Saturday, August 9, 2008

in santa's chimalistac: a photoblog essay

i've often wondered if MYTH is an appropriate descriptor for santa, the fictional character that emerged in novelistic fashion from the mind and pen of federico gamboa. the novel, published in 1903 and considered the first bestseller in mexican literary history, has also 'inspired' one song* and four film adaptations, all of which also carry the title of santa, as the novel. but more importantly, santa is the mold by which the paradigmatic figure of the "noble prostitute," a fixture in mexico's cultural imaginary, was cast.

[fig 1. one of the most prevalent visual and aural images in mexico is of the female prostitute beneath a street lamp; see andrea palma's character in la mujer del puerto. this is my 'take' of santa under the 'farol'. in chimalistac, santa has a street named after her. click to enlarge this and all images included here.]

santa was engendered by gamboa from his memories of having lived in chimalistac, once a small sleepy town south of mexico city, but because of the mega-growth thing that happened around the middle of the twentieth century, now lies in the southern part of the megalopolis, adjacent to (or in the outer limits of) san ángel.

[fig 2. a shot of a tiled depiction in the paseo del río of what el río magdalena in chimalistac might have looked during santa's the river's dried up.]

i won't get into plot details, but suffice it to say that it was from chimalistac that santa was expelled by her family after a soldier, who had 'dishonored' her, also shun her (or refused to marry her). santa then traveled to mexico's capital city where her only "option" to make a living was to become a prostitute.

[fig 3. one of the bridges that went over the now dried-up river magdalena, where santa was dishonored by the soldier. can you see the couple making out? things never change.]

because of santa's literary success--blows the mind in a country that was mostly illiterate then!--gamboa was not only honored with a street named after him, but also got his own plaza in chimalistac, around the parish of san sebastián.

[fig 4. cross streets by the plaza federico gamboa.]

of the four film adaptations, the most famous and best regarded is the 1932 version directed by antonio moreno and starring lupita tovar as santa. the grandmother of those boys that brought you american pie, but that's another story. as i was saying: moreno's version also holds the honor of being the first talkie in mexican film history...hearing santa speak in melodramatic tone probably added more than one brick in the construction project to build this 20th century myth.

[fig 5. the plaque that gamboa read to tovar when they met, before the filming of moreno's version of santa.]

tovar herself traveled to mexico--she had already immigrated to hollywood and was working in the relatively short-lived spanish language film industry there--to meet with gamboa in the very plaza that carries the writer's name. and even went to meet the woman that inspired the character santa, emeteria, who was in her 70's by then. for more on this meeting go here. and to hear a relatively recent interview with tovar click here.**

[fig 6. the iconic franciscan cross that stands in the plaza a few feet in front of the very quaint parroquia de san sebastián where my favorite scene of the 1932 version was shot.]

* a few verses of the agustín lara composition inspired by santa.

Santa, santa mía
mujer que brilla
en mi existencia
Santa, sé mi guía
en el triste calvario del vivir.

Aparta de mi senda
todas las espinas;
calienta con tus besos
mi desilusión.
Santa, sé mi guía
alumbra con tu luz
mi corazón.

**picture of lupita tovar, "mexico's sultry screen 'sweetheart'" at 97 holding an original santa film poster (photo by stephen shugerman)

1 comment:

William A. Nericcio said...

great new posting! como estas???? ciao for now, bill