Tag Archives: Mexico City

I kill out of rage

14 May

 

Shoes hanging

An exhibit by the artist Alfredo Lopez Casanova, using the shoes of missing people with messages on their soles, in an exhibition currently running at the ‘Casa de la Memoria Indomita’ in Mexico City, titled ‘Huellas de la Memoria‘ (Memory Traces).

 

Since posting María Rivera’s ‘The Dead’ on Wednesday, over 500 people have checked in, and María herself emailed to thank me for posting her poem. ‘The Dead’ evoked some powerful responses from readers. Echoing the views of others, John Freeman commented (on FB) that María achieves something he thought was ‘impossible to do – for a poet to create such emotional immediacy with such a sweep of large political anger’.

Shortly after encountering María’s poem, my friend Carlos López Beltrán directed me towards another fine poem  – again by a woman – that addresses the terrible swathe of violence in which Mexico has been immersed for the past decade. It appears in the anthology of Mexican Poetry edited by Pedro Serrano and Carlos himself, and titled 359 Delicados (con filtro), (Santiago de Chile: Lom, 2012).

The poem, ‘I kill out of rage’, by Claudia Hernández de Valle-Arizpe, adopts the voice of an assassin, reciting a list of random, barbaric ‘reasons’ for random, barbaric murder. In the poem the act of killing builds up its own terrible momentum, so that in the second stanza, the possibilities – or potential – for murder extend even to those hypothetical victims who are not killed on this occasion, but who might just as easily have been, according to the appalling logic that propels the actions of the poem’s speaker.

This poem, along with 156 others by 97 Latin American poets, selected and translated by Richard Gwyn, will be published in October 2016 in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America, from Seren Books.

‘Mato por rabia’ first appeared in the collection Perros muy azules, México DF: Era (2012).

 

 

I Kill out of Rage

by Claudia Hernández de Valle-Arizpe (México)

 

I kill out of rage, out of hatred, out of spite; I kill from jealousy,

for revenge; I kill to bring justice (for me or for you),

so that you understand for once and for all, to get a rest

from you; I kill out of fear, to rob, to flee, to defend myself;

I kill out of habit, for fun; I kill as a reaction;

so that you don’t kill me, so that you don’t rape me. I kill because

I can’t bear it anymore, because I want to die but don’t dare,

because even children kill, because I’m sick because

I’m crazy, because I’m sad, because nobody loves me anymore.

I kill in the name of my religion, in the name of my people,

of freedom, of democracy. I kill in the name of God.

And also I kill because here I feel like it, in the shack,

in the neighbourhood, in the nightclub, on the road, in your house, in mine.

I kill for drugs, because it excites me, because it’s exercise, because

one day it’s me they’re going to kill. I kill dogs, cats, pigs, people.

I kill who’s going past in the street, or sleeping, or having fun.

I kill with weapons so that there’s blood, so that the blood runs

like my rage, my weariness, my injustice, my ugliness, my sex,

my obesity, my diabetes, my cirrhosis, my cancer, my mental retardation,

my stupidity, my nightmares, my hopeless life.

 

I kill you but could kill your sister, your father, your wife,

your children, your lover, your grandmother, your dog. I kill you today but

don’t trust me, because I can kill you tomorrow, any day,

with bullets that will pierce your lung and your stomach

and will lodge, very hot, in your neck, in your groin,

in your head. And what is yours will be no one’s, you see: what you proclaimed,

what you did, what you knew, what you liked so much: your mornings,

your nights in company, your memories, your plans, all of this will bite

the dust. Bullets, brother, bullets; what a tragedy, what sorrow,

those who knew you will cry, and you now in ashes, man,

woman, child, ugly, pretty, ignorant, brilliant, poor, rich, whatever.

Have you ever killed? Have you tried to?

Shoot, says the killer to the boy,

or don’t you dare?

There has never been a weapon in my house, there never was,

I have never fired a shot.

 

 

Mato por rabia

Mato por rabia, por odio, por despecho; mato por celos,

por venganza; mato para hacer(me), hacer(te) justicia.

Para que entiendas de una vez y para siempre, para descansar

de ti; mato por miedo, para robar, para huir, para defenderme;

mato por hábito, para divertirme; mato por reacción,

para que no me mates, para que no me violes. Mato porque

ya no aguanto, porque quiero morirme pero no me atrevo,

porque hasta los niños matan, porque estoy enfermo, porque

estoy loco, porque estoy triste, porque ya nadie me quiere.

Mato en nombre de mi religión, en nombre de mi pueblo,

de la libertad, de la democracia. Mato en nombre de Dios.

Y también mato porque se me da la gana aquí, en la chabola,

en el barrio, en el antro, en la carretera, en tu casa, en la mía.

Mato por droga, porque me excita, porque me ejercito, porque

un día a mí me van a matar. Mato perros, gatos, puercos, gente.

Mato al que va en la calle, al que duerme, al que se divierte.

Mato con armas para que haya sangre, para que corra la sangre

como mi rabia, mi hartazgo, mi injusticia, mi fealdad, mi sexo,

mi gordura, mi diabetes, mi cirrosis, mi cáncer, mi retraso mental,

mi estupidez, mis pesadillas, mi vida sin remedio.

 

Te mato a ti pero puedo matar a tu hermana, a tu padre, a tu mujer,

a tus hijos, a tu amante, a tu abuela, a tu perro. Te mato hoy pero

no confíes porque puedo matarte mañana, cualquier día,

con las balas que van a perforar tu pulmón y tu estomago

y que se alojarán, muy calientes, en tu cuello, en tus ingles,

en tu cabeza. Y lo tuyo no será de nadie, ya ves, lo que pregonaste,

lo que hiciste, lo que sabías, lo que tanto te gustaba: tus mañanas,

tus noches acompañado, tus recuerdos, tus planes, todo se lo comerá

el acero. Bullets, hermano, bullets; qué tragedia, que dolor,

van a gritar los que te conocieron, y tú ya en cenizas, hombre,

mujer, niño, feo, bonito, bruto, genial, pobre, rico, qué importa.

¿Mataste alguna vez? ¿Lo has intentado?

Dispara, le dice el asesino al muchacho,

¿o es que no te atreves?

Nunca ha habido un arma en mi casa, nunca la hubo,

nunca he disparado.

 

 

 

Storms, eggs, everyday corruption, and the Consul’s approaching end

14 May
Another blurry picture taken from a bus and featuring mist and cactus, taken on the road from Saltillo to Monterrey.

Another blurry picture taken from a bus and featuring mist and cactus, on the road from Saltillo to Monterrey.

 

The airport in Saltillo closes because of the fog, so I miss my lunchtime flight back to Mexico City. Julián is laid low by a mystery bug and Mónica offers to drive me to the airport, after picking up little Leo from nursery. We exchange my plane ticket for another, from Monterrey airport, and then set off to the bus station for the two hour journey to Mexico’s third biggest city – and according to Wikipedia the ninth biggest city in the world. I don’t see much of it, however big the place is. The plane leaves at 6.20 pm and I am back into Under the Volcano, picking up with the hideous bull-baiting in Tomalín and the Consul’s vicious set-to with Hugh and Yvonne in the Salón Ofelia (todos contentos y yo también), owned by Señor Cervantes, who carries a black cockerel under his arm: “Nobody come here, only those who have nobody them with.”

Outside the plane passes through a good deal of disturbance as we approach Mexico City, a blood-red sun falling over the mountains and a big storm brooding close by to the north-west, the sky black there with jagged flashes of lightning. The pilot announces – I swear – “With the resounding egg, we make the descent to Mexico City” – and when we are leaving the plane another announcement reminds us: “Please ensure you take with you all your obsessions on leaving the plane.”

At ground level (of course Mexico City is nowhere near sea level, at 2,500 metres) I find a taxi easily enough and we drive through the hammering rain. As usual we overshoot the hotel: this happens all the time, not out of a desire to cheat the customer – the price is arranged beforehand – but because the layout of the streets in this area is pretty complicated and because no taxista can be expected to know his way around a metropolitan area containing twenty-five million inhabitants. So my driver, who is one of those very correct and well turned-out Mexican gentlemen of a certain age does a rather indiscrete U-turn at a big junction, and we are immediately pulled over by a pair of traffic cops, who were lurking under nearby trees.

The driver is asked to step out and negotiations begin. I can hear the young cop citing the precise name and number of the traffic regulation we have infringed, but I suspect that this is an irrelevance. After some discussion the driver returns inside the cab and reaches inside the glove compartment for money. How much? I ask him. One hundred and fifty, he replies (just under seven pounds sterling). Here, I say, take a hundred. After all, I am at least partly responsible for this, as I allowed him to take a wrong turning. He thanks me, pays the cop and gets back in the cab.

This is not a fine, but a pay-off. Most drivers pay the police rather than go through the rigmarole of following through with an infraction of a minor kind. The police officers’ argument goes like this: it’s easier for both of us if you just cough up. In fact I’m doing you a favour, because you’d have to pay more if we went through the proper process. When I ask the taxi driver if he ever refuses to pay a bribe he says something about the pervasiveness of corruption and shrugs. This is how the law works in this country, he says.

Back at the hotel and back into Lowry. Cervantes, the owner of the Ofelia is offering the Consul, Yvonne and Hugh some dinner – eggs is evidently a recurring theme of the evening: “ . . . You like eggs, señora? Stepped on eggs. Muy sabrosos. Divorced eggs? For fish, sliced of filet with peas. Vol-au-vent à la reine. Somersaults for the queen. Or you like poxy eggs, poxy in toast. Or veal liver tavernman? Pimesan chike chup? Or spectral chicken of the house? Youn’ pigeon. Red snappers with a fried tartar, you like?”

Hungry now, I borrow an umbrella and head for the nearest restaurant, El Califa, in Condesa, where the waiter, who seems to know me, greets me warmly. They are not serving spectral chicken, and nor do I order poxy eggs, but a bowl of broth and a couple of veal tacos. At the table in front of me two young people – he in a very shiny suit, she laughing too enthusiastically at everything he says – share a dessert, spooning ice cream into each others’ faces. On the way back the sky cracks with thunder and the heavens open once again. In El Califa they have given me some little sweets with my bill. I open the packet with difficulty and am confronted by some tiny things that resemble hundreds and thousands. I have not met with these before, so I give them a try. There is an explosion of sugar and chilli pepper inside my mouth, which is not at all agreeable. I throw the remaining sweets in a bin and head back to the hotel, prepared for the Consul’s disastrous denouement.

 

 

 

 

The Zapatistas’ breakfast

6 May

Zapatistas

Last night, in the city of Puebla – the setting for the first battle of the the 1910 Revolution – I stopped off at a street corner kiosk and recognised, among the picture postcards, a famous image that had caught my attention on a visit to the same restaurant in which the photograph was taken, in Mexico City.

The gentlemen are Mexican revolutionary soldiers, snapped having breakfast in the exclusive Sanborns coffee house, Mexico City, apparently on the 12th of May, 1914, when Zapata brought his army to town for a meeting with Pancho Villa, who had been leading the revolution in the north of the country. A google search identifies them as the Generals Feliciano Polanco Araujo y Teodoro Rodriguez, and they are enjoying hot chocolate. I had not imagined for one second that they might be officers of such elevated rank, but appearances can indeed be deceptive. Their inscrutable expressions hypnotize the onlooker, at a distance of one hundred years, but how must they have appeared to the waitresses serving them, accustomed as they were to a rather more sophisticated, urban clientele? The waitress in the foreground seems to be keeping her distance, and wears a stony expression, perhaps evincing curiosity as well as understandable fear. The rabble of soldiers around and behind the generals in the top picture seem to be enjoying themselves just a little: perhaps the ceremony of the photograph amuses them.

 

Zapatistas and waitresses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Xalapa

2 May

cactus road

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.

trees in mist

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Of Frida Kahlo, Diego (and Dylan)

25 Apr

Frida self portrait

 

I have always been slightly worried by Frida Kahlo, perhaps it taps into some source of generalised male guilt, not for things that I have done myself – at least not intentionally, but that might be the very point – but for all the wrongs perpetrated by the men of the world against the women of the world since time began. And yet for all that, Frida does not come across as a victim: she made decisions, and tried to stick with them in spite of the disasters that overtook her (she said once that her life had been defined for her by two disasters: the first was being involved in an horrendous traffic accident when she was 18, the second was meeting Diego Rivera). She was also – and the two things, suffering and greatness, do not always go together – a great artist, independently of Diego, and the passage of time has probably elevated her to a higher position than him in the hierarchy, if not of ‘greatness’, at least of fame, since being adopted as a feminist icon (what a horrible term, I apologise for using it, but this collocation is always employed in reference to Frida, and a blog, for me, is a place of first drafts, which may or may not be developed and refined for publication elsewhere and at a later date).

So yesterday I tried to immerse myself in Frida’s life; took a trip to the twin houses/studios where she lived in San Angél – in separate buildings, connected by a footbridge – with and without Diego, and where I watched a film about her life; and then down to Coyoacán and the blue house that was her parental home, and where she eventually settled (Leon Trotsky was famously one of the houseguests).

I am not going to write in any depth about Frida’s work here: I am not sufficiently knowledgeable, and besides, there is plenty of stuff out there, but I was profoundly moved – almost to tears – by visiting her house, by seeing her instantly recognisable paintings, the extraordinary collection of Mexican votive miniatures she collected, and the clothes she designed (including the painful-looking contraptions she was forced to wear as a result of her deforming accident). There was a queue outside and it had clouded over when I arrived, a straggle of beggars and street people selling wooden toys added to a growing sense of misery. Inside I didn’t feel like taking photos, certainly not of paintings that can be seen in any catalogue of her work, although this didn’t seem to bother the large man with the ipad who barged his way to prime spot in each room, holding his device before him like a weapon, an irony if there there was one. I did however take a picture of a poster designed by Frida of the inter-uterine development of a human child, as this seemed highly appropriate to her personal story (she suffered numerous miscarriages). As I left the house I walked into a brief downpour. It seemed to fit. I was impressed by Frida’s resilience but ultimately saddened by the story of her life, and while I am not all encouraged by much that Mexico is doing for its women (the Ciudad Juarez femicides still stand out as one of the greatest unresolved crimes of recent history), it is good that there are places like this to reflect on the way that one individual can translate her own suffering into such a universal and powerful creative statement.

On a lighter note, I was struck in passing, while visiting the studios of Diego and Frida (his is still intact, hers is used a gallery for the work of contemporary artists) by the resemblance between Diego Rivera and Dylan Thomas. There is that whole 1940s things about their style and appearance, and something about the lips. That and the fact that both artists are widely known by their first names only. The similarity can only be glanced from certain perspectives, but for me at least, it is noteworthy.

Diego

Diego Rivera

Dylan

Dylan Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And with their respective long-suffering spouses:

Diego and Frida

Diego and Frida

 

Dylan and Caitlin

Dylan and Caitlin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skeletons in Diego Rivera's studio, San Angél

Skeletons in Diego Rivera’s studio, San Angél

 

Diego Rivera's studio

Diego Rivera’s studio

Diego's house from veranda of Frida's house, San Angél.

Diego’s house from veranda of Frida’s house, San Angél.

Frida's house, showing connecting bridge to Diego's house

Frida’s house, showing connecting bridge to Diego’s house

San Angél

San Angél.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

frida_kahlo_frente

Frida Kahlo Museo, Coyoacan.

 

 

Frida Kahlo's design tracking interuterine life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Masks and Death

24 Apr

day-of-the-dead-masks

 

When travelling, how do we begin to learn when someone is wearing a mask, with intent to deceive, given that we all wear masks much of the time?

We all know, as Hamlet says, that ‘one may smile, and smile, and be a villain’, and so I am thinking about how one goes about making judgements in another culture with people whose ideas about what qualifies as ‘sincerity’ is, perhaps, at a remove from one’s own culturally engendered version. And how, I wonder, do ‘I’ appear, the person who passes as myself (my own current person impersonator) with my own pretensions at ‘sincerity’, when for all my interlocutor knows, I am wearing a mask too, perhaps one more efficacious in design than his or her own.

These things trouble me. Should they? And how much does any of this matter, if, as Javier Marías reminds us in his novel The Infatuations (Los Enamoramientos), we are all novice ghosts: ‘whatever we do, we’ll only be waiting, like dead men on leave, as someone once said’.

A mask conceals, but to wear death on the outside conceals nothing, nada: it only reveals what we wear on the inside, what we carry inside us – our own eventual death – because we are ‘dead men on leave’ and one cannot conceal what can never be erased. So the mask of death, the grinning skull, is a double bluff, it is a way of anticipating our status as fragile ghosts, a way perhaps of trying to con or cheat or temporarily delay Death into thinking we are already dead, so he cannot choose us, he needn’t waste his time with us. This is not the same as the rather simplistic explanation I have read in tourist guides, namely that Mexicans like to display images of death and the skull in order to familiarise and trivialise it, to make it commonplace, to deny it real significance by flaunting it through macabre displays, even to the extent of eating chocolate skulls and skeletons. That, surely, would only constitute a bluff (a single bluff). And Death would not be fooled by that, surely?

How does a people – according to Claudio Lomnitz in his extraordinary book, Death and the Idea of Mexico – come to have death as its national icon? This question was addressed at length by Octavio Paz in his seminal study on the Mexican character, or what I am coming to think of as Mexicality, which manages to carry an almost-reference to mescal, the national liquor (usurped for many years by the Jalisco version, tequila, but making a fierce comeback among the middle classes, who previously eschewed it as a poor man’s drink). It is a view corroborated in Mexican culture by the prevalence of further imagery of death: not just in the ‘national icon’, as Lomnitz would have it, but in the extraordinarily graphic pictures (which would never be publishable in a UK newspaper) that accompany headlines of the latest narco-murder, and which, significantly, also accompany the paraphernalia of Christian death – exemplified by Christ’s death on the cross – here represented in a crucifixion scene I photographed yesterday in a Coyoacán church.

A bloodied Christ, with real hair.

None of this will be new to anyone who knows anything at all about Mexico, but for me the whole symbology of death, celebrated so vividly in fiestas such as the Day of the Dead – well, all fiestas in fact, as the essence of a fiesta is to defy death, to celebrate a momentary explosion in time, thereby provoking an attraction of opposites: the fiesta beckons death by celebrating life with fanatical and joyous hubris – is a topic definitively at odds with our Western denial of death, our sterilising and alienating distancing of everyday life from any possible contact with the unspeakable void that death represents.  But these are only preliminary thoughts on the topic, to which I may one day return.

At the Festival of the Book and the Rose, which I attended yesterday, as a guest of the Periódico de Poesía, the celebrations were adjusted at the last minute to make way for an homage to Gabriel García Márquez, pictured below, on a placard, flanked by yellow roses. I also learned that the University (UNAM) is home to 325,000 students: the same population, give or take a few dozen, as the city of Cardiff.

 

Gabo memorial

Gabo memorial

 

Poem stuck on wall lamenting the excess of celebration over Octavio Paz Centenary.

Poem stuck on wall lamenting the excess of celebration over Octavio Paz Centenary.

With Ana Franco of the Periódico de Poesía and novelist and interlocutor par excellence ,Jorge F. Hernández.

With Ana Franco of the Periódico de Poesía and novelist and interlocutor par excellence, Jorge F. Hernández.

 

Inglaterra? Really? A tragic misallocation of nationality or a simplification for the geographically challenged?.

Inglaterra? Really? A tragic misallocation of nationality or a simplification for the geographically challenged?.