Infinitas Gracias – Edinburgh ex-voto: infinite thanks for life!

In Mexico ex-voto is the name given to small paintings offered in gratitude to the saints for answered prayers. Whenenever i have seen them in Mexico and elswhere in South America they have always gripped my imagination and  while i was in London consulting Dr Etienne Callebout i went to a wonderful exhibition of them  called Infinitas Gracias (Infinite Thanks) Mexican Miracle Paintings at the Wellcome Trust gallery just opposite Euston Station.

It’s a beautiful, moving and funny  collection from Guanajuato and Mexico DF  and gave  me inspiration for the art class i am taking at the Maggie Centre each Friday afternoon until Christmas.  I am going to try and tell my ‘cancer story’ in small primitive paintings (and believe me having done two they are primitive – mine use stick people and  look like they were done by  a child  which rather pleases me). I did my first one at my art class that Friday about how everything ‘started’ when i flew to Jerez in March to dance and write about flamenco at the Jerez Festival (which i have done for the past few years – thank you Villamarta Theatre people for welcoming me and paying my hotel for some of the time!). I  have just done another painting about going away to Ambleside in the English Lake District last week with my whole family for a week’s holiday.  I bought all the gear – art book, pastel pencils and crayons, paint brushes and special lead pencils – on my way back from the art  class at the lovely art shop on Howe Street. Might try and put one up as an illustration!  I dedicate my ex-votos or small paintings to Mexico’s Virgin of Guadeloupe and to Afro-Cuban deity Yemaya who is syncretised with Cuba’s Black Virgin of Regla. I have a small blue house in my garden built  for me by a Cuban artist friend Filiberto Mora dedicated to Yemaya (thank you Filiberto). I have lots of Virgin’s pictures, small sculptures, photos,  etc in my house – Virgins’ have been a  passion of mine since the early 1980s  and are part of my beliefs, but i have never ‘activated’ them  before by addressing them – well actually that is not strictly true as i do light candles to Yemaya a few times a week on the small shrine i have for her  in the blue house; and shake my Mapuche Indian shamanic rattle to her each time  asking her to help with my health  now (not that Mapuches and Yemaya are remotely  part of the same belief system at all…)

Dr Etienne Callebout was great: a maverick by style i reckon – rather cuddly sized large (mmm ironic given that he is advising on diet and treatment…); bearded, Belgium,  friendly and full of chat about disparate research done in various parts of the world that he sees as having implications for  complementary cancer treatment. My Brazilian musicologist friend Martha came with me and sat outside reading a book on Brazilian lundú that  she is here in UK writing a book about!

Callebout got me to ‘tell my story’, drew a picture of what happened to me so far (not an ex voto just one of my innards) and took notes on a piece of green paper. He took a small blood sample by piercing my finger with a pad of minute nails and proceeded  to look at it under a microscope which seemed to be plugged into a monitor itself attached to a mobile phone. He showed me the blood which he said was ‘sticky’, explaining which cells were what, and also pointing out crystals (probably not so good), white platelets, a minute blob of food which he said was not good as it meant i have a ‘leaky gut’, and also a sticky film like substance in my blood  which he said we must clear up.

I now have to persuade  my doctor to take blood samples, mix them with plasma and centrifuge them and then I send them with a urine sample by  overnight courier  to a company called Genova Diagnostics in Surrey. They have sent me a kit which i have looked at: the blood sample bit will take over half an hour for the doctor to do – so i am not sure my GP Dr Edington will do it…  crossing fingers… hard to get an appointment these days at my GP surgery with a specific doctor, only quick-ish if you are just prepared to  go to anyone – appointments  get snapped up very quickly.  All blood and urine samples have to   be cooled with frozen bags and sent to arrive in a specific  time  span or they become null and void. It’s very costly for the tests – £700! they do an extensive battery of tests including food allergies etc … let’s see how it goes if and when i get the blood. Callebout himself charges  £380 for the hour and a half consultation… hey hey this is private medicine! So my pampering fund is coming in very useful – thank you my friends! Meanwhile i am continuing with the juicing with my professional juicer, using only water distilled with my water distiller, doing my enemas, drinking hippocrates soup and actually find a lot of the time  i am not so hungry anymore. Got to tell myself to eat.  Am certainly losing weight gradually  but that is OK as i was way overweight – I was over 11 and half stone which was execssive. For my height and age i should be around 1o stone so i will aim to stop losing weight at that weight.

In Ambleside the food  the family cooked was super delicious  and i ate the main meal each day more or less – plenty of prime protein. I figured sharing food was part of the whole holiday experience as well as walks up waterfalls, trips on boats down Windermere, playing football and cars and garges and other things with Kabe, talking and playing with  Theo on his mat, bathtimes, as much time as poss with everyone, and some good family games of scrabble (which Tom won each time!). We played with the large set i had once given my parents and their score cards are still in the box,  so it was very much continuing family tradtion. We had visitors: Bea’s parents; and also the only person i am still in contact with from school, my old friend  Brenda and her partner Chris. Bren is mother of my nephews Mark and Chris as she was originally married to my brother!  I had not seen her for 30 years… or more…

Our cottage – Oaks Farm Cottage – with its wood stove – was fantastic – we found it on the internet by putting in Lake District, 8 people and wood stove!  Really roomy with a lovely small  garden with a good seating area, a spot on  sprawling lay out inside which meant  we were not on top of each other, and comfortably furnished as if the owners  use it themself. It was ideal for us. Up a steep hill in a cul-de-sac near neighbours, completely quiet yet  only a 5  min walk from main street. The weather was a bit damp for a day or so but then sunny and mostly good and not too cold. We visited Wordsworth’s house one day in Grasmere – well worth it – excellent entertaining informative and rather handsome guy as guide.

Food wise I took a slow roasted chicken with me for the first lunch on Saturday; Donovan poached  a whole salmon for that first evening’s supper; Bea slow  roasted shoulder of lamb for a very late Sunday lunch; Dono cooked Osso Bucco Monday; we had pasta Tuesday; fish pie with fish from the fish van at the local market on Wednesday;  local  chicken Thursday… everyone mucked in cooking and washing up etc including big  breakfasts each  morning with Edinburgh ayrshire bacon (thank you Mr Matheson – one of the best butchers in the world and the best bacon in the world according to my son and all of us)  which i could  not eat this time… sadly!

Infinitas  gracias to all and all again – Yemaya and Guadeloupe too – for a lovely holiday!!


About Jan Fairley

I am an experienced and passionate ethnomusicologist working as an arts and music journalist and broadcaster, writer and editor as well as researcher, lecturer, radio presenter and producer. I have a breadth of organising experience at home and abroad. I am a fluent Spanish speaker. I love travelling and have worked abroad (notably Chile 1971-3 and again in 1994) and researched in Cuba, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Finland.
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4 Responses to Infinitas Gracias – Edinburgh ex-voto: infinite thanks for life!

  1. Karl Chapman says:

    the paintings sound great – pop one online for a public viewing!

  2. Sara Trevelyan says:

    Hi Jan, Finally finding time to read your blog….loved reading about your paintings and agree with Karl above -would be great if you could put one/some online for viewing. Keep up with the juicing – you are doing so well!!! And enjoy letting your creative juices flow. I am off to London at the end of the week so I will try popping in to have a look at the exhibition that you found so inspiring. Infinitas Gracias to you too for your lively and informative blog!!

    Warm wishes,


  3. Nan says:

    Thanks for the tip Jan. Went to the Welcome Foundation and spend a long time there. Wonderful paintings of thanks and stories of hope. See you soon.
    Love, Nan

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