Brother Rene, C.S.C & My First Salvador DalíFriday, January 25, 2013
I saw my first Salvador Dalí in 1958. I was 15. I was in the tenth grade at St. Edward’s High School.
Of our class of perhaps 70, 50 were boarders and the rest were day students who lived in Austin. We were housed in a vast dormitory on the upper floor of a neo-Gothic building. It was like sleeping in a Gothic church. We had bunk beds with desks attached to either side of the beds. I have some old photographs that I have seen in the archives of what is now St. Edward’s University. Our dorm resembled a prisoner of war camp in WW-II Poland or Germany.
In one corner of the dormitory there was a separate room with an office that had clear glass. That office was occupied by Brother Rene, C.S.C. He was tall, lean and strong. His only physical defect, his big ears, marred him from looking quite perfect. They stuck out. The other Brothers of Holy Cross might be cerebral, saintly, nerdish, frugal (Brother Emmett comes to mind), remote or funny. Only Brother Rene was cool. While he had a kind smile we respected him with an almost fear.
He wore short Wellingtons with one of his pant legs tucked in and the other left out. I immediately bought similar boots and attempted to look as cool. But I didn't and I wasn’t.
Brother Rene believed in keeping us at a distance so we never did find out much about his personal life. But we knew that in punishment he might make us do 30 pushups and we knew he could do 100 without sweating. One of his forms of punishment was to make us run.
At night he would turn off the lights but instead of giving us silence to sleep he would alternately play the Amos ‘n’Andy radio show or play classical music. His fave and mine, too, was Ravel’s Bolero. I waited for that moment with the great trombone part.
I may have been so afraid of him that I remember little of ever having crossed his path. I do not remember ever being in his room except twice. It was daylight and all the Brothers of Holy Cross who were dorm prefects always kept their door open. I remember entering and turning my head towards the left. Not up on the wall but resting on a piece of furniture was a reproduction of Salvador Dalí’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross. I did not know that was its name. Only now as I write this have I found out, courtesy of Wikipedia:
The painting is known as the "Christ of Saint John of the Cross", because its design is based on a drawing by the 16th century Spanish friar Saint John of the Cross. The composition of Christ is also based on a triangle and circle (the triangle is formed by Christ's arms; the circle is formed by Christ's head). The triangle, since it has three sides, can be seen as a reference to the Trinity, and the circle may be an allusion to Platonic thought. The circle represents Unity: all things do exist in the 'three' but in the four, merry they be.
|Brother Rene, C.S.C.|
I was shocked and riveted by the extreme perspective of the painting. I was yet to find out about the perspective of wide angle lenses. This was to happen around 1960.
The second time that I entered Brother Rene’s room (I do not remember what the reason was) I entered with full intention of looking at the Dalí reproduction in more detail. This time I asked Brother Rene. I am sorry to report that I have no memory of his answer, but to this day Dalí and Ravel’s Bolero bring me images of a man I admired, feared but also loved.