Madeleine Morris's MouthSaturday, May 13, 2006
My Spanish grandmother would have said, "She has the map of Jerusalem on her face." In retrospect I can see what drew me to Madeleine when I first spotted her face - the pale skin made even whiter by the contrast with her red lips - in the summer of 1985.
As a boy growing up in Mexico City I would stare at the darkish faces yelling a strange archaic Spanish from the inside of the orange school bus that passed by every day. On its side was the inegmatic message " Colegio Hebreo Sefaradita". Ever since, Sefaradites or Spanish Jews, have been a mixture of the exotic and the mysterious for me.
In Madeleine's face I can see apparitions of the past. In the deep shadows of her eyes, I see the little girl peering out from the left corner of El Greco's The Burial of the Count Orgaz hanging in the church of Santo Tomé in Toledo. In her cheekbones I see her ancestors praying in a tiny white sinagogue in Granada. Nearby, in an ornate cathedral, lie the lead caskets of the Catholic Kings who would exile them forever from Spain in 1942.
Madeleine was raised in Spain, and she always makes it a point to remind me of the source of power over me in her throaty and impeccable Castilian. As I photographed her in her tub, she said, while carefully pulling the top of her yellow and black '50s bathing suit, "I had to wear something, after all. It has to do with my Jewish sense of morality."