Last October, on the day the Nobel Prize for Literature was to be announced, Octavio Paz, the Mexican man of letters, sat in a room at the University Park Hotel in Salt Lake City and sternly refused to discuss the award.
"No questions about the Nobel Prize, please," he said. "I don't want to discuss the prize. I never talk about it."From a reporter's point of view, it seemed the writer who'd made a career of analyzing Mexico's myth, magic and superstition was showing a little superstition himself. Or perhaps he'd simply grown weary of being on the "short list" each year and being passed over.
Whatever the reason, the discussion that day centered on religion, race and the paradoxes found in Mexico.
Today in New York, however, it's a safe bet Paz is discussing nothing but his Nobel prize.
Whatever criteria the Nobel academy has in choosing a winner, one thing seems clear: The writer honored almost always embodies the conscience and consciousness of his community. In Latin America, Nobel winners Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, Miguel Asturias and Gabriela Mistral were all voices for their cultures and countries.
The same can be said of Paz.
As a person, Paz is gracious, soft-spoken and a little coy. His language bubbles over with the "song and salsa" of his native Mexico. His brilliance is unnerving, yet he himself is quickly unnerved when the camera and spotlight begin to focus on him. As the Deseret News photographer shot candid photos of him discussing his country, Paz fidgeted and fussed. Catching a glimpse of his amused wife in the corner of the room, he quickly hunched his shoulders and lifted his arms to shoulder level, palms up - a classic Mexican gesture.
"What, honey?" he softly demanded. "What's so funny?"
Paz spoke in measured tones about several topics, but the most poignant comment came at the end of the interview. When asked if it was true that every Spaniard wanted to be a philosopher and every Mexican wanted to be a poet, he smiled.
"No," he said. "Every Mexican wants to be president of the republic."
Today, more than a few Mexicans would like to be Octavio Paz.
He has always been a national hero there. Today, he is a hero for the world.