A Fleeting Memory Of Carlos Fuentes
Carlos Fuentes, seen in 2008 in Toledo, Spain. His books were a melange of age and youth, politics, philosophy, popular culture and sexuality.
When I heard that the Mexican literary legend Carlos Fuentes died Tuesday at 83, I remembered a long, easygoing interview I did with him years ago. We talked about many things — including what epitaph he wanted carved on his tombstone.
It was the autumn of 1995 and I was a reporter at The Washington Post, assigned to write a profile of the elegant, eloquent Fuentes. I draw on that story now, for twice-told tales worth telling.
He had come to Washington, D.C., to receive the Mexican Cultural Institute Award and to read from one of his two-dozen or so novels at the Smithsonian Institution.
The award ceremony was held at the cultural institute on 16th Street in a mansion that had once housed the Mexican Embassy. Fuentes said the occasion was especially meaningful because he was accepting it in the very same space where he had lived and played as a youngster some 60 years earlier. His father had been a Mexican diplomat in Washington while Fuentes was in elementary school.
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At one point, Fuentes pointed out a decades-old mural on a nearby wall. It was a sweeping portrait of Mexican progress. Beautiful men and women on horseback were in a line along a dirt road. In the foreground, there was a handful of children. Everyone in the mural was focusing on a parade of tractors rolling into the landscape. Everyone, that is, but one of the little boys, in overalls and straw hat.
Of all the characters in the mural, the young dark-haired boy was the only one looking in a different direction. He was glancing back at a pretty, pigtailed girl beside him. He was watching the watchers.
The model for the little boy, Fuentes told me, was Carlos Fuentes.