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Jolanta Ona Vitkutė (born in 1964 in Vilnius, Lithuania) is a journalist interested in gastronomy and restaurant culture around the world. A few years ago, she moved to Mexico with her husband Andrés Cedillo, a chemistry professor, and felt herself surrounded by the floating beauty found in Frida Kahlo paintings and Gabriel García Márquez novels. As a result, she was inspired her to write the book  Mexico, my love (Meksika, mano meilė, 2018). Vitkutė describes in detail the most impressive regions of the country and compares them nostalgically with the charming landscapes of Lithuania. She also shares her personal story with readers.

Vitkutė graduated from Vilnius University in Lithuanian language and literature studies. Vitkutė is also the author of the poetry collections Evening fish (Vakaro žuvys, 2001), Banal (Banalu, 2004), and Dropping autumn (Lašantis ruduo, 2005) as well as the book of fairy tales for children Murmurers drink tea on Fridays (Murmisiukai geria arbatą penktadieniais, 2015). Vitkutė’s articles have been published in the popular Lithuanian magazines Moteris (Woman) and Geras skonis (Good taste), among others.

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Graphic Novels

Photo from personal archives

 

By Jolanta Ona Vitkutė

 

Surreal moods

I collected surrealistic moods while still living in Lithuania. And then, when I was looking at albums or sitting in Montmartre near the Salvador Dalí museum in Paris, more than once I tried to intrude into this artist`s mind. At that moment I did not know yet that layers of surrealism would greet me in Mexico around almost every corner. That I would have to wade through the fog of the town of Xilitla to walk with a map in my hands around the surreal Las Pozas park, which was founded in the jungle by the British poet Edward James. That I would be cuddled up by the ghostly sculptures of Leonora Carrington and be lost inside the Remedios Varo paintings. Or be relaxing at the Frida Kahlo Blue House garden and looking at the altar of Día de Muertos—like at a colorful puzzle.

Spanish language flows around me like a river, as if it is swallowing all the space surrounding me. I feel like I am in a strange dream, not in my land, in an unknown place where I do not understand the signs, nor the rules, nor the points, nor the commas. Everything blends into a shimmer illuminated by the sun. There is so much that is unknown, undiscovered. “A dream is a scripture; many scriptures are nothing but dreams”—it looks as if Umberto Eco winks at me at a distance in The Name of the Rose.

 

Stairs to the unknown

A few years ago, I was descending Latino Americana tower (in Mexico City, where 22 million people bustle back and forth every day; and God help me not to get lost—the equivalent of seven Lithuanias in one city!) and noticed some magical sculptures. This was the first time I encountered the charm of the surrealist painter, sculptor, and writer Leonora Carrington (1917– 2011). Who was she, this mysterious artist? I started to collect pieces of knowledge, like climbing stairs step by step, by reading articles and books, going to exhibitions, and visiting newly opened museums. The first one was opened a couple of years ago in San Luis Potosí (about 400 km from Mexico City), in a former prison. Here, there is a collection of the artist’s sculptures, jewellery, paintings, and personal items, along with documentary films, benches with engraved quotes, and fantastic creations made of bronze placed in the spacious courtyards of the building. Another museum dedicated to this artist opened its doors a year ago in Xilitla—which is located  between the mountains—a beloved place for surrealists to meet long ago. Next to the town's dazzling jungle of greenery, between the waterfalls and the mysterious caves, the British poet and surreal art patron Edward James once created his own paradise gardens called Las Pozas; he began to create them around 1947-1949 and continued up to his death in 1984. We were walking in these misty, tangled trails in the early morning. Mysterious castles, smiling fossilized serpents, unexpected stone hands reaching up from the ground, spiral stairs leading to the unknown and disappearing into air, stone flower petals, and sparkling sun rays all melting in the hidden greenery. Even the air was thick from the mysterious vibrations. I smile when I remember that the famous Salvador Dalí described Edward James as the maddest among all surrealists.

 

 

Words are full of magic realism

I sat in the Las Pozas surreal park cafe and became submerged in the sough of the surrounding people’s talk. I wanted to grab the sound of words and the meanings in which the tropical heat and waterfalls were soaked. Laughter could be heard between the sentences and this echo rippled along the top of the volcanos. Neither lines nor commas could stop the passion of the afternoon. It wandered towards the blossoming streets of Mexico City, lurking behind open collars and touching the ear with a light wind.

I carefully combine words and feel that Lithuanian sentences are caught with magic realism. Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014) smiles, surrounded by yellow butterflies. By the way, Edward James also chose the location of this park because of the yellow butterflies. The English poet was bathing in a waterfall with his Mexican friend Plutarco Gastélum and found himself in a cloud of butterflies. The two friends decided it was a magical sign. Isn't it surrealistic?

I remember the Sunday afternoon when I was walking in the center of the capital and accidentally saw an announcement inviting passersby to see an expired exposition dedicated to Marquez, incidentally one of my favorite writers. The exposition had expired but had been extended. (By the way, the writer's villa in Mexico is close to our house and sometimes I enjoyed the idea that we were on the same street at the same time!) On that day, when I stumbled into the exhibition pavilion, he would have been 91. Among the yellow butterflies—a symbol of love and hope—were exhibited photos of the writer's life, paintings, and memories.

Marquez wrote:

One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily. In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone. At least in my case, the first paragraph is a kind of sample of what the rest of the book is going to be. That’s why writing a book of short stories is much more difficult than writing a novel. Every time you write a short story, you have to begin all over again.

I started over again and I am here in Mexico City.

 

Desires fulfilled

Again, I came back to the world of Leonora Carrington, wandering around the three-storey museum halls inhabited by mythical creatures. Later, I was confronted with them when I was drinking coffee on one of the terraces in Xilitla. It was raining. In the distance, the mountains were covered with fog. But suddenly, Andrés waved to me and showed me a secret within a yard with a high fence— the sculptures by Carrington gathered together. It looked like a mystical creatures were talking about the magic of everyday life. Such magic abounds in Carrington's work.

Many of this artist's pictures are painted like home interiors that are transformed into unusual, inexplicable, exciting places. For example, in The House Opposite (1945), elegant women move between different floors, their shapes turning into trees or slow-sliding snails, concentrating on the mysterious mixture in the cauldron. Can our homes also travel and change?

In Carrington’s work, everything takes on a magical power, even a simple vegetable like the cabbage. Speaking about it, Carrington evokes a mystic scent: “The cabbage is a rose, a Blue Rose, an Alchemy Rose, a Blue Peyote [a cactus with psychotropic substances used for rituals—the author], and an ancient Divine meal, but only recently discovered by ‘the civilized Westerners.’”

I am bringing to this medium my Lithuanian language. It smells like pine resin and a lake’s tranquillity, recalls amber stones from Čiurlionis's paintings, fits my nostalgic sonatas and changing seasons. Its taste blends with honey poured on fresh curd cheese or alludes to cranberry and pear jam, which my mother put on the plate with the roasted pancakes in my childhood and that Grandma Anelė spiced up with a spoonful of Lithuanian fairy tales.

In Mexico, I share my Lithuanian language with the pianist Skirmante, playing Lithuanian composers' music, with Rūta, who prepares the most delicious Lithuanian dishes, with Jurgita, who creates jewellery with Lithuanian nostalgia, with Daiva, whose Lithuanian songs penetrate into the heart. How many such Lithuanian “islands” are there in all the world! Words capture various moods, different traditions, ways of life, and the spirit of nomads.

When I am traveling around Mexico, I feel as if Frida guides me by my hand, as if I were in the pages of Marquez's novels or accompanied by the strange creatures of Carrington when the most secret desires become reality. And I am smiling when I remember that Carrington and another emigrant painter, Remedios Varo (1908-1963), spent a lot of time in the kitchen together, painting, writing, and preparing surrealist dinners from absurd recipes, which had to make dreams come true. "It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grew old. They grow old because they stopped pursuing dreams," said Marquez.

We belong to our dreams. Even if they are surrealistic.

 

References:

Susan L. Aberth, “Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art”, Lund Humphries (2010)

Fermín Llamazares, “Leonora Carrington, Black book. Testigo escultórico/sculptural witness”, Gobierno del Estado de San Luis Potosí (2017)

“Casa del tiempo”, issue dedicated to Leonora Carrington, vol. IV, issue 40, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (May, 2017)

Remedios Varo, Catalogo razonado, ERA (2002)

 

 

 

 

 

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