Elegant white egrets stand in the shallows near the reeds of the shores of Lake Chapala. The slow-moving birds seem bright and quick before the lethargy of the soupy lake. Sluggish the lake lies, still, its weedy surface absorbing the daylight more than reflecting it. Three flat-bottomed boats float well beyond the egrets: One, too distant to define; the others, with bright rooves--orange, yellow-- droop weather-beaten, sun-faded Mexican flags; each chugs before some small-motored propeller. Mountains backdrop this scene. Diffuse the mountains rise in the relaxed light. Both graceful and tragic they rise. Between those backdropping mountains and Lake Chapala sprout rough uninviting hills. On those hills perch a few quaintly inviting homes that overlook the lake. A narrow road behind those homes tumbles down into the town of Chapala. The town gleams with clean white structures. One can mark the call of distant waterfowl if one pauses near the waterfront at town's edge. One can discern the beat of wingflaps. One can behold a plume of white clouds. One can inhale the cool lake mist, the flora. And blue. Blue of metal. Blue of liquid. Blue of shadow. Blue makes this scene. A kaleidoscope of it. Even the air shines blue, sheer blue like a negligee. And the egrets--elegant they stand in the water, knee-deep in the water, like flooded ballerinas.
And Ajijíc now. Just the other side of those rough uninviting hills, well before one arrives at the graceful tragic mountains, nuzzles Ajijíc. A very small town. So small Ajijíc nuzzles here that it finds no place on my map. But even as small as it is you do not feel remote in it. Gringo evidence is everywhere. An English bookstore, it supports. Automobile license plates from Florida and Massachusetts and California and Ottawa. D.H. Lawrence spent some time here, I know. Maybe this colony of expatriates grew up around his ghost. Or maybe what attracts the expatriates is the same thing that attracted Lawrence. Ajijíc's presumed remoteness, perhaps. Or its tumulose landscape. Or the nearby lake. I'm not sure. I perused its cobbled lanes rather cursorily, I confess. The town emanates an odd spirit. Colonial, it feels, but not colonial. Colonial rough-hewn, maybe. It resembles in mood more the Old West to me than New Spain. Or an inadvertent hybrid of them. Strange to describe. But it was quiet. It was picturesque.
I came to Ajijíc not for Ajijíc. I came to Ajijíc to leave Ajijíc. There is no bus station in Ajijíc. The bus station is a boulder on the side of the road, or an unmarked corner where people idle. To debark at Ajijíc, in fact, means to tap the bus driver on the shoulder and request he stop. Otherwise he will not. At one point, for example, en route from Chapala, we passed what looked like a town that I feared might have been Ajijíc. I went to the driver. I asked the driver how much farther we had to drive before arriving at Ajijíc. He said to me, "You want to go to Ajijíc?" I said, "Sí." He slowed the bus. He stopped the bus. "Remember that town back there?" he asked me. I said, "Sí." "That town back there was Ajijíc." I thanked him quite profusely. I debarked. I was just a half-hour hiking to amend my mistake.
I wanted to see what it was like to stand on the side of a highway and flag down a bus. I have watched Mexicans do this for years. I have never done it myself. It has always seemed to me incautious. To make myself so naked and vulnerable at the side of some isolated road! And where should I stand? Is there a particular place to position oneself? I have never apprehended the nuances of this means of travel. Thus, my fear. According to my guidebook, though, the bus back to Chapala steamed right through Ajijíc. And according to my guidebook it would stop only if you flagged it down. This seemed to me a tame introduction to the sport. I would wait for the bus. I would observe to see where people poised to flag down the bus. I would observe then how they flagged down the bus. Then, when the next bus came, I myself would do the poising and the flagging. This is what I did. The bus stop in Ajijíc turns out to be a headless signpost. And to halt a bus you need only wave a little at the driver. Strapping, I felt.
I sit again in that plaza of the bohemians, Guadalajara, looseleaf in my lap, against it my pen pressing to scribble these notes. The bohemians are not here tonight. Instead, teenagers. A Saturday and the male half of the crowd saunters clockwise around the plaza. Against their grain, counter-clockwise, glide the females. They call this the ida y vuelta. The girls and guys size up one another as potential love-interests this way, fraternizing too with their friends. Relationships are born out of this ida y vuelta. Or, at least, relationships are born once the young men rouse enough courage to approach the chavas; once the chavas ease their acts of womanly aloofness. It is a great social affair. It's played out in countless plazas across the country, weekly, on Saturdays or Sundays, on afternoons or evenings. I make quiet exits when I mistakenly chance into it. In Monterrey this happened once. A curious look from this or that young woman. A challenging look then from this or that young man. For the same reason I left a Queretaro plaza the other day, just as I will now decamp this one. The plaza lamps are already burning gold anyway. The sky already a heavy blue. And a storm wind blows, I think. For a raindrop stains this page. I will try to finish this scribbling in a restaurant somewhere near.
Three quesadillas, onion soup and a waitress who smiled at me just enough to agitate my loneliness. I gave up scribbling in the restaurant because a Saturday night variety show was braying from a television set hung from the ceiling- -Sabado Gigante. Tawdry enough to distract my thoughts, the show was. So now I rest cross-legged on my hotel bed, having toweled off a little rain and removed my wet outershirt. My words go slantwise as I scribble them across the looseleaf. This hotel room has no telephone book to employ as desk. The bedspread is my desk.
I felt no fear today on my way to Chapala. I felt no fear today fidgeting by the highway in Ajijíc, or returning to Chapala, or returning to Guadalajara. I felt some fear as we passed the little town that might have been Ajijíc. But once the driver informed me that it was indeed Ajijíc, and then stopped the bus that I might deboard, I calmed. It takes ten daytrips, I guess, to wring that daytrip fear out of me. Ten daytrips to become accustomed enough to their uncertainties not to be unnerved by their uncertainties.
I combined two trips today into one. Ajijíc and Chapala. I combined the two trips to make up for the logistics disaster of yesterday. That disaster cost me a day. I made up that day today. This means I have toured ten different cities in the last ten days. This means that today ended one of this journey's most trying stretches. Mexico City was easily the most arduous period in terms of work. But these ten erratic days across the Bajío and Jalisco equaled it in work and travel. Four days more I need here in Guadalajara. I may try to compress them into three. I'm not angling for a day off anymore. I want to add an extra day to the end of this trip, to San Diego. There are some descriptions I may collect there for a short fiction I've been pondering. Today was my last daytrip until I arrive in Mazatlán.
The cobwebs of my psyche have been blown away by this journey. Habits of art study, habits of reading--gone. Habits of foreign films, too. Any semblance of routine, or schedule--vanished. Nothing the same. I don't sleep the same. I don't eat the same. I don't drink the same. Everything governing my day-to-day life--driven away, divorced. All my diurnal idols, smashed. Even my carefully guarded six hours of work--history. And my meditations.
With all of this gone, with it absent, vanquished, I am forced to wonder: What from it will I reacquire at journey's end? Scenes from The Green Hills of Africa, I'm sure. Delacroix's The Death of Sardanapolous. A verse from the Gita. These and their like will never leave me for long. I might add "home," I guess. But how can I reclaim something that I never lost. I feel at home regardless where I am. This journey is showing me that. There were those few days in Mexico City where I looked forward to that recumbent beach scene in San Diego. And even now when I envision that endplace my smile takes on its triumphant wrinkle. But will I stay in San Diego? No! And after loitering there for a day or three where will I go? To a new city! I will move yet again! To a place I've never lived before! To Albuquerque! And I will call that then home. It will be nice to cross the border though, to cross into that city where first I understood the necessity of this journey, where first I saw my unfinished novel lacked the mystery, the secret. That, I guess, will have the flavor of homecoming.
I just washed out my pants and a t-shirt in the sink. The rash I will here obituary. But the obituary must mention survivors. These are the survivors: I have just one single clean change of clothes, and three pairs of socks, and three undershirts. That's all I have left to wear. That's all I could afford to launder.
This hotel takes the prize for noise. I just listened to a man clop his way from the counter downstairs, up two flights of steps, to his quarters directly above mine. Every step I heard him clop. The hotel interior is fashioned of tile over concrete with each room its steel door. Every sound reverberates. Last night was particularly raucous. This couple whose illicit sexplay I've been monitoring shamelessly indulged themselves. And then, afterward, they ratcheted up their television volume. And then, after ratcheting up their television volume, they began quarreling through their television volume. All of the windows of the hotel face a strange triangular dead space that I do not understand. But this dead space acts as an echo chamber. The television and the quarreling filled it. Needless to say, I didn't even try to sleep. "Fifteen dollars a night," I said to myself philosophically. A gringo neighbor of mine was not so philosophical. About 1:45 a.m. his window slid suddenly open. His larynx taut, he shrieked, "Cállate," into the dead space. "Cállate...cállate," rang his gringo accent. This is a rude way of saying "Shut up." He slammed his window then. I heard the woman say something like "What was that?" And I heard the gringo's bed jumping and rattling beyond my wall. Later, the gringo actually went downstairs and complained to the desk. This is a very American thing to do. And very un- Mexican. Mexicans, they just endure.
I actually opened my window so I could better contemplate these tidings. I interlocked my fingers behind my head and gazed up into the darkness of my hotel room acoustics. I listened. After awhile I saw the scene as a passable one-act drama. A man comes to know his neighbors by eavesdropping through his walls and windows. The whole play is just his lying on his bed with his fingers interlocked behind his head, scratching himself once in a while, maybe, or smoking. The set would be lit through the open window at the head of his bed. His feet are to the audience. You hear the dialogues, snippets of them here and there. They would amount to something meaningful, of course. I liked the idea, lying there. I superimposed on it music from some nightclub nearby, church bells chiming the hours, some traffic, and maybe the patterings of a sudden brief rainstorm across the rooftop. All that nice stuff. I felt peaceful doing that. I saw it end with dawnlight and his alarm clock ringing. And then I awoke this morning, rested.