Tag Archives: Elena Poniatowska

Two remarkable women…

You can read many facts about Leonora Carrington, the recently deceased surrealist artist by checking Wikipedia or any of the hundreds of news sites that featured articles about her this past week. But if you’re driven to learn more intimate details about her life and art, you need to read Elena Poniatowska’s  award winning novel “Leonora.” To do so, Spanish is a must because there is not yet an English language version of the book… although I expect that one will come along fairly soon. Leonora Carrington was after all, British born.

Ms. Poniatowska begins the biography by describing Leonora’s early years in her emotionally distant home environment at Crookhey Hall in Lancashire. The family wanted her to become a gentile young lady. She said she wanted to be a horse!

Leonora set her sights on becoming a serious artist but was thwarted again and again by her conservative family. She would not conform and her behavior became more and more erratic.  Her art had a decidedly surrealistic bent and she caught the attention of Max Ernst, who at the time was a well known surrealist – twice her age. Nonetheless, the two became lovers and returned to Paris together. He was married to another woman but Leonora and Max lived together. Political (and other pressures) split the couple and this seemed to be the final straw for her fragile equilibrium…The family considered that she had gone mad and had her institutionalized. Yet, despite her drug therapy induced stupor, she managed to escape confinement. Eventually she sought refuge at the Mexican Embassy in Lisbon.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Renato Leduc, a member of Mexico’s artistic community agreed to marry her, thus assuring her entrance into his country. Just prior to WW II the Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas and his wife were personally involved in the rescue of thousands of Spanish and other European artists, writers, philosophers,  other intellectuals and politicians, who with their families sought refuge in Mexico.  Once Leonora’s residence had been secured, she and Leduc parted.

Leonora Carrington said of this time in her life.”I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse… I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist.”

In Mexico, her artistic career flourished. In addition to her sculpture and painting, Leonora was a prolific writer. She later married Emericko Weisz. The couple had two sons. She has told many interviewers that the birth of her children was her life’s most significant and important event. It is to be noted that Elena Poniatowska has said the same thing. I would venture to say that this publically declared sentiment causes many ordinary women to feel an affinity with these two extraordinary female artists.

Leonora lived in New York City during part of the 1960s, but most of her life has been spent in Mexico City.

Hospitalized due to complications from pneumonia, Leonora Carrington died in Mexico’s Capital on Wednesday May 25, 2011. She was 94 years old.                                                                                                                                                                                                

In Merida, during the early part of this year, we were fortunate to have a visiting exhibition of her large bronze sculptures. Anyone who saw the pieces could not help but be impressed by her mythical beings – colossal but delicate – feminine and richly detailed. The elongated necks, limbs and beaks and hooves, featured on otherwise human forms, somehow reminded me of demi-deities of Mexican pre-Columbian imagery – feathered serpents, eagle and jaguar warriors, deer icons, and fertility goddesses Tonanzin and Ixel

Leonora Carrington is one of the many non-native-born Latinas who have enriched Mexico’s arts and literature during the past century. While Elena Poniatowska is the daughter of a Mexican national, Paula Amor, the family lived in France until political circumstances also caused them to flee to Mexico. Both women (along with “Yours truly” and a host of my friends) are heartfelt in saying, “It is an ill wind that brings no good.”

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The Yucatan Times and more…

Raul Ponce de Leon, Silvia Grimes, Renán Guillermo Gonzales, Maricarmen Perez, Jorge Cortez

 

Yesterday, April 12th turned out to be quite a day…

The morning began … in the (already) 35 degree C. heat… with a valiant attempt at getting my hair to curl, paint my nails and put on makeup. I would be MC at the launch of the “Yucatan Times” and I did want to look my best for such a momentous occasion!

And momentous it was… the auditorium filled to almost full capacity with local and international guests. The owners of the fledgling paper, Raul Ponce de Leon and Silvia Grimes were indeed happy with the public’s show of support. As well, the “Yucatan Institute of Culture” was very generous in their sponsorship of the event.

The director of ICY, Renán Guillermo Gonzalez gave the opening address, followed by messages from both Raul and Silvia. A video giving the background story of the Yucatan Times was shown. The video also highlighted the Yucatan Youth Symphony and afterwards, the he director of the Youth symphony played a delightful violin duet with one of his students and then it was time… copies of the paper were distributed to the more than 200 guests at the theater.

All seemed impressed with the quality and content of the newspaper. For this inaugural edition, 2,000 copies were printed. Raul said that to start, the paper will be printed three times a month and he hopes the circulation will soon be 6,000. The paper will be distributed in Merida, at the beach and other major centers in the state. He added, “An English language newspaper is not a new idea but it is new in Merida and we’re happy to be the ones who will be bringing Merida’s news to the English speaking population of Yucatan.”

Delicious Yucatan “botanas” were served at the reception following the launch. This gave everyone a chance to mingle with friends and to congratulate Sylvia and Raul. I believe I speak for everyone from our community in wishing this entrepreneurial couple much success with their new venture.

After the morning’s excitement, Jorge and I came home and crashed! Remember… “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun!”

Later in the evening, I went to my writing group at “La 68”. Elena Poniatowska was on hand to celebrate the third anniversary of the center. We all felt somewhat nervous having her critique our work but at the same time, very honored.

We also had the chance to hear Elena talk a bit about her latest work, “Leonora”. It is receiving rave reviews in all Spanish speaking countries and is making the illusive Leonora Carrington more widely known than she has been to present.  Elena Poniatowska’s European family will be the subject of her next book.

And that brings us up to date… don’t forget that Edith Wilson, the author of “Mexico Beyond the Drug Violence” will be speaking and answering questions at a presentation to be held tonight at TTT (our college) The start time is 8:00 pm but try and arrive a little early so you’ll have time to say hello Edith. The address is: Calle 57 No. 492 , Between 56 & 58, Colonia Centro.

See you later!

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La 68

The entrace way of “La Casa de Cultura Elena Poniatowska”

Last year, after two decades in Education, I retired from my full time career. I had many wonderful experiences working at TTT, the college my husband and I founded in 1990. However, I wanted to write more and have the opportunity for other creative pursuits. At the time, I worried that without daily reinforcement, my Spanish language skills might wither away and so when I heard about the writing group at La 68 Casa de Cultura Elena Poniatowska I went to have a look…

The name is very clever… located on the corner of Calles 68 and 55, one immediately makes the connection between the location and moniker. But “La 68” also is associated with the student and political resistance movement in Mexico. As well, the center is named for Elena Poniatowska, whose most famous work (to date) is a chronicle of opinions about the student uprising at Tlatelolco in 1968.

Actually, the first time I stepped through the door, I felt like I’d tripped back into the 1960s.

La 68” reminds me of the coffee houses and bistros I used to frequent in my 20s… with one difference; it’s not a dingy, smoke-filled cellar but rather the open air patio of an old-style Merida home.

The director of the center is Paula Haro, a photographer who has moved to Merida from Mexico City. She invited me to join the weekly literary meeting. Along with Paula and myself, four others complete our eclectic group: Alejandro, a mathematician; Salvador, a cardiologist; Pamela, the director of the English program at a progressive elementary school and Margarita, our treasurer. We usually begin with a reading and then we discuss the writer’s particular style. During the second hour, one of us reads from his or her current work and the rest of our assembly critique it.

To put it mildly, this part of our weekly session is boisterous! Everyone talks at once and although I’m not shy, I must say it took me a while to find my footing. My English language writers’ group has a completely different dynamic… It’s a great example of how “language” is much more than a collection of words.

The members of our group feel great affection for the nurturing space where we meet. Margarita says, “The first time I entered ‘La 68’, I felt like I had gone back in time.” Looking around, she adds, “My grandmother lived in a house like this one.” Pamela told me, “The bohemian atmosphere wakes up my creative muse.” Alejandro discovered the center through his children, “My sons wanted to attend the Saturday morning art program and when I came to see about that, I found out about this writers’ group.” Salvador and I are the “senior component” and we enjoy the stimulating interaction with our younger colleagues.

Paula’s mother is Elena Poniatowska and when she is in Merida, she joins our group. She reviews our work and keeps us spellbound with her stories. We look forward to hearing about her trip to Spain where she received the prestigious Premio Biblioteca Breve 2011 de la editorial Seix Barral in recognition of her most recent novel “Leonora.

But the Literary Group is not the only activity at the cultural center. Other workshops for children and adults are offered weekly and monthly.

As you enter “La 68,” there is a delightful gift shop where I have found some truly unique handmade pieces and books by Elena Poniatowska.

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, a documentary film is shown in the center’s outdoor theatre. The films are often in English and if not, there are subtitles. The center is very open to projecting the work of all independent film makers. 60% of the admission price is paid back to the authors of the features. Lorenzo Hagerman, the administrator of this area of the center’s activities, is a film director with more than 25 years of experience. In December, (before it was banned!) I saw the controversial “Presunto Cupable” at “La 68”. I hope that Lorenzo’s own film “0.56%” (about the 2006 federal election in Mexico) will be shown soon.

A mix of cantina, cast-off dining room, and kitchen tables and chairs – topped with brightly colored cushions provide seating for about 30 in the center’s central patio restaurant-bar. Flattering lighting, cascades of plants and sensuous music create a romantic/bohemian setting where you can enjoy inventive, delicious light cuisine such as anchovy or arugula pizza or spicy chicken tacos. The serving staff is young, hip and very attentive.

When I asked Paula about her vision for “La 68“, she said, “We want to provide an inviting, warm space where culture and art are available to all.” She continued, “In the three years the center has been open, we have been very pleased with the increase in participation by every segment of Merida’s population. There’s a great mix of ages, nationalities and gender.”

And she is right about that! I have met fascinating new friends at “La 68”. If you are looking for a place to spend an interesting and intimate evening, I highly recommend “La 68 Casa de Cultura Elena Poniatowska.

Elena Poniatowska

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