On Travels with Eduardo…and Patrick

Reading the title, I have no great expectations regarding Patrick’s recent essay in The Pedestrian, notwithstanding that it was written by my son (with whom I am well pleased). As I get into it, however, it opens up into an experience of unimagined delight.

On the first page, Patrick tells his readers that this essay is about Eduardo Galeano, whose book, The Open Veins of Latin America, was ostentatiously delivered to President Obama by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez at the “Summit of the Americas” in 2009. Does this add or detract from Galeano’s legacy? I don’t know.

Patrick tells us that “Open Veins” is not how he got to know Eduardo, and I feel somewhat relieved. I like how Patrick explains both the age and hemispherical gaps between them in one sentence that tells us how Eduardo, “sat up nights smoking, guzzling coffee, scribbling furiously, while I slept soundly in my crib two seasons away.” (But only a couple of time zones apart, I think to myself.) He also invents a new verb, to Frankenstein (meaning to cobble together from disparate parts into some monstrous form, such as a boot-headed woman), possibly as one of his “independent redundancies.” He got to know Eduardo through The Book of Embraces, where the drawing of the boot-headed woman appears.

He met Eduardo, of course, during his fellowship in Uruguay. The travels Patrick refers to happened mostly when Eduardo came, somewhat unexpectedly, to Utah to visit BYU. I choke up when I read Patrick’s beautiful description of Eduardo’s arrival, “…anonymous amidst the throng of passengers but for the faded halo above his head, so dim you might not even notice it if you hadn’t read some of his books.” Ah, that’s writing that lulls you into a false sense of complacency and then grabs you with a sudden pull behind the heart that is poignant, and gentle, and moving, in ways that only the supremely talented can capture in words.

Patrick goes on to describe Galeano’s writing and some of his experiences in Utah. Not everything Patrick or Eduardo writes is profound. Eduardo telling us that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we should hear twice before speaking once is rather prosaic, in my opinion. It sounds like a piece of advice a casual acquaintance might email you. Yet there are times when Galeano uses the simplest of words so artfully that you must pause and let them wash over you before continuing. In The Book of Embraces, Galeano relates one of Fernando Silva’s stories about leaving a children’s hospital on Christmas Eve. A small, sick boy reaches out to take his hand. “Tell someone…the child whispered. Tell someone I’m here.”

In talking about Galeano and his art, Patrick shares his own insight, his own art with us. He admits that sometimes words may fail us, expressing it thus: “They’re only noise amidst silence or black shapes against the vastness of everything.” But then he goes on to tell us what we did not know we knew, that words can sometimes can be better than the reality they describe; that they can, as exemplified by William Blake, allow us “To see the world in a grain of sand…”

The heart of Patrick’s essay is his description of Galeano’s visit to BYU, where they spent time with Patrick’s family, ate small portions of expensive food in Sundance, and hiked to Mount Timpanogos Cave National Monument, where Eduardo failed to imagine “an animal of my own” while observing the rumpled patterns of “Animal Rock.” No matter. He saw the shape of an eagle later on in a rock outcropping they passed after leaving the cave. Shortly thereafter, they saw a real eagle soaring over the valley. Both writers apprehended the moment silently, perhaps contemplating how they would write of their experience. Eduardo would be first. In Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone, he said of his experience in Timpanogos cave:

Stalactites and stalagmites spend thousands of years reaching down or reaching up, drop by drop, searching for each other in the darkness.

It takes some of them a million years to touch.

They are in no hurry.

I hesitate to say anything more after presenting those words. Simple ideas, simple words, personifying the inanimate crystalline rocks condensing out of the saturated water.

They are in no hurry.


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