Concha Gómez-Acebo
TRAVEL SKETCHES

Nearby Outskirts
exhibition
Utopia Parkway Art Gallery, 2009
Catalogue

 

Neither Lestrigones nor the Cyclops, not even ferocious Poseidon   will you ever encounter if you do not carry them inside your soul, if it is not your own soul that shows them to you (…) Bear always Itaca in your mind, your goal is to arrive there. But do not hasten your journey. It is better that it takes a long time; and in your old age you may arrive to the island with all you have gained throughout the course of your journey, without expecting Itaca to enrich you. Itaca gave you a fair journey. You would not have undertaken it without her. But there is nothing more she can give you. Rich in savour and life, as you have returned, at last, you come to understand what the Itacas mean.

Konstantino Kavafis

 

1

It’s Tuesday ten of October. After being here, where I am. I’ll start walking and get on the train. Tomorrow we’ll see. I am reading… “for Bellamy the sole fact of living meant an unachievable difficult task. It was as if everyday life were a moving machine filled with holes, openings, spaces, slots, clefts, cavities, hollows, in which one of them, it seemed, Bellamy felt obliged to fit in”.[1] That’s how I feel most of the time. I suppose that this must happen to lots of people, this has always intrigued me. (10.10.07)

“… The operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters”.[2]

“There is not a better or shorter way to improve work than doing figures. That is why I always feel myself safer when doing portraits, knowing that this work is much more serious. Perhaps this is not the most suitable word, it’s more that it permits me practising what there is in me better and more serious”.[3]

There are two girls just in front of my seat going to a party in Madrid. They are all dressed up and they have put on the thickest, heavy black mascara I have ever seen. One of them is talking about the economic crisis with great aplomb and her conclusions are accurate and resigned.

His name is Juan Hernández. He comes from the Canary Islands and is a painter. He paints very tiny bookmarks and is selling them inside the train. I buy one and ask him to pose for me. When he gets down in Atocha he tells me his name and goes away smiling. (13.04.08)

Today passengers are watchful and awake. It must be because of the cold, blinding light and sharp, biting wind that blows from the mountains.

Accidentally it turns out that the woman from, somewhere in the East of Europe, is seated again in front of me. I made a drawing of her partly for her stillness. She was asleep. She sleeps today as well, but I look at her under a different perspective. As a matter of fact she is sitting in the same position and with the same indolence. She looks like the head I had to draw years ago for an examination. It was a replica of the one done by Bernini. In spite of the noise and rattle she doesn’t wakes up until the train arrives at its final destination. (7.05.2008)

There is a young dark woman on the train today, and she has just the profile I need to finish a painting, But she is seated in a place which makes it impossible for me to draw her and then she gets off al Vicálvaro. She was reading a book and moved her lips while she read. (11.06.2009).

October, 23, 2008. The engine driver is singing to himself a piece of “Carmen”, the opera. I listen to his humming through the partition wall that isolates him from the railway car. He blows the horn from time to time.

 

2.

The woman that begs along the coaches between Torrejón and Atocha has just passed by. Although it’s Saturday there were lots of people on the train today. When she notices a middle-aged couple standing in the corridor she gets in a rage and gives a scolding to those passengers seated near them. Don’t you see they are old! Poor creatures! What a shame! She is not looking well and looks extremely thin. She looks really ill. (October. 9. 2008)

There is a graffiti on the wall that surrounds the railway tracks at Atocha’s junction that says: DOGS BITE! This morning I heard on the radio that the police had discovered frozen dogs in a pastry and pizza plant in Argentina. It seems that they used them, as well as ham and mozzarella (2.03.08)

“Walker, there is no path.[4] As Cela said” –a man tells his friend. They are chatting all the time during the journey. The friend is boasting about the time he has spent in jail. They quarrel for a while and start to compare the nice paintings they are painting at the day centre where they go every day. They get off at Vicálvaro after making a recount of all the beers they’ve had for breakfast. (29.09.2008).

Oh, my God, the child wouldn’t stop crying! His mother didn’t know how to calm him. He must have been 8 months old, and had a small rounded head with little black curls. He has a likeness to the one that appears in the painting I have just started. The mother was very tall, with a naïve, although gay expression on her face. When they got off the train in Azuqueca the baby stopped crying and all passengers sighed with relief. (24.04.2008).

There is a couple sitting next to me. They must be 40 something… They look very much in love and probably have not been together for a long time. She has short yellowish, straw-coloured hair and although it has been dyed this must be it’s original colour. She has a narrow longish face, a look of continuous surprise in her watery eyes and a slightly crooked nose. The most outstanding thing is the mouth. It is wide and has long angles. She wears dull comfortable clothes, but nevertheless extremely neat ones. I could swear she works restoring something; paper, paintings, antique furniture. Or maybe she is an archaeologist. Her companion is a quiet, slender man with a noble face. He has something that resembles a monk or a refined gentleman from bygone times. May 2008.

Today is March thirteen, 2008. The lower lip sticks out. Hanging pearls balancing with the swaying of the train. When a group of street musicians play a bolero she hums softly moving head and hands to the rhythm of the music.

A mother and her fat daughter are chatting on the train. There is a boy with them.

—I get sick a lot. Look! There is Cabanillas.

—A parrot! There was a parrot in a tree. Full of colours!

—Sweetie, what are you doing!!

—Her husband turned out to be a junkie. It’s what they learn at home.

—Oh well… I discovered that she went out with bad people. I wash my hands and clear out.

—Look, in school Celia didn’t study a bit.

—I’ve always said that a son is like fishing, you have to let go, roll up, let go, roll up…

—Sweetie!!

(10.11.2008)

 

3

The man got on the train from the start. First he sat in front of me but in Meco he changed to another seat. I guess he wanted to be comfortable. He carried a black gym bag and wore a luxurious black tracksuit with white trimmings. He wore a gold trendy ring in the little finger of his right hand. Earphones connected to an Ipod. His skin was matt brown, very dry, rounded head and his nose moderately broad. When the train was already crossing the stretch between Vicálvaro and Vallecas, from where you can make out the hill and it looks as if the country is visible again, a beggar came into the train car. He is one of the group that regularly goes over the train, hat in hand. They are always the same ones since I can remember. This one is the eldest, I suppose he may be fifty something. I’m not sure what kind of misfortune has driven him to this situation. What I mean is that it is not as evident as in the case of the other beggars. He drops his querulous song while he strolls down the corridor mentioning his children. He accepts anything: money, bread, food, anything at all. He leaves. A while later, between Atocha and Recoletos station, he comes back telling his story. As we approach Nuevos Ministerios the man in black and me stand up and head to the train doors. The man in black starts talking to him. He asks if it is true about he being out of work, and at the same time, he feels his skinny arm as if he were considering how much strength is left in them. He asks if he is willing to work for him and invites him to his house to discuss it over dinner. When we jump on to the platform I rush to the escalators. I look back and see how they wander off, the man in black with his black gym bag, and the beggar. They move away absorbed in their conversation. (11.06.2008)

Today is 13. No trace of the hungry man.

On the seventh of October I get sight of the tramp repeating again his request while he walks along the train.

November the ninth. I have seen him again. He looks fine.

February. He is again on the train asking for money.

March, he turns up again.

Two elderly little men from Colombia, dark skinned, very wrinkled amuse themselves chatting on the train. At least one of them talks and the other nods from time to time while he watches everything around him with charcoal black eyes that stick out miraculously under heavy eyelids. His brows are hairy and even darker than his eyes but his hair is snow white. (9.08.2008)

Can you tell me why a not very graceful woman, with messy hair and a big-bottomed body decides to get dressed in old pirate black trousers and a yellow t-shirt with the image of a stunning, sexy woman that stretches out all over her bosom?

There is a young woman seated before me. She stares with contempt through the window’s reflection to nobody in particular, and everyone in general. Her hair is chestnut-coloured with blond highlights. She wears it loose and parted in the middle permitting a glimpse of her swelling nose. Her forehead is short with a thin long wrinkle that crosses it. Big eyes, somewhat slant-eyed, brown, with lots of blue eye make-up and sticky dark mascara. Heavy eyelids that she keeps almost lowered. The nose is reconstructed by surgery. Well done, with proportion and restraint but you can guess by the holes and the tip. The mouth is the most remarkable feature in her face. It is neatly defined like the mouth of a baby. As if she used a dummy, with two small balls that stand out in her upper lip. After looking at her for some time I come to think however that it looks, artificial. She gets down soon with her scornful face.

The Chinese man has resisted my tries. He was good to draw, with noticeable strong features, very expressive, he reminded me of Carlos W. He is wearing a Ralph Lauren blue shirt, sand-coloured trousers and elegant trainers, probably expensive. His way of looking around him is black and intelligent. His skin is the colour of cinnamon. He is short but heavyset and glances from time to time at his watch. What is he doing on this train? He gets down in Atocha.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Virginia Wolf.

[2] Patricia Highsmith

[3] Vincent Van Gogh.

[4] This famous verse, was written by the poet Antonio Machado. It is well known in Spain