Carlos Fuentes looks for his forebears in the mix of people that created Latin America: Spanish, Arab, Jewish, Indian, and African. He asks what is unique in their culture that is cause for celebration in the 500th anniversary year of Columbus. His quest takes him from the quayside at Vera Cruz "where the Mediterranean comes to an end in the Caribbean" back to Spain, to the dark caves of Altamira, the harsh sunlight of the bullring, and the stamping feet of the flamenco dancer.
The Virgin and the Bull
, part 1 of Carlos Fuentes's five-part series
subtitled Reflections on Spain and the New World
looks at two of the fundamental archetypes in Spanish culture: two archetypes that are at once sensual and poorly understood by outsiders. On the one hand, the Virgin Mary, a woman whose status in Spanish Catholicism and the hearts of the faithful approaches that of a deity, a woman born free of sin, the Mother of God, the ultimate model--however problematic--of womanhood itself. For Mary there have been immense cathedrals built, masterful frescoes plastered, wars waged. The sensual richness of the art in all media that has swirled about the devotion to her provides us a glimpse into the soul of Spanish culture itself; even those who might criticize this from within or without Spain must nonetheless know and experience the importance of the Virgin Mary. On the other hand, the matador, the bull fighter, and his opponent, the bull. We know of the importance of the bull in the art of Spanish masters like Picasso, yet to understand Spanish culture and Spanish identity and the reason why Picasso paints the bull is to see into another sensual side of Spanish life. This side is to many no less problematic than the devotion to Mary. Fuentes asks quite candidly, Where else can a man--in the culture of original machismo--dress in such flamboyant, tight-fitting clothing and strike such poses than in the bull ring? Fuentes explores the Virgin's and the bull's contradictions that somehow make them so similar, microcosmic contradictions that help explain Spain itself: the sexual and nonsexual, the male and the female, the pacifist and the violent, the eternal and the mortal.
This five-volume box set is impressive. At once a documentary, at once a philosophical-artistic treatise, this is not merely a historic voyage through the origins of modern Latin America. This is a contemporary journey into the soul and heart of Latin America--a soul that dwells and a heart that beats with increasing intensity in the culture, history, and identity of the United States as well. --Erik Macki