About Me

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New York, New York, United States
I am a portrait, landscape painter and a fiction writer. My paintings can be found in private, academic and corporate collections. Traveler's Insurance, Yale University, Aberchrombie and Fitch Inc. Drew University etc. I currently have two novels in print: 'Raining Sardines' (07)and '90 Miles to Havana' (10) published by Roaring Brook Press. Become Social: Facebook:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Abuela Speaks of Doctors, Uva and other things.

Havana Street
oil on linen
Enrique Flores-Galbis
Abuela's Stories
 These stories and recollections have surfaced as I work on my book, Dreaming in Havana. Abuela plays a very prominent role in this book as well as the longhaired creature that I was as a teenager. She used to say that I looked as if the wolves had raised me. 
            In the book the teenager is forced by a recurring dream to withdraw dangerously close to his Abuela’s force field. To survive they learn to negotiate the differences between the dreams that fate has cast upon them, and those that they intentionally will into existence. They strike a deal to help each other end the dreams that haunt them and then run away to Havana to dig a talisman out of a wall that she buried forty years ago. If Abuela were around to read the finished book I think she would laugh. 
 "It's like they say here Abuela, Who woulda thunk it?"   

              Abuela Speaks of Doctors, Uva and other things.                     
                    "By the tender age of sixteen I managed our large house and 
controlled the day-to-day finances of our family. My brothers, too busy enjoying the many layers of pleasures that Havana offered, were not at all interested in such trivialities as balancing a check book or making sure that the bills were paid on time. I’m not sure if the word tender best describes the creature that I had become in my short time here on earth. When I was thirteen, my mother, god rest her soul, took to her bed with a bewildering combination of symptoms. The Doctors poked and tested while doing their side-glance inventory of the family silver. Had I known that their creativity and zeal to find a cure was directly related to their estimate of wealth in the coffers of the unwell, I would have replaced the hand carved chairs, hidden the paintings, and silver candelabras.
             “Although none of the doctors could offer a conclusive diagnoses, each had the definitive and costly cure.  At first, I was so impressed by the flair and swirl with which they slipped into their virginal white cloaks that I saw them as magicians rather than physicians. I went along with their suggestions, paid their fees, even sent the servants out to scour Havana for the exotic ingredients for their concoctions. One day it would be fine powdered gold from Peru, the next, a monkey gland infusion made by the African alchemists across the bay in Reglas.
            “The cook, incensed by his sudden demotion to delivery boy, warned
that he could not concentrate on his art if he was chasing black butterflies in the dusty alley ways of Old Havana. Unfortunately he was
right, his Frijoles Negros became dry and flavor-less. The Caldo-
Gallego, his best dish, was no longer the perfectly balanced wheel of flavors it had once been. It wobbled off-center from the hasty choice of
too bitter greens and the wrong chorizos.
             “Gradually I began to see through the spotless facade of the doctor’s
two-faced thievery. Once I decided what had to be done, it was not difficult to enlist the cook to help.
            “Every day at three, the magicians gathered in my mother’s room to
discuss their real estate investments and speculate on the 
sugar crop while we served them coffee and pastries.
            “We waited for them to drain their cups, finish the last cangrejito, 
and then light up their cigars. When they were lulled by the heat and nicotine, we struck!  
            “After the cook swept the charlatans out of the house, I threw their coats out on the sidewalk after them, and then slammed the big carved wooden doors on their profession forever. That very evening Uva appeared at our door. She said that she had come to care for my mother. Uva watched over me and then when my mother passed she cared for my children, and then their children. Although she rarely spoke, I knew her soul, and she knew mine. ”

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Abuela's Beam

"Look into my eyes!"
Graphite drawing
Enrique Flores-Galbis
      Raquel Galbis-Rigol, Abuela, was the formidable spirit heart of our house. Her room was at the very center of the very tall house that my father designed to fit on an impossibly steep hillside in Connecticut.  She would spend her days in that room with her door open to keep track of the comings and goings of the family and then fearlessly broadcast her opinions into the open space at the center of the house.
      Abuela was the conscience and omniscient narrator of the house, and a gifted ventriloquist. She  would comment on everything you did, or were even thinking of doing, then weave the outcome into her narrative. Sometimes I would sneak into the kitchen looking for a snack and the minute I reached for the cereal her monologue would start. I don’t know how she did it, but she could make her voice buzz out of the open cabinet loud enough to drown out the snap crackle pop of my Rice Krispies.           
            I’m not sure if Abuela studied ventriloquism in her former life in Havana, but I do know that she had been a capable and respected businesswoman, who had many friends and a beautiful city to enjoy. But in exile she became something of a recluse. 
              Granted the Connecticut winters and the steep hill were something of an impediment to her. Our spring fed driveway was a nightmare even for the young and sure footed. The sheets of ice could get so thick and slick that our cars would occasionally just slide out in the middle of the night. If we were lucky they would park themselves across the road halfway down the hill.  
            Unfortunately, Abuela’s reclusive life style meant that she could focus the full force of her Abuelean beam on the unlucky few whose behavior did not meet her high standards, and there was one in each of the three households of her sons and daughters. As a teenager I remember getting into an argument with the other two cousins on her beam because they had the nerve to claim that Abula hated them the most!
            In essence Abuela lived a double exile. Unable to reconcile the loss of her life in the sun, she never quite warmed up to the north, never integrated or made many friends outside our house. Exile was difficult for her, as it was for all the adults that had no choice but to go out into the cold to face the ice and the professional slide downward to the mop or the dishrag. But they never gave up. My parents never lost sight of the possibility of redemption, never stopped believing that their reality on that icy hill in Connecticut was a just a temporary disruption of the signal.            
           Eventually  Abuela declared a unilateral truce,but she never told me whether It was because I hadn’t turned out as badly as she had predicted, or she just didn’t have the energy to maintain her siege. It was around this time that she began to unfold the stories from her life, sometimes while I painted her room, or moved her crucifix from one wall to the other, and she rocked in her chair.
            One spring day while I was fixing her rocking chair on the back porch, she was describing a dating ritual from the age of nana. 
             “There was one skinny young poet who used to wait for hours at my gate to hand over his scented poems," she said as two amorous sparrows noisily frolicked in the aluminum gutter right above her head.                      
              "Of course Uva (her nanny) would intercept them and hide them in her blouse. That poor man's best work never saw the light of day. I was a great beauty then." she sighed.
               You still are Abuela.
            These stories and recollections have surfaced as I work on my book, Dreaming in Havana. Abuela plays a very prominent role in this book as well as the longhaired creature that I was as a teenager. She used to say that I looked as if the wolves had raised me. 
            In the book the teenager is forced by a recurring dream to withdraw dangerously close to his Abuela’s force field. To survive they learn to negotiate the differences between the dreams that fate has cast upon them, and those that they intentionally will into existence. They strike a deal to help each other end the dreams that haunt them and then run away to Havana to dig a talisman out of a wall that she buried forty years ago. If Abuela were around to read the finished book I think she would laugh. 
 "It's like they say here Abuela, Who woulda thunk it?"   

Friday, September 16, 2011

My 90 Miles Necklace of Memories

On writing 90 miles to Havana

           Every book starts with an idea and then an itch. The idea can be murky and shapeless, or clear and perfect as a pearl. The itch comes from the need to scratch your idea into the shape of a book, just to see how it looks in the real world. This is where imagination meets creativity, and the gravity and friction of the writing process start to shape, and change your idea.  
            When your first draft is finished, you step back and you notice that your idea looks a lot different than it did in your fluid imagination. Often shapeless ideas emerge clearly defined, while the clear ones get muddied up and complicated. The immersion required by the writing process enables us to draw on higher resources in order to bring focus to the vague, or to take a critical look at accepted assumptions. But, I’ve come to actually look forward to the surprise at the end because where I had hoped for one little pearl, I usually end up with a whole necklace of ideas.
            I began writing 90 Miles to Havana with what I thought was a very clear idea about how the book would look at the end. Initially I saw it as biographical story about a pleasant and privileged life in Cuba that was interrupted by a revolution and then the experience of life in the refugee camp of Operation Pedro Pan.
            My first chapter sketches were about the fun things my brothers and I did, such as swimming in our turquoise sea, or riding horses over the green hills. I would often send my brothers the rough drafts and then we would laugh about our adventures. They liked the sketch about how we used to hijack my father’s messenger’s big red motor scooter and then pile on as many neighborhood kids as we could fit. Our record was seven. They had almost forgotten the one about watching the movie Dracula, and then staying up for three nights, too afraid to sleep.  
Our conversations unearthed our communal memories and helped me create a more detailed view of the streets, beaches and rooms that I would visit when I wrote. As time passed and the good memories, the ones on the surface, thinned out, I had to dig deeper. From that point on I could never be sure whether the images and feelings that I unearthed every morning would be bitter or sweet. At night I read as much about Cuban history as I could get my hands on in order to place the events of my life in historical context. 
             The year I was born, the presidential candidate, Fulgencio Batista, was running third when he decided that it would not be wise to wait for the election. He took control (again) in a military coup, and then promptly cancelled elections, alienating a large segment of the population and energizing the long festering and violent opposition. Seven years later, in 1959 Batista flew away with the contents of the treasury and the rebels claimed victory for the Revolution. In 1961, my brothers and I escaped the revolution through the window opened by the State Department and the Catholic Church. That window was called, “Operation Pedro Pan.”
            My golden years in Havana, the time in between the coup and the revolution, were a time of economic growth as well as escalating political unrest and violence.  Our parents tried to shield us from the upheaval, but as the violence intensified, the muffled gunfire and explosions in the distance came roaring down our street to knock at our door. I was frightened by the noise, but I remember feeling insulted — indignant — that the people who made the movies we went to see on the weekends had presented gunshots and explosions as pleasant pops, no more threatening than hands clapping or beating on the tightened skin of a drum. The real gunshots and explosions I experienced were not pleasant at all, they were jolts of electricity that cut right through me and left a bitter taste in my mouth.
             The memories and stories reeled out easily, but they were turning darker than I had envisioned the book to be. Even so, I did not want to close the door on that period of my life that I had purposefully “forgotten.” I didn’t want to lose the connection to all those memories and emotions until I could start to understand the part they had played a big part in shaping my view of the world. I decided to let the stories ramble out and then edit, cut and shape at the end. Then I could put the memories back where they belonged.  
            One of the dark stories that was cut out recounted my accidental discovery of a teenager under the big train table in the back room of my father’s office. He was hiding from Batista’s secret police and scared for his life. As I crouched under the table with him, I could feel his fear washing over me like a nauseating wave and then I was terrified too. He warned me that if I told anyone I had seen him, it could be dangerous for my father and my whole family. I believed him.
We all knew about the secret police — sinister men who rode around in black Buicks, wearing black suits and sunglasses. Their job was to run down, beat up, and do much worse to anyone suspected of being involved in the resistance. They were masters of the art of intimidation, an art they performed in a very public way to give those who were considering joining the resistance a graphic demonstration of the consequences. More than once, my mother had warned me to look away as we drove by one of their cruel warnings on the side of the road. I wish I had listened to her.
            It seems strange now, but at the time, the idea that institutional bullies used fear to intimidate people did not come as a surprise. I thought that was just the way things were done. I saw it often in the playground. Even though I was only nine years old, I understood that the drama of the playground was a scaled down version of what was going on in the streets. I also remember thinking that real fear and gunshots belonged in the same category. It was during this period that my fascination with the nuanced relationship between the virtual, whether painted, projected or printed, and reality began. This fascination engendered a lifelong involvement with the creative process. 
            It wasn’t until I arrived in the U.S that I realized just how strange it was for a ten-year-old to be thinking about intimidation, fear and the reality of gunshots. My new American friends were not thinking or worrying about those things. They had been born into a stable democracy with a constitution and laws that were generally respected. There were regular elections, people talked freely and seemed to be able to come to an agreement without shouting at, or shooting each other. Best of all, I didn’t see any men driving around in Buicks intimidating anyone. Unfortunately this grace period did not last long. The assassination of John Kennedy and then the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, all played out in our grainy black and white T.V., forced me to re-think my first impression. But that's another story. 
            As I suspected, the first rough draft turned out darker and more complicated than the pearl of a memoir that I had imagined at the start. The writing process did reward me with a necklace of ideas, strung with just as many spiky urchins — the messy memories and insights, as pearls.
            The process of editing down to find the core made me realize that a biography would put me too close to those messy memories that had bubbled up and keep me from writing a story that was bigger than my own. My doubts with the biographical approach were also due to the fact that I live in Queens, NYC, the most culturally and ethnically diverse place on earth. I often hear hair-raising tales of life in the old country, the epic journey to get here, and stories that make my experiences sound like a walk in the park by comparison.
              I decided that a historical fiction novel would allow me to expand and include universal themes, tell the bigger story that celebrates the resilience and inventiveness of children in difficult situations, contains insights on bullies, and provides a view of a culture and an important moment in the history of both the U.S. and Cuba.
            Historical fiction deals with monumental events, History, in big block letters, but it always relies on accessible characters that the reader can trust and willingly inhabit, and together they push and pull the story down the road. When I visit schools to talk about the book or the writing process, I explain the function of the character as the Avatar effect. Aboard their chosen Avatar, they can walk around with their senses fully engaged in a specific time and place, and fully implicated in the virtual moment. This is always a more exciting way to ride through history than a textbook could ever provide.  
             Of course the author is always the first to ride the Avatar. The fictional, but familiar, character of Julian carried me to a vantage point from which I could view the panorama of experiences objectively, and then gauge their relative size or importance in the context of the narrative I was trying to weave. This distance helped me to see the bigger universal principles underlying my small experiences.
             From this perspective I was able to create a scaled-down version of the revolution that I witnessed in Cuba. In the parallel world of the camp, Caballo, the bully, intimidates, and generally throws his weight around, much like the two dictators that we experienced. As the plot evolves, Caballo’s heavy-handed approach alienates many of the kids in the camp. First they complain individually, then they form a group, and then they fight back. When they meet to discuss how they will carry out their mini-revolution, they consider two options: the “democratic way,” a new concept that Dolores, the camp’s cook suggests, or to do it the way they’ve seen it done before.
            Sadly, they decide to model their uprising on the events that they had just witnessed in Cuba. The revolution that ultimately led to displacement and social chaos at home was not a unique event. Violent overthrow has been a viable means of political change since the Spanish American War, and Cuba’s liberation from Spain.
             Julian’s efforts to prove himself — to claim his independence from his two older brothers — forms the central conflict that drives the plot. Julian’s involvement with the events in the playground are presented as an outgrowth of this core aspect of his character, and engage the reader at a level that most young adults can relate to. When his brothers are sent away, Julian misses them, but he also enjoys the freedom to use his own unique set of talents in situations that his brothers would say he was too young to take part in. He is independent at last.
            When Julian is forced to deal with the bully, Caballo, without the help of his brothers, he immediately becomes aware of the price and weight of his independence. But Julian does not retreat. Angelita, his closest friend in the camp, helps Julian see Caballo in a new light. He understands when she explains that it takes a bully to make a bully and Caballo’s actions are driven by the fear that someone will bully him, again. Angelita suggest a new approach that will not set off Caballo’s fear, causing him to respond the only way he knows how. Considering his intimidating size, the might is right option has always been very effective. Julian understands Angelita’s sage advice. He tries to disconnect from the lessons he has absorbed from the playground and history, but in the end, he also responds the only way he knows.            
            I learned from my experiences early in life that it takes a bully to make a bully and that fear keeps adding new bully links to the chain. It is a sad and vicious cycle that is hard to break, but I’ve also had experiences that taught me that there is hope.
            I went to five different schools my first year in the U.S. and like Julian, I had to deal with the schoolyard bully—five of them. In almost every one of those schools I was challenged, and then faced the same sad routine out by the swings. I don’t remember ever losing a fight, but then again I never really won one. I guess I never had the heart for the required and belittling, push the face into the sand stuff. Even back then, I knew that if I did it properly, beat the kid up, I would be giving him a good excuse to try to beat me up again. That would just lead to countless afternoons wasted fighting. It never made any sense to me.
            By the third school I came to the conclusion that since the tormentor kid didn’t know anything about me, he had no good reason to want to beat me up. I guessed that it was because I was different. I did dress funny, spoke a broken halfway English, and I was usually the only Hispanic kid in the whole school. I decided that some kids and adults too, often feel threatened by people and things they don’t understand and when people are threatened they tend to act out of fear. That is when I decided that it was up to me to introduce myself — show them that there was nothing to be afraid of. This worked well with most of the regular kids I met, but it was little trickier with the school bullies — they were a tougher nut to crack.   
           By the fifth school my bully radar had been fine tuned. I was sure that the the kid who had been riding around me on his bike was waiting for the right day to do his thing. I could tell he was coming by the clicking of his pedal on his loose kickstand. One day I waited for him by the bike rack with a big adjustable wrench in my hand. I could tell he was surprised. Yes, It was awkward. I wasn’t what you would call a skilled communicator, and he didn’t seem to know what to say. I waved the wrench and then knelt down to tighten his kickstand, he looked around to see if there were any witnesses, then he smiled and mumbled something that I didn’t understand. He seemed relieved and I think he said thanks. No, we did not become best friends, but we never fought either.
            The consistent response to 90 Miles to Havana has been that it is fast-paced and it opens the door to discussions on a variety of relevant topics. This is very rewarding to hear since I wrote 90 Miles to Havana with a close eye on my “stall meter,” the gauge that beeps when back-story or description create a drag instead of a lift and the reader’s interest takes a dive. While writing 90 Miles to Havana, I had the meter set between Young Adult Historical Fiction and Fast Paced Action Novel.
            There is a wonderful moment when you finish a book and you can hold it in your hand and feel the weight of the idea that just had to scratch it’s way out. Finally that necklace of pearls and prickly urchins had been strung in the right order. The big ideas about bullies, history, and revolution that had wanted to drive the book had been pushed, pulled and pacified, to take their proper place as passengers in a Young Adult adventure about a boy named Julian, who insists that he has something to contribute.              
            I’m very proud of the recognition and acknowledgements 90 Miles to Havana  has received for its accurate depiction of Hispanic culture, and Cuban history from: the Association for Library Service to Children and REFORMA, The Pura Belpre Author Honor Award, The National Council for the Social Studies Exceptional Children’s Book list, Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year, Association for Library Service to Children Notable Children’s Book list, The Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s Choice Award.
            Thanks, and I hope you enjoy reading 90 Miles to Havana.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Part 2, Vermeer's Woman with a Red Hat

                   I studied the paint surface and realized a number of things that a picture in a book could never reveal. Vermeer had reconsidered his first pass at the face. He had wiped it back and then scumbled a vague semi- transparent warm to cool skin tone over the shadow area and into the eyes. That feathered rocket ship of a hat was painted in smooth vermillion layers over a grayed alizarin. The few deft brush strokes left intact describe the surface but also slow the eye– kept it from spinning off the hat. The folds of the cloak articulated in three distinct values of blue glazed over a warm dark undertone, compress at the elbow then release the eye to travel up the column like forms that support the head. The yellowish highlights on the shoulder, rendered in liquid brush strokes, sit brazenly on the surface of the painting, but still manage to define the high points of the forms. The cravat, a masterful flick of the wrist in viscous flat lead white, was gently scraped back with the wooden handle of his brush to create the folds by revealing the slightly darker undertone. Vermeer’s touch, his exquisite control of the paint was tugging me in even closer but the spell was broken when the guard tapped me on the shoulder and he asked me to step back.
From a safe tourist’s distance I tried to call up everything I knew about Vermeer’s work so that I could try to understand how this little painting fit in the dynamic of his work.
It’s a well-known fact that Vermeer like many artist of his time experimented with the use of the Camera Obscura. It was not unusual for painters to use the camera as projector to by-pass the difficulties of drawing and composition and then fill in the colors and values from direct observation of the subject. But in the ‘Woman with the Red Hat,’ Vermeer did more than trace a projection. He observed and faithfully painted what the image of a woman with a red hat looked like after the lenses had projected and then flattened it onto the piece of translucent velum in back of the camera. The messy complications of binocular vision and the painter’s task of focusing, gathering the thousand details, then restating them in the right order, had been relinquished to the to the Cyclops eye of the camera. He allowed the camera’s shallow focal zone to resolve the visual field in the painting. That would explain why the lion’s heads are out of focus even though they are the closest object to the painter’s eyes, and the pooling of the highlights. Both effects can be reproduced by selectively focusing with a Single Lense Reflex camera.
In this painting Vermeer manifested supreme faith in the power of science and it’s devices to express objective reality. It was a bold move considering how different it was from what our two eyes insist reality looks like. Vermeer’s choice was ahead of the curve but actually very logical. After all he lived in Delft, the city where the technology for accurately grinding lenses was developed and the revelations of the microscope were leading to a reconsideration of visual reality as perceived by the naked eye. But that was not the only interesting choice Vermeer made in this painting.
Just as I thought I was starting to get a hold on things, a tall woman wearing a red hat, as big Vermeer’s but not as graceful, stepped into my line of sight. I leaned right and managed a glimpse, but then she drifted right too blocking my view. I stepped back to the left, caught a quick peek and there she was again. As I walked away the image of the painting was still ticking. My mind’s eye was clicking along the triangular path between the hat, her blue shoulder and the cravat, drifting over the face unhindered by demanding details, bypassing an area that usually calls for a slow read.
By the time I had squeezed out of the crowded gallery, the image of the hat and the cloak had faded. Only the blazing gesture of white paint under her chin remained.
I breezed through the front doors and as I sat down on the Met’s broad front steps, I was thinking that Vermeer was right to leave her face and eyes impassive and indistinct. They do not inspire us to invent relationships–a narrative, but still we can’t help but be aware of human presence there. Passive, too humble to judge, she watches us as we freely enjoy the painting for its physical qualities– the glow of a color, the graceful interactions of its parts. I pictured Vermeer getting up from behind the easel to stretch his legs, probably intending to sit back down to work into the razor sharp ivory edges, maybe add more information into the shadows of the face, but he didn’t sit back down. He must have seen something that told him that this painting worked. Vermeer, the sensible father of eleven decided to ignore the purse of the patron, the precedent of his own work, and the demands of the narrative. He made the painter’s choice and walked away even though when compared to the high level of finish of his previous work, as well as that of his contemporary’s, it must have looked unfinished to him. He let the paint speak.
Unlike the other clocks in the gallery, Vermeer left this one open so that we could see the gears and springs that move the hands and tell time. We can feel the energy of the painter’s hand driving the precise movements amplified by the compressed space of Vermeer’s tiny room. The sequence of events evident in the painting gives us a glimpse into the painter’s intent and instills a sense of time to our experience of the painting. With this information our brains can synthesize, visualize, and then animate. We can recreate the painting; transform it from an aloof, distant fact, to an immediate performance, taking place in the very intimate space between our ears.
This painting engages us because it speaks to us in a modern language. We have come to accept truth or reality as modified by the lens. Our modern eyes, tuned to high chroma colors, and the hectic motion of our visual world, demand a high-octane fare. In painting, the brush stroke has been set free from the menial task of pulling the story wagon to express itself as pure energy, motion and time. Vermeer’s mining of the novel effects of the lens, expanded the painter’s language to reach beyond the telling of a specific story.
As I watched the woman with the big red hat walk down the steps I wondered how Vermeer knew that the blazing ivory strokes, pure vermillion and the pooling highlights were the beating heart, the tightly wound spring that would keep this little painting ticking into the future.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Juan de Pareja and the Nobleman's Collar

       We were walking through a flock of fat gray pigeons in St Peter’s square when I spotted a ragged boy hungrily examining our entourage as he soaked his feet in the fountain. I recognized that look. Like the hawks circling overhead, he was looking for the easy mark, the fat pigeon that would not put up a fight or give chase. When I was young I too was barefoot, always searching for the crumb, the loose coin in the pocket, always hungry.
            I would guess that our official entourage consisting of an armed court officer, a diplomat, the court scribe and then myself, a Moorish slave, promised a fatter purse than the tired pilgrims, his usual prey. But on the other hand the hungry pilgrims rarely carried sabers. The boy gathered himself, stood up, and then followed us.e 
            The portly scribe in front of me, unable to keep up, had fallen behind, our growing distance from the armed deputies must have tempted the boy. I was sure he did not consider me a threat, as my hands were occupied carrying a large painting wrapped in black velvet. By the way I carried the painting in its expensive covering he would correctly surmise that I would not set it down on the dusty plaza just to chase a petty thief.            
            The boy slowed down to match the dawdling pace of the scribe. He was getting ready to strike. He had decided that the prize was worth the gamble. The scribe would have been my choice too.            
             The thief was now running in an arrow-straight line toward us, drawing his blade. I stepped back to keep the painting out of harms way.
              The boy slipped into the space between us. I saw a dull flash as the leather strap of the purse around the scribe’s neck was cut, and then the he tucked the fat purse into his rags.
            When he turned to run, I kicked him as hard as I could, just for show. The boy stumbled to the ground as the scribe patted himself, frantically looking for his  purse. When the boy leaped to his feet, our eyes met for an instant, and then he ran off into a rising cloud of beating gray wings. I think he was smiling.
             “Thief! My purse!” The scribe yelled. The court officer and his deputies drew their sabers and then halfheartedly ran toward the now circling flock of pigeons.
            “Moor, give chase, my purse!” The scribe shouted in my face, and then grabbed for the painting, but I would not let go.
            “My master has entrusted me to carry this painting to the pope himself.” I stated in a matter of fact tone.
            “I order you to give chase!” the desperate scribe yelled into my face. But I had no intention of giving chase. My responsibility is to my master and his painting. 
            Then, his annoying squeal,  “Why will you not go after him?”
            “Because I do not wish to add to his misery,” I answered, knowing this will infuriate him.
            My master would not punish me for considering the safety of his painting above this scribe’s purse. Why would he side with the scribe after the cowardly and cutting things that he has been saying about this painting.
            “Impudent Moor, your foolish Master has allowed you to forget that you are nothing but a nameless, soul-less slave. The court will hear of this!” He threatened and then pulled even harder on the painting. I jerked it away from him and in a low respectful tone I recited the words my master made me memorize in Spanish and Italian before he sent me out on his errand weeks ago.
            “My name is Juan De Pareja, servant and studio assistant to Don Diego Velazquez, court painter and confidant of The King of Spain, Phillip IV…”
            “Silence, enough! ” the scribe yelled. “The Moor puts on airs! Imagine the King’s own painter rendering a slave in a nobleman’s collar, then having him parade this outrage around Rome.” He turned to appeal to the other members of our party, repeating almost word for word the insult he carelessly spoke in my master’s own studio. “We must put a stop to this. He’s making Spaniards look like fools.”
            When the officer returned from the chase, the scribe pointed his fat finger at me. “I want to make a formal complaint. This insolent slave must be punished. This painting has gone to his head. He must be put back in his place.”            
             “I care not for your court’s intrigue,” the court officer said as he slid his   saber back into its scabbard. “If I present you one second late, for your audience with His Holiness, his wrath will fall heavy on all of us. Now let’s move on.”

                The scribe was right; this painting had gone to my head, but not in the way that he thought. I might be a slave but I am not a fool, yet it is a complicated matter to consider.
See Part 2, next Blog.