Sadat Memorial, acrylic, 40" x 30," $3500
Created for the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library
From the Journals, Austin, TX, 1984
Valle Gran Rey, Gomera
Gomera, an island in the Canaries, its weather spring-like all-year-round, was, at least the first time I lived there in1970 (There was another four month stay in 1973), one of the last paradises in the world. On seven separate occasions ChristopherColumbus stopped in its capital, San Sebastiano, to get water and visit his girlfriend, King Ferdinand's ex-mistress exiled to Gomera by an irate Queen Isabella. One of the mysteries of Gomera are its aboriginal inhabitants, the Guanchas, who were blond and blue-eyed and living in the stone age, their origins still a matter of conjecture. In the 15th century they intermarried with the Spanish conquerors who beheaded the male population after baptism. Gomera is lush green with banana plantations and waterfalls, its hilly terrain covered by carefully tilled terraces. It is one of the two places in the world whose inhabitants have developed a unique language of whistles to communicate across mountains and gorges. Such are a few facts which say little about my period in Gomera. My travelogue certainly says little about how I almost got murdered.
Gomera, isolated, exquisite, cheap, was, like Matala, Marrakech, Ibiza, Goa, Bali, very much part of an international circuit. Certain types of people flocked to these places, not necessarily the same people, but people easily recognizable by dress and attitude as travelers, seekers, adventurers. To those on this circuit a Hilton, a Holiday Inn or anything plastic was to be avoided as much as their middle-class habitués. In 1973 word had already gone out about Gomera in cafes as far apart as Kushadasi and Mombassa. Not that Gomera was crowded but houses, at least in my village, were hard to rent by oneself. After a journey of forty miles through incredible scenery the main road of the island suddenly stopped at a palm-tree beach scene which was a stone's throw from the burial places of the kings and queens of the Guanchas. As far as the eye could see was an expanse of the sea, emerald-like manicured banana plantations and hills giving birth to waterfalls. An ancient town with cobblestoned streets perched on top of a crag about half a mile from the beach. On a clear day la Palma could be faintly perceived on the horizon.
I remember the first time I met the Professor. I had already moved into the Country Club, sharing the premises with two couples. I was sitting one night at Bar Parada and eating gabanzas and roast chicken while La Signora, the proprietoress, rushed about trying to calm her cackling roosters at the rear of the bar. I noticed at the next table two Americans of genteel appearance, one about thirty with a beard, the other about ten years younger and holding, of all things, a copy of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. I invited them over. To meet the Professor for the first time was always an experience. After a year spent in a Buddhist monastery in India he had picked up his companion, a Yalie, somewhere on the Khyber Pass. Now the two of them, Professor and Yalie, were circumnavigating the globe working on the Theory. To hear the Professor speak about the Theory was to hear Stradivarii and Amati high in the heavens. The Theory, which had something to do with reincarnation and was more important than Einstein's Theory of Relativity, was destined to revolutionize the world. That, insisted the Professor, was axiomatic. A Ph.D. in psychology, the Professor claimed to be by virtue of tests one of the one hundred most intelligent people in the world and he had dropped out of academia to finish the Theory. All this to the casual listener in Bar Parada was immensely impressive, but when one got down to the nitty-gritty by asking what the Theory was about insuperable difficulties arose. The Theory was in higher mathematics and since my mathematics was confined by and large to getting change from places like Bar Parada I had as little hope of cracking the Theory as of reading the backpack of Sanskrit tomes the Professor had lugged all the way from India. Be that as it may, my initial encounter with the Professor and Yalie soon flourished into friendship and their appearance for drinks at the Country Club became part of a daily ritual until suddenly the Yalie decided to flee the island with one of the couples. All hell then broke loose. There were screams, shouts, threats of revenge that perhaps only the Professor's mighty intellect was able to conjure up. But the Yalie, by now tired of the Theory, was adamant. His decision was irrevocable. The Professor wandered off in tears.
It was my habit in Gomera to take every morning a two mile walk from the Country Club along the beaches. This walk provided magnificent vistas of Monet-like cliffs, not to mention a series of cafes where I would stop to sample various Spanish liquors and do my writing. One morning shortly after the Yalie's departure I spied the Professor, his head bowed on his hands, alone on a rock. I approached. The Professor was distraught. The Yalie had betrayed him, he said, and he was contemplating leaving the island. "Look,Professor," I answered, "Why don't you move into the bedroom next to mine in the Country Club? I am sure you will be able to work on the Theory in peace. Why leave the island?" The next day I went to see Sebastiano, the caretaker, about the matter and then helped the Professor carry his gear from the town to the Country Club. From the day of his arrival the Professor's behavior was bizarre. Invariably every morning at 6:30 the Professor slipped a note under my door. These notes were on any subject from the condition of the kitchen pots to that of the International Monetary Fund. Humor was not part of the Professor's make-up. He was, as he claimed, in this incarnation to save the world by preparing the way with the Theory for the appearance of the Maitreya Buddha. It soon became apparent to me, the Theory notwithstanding, that the Professor was yet another fatality of the LSD Movement. Fifty trips had catapulted the Professor permanently somewhere in the psychic stratosphere from which there seemed to be no exit. His days usually spent scribbling formulae in bed, he seldom emerged except at mealtime where I pieced together bits and pieces of his story. The Professor grew to dislike me. We became argumentative about certain basic intellectual issues. Things were beginning to reach a head when one day a yacht pulled up from Morocco belonging to four of the biggest dope dealers in the world.
The appearance of the dope dealers couldn't have occurred at a more inopportune time. For weeks stories had percolated through the island that the King of Spain was coming (Juan Carlos was actually still only the Pretender), the first member of the Royal Family to visit Gomera since the abdication of Alfonso XIII in 1931. The island was in an uproar of festivities. At Bar Parada the taxi drivers offered free rides to the capital. Buses were sent to fetch the schoolchildren. Flags waved everywhere. The King arrived by helicopter, remained eight hours in San Sebastiano, and five hours later a terrific tornado from Africa lasting three days hit the island and destroyed half the banana plantations. For three days the Professor and I remained barricaded in our adjacent rooms while outside a peasoup-thick dust storm knocked off roofs, cinder-block porches, and all visible vegetation. Gomera was a total mess. The evidence of disaster was everywhere, and to the simple-minded peasants shell-shocked by the sequence of events there was something obviously providential in the whole matter.
The dope dealers who rented their own place proved less of a problem than one of their stooges, a twenty-year-old blond Canadian pusher who soon moved into the Country Club. With the arrival of the Pusher as a housemate the Country Club took on the atmosphere of a dope den. Gone were the halcyon days before the tornado. Even in the best of situations living in a dope den would have been unsettling for any serious intellectual routine, but the fact that downstairs in the Country Club was the office of the Guardia Civilia, the Secret Police, necessitated my confronting the Professor.
"Look, Professor, I said, "the Pusher has 1600 grams of hashish stashed under his bed. People are coming in and out all day to buy dope. Half the time you yourself seem to be in a state of psychic delirium. I'll wager you haven't done a day's work on the Theory since the Pusher moved in. All this has to stop."
The Professor hemmed and hawed. At this time I did not yet realize that the Professor had fallen in love with the Pusher. Events moved rapidly. The 1600 grams of hashish together with all the Pusher's money suddenly disappeared. The Pusher was destitute. But the Professor purchased 5000 grams of hashish from the dope dealers and set the Pusher up in business. The Country Club was quickly getting a reputation. The Guardia Civilia was becoming suspicious. Sebastiano, the caretaker, worried about a raid.
Once again I took the Professor aside. "Look, Professor, all this is great material for my novel. In fact, you'll be in my novel....."
The Professor exploded," What do you mean I'll be in your novel?" His vermicular vein throbbed. His eyes glistened with indignation. "Under no circumstances do I wish to be in your novel. The Theory is of world-importance. Even if you change all the names I'll still be recognized as the creator of the Theory. I intend to publish the Theory anonymously with the Tibetan Buddhists. I emphatically state that I do not wish to be in your novel."
The Professor exited in a huff. When all attempts to reason with the Professor about the Pusher's activities failed, I had no alternative but to move out of the Country Club. I decided to be magnanimous and give the Professor a small painting as a parting gift. But the Professor refused to accept the painting because he wanted no psychic ties with me. I hit the ceiling. After receiving 36 of the Professor's notes under my door I decided to retaliate with my own note which read:
You are little more than an LA closet-queen who took too much acid and flipped out. Under the circumstances I do not wish any further communication with you.
The Professor went berserk. Pounding on my door he screamed repeatedly for five minutes, "What's the ultimate significance of a painting?" The screams were so loud that, as the Pusher later informed me, gawking crowds surrounded the Country Club. I then started my own pounding and screamed, "What's the ultimate significance of a theory?" The Professor went wild. From Albert Einstein the Second he morphed into some subspecies of Pithecanthropus Erectus. He screamed, "I want my notes!" It was obvious that things had gotten out of control. I foolishly opened the door. The Professor lunged at me with the kitchen butcher knife and demanded the return of the notes. As he was about to strike me in the chest with the knife the pusher tackled him and seized the knife.
"Look, Professor," I said, "You are a Buddhist. I am a Buddhist. We are all Buddhists here. Buddhists don't do things like this."
What is the ulterior significance of a painting? Over the years the Professor's refrain has echoed loudly in my mind. One lazy afternoon long before the arrival of the pusher the Professor and I were sitting in the kitchen of the Country Club. Sebastiano had just cooked us one of his dinners of fresh fish garnished with herbs from the garden and both of us were in an expansive mood. The Professor was flipping through one of his Buddhist tomes and I had taken out from my portfolio a large watercolor, Oh Gomera!, to spend the afternoon on.
Despite his contempt for what he called "the gross carnality of the Western mind," the Professor took an interest in my paintings. We were discussing how the supremely great artist, a Rubens or a Picasso, is very much a cosmic snapshot machine, a vehicle through which the Creator records the passage of history. Oh Gomera!, conspicuous for its pyramids and idols, was almost finished and the Professor asked, "What has this painting to do with Gomera? Where did you get these images anyway? I mean, how did your style ever develop like this?"
I glanced up from Oh Gomera! and replied, Look, Professor, my compositions can be divided into two categories: spontaneous surrealistic statements and what I call my masturbation paintings. All of these images you see in Oh Gomera! are masturbation fantasies. Over the years I have developed the ability to call up through masturbation these archetypal icons and to concentrate my mind on them.
The Professor grew excited and began to pace the kitchen floor. "The Tibetans would call this visualization. You see, the Vajrayana Tradition is based on meditation techniques analogous to your own. But I don't think the Tibetans have ever used masturbation as a meditation technique. This is fascinating."
I continued, "I had been doing this for years until finally I decided to set down the images in paint. Perhaps one of the reasons my compositions are so stiff and hierarchic is that in masturbation the images are stationary."
"You mean you paint them as you actually see them?"
"Not exactly. The scene in Oh Gomera!-- don't ask me what it means--was a masturbation fantasy but other things crept in afterwards such as the hands and figure in the upper panel."
"Do you see these images in color?"
"Yes and no. The colors however are very much my own."
"A transcription then?"
"Yes. One of the reasons I am able to work such long hours and with such meticulous detail is that masturbation has enabled me to visualize the exact details of the image."
The Professor began to rap nervously with a pencil on the table. "How many of these images do you have?"
"There are about half a dozen primary images which I juxtapose spontaneously into various combinations."
"What was your first image?"
"Jesus with horns on the cross surrounded by Taurus figures."
"Were you ever into demonology?"
"Very much so."
The Professor got up excited and cried, "I've got it! It says in the Bhagavad-Gita that perverted lust will conjure up the demi-gods. It says also in the Kabbalah that auto-eroticism will call up demons. You have conjured up the demons. Your art is a pagan form of demonology, a worship of the primeval gods of the unconscious. That's why you paint the way you do. It's not God who is using you. It's the demons!"