Salvador Dali had not yet seen it all when he described Edward James as “crazier than all the surrealists put together”. We, live, only enjoyed his garden in Las Pozas, in Xilitla. It was enough for us to come to an agreement.
From the moment we arrived at Xilitla, which James fell in love with, we felt a lush eccentricity in the air, sublimated in the mist that covered the valleys on the eastern slope of the Sierra Gorda and which seemed to snuggle the village for the night.
As abrupt as it had spread, the mist fled in the company of dawn.
When we woke up, the forested valley ahead was already showing its OK-shaped finger detached from the crest of the mountains, against the azure blue.
We crossed the center of the city, given over to the punishing hustle of any Monday morning. Down successive steep slopes, not only do we escape the confusion, but we also find ourselves surrounded by a chlorophyllin forest, with great arboreal intensity and in which squirrels and screeching birds hopped around.
We had spent four months in Costa Rica under the spell of Moctezuma's oropendula song.
Less than a year later, their reunion intensified Xilitla's inevitable charm, the same seduction for the wild that left Edward James intoxicated, at a time when the village was a sample of what it is today and the jungle almost swallowed it up.
The English Aristocratic Origin of Edward James
Edward James was born in a mansion in West Dean, a village in the English county of West Sussex. He was the only son (he had four older sisters) of William James and a high-profile Scotswoman, Evelyn Forbes.
From his father and uncle, James came to inherit the palace and the fortune generated by his grandfather, the wealthy merchant Daniel James.
That fortune allowed him to have an education in the best English colleges (including Oxford) and contacts and opportunities for artistic expression available only to a privileged few.
In 1930, at the age of 27, James married Tilly Losch, an Austrian dancer and choreographer to whom he dedicated several productions. After four years of marriage, James accused his wife of infidelity. Tilly Losch contested in court that her husband was homosexual.
Before the law, Edward James' sexual orientation remained unproven. Divorced, James saw his freedom reinforced, always in communion with talented nuclei of the European aristocracy.
An admirer of irreverent artistic expression, he praised and, with his financial freedom and voluntarism, supported the emerging Surrealism in the aftermath of the 1st World War.
The movement emerged as a conceptual reaction to the bourgeois, conservative, ostentatious and boastful values that many thinkers and artists claimed had led to the military conflict, until then, the deadliest in history.
The Link to Surrealism and Migration to Post-War America
In this context, from 1938 onwards, with World War II already in the offing, James became an admirer and patron of Salvador Dali. Dali, in turn, deepened James' involvement in Surrealism.
He introduced him to Magritte. As James' guest, the Belgian portrayed him. Edward James appears in two works by Magritte, “Not to Be Reproduced"and "The Pleasure Principle: Portrait of Edward James".
In 1940, with the war in full swing, James crossed the Atlantic. she landed in Taos, an unlikely stop for the United States, a town of Anasazi indigenous origin, Hispanic colonial, adobe and recently transformed into an artists' colony.
A few years later, from New Mexico, he crossed the border of the Rio Bravo. According to art historian Irene Herner, in one of his wanderings through Mexico, James needed to send a telegram.
He entered the telegraph desk in Cuernavaca, in the Mexican state of Morelos.
The Relationship for Life with Plutarch Gastélum
There he was dazzled by Plutarch Gastélum “a proud northerner, son of a family of ranchers from Álamos, Sonora,
handsome, tall, with an athletic build and who took advantage of telegram deliveries to train for his fledgling boxer career.”
In 1945, World War II was finally over. James was looking for a place in the Americas where he could resettle, away from the earthly and ideological rubble of the Old World.
He convinced Plutarch to be his guide. Two years later, aboard a red Lincoln Continental, they arrive together in Xilitla, in the southeast of the state of San Luis Potosi.
Still according to Irene Herner, “Plutarch always remained an elusive, disdainful lover, and the prospect of marrying another man seemed to him like hell”. However, Plutarch signed several letters to Edward James as Palú.
It is also said that when they were bathing in a river, a cloud of butterflies enveloped them. James saw magic in the air.
Such magic would serve as an inspiration for what would turn out to be his "Eden's Garden" particular, extended to Xilitla and its surroundings, where later on he would often be seen walking, as God had brought him into the world.
The Simple Life in Pueblo picturesque of Xilitla
It took nearly six years for Edwards to convince Plutarch to settle in Xilitla in order to live out their shared fantasy. In 1952, at last, Plutarch acceded.
He had become fond of the simple life and the people. He loved to bathe in the streams with his friends and the children of the town who insisted on teaching how to dive.
Four years later, Plutarch married Marina Llamazares, daughter of a Spanish merchant, in a marriage sponsored by Edwards and with a lavish banquet paid for by him.
Plutarch and Marina would have four children.
In that time, James had seen his British family ties cut. At the same time, Mexican law prevented foreigners from owning property in Mexico. James made Plutarch his partner.
In his name, they bought the old coffee plantations bathed by waterfalls and streams from a Colonel José Castillo, whom Edwards, out of confusion, referred to as a general.
In these lands of almost nine hectares, they developed a plantation with about five thousand orchids and dozens of wild birds.
The Orchid Plantation from which a Sculptural “Garden of Eden” sprouted
In 1962, a strong hail destroyed it. James persuaded Plutarch to erect something perennial. They disagreed as much as possible about what it would be. Plutarch claimed a network of paths in which he would travel through the jungle in his jeep.
Surreptitiously, Edwards obtained Plutarch's approval to erect stairs that served only to stop the jeep.
For thirty-six long years, Edwards and Plutarch, with Marina's enthusiastic participation, dedicated themselves to providing "The pools” of unusual structures. A total of twenty-seven.
As we climb and wind our way, in the footsteps of the young guide Fidel Cardenas, we discover the successive surrealist works of “Las Pozas.
The Successive Unseen Works of Edward James
The first one we come across is the “Cinematograph” that James thought with the function of “projecting” to his visiting friends, through an arch, the glorious scenery of the jungle.
It crowned it with a “Stairway to Heaven” which, as the name suggests, leads nowhere.Nearby, Fidel shows us the “Don Eduardo's Cabin” and the various houses in which James came to keep the wild animals that kept him company, ocelots, snakes, deer, flamingos, parakeets, among others.
We passed the elegant but homeless”Bamboo Palace”, consistent with the philosophy cherished by James of living as much as possible without walls and which he preferred to call “Tower of Hope".
It appears detached from the slope between heliconias and soaked bromeliads. Based on a base that looks like a whale, an airplane cabin or a submarine, some say it is Jules Verne's “Nautilus”.
A little above, taking advantage of the flow of a stream, we see a natural jacuzzi bathtub installed in the shape of half an avocado.
Houses that never got to be Bem Casas
At the opposite end of the “Cabana de Don Eduardo”, we find the “Cabana de Don Eduardo”.Three-Story House That Could Be Five”. James designed it to entertain friends.
In particular, the family that owns the famous Irish Guinness beer, with whom he had a good relationship.
He flanked her with more stairs aimed at the sky.
Everything is so precariously interconnected that, in order to avoid falls or collapses, the Pedro y Elena Hernández Foundation, which after the death of Edward James began to manage “The pools” was forced to prohibit access, previously abusive, to visitors.
We are still amazed at the large flowers, even if made of cement, with crowns that remind us of the orchids that James and Plutarch lost.
And with a kind of screen that emulates the combs of beehives.
In the descending direction, we cross another portal of your “Garden of Eden”.
Pioneer tourists christened it the “Queen's Ring”. We see an apple that gives way to the “Path of the Seven Deadly Sins”, flanked by the respective serpents.
Edward James's Obsession with Surreal in the Natural
It frustrated Edward James that his creations were too linear. Whenever this happened, he would have it destroyed and dictated new construction from scratch. Each and every restart satisfied the workers.
Employed by Edwards, the tasks came in a cascade and were better paid than in other odd jobs. As if that were not enough, in full nature and in conviviality, they were more pleasant to fulfill.
James Edwards traveled to and from Europe where he maintained his artistic circle of friends. He often took with him the telegraphist-turned-artist Gastélum and his wife Marina, who could no longer dispense with the bohemian incursions into the Old World.
So it was, until, in 1972, Plutarch found himself struggling with Parkinson's disease, a probable consequence of his boxing years. James traveled to Europe several times in search of a cure.
Despite Parkinson's disease, Plutarch lived six years longer than Edward James (died in 1984) and seven longer than Marina (1983).
James and Plutarch bequeathed Xilitla's surrealist Eden forever.