A Familiar Perfect Stranger

The next week the sculpture was gone; never to be seen again. Or so I thought.

The rumbling tummy told me we needed to cross back over and get food for lunch. Destiny had another idea. Brushing by us a man of the working class with heavy rumpled winter clothes and hands stained from his trade gave a sidelong smirk and a less than sincere greeting. Then he invited us to come in.

Surprised by the gentile gesture I motioned that we should step inside. One of us had the idea to ask if the man who made this large form happened to be around. Almost laughing, the butler in the rough told us he would call him. Now I was getting excited. I had admired the work of this artist for over a year. He is here? This is much more than a coincidence.

Tucked and strewn behind the massive structure lay a blacksmith shop. Furnace and metal hid a simple man who now emerged. Wiping the grease he extended his hand to say hello. Unassuming he listened as I explained our intrusion. His smiles under the bushy brows encouraged me to continue with praise of his work and inquiries thereof. His answers were simple with a hint of wit. Familiarity made me think I had known him for longer than just a few moments.

My manners not lost in the whim I introduced my parents as well. Translating a conversation is a test in tongue twisters and presence of mind. Who said what? Am I conveying the attitude as well as the thought? Did I use the right language with the right person? Surprisingly it seemed that there was a general understanding.

Knowing he is an artist gave my mom an idea. She is a potter. She works with clay. When in France last year she was able to throw a pot on a wheel. She wanted to do the same in Bolivia. She thought this man might know something about the elusive potting community in Cochabamba. We had been hunting and asking around to no avail. So I asked. Then he asked if we had been to Huayculi. No, what’s that? It is a pueblo where the people make pots of clay.

What happened next shouldn’t have surprised me because it is just the way Bolivians are; nevertheless I was pleasantly surprised.

“How long are your parents in town? I can take you next week if you like,” he said as though he was speaking to an old friend. I translated his offer to my parents. I gave them the look to feel them out if this was something they would like to do. We ended the conversation finding out how we could reach the artist to make plans if it would work out to go.

“I am here every morning. Just stop by anytime,” he said. Of course, why didn’t I think of that. The earthy simplicity of a familiar perfect stranger told me I would soon find myself having a similar talk with this kind, round man.

Fernando Crespo and the Condor - July 2010

To be continued…

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