Living in Honduras or Guatemala as a foreigner is sometimes hard, mostly fun and never boring. This Blog is about more than just the oddities of my years in the not-so tranquil, cobble-stoned town of Copán Ruinas and, more recently, Antigua Guatemala. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Most Beautiful Girl in the World




In the late nineties, this remote corner of Honduras, Copán Ruinas, was even more remote than it is now. Although even then a major tourist route and sort of cosmopolitan in the sense that it was visited by interesting people from all over the world and was home to some pretty cool bars, without the World Wide Web it was still a far-away place where we celebrated the happy arrival of a piece of Gouda cheese, a bottle of rancid wine, or a few months old magazine from the home country.

It must have been early 1999 when I laid my hands on a much valued and relatively “recent” Dutch magazine, a HP De Tijd from July 1998. The cover was long gone, but what immediately caught my eye was a photo on the index of what I instantly thought was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. Even though not my favourite magazine (politics and economics mostly), I immediately went to page 62 that featured the article, and a chill went down my spine when I read the by-line: “She was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen….”



The article was quite uncharacteristic for this magazine, but fascinated me from the start. It was written by author and journalist Tim Krabbé and told the story about how Krabbé travelled to the remote area of east of Lhasa, Tibet, joining a group of Doctors without Borders to visit several water projects. On the way back a group of locals stopped the visitors to invite them to a party to celebrate the fact that the community now had clean water. Worried about how to avoid the local Yak butter tea (but even more worried about the local water conditions), the only way to refuse both water and butter tea, was to accept the locally brewn beer called Chang. As good Tibetan customs go, you take one sip and your glass is almost mysteriously filled again. You sip, they applaud, then pour and you receive a white scarf of honour. This ritual was repeated until every local happy with the new potable water system had poured the visitors some Chang.

This lasted about two villages, and by then, the author couldn’t remember how he made his way back to Lhasa. But, as he states, the real miracle happened a week later when he was back in Amsterdam and went to pick up the prints of his photos (yes, we used to do that in the nineties). Of the many hundreds of pictures he apparently had taken during the trip, there was one standing out: of the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, without remembering taking any of those pictures.


The girl appeared on at least six photos, every time closer to the photographer. Krabbé states:

 
How old is she? Twelve? Sixteen? Do the other children realise how stunning she is? A thousand white scarves of honour to her, juts for appearing on my photos. May she lead a happy life.


At the time, I’d been in Honduras for a year or two and hadn’t done much of what I considered to be my profession since age nine or so: painting. But that photo in the magazine got me going again. I got myself a piece of plywood, some brushes and painted the Most Beautiful Girl in the World. Not an exact copy, because I depicted her as a local girl, since one of the things that struck me was that as Tibetan as she was, she just as easily could have been Honduran. I painted her without the green head scarf, put some Diego Rivera lilies in her arms, some unpretentious curtains in the back, as well as a mobile I had just made with my kindergarten students from a egg carton. Definitely not the best painting ever, I know, but an important one for me, because it meant the next step into a whole new career. 


 That one painting resulted in an art show which turned into an art NGO which I gave up twelve years and hundreds of students or so later to go back where I started in the first place: painting.

Right now, I just finished a new art show which is a tribute to Honduran women. When I finished eleven portraits, I was looking for photos to inspire me for the twelfth and last piece, when this Tibetan girl crossed my mind again. And I thought… why not? Why not paint her yet again? She’s not Honduran (but she could have been), but in not being so, she also makes the circle complete, and turns my exhibition not only into a tribute to Honduran women, but to women in general.


So I did it again. With lots of love, I painted this beautiful girl once more, and here she is, taking the centre piece of a wall in a restaurant in this remote corner of Honduras. She’s a (local) star all over again. 


Gouache on posterboard, 75 x 55cm. For sale! 
I can’t thank Tim Krabbé enough for bringing her into the picture.

And I can’t stop thinking:
How old will she be now? Is she still alive? Does she realise how beautiful she is and how she has touched people’s hearts all across continents and oceans?
Anyway, whoever she is, wherever she is, I hope she leads a happy life! 



To read Krabbé's article, visit: http://timkr.home.xs4all.nl/tibet/grscarf.html 

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