It took me five years to realize the mistake. The Madonna mistake.
In THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, Luz de Maria is a maid in Mexico City who returns home to the small town of Soledad de Doblado after losing her job. There she sees a news report that leads her to believe the upper class man with whom she had a brief—but emotionally charged encounter—is dead. Blind with anger over the loss, she destroys the family’s shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe. To make amends she paints a Madonna and Child for her family; an unintended self-portrait that becomes a small but pivotal plot element. (Sorry, no spoilers)
Here’s the description of what she painted:
“Luz had sketched the third Madonna furiously one night after having the dream about Eddo again. The colors were cool grays and blues. El Greco colors, she thought and closed her eyes tiredly. That one was easy to name. La Virgen de las Lágrimas. Madonna of the Tears . . .
“In the painting, Mary wore a sheer rebozo shawl over straight dark hair. Her head was tilted to one side. Under the rebozo, Luz’s face gazed at the child in her arms, looking as if there was no happiness left in the world.”
As I wrote, in my mind’s eye I could see the painting.
The woman. The child. Her expression. Her cloak.
Everything except Mary’s halo.
When I realized that I’d never described the halo of Luz’s painting, I started looking at Madonna pictures. Mary’s halo is variously depicted as a circle of stars, a bright light shining behind Her head, a gold crown, a simple gold circlet, etc, etc.
My favorite Madonna hangs in my dining room. She is dressed as medieval Spanish royalty and wears a hat. Tiny gold flecks on it suggest a halo. The painting is from Peru but I bought it in Mexico.
Although omitting mention of a halo might have been oversight, I’d like to think that in THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, there is a reason why Luz’s Madonna does not have a halo.
It is a self-portrait of a woman who is simply very human.
Like all of us.
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