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To his credit, Marnham skillfully describes the complex spheres of power, influence, idealism, and corruption that influenced the communist movement in the 1920s and the artist himself. Nor does he slight Rivera's emotional life: he duly notes virtually all of Rivera's known paramours and wives (Frida Kahlo was, after all, his third). But somehow, Marnham never quite manages to convey the strange passion that must have bound Kahlo to this huge,fleshy, forceful, adulterous man. Their interaction, while grounded in their art, seems clinical: dependent and passionate, but distant. Marnham excels as a biographer of history and personality, less so as a biographer of creativity and obsession. But all of those qualities were integral to Rivera's life.
BIRTH OF A FABULIST
The Mexican tells lies because he delights in fantasy.
The artist Diego Rivera was born at the age of thirty-four in December 1920 in a small chapel in Italy, just outside the city of Florence. He was standing in front of a fresco by the Renaissance master Masaccio; it was the fresco which depicts the moment when St. Peter finds a gold coin in the mouth of a fish. But he was not looking at the painting. His attention had turned to a muralist's scaffold by his side. It was a wooden pyramid, five ascending platforms, connected by ladders and mounted on wheels. Rivera immediately made a detailed sketch of the platform.
Diego was a Mexican, of Spanish, Indian, African, Italian, Jewish, Russian, and Portuguese descent. Thirty-four years earlier, when the apprentice had been born, he had been christened Diego Maria de la Concepcion Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodriguez. According to his birth certificate, his name was Rivera Diego Maria, but in later life Rivera tended to add a new name for each new interviewer. The birth took place on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and a day of serious fiesta. The art historian Ramon Favela has examined the baptism certificate held in the ecclesiastical registry at Guanajuato and states that this shows that the pintor magnifico was actually born on December 13--in other words, that the very first fact in the life of Diego Rivera, the date of his birth, is a myth. But this seems to be a myth that should never have been propagated. Diego's mother always claimed that his birth took place on December 8, and his aunt Cesarea also seems to have been under this impression. In fact, the civil document held in the town hall records the birth on December 8, a Wednesday, at 7:30 in the evening.
Rivera's accounts of his early life were frequently dramatic, and his birth was no exception. Not only did it take place on a major feast day, but it was attended by portents, suffering and fatal implications. According to his own account many years later, Diego had nearly died on the day he was born. He had been so weak that the midwife had disposed of him in a dung bucket; his grandmother had then saved his life by killing some pigeons and wrapping him in their entrails. "Venga, venga, muchachito ...," she crooned to him. This story seems to be the only evidence that Diego was ever anything but perfectly healthy on arrival.
There was, however, a drama taking place in the background. It was in fact not Diego who was dying, but his mother, Maria del Pilar. Diego proved to be the first of twins. His own delivery caused his mother to haemorrhage, so while fiesta exploded outside the house on Pocitos, inside his poor mother laboured over her second baby. There was a doctor in attendance and a second boy was duly delivered. But Maria had by that time lost so much blood that she passed into a profound coma; when the doctor tried shortly afterwards to find her pulse, he was unable to do so and pronounced her dead. Don Diego Rivera, her husband, was the more shocked since he had instructed his friend Dr. Arizmendi, a good Freemason like himself, that if a choice had to be made, the life of his wife should be saved and that of his child sacrificed. Since this instruction was in direct conflict with the teaching of the Church, Don Diego would have been able to demonstrate that although his wife was a devout Catholic, her life had only been saved because she was married to a devout anti-clerical. The unexpected turn of events caused Don Diego to despair. He was not much comforted when his late wife's uncle, Evaristo Barrientos, not Catholic but Creole and a spiritualist, arrived and told him that, according to spiritualist orthodoxy, Dona Maria's mission on earth was evidently terminated and she had by now passed on to superior spiritual circles where she would certainly be contactable in due course. Maria's sister, Cesarea, and Senora Lola Arizmendi then proceeded to lay out the corpse.
With the wisdom of science, Freemasonry and spiritualism in attendance, Don Diego should have been reconciled to his new situation, but he was not. When old Martha, Dona Maria's attendant, who had until then been the sole person preoccupied with welcoming the twins, bent over her "nina Maria" to bid her farewell and started to cry out that she was alive, it became too much for Don Diego. He had by this time convinced himself that his wife's spirit, following Don Evaristo's postulation, was nearing the end of its journey to the astral spheres. So when the ignorant old woman kissed his wife's cold forehead, imagined she could hear the corpse breathe, and exclaimed, "She can hear me, she can hear me!" Don Diego succumbed to a paroxysm of grief. Seeing that no one believed her, old Martha demanded that the doctor be recalled to carry out "the blister test." To calm the stubborn old lady, Dr. Arizmendi on his return lit a match and placed it just beneath Maria's left heel. To his great surprise a blister formed at once, which, it was universally agreed, would not have been possible had she been dead. It was, therefore, the least-educated of the three people who had examined the body of Maria who was proved correct. Martha and Cesarea thereupon hurried to the nearby Church of Los Hospitales to thank Our Lady and light candles for this miraculous resurrection on her feast day. Don Evaristo argued that his niece's spirit must have been recalled after setting out on its journey and that she had clearly been allotted some greater task to perform. Dr. Arizmendi concluded that his patient had been suffering from an undiagnosed catalepsy, which he had mistaken for death. Don Diego cancelled his usual order for the large doll which he had presented to his wife on each of her three previous confinements, each of which had resulted in a still-birth. And Maria made a full recovery.
* * *
MARIA DEL PILAR BARRIENTOS, the mother of the painter Diego Rivera, had married her husband, also called Diego Rivera, in 1882, when she was only twenty years old. Their son was fond of recalling in later years that on the eve of his parents' wedding a comet had blazed across the night sky. Since the age of eighteen Maria had been a teacher in a primary school in Guanajuato, a school founded by her mother in 1878. To this school came a tall, black-bearded powerfully built profesor normalista, Don Diego de Rivera. Don Diego was looking for a job, and Dona Nemesia Rodriguez de Valpuesta, Maria's widowed mother, was delighted to give him one. Neither of her two daughters employed in the school was a qualified teacher. In fact, neither of them had ever been to school themselves, both having been educated by private tutors. Maria taught music and grammar, and her younger sister, Cesarea, taught needlework. Don Diego was therefore a significant addition to the staff. Not only was he qualified to teach at the secondary level, he was also the author of a standard textbook on Spanish grammar. In due course he fell in love with the older of his employer's daughters, and on September 8, 1882, Maria agreed to marry him, although he was fifteen years older than she was. Her intention was to raise a family before resuming her career, which had been interrupted only two years after it had started. Her husband was a man who had tried several careers, but although in possession of considerable ability, he had never really made a success of any of them. All his life Don Diego was noted for his intelligence, his energy and his gift for failure. He had grown up in Guanajuato and in 1862, at the age of fifteen, was already attending the Colegio de la Purisima Concepcion, later the University of Guanajuato. He had trained as an industrial chemist; then, after inheriting a family interest in a local silver mine, he had tried to make his fortune as an assayer and prospector. When silver mining came to nothing, he quarried his intellectual inheritance of letters and liberalism instead.
By family tradition, Don Diego's father and grandfather had both been army officers. His grandfather, whose name is not recorded (although Rivera once claimed that he was called the Marques de la Navarro), had been an Italian adventurer and mercenary who had seen service in the army of the King of Spain. It was said that this Italian officer had been sent to Russia on a diplomatic mission at the end of the eighteenth century. While in Russia he had married a woman called Sforza, but his wife had died in childbirth and he had returned to Spain with their infant son, Anastasio. He spoke to no one about his dead wife but resumed service in the army of Spain, raising a son who by his father's silence acquired the semi-magical status of "child of an unknown mother." In due course Anastasio followed his father into the army of Spain and was, again by family legend, duly ennobled. Despite this distinction, Anastasio decided not to settle in Spain. He emigrated, as his Italian father had done before him, but he did not return to Italy, or to St. Petersburg in search of his mother's family. Instead he went to Mexico and settled in Guanajuato, where he acquired an interest in several silver mines. At the age of sixty-five Anastasio offered his sword to Juarez and fought as a general in the cause of the Republic during the War of Intervention. His father had worked for Spain against Bonapartism and France, and he would do the same. There appears to be very little documentary evidence to support this account of Diego Rivera's family history, but it is not totally impossible.
We know that Don Anastasio de la Rivera arrived in Mexico with money because shortly after his arrival he settled in Guanajuato and purchased an interest in the La Asuncion silver mine. His partner was Don Tomas de Iriarte, son of the Count of Galvez. At this time Don Anastasio was a wealthy man, and in 1842 he married Dona Ines de Acosta y Peredo, a beautiful Mexican girl of Portuguese-Jewish descent who, after the death of her father, had been brought up by her uncle, Benito Leon Acosta, famous in Mexico for his exploits in hot-air balloons. Don Anastasio's speculation in the La Asuncion mine took place just before the start of a silver-mining boom, and for some years he made money. But things went disastrously wrong when the mine flooded and then caved in. Overnight Don Anastasio was ruined. In old age he returned to politics and soldiering. The governor of Guanajuato, Manuel Doblado, a friend of Anastasio's, was among the first liberal leaders to rise in 1855 against the country's conservative rulers and in support of Juarez. When the War of Reform broke out in 1858, Governor Doblado and Anastasio Rivera joined the insurrection on the side of liberals. Anastasio is said to have lost his life in that cause, at the age of sixty-five, armed and on horseback.
What else is known about Don Anastasio, foundling, soldier, nobleman, exile, mine-owner, ruined millionaire and liberal insurrectionist? He was, it seems--and the phrase recurs in the painter Diego Rivera's account of his ancestry--a man of "astonishing vigour" or sometimes a man of "fabulous vigour." The evidence for this was that he had married at the age of fifty a girl aged seventeen who duly presented him with a family of nine children. Among them was his oldest son, Diego, the painter's father, born in Guanajuato in 1847. Diego Rivera habitually put his grandparents' achievement the other way round, telling his amanuensis, Gladys March, that "to his wife, Anastasio presented a brood of nine children." In old age this wife, Ines Acosta, thinking of her late husband, is said to have stated that "a boy of twenty could not have made her a more satisfactory lover."
Don Anastasio eventually fell on the field of honour. In 1939, talking to his first biographer, Bertram Wolfe, Diego Rivera made it clear that he supported the conventional account of his grandfather's death, that it had been with his sword in his hand either during the War of Reform in 1858, when he was sixty-five, or during the later War of Intervention, when he would have been eight years older. In saying that Anastasio had died "fighting against the French and the Church," Diego Rivera seemed to be favouring the second date. But by 1945 he had developed an alternative account of Anastasio's death. His grandfather had still fallen on the field of honour, but the field had changed. Anastasio was now struck down by a twenty-year-old housemaid who desired him and who was "driven wild by jealousy of the attentions he continued to lavish on his wife." In her frenzy the girl poisoned the general. This too was a fitting end for a male Rivera, brought down thus in his virile prime, aged only seventy-two, at the hand of a jealous conquest. It is true that when he gave the second version--by poisoning--of his grandfather's death Diego Rivera was himself experiencing considerable difficulties with a demanding and possessive wife.
The problem is that established certainties about the life of Don Anastasio are practically non-existent. Perhaps he was a Spanish liberal, ennobled for his loyal and distinguished service to the progressive Queen Isabella of Spain. Or perhaps he was a Carlist absolutist and antidemocrat, forced into exile by the ignominious defeat the Queen's forces inflicted on the forces of reaction, and looking for easy pickings in the New World. Or maybe he was just an absconding junior officer, briefly in charge of a royal baggage train or a Spanish government treasure chest, who found his way to Mexico by way of Cuba and on the voyage murdered and stole the identity of a nobleman named de la Rivera. When he arrived, the assassin kept well clear of Mexico City and Veracruz--and any likelihood of being recognised--and instead cultivated influential circles in a small town in Mexico. Finally we have only the name of this shadowy figure, his portrait, his approximate age, the strong conviction that he came from Spain, where he was probably born, the near-certainty that he became involved with a silver mine that failed, the fact that he lived in Guanajuato and fathered nine children. Of his wife, Ines Acosta, not much more is known.
There is no clear evidence for Ines's Jewish descent, although it was of some importance to her grandson the painter. Clearly, in bearing nine children to a husband thirty-three years older than herself, Ines was determined to have company in her predictably long widowhood. It is accepted by the Rivera family today that she was the niece of Mexico's first aerial navigator. Benito Leon Acosta had also been born in Guanajuato and had learnt the art of hot-air ballooning in France and Holland. On returning to his native country, he offered his services and his inflatable apparatus to the Mexican army as a military field observer. This was during the dictatorship of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, famous for losing half of Mexico's territory, the lands now known as Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and California (and part of Utah), but also famous for according his leg a state funeral (after it had been amputated by a French naval gunner who was shelling Veracruz). With regard to the intrepid Benito Leon Acosta, Santa Anna behaved correctly, appointing him a knight grand cross of the Order of Guadalupe and granting him the official title of Primer Aeronauta Mexicano. Rivera later stated that his grandmother Ines was also descended from the rationalist philosopher Uriel Acosta.
All in all, the painter was satisfied with his exotic ancestry. It provided him with a distant memory of wealth, a connection with the European aristocracy of the Conquest, and a ration of military daring, intellectual distinction and Jewish difference. Furthermore, varied as it was, there was no trace in it anywhere of artistic ability. In that matter Rivera was entirely his own creation.
The heritage possessed by Anastasio and Ines was passed on to a character who is not at all mysterious, Don Diego Rivera Acosta, Diego Rivera's father; and in the life of Don Diego the older there are some strong similarities with the legend of General Anastasio de la Rivera. Diego Rivera Acosta, being the oldest of Anastasio's sons and born in 1847, was old enough to fight by his father's side, or perhaps under his command, in the War of Intervention, since the conflict did not end until he was aged nineteen. And this, according to his son, he did. In Diego Rivera's Words, he "fought against the French for seven years," starting at the age of thirteen. Taking both his liberalism and his military prowess from Anastasio, the teenage Don Diego took part in the final battles between Juarez and the forces of the Emperor Maximilian and was present at the fall of Queretaro on May 15, 1867, after which the Emperor surrendered. Don Diego then witnessed (his father the general by now being dead, fallen as we have seen on one or other of the fields of honour) the execution of Maximilian and two of his senior Mexican generals, which took place on June 19 of the same year.
The shots rang out and the hapless Austrian nobleman crumpled to his knees. But he needed two coups de grace before death reached him and allowed him to accomplish his central role in the archetypal pantomime of pre-modern Mexican politics--the public fusillade. And as those shots rang out, witnessed or not witnessed by Don Diego, and not witnessed but immortalised by Edouard Manet, the fantastic retreats and a hard, bright vein of fact surfaces and pulses through the legend of the painter Diego Rivera. If all we really know about "General" Anastasio de la Rivera is his name and his face, his son, Don Diego the older, has a certain identity. We find him, whether or not returned from the field of honour, an assayer of precious metals in Guanajuato during the five brief years that remained to Juarez after the execution of Maximilian before he himself became the only Mexican head of state since independence to die in the presidential bed, of natural causes, in July 1872. Returning to his studies, Don Diego qualified and in due course distinguished himself not as a general, a diplomat or a millionaire mine-owner but as a schoolteacher. At no time does Don Diego seem to have called himself anything but "Rivera Acosta," although his wife was still signing herself "de Rivera" in 1900. Diego Rivera later explained that his father had abandoned the longer style out of liberal and progressive conviction. Despairing of the reopening of the flooded Asuncion mine, Don Diego placed his small remaining capital in another mine known as La Soledad or El Durazno Viejo. The job he took at Dona Nemesia Rodriguez de Valpuesta's primary school was probably suggested to him by his mother, since she was a friend of Dona Nemesia's, both women having been widowed for some years.
Dona Nemesia was the widow of Juan Barrientos Hernandez, a mine operator who had been born in the Atlantic port of Alvarado. Juan Barrientos died when his older daughter was aged four, leaving Dona Nemesia in the care of his brother Evaristo, the spiritualist, and in the care of her own three brothers, Joaquin, Mariano and Feliciano Rodriguez. Because Juan Barrientos had been born in Alvarado, a port noted for its mestizo population, Rivera in later life claimed that he was of partly African descent. Gazing at himself in the mirror as he painted one of his recurring self-portraits, he sometimes accentuated his features in that manner. Rivera's African connections have generally been regarded as another of his inventions. His sister Maria said that her mother's father had been of Creole cast "with fair skin and fine features." What is certain is that from somewhere in his ancestry Rivera inherited exceptional physical stamina.
Diego Rivera made comparatively few public references to his mother, but it was to her family that he linked one of his most original biographical inventions, and one which cast a new light on several of the more notable events in Mexican and European history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Feliciano Rodriguez, brother of his maternal grandmother Nemesia the schoolmistress, had served as a colonel in the War of Intervention, not on the side of Juarez but among the reactionary forces of the Emperor Maximilian. In the course of time Tio Feliciano had become an admirer and eventually the lover of the Empress Carlotta. If one had to have an uncle on the wrong side in a civil war, it must have been some comfort to Diego that he should at least have seduced the foreign tyrant's wife. On returning to her native Belgium in Europe in 1867 in an attempt to raise support for her beleaguered husband, Carlotta collapsed in the Vatican, thus becoming the only woman known to have spent the night there. The conventional view of history is that next morning she recovered consciousness but not her senses and spent the rest of her life confined to the castle of Bouchout in Belgium, her native land. However, according to Rivera, Carlotta's collapse in the Vatican was caused not by grief but by the fact that she was pregnant. She gave birth secretly to a son who later became General Maxime Weygand, and who was none other than the natural son of Tio Feliciano.
It is of course true that General Weygand was born in Brussels in 1867 "of unknown parentage" and christened Maxime, but his connection with the Empress Carlotta has never amounted to more than speculation. However, any doubts Rivera may have had about the story were dispelled in 1918 when he was staying with Dr. Elie Faure, the leading art historian of his day, near Perigueux in southern France. It was there that a chance but emotional meeting occurred between Diego and Maxime, "his mother's first cousin," rather better known at that time as Marshall Foch's chief-of-staff. Forgetting the holocaust then taking place in northern France and any plans being laid for the last "Big Push," General Weygand called out: "My little Diego! ... Come and give me a hug! How is my cousin, your mother? And your aunt Cesarea? And what news can you give me of my good friend, her husband, Ramon Villar Garda?" This meeting between the French chief-of-staff and his "little Diego" would have made a considerable impression on anyone else present since "Dieguito" was at least twice the general's size. But unfortunately there were no witnesses.
The meeting with General Maxime Weygand is the last performance of the military theme in the legend of Rivera.
The marriage contracted by Rivera's parents, Don Diego Rivera and Maria del Pilar Barrientos, in 1882 lasted for thirty-nine years, the rest of Don Diego's life. The bridegroom was fifteen years older than his bride, and whereas she, like her mother, was a devout Catholic, he was a notorious Freemason and reputedly the son of a Freemason. Any potential incompatibility was resolved, according to their daughter Maria, by Maria del Pilar Barrientos's progressive adoption over the years of most of her husband's opinions. Rivera saw very little of his parents after he left Mexico for sixteen years in 1906 aged nineteen, but in his infrequent references to them it is noticeable that he never made a public criticism of his father and almost never mentioned his mother except in belittling or dismissive terms. This does not seem to have been because he felt that he had been neglected or slighted by his mother; if anything, he found her affection stifling. But it suggests that he denied his true feelings about his mother and may have taken his father's side in the silent confrontation that was the consequence of his parents' incompatibility. In any case, emotional elusiveness was to become a distinguishing feature of Rivera's adult life.
In the early years of his marriage, Don Diego, the frustrated silver miner and outcast from the economic boom that benefited Mexico in the period of Porfirio Diaz's dictatorship, adopted increasingly liberal opinions. At first he continued to teach. Later he secured a position with the state administration of Guanajuato. In 1884 a new state governor was appointed, General Manuel Gonzalez, a former president of Mexico and one of the most intimate colleagues of Porfirio Diaz himself. Gonzalez once boasted that he "had killed all the bandits in Guanajuato, except himself"; yet Don Diego's relations with Governor Gonzalez appear to have been cordial. As the son of Anastasio, who had himself been a friend of Governor Doblado thirty years earlier, Don Diego retained good enough connections to secure an appointment as an inspector of schools. He was also elected to the municipal council of Guanajuato City; he founded an escuela normal for the training of rural schoolteachers; and he became a contributor to, and then in 1887 editor of, El Democrata, Guanajuato's liberal newspaper. During the early years of the Porfiriato, liberalism was not necessarily a bar to political advancement. Diaz regarded himself as a liberal, before he became addicted to re-election and the management of foreign interests.
After their marriage Don Diego and Maria del Pilar lived on the top floor of the house on Pocitos, with a splendid view over the rooftops of the centre of the town to the mountains beyond. There was a grand piano in the drawing room and the house was full of books; they had enough money to keep a little horse carriage and a groom to drive them round the town. They also employed Martha, who lived with them and who was soon counted as one of the family. Maria del Pilar, according to her son, used to exaggerate Don Diego's age when talking about him, in the hope of making him less attractive to other women. On the death of Dona Nemesia, Maria del Pilar's sister Cesarea and her aunt Vicenta came to live at Pocitos 80 and the family took over more of the house. Here, for four years, the young couple tried to start a family, and here on three occasions Don Diego consoled his wife with a large doll. And so life continued until the momentous events of December 8, 1886. It was a Wednesday.
So Diego was born. But he made no sound. He was otherwise occupied; he was drawing sustenance. Wrapped in pigeon's entrails or not, he was comfortably installed at the breast of the wet-nurse prudently hired to take the place of the accident-prone Maria del Pilar. Since twins had not been expected, the wet-nurse, Antonia, a Tarascan Indian, had her work cut out for her during the first twenty-four hours until a second wet-nurse could be found. Was it at this moment that Carlos began to lag imperceptibly behind? Was Diego, taking advantage of his short start, already exercising his mesmeric powers over the breast to hand, causing the distracted Antonia to let down her milk at an uneven rate? When he signed the birth certificate on December 19, Rivera's father, Don Diego, committed an imprecision. He stated that Diego Maria had no particular distinguishing characteristics. This must have been incorrect. From the earliest photographs, taken when he was about ten months old, where he sits slightly behind Carlos Maria's left shoulder, thoughtfully sucking his thumb, Diego Maria has a characteristically alert and watchful air. He is leaning back, at his ease, settled into his woolly jumper and diapers, observing the scene in general and fixing the lens with a calculating eye. Carlos Maria, by contrast, is hunched uncomfortably forward. He has an anxious expression, as though wondering from which direction life's next blow will fall. Even the knees and calves of the two infants are in sharp relief, those of Diego paying tribute to the efforts of Antonia, the spindlier shanks of Carlos demonstrating that his nurse, Bernarda, was less well adjusted to the task.
The blow that Carlos was so visibly expecting fell several months later, when Antonia and Bernarda, already rivals in the size and beauty of their sucklings, working in the same nursery, passing their hours off-duty in the same neighbourhood, gossiping with the same gossips, fell in love with the same young man and flew at each other's throats. A violent fight broke out between the two wet-nurses. They were separated by the twins' great-aunt Vicenta, known as Tia Totota, who at once diagnosed a dual case of bile in the milk. She instructed both nurses to withdraw their breasts until passions had cooled. Antonia obeyed and Diego Maria was denied his milk for several hours. But Bernarda, perhaps anxious to regain lost ground, or worried that her milk was failing, defied orders and suckled Carlos Maria with her bilious fluid, and poisoned him. According to a different version of Carlos's death, he was visibly frail, his nurse was less bountiful, and to compensate she gave him tainted goat's milk. From this Rivera constructed the Shakespearean theme of deadly sibling rivalry by proxy. The wet-nurses compete in everything; they come to blows over an affair of the heart. Diego's Antonia is sufficiently intelligent and devoted to discipline herself and so saves his life. Carlos's Bernarda is inferior, like him, and poisons her charge through disobedience.
On the death of Carlos, Maria del Pilar had a nervous breakdown. After the funeral she refused to leave the Panteon Municipal and her husband was obliged to rent a room for her in the cemetery keeper's lodge, where he joined her at night. Rivera was marked by his mother's reaction--"a terrible neurosis"--to his brother's death. "The queen, my mother," he wrote in his autobiography, "was ... diminutive, almost childlike, with large, innocent eyes--but adult in her extreme nervousness." So Diego experienced the early loss of a brother, whom he could not remember, but he had a clearer memory of his mother's grief and of his own inability to console her, and he learnt that the world of mothers could be irrational, self-absorbed and passionate.
So extreme was Maria del Pilar's grief that Dr. Arizmendi decided that she would never recover if she was not distracted and suggested that she should attend the university. She chose to study obstetrics. Meanwhile Diego, seated on the floor beside the fountain and feeling abandoned by his mother, was no longer flourishing. He was handed over to Antonia, who took him off to her village in the mountains. He was apparently sent to the country to be fattened up and cured of rickets. But in his own account he claimed that Antonia was a herbal doctor and magician who allowed him to roam in the forest, where the animals, even snakes and jaguars, became his friends. For the rest of his life he said that he loved Antonia more than he loved his mother and that on his return from the forest his mother complained that he had been changed into "another Diego," a little Indian who spoke to the family parrot in Tarascan instead of Spanish. In fact, since the family album contains photographs of Diego at the ages of two, three and four, all taken in a studio in Guanajuato, his stay in the mountains seems to have been rather less than two years. But whatever its length, the banishment of the surviving twin to the savage paradise of the forest emphasises the epic importance that Rivera accorded to Carlos's death.
What is certain is that Diego Rivera lived in Guanajuato until he was six years old. He grew up in a beautiful house with his mother, two aunts, old Martha, his beloved Antonia and, from the age of four, his sister Maria. In infancy he was enclosed, adored and fattened by women. They encouraged his masterful personality. Tia Cesarea remembered taking the little boy into a general store full of surprises where he stood in front of a display case full of wonders, clutching a few cents in his hand and shouting desperately, "What do I want? What do I want?" But in his own accounts of that period it is the masculine principle that he chooses to emphasise. While the women fill his head with superstition, his father teaches him to read "by the Froebel method," and this at a time when the Froebel method was, outside Germany, very little known. With the exception of Antonia, who carries him off to her hut in the forest to make him a little Indian, women are given no influential role to play. The little Indian is succeeded by the little Atheist. One day Tia Totota broke Don Diego's rule that Diego should be kept away from priests and took him to the Church of San Diego opposite the Jardin Union to introduce him to the saints. But Diego insisted that the saints were made of wood and plaster. Then he climbed the altar steps and harangued the crowd of worshippers, warning them to give no more money to the priest and explaining that an old man could not sit on a cloud in the sky since it was in contradiction with the law of gravity. While the ladies in the congregation began to scream and a verger doused him in holy water, the priest came into the church in vestments and declared that the child was Satan incarnate. After a dramatic confrontation the six-year-old Rivera seized the priest's candlestick and drove him out of the church. Then Tia Totota took him by the hand and led him home through streets abandoned by citizens trying to escape from the Devil. The story of the little Atheist bears a clear resemblance to two episodes from the life of Christ, the infant Jesus preaching to the elders and Christ driving the moneylenders from the Temple.
After the little Atheist came the little Scientist, so furious with his mother for telling him that his unborn sister Maria would be arriving in Guanajuato as a parcel at the railway station that he caught a pregnant mouse "and opened its belly with his scissors in order to see whether there were small mice inside." Then there was the little Engineer, who spent hours at the engine depot where the train crews would let him ride on the footplate, hold the throttle and blow the whistle. And later there was the little General, whose exercise books contained tactical battle plans and sketches of fortifications so striking that he was summoned by Mexico's minister of war before a committee of retired army generals and, at the age of eleven, enlisted as the youngest soldier in the Mexican army. As General Hinojoso, the war minister, concludes his searching cross-examination and bangs his fist on the table, shouting "Damn it, Diego, you're a born soldier!" we realise that the infant Jesus has given way to a Mexican version of Leonardo da Vinci. And yet there could well have been some truth in these legends. Diego certainly had a precocious fascination for anything mechanical. In an early photograph he holds a toy railway engine. The women surrounding him gave him two nicknames, "the Engineer" and "el Chato" (the Wretch). He loved going to the station to watch the trains from Mexico City pulling in after their long journey up this branch of the Mexican Central Line. His earliest preserved drawings are of railway locomotives, and as the son of one of the town's leading citizens, he may even have been allowed to play on the footplate.
In Guanajuato in 1892, the railway station would have been another magical area for a prodigious child. It would have been more attractive than a modern airport, more like a space-rocket launching pad. But it was a rocket pad where a small boy could climb into the rockets and talk to his friend, the intrepid stoker, whose furnace gave out such an overwhelming blast of heat and flames. When Maria del Pilar wished to keep Diego out of the house on the morning of his sister's birth, she sent him to the station, knowing that he would be happy there all day. Today the station, like the town, has lost some of its urgency, but is otherwise remarkably little changed. On the edge of town, behind a high crumbling wall, stand two low platforms. Beyond them stretches the single-track branch line linking the town to Mexico City. There is a low station building with "Jefe de Estacion" painted on one door and "Sala de Espera" painted on the other (Room of Hope--"wait" and "hope" are one word in Spanish). A board attached to the wall bears the information that Ciudad Juarez (last stop before El Paso, Texas) is 1,610 kilometres to the north and Mexico City 463 kilometres to the south, and that the altitude above sea level is 2,002 metres. And the prominence given to these calculations shows the lost immensity of the distances they describe.
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WHEN GENERAL MANUEL GONZALEZ died on May 8, 1893, they carried him out of the governor's residence and took him down to Guanajuato Station. On May 9 the body of Guanajuato's last bandit reached the San Lazaro station in Mexico City and was borne in state on a gun carriage through the streets of the capital at the head of a cortege of cavalry and mule-drawn trams. A few months later Maria del Pilar told Diego that they too were going to the station and getting on a train. She packed up everything in the house, paid off Martha and kissed Tia Cesarea and Tia Totota goodbye. Then Maria del Pilar and her two children took the train to Mexico City and never came back. Don Diego was away on a tour of inspection at the time, and when he returned it was to find a note from his wife telling him to sell the house and follow; from now on they would not be living in Guanajuato.
It is not clear quite why Maria del Pilar should have left the town where she had been born on the spur of the moment towards the end of 1893. The authorised version is that Don Diego had become politically unpopular for his liberal views; the change of governor a few months before the family's move supports this. Rivera took the view that his own performance on the altar steps of the Church of San Diego may have been the deciding factor. Another theory is that his mother, having qualified at the university as a midwife, became frustrated by the town's conservative medical establishment. However, none of these reasons explains the abruptness of Maria del Pilar's departure. The Rivera family claim that it followed "a public attack by the clergy of Guanajuato." But she left like a woman avoiding a bailiff, and it seems likely that by 1893 the protection afforded by General Manuel Gonzalez to Don Diego had become largely financial. When the governor died, the protection ended. In which case Don Diego's exit had no political significance; he was just another failed mine-owner, a detail in the statistics of the economic decline of a city which had once produced more than half the world's silver. And perhaps it was just as well that the Rivera family silver mines failed. If they had been productive, Diego Rivera would probably have grown up on a hacienda stocked with debt-bonded slaves; they would have been the only Indians he met, and he would never have ridden up into the hills strapped to the back of a Tarascan wet-nurse, who was seated astride one donkey with the pack donkey following patiently behind.