a semi-critique of drowning maria by valentino rossi
Thesis: boys and girls fall in love
It is no surprise as I see it for boys and girls to fall in love with people who are wearing clothes of the church. Drowning Maria explores this affinity in a majestic way with majestic being something small instead of large. For this the writer is rewarded as if Godot had arrived finally and as someone recognizable to us as an uncle from our childhood. It is not to say that I was moved by the writing but instead to say that I was stilled by it. Even if English is not my first language I somehow understood the writing as rhythm in the sense that music is resistant to the discrimination of our first language and the limitations of our second or third or fourth (if you are working for the United Nations). But the rhythm was that of a lullaby and not something pressing me to act. It is something sleepy but to sleep in order to get to that state of thinking that is reminding me of a dream.
-- Valentino Rossi
“the unknowed things”
When Maria looked out through the tall, open window at the single palm tree on the beach and how the large, flat leaves swayed to the measure of her tapping fingers, she thought back to a time when leaves weren’t so friendly to her, when they chased her through the streets of her childhood neighborhood, scraping the concrete violently behind her. Now she was the master of them and tapped her fingers quietly to lull them into sway without alarming them. As a child she longed for winter and snow when the trees were bare and the ground covered so that she might explore the world without anxiety. But in this place she thought it impossible that winter could ever exist again. She would reach out to some distant feeling of ringing bells and the smell of oranges and burning wood but she could never get a hold of it.
In a few weeks she’ll return to Chile for her friend’s wedding. In a few months she’ll ride her bicycle to the apartment of Gaston Ribera for a surprise visit and find him having breakfast with a woman she doesn’t know. In a few years, she’ll drink coffee at Mere Juni at the same time every evening and fall in love with the young painter who waits tables and who will change the landscape of art with Piñeroism—a play on his name and the word pin—that will be the start of her unhappiness.
But this morning she tapped her fingers quietly and prefaced the day with a hushed but candid confession to the palm tree about the orgasm she had the night before as she masturbated to the vicar’s memory. It was the young vicar’s fault she thought for being born so handsome but having become so unattainable. In turn, the night gave birth to a day that felt limitless and opened to her every whim.
She felt as she sat there listening to the ocean that she loved the world again, loved everything and everyone in it, loved humanity with all of its grand and not so grand gestures and foibles, loved the impudence of life in the seemingly endless void that was the universe. And yet, she felt unable to express her feeling in any understandable way.
Go well in this world and may no harm come to you. Be happy. Love. Laugh. Live.
She often thought these things to herself but could never say them to anyone. So she left friends and strangers alike with a smile they might think out of place or an awkward gesture or phrase they shook their heads to once out of her view. What to make of her they thought? What to make of what she said? What to make of the strangely awkward but graceful way she spoke with her hands? Perhaps they thought her naïve, but they’d forget this part of her soon enough as they went on to do things—important things, vital things, serious things, things that mattered—and this part of her would drift anonymously in and out of their lives. Or perhaps they pretended not to recognize this part of her and instead addressed her as if this part of her didn’t exist because this part of her always felt out of context to them.
"How are you? Good good. Things are moving. Things are happening. Things. Yes yes. Things I tell you. Things. Moving moving moving. Things are moving."
I met her those few weeks later at her friend’s wedding. She sat alone in the church and stared at the fresco on the ceiling. Outside, I spoke to her and asked her if she knew the history of the fresco. She said she didn’t so I told her the story of how the great Spanish artist Mirona was commissioned by the governor of the colony to paint memories of home and images of Heaven onto the ceiling of this church. Mirona painted for seven years and when he finished, he unveiled for the governor and colony officials a painting of poverty and suffering, of starvation and cruelty, of torture and deprivation with smiling angels and cherubs interspersed throughout. The governor ordered Mirona to repaint the ceiling or be put to death. Mirona refused. Another artist covered Mirona’s fresco with plaster and painted a fresco more to the governor’s liking. But there below the surface of this painting, the other painting still exists.
She seemed genuinely interested and questioned me as to the truthfulness of this tale. I assured her that although she wouldn’t find this story in any book that it was entirely true. One need only chip away at those shining images of God and paradise on the ceiling above.
Perhaps when she rode her bicycle to visit Gaston Ribera, she thought back on this story and remembered my face. Remembered how we spoke briefly after a wedding outside an old church and then said goodbye. Maybe when she found Gaston Ribera in his apartment having breakfast with another woman she thought that she could have been with me instead, lying in bed, thinking about how it might be possible to unpaint a fresco in an old Spanish church. But we had said goodbye a long time ago and now she was riding away from his apartment in tears.
But why move ahead? Why let this blissful moment of her watching a single palm tree on the beach sink into the cloudy pool of memory? It would all end soon enough. One day her portrait, painted in the Piñeroistic style, will hang from that very wall behind where she is sitting and watch as she walks into the ocean and disappears.