Places of Longing: Gabriel Figueroa Flores

Places of Longing: Gabriel Figueroa Flores

Lugares prometidos

Alberto Ruy Sánchez

Translated by Rhonda Buchanan


They say this arcade was built long ago by an exile from the desert who longed for its palm trees. He came from a legendary oasis where these are planted in rows, with the tips of their leaves touching each other. They create an enclave of curves that appear to soar, but actually support the trusses of the roof. When seen from a certain perspective, these columns of arches awaken the desire to approach, to penetrate, to discover what lies beyond their thresholds. This part of the story is familiar to any gardener, but what happened next has not been told: that desert man who built with stone and mortar the palm trees he could not have in his new land, had fallen in love with a woman of Mayan beauty, who surrendered her body to him, as if opening every door of her palace and ultimately revealing to him its most intimate secrets. The following day, the emigrant ordered the construction of a very unique arch, seemingly labial and dark, between the legs of his palms. Alluring promise of infi nite light. Glimpse of the entrance to a cherished body, which suddenly evoked for him another vision and another sensation of heaven.


The mystery comes from the clouds. Not all of them. Those that seem normal become mired in the distance, grazing the mountains. They sink at times into the horizon. These others are more defined, whiter, and billowy, as if the skin of the sky had been pinched three times. A patch of clouds that someone crumpled in the palm of the hand before flinging it like useless paper into the blue void that now bears its stain.

These three fistfuls of clouds, these three eyes from out of nowhere that are squinting, suddenly give the impression they are peering down at us with curiosity. Their gaze lingers with amazement upon the remains of our fallen angel. His shattered face, little more than a melancholic profile. We do not know how he came to be condemned, what he did, or is about to do.

Along the shore of a dry sea, his body and hair have vanished among the dunes. Perhaps they retreated with them. Is this his hell? Or are there angels who only fly once they become sand in the wind?


They say it rose from the longing of a woman who wished to touch the stars. And that her lover was so captivated by her that he erected a thousand and one steps to make her happy. In reality she was not insane, although to others she seemed delirious. She was a  woman of science who designed an observatory where the height of the staircases was important, not for being closer to the sky, but because from there she could see certain objects beyond the horizon and use them as points of reference for drawing lines and discovering the shifts between the earth and other heavenly bodies. Very difficult to comprehend for those who consider it madness to erect a staircase that does not lead anywhere. “Not even to a balcony,” they would say to her. “What is it for?” But she knew to respond: “You see where it leads only when you reach the end. Like so many things in life. And it exists to provide the immense pleasure of understanding.” But the very form of the seven celestial staircases was a stirring composition that thrilled the body, even that of its harshest critics, if they inadvertently let up their guard.


Within you my body grows, as does this building in the world. Like a vertical flower that pricks the sky. Day by day it rises, and those who dwell there compare its growth to an incessant blossoming of singing petals. Labial leaves that strive constantly to narrow their lofty view. How rare to find a building that acts like lovers caressing each other: walls enveloping walls like layers of concentric skin. Way up there, the building emits a tenuous sound, like a lethargic whistle. Like a forlorn sigh, say others. It is the struggle of the last walls opening to form a new circle, declare its builders, vanguard of a postfuture architecture that creates illusion with sensations, endless walls that people insist can be seen from a distance. Its growth is a mirage. It is a building turned city that sows in those who traverse its walls the certainty that together, all who abide within that universal circus may some day enter heaven. Circus, demagogy, hope: the ultimate polis, concentric and ephemeral.

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