Pátzcuaro 1981

Extremaunción, El Ex-Convento de San Francisco de Asís, Tzintzuntzán (< "place of the hummingbirds"), Michoacán.
Extremaunción, El Ex-Convento de San Francisco de Asís, Tzintzuntzán (< “place of the hummingbirds”), Michoacán.

A German shored up in the highlands of Michoacán, Enrique had embraced his Mexican name, and his Mexican life. He and his wife were gracious enough to host me for a week in the autumn of 1981. Teresa was curator of the regional Museo de artes e industrias populares. As for Enrique, he eked out a living restoring faded frescoes and decrepit canvases in dilapidated churches, of which there were many around, some dating back to the sixteenth century. A few mornings I rode with him across the high savanna in the back of pickups, wedged beside his kit of brushes and rags, pigments and vials of volatile fluids. Then, in the acrid shadows of a dusty vault, transept or nave, I would watch him labour to preserve the pious images painted by anonymous artisans the Franciscans had conscripted centuries ago. When the sun reached its zenith, Enrique would stop work right where he was and pack up his apparatus. We would journey an hour or two back to Pátzcuaro, whose famous lake was said to be the place where the membrane between life and death was at its thinnest. Once home, he would shut the gates to his compound, change from his paint- and turpentine-splotched overalls into the rough white cotton combination suits common in the town, indulge in a first shot from his working jug of rustic agave mescal, and settle in for the rest of the day. This all looked to me like an ideal life.