Sunday, October 18, 2009


In Mexico, the gringa and I had the good fortune of befriending Anna Paula and Flavio, who had a car. So on Saturday morning, a yellow Volkswagen Bug would pull up in front of the house, we'd throw our things in the back and hit the carretera for destinations more scenic than Zamora. We took several of these trips, but I am unable to separate one from another. It may as well have been a single month-long road bender.

I loved Mexico for how Mexican it was. We'd roll through some indigenous town late at night, pass slowly alongside the square - little more than a readymade gazebo and some mariachis - see the expressionless old men in panchos and sombreros staring out from doorways, the fat little kids with popsicles frozen to their tongues. Flavio would roll down the window and bark at the locals and they would make the sign of the cross. Then we'd find the carretera again and I would lie awake with my face pressed to the window, watching the oncoming headlights and wincing with every whoosh.

We went to Morelia a week after the bombings, walked around the square and the cordoned-off area where the blasts took place, now a shrine to the departed. A tour guide gave us the history of the cathedral. I remember feeling more bored than I've ever felt in my life. I kept shifting from foot to foot and looking for a way out. Then, suddenly, the urge to vomit: I tapped Anna Paula on the shoulder and said, "Necesito ... agua." When I came to, a doctor with a little black bag was kneeled over me.

"Do you suffer from epilepsy?" he asked.
"No, Señor Doctor," I said.
"Do you suffer from depression?"
"Have you been drinking?"
"Not much."
"Are you on any drugs or medication?"
"Not that I know of."

The doctor shrugged and Flavio helped me to my feet. I stared up at the cathedral and the Virgen de Guadalupe watched me as I staggered away. After all these years, was I still Catholic? Was it a vision that I'd had? I once read that Freud always passed out when The Pyramids came up. No, I decided, it wasn't the mysterium tremendum; I just needed a Coke.

We stayed with some guitar jocks in the heavily graffitied part of town. They played Paranoid Android. I sat google-eyed and entranced. They wanted me, el gringo del amor, to play something for them, but it was three hours and several shots of tequila before I served up a sloppy rendition of People Are Strange by The Doors. There weren't enough beds, so we jockeyed for floor space. And in the morning, making use of the markerboard that was propped up against the wall, the gringa and I taught an ad hoc class of English for Perverts. Our students were eager to put the new material to use.

"So, this 'taint' is ... cómo se dice ... entre ... be-tuín the ... and the ... "

We went to Tangancicuaro for Día de la Independencia. We were going to see something they called The Castle. I've always been an inattentive tourist, so when a crowd started gathering in the square around midnight, I wandered off and made merry with the locals until Anna Paula grabbed me by the arm and dragged me back into the thick of it all. "You need to see this," she said.

And I'm glad I did. The Castle was a three-story building made of fireworks. After several unsuccessful attempts at lighting the fuse, there was suddenly a trail of sparks and a delicious hissing sound. The crowd hooted and aieeeeee-ed. What happened next is too complex to describe, but a network of pulleys and levers and whirling pinwheels conveyed the flame slowly upward until, finally, inexplicably, impossibly, a little spaceship at the very top lit up and went warbling off into the night. I stood there agape.

"See, cabron!" shouted Anna Paula, slugging me in the breadbasket. "You were going to miss it!"

En route to Zirahuén, we stopped at a gas station. I stretched my legs and jumped around in place. A woman and her son were sitting out on the curb with a golden retriever between them. I approached with my hand outstretched.

"Don't touch him," said the woman. "He is evil."
"Aww, but he's ..."
I took another step and the dog transformed, bore its fangs, growled, and made a flying leap for my crotch. I whirled to the side just in the nick and the beast took a healthy bite out of my thigh. Amidst much screaming and barking, I hightailed it in the opposite direction. The Mexicans were wailing, "Guero, guero, ay no, guero!" I found refuge in the bathroom, closing and locking the stall behind me while the dog's meaty paws thundered against the door. Somewhere outside, I could hear Flavio laughing himself to exhaustion.

At the risk of sounding wishy-washy and existentialist, most of the Mexican adventure takes place on the carretera itself: passing the roadside shrines, the crucifixes and Virgens planted in the rockpiles, the burnt-out husks of abandoned cars; stopping while a herd of wild cattle washes over the road, weaving around a dam of tree limbs lain down as an offering of protest by the indigenous poor, a warning of some imminent catastrophe that can't get at you because you are in the back of a yellow Volkswagen Bug with Radiohead's Amnesiac on the stereo, and Flavio is laughing and barking like a maniac, and Anna Paula is feeding you cigarettes, and the lot of you are splitting a road beer, eager to get where you're headed but quietly hopeful that you will never arrive.


joe f said...

what is a carretera?

anyways, always a pleasure to read.

Anonymous said...

i enjoyed reading, keith. i'm envious of your time in mexico, maybe it's because i just watched frieda, i would love to venture at some point regardless.