January 2008 Roz in La Paz

The old man looks out into the bay of La Paz. He is an amalgam of childish and old – leathery skin, big ears, a Spencer Tracy face. But he’s dressed in the sailor suit of a young boy. His hat is a folded-paper boat. And around his waist, improbably, he wears a second, jumbo-sized, paper boat. But what really pulls OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAat me are the old man’s smile and the eyes. There is a story behind that face. El Viejo. . .y el Mar? (The old Man. . .and the Sea?), is one of the most photographed sculptures on the Malecón, La Paz’s seaside promenade. The work’s creator is Guillermo Gómez Macías, an award-winning artist who also sculpted Caracoles Músicos (Seashell Musicians), a recent addition to the small plaza across from the main tourist dock.

I reached Gómez in Guadalajara, where he lives, and asked him about the old man. Here is the story, which I have translated and summarized.

“The sculpture has its origin in the story of a real person – a fisherman from the town of Bucerias in Nayarit. Don José had a small boat, a true work of art made from the trunk of a large tree. On more than one occasion, I offered to buy the boat, but he never wanted to sell it. He was very proud of his possession.

“During one trip to Bucerias, I was surprised to see the boat missing from its usual spot. Don José told me that it had been stolen. I told him how sorry I was. But he said that whoever had stolen the boat must have really appreciated its value. He said his own relationship with the boat had come to an end, and that f oldman4he hoped whoever had it would treat it with the dignity it deserved.

“What surprised me was that he wasn’t saddened by his loss. Although he had been very fond of his boat and it had, in fact, become part of his identity, what really mattered were his work and his relationship with the sea. The significance of this story is that it makes me think that the means to achieving our goals, while important, are often perishable. Even though we enjoy them and use them while we can, we must not lose sight of the true purpose of our mission.”

I asked Gómez about the title of his sculpture: The Old Man . . .and the Sea?”: the apparent reference to Hemingway’s story of the fisherman Santiago and the sculptor’s use of a question mark.

“Certainly there’s a relationship with Hemingway’s work – the attributes of the characters and the nature of such a basic activity, but one that demands so much strength of character. The question mark is because, deep down, the piece is an allegory to hope.”

At the base of the sculpture there is a poem. It is written by Gómez:

I have a paper boat
It’s made from a page
On which I have written my dreams
It has neither anchors, nor mooring ropes
I want to sail in it
On the seven seas; in the eighth
Where I know I will run aground in the port of my desires
… Has someone ever seen the light shining from his lighthouse?

Guillermo Gómez Macías, 48, was born in Jalisco, the second of nine children in a traditional Mexican family. His art is on permanent display in Puerto Vallarta at Galleria Dante.

(Originally posted January 2008)