Leaving behind the poets of the monstrous metropolis that is Mexico City, Blanco catches a bus and crosses the wide plain strewn with cacti upon which perch enormous dark birds. Did he actually see them, those birds? It is so hard to distinguish at times between the things we see and the things we remember and the things we think we remember and the things we never saw but read about and the things we wish we had seen and so retrospectively invent, and the things we will never see but have experienced vicariously in a story recounted by someone else, a friend, or possibly a stranger. And then a mist falls upon the plain and the next time he looks there is a forest, barely visible through the thick cloak of fog, and the windows of the bus have steamed up with the change in temperature.
He arrives at Xalapa in the rain, catches a taxi, and finds that the route across town is cordoned off for a Mayday demonstration. The taxi driver curses, finds a way around, drops him off. He is hungry and sets out up the street, finds the Callejon Diamante, though it has been renamed, and enters La Sopa canteen. An older man with a white moustache, white shirt and white cowboy hat is playing the harp. Blanco clocks the harpist clocking him. He heads towards the back of the cantina and orders food; chickpea soup, pork in salsa verde with pasta, and a beer. The food arrives, along with tortillas wrapped in a cloth. The cowboy harpist stops playing the harp and makes his way down to the washroom. When he passes Blanco’s table he nods and says buenas tardes, as though he has known him for years. This is not so strange, thinks Blanco, a friendly old fellow who plays the harp in a cowboy hat. He finishes the chickpea soup and awaits the arrival of the second course. The harpist comes out of the men’s room, stops by Blanco’s table and says in Spanish, ‘Around here they call me the ambassador.’ Now this Blanco does find odd, as he is under the impression that he, Blanco, is the Ambassador, or at the very least a variety or version or improvisation upon the theme of Ambassadorship. Perhaps ‘The Ambassador’ is the harpist’s stage name, he thinks. Or perhaps he is a retired drug baron nicknamed ‘The Ambassador’ for his talent in negotiating his associates’ passage to the next life, and who has since mended his ways and taken up playing the harp in Xalapa cantinas, where no one knows of his sinister past and his reputation for dealing out summary justice. Nonsense, I reply, he is a nice old man who plays the harp. Don’t be fooled, says Blanco. He has dangerous contacts, just consider those birds perched on the cacti, back on the plain. Who do you think you’re kidding?
When we leave the cantina it is still raining.