Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Perhaps it felt something like this to travel through the South during the Depression. Eating at a roadside taco stand, I imagine Alabama. The plastic chairs and tables are covered with a corrugated aluminum roof, the open kitchen defined by boards nailed unevenly across the lower half. Flies buzz around the stove. We hear the tv going in the house next door, where a blanket hangs across the window. A woman comes out and we ask if it is possible to get food. She tells us that she can make three things, and I don’t understand the last one. We choose tacos de adobado. (There is only one kind of meat in this town. Earlier we had gone to the carniceria, which was closed because, the butcher told us, “no hay carne.” Gesturing towards the truck parked outside loaded with two fat sows, he says: “But tomorrow there will be pork.”) The cook’s neat skirt is covered with streaks of dirt. I feel comfortable with dirt; I can’t remember how long ago I showered, though I did wash our clothes, by hand, which took four hours. These are the best tacos I’ve had in months. While we eat, a little boy plays with a rusting saw, slipping his hand along the blade.
Wind is everything. When it dies, we become morose. I sit at the tiller, thinking back over my life. “Literature” incites nausea, so I read detective novels and sometimes a really stupid one. Adam does the same thing and later we discuss them. I’ve begun eating rhythmically. Turtles pass by with seagulls riding on their backs. In two days we go thirty miles, arriving in the village of Tehuamixtle, where it would not seem strange to see Tennessee Williams and John Huston with their shirt sleeves rolled up, khaki pants belted at the waist, to hear men talking like they do in movies made in the fifties, sitting under the shade of the restaurant that serves cocktels de camarón in thick glass goblets and shredded marlin on fried tortillas. We walk up the dirt road out of town. A man grills his dinner on the rim of a tire, chickens pecking in the gravel below the porch. The cactus look fresh and green amid the dry brush before the rain begins, and a lost goat bleats somewhere on the hillside.
Longfellow wrote “The Bells of San Blas” about this church, now a ruin. What say the Bells of San Blas/To the ships that southward pass/From the harbor of Mazatlan?/To them it is nothing more/Than the sound of surf on the shore,/Nothing more to master or man. Although apparently he was never actually here. An iguana climbs toward the sky into a hole left by a roof beam. The gutters are carved with lizards, flowers, other things I can’t make out from below near the cobweb-hung stone. Dry pods rattle in the breeze. This is the season of tamarinds. Today everyone seems to be at the fort up the hill, its canons aimed across the town and acres of mangrove swamps. A large head, probably that of one of the fathers of the current Mexican state, gazes out the plain of palms toward the beach, over the bare concrete rectangles of a hotel destroyed by hurricane.