El Rincon de la Muerte

July 28, 2009

We’re late. I pack an extra box of crayons for the plane. The roar of the room’s bulb sounds like a running refrigerator. This is six a.m., every morning, whether we’re awake for it or not. Various lids and caps are popping in the bathroom. Our flight is in less than two hours. We’re going back to Mexico DF.

Given the abruptness of last year’s trip, I am not sure what to expect for this one. I’m already feeling a little uneasy. But I’m told I will brush with giants.

It’s overcast. A bad sign for setting sail.

*

Evey time I fly into Mexico, I forget how green it is. Lumpy, too. The cities aren’t carved on the jungles–they’re built around them.

As we exit the airport, a taxi driver harasses me for his business:

–You got transportation with your package? –No. –You don’t need transportation? –No. –You don’t need a taxi? –No. –You need a friend? –No. –Welcome back. –…Thank you.

Alejandra and Faviola pick us up. On the road they both shout out windows to drivers and ask for directions. Ale’s home is clean, well-put together. Japanese emblems mix with figurines of cats and squirrels. Purr has his own sex bunny toy that he is not ashamed to use in front of new guests. Gabriella arrives–she’s tall, strong, reminds me of a Latin mother you might see hauling down Alameda, two kids in two, destination in her eyes. At the Italian restaurant more friends drop in: Luz, Ali, Andres. I don’t have time to interact with them all. We’re already a bottle of wine and three beers in by the time Enrique shows up.

*

The lanes are filled with police officers in clean uniforms and bright white gloves. Faviola says it’s because they think they can control traffic. We halt to let three roaring police vans with masked officers carrying large rifles.

–You get used to these scenes. At first they are scary, but then you become selfish and grateful that it’s not near you. But you are always worried.

The police are plentiful, and very youthful. It only strikes me later that they are abundant because they are expendable.

*

There are many blind people in the streets of DF. Some group together an form a street band. Others are lead by a younger relative. Most wander by themselves. I remember now that Roberto helped an old man cross the street once. María says that since people aren’t consuming enough nutrients, birth defects skyrocket.

*

I explained to Enrique: good ideas are like lighthouse. We’re steering the ship through the storm, through the horrendous waves. Every few moments we get a flash–salvation! hope! purpose! justification!–but then it blinks out, gone, and the time between the next bright moment becomes an uncertain eternity.

*

After a five-hour bus ride we arrive at last to Xalapa. The outskirts are degraded. Crumbling plants thrive through and around broken stone buildings. Downtown is narrow and colorful. Magenta buildings stand next to blue, purple, and marigold ones. A bit like the city of Salvador, only far more cars. Our hotel, Meson del Alferez, reminds me of an early Spanish mission. The structure is carved out of wood and stone; some partitions of glass exist to add a touch of “modernity.” We sleep under a crucifix.

*

I meet the father, a man of very few words. He smiles wide, and María warns me in English that he giggles when he is nervous. He’s polite. Asks questions about Los Armenos, a subject I am not and never will be comfortable with. I realize that I love to talk and tell stories. But when I cannot speak the language by tongue goes numb. The eyes redden; the wine flows; this is Xalapa, across the whole North American continent. I make a suggestion to move to whiskey, and it appears. Do you love my daughter? The father asks me questions–

*

The day after the rain the earth is brighter. Xalapa is cleansed. Even the people glow. We’re sitting in Paraquería. Xalapa’s cultural movers–its writers, politicians, journalists–dine here. María used to write me letters to me from upstairs, paired with a lechero.

*

In the middle of the roads, people stand around, selling tickets and trinkets. It’s not that this business model was created in the States by migrants, but was exported.

*

The bars are packed for lay seca. Kids are hauling boxes of beer down alleys to parties. Midnight finds us at one house filled with drunk Mexicans dancing. They remind me of the nights at 106–Michael Jackson and all.

*

To step into her world is a fascinating experience. Her first communal pictures look exactly as she does now. Shelves filled with books, a closet crammed with Snoopy’s. The only way to get close to someone is to see the home they were raised in.

*

Missed the flight out to the States; stuck in Guadalajara. Ticket agent on the phone was sympathetic, kept expressing “oh my God”–as though there were some mistake, and we were trapped in Hell. Charmed some tickets out for the next day, gratis…