LÁGRIMAS DE CARONTE
«The hours passed. It wasn’t in the morning. It was not in the afternoon. There was no more night. The only thing that was there were those drowned bodies that the sea kept pushing towards us, you, me and the rest of the island. And we dragged them to the beach, at the end there was no longer a single pebble, because it had become an immense open-air cemetery, a burning and cold chapel, and there we were, the inhabitants of the island, of this island, the only one inhabited in the entire Dog Archipelago, inhabited by miserable, ridiculous, old, selfish, desperate and tearful people ».
Philippe Claudel. The archipelago of the dog.
When Jose Ferrer told me about his next work, and when he showed me the first pieces that make up the series, he told me his interest so that it could serve as a plea against the insensitivity of people and governments about the fate that people suffer who seek refuge fleeing for political or economic reasons from a certain place, going from a desperate situation to an even more uncertain one, gambling everything for nothing, risking what little they have left bare-chested and open gut, left me thinking.
And even more in it I stayed, when he told me about the materials and the invoice of the piece itself. Drawing the silhouette that the Mediterranean Sea creates, taking as a background the borders of the countries that protect it, making it a watered down continent, claiming for itself the legacy of those who travel it from shore to shore, in the course of time, on the shoulders of men, their efforts, work, fatigue, resignations, absences, deaths and the oblivion that covers everything, I could not help but be moved.
On a paranoid blue and plastic that simulates water, Jose, with broken seashells, forces us to look deeply, into the void, and at what is really a cemetery covered with white graves, where anonymous dead live.
The power that the matter of the broken shells gives to the piece becomes distressing in this idea of a silenced cemetery. The shells formed mostly by calcium carbonate, calcium salts and mother-of-pearl, become over time and due to the weight of the calcareous deposits of dead mollusks in limestone, the same process that corals undergo when they die. Its remains are sedimented in pure stone that after eons also become marble, the same one we use to make the tombstones that honor our deceased, yes, those that we bury in, on earth, the sacred land of a holy field, the one that is ours.
When I thought about this piece, and understood what was underlying Jose’s spirit, I lost myself in the depth of its content, and the harshness of what it encompassed, when thinking about it and shuddering a title came to mind. : “The corals of Charon / The bones of Charon / The tears of Charon”
Through me to the city dolorous lies the way,
who pass through me shall pains eternal prove,
Through me are reached the people lost for aye.
Dante Alighieri. Divine Comedy.
Canto III. The Gate of Death
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2017 there were 68 million people in the world who were forced to leave their country of origin. One in every 110 people in the world is a refugee, internally displaced, or asylum, Turkey being one of the main countries receiving displaced persons. More than 40,000 people, according to the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid, have died so far this century while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. A pressure that will continue to grow if the socio-economic and political situation in Africa does not improve, as Sami Nair warns in his book Refugees: facing the humanitarian catastrophe, a real solution.
The drama, the tragedy and most of the time the dramatic death of the people who seek refuge, desperately crossing the Mediterranean Sea, harassed and abused by the mafias and the corrupt police, abandoned to their fate, evicted, in the limbo of the Liquid borders that Zigmung Bauman spoke of are a daily, constant reality, sometimes repeated constantly on the news of the day, to be forgotten or gagged in the following months, without a solution, and with continuity. An eternal story, a rosary of corpses that are repeated countless and always the same in reports and complaints spoken aloud by those who have the courage to report it and listened, perhaps as a murmur, by those others who must find solutions.
Stories without official data, or biographical reviews, without identity, forgetful, dissolved in an oblivion that does not float, that sinks in a shared sea, sung, recognized and memorable, of whom the riverside, all of us make home, home and thalamus. A mute and sometimes rough sea that deposits its “divine monsters” on our beaches, those who give us notice of misfortune or disaster.
“Divine monsters” the corpses left by the waves on the sand occupied by happy vacationers shout at us mutely the denunciation to which the piece “Los Corales de Caronte” by Jose Ferrer is a relief. A double long-distance race, the one of those who perish, and are forgotten in an unfathomable background, and the one of those who perish and pushed by the Sea, the only prosecution witness, they arrive without knowing to the bottom of the question: their death is our impudence, his remains, our sentence.
And within the framework of this constant and terribly patient story, others emerge that are part of our most telluric history, that oblige and unite Tyrians and Trojans alike and that link Egyptians, Libyans, Turks, Greeks and Romans, the cradle of the West. The basis of our civilization and pride. Mythical characters such as Charon, Aeneas, the Sibyl of Cuma, and the same Psyche who come to account from the past reason of our present. They are like the ghosts in Dickens’s Christmas Carol, a warning, a warning, a warning, a threat.
Guard those waters and those rivers the horrible boatman charon, whose filth frightens; A long White beard falls disheveled on his chest, flames shoot from his eyes; a sordid cape hangs from his shoulders, tied with a knot: he himself steers his black boat with a hook, sets the sails and carries in it the dead, old now, but Green and strong in his old age, wich corresponds to a god.
Virgilio, Eneida VI, 297-303, according to the translation of Eugenio de Ochoa
Charon, within the framework of the culture of the coastal Mediterranean Sea, which is fundamentally collected in Greek and Roman mythology, but which has roots in Egyptian (Pausanias), was in charge of transporting the souls of the dead to the kingdom of Hades upon payment. According to belief and also custom, the deceased had to deliver a silver egg as payment for the ferryman to cross the Acheron River (river of affliction) and take the soul of the dead to the Gate of Hades, the realm of the dead, where according to the life that the deceased had led, he would receive as a prize better or worse luck in the afterlife.
But the Acheron River was not the only one that reached the door of Hades, there were others that with different names made clear the vicissitude of the transit: The Styx (river of hatred), the Phlegethon (river of Fire), the Lett (River of Forgetfulness) or El Cocito (River of Lamentations). With those names so “flattering” the traffic seemed hard and its consequences serious. Traveling to the realm of the Dead was a suffering for the soul, the names of the rivers themselves were already a warning of what the adventure held. Those names will not be in the hidden rivers of the Mediterranean for the living who seek the door of the kingdom of the prosperous.
However, although Charon was required to charge for the transport to those who were forced to make the trip, he also had a commitment to transport, after 100 years, those who could not pay for the agreed obol. A century, 36,500 days and nights forced the soul of the deceased to travel awaiting the ferryman, on the farthest shore of Hades, his encounter with the judgment of his life. Who now in life awaits that time on the shores of the Mediterranean?
From the stories that have come down to us, the mythical characters who met Charon in life and returned alive from Hades are Hercules, Theseus, Piritous, Orpheus, Ulysses and Psyche, and of those who really existed, through the story: Dante, who in Canto III of the Divine Comedy tells us about the meeting.
Each of these characters, also Dante, covered or fulfilled a mission to enter the world of the Dead alive, to come and go across borders, some forced by their crime, others driven by love, others in search of information, and some of a prosperous destiny. Each one of these stories could well resemble the motives that compel or push people who migrate in search of refuge to cross the Mediterranean Sea, motives and arguments that we know from those who survived the epic and who lie submerged in the sealed lips of those who perished.
Of all these stories, perhaps the one who can help us by casting a ray of hope on Jose Ferrer’s piece “Lágrimas de Caronte” is the one of Psyche, daughter of the king of Anatolia. She fell in love with Eros, son of Aphrodite. Eros always hidden by the darkness given to Psyche forbids her to inquire about his identity. Advised by her sisters, Psyche discovers the face of the god, who flees from her.
To recover Psyche, she turns to Aphrodite, who imposes her mission to obtain and keep in a black box the gift of beauty that Persephone, queen of the underworld, keeps. Psyche will be able to access Hades by paying Charon the usual obol, however once she has in possession of the box that supposedly kept the persephontic beauty, and longing to have something of her for herself, in order to be more desirable in the eyes of Eros, she takes the inside of the box. In it she only finds the “Stygian dream”, death.
Styx in Greek mythology was the daughter of Erebus (darkness) and Nix (night) or Ocean and Tethys and personifies the River Styx (river of hatred) to which we have previously referred. Fortunately for Psyche, her death reverts thanks to the intervention of Eros, who, having forgiven her, breathes into her the breath of life.
Eros requests Zeus and Aphrodite’s permission to marry Psyche, both agreeing, Zeus donated immortality to Psyche, the fruit of his offspring with Eros was Voluptas (Roman), or Hedone (Greek) and represents the satisfaction of the pleasures of the senses , from which the term Hedonism derives, a philosophical current that extols the search for pleasure and the avoidance of pain as vital, both concepts confronted and counterbalanced with measure.
Hedonism does not speak of pleasure for pleasure’s sake, but of pleasure in the absence of pain. Aware that desire is the enemy of placidity, it impels us to seek in life as best said the absence of pain and as the best reward the pleasure of accompanied austerity. Friendship is a fundamental value advocated by hedonists such as Epicurus of Samos, for whom happiness is associated with tranquility, tranquility as a mental practice in which the use of reason provides the convenient, that engenders happiness without harboring pain for the longest time possible. The ataraxy in which any migrant or non-migrant person should know and be able to live. A wish made in the work of Jose Ferrer “Lágrimas de Caronte”.
But the myth of Psyche still has a surprise in store for us because by the breath of life that Eros breathes into her, she survives death, she who has descended to hell out of love, is rescued from death for love. The breath of Eros becomes the vital essence of the soul.
According to Greek belief, this breath of life emerges from each person upon death, this vital breath, this “psyche” that becomes an astral or ghostly copy of the deceased, an eidolon. The eidola of the dead, wanderers in Hades, travel without identity or body, like the condemned drowned in our deep Mediterranean Sea, an eternal open tomb as a complaint in Jose Ferrer’s “Lágrimas de Caronte”.
Woe to you, wicked spirits!hope not
Ever to see the sky again. I come
To take you to the other shore across,
Into eternal darkness, there to dwell
In fierce heat and in ice. And thou, who there
Standest live spirit! Get thee hence, and leave
These who are dead
Dante Alighieri. Divine Comedy.
Canto III. The Gate of Death