The ambassadors

– Lily, you’re looking at “The Ambassadors” by Hans Holbein the younger, painted around 1530. It’s a powerful trip for me to be in front of it again. It was my grandpa’s favorite painting, and I was very obsessed with it as a young boy. It’s also a powerful feeling to be here with you in London, looking at it. This is taking me back to my childhood, my grandpa lighting the fire in the fireplace and telling me stories of World War Two, of killing Germans and being shot at, on a cold Buenos Aires night in the early 80’s. I would always stare at the reproduction of this work of art he had on a bookshelf in his living room while he was telling me about a bullet from a German machine gun breaking his leg, and how his fellow Partisans took him away from there, carrying him across mountains to a safe place in Albania…

– What is that thing across the bottom of it?

– It’s a skull. If you position yourself in the right place, you’ll see it more clearly. Here, let me show you…

Raúl gently nudges Lily to a place at the bottom left of the painting, so she can see the skull more clearly. You need to be at a certain angle to see what the artist intended clearly. In the few seconds it takes Raúl to help Lily to a position where she can understand the optical effect, inadvertedly or on purpose, he’s placed his hand across her chest, and felt her nipples getting hard. There’s nobody at that particular room of the National Gallery at the moment. Lily looks at him for a second while he’s still got his hand on her breasts, and the combination of those blue eyes and the hard nipples makes him weak for a moment – he can feel his cock getting hard, and has to take a deep breath and close his eyes for a couple of moments to regain his composture.

– What did your grandpa liked about it?

Going back to his grandparent’s home, so many years ago, dissipates Raúl’s excitement, and he tries to clear his mind and answer Lily’s question clearly.

– Well, as you can see, the painting depicts two learned young men, surrounded by maps, books, and scientific artifacts. That was my gramps goal, to be educated, to be learned. He was studying engineering when the War broke out, and he had to go and join the Resistance, could never finish his studies. That’s one thing. But he also had to look at Death in the face many times, during the War and after, so I guess the weird skull across the painting said something to him. Oddly, it makes me think of Mexican lore, in particular of Native beliefs explored in Castaneda and others, about how our death, not any death or death in general but our own particular Death walks around with us at all times, about an arms’ length on the left hand side, ready to touch us at any time.

– I always thought you were so obsessed with Mexico because you liked the drugs there, and the sex, not because of any New Age mumbo-jumbo…

– This is not New Age mumbo-jumbo, it really has to do with how Mazatec and other Native peoples perceive death… but yeah, Mexico in great part means the drugs and the sex to me, sure, you’re right…

– I knew it. You always want to be the highbrow professor about everything, but I knew you when you were young, and you were just this college kid trying to impress girls with his bullshit about mythology and literature, trying to get laid and all…

– I’m sure you’re right, L…

– Right…. I’m not sure I like you giving me a class about this thing….

Lily gets a little closer to Raúl, and they both feel a little electrical current as their bodies touch.

– It’s all about how impermantent things are, L, that’s how I see it. The skull you see here, across this painting, is also across this museum room, will be across the back seat of the taxi when we sit there and kiss, if you will kiss me. It will be across the bed if you stop by my hotel tonight. It’s the most important thing about being alive, that it can end at any time… I should have had that skull tattooed sometime, along with the phrase, “nunca se sabe”….

– “Nunca se sabe”… hold on, let me think for a sec… Nunca is “Never”, se sabe, “is known”… “You never know”?

– That’s right, “you never know”…

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