really new; the concept of Aesthetics itself, as a means of expression, may be said to be a dominant force dating as far back to the origins of human cave paintings. At the turn of the 21st century, there no longer seems to exist an adherence to one current aesthetic or approach; art criticism now appears to evoke a wide variety of tendencies of the formal, moral, social, and spiritual.

    In the following excerpt, “Confessions of an ever emerging visual artist” from a YouTube and WordPress-audio-visual Manifesto entitled “Metaphors of Silence” (2010), I have given my own point of view[1], [2]:

    The usage which the visual arts serve is a complex demonstration of varying dimensions whose expression seeks not to explain meaning but to express its intent; to bring about a clearly independent act of interpretation, over which the artist exerts no control as creator. From this, arises the sublimity of the psychological condition that is partly visual delight and partly passion that renews and nourishes a spirit of partnership with the medium. The intent expresses one is what one perceives: i.e., it is a quality of energy and a temperament independent of the intellect, separate from the craft itself, and apart from the residue of the images.

    [1] Manifesto: Metaphors of Silence (https://rfmorin.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/metaphors-of-silence/)

    [2] Autobiographical Statement: Ricardo Morin – Art – Paintings and Watercolors (http://ricardomorin.com/Statement.html)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Cape Cod 2009

    September 9, 2009

    IMG_0009

    On a bright sunny day with temperatures in the mid 70’s, we rambled through the trails surrounding a delta-like Long Pond, after which came the much larger adjoining Mashpee and Wakeby Ponds, first in the morning sun, before lunch, and then in the cooler afternoon from 3 o’clock. On the shores, we saw men and women with their pets at water-play.

    The clearing views, unforgettable in the midst of the surrounding forests, were bathed by sun light. They blended verdant patterns rivaling those of timid Gothic structures made by man’s effort to imitate nature. Emerald moss-covered roots stepped up into translucent tunnels where we were led by random colonnades buttressing airy canopies. Freshly aromatic air filled to the exhilaration of the errant heart through gullies and groves; in peace with the rhythm of my accompanying soul.

    Manifesto 2008

    May 7, 2008

    Triangulation Series #25-- oil on linen, 60 x 37 inches, 2009

    Triangulation Series #25-- oil on linen, 60 x 37 inches, 2009

    My work Triangulation Series 2006-08 expands on questions dealing with perspectives synthesizing concepts of pictorial space and infinity:  something I have worked on over the years.  I have allowed painterly abstraction/plasticity to express both in form and content a kind of art that goes beyond a material world of signs; my paintings reach for the infinite—the mystery and the poetry in every man’s individual drama.  I choose the golden ratio 1 = 1618 as a consistent format for nonobjective abstraction which is clearly inherent of infinite congruency [a manifestation common to all known perspective methodologies], to breakdown a dialogue on the fluidity of the vehicle of painting and its geometry.  At the same time, I establish a triangulation of the bare plane of the canvas which reaffirms its paradoxical nature as an object: where the fictitious flatness of the plane plays in suspension with the illusory spatial depth of forms expressed on it.   Though immersed in 20th-century aesthetics, I neither strive for a specific historical movement nor for the postmodernist agenda.  Simply, I look at making art as a “fleshy” product of human experiencing, a resultant of the maker’s own passion.  Just as the idiosyncrasy of an individual, indivisible in nature, is blind to causality, an aesthetic frame embraces all its senses and the image is only the result or residue.

    Non-objective, timeless, or even existential—in this sense—the image or Kunstgegenstand proposes not to explain what the meaning of experience is; rather, the image manifests itself, provoking interpretation from the observer.

     

    There are no outside sources nor preconceived notions of the final composition.  Gesturally and intuitively, I use the plane of the canvas as an active platform (in other words, a conversation, so to speak, takes place among the paint, the canvas and me as I apply paint onto the canvas.)  In variegated densities, layer after layer—transparent or textural—the work transforms itself gradually by spectral accruement.  In continuous dialogue, I work on several pieces at the same time so all are able to inform the other.  An inner rhythm from each composition thus unfolds and guides the shifts and the construction of forms: burials, resurrections, exaltations, veilings, reattainments—all thanks to the gritty and sumptuous nature of the medium; a moodiness arises from the interlocutors with its acrid qualities of dissonance and complementary transparency. Indeed, it is color, as texture that establishes the emotional landscape of each piece.  The finished work stands on its own as a concentration of multiple layers; each of the numerous strata is essential to the completeness.  There is a sense of multidirectional movement in each of the works that acts on the viewer’s eye as he/she glances over the delineated shapes and peers through the entanglements of strokes and arabesques.  The viewer comes away, I hope, with the sense of the works’ generative completeness of a universe making and remaking itself.

     

    As I said at the beginning, I embrace in my love of art a sense of universality; I do this not for my own self-fulfillment, but for the cosmic order and interconnectedness in our own awareness of humanity, the unifying mode from all masters.  As such, I am perennially emerging as I wander around in my space of today’s uncertain and leaderless being, where authority is seemingly derived from conflicting, and confusing powers of disbelief.  Freedom has come to us but its ethers and incongruities make us stagger.

    Ricardo Morin [1]

    Artist Website

    December 8, 2008

    [1] Edited by Billy Bussell Thompson, Professor Emeritus

    In Darkness

    June 30, 2022

    Prologue

    Following a suggestion to make In Tenebris shorter, I have adapted it for readers who understand that myriad concrete circumstances cannot be subsumed under a single dimension.    Explanations are pointless when confronting human dramas and temperaments.    Clarity is open-minded:    It is attached to what is vital and to the reader’s own intuition.   In these explorations complexity becomes all encompassing and signification multiplies.
    Ricardo F Morin, Bala Cynwyd, Pa.; June 30, 2022

    _______________________________________________

     

    *

    Time Magazine named the “Silence Breakers” of the #MeToo movement its 2017 Person of the Year; the President cursed the Press as “fake news,” and temperatures in New York City felt higher than ever.

    Amidst all of this, I became juror number 12 in the murder trial of a fourteen-year-old boy.   Now, the search for truth loomed foremost in my mind. Bias and suspicion, how were they to be treated?

    The defendant–young, dressed in a crisply starched white shirt and tie–sat barely 30 feet away from us, the jury.   His pleading the fifth and his twisted grimace of a grin were disturbing.

    We put aside our apprehensions.   If doubt were to play a part in the case, it would have to come from the evidence.

    As a jury we were surprised at the lack of cohesion in the allegations: what witnesses stated didn’t correspond to what the prosecutor argued.   No weapon nor DNA pointed to the identity of the perpetrator.   “What justified the accusation of this young man as a murderer?”

    On the 18th day, each of us would have to reach an approximation as to the truth.

    The deliberation room was barely large enough for the long table and its 12 uncomfortable chairs.   The air conditioning was old and inefficient.   The temperature was as stifling as it had been in the courtroom.

    We jurors were diverse and had little in common.   The foreman was an office manager, comfortable in his role as moderator.   His communication skills were excellent.   Some of us had been reticent and never had voiced an opinion one way or the other.   Others were more voluble.   A teacher remained calm throughout; she listened to others before expressing her own views.   Another juror, number seven, was impatient about the length of the trial; she had a toddler to care for at home.   Aside from myself, there were two other retirees, one of whom was a corporate lawyer.

    From the first days of the deliberation, we were uncertain whether the accused had taken any part at all.   On our fourth day, I said:   “the principle eye witness was not credible”; juror number five, the young woman who had been most adamant about the guilt of the accused, began to waver.   Though most jurors still thought him innocent, four remained unconvinced.   The more jurors accepted their own limitations, the more difficult it became to form an opinion.   The phrase “blind justice” turned piercingly poignant.

    The majority argued with the four holdouts.   Tensions rose with the thermometer.   The heat of the midday, the humidity, and the noise from the street made us increasingly fractious.   With the windows closed, we turned on the anemic air conditioner and became more fearful than ever of not measuring up.

    Our variances put us on edge.   Juror number five persisted categorically:   “the principal eyewitness was not lying.”   The crucial moment, though, for all of us, was when juror number seven voiced in fury:   “the only features visible on the security cameras could have been any one else’s in the gang.”   Slowly, we moved toward common ground. The decision was unanimous, innocent.

    After we had returned to the court room, the judge polled us individually.   Indelibly imprinted on our faces was the murdered child’s mother’s face.   Her sorrow contrasted sharply with the clawing glances of the defendant’s family.   I felt deflated, even inadequate.   “Were we right, or wrong?,” I asked myself.

    The jury disbanded.   We collected our belongings and moved to an elevator at the opposite end of the court house.     Below, the family of the acquitted awaited.   At our approach, they shouted deafening thanks.

    We the jury, the lawyers, and the witnesses were only actors in this absurdity.

    The end

    Edited by Billy Bussell Thompson

    June 24, 2022

    “Memories of Herta”

    January 7, 2022

    Summary

    This episode is also available as a blog post: https://observationsonthenatureofperception.com/2022/01/06/memories-of-herta/

    Transcription

    “Memories of Herta”

    January 7, 2022

    Summary

    This episode is also available as a blog post: https://observationsonthenatureofperception.com/2022/01/06/memories-of-herta/

    Transcription

    Altercations of Pity

    January 7, 2022

    Summary

    This episode is also available as a blog post: https://observationsonthenatureofperception.com/2008/06/01/altercations-of-pity-by-ricardo-morin/

    Transcription


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