A Heart of Jade - Corazón de Piedra VerdeWednesday, October 25, 2006
Salvador de Madariaga's Corazón de Piedra Verde (1942), published in English in the 60s as The Heart of Jade was the first novel I remember reading in Spanish. Around 1959 when I read it, it was my first glimpse on how the Spaniards conquered Mexico. Only later did I read Bernal Diaz del Castillo's Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España. While The Heart of Jade was labeled as innacurate by Homero Aridjis ( a Mexican poet who wrote his own and wonderful magic realism version of the conquest of Mexico, Memorias del Nuevo Mundo, 1991) I still re-read it, often. I am a sucker for the romance between the dashing Spanish Manrique and the lovely Mexica princess Xuchitl. It was in 1966, in Buenos Aires, when I first read Argentine author Julio Cortázar's stories Ceremonias which in one volume compiled his Final del Juego and Armas Secretas . It was here that found my favourite Cortázar short story, La noche boca arriba, The Night Face Up. A young man riding his motorcycle on a busy street somehow daydreams and almost runs over a woman. In avoiding her he crashes and he finds himself in traction on a hospital bed where he suffers terrible dreams. He is a prisoner of war of the Aztecs and he is being led to his eventual sacrifice (the tearing of his heart with an obsidian knife on the top of a Mexica temple). He manages to wake up in his hospital bed every time things get bad. Until the moment his heart is about to be torn does he realize that the motorcycle and the accident are the dream and that he is about to die.
To the ancient Mexicas, the heart or yólotl was the vital organ in the creation of our universe. It generated ideas and feelings. For them the human heart transcended all things material and became the symbol of the intangible and of the powerful. Through human sacrifice the Aztecs gave to their gods their most precious possession in exchange for good fortune or to placate the bad.
Jade has always been part of my life. I remember my mother asking me to help her with her Chinese jade and gold earings and necklace when I was a little boy. When I married Rosemary my mother Filomena gave her the complete set that also included a bracelet and a ring.
My latest connection with jade was in 2003 when I photographed sculptor Lyle Sopel in his North Vancouver studio with a giant jade Buddha he had just finished. All I can remember of the jade octopus is that I photographed it at least 20 years ago in Spanish Banks at about the same time that I photographed the lovely Anette with a jade screen (mined by Mohawk Petroleum) and a jade pendant.