Towards Better Democracy

Good words, well written, better the world. Good literature betters the world immeasurably.

That line


“That line is beautiful,” says Jack, an artist at the McNay Institute where I am taking a life drawing class. I am also taking a paiting class in the afternoons at the same instiute led by Jack’s wife, Amy.

This is my first class and Jack has had us draw sketches of no more than 10 – 15 seconds at a time; the model moves to this synchronicity with only pauses in between. In such a brief period you only get some smudged marks on the paper before you rip off a new sheet to scurry through the next pose.

I am here in San Antonio, where the McNay is and where a lot of Spanish Colonial architecture, much of it in ruins and the rest decrepit, stands stark white in the Texas summer sun. The city stands bestride the San Antonio River. The Riverwalk is the central feature here; that and the Alamo, draw Americans from all over the subcontinent.

Walking with my younger brother along the river bank, he tells me that the city has  poured millions into the river. I gaze at its brown turgid, achingly slow surface, a deep, sad brown, and wonder what he is talking about. I don’t see millions. This river is no crystal clear stream. Later I realise that the millions have gone into the creation of the banks and scenery bordered along its length by tourists traps, in faux Spanish style, and Mexican food shacks. I eat one lunchtime at the more respectible looking of these establishments. The food is a sort of pultrid grey colour on a sad-looking flat bread called a taco. The taste is awful. I imagine that used oil from a car after its oil change would taste better. I feel as if there is a hole in my mouth. Dead flesh might taste better. The excresion stays with me, refusing to budge right up until I go to sleep. When I wake in the morning the foul taste has gone. I relax in sheer relief. No more home grown taco for me from now on. I eat safe American versions of English and European foods, some it fast, as it escapes the loving hands of a careful, knowledgeable chef, to escape into a paper wrap in order to quicken the ringing of the till.

I am here to visit my favourite brother. It is 1977. He has invited me to visit and I am on now on vacation, he is working and not taking time off. I, therefore, have the days to myself, meeting him most evenings and sometimes with his wife, a rigid stick of a woman, good looking in a frail, wan way, with lacquered hair so still it would support and elephant were such a beast to walk on it. They had met in Ireland, each on holiday. He flies out be with her soon after, such is it to be smitten with love at first sight. They do not look happy together and she spends most of her time with us, looking away off to a sad, dark place. I seldom visit the house and my brother is relaxed and happy to be with me when not in her company.

For me, I have a ball. Every kind of place of interest to me I visit. To newspaper of which there were a few – they have now shrunk to one – and talk to journalists and editors, to radio stations, even DJ deep into the night at one of them. Comercial radio stations are strange things to me, coming from countries which at the time possessed only government controlled radio, BBC, with cotton gloves in Britain,and the SABC with an iron fist. I take piano lessons with a local teacher, wife of a dentist, and practice at the student music department facilities at a university I have adopted as an intellectual home.

I am here for four weeks and feel set free from my life and toils as an engineer among plebian fellows who eschew the arts, viewing them as something only for fancy pants. I don’t tell them of my activities outside work. I don’t dare. I don’t want to be seen as something effete.

I am in my element, a fine fish among the waters of my kind. My curiosity knows no limits as I explore these delightful waters in which I wish to spend my life swimming but seem forbidden to me, only available after work hours.  An impenetrable, invisible barrier locks me out of what I love most.

And then there are those glorious, sumptuous lessons at the McNay. What Jack told me; there is no greater praise possible in recognition of a students talents from an art teacher But I am no art student, only one who longs to be.

As I walk out of class, out into the flat, bright, whiter than white, flat light, I am joined my a girl. I had not noticed her in class. I sense sycophancy. She is only alongside me because of what Jack told me, my intuition tells me. I am modest man, unassuming and am deeply moved by the praise, but it sits easy with me. I feel good but I am embarrassed by this gushing hanger on. I shun her.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 12 August, 2017

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