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Tuesday, 18 September 2012


Extraordinary things happen the world over. In the USA it sometimes involves a shoot out with many dead or a man trying to eat another man which leaves the rest of the world shaking it's head and muttering, 'only in America'. In Ireland someone will chop down a tree or stare into their breakfast and claim to have seen something resembling Mary Mother of God with everyone else moaning 'Jesus Christ almighty tonight, what next!' In the UK nowadays or at least since the death of Queen Victoria most natives can still be heard muttering from behind their newspaper 'this country has gone to the dogs!' God knows how the average Muslim ends his sentence of disbelief when his fellow men go on the rampage whenever there is a hint that the rest of the world is taking the piss. Nevertheless, I now reside in a country where folk end their conversations of astonishment with 'Spain is different'. These words are often uttered when someone points out that on the news they saw a psychopathic rabbit from Galicia attacking journalists hell bent on a photo and an interview with its owner or the never ending stream of bastards evading the law at everyone's expense or perhaps a tube driver getting the sack, not for getting a blow job from a transvestite while driving the train but the delay he caused passengers when he refused to pay the transvestite and a brawl ensued. So it is with the recent 'silly season' story of the attempted restoration by Cecilia Gimenez of a fresco in the Santuario de Misericordia near Borja here in Aragon.

The Santuario is different. It lacks the feeling of desperation at Lourdes or the dreaded scramble to see the Mona Lisa. A rare calm is felt once you enter the little church which houses the fresco. Nobody pushes or steps in your way. Everyone takes their time to be a witness to this mystery. People float in with a respect and tranquility not often felt in a country where noise is part of the culture. Some feel the need to pose and pull a predictable face but you get the sense that they are aware of their uniform behaviour. Meanwhile others contemplate the image holding it in reverence. We tried to locate Cecilia with the help of a lovely man on the door of the church who seemed the genuine type and only glad that we had come to give her our support. Away from the crowd we found a charming woman who was still in a state of shock from all the excitement, something she had never anticipated while living all her life in that remote and isolated part of Spain. She told us how she had been happily married and adored her husband and how their two sons were crippled and although life was hard she was content until now because she doesn't know what to think. She is dreading the idea that she has been denounced to the authorities and what the outcome may be. The main thing will be to try and rescue the fresco which she told us had been suffering on account of it being painted directly onto a wall which was now damp. Her consolation was the amount of support from all over the world from people who want the image to stay as it is. When we left her home a young woman bounced up the stairs and greeted her with a kiss. One of many who are behind Cecilia all the way. So many young people pay homage to the painting and there are as many that think the world of her too.

Cecilia has achieved something most artists of the 21st century will never achieve. Not fame or fortune but the ability to articulate something about the human condition. Maybe because she invested her heart into the restoration the result is hypnotic. It is easy to dismiss it as the biggest botch job and moralise how the descendants of the original artist must feel which is one of consternation. However, it is Cecilia's version that has struck a chord in the hearts and minds of many and whatever is decided, to keep it as it is or to restore it I wish her all the love and support. 

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