...and to this day
It has shown no intention of going away.
- Edward Gorey, The Doubtful Guest
In the Galería
de Todos Santos
there was a painting by an American named Derek Buckner. I'd
found it propped against the wall in the back room, the paint
still fresh. It was a curious tableau: a man in a turquoise skirt
and a brick-red fez; another man, also in a fez, his smile a
slash of white between a mustache and a goatee, arms spread wide
as if to say Voilà!; a woman with smooth red
hair pinned into a topknot, her rose-colored dress catching the
light of morning sun, the dappled shade of trees; another woman,
wielding her tambourine like a weapon, chastising a dog. These
exotic characters stood around a table, the dog with its paws
on the edge of the tablecloth. Plunk in its center, like a soup
tureen, sat a flying saucer.
was titled "The Visitors." There was a woman who wanted
to buy it, but the Galería de Todos Santos was asking
two thousand dollars. It was worth it, she acknowledged. But
she was remodeling her kitchen and she had to buy a stove.
a stove?" the gallery owner said. His name was Michael Cope,
as in "I can't," he liked to say. He was blonde and
apple-cheeked, Danny Kaye as Hans Christian Andersen. He was
from L.A., a refugee of corporate life, a painter himself. He
placed his arms akimbo.
need food," Michael said. "We need art!"
What had brought
the first big spending visitors to Todos Santos, however, was
the food -- specifically, lunch at the Café Santa Fé,
an Italian restaurant on the plaza. Todos Santos was only an
hour north from Cabo San Lucas on the highway, a narrow shoulderless
pavement threading through a wilderness of cardón and
cholla cactus, the sea on one side, the sierra on the other.
Cattle browsed around the cholla cactus at the edge. Sometimes
they wandered into the road and stood there chewing their cuds.
Every ten miles or so was a clump of palms: a fishing village
of cinderblocks and thatch-roofed adobes, a roadside stand offering
Tecate beer and cold Cokes.
seemed like just another of those villages, although larger,
with a gas station. It also had a stoplight and a grocery store.
A few Americans lived here, some in an RV park, others -- many
of them artists -- in the old downtown, which was no more than
a plaza with a white-washed theater and the requisite church,
around which clustered a few blocks of 19th and early 20th century
brick townhouses and shops. Some were newly renovated, painted
bright fruity colors, but many remained empty, their rotted wooden
doors padlocked, roofs caved in.
had once boasted a prosperous bourgeoisie whose fortunes were
built on sugar. With water from a spring, they grew the cane,
milled it for its juice, then boiled it down to a syrup in great
cauldrons with orange peel and spices, which was then poured
into molds to make the hard cones of panocha. But in
1950, the spring slowed to a trickle and the mills closed, one
by one. The few families that remained in Todos Santos lived
by hunting turtles and sharks. The spring revived in the early
1980s, but now the water was used to irrigate tomatoes, papayas,
mangoes. The ruins of the sugar mills, their rusted machinery
and brick smokestacks, dotted the tiny town of 4,000 people.
Most of the streets were dirt.
The air in the
Café Santa Fé was cool, the tables were of pink
marble. Nuevo flamenco played on the stereo, intricate and delicate
as fluttering gauze. I sat out back under the pergola in the
garden. I spread the napkin -- a great flannel-soft square --
across my lap and ordered lunch: rosemary focaccia, lobster ravioli
with basil, roasted new potatoes and mesquite-grilled dorado
drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
was full: Americans up from Cabo for the day, most of them. The
women were in espadrilles and linen; the men sported Rolexes
and baseball caps embroidered with the names of golf resorts.
The owners of
the Café Santa Fé, Paula and Ezio Colombo, had
just returned from Paris. "We took in a fashion show,"
Paula said when she stopped by my table. "Oh! And a film
opening, and the Francis Bacon show." She'd been a fashion
model once herself, an African-American covergirl for Essence
and Seventeen. That was more than twenty years ago,
but Paula still seemed girlish, fine-boned and bubbly. Ezio,
a thick-waisted fellow in the background, striding like a worthy
burgher between his bar and his kitchen, was a painter from Milan.
As I was leaving
I saw the gallery owner, Michael Cope. He was having lunch with
two of his artists: Robert Whiting, who also owned the new Todos
Santos Inn, and Gloria Marie V., a petite woman with long straight
chocolate-brown hair. She wore a straw boater with silk flowers
bunched at the brim. Birds were singing, something rustled in
the thick matt of bougainvillea over the pergola. Their table
was a still life: goblets of chilled white wine glistening with
condensation; a vase with a sprig of desert wildflowers bright
If I were a painter,
I thought, I would have liked to paint that.
Return to The
Visitors ~ Los Visitantes
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