I spent an hour or so at the Centro Cultural in Todos Santos. It’s a real gem, this place. I wish I’d had more time to spend there.
The building that surrounds the courtyard is broken up into rooms that house the town’s museum. Some rooms are full of photographs of Todos Santos in the 1930’s, others are covered with artwork from past and contemporary Mexican and local artists. On open shelves and glass cases there are artifacts and objects from the town’s history – human and animal bones, early tools, old typewriters, masks, dolls, farm equipment…all accompanied by hand written descriptions.
Two ponds at one side of the square reveal fish in the murky water. Chickens scratch in the dust around a small house behind the ponds.
When I first entered the building though the main entrance I thought that there was a live band playing Mexican music – but it was just the acoustics of the place, amplifying the sound system. The music soon changed to what I could only guess was the ‘Ghost’ soundtrack.
I don’t like painting or drawing in front of people. I’ve never been able to do it – to the point where I often did nothing during class time while I was college student and waited until I could go home and work in my studio in peace with no fear of anyone looking over my shoulder. I had minor slivers of panic when I filled in for one of the life drawing instructors at the same college a few years ago and needed to give a demo to the students. I’ve avoided drawing and painting in public because it seems to be a natural magnet for curious people so I was initially disappointed when my sketching caught the attention of a young man with a large sack slung over his shoulder. He came over, extended his hand and shook mine. He beamed, pointed at my page and made a drawing gesture.
“It’s just scribbles right now”, I said.
He moved to my right so he could look over my shoulder and nodded and smiled. Then he motioned to his ears and shook his head, opened his mouth and pointed to his tongue and held his thumb and forefinger a little apart, then flattened his hand and rocked it side to side. He put down the sack and pointed to himself, then pantomimed sweeping, then pointed to the sack and made like he was lifting, then gestured around us to the buildings and plaza. He looked at my drawing again and smiled, pointed to the plaza in front of us. I pointed to the edge of the garden and the rusting white iron chairs in front. I picked up a piece of cardboard with a rectangle I’d cut out of it to isolate my composition. I held it up for him to look through – to show him the part of the garden I was drawing.
He nodded, smiled, pointed to me and then to his head and nodded, then to his own head and shook it, picked up the sack from the ground, slung it over his shoulder and continued down the steps onto the path, turning around every so often to smile, make drawing gestures, point to me, then his head and nod.
A little while later he came back, the empty sack slung over his shoulder. We had a further, silent conversation and I learned that he had a young daughter. He pointed to the invisible child he had indicated by placing his hand flat a waist height, then pantomimed exasperation. Then he smiled, waved and went back to work.
I wanted to ask him his name, and if he wouldn’t mind posing for a photograph. But I didn’t see him before I left.